The Need to Increase Tasmanian Parliamentary Numbers

1/8//2019

The idea to diminish the number of politicians in the Tasmanian Parliament came about through the efforts of Liberal Premier, Ray Groom and implemented by Premier Tony Rundle who succeeded him.  It was in November 1993 that Ray Groom raised the parliamentary wage by a whopping 40 per cent.  This did not go down well with the electorate; this I remember very well. To off-set the bad publicity, what better way to win back a measure of approval than to cut back the number of politicians?  After all, are we not over governed?  Certainly on the face of it, it may appear – but are we really?  Perhaps we are indeed over governed, but not in the way most would understand it.


There is a popular cry that, “Tasmania is over governed”.  We have three tiers of government, Federal with its two Houses, State with its two Houses and twenty nine local municipalities. That does seem a lot for a State of 500,000 residents.  The Founding Fathers of our nation, aware of the insidious nature of man to acquire power, in their wisdom before federation, decided on splitting the responsibilities of government between the Federal Government and State Governments, as outlined in the National Constitution.  It was not long before there were complaints that the federal government was eroding State’s responsibility.  Our one-time Premier Edmund Dwyer-Gray (1939) expressed concern way back in 1931 of the encroaching powers of Canberra against the States and he took up the cry of “Justice for Tasmania and secession”. During WWII, Joseph (Joe) Darling of our Legislation Council (in my opinion probably Tasmania’s greatest politician) led and eventually won a nation-wide campaign to stop the Federal Government’s takeover of many State powers in an effort, so they said, to fight the war.  Joe was wise enough to know, once taken they will never be given back, even though the Federal Attorney-General Herbert Evatt guaranteed that after the war, those responsibilities taken away would indeed be returned.  Well, pigs may fly.  Even in our time, during the Franklin below Gordon Dam controversy there was a State-rights fight under Premier Robin Gray, who went as far as to threaten, like Dwyer-Gray, secession and even commissioned a feast ability study, a copy of which I have in my files.


It was good that our founding fathers split power, to break it down and to disperse it.  Municipal government of course is a State responsibility, although Tasmania had a number of local governments existing under the authority of colonial governments before federation.  Hence the three-tier system of government. To some, even this is too many layers, although the United States has a four-tier system, the City (or town), the County, the State and Federal. Then there are those who wish to centralise power, getting rid of State Governments altogether (which is almost impossible because it would need a referendum to agree) and just have regional government, say for Tasmania three, north, south, north west, and most of the power centralised in Canberra.  Heaven forbid! Then there are those who believe Tasmania should do away with its State independence and be governed from Victoria.  Again, heaven forbid!


There is then, the conception that Tasmania is over governed – too many tiers of government and too many politicians.  One way to stop this is to amalgamate municipalities and to cut back on the number of State politicians, which we saw happen in 1998.  It was a popular move and received the backing of the electorate. Now, however, we are looking at its reversal.


On the surface of course it does seem terrific. We have fewer politicians which is now costing us a lot less financially. It would be interesting to know much it all cost in 1998 and compare costs up for 2019.  I would suggest we are not really any better off.  Governments have a rule of increasing in size in various way, thus I would submit running government would be even more expensive now.  It is just like council amalgamations (often forced) with the carrot being that resources can be shared, there will be fewer aldermen and as a result rates will decline.  This has never happened of course.  It is a fervie. Rates don’t go down.


Tasmania in my opinion is not over governed, at least not in the way people understand that it is. The Lower House now has 25 members, down from 35, while the Upper House has 15, down from 19. From a small pool of thirteen which make up the current government, nine actually have portfolios of which there are thirty three. Being Premier is a responsible job in itself, but Mr Hodgman has four other besides this position.  Our Attorney-General, Elise Archer, who is very competent, has six, Guy Burnett four, Michael Ferguson five and so on. Perhaps there are too many portfolios. Regardless, how anyone can handle such responsibilities is beyond me and one must question, something which was recently pointed out to me and not contained in my written submission, can such awesome power transfer into authoritarism? Like our founding fathers, who broke up power, we should likewise break down the number of portfolios each minister can have.  This means of course increasing the number of representatives or cutting back the number of portfolios. Now there may be the claim that a government could win 15 and more seats.  No doubt if this happened it would spread the load, but this is unlikely and the worse thing for good government is a landslide. To handle such a load, must be stressful, demanding and almost impossible to devote adequate attention and time to every separate portfolio.  The job load would be for better government if shared around to others, as long as that person is competent and experienced enough.  Sharing such a large number of portfolios between small numbers could also see the situation where those who have a portfolio could be taking on a responsibility that they are just not prepared to accept.


