Until the day I left home to get married, I’d hear my father occasionally yell out in the dead of night, “get down, you fool! Get down!” He was reliving the first light of dawn of the second morning of the Battle of El Alamein, Montgomery’s great push back against Rommel in North Africa. It was one of only two major battles that Australia was involved in during World War II and the first major setback for Nazi Germany at the hands of the Allies.
Dad had insisted on surrendering his officer’s commission in the Light Horse at the beginning of the war so that he could fight ‘in the ranks’, and had been promoted to Acting Sergeant and placed in control of three anti-tank guns and their crews in the 2/3rd Anti Tank unit of the famous 9th Division.
On that fateful morning, having advanced 100 metres overnight, they saw the German tank at the same time as it saw them in the first rays of light, and it was very close indeed.
The Panzer opened fire. Shells started exploding all-round, shrapnel and dirt and noise and chaos and terror reigned — it must have been horrific — and a young soldier next to Dad panicked and leapt out of the inadequate trench. My father jumped up to pull him down and they were both hit badly.
A mate found the tattered remains of my father’s shirt that evening when the battle died down. He and a couple of others went to the big field hospital hoping to find him, only to be told that he was in a coma in an oxygen tent and “he won’t see the night out.”
Somehow he did — he was a very strong man — and was brought back to the family property to recuperate, only returning to light duties at the end of the war. He was in very bad shape personally. Today we would not only recognise the impact of such trauma but we would do something about it too. His body, and mind, bore deep scars for the rest of his life.
There was endless army banter when Dad was with other returned personnel, but he never spoke of his own nightmare, even though he evidently re-lived it frequently. I have only been able to piece together what really happened from others, over many years.
It meant, though, that I grew up in the shadow of the horror of war. It gave me a detestation of armed conflict. I even dislike violence in films. However, I’ve also developed a deep conviction that, as the old Chinese proverb has it, ‘if you wish for peace, you must prepare for war.’
Australia had not prepared for the conflict that was so obviously boiling in the 1930s, unlike the extraordinary foresight the founding fathers of the new Federation had displayed prior to 1914. That generation was able to secure the south-west Pacific with its powerful new navy in very quick order, and then go on to play a vital role in the whole dreadful conflict.
I was always conscious that Dad was seen as something of a hero, and yet his actions spoke louder than words in having volunteered for service in May 1940, following Dunkirk, as he would never boast of his exploits — ever. The closest he ever went to it was to note with quite an edge, even a bitterness, to his voice as I left for Canberra as a young, newly-minted MP that I should never be naive when Australian soldiers were being eulogised, as he’d seen plenty of poor as well as noble behaviour in the heat of battle. I guess he’d earned the right to make that call.
Unfortunately for Dad, he was to face yet more trials. Having finally settled down enough after the terrible disruptions to both of their lives caused by the war, my father and mother married a full decade after the time that their friends reckoned they might otherwise have done. They had two children, me and my sister, soon after, but my mother then died of cancer in 1960, after just six years of married life.
Even then, Dad’s resilience pulled him through — but the loss of my sister in a game of family cricket when she was a young teenager really did throw him. The sadness became very deep. A father given more than ever to his own thoughts became less available to me, and I found it hard not to be critical of the relief he often sought from endless cigarettes and a pretty solid liking for rum.
Like so many children, often encouraged by the emergence of the culture of victimhood that is part and parcel perhaps of our desire to blame others and which is now raging like an out of control bushfire, I started to focus on his failings rather than his qualities. To my shame, I became unfairly critical of him.
Then an unexpected encounter caused me to slowly but surely start to pull back and look at the whole canvas, the ‘bigger picture’.
Sitting at my desk in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office one day, I was handed an extraordinary letter that my staff realised I’d need to respond to personally. It was neatly handwritten, on quality paper:
Dear Mr Anderson, I believe you were my first baptismal candidate. If my memory serves me correctly, your parents were country people. They were down from the bush in Easter 1957 staying at a cottage at Newport Beach. I had just been ordained and the Vicar who was going to take the baptism had taken ill, and I was sent off at short notice and I met this country family. I baptised the boy — I believe it was you — and committed to praying for him for the rest of my life…
Yours sincerely, Len Abbott.”
I was very keen to meet Len. I invited him to dinner at Parliament House, and we had an extraordinary evening. He talked of my mother and father, both of whom were capable of lighting up a room, and asked me to map out my life in detail — he was a great listener.
Then he said something that really struck me — indeed it was quite an epiphany. He said, simply, ‘I so admire that generation of men’.
I asked him to elaborate and he showed me what I hadn’t seen.
“Look at his circumstances. Out in the bush. Suddenly left without his wife. Yet another major life setback, after such a terrible war. Two very small children to look after, and no obvious way to do it while trying to run a demanding farm business,” he began.
“Many fathers would have fostered their children out, thinking not only of the practicalities but also not believing they could do it properly, but your father stuck to it and found ways to keep you with him.”
The idea that Dad might not have kept us with him led me slowly to feel relieved, then delighted, then thankful, that he had. How unattractive the alternatives might have been. And how powerful, once seen, is the knowledge of genuine commitment and love in smothering out the petty grievances and the misunderstandings! Love indeed covers a multitude of sins.
I now see the larger canvas. My father really did love me and provided a safe place for my sister and me to grow up, both physically and emotionally, despite the challenges. That was foundational for me as a man. He gave me the keys to live well both personally and professionally; others must judge how well I used them.
I now realise that the criticisms that I made of him were me, in some part, feeling overshadowed by his capabilities, from his fast bowling to his quick humour. He might have been the very man spoken of as a soldier by what General Montgomery called, “the magnificent 9th.” Even Rommel called them, “immensely big and powerful men, who without question represented an elite formation of the British Empire, a fact that was also evident in battle.”
How could I compete with that? The answer: I couldn’t – and can’t. But I can give a word of thanks to God for him. And if I didn’t then, let me acknowledge my thanks to my Dad here. He could have outwardly played the victim, but he didn’t. He would have been dismayed by the modern phenomenon of victimhood culture. Despite being the victim of events beyond his control — a madman burning down civilisation in Europe, the death of his wife, then his daughter — he held high his principles of duty and sacrifice.
Since Len came to see me, and helped me see what my Dad did for me, I’ve become a committed advocate for fathering. George Bush Sr., when he was first faced with a rioting America following the death of Rodney King, knew part of what the Western world needs now is good fathers. Bush said that Americans had spent perhaps $3 trillion to that point in time on programs for welfare, drugs and urban violence, but had nothing to show for it. The answer could be right in front of us. As Professor Bruce Robinson from the Fathering Project has explained to me, one of the greatest predictors of how well we turn out as people, and how society turns out, is the presence of decent fathering.
We need to end the silence on this. If we really care about our children, and our boys in particular, (the prison statistics alone tell us how serious their crisis is) we would own a simple truth whether convenient or not and start talking about the critical importance of fathering.
John Anderson served as Australia’s 11th Deputy Prime Minister. He now interviews an array of thought leaders for his Conversations video podcast; available via johnanderson.net.au, YoutTube or audio podcast platforms. He is a patron of The Fathering Project
Though poor and in trouble I wander alone, With rebel cockade in my hat, Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown, My country will never do that! You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, the rose, Or the three in a bunch, if you will; But I know of a country that gathered all those, And I love the great land where the Waratah grows. And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.
Australia! Australia! so fair to behold- While the blue sky is arching above; The stranger should never have need to be told, That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold. And the Waratah’s red with her love.
Australia! Australia! most beautiful name, Most kindly and bountiful land; I would die every death that might save her from shame, If a black cloud should rise on the stand; But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes, Let them come! Let them come when they will! Though the struggle be grim, ’tis Australia that knows That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows, And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.
It surely cannot be too soon, and never is too late, It tones with all Australia’s tune to praise one’s native State, And so I bring an old refrain from days of posts and rails, And lift the good old words again, for Sunny New South Wales. She bore me on her tented fields, and wore my youth away, And little gold of all she yields repays my toil to-day; By track and camp and bushman’s hut-by streets where courage fails- I’ve sung for all Australia, but my heart’s in New South Wales. The waratah and wattle there in all their glory grow- And if they bloom on hills elsewhere, I’m not supposed to know, The tales that other States may tell-I never hear the tales! For I, her son, have sinned as well as Bonnie New South Wales. I only know her heart is good to sweetheart and to mate, And pregnant with our nationhood from Sunset to the Gate; I only know her sons sail home on every ship that sails, Henry Lawson
Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922) was an Australian writer and bush poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson, Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period and is often called Australia’s “greatest short story writer”.
A vocal nationalist and republican, Lawson regularly contributed to The Bulletin, and many of his works helped popularise the Australian vernacular in fiction. He wrote prolifically into the 1890s, after which his output declined, in part due to struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. At times destitute, he spent periods in Darlinghurst Gaol and psychiatric institutions. After he died in 1922 following a cerebral haemorrhage, Lawson became the first Australian writer to be granted a state funeral.
He was the son of the poet, publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson.
