What a day this was: 13 February 2008

Of course much might be said about just how well/badly we have done since.

13 February 2008: just back from The Block in Redfern

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Redfern Community Centre, The Block, 2007. Image from Redfern Oral History. Click for more.

At least 1,000 people stood in the pouring rain at Redfern’s famous Block and watched on the big screen as Kevin Rudd moved the motion of Apology. I would not have missed it for quids!

Next to me an Aboriginal woman in her thirties or forties, her tears blending with the rain.

Cheers and a standing ovation greeted Kevin Rudd’s speech.

cafe-cana.gifWe didn’t get to hear the middle section of Dr Nelson’s speech as at that point the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, was speaking to us live.

However, the symbolism near the end of Rudd and Nelson jointly presenting to the Speaker the gift from the Stolen Generations spoke to all our hearts.

Golden syrup and damper afterwards, and then a coffee for me on the way home at Cafe Cana.

William Yang was there at the Community Centre, and some people from church.

Big smiles from some little Aboriginal kids as I crossed Pitt Street and Redfern Street: “Look! He’s got a flag!”

A day truly to be treasured, long long anticipated and for a period the dread that it would never happen. But it has happened.

No more analysis today, no more commentary. The day is too good for that.

See Cheers, tears as Rudd says ‘sorry’.

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UPDATES

See:

Speech gets standing ovation in Redfern

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech received a standing ovation at the Redfern Community Centre, where hundreds gathered. Residents, workers, families, students and Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore braved the rain to watch the speech via a large outdoor screen set up in the heart of the notorious Block, the setting of the 2003 Redfern riots.

After the speech a teary Ms Moore stood and addressed the crowd. “Parliament House in Canberra is a long way from the streets of Redfern, but the apology made this morning must resonate here in our hearts and minds,” she said.

David Page, 46, composer with the indigenous dance group Bangarra Dance Theatre, said he liked the fact that Mr Rudd made a personal apology.

“It was very moving to see a prime minister with a bit of heart. I loved it when he said he was sorry. There was just something personal about it. It’s very hard for a prime minister to be personal,” he said. “It’s a long road but it’s a great beginning.”

Enid Williams, 72, who was brought up on a mission in Warrabinda in north Queensland after her father was forcibly removed from his family, said she was happy with Mr Rudd’s speech, but said it was now important to look to the future.

“We’ve been put down so many times,” she said. “I’m 72. The main thing is the young people, to give them a better future.”

The reception was not so warm for the speech delivered by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, and the crowd booed at file footage of former prime minister John Howard that was broadcast before the apology.

Michael Kirby, 36, a resident of Waterloo who grew up in rural NSW and whose father had been removed from Swan Hill to be raised at the Kitchener Boys Home, said he was pleased with the turnout at the community centre.

“I was so proud to be walking down here today with non-indigenous Australians,” he said. “Now we have to move together to try and build Australia bigger and better as a whole.”

An entire day of activities has been planned at the community centre, including an afternoon smoking ceremony, repetitions of the speech and a barbecue.

Melanie Giuffre of Surry Hills said she and her husband, Remo, brought their children Lola, 13 and Roman, 9, to Redfern to mark a historic national event. “Roman was doing something at school but we thought it was important to be here as a family,” she said. “[The speech] was really wonderful. It felt we’ve seen the Prime Minister we voted for.”

Sydney Morning Herald multimedia report.

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Ivan Clarke, one of the stolen generations, is comforted by a friend after watching the apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on a large screen in Redfern.
Photo: Jon Reid Sydney Morning Herald.

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From February 2008: reading; Mardi Gras event

The first one includes a perennial topic here in Oz: our national day. And yes, I had forgotten all about reading this!

Outside the whale

19 Feb 2008

Flawed and opinionated it may be in parts, but Frank Welsh’s Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia (Penguin 2005) is proving a very entertaining and informative read. A retired London banker, Welsh has devoted himself to a number of histories, especially of various outposts of the British Commonwealth. He sits somewhat apart from our “history wars”, evincing an enthusiasm for Australia’s successes that would have done John Howard proud, but at the same time warning us in a footnote to take Keith Windschuttle with a grain of salt.