The other aspect for the increase of numbers will be to represent the electorate more fully.  Here in Tasmania, many electorates not only know who their representative is, many actually have met them or know them quite well and are able to seek out their services for assistance. On the mainland, the electorates are so large, that most if they know who their representative is, would hardly have an opportunity to meet them on a personal basis (maybe election time is an exception) let alone know them.  Here in Tasmania twenty five members works out (approximately) one House of Assembly representative for every 20,000 people, but increasing it to 35, the ratio darts down to one to every 14,000 people.  This low ratio i.e. representative to the electorate can only be of benefit to the voter. This gives him or her far greater opportunity to get to know their representative rather than being just one person in a big cog wheel. Of course, the same can be said of the Legislative Council.  Nonetheless it is the Lower House Member which most electorate know more than say the Upper House Member, while not diminishing the importance of the Upper Chamber. More numbers means better representation to the electorate and while it may appear correct that we should have less numbers on the belief we are over governed, it can actually work against good government. The further away from the individual that government goes, the less chance that person has in influencing their members and indeed, the government – and isn’t this what it is all about…people representation?  Government of the people, for the people? The same can be said about council amalgamation.  It is an attractive concept, but the further away the seat of government gets from where the people live, the less say and influence the electorate have on how they are governed.


But we are over-governed, but not in the way popularly thought.  I am now in my twilight years and since a boy, through youth-hood, young man hood and middle age I have seen the freedom of society and of the individual reduce dramatically even to the extent it is like living in an occupied country.  How can this be so?  Simply, there is too much government legislation, too many boards, too many commissions, too many unelected public CEOs, too much outside influences which have increased government power enormously and when government power increases the freedom of the people decreases.  We have seen now on the mainland efforts to curb the freedom of the media. One of the most insidious pieces of legislation implemented by the Tasmania Parliament is section 17 of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1998, and amended by Minister Brian Wightman’s bill of 2012 and commenced 1 January 2013. I bring Section 17 up as an example of governments being in our faces. Governments and politicians should be there protecting the people’s freedom, rather than taking it away. Such legislation is always opened to interpretation and abuse. In fact the actual amendment is dreadfully worded.  How it passed the Upper House, I don’t know. A few decades back it would have been sent back or even rejected.


I submit that low number of representatives is detrimental to the people in receiving good government.  It is also detrimental to those in government in being able to provide the best of government possible and that low numbers, regardless of the ability of some our ministers to handle such awesome responsibilities, can be just too much for one person to shoulder. Less numbers cuts down on the ratio of representative to the electorate, but higher numbers will obviously increase that number, which can only be of benefit to the people.  And government is about serving the people to its best ability. Yes, it will cost more in wages and expenses, but better government will result.  Cutting down on costs can be achieved in other ways, perhaps cutting back on the number of portfolios and their departments.


However, I also submit that we are indeed over-governed, but in a way in that we no longer a free people, over burdened by government interference and domination of our lives.  Born in the late 40s I can compare what was, to what is and the contrast is enormous.  This trend of curbing and controlling the beliefs, the thoughts, the opinions, the movements and the actions of the people is only increasing and people are seeing governments as the problem.  Surely this is not what our Founding Fathers intended when they broke up power and had it shared, knowing the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

Categories In the news

Bowen and Batman - who were they?

11/7//2019

There have been further demands to change traditional names, the latest being the bridges Bowen and Batman. Recently of course we had calls for the renaming of Franklin Square, named after Sir John Franklin.   Bowen Bridge in the south was named after Lt John Bowen RN, while the bridge in the north, Batman, was named after John Batman. Their contribution not only to this state, but especially with Batman, to the nation is enormous and they are worthy to have important venues named in their honour.  Neither men were perfect; no one is, including those who criticise them. Perhaps as Christ implores, they should cast out the beam in their own eye first.