Family and early life
Grenfell, Lawson’s birthplace, during the 2011 Henry Lawson Festival
Henry Lawson was born 17 June 1867 in a town on the Grenfell goldfields of New South Wales. His father was Niels Hertzberg Larsen, a Norwegian-born miner. Niels Larsen went to sea at 21 and arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rush, along with partner William Henry John Slee. Lawson’s parents met at the goldfields of Pipeclay (now Eurunderee, Gloucester County, New South Wales). Niels and Louisa Albury (1848–1920) married on 7 July 1866 when he was 32 and she 18. On Henry’s birth, the family surname was Anglicised and Niels became Peter Lawson. The newly married couple were to have an unhappy marriage. Louisa, after family-raising, took a significant part in women’s movements, and edited a women’s paper called The Dawn (published May 1888 to July 1905). She also published her son’s first volume, and around 1904 brought out a volume of her own, Dert and Do, a simple story of 18,000 words. In 1905 she collected and published her own verses, The Lonely Crossing and other Poems. Louisa likely had a strong influence on her son’s literary work in its earliest days. Peter Lawson’s grave (with headstone) is in the little private cemetery at Hartley Vale, New South Wales, a few minutes’ walk behind what was Collitt’s Inn.
Lawson attended school at Eurunderee from 2 October 1876 but suffered an ear infection at around this time. It left him with partial deafness and by the age of fourteen he had lost his hearing entirely. However, his master John Tierney was kind and did all he could for Lawson, who was quite shy. Lawson later attended a Catholic school at Mudgee, New South Wales around 8 km away; the master there, Mr Kevan, would teach Lawson about poetry. Lawson was a keen reader of Dickens and Marryat and Australian novels such as Marcus Clarke‘s For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) and Rolf Boldrewood‘s Robbery Under Arms (1882); an aunt had also given him a volume by Bret Harte. Reading became a major source of his education because, due to his deafness, he had trouble learning in the classroom.
In 1883, after working on building jobs with his father in the Blue Mountains, Lawson joined his mother in Sydney at her request. Louisa was then living with Henry’s sister and brother. At this time, Lawson was working during the day and studying at night for his matriculation in the hopes of receiving a university education. However, he failed his exams. At around 20 years of age Lawson went to the eye and ear hospital in Melbourne but nothing could be done for his deafness.
In 1890 he began a relationship with Mary Gilmore. She writes of an unofficial engagement and Lawson’s wish to marry her, but it was broken by his frequent absences from Sydney. The story of the relationship is told in Anne Brooksbank‘s play All My Love.
In 1896, Lawson married Bertha Bredt, Jr., daughter of Bertha Bredt, the prominent socialist. The marriage ended very unhappily. Bertha filed for divorce and in her affidavit she stated:
My husband has during three years and upwards been a habitual drunkard and habitually been guilty of cruelty towards me. My affidavit consists of the acts and matters following. That my husband during the last three years struck me in the face and about the body and blacked my eye and hit me with a bottle and attempted to stab me and pulled me out of bed when I was ill and purposely made a noise in my room when I was ill and pulled my hair and repeatedly used abusive and insulting language to me to me whereby my health and was guilty of divers other acts of cruelty and safety are endangered.
A judicial separation was granted and was declared in June 1903. They had two children, son Jim (Joseph) and daughter Bertha.
Henry Lawson’s first published poem was ‘A Song of the Republic’ which appeared in The Bulletin, 1 October 1887; his mother’s republican friends were an influence. This was followed by ‘The Wreck of the Derry Castle‘ and then ‘Golden Gully.’ Prefixed to the former poem was an editorial ‘note:
Sons of the South, awake! arise! Sons of the South, and do. Banish from under your bonny skies Those old-world errors and wrongs and lies. Making a hell in a Paradise That belongs to your sons and you.
Sons of the South, make choice between (Sons of the South, choose true), The Land of Morn and the Land of E’en, The Old Dead Tree and the Young Tree Green, The Land that belongs to the lord and the Queen, And the Land that belongs to you.
Sons of the South, your time will come — Sons of the South, ’tis near — The “Signs of the Times”, in their language dumb, Foretell it, and ominous whispers hum Like sullen sounds of a distant drum, In the ominous atmosphere.
Sons of the South, aroused at last! Sons of the South are few! But your ranks grow longer and deeper fast, And ye shall swell to an army vast, And free from the wrongs of the North and Past The land that belongs to you.
In publishing the subjoined verses we take pleasure in stating that the writer is a boy of 17 years, a young Australian, who has as yet had an imperfect education and is earning his living under some difficulties as a housepainter, a youth whose poetic genius here speaks eloquently for itself.
In 1890-1891 Lawson worked in Albany. He then received an offer to write for the Brisbane Boomerang in 1891, but he lasted only around 7–8 months as the Boomerang was soon in trouble. While in Brisbane he contributed to William Lane‘s Worker; he later angled for an editorial position with the similarly-named Worker of Sydney, but was unsuccessful. He returned to Sydney and continued to write for the Bulletin which, in 1892, paid for an inland trip where he experienced the harsh realities of drought-affected New South Wales. He also worked as a roustabout in the woolshed at Toorale Station. This resulted in his contributions to the Bulletin Debate and became a source for many of his stories in subsequent years.Elder writes of the trek Lawson took between Hungerford and Bourke as “the most important trek in Australian literary history” and says that “it confirmed all his prejudices about the Australian bush. Lawson had no romantic illusions about a ‘rural idyll‘.” As Elder continues, his grim view of the outback was far removed from “the romantic idyll of brave horsemen and beautiful scenery depicted in the poetry of Banjo Paterson“.
Lawson’s most successful prose collection is While the Billy Boils, published in 1896. In it he “continued his assault on Paterson and the romantics, and in the process, virtually reinvented Australian realism”. Elder writes that “he used short, sharp sentences, with language as raw as Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. With sparse adjectives and honed-to-the-bone description, Lawson created a style and defined Australians: dryly laconic, passionately egalitarian and deeply humane.” Most of his work focuses on the Australian bush, such as the desolate “Past Carin'”, and is considered by some to be among the first accurate descriptions of Australian life as it was at the time. “The Drover’s Wife” with its “heart-breaking depiction of bleakness and loneliness” is regarded as one of his finest short stories. It is regularly studied in schools and has often been adapted for film and theatre.
The two-roomed house is built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs. A big bark kitchen standing at one end is larger than the house itself, veranda included.
Bush all around – bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple-trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few she-oaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek. Nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilisation – a shanty on the main road.
The drover, an ex-squatter, is away with sheep. His wife and children are left here alone.
Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: “Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!”
The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.
“Where is it?”
“Here! Gone in the wood-heap;” yells the eldest boy – a sharp-faced urchin of eleven. “Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back! I’ll have the beggar!”
“Tommy, come here, or you’ll be bit. Come here at once when I tell you, you little wretch!”
The youngster comes reluctantly, carrying a stick bigger than himself. Then he yells, triumphantly:
“There it goes – under the house!” and darts away with club uplifted. At the same time the big, black, yellow-eyed dog-of-all-breeds, who has shown the wildest interest in the proceedings, breaks his chain and rushes after that snake. He is a moment late, however, and his nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of its tail disappears. Almost at the same moment the boy’s club comes down and skins the aforesaid nose. Alligator takes small notice of this, and proceeds to undermine the building; but he is subdued after a struggle and chained up. They cannot afford to lose him.
The drover’s wife makes the children stand together near the dog-house while she watches for the snake. She gets two small dishes of milk and sets them down near the wall to tempt it to come out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.
It is near sunset, and a thunderstorm is coming. The children must be brought inside. She will not take them into the house, for she knows the snake is there, and may at any moment come up through a crack in the rough slab floor; so she carries several armfuls of firewood into the kitchen, and then takes the children there. The kitchen has no floor – or, rather, an earthen one – called a “ground floor” in this part of the bush. There is a large, roughly-made table in the centre of the place. She brings the children in, and makes them get on this table. They are two boys and two girls – mere babies. She gives some supper, and then, before it gets dark, she goes into house, and snatches up some pillows and bedclothes – expecting to see or lay or hand on the snake any minute. She makes a bed on the kitchen table for the children, and sits down beside it to watch all night.
She has an eye on the corner, and a green sapling club laid in readiness on the dresser by her side; also her sewing basket and a copy of the Young Ladies’ Journal. She has brought the dog into the room.
Tommy turns in, under protest, but says he’ll lie awake all night and smash that blinded snake.
His mother asks him how many times she has told not to swear.
He has his club with him under the bedclothes, and Jacky protests:
“Mummy! Tommy’s skinnin’ me alive wif his club. Make him take it out.”
Tommy: “Shet up you little —! D’yer want to be bit with the snake?”
Jacky shuts up.
“If yer bit,” says Tommy, after a pause, “you’ll swell up, an smell, an’ turn red an’ green an’ blue all over till yer bust. Won’t he mother?”
“Now then, don’t frighten the child. Go to sleep,” she says.