Something of his tone and approach may be gleaned from this five minute talk on ABC Radio National:

As a reasonably well-informed outsider I find the current fretfulness of Australian commentators and historians over the significance of Australia Day to be puzzling. Newspapers are full of worried questioning, argument and counter argument: does the arrival of the First Fleet really deserve celebrating? Is the country’s progress, remarkable though this has been, negated by the initial dispossession of the Aborigines – or, indeed, by the ecological damage sustained? But then, in the course of writing a history of the country, I have noticed that not all Australians share the opinions of academics or journalists, and I do not know how far their unease is reflected in the community at large. Certainly in the small town in which I found myself on Australia Day this year I didn’t see much anxiety. There was none of the strident patriotism that you would find in the United States, it is true, but rather a quiet pride in being Australian, in barbecues and brass bands, in clean beaches with a minimum of official interference, was evident.

To me at least, the problem that seems to trouble the media hardly arises January 26th 1788 was an epochal event, not only in Australia, but in world history. Australia, hitherto little more than a geographical expression, neglected by the rest of the world, began its development into a nation, and a continental nation at that, just as did France on the 14th July in the following year, or the United States had done eleven years previously. Of course the record of no country is entirely unsmirched. The fall of the Bastille was followed not only by the declaration of the Rights of Man and the eventual overthrow of tyrannical regimes all over Europe and in South America, but also by a bloody reign of Terror, in which the guillotine was erected in every French market place, and by nearly 30 years of warfare in which millions died. The American revolution prolonged slavery for a generation after its final abolition in the British colonies, but the 4th and 14th of July both commemorate days which altered the whole future of the world and which nobody thinks should be abandoned.

Similarly, I would suggest, no Australian government stupidities or neglect of difficult problems – what administration anywhere is invariably prudent, far-sighted and liberal? – should be allowed to obscure the emergence of one of the most successful societies the world has ever seen – and this is not just a prejudiced or personal view. In the United Nations Assessment of Human Development, prepared every year, Canada and Australia almost always figure in second or third place – Norway leading – well ahead of either the United States or Great Britain.

Of course countries celebrate not only their foundation or liberation – England being here an exception – but other events of national significance. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand has more resonance than either Australia or Waitangi Day. I spent the morning of 25th April last year in a rain-swept field of northern France witnessing wreaths being laid on the memorial to the Australian Imperial Force – and those who complain of Australia’s participation, far from home, in two World Wars should experience for themselves the continued gratitude and goodwill of the Picardy folk. Resistance to oppression knows no geographical limits.

Nations can also admit their own mistakes: Martin Luther King Junior Day, in the United States, commemorates the shameful continuance of black oppression; the Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, is observed in Germany as well as in Israel – and November 11th stands throughout Europe in remembrance of the major follies of the last century, from which no country can be absolved. Should present day Australians feel that a day must be laid aside to commemorate those things that ought not to have been done and those good things that have been left undone, Anzac Day, which finds the nation in a reflective mood might well fit the need. Or, if like Japan, we prefer to look forward optimistically, we might celebrate Children’s Day, which they do on May 5th, Culture Day, November 3rd and – here I should declare an interest – Respect for the Aged Day, September 18th.

But Australia Day should surely continue to be observed as a proper celebration of the world’s recognition of one of its most distinctive and attractive cultures, at least until Republic Day can be proclaimed, and that may not be for quite a while yet.

Anna Clark reviewed the hardback edition in The Age:

…Welsh self-consciously places Great Southern Land outside conventions of Australian history writing – he is English, not Australian, his approach is general, not narrowly academic – and the book certainly offers a different point of departure.

Welsh’s voice is present throughout. He frequently moves out of the narrative to give judgement on aspects of Australian history and history writing, offering his own opinions and answers with a degree of interest and authority.

Sometimes this authorial tone appears a little condescending, but it can also be illuminating. Welsh rightly argues that there has been a tendency by Australian historians away from comparative studies and his persistent attempts to situate this history within a broader context are certainly instructive. His comparisons with South Africa, for instance, expand the domestic Australian narrative to include a wider history of the British Empire.

This insistence on a broad historical focus makes the book more complex and engaging.

Great Southern Land is a strong general political and economic history. Welsh’s account of the 1890s depression encapsulates the great shifts in employment and economy, the cycles of Australian industry and the fate of the pastoral industry as part of a growing international economy. As the turn of the century approaches, he turns his attention to the movement for federation and nationalism, which he analyses with care and insight.