The four lane Bowen Bridge crossing the Derwent River was opened in 1984 and was (as stated) named after Lt. John Bowen.  Bowen was twenty three years of age (incorrectly stated in many sources as eighteen) with 48 other settlers, (free, military and convict) who settled at Risdon Cove in September 1803. He was instructed to land at Risdon Cove on the order of Philip Gidley King, acting on the recommendation of explorers, John Hayes and George Bass. Thus Bowen established the first British settlement in Tasmania. For that alone, he should be remembered and recognised. It was an incredible important historic episode for Tasmania and for Australia.  He came with Martha Hayes Quinn who remained here after Bowen left our shores.  Martha had two daughters by him, with descendants living here today. Martha went on to marry twice after John had gone and had further children.

Importantly, the settlement at Risdon Cove was named “Hobart” as testified by correspondence between Bowen and King. The settlement at Sullivan’s Cove the following year, which of course became Hobart Town, was actually the second settlement of that name. Lord Hobart was the Secretary of War and Colonies.

The contentious aspect about the Risdon Cove is the confrontation between the natives and the settlers which occurred in May 1804.  An historian in a recently published book states that Bowen was there at the time, but in actual fact this is erroneous, as he was away exploring the Huon River. In charge of the settlement was marine Lieutenant William Moore.  The scene saw a large number of natives confronting the small number of settlers and shots were fired.  The few documented accounts we have indicate that possibly up to five natives were killed.  The figures have now escalated to one hundred.  A lot of this comes from the testimony of Edward White who gave evidence at the  March 1830 inquiry into the affair.  The big problem is, despite White saying he was there at the time, he was not, and thus his evidence cannot be accepted as accurate.

The arrival of Colonel David Collins to Risdon Cove in February 1804 was the start of the end of the Risdon Cove settlement. Even so, four settlers who died from Collin’s expedition are buried there. Dr C Pardoe, anthropologist, actually inspected the remains of one several years ago.  The skeleton was found by farmer Fred Sargent in 1917.

Bowen, who came from a distinguished naval family, left the island to fight the French during the Napoleonic Wars.  Much more can be said of this young man, his achievements, his frustrations and yes, his failures.  That he played an important role in this state’s history cannot be denied.

The Batman Bridge spanning the River Tamar was opened in 1966. It is named after John Batman, who probably is best remembered for the founding the city of Melbourne.  We should be proud as Tasmanians that we not only preceded Melbourne, but that city had its origins from one who lived here.

Batman was born in Parramatta, NSW, in 1803. Leaving NSW, he and his brother Henry arrived in Launceston in 1821 and his life here was full of achievement. He actually captured bushranger, Matthew Brady.  Batman did indeed take place in the Black Line in 1830 which was an attempt to round up the aborigines of Tasmania. Here we have the conflicting nature of Batman.  He did attack and kill a number of natives, including a woman and a child.  Yet in October 1830 he gave refuge to twelve natives who sought sanctuary from him after a ferocious inter-tribal fight. He lived on his property which he called Kingston, north east Tasmania where he co-habited with Elizabeth Callaghan. They had a number of children and were eventually married.  By 1835 he with friends, John Fawkner and John Helder Wedge, discussed plans to make discoveries on the mainland. Batman visited Port Phillip (where Melbourne now stands), returned and then set sail again on the vessel Rebecca which was built at Rosevears in the north. Once there he noted a suitable place for a village, the future Victorian capital. He was accompanied by a number of Sydney aborigines who he said (his journal – Mitchell Library) helped him with his dialogue with the local aborigines, he writing that they “perfectly understand each other”. The whole episode is a large story unto itself.

I would like to end on Batman what I have written in my book Parramatta – Tasmania historic connections about this man. “Certainly as John Bonwick early historian and author picture him, he was no hero, full of warts and all. Indeed, he was human.  He was a man, however, who rose from humble beginnings and obtained prominent heights in our history books.  It can be said that he grasped an opportunity and made the most of it.”

Changing names because certain people are out of favour with certain people is not a genuine reason to do so. If we are looking for perfect people to name things after, then we shall not find them.  Many prominent people of international renown, like Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, Ghandi, Mandela (etc., etc.) had their flaws and some serious ones, but we must recognise their positive contributions as we must with Bowen and Batman.

Reg. A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author of “John Bowen the Founder of Tasmania”.

Categories In the news

Franklin Square and Sir John and Lady Franklin

6/6//2019

There have been recent calls for the re-naming of Franklin Square in Hobart which was dedicated to Sir John Franklin, with his statue contained in the grounds. It may be well worth to inspect Sir John and Lady Franklin’s time in Tasmania and understand why the park’s name should remain.

Sir John has been remembered world-wide more for his Arctic exploration rather than his colonial administration of Van Diemen’s Land.