The two younger children go to sleep, and now and then Jacky complains of being “skeezed.” More room is made for him. Presently Tommy says: “Mother! Listen to them (adjective) little possums. I’d like to screw their blanky necks.”
And Jacky protests drowsily.
“But they don’t hurt us, the little blanks!”
Mother: “There, I told you you’d teach Jacky to swear.” But the remark makes her smile. Jacky goes to sleep.
Presently Tommy asks:
“Mother! Do you think they’ll ever extricate the (adjective) kangaroo?”
“Lord! How am I to know, child? Go to sleep.”
“Will you wake me if the snake comes out?”
“Yes. Go to sleep.”
Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and, whenever she hears a noise, she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of lightning, the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.
Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. She knows by this that the snake is there. There are large cracks in that wall opening under the floor of the dwelling-house.
She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious about him.
He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married. The drought of 18– ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. The wife has still a couple of cows, one horse, and a few sheep. The brother-in-law kills one of the latter occasionally, gives her what she needs of it, and takes the rest in return for other provisions.
She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the Young Ladies’ Journal, and Heaven help her! Takes a pleasure in the fashion plates.
Her husband is an Australian, and so is she. He is careless, but a good enough husband. If he had the means he would take her to the city and keep her there like a princess. They are used to being apart, or at least she is. “No use fretting,” she says. He may forget sometimes that he is married; but if he has a good cheque when he comes back he will give most of it to her. When he had money he took her to the city several times – hired a railway sleeping compartment, and put up at the best hotels. He also bought her a buggy, but they had to sacrifice that along with the rest.
The last two children were born in the bush – one while her husband was bringing a drunken doctor, by force, to attend to her. She was alone on this occasion, and very weak. She had been ill with fever. She prayed to God to send her assistance. God sent Black Mary – the “whitest” gin in all the land. Or, at least, God sent King Jimmy first, and he sent Black Mary. He put his black face round the door post, took in the situation at a glance, and said cheerfully: “All right, missus – I bring my old woman, she down along a creek.”
One of the children died while she was here alone. She rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying the dead child.
It must be near one or two o’clock. The fire is burning low. Alligator lies with his head resting on his paws, and watches the wall. He is not a very beautiful dog, and the light shows numerous old wounds where the hair will not grow. He is afraid of nothing on the face of the earth or under it. He will tackle a bullock as readily as he will tackle a flea. He hates all other dogs – except kangaroo-dogs – and has a marked dislike to friends or relations of the family. They seldom call, however. He sometimes makes friends with strangers. He hates snakes and has killed many, but he will be bitten some day and die; most snake-dogs end that way.
Now and then the bushwoman lays down her work and watches, and listens, and thinks. She thinks of things in her own life, for there is little else to think about.
The rain will make the grass grow, and this reminds her how she fought a bush-fire once while her husband was away. The grass was long, and very dry, and the fire threatened to burn her out. She put on an old pair of her husband’s trousers and beat out the flames with a green bough, till great drops of sooty perspiration stood out on her forehead and ran in streaks down her blackened arms. The sight of his mother in trousers greatly amused Tommy, who worked like a little hero by her side, but the terrified baby howled lustily for his “mummy.” The fire would have mastered her but for four excited bushmen who arrived in the nick of time. It was a mixed-up affair all round; when she went to take up the baby he screamed and struggled convulsively, thinking it was a “blackman;” and Alligator, trusting more to the child’s sense than his own instinct, charged furiously, and (being old and slightly deaf) did not in his excitement at first recognize his mistress’s voice, but continued to hang on to the moleskins until choked off by Tommy with a saddle-strap. The dog’s sorrow for his blunder, and his anxiety to let it be known that it was all a mistake, was as evident as his ragged tail and a twelve-inch grin could make it. It was a glorious time for the boys; a day to look back to, and talk about, and laugh over for many years.
She thinks how she fought a flood during her husband’s absence. She stood for hours in the drenching downpour, and dug an overflow gutter to save the dame across the creek. But she could not save it. There are things that a bushwoman cannot do. Next morning the dam was broken, and her heart was nearly broken too, for she thought how her husband would feel when he came home and saw the result of years of labour swept away. She cried then.
She also fought the pleuro-pneumonia – dosed and bled the few remaining cattle, and wept again when her two best cows died.
Again, she fought a mad bullock that besieged the house for a day. She made bullets and fired at him through cracks in the slabs with an old shot-gun. He was dead in the morning. She skinned him and got seventeen-and-sixpence for the hide.
She also fights the crows and eagles that have designs on her chickens. He plan of campaign is very original. The children cry “Crows, mother!” and she rushes out and aims a broomstick at the birds as though it were a gun, and says “Bung!” The crows leave in a hurry; they are cunning, but a woman’s cunning is greater.
Occasionally a bushman in the horrors, or a villainous-looking sundowner, comes and nearly scares the life out of her. She generally tells the suspicious-looking stranger that her husband and two sons are at work below the dam, or over at the yard, for he always cunningly inquires for the boss.
Only last week a gallows-faced swagman – having satisfied himself that there were no men on the place – threw his swag down on the veranda, and demanded tucker. She gave him something to eat; then he expressed the intention of staying for the night. It was sundown then. She got a batten from the sofa, loosened the dog, and confronted the stranger, holding the batten in one hand and the dog’s collar with the other. “Now you go!” she said. He looked at her and at the dog, said “All right, mum,” in a cringing tone and left. She was a determined-looking woman, and Alligator’s yellow eyes glared unpleasantly – besides, the dog’s chawing-up apparatus greatly resembled that of the reptile he was named after.
She has few pleasures to think of as she sits here alone by the fire, on guard against a snake. All days are much the same for her; but on Sunday afternoon she dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city. There is nothing to see, however, and not a soul to meet. You might walk for twenty miles along this track without being able to fix a point in your mind, unless you are a bushman. This is because of the everlasting, maddening sameness of the stunted trees – that monotony which makes a man long to break away and travel as far as trains can go, and sail as far as ship can sail – and farther.
But this bushwoman is used to the loneliness of it. As a girl-wife she hated it, but now she would feel strange away from it.
She is glad when her husband returns, but she does not gush or make a fuss about it. She gets him something good to eat, and tidies up the children.
She seems contented with her lot. She loves her children, but has no time to show it. She seems harsh to them. Her surroundings are not favourable to the development of the “womanly” or sentimental side of nature.
It must be nearing morning now; but the clock is in the dwelling-house. Her candle is nearly done; she forgot that she was out of candles. Some more wood must be got to keep the fire up, and so she shuts the dog inside and hurries around to the woodheap. The rain has cleared off. She seizes a stick, pulls it out, and – crash! The whole pile collapses.
Yesterday she bargained with a stray blackfellow to bring her some wood, and while he was at work she went in search of a missing cow. She was absent an hour or so, and the native black made good use of his time. On her return she was so astonished to see a good heap of wood by the chimney, and she gave him an extra fig of tobacco, and praised him for not being lazy. He thanked her, and left with head erect and chest well out. He was the last of his tribe and a King; but he had built that wood-heap hollow.
She is hurt now, and tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put here thumb through one, and her forefinger through another.
This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. She has a keen, very keen, sense of the ridiculous; and some time or other she will amuse bushmen with the story.
She has been amused before like that. One day she sat down “to have a good cry,” as she said – and the old cat rubbed against her dress and “cried too.” Then she had to laugh.
It must be near daylight now. The room is very close and hot because of the fire. Alligator still watches the wall from time to time. Suddenly he becomes greatly interested; he draws himself a few inches nearer the partition, and a thrill runs though his body. The hair on the back of neck begins to bristle, and the battle-light is in his yellow eyes. She knows what this means, and lays her hand on the stick. The lower end of one of the partition slabs has a large crack on both sides. An evil pair of small, bright bead-like eyes glisten at one of these holes. The snake – a black one – comes slowly out, about a foot, and moves its head up and down. The dog lies still, and the woman sits as one fascinated. The snake comes out a foot further. She lifts her stick, and the reptile, as though suddenly aware of danger, sticks his head in through the crack on the other side of the slab, and hurries to get his tail round after him. Alligator springs, and his jaws come together with a snap. He misses, for his nose is large, and the snake’s body close down on the angle formed by the slabs and the floor. He snaps again as the tail comes round. He has the snake now, and tugs it out eighteen inches. Thud, thud. Alligator gives another pull and he has the snake out – a black brute, five feet long. The head rises to dart about, but the dog has the enemy close to the neck. He is a big, heavy dog, but quick as a terrier. He shakes the snake as though he felt the original curse in common with mankind. The eldest boy wakes up, seizes his stick, and tries to get out of bed, but his mother forces him back with a grip of iron. Thud, thud – the snake’s back is broken in several places. Thud, thud – it’s head is crushed, and Alligator’s nose skinned again.
She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and the dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog’s head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims:
“Mother, I won’t never go drovin’ blarst me if I do!”
And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.
Lawson was a firm believer in the merits of the sketch story, commonly known simply as ‘the sketch,’ claiming that “the sketch story is best of all.” Lawson’s Jack Mitchell story, On the Edge of a Plain, is often cited as one of the most accomplished examples of the sketch.