Welsh has a real grasp of the political sensibilities that have helped shape Australian life and it is impressive how up to date his history is. His interpretation of the conservative ascendancy over the past decade, especially his account of the rise of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party, is perceptive. And his analysis of John Howard’s dominance of Australian political life is equally compelling. Political debates over refugees and Australia’s relationship with the US since September 11 are covered, as is the recent dispute over frontier violence in colonial Australia…

I was fascinated to read that the Colonial Office in London in the early 19th century administered the British Empire with a staff of just seventy, “including filing clerks, doormen, messengers and ‘necessary women’” from “cramped and evil-smelling headquarters” at No 13 Downing Street. More than other histories of Australia that I have read, Welsh is able to relate what was happening in Australia to what was happening in British, indeed world, affairs. That is a big plus. He punctures quite a few of our romantic myths, including the green shamrock view of Australian history which has probably been more influential than the famous black armband. He is a bit obtuse on the prehistory of Aboriginal Australia, but rightly points out how fluid and conjectural much of our knowledge still is in that area.

I can forgive much of a man who writes this:

Macquarie’s Bank [of New South Wales] still exists, seemingly disguised as a frozen food store under the absurd name of Westpac.

Or Wetchex, as a friend of mine said at the time of the change, evoking condoms rather than frozen food.

AFTERTHOUGHT

This book is in fact much better as an introduction to Australian history than the dramatic if one-dimensional The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (1987) and is obviously, twenty years on, much more up to date. The research Welsh undertook is most impressive.

Well now, that’s my Mardi Gras event for this year

28 Feb 2008: WARNING — links may have expired.

courthouse After coaching tonight I caught the slow bus from Chinatown to arrive on a cold and wet Sydney night at Newtown’s rather wonderful Courthouse Hotel for the blogger meetup. That’s not our group in the picture on the right. I was late, so I missed Marcellous.

Even before I had settled into the group for an hour I met of all people someone I had taught English with at Dapto back in 1970, one of the Spender sisters, Dale and Lynn, the former a rather well-known feminist writer, the other no slouch either. It was Lynn I saw, though initially I thought it was Dale. We both contemplated the years that had flown since then with some amazement, though I have to say I am a minnow compared with what those two have done with that time. (See also When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…)

Back to the blogger meet: it was great to put a face to Panther at last. James O’Brien I knew instantly, though I had never met him before, and I discovered why The Other Andrew is so called.

Someone whose travels eclipse M’s trips in duration, if not quite in exotic destinations but he comes very close, is this person:

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I’m an Aussie who has just spent 2 1/2yrs roaming around Europe with my dog, a very large Alaskan Malamute by the name of Bondi. Our adventure began in May 2005. So far we’ve travelled around much of UK, including a week-long walk across Scotland; spent 2 months each in Spain & Paris, plus a 5 week circuit of Ireland; done a load of family-tree research; a coast-to-coast crossing of England on foot along Hadrian’s Wall path, and a side-trip to dive wrecks in the northern part of the Red Sea. Most recently we completed a 20,000km 20-country tour of Europe by car, and 3 months in Scotland.

I also discovered what the wonderful header on Dancing About Architecture is all about.

Check here to learn more about what this meet was and who was there. I imagine a relevant post might appear before long too. Topics as various as knitting, historical reenactments, and Number 96 — that site was especially referred to — were being talked about as I, noticing that it was getting dark out, decided I had to set off home, which I did via an excellent Chinese noodle shop in King Street.

Newtown at night is, I have to say, far more interesting and far more pleasant these days than Oxford Street.

 

 

Looking back at 2017 — 9

From September 2017.

Horror movies right there on my TV…

Too much Cory Bernadi perhaps…

So here I am recuperating from casting my say in the Postal Survey.

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Actually, I was reading an ebook: Gone With the Wind in fact.

Last night I felt a bit gone with the wind myself as I watched Classic Countdown on ABC. It was very good. Lots of uninterrupted acts.

But was it all really over 40 years ago? And did I look like this back then?

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A hundred years ago in Belgium

There was a special commemoration in Belgium yesterday.

ALMOST 1000 people have made an emotional journey to Polygon Wood in Belgium to honour the 5700 young Australian soldiers killed in battle there 100 years ago.

Descendants and friends of the fallen gathered among the headstones at the Buttes New British Cemetery outside the township of Zonnebeke for a dawn service, honouring the sacrifice of the young soldiers killed a century ago on September 26, 1917.

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I thought of two of my family, an uncle I knew and an uncle I never knew.