He died in 1847 while exploring the vast, icy expanse and 129 fellow travellers died with him.  The exact date and cause of his death has puzzled scientists and historians for years.

Franklin was born in 1786 in Lincolnshire, England.  Before beginning his exploration in earnest in 1845 he had already led an amazing life. Between 1819 and 1825 Franklin set off in several expeditions to the Arctic Ocean and returned to England with valuable geographical and scientific knowledge.

In 1836 he was appointed Lt. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in January 1837 with his wife, Lady Jane, both of whom were well educated and well travelled.  Upon arrival in Launceston they were received by the citizens and were accompanied to Hobart, it was reported, by “300 horsemen.”

His eight year term of the penal colony was that of an able administrator with a humane outlook.  He clashed many times with his colonial secretary, John Montagu, over the issue of land speculation.  The controversy would reach London.

Another very interesting episode in Franklin’s life was to do with bushranger, Martin Cash.  Martin with two comrades, Kavanah and Jones together with Bessie (politely referred as Mrs Cash) were held up in their fort at Mt Dromedary. Knowing the military were out to find them, they sent Bessie to Hobart Town for safety.  Bessie was subsequently arrested which made Martin furious.  As a consequence he wrote the following letter to Sir John Franklin:

’If Mrs Cash is not released forthwith and properly remunerated we will, in the first instance, visit Government House and beginning with Sir John administer a wholesome lesson in the shape of a sound flogging.’’

Bessie was indeed released, but not because of the threat.  Her release lured Martin into Hobart Town, as planned, where he was recognised and after an enormous and dramatic chase, was captured, ending his bushranging career.

The Franklins left in 1845, his wife exhorted him to seek further glory and he set his mind to explore the Arctic wastes. The fabled North-West Passage across the top of Canada had been sought for centuries and Britain had taken a major interest in its discovery.

In 1845 the British government despatched Franklin, in command of the Erubus and Terror, in another search.  In July he reached Walefish Island in Davis Strait. He was never seen again and it was not until 1847 that serious apprehension began to be entertained regarding the fate of the expedition.

For the next 14 years, 40 expeditions were sent to determine the fate of the Franklin party. In 1860 the expedition of Captain Charles Hall learned of several particulars concerning the Franklin death.

He found a small boat off King William Island near Cape Crozier, containing two skeletons and a pathetic baggage of soil handkerchiefs and silver teaspoons engraved with Franklin’s crest.  Both Franklin’s vessels had been trapped in ice and eventually sunk.  The explorers and crew managed to disembark in time taking supplies and a large row boat.

What followed is a story of heroism and self sacrifice, but also illogical behaviour. When leaving the sinking vessels the survivors took hundreds of bibles and hymnals and office furniture, placing them in the row boat only to drag them across the ice for more than 1600km. Certainly, the cruelty of exposure took its toll.  Scientists believe after visiting the sites and a thorough investigation, concluded that lead poisoning could have caused their illogical behaviour.

Franklin’s wife, died in 1875 in London, a few days before the unveiling of a memorial to her husband in Westminster Abbey.

Lady Franklin was a promoter of the arts.  In 1839 she purchased 410 acres of land at Lenah Valley (then called Kangaroo Valley) and began to plan a Museum for the display of Sculpture, Natural History and Painting.  It seems an odd place to build at the time so far away of the capital, Hobart Town.  She wrote to her sister in England, Mrs Mary Simkinson of the Museum which she described as “a pretty little design of Greek proportions with one or two rooms.”

The actual museum site was chosen in 1841 and was officially opened with its library in October 1843. It was unfortunate that Lady Franklin had little time to enjoy her accomplishment as the Franklins left the island soon after.  The property was called Ancanthe, a Greek word meaning a “vale of flowers”. Care of it passed to the Governors of Queens College until 1938 when it was transferred to the Hobart City Council. In 1947 it was leased to the Art Society of Tasmania, who still cares for the building.

The Museum and park is located in the most wonderful of places.  It is surrounded by natural bushland with Mount Wellington beyond.  It is an oasis in a rapidly urbanised area, bringing tranquillity and beauty and a link to the past.

The Franklins played an immensely important part in our history.  It is noticed that 78 per cent of responses to The Mercury wanted no name change to the park.  I hope, on this occasion, the majority’s wish will be honoured.