Like the majority of Australians, Lawson lived in a city, but had had plenty of experience in outback life, in fact, many of his stories reflected his experiences in real life. In Sydney in 1898 he was a prominent member of the Dawn and Dusk Club, a bohemian club of writer friends who met for drinks and conversation.
In 1903 he bought a room at Mrs Isabel Byers’ Coffee Palace in North Sydney. This marked the beginning of a 20-year friendship between Mrs Byers and Lawson. Despite his position as the most celebrated Australian writer of the time, Lawson was deeply depressed and perpetually poor. He lacked money due to unfortunate royalty deals with publishers. His ex-wife repeatedly reported him for non-payment of child maintenance, resulting in gaol terms. He was gaoled at Darlinghurst Gaol for drunkenness, wife desertion, child desertion, and non-payment of child support seven times between 1905 and 1909, for a total of 159 days and recorded his experience in the haunting poem “One Hundred and Three” – his prison number – which was published in 1908. He refers to the prison as “Starvinghurst Gaol” because of the meagre rations given to the inmates.
At this time, Lawson became withdrawn, alcoholic, and unable to carry on the usual routine of life.
Mrs Byers (née Ward) was an excellent poet herself and, although of modest education, had been writing vivid poetry since her teens in a similar style to Lawson’s. Long separated from her husband and elderly, Mrs Byers was, at the time she met Lawson, a woman of independent means looking forward to retirement. Byers regarded Lawson as Australia’s greatest living poet, and hoped to sustain him well enough to keep him writing. She negotiated on his behalf with publishers, helped to arrange contact with his children, contacted friends and supporters to help him financially, and assisted and nursed him through his mental and alcohol problems. She wrote countless letters on his behalf and knocked on any doors that could provide Henry with financial assistance or a publishing deal.
It was in Mrs Isabel Byers’ home that Henry Lawson died, of cerebral hemorrhage, in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922. He was given a state funeral. His death registration on the NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages index is ref. 10451/1922 and was recorded at the Petersham Registration District. It shows his parents as Peter and Louisa. His funeral was attended by the Prime Minister Billy Hughes and the (later) Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang (who was the husband of Lawson’s sister-in-law Hilda Bredt), as well as thousands of citizens. He is interred at Waverley Cemetery. Lawson was the first person to be granted a New South Wales state funeral (traditionally reserved for Governors, Chief Justices, etc.) on the grounds of having been a ‘distinguished citizen’.
read it and let us start reconnecting with our country again
My Country by Dorothea Mackellar(1885 – 1968)
Sadly this poem is sneered at by many and has been deliberately altered by others, but this poem says it all. What it means to be Australian. Perhaps the last verse is the most significant.The first verse is referring to England where many of our first settlers came from. The rest of the poem is of course about Australia. There are versions of this poem in which the first verse has been totally and deliberately deleted. This is un-Australian and an insult to the poet, and an insult to our early English, Irish and European settlers and their descendants.Please stop deliberately messing with Australian History. We have not got much so let’s try and keep what we do have as accurately as we can.
The love of field and coppice, Of green and shaded lanes.Of ordered woods and gardens Is running in your veins,Strong love of grey-blue distance Brown streams and soft dim skies I know but cannot share it,My love is otherwise.
I love a sunburnt country,A land of sweeping plains,Of ragged mountain ranges,Of droughts and flooding rains.I love her far horizons,I love her jewel-sea,Her beauty and her terror -The wide brown land for me!
A stark white ring-barked forest All tragic to the moon,The sapphire-misted mountains,The hot gold hush of noon.Green tangle of the brushes,Where lithe lianas coil,And orchids deck the tree-tops And ferns the warm dark soil.
Core of my heart, my country!Her pitiless blue sky,When sick at heart, around us,We see the cattle die-But then the grey clouds gather,And we can bless again The drumming of an army, The steady, soaking rain.
Core of my heart, my country! Land of the Rainbow Gold, For flood and fire and famine,She pays us back threefold-Over the thirsty paddocks,Watch, after many days,T he filmy veil of greenness That thickens as we gaze.
An opal-hearted country, A wilful, lavish land-All you who have not loved her,You will not understand-Though earth holds many splendours, Wherever I may die,I know to what brown country My homing thoughts will fly.
Dorothea Mackellar Ovens Valley Highway between Porepunkah and Bright heading for Mt Bogong, Mt Hotham and the Dargo High Plains. Typical Australian bush scene. Mt Hotham is one of the highest mountains in Victoria. Great skiing in the winter and superb high country in the summer. Mt Feathertop is a little higher than Mt. Hotham and Mt. Kosciusko 2227.96 metres in New South Wales is the highest mountain in Australia.
Biography of Dorothea Mackellar
Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar was an Australian poet and fiction writer.
Life and Works
The only daughter of noted physician and parliamentarian Sir Charles Mackellar, she was born in Sydney in 1885. Although raised in a professional urban family, Mackellar’s poetry is usually regarded as quintessential bush poetry, inspired by her experience on her brothers’ farms near Gunnedah, North-West New South Wales.
Her best-known poem is My Country, written at age 19 while homesick in England, and first published in the London Spectator in 1908 under the title Core of My Heart. The second stanza of this poem is amongst the most well-known in Australia. Four volumes of her collected verse were published: The Closed Door (published in 1911, contained the first appearance of My Country under its present name); The Witch Maid, and Other Verses (1914); Dreamharbour (1923); and Fancy Dress (1926).
In addition to writing poems, Mackellar also wrote novels, one by herself, Outlaw’s Luck (1913), and at least two in collaboration with Ruth Bedford. These are The Little Blue Devil (1912) and Two’s Company (1914). According to Dale Spender, little has been written or is yet known about the circumstances behind this collaboration.
In the New Year’s Day Honours of 1968, Dorothea Mackellar was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Australian literature.She died two weeks later. She is buried with her father and family in Waverley Cemetery overlooking the open ocean. A memorial to Mackellar stands in ANZAC Park in Gunnedah. A federal electorate covering half of Sydney’s Northern Beaches and a street in the Canberra suburb of Cook are named in her honour. (The Canberra suburb of McKellar was not named after her, but is often assumed to have been.)
A federal electorate covering half of Sydney’s Northern Beaches is named in her honour as well as a street in the Canberra suburb of Cook. (The Canberra suburb of McKellar was not named after her, but is often assumed to have been.)
On Australia Day, 26 January 1983, a statue was unveiled in Gunnedah to commemorate Dorothea Mackellar. In conjunction with the unveiling, there was an exhibition of a series of 34 water colour paintings by Jean Isherwood illustrating the writer’s most famous poem, My Country. The watercolours were eventually put on permanent display in the Gunnedah Bicentennial Regional Gallery. Isherwood set about painting a series of oils based on the watercolours which were exhibited at the Artarmon Galleries in Sydney in 1986.
In 1984, Gunnedah resident Mikie Maas created the “Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards”, which has grown into a nationwide poetry competition for Australian school students.
Our daily dose of country and continuing the story of a great Australian Banjo Paterson’s Forgotten ANZAC Role: One of the Least-Known Parts of His Life April 23, 2020/in Articles, Celebration and Events /by Rhema Central CoastBy: Annie HamiltonMain image: Australian bush poet A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Inset: Light Horseman Private Richard Harwell Bryant on his waler, the kind of horse broken in and trained by Banjo Paterson. Bryant died aged only 38 while serving in Beirut, Syria, 1918. Photo: Australian War Memorial. All photos: Public DomainThose tough Aussie horses, broken in and trained for the exact task before them, struggled in the soft, burning Middle Eastern sand, their fetlocks sinking deep in the desert hills.The dust of their efforts was a rising column in the still, searing air. The relentless blazing sun seemed intent on delivering one message: ‘Go home, Aussie. This place is for camels, not horses’.It was the Sinai Desert, 1917—more than one hundred years ago.After the evacuation at Gallipoli, Anzac troops were sent back to Egypt, from where they were ordered to liberate of the Holy Land, then ruled by the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Reunited with their horses, the Light Horsemen set off across the desert, their emu plumes waving.“They flicked through their military-issue Bibles, awed with the thought that they were following in the footsteps of Moses, Abraham and Jesus.”A group of bushmen from Queensland soon had a solution to that soft-sand problem. In anticipation of trench warfare like that in Gallipoli and France, some chicken wire had been sent to prevent sand from sliding and caving in any defences. But the bushies knew it could be used to build a road. Soon the horses and troops with their 30 kg of kit were using this unusual ‘highway through the desert’.Many were conscious, as they travelled, that this was the route that the Christ Child must have taken on returning from Egypt after escaping the murderous King Herod.