This man was for sure my favourite Whitfield uncle – well, the only one I ever met in fact. [There was Uncle George of course, but he was “by marriage”.] But he was a really good man, as I recall, with snowy white hair and a crack shot with a rifle – he had competed in that sport. See my April 2014 post Shellharbour.

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Kenneth Ross WHITFIELD (b.1897  d. 1967) m 1920 Esma H. EAST (b. 1895 d. 24 Mar. 1971)

The other uncle — great-uncle actually — was David Belford Christison.

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His life was short. He married Flora Fletcher in 1907 and had three children, all daughters as far as I have been able to find out. According to one source Flora died as recently as 1971. I never met her. David died four years after returning from World War 1.

His military record is available. He was a sapper.

Engineers, also known as sappers, were essential to the running of the war. Without them, other branches of the Allied Forces would have found it difficult to cross the muddy and shell-ravaged ground of the Western Front. Their responsibilities included constructing the lines of defence, temporary bridges, tunnels and trenches, observation posts, roads, railways, communication lines, buildings of all kinds, showers and bathing facilities, and other material and mechanical solutions to the problems associated with fighting in all theatres.

In civilian life he had been a postman.  He managed to get himself blown up by an exploding shell in 1918 leaving a permanent knee injury.

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David Christison was in 14th Field Company Engineers, attached to the 5th Division AIF which did indeed take part in Polygon Wood in 1917. His injury came in April 1918.

Initially, the division was stationed on the Suez Canal. In June 1916 it moved to France, taking over part of the “nursery” sector near Armentieres. There it became involved in the disastrous attack at Fromelles in July. In October it joined the First, Second and Fourth Divisions on the Somme around Flers.

In March 1917 a flying column of the Fifth Division pursued of the Germans to the Hindenburg Line, capturing Bapaume. In May the Division relieved the First Division in the Second Battle of Bullecourt, holding the breach thus gained against furious counterattacks. In September it managed to turn an allied defeat into a major victory at the Battle of Polygon Wood.

In March 1918 the Fifth Division was rushed to the Somme region to help stem the German Offensive. There it guarded the vital Somme River bridges. In April it counterattacked at Villers Bretonneux, recovering the town.

The Fifth Division fought in the Battles of Hamel in July and Amiens in August. In September it forced the Somme River at Peronne and fought on to the Hindenburg Line.

Ken Whitfield arrived in England in December 1917. He has part of a reinforcement for the 3rd Battalion AIF. However, his service with the 3rd Battalion was cut short somewhat by illness. He returned to Australia invalided quite late in 1919.

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Looking back at 2017 — 8

From August 2017.

Re-reading Lawrence 55 years on

Using my Calibre reader on HP Junior I am rereading Sons and Lovers, having first read it in 1962. It holds up well. But how little of it did I really understand at the age of 18 in 1962?

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Hard to believe it was first published over a century ago! See Blake Morrison, Sons and Lovers: a century on.

Sons and Lovers is a great novel. A century of readers have reached for the same adjective. FR Leavis did, when he enrolled Lawrence in the “great tradition” of the English novel, comprising Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. And Philip Larkin did so, too, describing Lawrence as “England’s greatest novelist” and Sons and Lovers as his finest achievement: “Cock me! Nearly every page of it is absolutely perfect.” The perfection wasn’t apparent to those close to Lawrence at the time, including his childhood sweetheart Jessie Chambers, his editor Garnett, and his wife-to-be Frieda, all of whom suggested improvements and left their mark on the finished text. But the reviews were good, and 100 years later the novel’s reputation holds up, despite the recent dip in Lawrence’s critical standing.

To anyone of my generation, that dip is a puzzle…

Living with the facts of our history

There has been a kerfuffle lately about this statue on Sydney’s Hyde Park.

Hyde Park Captain Cook

Obviously recent events in the USA have caused this current crop, notably the observations of Stan Grant in America tears down its racist history, we ignore ours. Grant’s key point is quite reasonable:

Think of those words: “Discovered this territory.” My ancestors were here when Cook dropped anchor. We know now that the first peoples of this continent had been here for at least 65,000 years, for us the beginning of human time.
Yet this statue speaks to emptiness, it speaks to our invisibility; it says that nothing truly mattered, nothing truly counted until a white sailor first walked on these shores.
The statue speaks still to terra nullius and the violent rupture of Aboriginal society and a legacy of pain and suffering that endures today…

Captain Cook’s statue stands in the centre of our biggest city. There are Indigenous people who for good reason would prefer to see it removed.
Personally I accept that it remains; Cook is part of the story of this nation.
But surely we need no longer maintain the fiction that he “discovered” this country. It dishonours the people who reached this continent 60,000 years before Cook.
This was not an empty land.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, defending Australia Day this week, said it is also a day we honour Indigenous Australians.
If he is serious then what could be more apt than to correct a monument that tells us, still, that in 1770 we did not exist?

