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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Fascinated by Catherine McKinnon’s “Storyland”

Or rather, by the review I read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland opens with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders and George Bass as they set out on a fair day in March 1796 to explore the white, uncharted  land south of Sydney Cove.

The nine day sea voyage in the Tom Thumb begins ominously with the spoiling of the boat’s water that sets the intrepid explorers off in search of fresh supplies.

On their second shore landing, the explorers are welcomed by two Indigenous men, one of whom is known as Dilba, a man ”born of the earth itself”, who trades them fish and fresh water for two potatoes and a handkerchief.

It’s the first of a series of meetings in which Flinders is trusted enough to cut off the men’s beards with scissors, before confusion reigns and a warning shot is fired and the nascent goodwill between nations evaporates in musket smoke…

See also ‘Fascinating’ Lake Illawarra inspires author’s new book (2013).

The beauty of Lake Illawarra inspired Eugene Von Guerard to paint it in 1860, and now the saltwater lake has inspired Jamberoo author and playwright Catherine McKinnon.

Her second novel, Storyland, is set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spans four centuries. The web connecting the five storylines is the lake’s natural environment, including the abundant wildlife. McKinnon weaves together her stories up to a climatic event – starting in the present, travelling into the future and skipping back to the past.

Von Guerard’s painting shows much of the lake’s surrounds stripped of their cedar and used for farmland almost 80 years after settlement.

McKinnon’s work stretches back even further, to Matthew Flinders’ exploration of the area in 1796. His account of that journey is the only historical record of the first encounter with the area’s Wadi Wadi people.

In researching the book, McKinnon explores the validity of Flinders’ two accounts of the journey and examines the influences and pressures he may have felt in writing them.

Flinders describes how they struggled to find fresh drinking water, had difficulty landing the boat and traded goods with two Koori men, who guided the explorers to Canoe Rivulet, a stream off Lake Illawarra, where they met with more locals. At some point Flinders believed the Kooris began to act suspiciously. Fearing for his life, he decided to use deceit to retreat back to the boat.

In Storyland, McKinnon challenges Flinders’ accounts by offering an alternative, imaginary perspective, from the point of view of an English servant, taking the reader on the same journey as they sailed up Lake Illawarra in the small boat, the Tom Thumb, through to Canoe Rivulet.

‘‘The book is partly based on real, historical events and part imagination,’’ explains McKinnon….

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Bass And Flinders In The “Tom Thumb”, c1930s. Colour lithograph. Pritchard.

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See my 2013 post Tom Thumb Lagoon. There is also a PDF file of an authoritative local  history available from the University of Wollongong: W.G. McDonald, (1975), The First Footers – Bass and Flinders in Illawarra.

In a moment of aberration Meehan in 1816 identified Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with the lagoon between Throsby’s stockman’s hut (near Brighton Beach at Wollongong) and Red Point, and the name stuck until “ the Thumb” was converted into Port Kembla Inner Harbour. Then, to conform with this, Allan Cunningham identified Hat Hill with Mount Keira, and labelled Mount Kembla Cap Hill or Molle Hill, making a molehill out of a mountain, and confusion worse confounded. These identifications are quite untenable; so are the theories which identify Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with Coomaditchy and with Little Lake at Warilla. Tom Thumb’s Lagoon can only be Lake Illawarra, and Canoe River its entrance; and there is a scintilla of  evidence that the blacks were shorn on the southern rather than on the northern side. Oddly Flinders makes no mention of Windang Island, which is such a striking feature of the entrance – the one piece of solid land in miles of sand. The map shows a hammer-headed peninsula on the south side to the entrance, which presumably represents Windang Island joined to the mainland by a sandspit, as it often is. Whether the channel is to the north or south of the island, or both, depends on the vagaries of wind and tide. Hat Hill is said by Flinders to be five miles W.N.W. from Red Point. He was over a mile short in his estimate of the distance, but the bearing is dead right for Mount K embla. For Mount Keira the bearing is wrong, and the discrepancy in distance even greater. The adventurers spent a third uncomfortable night in the boat, under the lee of the inner of the two northern islands, which they called Martin’s Isles

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Percy Lindsay’s 1925 watercolour of the story While the Powder Dried, which was used to illustrate the story of how Bass and Flinders diverted the attention of Aboriginals at Lake Illawarra by cutting their hair.

Feedback can be nice

Had an email concerning Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield:

I have just come across your web story concerning the Guringai Family and in particular the part of your story about Joseph Ashby born in 1810 Colchester Essex UK.