They flicked through their military-issue Bibles, awed with the thought that they were following in the footsteps of Moses, Abraham and Jesus.Looking back, we can see these Aussies, too were riding into history – on their faithful Walers. The great horses had been brought out on troopships from Australia and corralled at Heliopolis in Egypt. Every farmer had to donate a horse to the war effort and, as those breaking them in were to learn, it was rarely the best beast.How Banjo Paterson Helped in the Lighthorsemens’ Success Above:
The 12th Light Horse Regiment in training at Holsworthy, NSW, 1915. Photo: Sydney Mail Leading the team of horsebreakers that broke in the feral brumbies – those famous ‘wild bush horses’ – as well as farmer’s nags and the occasional decent pony, was a man renowned throughout the English-speaking world for his poetry: AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson, best-known for his works, The Man From Snowy River and Waltzing Matilda.While many teenagers had added a few years to their age to register for active service, Banjo had dropped a couple from his.He’d gone to London, hoping to be sent as a journalist to the Western Front in Flanders, but was unable to obtain a position. He drove an ambulance in France but, on learning of the formation of the Australian Remount Squadron in the Middle East, he hurried home.“It was the behind-the-scenes efforts of these world-class trainers that made possible the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917.”Commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force, he was eventually sent to Moascar in Egypt to command a motley group of men including buckjumpers, circus performers, farriers and veterinarians. They broke in thousands of horses and mules, shod them, fed them, groomed them, raced them, trained them for battle conditions and kept the best of them for the ordinary front-line trooper. This was despite, as Paterson noted, the constant efforts of officers to secure the best mounts for themselves.It was the behind-the-scenes efforts of these world-class trainers that made possible the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba on 31 October 1917. As one trooper quipped, in typical laconic Aussie style, the success of the charge wasn’t about the heroism of the troops but that the men couldn’t hold the desperately thirsty horses back once they smelled the water.The beginning of the liberation of the land God had promised to Abraham wasn’t so much about a single charge as the coordinated efforts of many units working together.Anzacs Who Carried the Bible With Them Above:
(L) The 3rd Light Horse Regiment, AIF, at Palestine, with Bethlehem in the background, 1918/19. Photo: Australian War Memorial. (R) Australian light horsemen on their walers before leaving Australia, November 1914. Trooper William Harry Rankin Woods at front, of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, would be one of the first light horsemen killed at Gallipoli, dying from his wounds on May 15, 1915. Photo: AWM.
The Anzacs were conscious the wells of Beersheba featured strongly in Biblical history. The famous khaki New Testament ‘On Active Service’ was issued to the Australian Army; it came in two different blue hues for the Navy and Air Force. More than one million copies were carried to war in shirt pockets.‘Banjo’ was no stranger to the Bible. His mother, Rose, ensured that the Bible and nightly prayers were the family’s strongest companions. His mother was very keen for her children to understand how the Scriptures emphasised concern for others as well as good manners and respect for all.Why Didn’t Banjo Paterson Write Poems About the Lighthorse? Above: The 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment crossing the River Jordan on a pontoon bridge between Jersualem and Moab, at Ghoraniye, April 1918. Photo: Australia War Memorial. ‘Banjo’ Paterson is immortalised on our ten dollar note. Yet his role in the Anzac battalions is one of the least-known parts of his life.It has slipped to obscurity, perhaps because – mysteriously – he never wrote a poem about the great Walers he worked so hard to train.Or if he did, none of those writings have survived.Perhaps he found their loyalty and faithfulness too heart-breaking to commemorate once the decision was made to leave all but one of the horses behind after the war was over. For many Aussies, the unthinkable came to pass when they had to leave their ‘best mate’ behind.‘Banjo’, however, did produce some poems during the war. They’re not nearly as famous as his earlier ballads, but the patriotism and larrikin spirit of the Aussie bushman shines through.One such poem was Boots, written while he was in Egypt somewhere near 1917. The poem is found in From Gallipoli to Gaza: The Desert Poets of World War I, along with other wartime verses by Banjo Paterson. It includes works by many other poets, as well as stories of the circumstances in which they were written.Article supplied by Diduno – an organisation dedicated to educating and informing the next generation of Australians of our Christian heritage.
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around That the colt from old Regret had got away, And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound, So all the cracks had gathered to the fray. All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far Had mustered at the homestead overnight, For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are, And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup, The old man with his hair as white as snow; But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up- He would go wherever horse and man could go. And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand, No better horseman ever held the reins; For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand, He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast, He was something like a racehorse undersized, With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least – And such as are by mountain horsemen prized. He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die – There was courage in his quick impatient tread; And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye, And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
But so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay, And the old man said, “That horse will never do For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you’d better stop away, Those hills are far too rough for such as you.” So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend – “I think we ought to let him come,” he said; “I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end, For both his horse and he are mountain bred.”
“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side, Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough, Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride, The man that holds his own is good enough. And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home, Where the river runs those giant hills between; I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam, But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”
So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump – They raced away towards the mountain’s brow, And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump, No use to try for fancy riding now. And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right. Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills, For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight, If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”
So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing Where the best and boldest riders take their place, And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring With stockwhip, as he met them face to face. Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash, But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view, And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash, And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black Resounded to the thunder of their tread, And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead. And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their sway, Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide; And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day, No man can hold them down the other side.”
When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull, It well might make the boldest hold their breath, The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full Of wombat holes, and any slip was death. But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head, And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer, And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed, While the others stood and watched in very fear.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet, He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride, And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat – It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride. Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground, Down the hillside at a racing pace he went; And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound, At the bottom of that terrible descent.
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill And the watchers on the mountain standing mute, Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still, As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet, With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam. He followed like a bloodhound in their track, Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home, And alone and unassisted brought them back. But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot, He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur; But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot, For never yet was mountain horse a cur.
And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise Their torn and rugged battlements on high, Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze At midnight in the cold and frosty sky, And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide, The man from Snowy River is a household word today, And the stockmen tell the story of his ride. Banjo Paterson • next poem »• Paterson was a law clerk with a Sydney-based firm headed by Herbert Salwey, and was admitted as a solicitor in 1886. In the years he practised as a solicitor, he also started writing. From 1885, he began submitting and having poetry published in The Bulletin, a literary journal with a nationalist focus. His earliest work was a poem criticising the British war in the Sudan, which also had Australian participation. Over the next decade, the influential journal provided an important platform for Paterson’s work, which appeared under the pseudonym of “The Banjo”, the name of his favourite horse. As one of its most popular writers through the 1890s, he formed friendships with other significant writers in Australian literature, such as E.J. Brady, Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, Will H. Ogilvie, and Henry Lawson. In particular, Paterson became engaged in a friendly rivalry of verse with Lawson about the allure of bush life. • Journalism• • Studio portrait by Falk Studios The Gladesville cottage Rockend, where Paterson lived in the 1870s and 1880s• Paterson became a war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age during the Second Boer War, sailing for South Africa in October 1899. His graphic accounts of the relief of Kimberley, surrender of Bloemfontein (the first correspondent to ride in) and the capture of Pretoria attracted the attention of the press in Britain. He also was a correspondent during the Boxer Rebellion, where he met George “Chinese” Morrison and later wrote about his meeting. He was editor of the Sydney Evening News (1904–06) and of the Town and Country Journal (1907–08). • Hiatus and military service• In 1908 after a trip to the United Kingdom he decided to abandon journalism and writing and moved with his family to a 16,000-hectare (40,000-acre) property near Yass. • In World War I, Paterson failed to become a correspondent covering the fighting in Flanders, but did become an ambulance driver with the Australian Voluntary Hospital, Wimereux, France. He returned to Australia early in 1915 and, as an