On This Day …

Wednesday 16th February, 1983

Fire DestructionWhile this event is not so long in the past, it is still one which evokes strong memories. As a child, thirty years ago, living near the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, I can remember the day that ashes dropped from the sky as I swam in my backyard pool and the atmosphere was filled with the kind of smoky yellow haze that makes the sun appear to be a thousand times bigger than normal.

The conditions that day were much like the conditions in the more recent Black Saturday fires, the day felt abnormal from the start. People died. Homes burned to the ground. Stock was lost.

And yet, I find it interesting that the day was already named Ash Wednesday even before the fires broke out. On the Christian calendar it was marked as the first day of Lent, a period of fasting and praying leading up to Easter, symbolic of Christ’s time in the desert where he faced temptation. Ash Wednesday because believers trace a cross on their foreheads with ash to remind them of our mortality, a sign of mourning and repentance.

I think that nothing can remind us of our mortality more than a tragedy like a raging bushfire which takes lives without discretion. No wonder that many turn to God in times like that.

Do you remember Ash Wednesday? Where were you and what were you doing?

Published in: on 15th February, 2013 at 10:58 am  Comments (3)  
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On This Day …

Saturday February 8th, 1879

Ned_kelly_day_before_execution_photographAustralians seem to celebrate our historical outlaws for some reason. Strangely, we think there is something exciting or even romantic about the bushranging lifestyle. But as I read about Ned Kelly, I almost shuddered. What took place on this day, and the following couple of days would have been quite frightening for those involved.

Imagine, the townsfolk of Jerilderie were sleeping this Saturday morning. While still in the middle of the night, Ned and his gang rode into town, their first stop, the local constabulary. There, they tricked the policemen, locked them in their own cell, took their uniforms and then proceeded to head about town posing as constables protecting the town from bushrangers.

The true constable’s wife was made to hand over all firearms, while dressed in her nightgown and with children to look after. What terror that poor woman must have gone through. On Sunday she had to prepare the courthouse for a church service, but had to be accompanied by one of the gang the whole time.

On Monday they robbed the bank, stealing over  2000 pounds, then proceeded to spend some of it in the pubs about town. The rest of the day they stole all sorts of things, including horses, then vandalised the telegraph office, before finally leaving town at about 7pm.

During his stay in Jerilerie, Ned Kelly dictated a letter complaining of his treatment by the police, part of which reads: ‘…the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat-necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splaw-footed sons of Irish Bailiffs or english landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police…’ Now, I don’t know if there was any truth to his claims of ill-treatment, but I do know that insulting people is not the way to get them on your side. I’d be surprised if anyone took his letter seriously, fifty-six pages long as it was.

How do you think you would have reacted if a gang of thieves rode into your town and held it hostage for the weekend?

Published in: on 8th February, 2013 at 10:58 am  Comments (4)  
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On This Day …

Monday 1st February, 1915

Coober Pedy, 0949-90Coober Pedy is not much to look at. From the air it looks like a dusty desert town plopped in the middle of treeless terrain. Hot days, cold nights. Even on the ground there is not much to entice you.

However, when you look between the deceptively dull surface, there is hidden one of the world’s richest treasures in opal. This beautiful gem was first discovered at Coober Pedy in 1915, by some gold prospectors of course.

iStock_000010673768XSmallAs the opal field grew, the miners, who found the temperature extremes unbearable, began to dig underground homes where the temperature remained constant at around 25C. Thus, the mining town became known as Coober Pedy, derived from the aboriginal words kupa piti, meaning ‘white man in a hole.’

Coober Pedy is now often referred to as the opal capital of the world. Ninety-five percent of the worlds opal production comes from Australia — Coober Pedy and other opal mines.

Have you ever slept in a dugout — I have? Do you own any opal jewelry?

Published in: on 1st February, 2013 at 10:47 am  Comments (2)  
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On This Day …

Sunday, 25th January, 1885

2485156450_c35f632970Only two years after the track from Melbourne to Sydney was finally connected all the way, one of the first rail disasters took place at Cootamundra, NSW. The express train to Sydney had left Melbourne carrying many passengers bound for the races at Randwick. Little did they know that disaster lay ahead, barely over half way through the journey.

A 250ml rainfall over the previous few days had caused flooding in Cootamundra, and normally dry creek beds swelled over their banks. Salt Clay Creek, which the railway crossed, became a torrent which washed part of the track away — the culvert not being big enough to withstand such a swell. Added to that the telegraph wires were down, so the warning message could not be sent through to the rail company.