As you see above my name is also Ashby, I am 81 and I live in Colchester. Joseph Ashby 1810 was my Gt Gt Uncle. Until I read your story I had no idea of his life after his release, so as you can imagine my interest was instant.

Joseph was one of eleven children born to Joseph Ashby born 1776 in Ellingham Norfolk UK and his wife Lydia Hardy of whom only five survived their teenage years. Three girls and two boys. Joseph 1810 and William 1814. They were both convicted of larceny and transported to Australia.

William stole a silver watch and was sentenced to seven years on 11 Oct 1834 arriving in NSW on 3 Nov1835 on the ” Westmorland” He gained his certificate of freedom 4/4366 in 1841.

Later he wed Caroline Lee in Melbourne in 1841 and that is all that I know of him.
If this little bit is of interest I would appreciate any info on William if you have any.

Sincerely
Tony Ashby

Time: February 28, 2017 at 12:25 am

I can’t add anything though. Nice bit of history in Tony’s letter. If you check the post Tony refers to you will see a correction that came from another email a short while ago.

NOTE  16 Feb 2017: “The photo of Charlotte Webb is in fact Hannah Ashby.” Thanks to Carolyn Cartan by email. Last week Warren told me on the phone that he had erred in attributing that photo.

More emails, this concerning my mother’s family. See Neil’s personal decades: 23 –- 1915 — Christisons and More tales from my mother 2 — Felled Timber Creek.

Just after the outbreak of World War 1 Dad [my grandfather] was sent to a place with the lovely name of “Felled Timber Creek” which was six miles — walking — from Dalton and about twelve miles from Gunning, the nearest rail head.

I remember as a very small girl being taken from the train at some ungodly hour and then a long drive on a Cobb & Co Coach over rough roads until in the early dawn we were set down as close as the coach could take us to our new home. We trudged wearily about a mile down a bush track, and again, as at Spencer, the school was a slab built building, beside which was a mud floored slab hut which was the kitchen of the residence. The Department had out of the goodness of its heart erected a four room building of timber containing three bedrooms and a dining room, with the ever present verandah across the front where the lucky schoolie and his family were to live. The kitchen-cum-laundry — it had been used as a shearer’s hut originally — was some distance from the main house. I know it was mighty cold going from the kitchen to bed in winter when the south-west wind blew, and in the summer in that area of red clay country the heat came down as only the heat can in the real “Outback”.

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The emails from Bob:

  1. I have just purchased Felled Timber on Offely’s Lane. I have been told the part of the house is the original Felled Timber School. It is only about 500m from the school grounds. Do you have any pics that you would share with me of the School buildings..
  2. I took pics at the old school grounds the other day and have some of the house as it is today. I’m in the middle of moving but I will get a collection together and send them to you it may take a few weeks to get sorted.
    If you don’t hear from me a reminder would be good.
    Regards
    Bob

Darwin 1942-3

The things that were happening as I prepared to enter this world!

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That telegram from my father arrived soon after I was born. Meanwhile, Japanese air raids were continuing in our north, though the main one was 75 years ago today.

  • 20 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 55.
    Three killed and eleven wounded.
    Winnellie area hit, also RAAF.

  • 28 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 56.
    Nil casualties.
    Three huts damaged.

  • 30 Jun 1943 – Raid No. 57.
    Two wounded.
    Aircraft and vehicles damaged.

  • 06 Jul 1943 – Raid No. 58.
    Nil casualties.
    Four aircraft damaged.

  • 13 Aug 1943 – Raids No. 59 & 60.
    Nil casualties.
    Nil damage.

Today’s Sun-Herald: Bombing of Darwin: 75th anniversary brings new recognition of attacks.

Australia marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin on Sunday but for generations the country was kept in the dark about the true dimensions of the Japanese attack.

At 9.58am on February 19, 1942, just four days after the supposedly impregnable British garrison in Singapore collapsed, Japanese bombers escorted by Zero fighters appeared in the skies above Darwin…

Military historian Tom Lewis’ new book, The Empire Strikes South Japan’s Air War Against Northern Australia 1942-45,  reveals new information about the war.

He told Fairfax Media that contrary to enduring claims there had been 64 raids in the Northern Territory, his research of Japanese war records found 77, while 208 enemy combat flights were carried out in northern Australia.

“In wartime, some truths get lost, viewed through different prisms, changed or forgotten,” he said.

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See also The bombing of Darwin – Fact sheet 195.

On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin. The two attacks, which were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor ten weeks earlier, involved 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea, and a second raid of 54 land-based bombers. The carrier battle group consisted additionally of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, seven destroyers, three submarines, and two other heavy cruisers on distant cover.