honorary vet, travelled on three voyages with horses to Africa, China and Egypt. He was commissioned in the 2nd Remount Unit, Australian Imperial Force on 18 October 1915, serving initially in France where he was wounded and reported missing in July 1916 and latterly as commanding officer of the unit based in Cairo, Egypt. He was repatriated to Australia and discharged from the army having risen to the rank of major in April 1919. His wife had joined the Red Cross and worked in an ambulance unit near her husband. • Later life• • John Longstaff’s portrait of Banjo Paterson, winner of the 1935 Archibald Prize• Just as he returned to Australia, the third collection of his poetry, Saltbush Bill JP, was published and he continued to publish verse, short stories and essays while continuing to write for the weekly Truth. Paterson also wrote on rugby league football in the 1920s for the Sydney Sportsman. • Personal life• Paterson with his wife Alice and daughter Grace, photographed by Lionel Lindsay• On 8 April 1903 he married Alice Emily Walker, of Tenterfield Station, in St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, in Tenterfield, New South Wales. Their first home was in Queen Street, Woollahra. The Patersons had two children, Grace (born in 1904) and Hugh (born in 1906). • Paterson had been previously engaged to Sarah Riley for eight years, but this was abruptly called off in 1895 following a visit to her at Dagworth Station in Queensland where she was visiting the Macpherson family. It was here that Paterson met his fiancée’s best friend from school days, Christina Macpherson, who composed the music for which he then wrote the lyrics of the famous “Waltzing Matilda”. However, following this collaboration Paterson was suddenly asked to leave the property, leading historians to conclude that he was a womanizer and had engaged in a scandalous romantic liaison with Macpherson. • Paterson died of a heart attack in Sydney on 5 February 1941 aged 76. Paterson’s grave, along with that of his wife, is in the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium, Sydney. • Works• • Cover to Paterson’s seminal 1905 collection of bush ballads, entitled Old Bush Songs• The publication of The Man from Snowy River and five other ballads in The Bulletin made ‘The Banjo’ a household name. In 1895, Angus & Robertson published these poems as a collection of Australian verse. The book sold 5000 copies in the first four months of publication. • In 1895, Paterson headed north to Dagworth station near Winton, Queensland. Travelling with fiancée, Sarah Riley, they met with her old school friend, Christina Macpherson, who had recently attended a race at Warrnambool in Victoria. She had heard a band playing a tune there, which became stuck in her head and replayed it for Paterson on the autoharp. The melody also resonated with him and propelled him to write “Waltzing Matilda” While there has been much debate about what inspired the words, the song became one of his most widely known and sung ballads. • In addition, he wrote the lyrics for songs with piano scores, such as The Daylight is Dying and Last Week. These were also published by Angus & Robertson between the years 1895 to 1899. In 1905, the same publishers released Old Bush Songs, a collection of bush ballads Paterson had been assembling since 1895. • Although for most of his adult life, Paterson lived and worked in Sydney, his poems mostly presented a highly romantic view of the bush and the iconic figure of the bushman. Influenced by the work of another Australian poet John Farrell, his representation of the bushman as a tough, independent and heroic underdog became the ideal qualities underpinning the national character. His work is often compared to the prose of Henry Lawson, particularly the seminal work, “The Drover’s Wife”, which presented a considerably less romantic view of the harshness of rural existence of the late 19th century. • Paterson authored two novels; An Outback Marriage (1906) and The Shearer’s Colt (1936), wrote many short stories; Three Elephant Power and Other Stories (1917), and wrote a book based on his experiences as a war reporter, Happy Dispatches (1934). He also wrote a book for children, The Animals Noah Forgot (1933) • Contemporary recordings of many of Paterson’s well known poems have been released by Jack Thompson, who played Clancy in the 1982 film adaptation of “The Man from Snowy River”. While having no connection to the movie, an Australian television series of the same name was broadcast in the 1990s. • Media reports in August 2008 stated that a previously unknown poem had been found in a war diary written during the Boer War. • Legacy• • Bridge named after Banjo Paterson near Illalong• Banjo Paterson’s image appears on the $10 note, along with an illustration inspired by “The Man From Snowy River” and, as part of the copy-protection microprint, the text of the poem itself. • In 1981 he was honoured on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post. • A. B. Paterson College, at Arundel on the Gold Coast, Australia, is named after Paterson. • The A. B. “Banjo” Paterson Library at Sydney Grammar School was named after Paterson. • The Festival of Arts in Orange, New South Wales, presents a biennial Banjo Paterson Award for poetry and one-act plays and there is also an annual National Book Council Banjo Award. Orange also has an annual Banjo Paterson Poetry Festival. • A privately owned 47-year-old Wooden Diesel vessel from Carrum, Victoria, was christened with the name Banjo Paterson and coincidentally, runs regularly up and down the Patterson River. • In 1983 a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” by country-and-western singer Slim Dusty was the first song broadcast by astronauts to Earth. • He topped the list of The Greatest of All – Our 50 Top Australians published in The Australian on 27 June 2013. • Bibliography6 Shares
Clancy Of The Overflow Clancy of the Overflow was one of the first poems I remember learning at primary school. I was only about nine at the time but something about the flow of the words and the picture they conjured up spoke to me and I’ve loved it ever since.Clancy of the Overflow is considered one of the greatest of the Australian bush poems, a genre of poetry made famous by the author, Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson. The poems of Banjo Paterson are part of the Australian culture and are still taught in schools today. ‘The Drover’ by Walter Withers, 1912About Clancy of the OverflowClancy of the Overflow was inspired by an experience Banjo Paterson had while he was working as a lawyer.He was asked to write to a man named Thomas Gerald Clancy to ask for a payment that had not been received. Banjo sent the letter to ‘The Overflow’ and received the reply: ‘Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving and we don’t know where he are.’The letter looked as if it had been written with a thumbnail dipped in tar, which it probably had. In the old days, hot tar was kept in the shearing shed and dabbed on any cuts the shearer gave the sheep. The tar would harden almost immediately, seal the cut and stop the bleeding.”The Overflow” mentioned in the poem was actually a sheep station which was located about 32 kilometres south east of the town of Nymagee. Nymagee itself is almost exactly in the centre of New South Wales. It’s about 600 kilometres northwest of Sydney and today has a population of about 100 people.The poem was first published in The Bulletin, an Australian news magazine, on 21 December 1889.Clancy of the Overflow has been set to music and recorded a number of times over the years.My favourite is this version. which I’ve only recently found on youTube.Clancy of the Overflow is sometimes criticised for presenting an overly romantic view of droving and of country life in general. In reality, of course, life in the country was very tough in the 1880s and the drover’s life was especially harsh and lonely. For all that, the poem touched something in people, even back in 1889, and it was immediately popular.Funny how it was written so long ago yet the feelings Paterson describes are still so relevant today. Clancy of the Overflow
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago, He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him, Just ‘on spec’, addressed as follows, ‘Clancy, of The Overflow’.
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected, (And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar) ‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it: ‘Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.’
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy Gone a-droving ‘down the Cooper’ where the Western drovers go; As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing, For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know. And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars, And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall, And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all. And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street, And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting, Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste, With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy, For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy, Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go, While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of ‘The Overflow’.
Australia’s most-loved bush poet, Banjo Paterson, is the writer who in many ways defined what it was to be Australian.When a young man submitted a set of verses to the Bulletin in 1889 under the pseudonym ‘the Banjo’, it was the beginning of an enduring tradition. Today Banjo Paterson is still one of Australia’s best-loved poets. This complete collection of his verse shows the bush balladeer at his very best with favourites such as ‘A Bush Christening’, ‘the Man from Ironbark’, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ and the immortal ‘The Man from Snowy River’. These well-known verses are joined here by his comic verse, his remarkable war poems, including ‘We’re All Australians Now’, and lesser known works. About the AuthorA. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941) was born near Orange in New South Wales. He worked as a lawyer’s clerk before becoming a solicitor. After the publication of The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses in 1895, he became something of a celebrity, travelling widely throughout Australia. He was a war correspondent in the Boer War in South Africa, and the Boxer Rebellion in China. He later became editor of the Sydney Evening News. He is perhaps most famous for having composed the words to ‘Waltzing Matilda’.About the AuthorAndrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (17 February 1864 – 5 February 1941) was an Australian bush journalist and author. He was popularly known as “Banjo” Paterson from his pen name, “The Banjo”.He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales where he spent much of his childhood. He best known for his rousing folk classics The Man from Snowy River and Waltzing Matilda, is widely acknowledged as Australia’s greatest and most popular balladist. His poems, written with great gusto and humour, celebrate all the romance and rough-and-tumble of old Australia. Banjo Paterson was born at Narambla, near Orange, New South Wales, the eldest son of a Scottish immigrant from Lanarkshire on February 17, 1864. Paterson’s family lived on the isolated Buckinbah Station until he was 5. When Paterson’s uncle died, his family took over the uncle’s farm in Illalong, near Yass. When Paterson turned 10 he was sent to school at Sydney Grammar School, performing well both as a student and a sportsman. Leaving school at 16, he took up the role of an articled clerk in a law firm and by the age of 23 Paterson was a fully qualified solicitor. In 1885, Paterson began submitting and having his poetry published in the Sydney edition of The Bulletin under the pseudonym of “The Banjo”, the name of a favourite horse. Paterson, like The Bulletin, was an ardent nationalist, and in 1889 published a pamphlet, Australia for the Australians which told of his disdain for cheap labour and his admiration of hard work and the nationalist spirit. In 1890, The Banjo wrote The Man from Snowy River, a poem which caught the heart of the nation, and in 1895 had a collection of his works published under that name. This book is the most sold collection of Australian Bush poetry and is still being reprinted today. A B (Banjo) Paterson also became a journalist, lawyer, jockey, soldier and a farmer. In 1903 he married Alice Walker in Tenterfield. Their first home was in Queen Street, Woollahra. The Patersons had two children, Grace born in 1904 and Hugh born in 1906. He would later become a war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald during the Second Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion and World War I.Visit A. B. “Banjo” Paterson’s Booktopia Author Page