Categories In the news

William Lambie

Australia's first war correspondent to die in service of his profession | 30/5//2019
William John Lambie has the sad distinction of being the first ever Australian war correspondent to die in the service of his profession. He was killed in 1900 during The Anglo-Boer War. Yet today, hardly anyone remembers this brave and dedicated man.   Perhaps it is now time that we should recall the exploits of William Lambie and remember him.

For a time he worked for The Mercury Newspaper and lost his life while on patrol with the Tasmanians and is buried with Tasmanians.  He is often referred to, wrongly, as a Tasmanian.

Lambie was born in Scotland in 1860 and arrived in Australia with his family at the age of three.  He was educated in Victoria and in 1883 arrived in Tasmania.

Lambie’s time in South Africa was short lived.  He was attached to the 1st Australian Regiment, a pre Federation unit combining contingents from all the Australian colonies. Just three months later it was reported:  “It is with the deepest regret that we publish the sad news cabled from England of the death of Mr W.J. Lambie special correspondent in South Africa.” (Feb 13, 1900).

It was the first war to be substantially serviced by local journalists.  Some Australian journalist represented English papers, while other represented multiple newspapers. It was where the famous ‘Banjo’ Paterson worked as a journalist for Reuters, Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Argus. Paterson only writes briefly of Lambie’s death, saying “We hear that the infantry has had a bad time at Colesberg and that Lambie is killed – a very simple matter to happen among these kopjes.” ( kopje – a small hill)

Lambie was with a Tasmanian patrol under the command of Captain St. Clair Cameron.  A large party of Boers closely watched their movements. A scout spied the enemy and as a consequence, Captain Cameron split his command, one to move towards the kopjes and the other to fall back to protect the rear. Lambie and fellow correspondent Alfred Hales decided to move with the advance party.

The Tasmanians came under fire, dismounted and returned the fire.  Trooper Pearce was shot through the neck, but survived.  Trooper Atherly Gilham cried out that he had been shot through the shoulder and in trying to get under better cover received a mortal shot through his heart.  Fellow trooper, Alfred Button was killed outright. The Boers called on Lambie and Hales to surrender, but ignoring the call they galloped in the hope of reaching cover.  The Boers opened fire and shot accurately, toppling Lambie from his saddle, to die on the spot.  Hales made it, but stated of Lambie’s death, “had come to him sudden and sharp”.

The toll of the ambush was two Tasmanians killed, one war correspondent, one trooper wounded and four Tasmanians taken prisoner together with correspondent Hales.  It is reported that 11 Boers were killed. So ended the short life of William Lambie, war correspondent. Eventually his next of kin would receive the Queens South African Medal, without clasps.

A Melbourne newspaper reported: “The late Mr. Lambie was barely forty years old. A native of Argyleshire.  Mr. Lambie is the son of the manse, his father being the late Rev. James Lambie, a well-known Presbyterian minister on the Werribee. He was thoroughly Australian and had had varied experience of journalistic work in these colonies.”

Lambie had previously covered the Australian involvement in the Sudan Campaign of 1885. It was there where he was first ambushed that time by Arabs on camels and was wounded.

In South Africa Lambie was buried with those who also were killed on the spot.  In December 1905 his body was exhumed and reburied in the military cemetery of Colesberg with the Tasmanians and with a trooper F. Clark, who although not a Tasmanian also rests with them.  It has been difficult to find out exactly where Clark fits in, as there is no mention of him during the ambush.  I suspect that he belonged with an English regiment and that during a skirmish in the region March 6, he was killed and when the bodies exhumed, it was judged that he too was a Tasmanian.

Sadly, when Lambie was re-buried at Colesberg, the inscribers got it wrong.  Being listed as a Tasmanian, as he was killed with them, is understandable, but his inscription reads: “PTE. W.I.LAMBIE.

Lambie left a widow, Clara Ada Church Lambie (1862-1946)

At one time a memorial tablet was erected to his memory at the entrance to The Age newspaper in Collins Street, Melbourne.  Since the move to Spencer Street it has been mislaid. Lambie remains forgotten.  Surely this is unjust.

In 2012 Lambie was inducted into the Melbourne Press Club Hall of Fame. Several years ago I made an effort to have a plaque dedicated to Lambie to be placed at the Boer War Memorial, Hobart.  Sadly, the Hobart City Council rejected my application.