Being around 8pm, there was little light, so the washed out bridge would have been unseen until they were almost upon it and so the train plunged ahead into the gap. Sadly, eight people died and another forty-nine were injured in the crash. In darkness, survivors had to help one another, getting out of the water and to dry ground. You can see from the photo, how a number of carriages were completely shattered in the impact.

At the coroner’s inquiry, it was found that the Railways Department were at fault for not building a big enough culvert to withstand those kind of floodwaters.

Have you ever been in a serious accident? How did it impact your life?

Published in: on 25th January, 2013 at 10:29 am  Comments (2)  
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On This Day …

Tuesday 18th January, 1825

Hume & Hovell's route is marked by the dotted line.

Hume & Hovell’s route is marked by the dotted line.

Explorers Hume and Hovell made the overland trip from NSW to Port Phillip, beginning on 3rd October, 1824, and returning to Hume’s homestead at Lake George on 18th January, 1825.

Before their expedition, it was believed the land was uninhabitable and that there would be no grazing land in sight. As a result no exploration trip had been supported by the government. However, with a new governor in office, Sir Thomas Brisbane, things began to change. Brisbane did not believe the prior conviction that the south-west tract would be useless, and so commissioned Hamilton Hume and Captain William Hovell to make the journey.

Hume was Australian-born and had excellent bush skills — he had the skills, but no position to stand on. Hovell was a former ship’s captain and had the ranking, but no bush skills to speak of. It would seem they were well matched for the expedition. However, the reports are that they argued for the whole journey and continued to be in dispute well after the trip was over. Even until late in life, they were in bitter dispute over who was the leader and who made the discoveries.

In spite of their differences they did manage to cross the Great Divide, discover the Murray River (which they called the Hume River at the time), and found plenty of grazing and pasture land on their journey. On their return to Sydney, they were both awarded with large land grants, and soon settlers were streaming south-west in their path — the way that is now known as the Hume Freeway.

Published in: on 18th January, 2013 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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On This Day …

Saturday 11th January, 1896

Photo by Jean Carneiro

Photo by Jean Carneiro

We’ve had a bit of a heat wave across the southern states in the past week, with temperatures in the high thirties and low forties (Celsius). Most of us know from experience that on those days it is best to keep exertion to a minimum, and shade and water to a maximum.

Some of the inland areas hit extremes in temperature, hitting the high forties in the shade. In 1896, the southern states endured a heat wave that began, in some areas, in October of 1895.

HeatwaveThe town of Bourke in NSW suffered the worst of it. The thirteen worst days ended on the 11th of January, but by then 47 people had succumbed to the heat. With temperatures averaging at 47 degrees Celsius, it is no wonder.

According to the Barrier Miner, a local newspaper, the temperature did not dip below 45 during the day and 38 at night for six weeks, with the top reaching a soaring 53 degrees.

By late January, across the southern states of Australia, 437 people had died through the heat wave.

Thankfully these days we have air conditioning which can alleviate some of the difficulties of extreme hot weather. Back then, the best they could do was dip in the nearest river.

What do you like to do on extremely hot days?

Published in: on 11th January, 2013 at 10:49 am  Comments (2)  
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On This Day …

Sunday, 21st December, 1817

800px-Mercator_World_MapOur great south land has gone through a few name changes over the centuries. In the 1500s we were known as Terra Australis Incognita — the unknown southern land — and was charted as rather a large blob covering much of the southern hemisphere (see map). It is interesting how much detail is on the rest of the world’s continents in comparison.

When the Dutch came by in 1644, Abel Tasman named our continent New Holland (Nova Hollandia), after his homeland. That name stuck for at least 180 years.

In 1770, when Captain James Cook landed on the east coast, he claimed the land as British and named it New South Wales. This included what is now Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Any land claimed by the British from then on was called New South Wales, the rest remaining as New Holland — basically Western Australia.

Matthew Flinders explored the Australian coastline in the early 1800s. In his notes and charts he used the term Australia based on the original title for the southern land. He published the account of this voyage in 1814, in which he proposed the name change, ‘being more agreeable to the ear, and as an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth.’

Governor Lachlan Macquarie obviously agreed with this proposal and in an official dispatch to England on 21st December, 1817, he recommended the name change to the British Admiralty. Yet, it was still another seven years before it was officially sanctioned.

Personally, I like the name Australia over its predecessors. How about you?