It’s 1932 and Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression.One in three workers are unemployed.Decrepit shanty towns hug the outskirts of the big cities.A scrawny rabbit caught in a trap will feed a family for a week.Country roads are filled with broken men walking from one farmhouse to another seeking menial jobs and food.On the outskirts of the South Gippsland town of Leongatha, an injured farmer lies in bed unable to walk – or work.World War I hero Captain Leo Tennyson Gwyther is in hospital with a broken leg and the family farm is in danger of falling into ruins.Up steps his son, nine-year-old Lennie.With the help of his pony Ginger Mick, Lennie ploughs the farm’s 24 paddocks and keeps the place running until his father can get back on his feet.How to reward him?Lennie has been obsessively following one of the biggest engineering feats of the era – the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.He wants to attend its opening.With great reluctance, his parents agree he can go.So Lennie saddles up Ginger Mick, packs a toothbrush, pyjamas, spare clothes and a water bottle into a sack, and begins the 1000+ kilometre trek to Sydney.Alone.That’s right.A nine-year-old boy riding a pony from the deep south of Victoria to the biggest and roughest city in the nation.Told you it was a different era.No social media.No mobile phones.But even then it doesn’t take long before word begins to spread about a boy, his horse and their epic trek.The entire population of small country towns gather on their outskirts to welcome his arrival.He survives bushfires, is attacked by a “vagabond” and endures rain and cold, biting winds.When he reaches Canberra he is welcomed by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, who invites him into Parliament House for tea.When he finally arrives in Sydney, more than 10,000 people line the streets to greet him.He is besieged by autograph hunters.He becomes a key part of the official parade at the bridge’s opening.He and Ginger Mick are invited to make a starring appearance at the Royal Show.Even Donald Bradman, the biggest celebrity of the Depression era,requests a meeting and gives him a signed cricket bat.A letter writer to The Sydney Morning Herald at the time gushes that “just such an example as provided by a child of nine summers, Lennie Gwyther was, and is, needed to raise the spirit of our people and to fire our youth and others to do things – not to talk only.“The sturdy pioneer spirit is not dead … let it be remembered that this little lad, when his father was in hospital, cultivated the farm – a mere child.”When Lennie leaves Sydney for home a month later, he has become one of the most famous figures in a country craving uplifting news.Large crowds wave handkerchiefs.Women weep and shout “goodbye”.According to The Sun newspaper, “Lennie, being a casual Australian, swung into the saddle and called ‘Toodleloo!’”.He finally arrives home to a tumultuous reaction in Leongatha.He returns to school and soon life for Lennie – and the country – returns to normal.These days you can find a bronze statue in Leongatha commemorating Lennie and Ginger Mick.But Australia has largely forgotten his remarkable feat – and how he inspired a struggling nation.Never taught about him in school?Never heard of him before?Spread the word.We need to remember – and celebrate – Lennie Gwyther and his courageous journey.It’s a great story.God knows we need these stories now, more than ever.Stolen from Garry Linnell’s article in The New Daily
The relationship between the former slave Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln provides deep insight into both men. Douglass’s recollection of his first meeting with Lincoln — “I shall never forget my first interview with this great man” — is a highlight of the 1892 version of Douglass’s autobiography (The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass). In the Claremont Review of Books celebration of the bicentennial anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the late Peter Schramm reviewed Peter Myers’s Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism. Peter drew from Myers briefly to recount the three meetings of Lincoln and Douglass:
The two first met in August 1863, and Douglass was not expecting a friendly encounter. After black soldiers had proven themselves worthy on the battlefield, Douglass had come to Washington to argue that justice demanded equal pay for their efforts. Following a cold reception from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Douglass took his case to the White House.
When he presented his card, he found that, instead of being asked to wait in a long line of office seekers, he was moved to the front of the line. He entered Lincoln’s office to find him completely informal and sprawled out on a sofa reading, with his “feet in different parts of the room.” Hearing Douglass enter, Lincoln stood to greet him saying, “Mr. Douglass, I know you; I have read about you.” Lincoln’s reception of him was “just as you have seen one gentleman receive another,” Douglass would later say. There was nothing affected in Lincoln’s tone or manner. “I have never seen a more transparent countenance,” reported Douglass. He left so impressed with Lincoln’s defense of his policies and with the firmness of his positions–to say nothing of his genuine sympathies with the black troops–that Douglass no longer felt the same level of dissatisfaction on the question of unequal pay. He knew something now that was even more crucial. Emancipation would stand.
In 1864 Lincoln had another meeting with Douglass to discuss what might be the alarming fate of those slaves still behind Confederate lines. In the midst of a war in which the existence of the nation was at stake–and an election in which Lincoln’s (and the nation’s) political future was at stake–Lincoln made time to inquire what might be done for those enslaved men and women who would be beyond his assistance in the event of a failure in the war or the election. Douglass again was impressed by Lincoln’s “deep moral conviction” on the question of slavery and with his brutal honesty about the prospects ahead. And he was taken with Lincoln’s seeming disregard for any prevailing or habitual notions that there should be anything other than perfect equality between them. “In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color,” said Douglass. Indeed, Lincoln was the only white person of prominence about whom Douglass was ever able to say such words. Considering the large number of prominent abolitionists and Christian reformers with whom Douglass was in frequent communication, this is an impressive testament.
As fate would have it, the last time these two American friends saw each other was on the occasion of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Douglass listened to the speech with the crowd and thought it contained some “brave good words.” Afterward, he went to the Executive Mansion to attend the reception, but was not allowed to enter. When he sent word to Lincoln that he was being detained, the president ordered that he be admitted. Douglass found Lincoln in the elegant East Room, standing “like a mountain pine…in his grand simplicity, and home-like beauty.” Lincoln said, “Here comes my friend,” and took Douglass by the hand. “I am glad to see you,” said the president. Then he asked Douglass how he liked his address, for “there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.” Douglass famously said, in words that aptly sum up the work to which their lives had been devoted, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”
Douglass’s great 1876 oration in memory of Lincoln at the dedication of the Freedman’s Monument in Washington, D.C., is accessible here. By contrast with the stupidity and ignorance of the cultural revolution that stares us in the teeth, Douglass’s eloquence, subtlety, largeness, and insight are enough to make one weep.
Posted on June 26, 2020 by Scott Johnson in Laughter is the Best Medicine Thoughts from the ammo line
Ammo Grrrll sizes up THE LEFTWING #WAR ON JOY. She writes:
When I was in what was then called “junior high,” I heard a very racy riddle that went: “Why are Baptists opposed to premarital sex?” Answer: “Because it might lead to dancing.” Although I probably had to look up what “premarital” meant, I “got” the irony of the joke. Much later, I read a little quip somewhere that the Puritans were “people who were terrified that someone, somewhere was having a good time.”
Oh, how easy it used to be to take potshots at the pinch-lipped “Church Lady” on SNL made famous by Dana Carvey. Though America’s Judeo-Christian roots run deep, there has always been a simultaneous strong current – particularly in the Western United States — of “live and let live” that does not much care for holier-than-thou scolds. Both Christian and Jewish scriptures inveigh against public displays of self-righteousness. How ironic, then, that the most judgmental, the most rigid, the least tolerant, are now the religion-hating loons of the left.
Happy, successful, free people are not generally people who are easy to push around. You need an unhappy, dependent, and stupid population filled with hate, envy, and rage to topple a civilization. Hence, the current #WarOnJoy waged on every imaginable front by the enemies of civilization.
I think back over 50 years ago now when one of the first volleys in the #WarOnJoy made a direct hit on me that shocked me. When I was a young child, one of my very favorite Little Golden Books was Little Black Sambo. I had never met an African, or even an African-American, at that point in my young life. The book was about a little boy and his parents in Africa. The little boy had to worry about tigers and in the story, the little black boy was SMART, BRAVE, and CLEVER and bested the tigers using his wits. That’s IT. Even at age 4, I absorbed the lesson that one could use one’s brain to fight if one was small! And he didn’t have to – as the stupid mantra goes – “look like me” for me to get the point. The book predated the movie Home Alone by over half a century, but the moral was the same!
The people who hated Little Black Sambo and made a big fuss about it had clearly never even read it. The illustrations were perhaps “stereotypical” of black people with exaggerated features. But I also had a book about “Gaston and Josephine” who were white French PIGS wearing clothes, so there might have been some artistic license there as well. We are TALKING about children’s books here! Pssst…the Cat is not REALLY in the Hat and there are no Green Eggs and Ham, though Orthodox Jews should get THAT book banned too, or risk feeling “excluded” or “marginalized.”
I guess there was a franchise eatery also called Sambos that was picketed and died a relatively quick death. Yippee Kai Yay! Nothing makes the Joy Killers happier than a business going under and employees losing their jobs. Did life get demonstrably better for black people with Little Black Sambo banned? Show me where. It was a small but telling harbinger of much worse things to come.
Think about how the leftists have spoiled every single source of joy. You like new cars? Do you fondly remember your first car? Well, then you are clearly a BAD PERSON. To quote the world’s angriest (and probably by now richest) teenager, St. Greta, “HOW DARE YOU?” Why, your love of fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine have RUINED Greta’s life. She only has 7, maybe 8, years left to spend all her loot! All so YOU can get from Point A to Point B without consulting a schedule for a noisy, belching bus filled with a diverse array of losers and fare-beaters who are hoping to assault you and take your money.