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In 1879

Do have a look at Kenneth Slessor’s poem Five Visions of Captain Cook.

Let rum-tanned mariners prefer
To hug the weather-side of yards,
‘Cats to catch mice’ before they purr,
Those were the captain’s enigmatic words.
Here, in this jolly-boat they graced,
Were food and freedom, wind and storm,
While, fowling-piece across his waist,
Cook mapped the coast, with one eye cocked for game.

And now we have a concern about a recent statue of Governor Macquarie.

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Keep in mind that Lachlan Macquarie was among the most enlightened and humane of our early NSW governors. Macquarie definitely deserves a statue, but on the other hand:

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See my post Bicentenary of Dharawal massacre in Appin area.

I say keep these statues, but correct their inscriptions where they are plain wrong. We should then face ALL our history.

Update

Typical! Here’s the OTT sensationalising of, essentially, Stan Grant’s article as filtered by the Daily Terror! Talk about “fake news!”

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So disappointing! 26 August

Referring to the news item on SBS: ‘Change the date’: Vandals attack statues in Australia Day protest. On Facebook I have said: “How disappointing! Turnbull —shame on him— is being a total arse, and is dead wrong himself, and these vandals are self-righteous pricks with no understanding of history either. Given my family history I am utterly opposed to ALL those right/left who have made such a hash of the perfectly sane and reasonable points made by Stan Grant. Why can’t we all just grow up? ”

Next day!

I stand by the everything from “these vandals are self-righteous pricks” on, though there may have been just one vandal. I have however been too harsh on Malcolm Turnbull, given what he actually wrote on Facebook. Shame about his “Stalinist” claptrap, but this is fair enough I think:

Tearing down or defacing statues of our colonial era explorers and governors is not much better than that. Of course Cook didn’t “discover” Australia anymore than Columbus “discovered” America or Marco Polo “discovered” China. I knew that when as a schoolboy I first read the inscription.

The statue gives a perspective of history from the time it was erected – 1879. Just as a history text in the Mitchell Library from the same era would do. Is the next step of this new totalitarianism to burn the 19th century histories of Australia as well, or should their yellowing pages be simply overwritten in crude graffiti condemning their long dead authors?

Old histories should not be burned, anymore than old statues should be torn down. Rather they should be challenged and complemented by new histories, fresh evidence and modern monuments.

And now to be really provocative, here is a thought that often crosses my mind:

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Family history/Australian of the Year

Yesterday I mentioned last year’s family history project, which occupied me for much of April and May 2017. That project brought together in one place posts from several blogs. It is a rather scary thought, in that I may or may not be around — being of a certain age — but the bicentennial of my Whitfield convict ancestor’s arrival is rapidly approaching. He left Ireland in 1821 and arrived in Sydney in 1822. Here is what Sydney looked like one year on from that arrival.

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That image  comes from the designers working on the Barangaroo site just to the west of Sydney Harbour Bridge. There is much to reflect on in that image too, given current discussion on the suitability of 26 January as Australia Day — but I have dealt with that one so often!

Putting family history on the internet has been rewarding. I have learnt much and made the acquaintance of family members I have not met in real life. Sometimes they point out errors or omissions. Recently, for example, Stuart Daniels pointed out a deficiency in my 2013 post Family history–some news on the Whitfield front. Stuart emailed: “Neil just looked at your Blog, and you are missing the death dates for Joseph Whitfield  29 Sept 1860; James Albert Whitfield  died 1958; Jane Amy Bent Whitfield died  1963. If you need this sort of information I have it ALL. I have the Whitfield tree back to1697 Stangmore Co. Tyrone.” In my post I had quoted an older version of the family tree. If any of you are interested in Stuart’s information, contact me and I can put you in touch with Stuart.

And tonight we have the Australian of the Year awards. There are many fine candidates. I will be watching ABC tonight!