My book, “Heroes All” deals with Tasmania’s involvement with The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Categories People

The Irish and their contribution to Tasmania

11/4//2019

St Patrick’s Day is an event that is widely celebrated and promoted. The wearing of the green and of the shamrock is fashionable throughout the world. Festivities take place to recall and declare all things Irish. With the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, one wonders and ponders on the contribution that the Irish have made to Tasmania.

We tend to think that the majority of convicts who came to Tasmania were Irish; but this is not true. About 25 per cent of all convicts were Irish, therefore leaving more than 70 per cent being English, with a spattering of other nationalities and races making up the rest. Interestingly enough out of all types of convicts, the Scots were the best educated, the English had a literacy rate to some degree of 50 per cent, the Irish the lowest. Most of the Irish convicts were sentenced because of criminal acts, but many also were victims of a defective land system, which meant the peasant became increasingly dependent on the landlords. Many were transported on what was called “White Boy” offences, ranging from disturbances and taking illegal oaths to stealing cattle, sheep and horses, particularly in times of hardship, such as the potato crop failure. The worse offenders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land then to Macquarie Harbour.  Peak times were during the 1830s. There were also political prisoners and here I must mention the seven Irish exiles to Van Diemen’s Land, John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher, John Martin, William Smith O’Brien, Kevin O’Doherty, Terence MacManus and Patrick O’Donohoe, They were sent to their penal home in 1849 and 1850.  Several successfully escaped while, one was caught in the act and the others were pardoned by Queen Victoria. Three of the seven exiles were Protestant. 

So what has their contribution to Tasmania been? In one word: enormous! As with many thousands of Tasmanians, from a very difficult beginning they carved a life for themselves, foundations of which seceding generations have built on. The Irish blended in well. Sure, they kept their religion and their pride in being Irish, but over all there was little confrontation in Tasmania.  Most worked hard, many made good for themselves.  Hard, working, law-biding, moral, strong family people. Was it a struggle? Of course.

Our Irish Legacy in Tasmania lives on. The Irish largely settled towns such a Richmond and Westbury and many Tasmanians have Irish names, both Christian and Surnames. Out of their religion come magnificent cathedrals such as St Mary’s and St Joseph’s. All Labour Premiers of Tasmania until Eric Reece were of Irish and Catholic stock. One of the most colourful and interesting Premiers, was Dwyer-Gray who was of this ilk. He was a staunch Tasmanian who actively worked for secession, believing Federation had not been kind to the island he loved and served. True like many Irishmen he loved the bottle, which was a bit of a problem. We must not forget that our international film star, Errol Flynn was of Irish stock. Errol was more prone to claim Irish ancestry than his Tasmanian origins, perhaps something we Tasmanians may wish to forget.

Militarily of course, their contribution to our war effort was strong.  Perhaps during the Boer War, they sympathised with the hardy Boer, but during World War I their contribution is without question and they suffered the price as well as everyone else.  Indeed the Irish participation in the war on the side of the British was enormous and that is why the Irish uprising in 1916 was a failure. During World War II of course they had so harmonised with the rest of the population they were no longer, by a large degree, distinctive to the rest of the population.

Our affection for Ireland should be strong, not forgetting that the influence that it has had in shaping our State which cannot be underestimated.  Irish humour is world renown. They have the wonderful ability to be able to laugh at themselves, something which (and they may not like to admit it) they have in common with the English. We all have our “Irish” joke. Maybe politically incorrect, but the beauty is, the Irish join in.

Categories People

Australia Day and Just who was Betty King

1/2//2019

Just outside the Derwent Valley town of New Norfolk is the rural community of Back River. The Back River Chapel was once an old Methodist worshiping house. The cemetery grounds contain a number of First Fleeters from January 26th 1788, one being Betty King. Betty has the distinction of being the last First Fleeter to die (1856) in Tasmania and perhaps Australia.

Betty also has another incredible distinction. She claimed to be and indeed it is mentioned on her tombstone, the first white woman to set foot in Australia. Now I know there will be claims that a French woman who, it is said, dressed as a sailor on two French vessels that anchored off Reserche Bay (1792 and again 1793) who was the first to do so. Let’s be fair, however. Even if she was aboard there is no evidence she came ashore.

So was Betty the first? Well, we should look at her story. Admittedly there is no record backing up her claim, but as she was a convict this is not all unusual.

Betty arrived as a prisoner and a somewhat troublesome one. The surname King came later after she lived with a marine, Samuel King, when spending some time on Norfolk Island. There is debate what her real name was, Thackey, Thackay, Thakcery, Hackery or Hackley.