Perhaps – in my opinion – the only thing more fun than a new car is a new BABY. The good folks at Zero Population Growth were willing to allow you TWO of the little critters, one more than the ChiComs. A friend with three kids out for a walk in California had one of the baby-haters come up to her and say, “Your third child is breathing my air.” Seriously. I would love to introduce her to one of my favorite commenters who calls herself “Homeschooling Mother of Eleven” and watch her stroke out. (Bonus ancient Steve Allen joke: “In China, a woman has a baby every 3 seconds…we must FIND this woman and stop her…”)
Perhaps you enjoyed sports? HOW DARE YOU? Did you not know that my entire lifetime ago, Jackie Robinson had only just broken through the color barrier in baseball? (Jackie was also a Republican, a fact not prominently displayed in his current bio.) And also just for the record, it was not Civil Rights legislation or Affirmative Action that got African-Americans in their rightful place in pro sports. It was raw freakin’ TALENT and smart business decisions by the first white owners to stand up to the racists. The teams that integrated last took years and years to catch up. That Old Invisible Hand of capitalism pimp-slapped the short-sighted racists for their bigotry. How ‘bout that?
Now, racism is so terrible in sports that multimillionaire and billionaire African-Americans completely dominate in basketball, are at least equally represented in football, if not dominant, and have been somewhat replaced (along with white guys) by Latinos in baseball. So you can see why they need to kneel for the National Anthem.
Like a great steak dinner? Well, your sins there are too numerous to list – eating animals, polluting the air with your barbecue, grazing land taking up space that SHOULD have been dedicated to kale and soybeans. The Joy Looters will “SHOULD” all over your dinner.
Enjoy a good movie? Not so fast. Are there actors in it who used to be men who now are pretend women? No? Well, that’s terrible and un-diverse. Westerns are bad; strong men are bad whether soldiers, gunslingers, or cops. White people are super bad. And the over the hill actors you used to enjoy have full-time second careers shooting their mouths off on Twitter. Cher, who has had everything on her body lifted but her IQ, weighs in with some profanity laced tirade every day.
You know why they really hate Donald Trump? (Aside from the fact that he’s just a stand-in for hating you, us, and America?) Because he’s so damn happy all the time! He loves his job; he loves the rallies, which is why they must be prevented, threatened, or ruined; he loves his beautiful wife. He loves America. This cannot stand. The professionally miserable must punish all joy, wherever it may rear its ugly head. The engine of totalitarianism is misery, rage, lust for unbridled power, and deep greed and envy.
RESIST! Commit an act of rebellion equivalent to the Boston Tea Party: BE HAPPY! But just in case that isn’t enough, arm yourself, buy ammo, and NEVER vote Democrat again!
“It was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” said the Duke of Wellington about his last-minute victory in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, which ended the Napoleonic Wars and left Britain the greatest power in Europe for the rest of the nineteenth century. While anyone educated in Australia has at least heard about Waterloo, there was another near-run thing not long after another defeat of France by Britain in 1763 that ended the Seven Years War. It is one that is hardly known today and never publicly discussed. However, this other thing was a critical step in the founding of the Australian colonies, and eventually the Australian nation.
In October 1766, in the wake of France’s loss to Britain of most of its colonies in North America, Louis XV gave Captain Louis Bougainville orders for an expedition to explore the Pacific Ocean. He was to examine the “lands sighted by navigators and called Diemen Land, New Holland, Carpentaria, Land of the Holy Spirit, New Guinea etc” and, most importantly, “as soon as Mr Bougainville lands in unknown places, he will see to it that posts bearing the arms of France are erected and draw up Acts of Possession in the name of His Majesty”. The orders continued:
The area Mr Bougainville must concentrate on examining is especially the one stretching from the fortieth degrees of southern latitude towards the north … He will note as far as possible all the places that could serve as ports of call for ships and everything relating to navigation.
The fortieth latitude runs right through the middle of Bass Strait, and the lands north of that are the southern and eastern coasts of Australia. In other words, French strategy had turned its attention to the resources and naval sites of what turned out to be the richest part of the Australian continent. Bougainville’s orders were to make these “unknown places” the possession of the French king.
In the century before Bougainville set out, some thirty Dutch explorers had charted the western and northern coasts of the continent they called New Holland, from the southern coastline of Van Diemen’s Land to the Gulf of Carpentaria, as far as the western tip of Cape York. However, the Dutch never made the final act of possession by landing a garrison there. So, under international law and diplomatic practice at the time, the whole continent was still open to a power that explored and charted its territory and declared itself sovereign.
Bougainville actually got within very close range of doing that. He rounded Cape Horn and then headed westwards across the Pacific to his principal goal: “I persevered in keeping in the parallel of 15 degrees … because I wanted to verify our conjectures by getting sight of the eastern coasts of New Holland.” On June 4, 1768, almost due east of present-day Cooktown, the first signs of the east coast of the Australian mainland came into view.
Immediately ahead of him, Bougainville could see surf breaking over some of the outlying parts of the Great Barrier Reef. “The sea broke with great violence on these shoals,” he later wrote, “and some summits of rocks appeared above water from space to space.” When he came across the coral-crusted tip of an ancient volcano now known as Bougainville Reef, he changed his mind about trying to reach the mainland. Instead of obeying his orders and heading south to Van Diemen’s Land, and finding one of the many reef-free harbours on more southerly shores, Bougainville decided to sail north around the far side of New Guinea and head for Batavia, the Dutch colony on Java, and then return to France after circumnavigating the globe.
It was not until two years later that James Cook on the Endeavour was faced with a similar problem. After he finished circumnavigating the islands of New Zealand in March 1770, Cook contemplated taking the fast way home, using the winds of the Roaring Forties to take him east, past Cape Horn to Cape Town, and then up the coast of Africa to England. However, he decided instead to explore the uncharted east coast of New Holland and to go home via the Torres Strait and Batavia.
Cook found the Australian mainland near the mouth of Bass Strait on April 19, 1770. From then until August he sailed and charted the entire east coast up to Cape York. Despite the barrier reef’s near fatal holing of his ship in June, laying it up ashore for repairs that took six weeks, Cook completed his self-appointed task and then he too set sail for home.
His journal records that on August 22, 1770, while searching for a channel through the cluster of islands around the cape, Cook went ashore on one island with a higher peak than the rest to survey his best way forward. He took botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander and a marine with him. When they reached the top, Cook could see the channel he was looking for. He then raised a flag and the marine fired three shots into the air. The sailors on the ship cheered. According to Cook’s official journal, he then declared the entire coastline he had just charted as a possession of George III. He named the site of his ceremony Possession Island.
Now, as part of the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage, the replica Endeavour has already done a re-enactment of the circumnavigation of both islands of New Zealand. It was due to start a circumnavigation of the Australian continent in April, but this was put off at the last minute because of the COVID-19 lockdown. It is still uncertain whether the journey will be just postponed or cancelled altogether. If all goes well in combatting the virus, one obvious alternative would be to do something commemorative on August 22, 2020, to mark the anniversary of Cook’s possession ceremony.
There is a problem, however, with what we believe about this ceremony. It probably never happened. This is the conclusion that Margaret Cameron-Ash draws in her book about Cook, Lying for the Admiralty (Rosenberg, 2018). This book remains the only truly original work on Cook published in Australia for the 250th anniversary. Fortunately, it is also among the best-researched works on Cook ever written. I reviewed it more fully in Quadrant in September 2018.
Cameron-Ash does some impressive detective work on what happened on Possession Island that day, and what Cook and his colleagues each wrote about it soon after. Only when he reached Batavia did Cook learn from the Dutch that Bougainville had been exploring the Pacific almost two years before he left England. Cook had never thought any European before himself had gone near the eastern coast of New Holland. He was struck by the awful possibility that Bougainville might very well have claimed the east coast for France and left a cairn or a marked tree to prove he had been there: a strategic coup in the European advance into the Pacific.
Cameron-Ash argues that Cook’s little ceremony on the Torres Strait island had nothing to do with possession. It would have been the wrong place to do it anyway, because that side of Cape York was, technically, Dutch territory. The flag raising and musket shots were simply signals from Cook to his ship that he had found the passage he was looking for. The sailors on the ship cheered because they then knew they could head home. None of the original diaries written on board by the botanists and other gentlemen mentioned a possession ceremony or even the name Possession Island. In fact, Cameron-Ash discovered one document showing that Banks had once called the site Passage Island, recording its original significance.
So in Batavia, Cook decided to shore up his accomplishment, and British sovereignty, by rewriting parts of his journal. He wrote a new version of a possession ceremony on another sheet of paper and inserted it into his journal.
Cook’s exploration of the eastern coast, and what fortunately turned out to be his uncontested claim to possession, was not just a great job by a skilled navigator, as the few favourable press stories about him today record. It was the key move in the grand strategic contest for domination in the Pacific. It was an essential step in making Britain the first truly global power. The liberal international economic order it fostered gave the world a century of peace in which technology and trade produced unparalleled innovation and prosperity. This would have been a far more limited outcome if a regime of French absolutism had gained naval domination of the Pacific in the late eighteenth century. Had Cook and Bougainville, faced with the perils of the Great Barrier Reef, not made the critical decisions they did, when they did, modern Australia would have been a very different place