Published in: on 21st December, 2012 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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On This Day …

Monday, 13th December, 1802

Bellin1753Did you know that Tasmania might have been a French colony, but for a man called Charles Robbins, who intercepted the French on the 13th December, 1802?

As we know Tasmania was originally discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642, who then named it Van Diemen’s Land after the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies in Jakarta, Anthony van Diemen, at the time. At that point they were unaware Tasmania was an island.

Captain Arthur Philip of the First Fleet in 1788, claimed the whole east coast of Australia for Britain, including Tasmania, again unaware that Van Diemen’s Land was separate from the mainland of the country. It was another eleven years before Bass and Flinders circumnavigated Tassie, proving it was in fact, an island.

Of course, the British were eager to make a proper claim on the island then, but discovered that the French also had an eye on the island. French commodore Nicolas Baudin let it slip (during some drunken revelry in Port Jackson – Sydney) that he aimed to colonise Van Diemen’s Land for France. The race was on then. Governor King sent Charles Robbins down to Tassie to convince the Frenchies to leave the little island alone.

Robbins arrived in Tasmania on 13th December, 1802, on a schooner called the Cumberland, and was successful in dissuading Baudin from setting up a colony. British troops soon followed to re-enforce England’s claim on the island.

Imagine if he’d failed. Would we have a little French population to our south? Can you speak any French?

Published in: on 14th December, 2012 at 11:05 am  Comments (2)  
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On This Day …

7th December, 1899

419px-AndersonDawsonAnderson Dawson was the 14th Premiere of Queensland, although his reign was short-lived, only remaining in the seat for one week. His real name was Andrew, which interests me as I have a cousin called Andrew Dawson, and great memories of visits to the farm as a child come with this cousin.

But I digress. Anderson Dawson gained his position when the previous government — led by James Dickson — resigned at the end of November. Anderson formed a ministry and took the helm on the 1st December. He may have been the 14th Premiere of Queensland, but he was the first ever Labour Government to be in office not only in Australia, but the whole world. His office therefore gained international attention.

However, Anderson was not supported when the house next sat, and he was replaced by Robert Philip’s Ministerial government, thus ending his short term after seven days. He did continue on in politics for a number of years, but eventually retired because of ill-health and sadly died in 1910 at the age of forty-seven.

Do you follow politics? Does it interest you? Or would you, like me, rather watch paint dry?

Published in: on 7th December, 2012 at 7:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On This Day …

Saturday, 30th November, 1878

Today our national anthem was born. It was first performed in public at a St Andrews Day concert of the Highland Society.

Sounds Scottish? Well, the composer was Scottish born Peter Dodds McCormick who came to Australia in 1855. He worked as a school teacher and was very community minded and also involved in the Scottish Presbyterian church. He wrote many songs, but Advance Australia Fair became quite popular due to its patriotic flavour.

In 1901 at the inauguration Federation ceremony, it was performed by a choir of 10,000. The song was soon suggested as a fitting replacement for ‘God Save the Queen’ as our national anthem, but that didn’t actually take place until 1984.

Here, for your interest, are the original words, as composed by McCormick.

Australian sons, let us rejoice. For we are young and free. We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, Our home is girt by sea. Our land abounds in nature’s gifts Of beauty rich and rare, In history’s page let every stage Advance Australia Fair. In joyful strains then let us sing Advance Australia Fair.

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed. To trace wide oceans o’er. True British courage bore him on. Til he landed on our shore. Then here he raised Old England’s flag. The standard of the brave. With all her faults we love her still. Britannia rules the wave. In joyful strains then let us sing Advance Australia Fair.

When other nations of the globe. Behold us from afar, We’ll rise to high renown And shine like our glorious southern star. From English soil and Fatherland Scotia and Erin fair. Let all combine with heart and hand To Advance Australia fair. In joyful strains then let us sing Advance Australia Fair.

Should foreign foe e’er sight our coast. Or dare a foot to land. We’ll rouse to arms like sires of yore To guard our native strand. Britannia then shall surely know, Though oceans roll between Her sons in fair Australia’s land Still keep their courage green. In joyful strains then let us sing Advance Australia Fair.

Photo by Timo Balk

Don’t you love it? In his own words, a couple of years before he died, McCormick said ‘there has not been a note of it altered since.’ Some wording has changed a little, but the tune still reflects what he composed all those years ago.

What do you think of our national anthem? How does it make you feel when you hear it?