After many months at sea, the First Fleet under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Botany Bay 20th January 1788 and six days later Phillip journeyed to Sydney Cove with a permanent settlement.

Betty and Samuel arrived to Tasmania after she had gained her freedom and they were married in 1810 by pioneer priest, Rev Bobby Knopwood. They settled at Back River and called their property ‘Kings Rocks’’.

Samuel was to die in 1849 while Betty lived into her early 90s dying 7th August 1856. Before passing on Betty told her amazing story to the father of land owner, Henry Shoobridge. She said that at the time of arrival January 26th 1788 she was acting as a Lady’s Maid.

She related that it was to be the Officer’s ladies who were to set foot on land first of all. However, they did not like the look of the surf through which they were to be carried with the possibility of getting a wetting. Just to be reassured they asked that a maid (Betty) be carried ashore first as a rehearsal. This was apparently done and as it was only a preliminary trial there was no official record was kept of it. However, no official account alters the fact of the incident, which was that Betty was carried and dropped ashore. In a letter dated 29th Mary 1955 Henry Shoobridge states this. The story does indeed seem feasible.

So impressed was Henry Shoobridge he placed a tombstone near to the exact spot of her burial, it reading,

Near this spot
Was laid to rest
BETTY KING
The first white woman
To set foot in Australia

I am constantly amazed how this most interesting and important historical feature is not better known or promoted. It is a gem.

Tasmania has of course quite a number of burial places for First Fleeters (including one of my own ancestors) who came on the first Australia Day, now 231 years ago. Our connection is quite significant.

From that beginning various colonies came together 1st January 1901 to form the new nation of Australia. It came not by violence, revolution or civil war, but the Mother Country saw it was time for their child to grow up and leave home and to go its separate way. It’s a marvellous story. Right from the start that was the case, embracing our own Constitution and signing the Versailles Treaty of WWI in 1919 as an independent country. We developed our own peculiar form of government, adopting the Westminster system of Mother Britain and as we were a federation, modelled the Federal Upper House on the American Senate which was promoted by our own Tasmanian, Andrew Inglis Clark.

The point is of course, there would be no nation of Australia without the first settlement on January 26th 1788. Everything has to have a foundation and the foundation of our nation, which is the envy of the world, was on that date.

Australia has changed over the last few decades, sometime for the better, sometimes not. I have stated in previous publications that we are no longer a united nation, but Australia Day January 26th is the day which can bring us all together regardless of social, racial, religious or political affiliation. There are cries every year to change the day, but a poll conducted last week by the Sydney research firm, Research Now has found 75 per cent of Australians want the date to remain. That is huge. A poll conducted by a publication (of a left wing persuasion) in January 2017 said the same, with new arrivals providing a higher per cent. Fifty per cent of those Australians who claim aboriginality voted to keep the day as it is. Jacinta Price, Aboriginal Councillor for Alice Springs stated on the ABC Drum last year we should keep Australia Day January 26th and that any push to change is divisive. Well known political aboriginal activist, Warren Mundane said there are much more important things to worry about if we are to solve aboriginal health and wellbeing. The late Sir Neville Bonner, the first aboriginal senator, agreed.

Recently I was contacted by email regarding the fact that a number of people in London will also be celebrating Australia Day at the bust of Admiral Arthur Phillip (January 25th) which will be the 26th here. I was quite moved by this and they sent me a photograph of their observance for 2018.

We are a great country, despite our differences and problems. The question must be asked of everyone where else would you like to live? If of course you prefer somewhere else, then that is your right and choice and you have the option of leaving. Me, I chose to stay here.

Categories Events

Are our freedoms being erased?

10/1//2019

It is often said that in Australia we live in a free society.  Yet over the decades I have seen freedom of speech, thought and movement erased by stealth. This trend to control people is very dangerous.  Our politicians and governments who should protect the electorate’s freedom are often the very ones who are taking it away.

As one who was born post WWII, I can reflect growing up in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s and how much freedom we had compare to what now exists.  Those who were born in the post 90s understand very little how it was.

The past decades were far from being a perfect world. Alcoholism was a very serious social issue. Pondering on this fact I put a lot of it down to the war.  Men returning in their hundreds of thousands, adjusting back into civilian life, endeavouring to adapt without a great deal of social help and with severe psychological problems turned to alcohol. Yet we were a united nation….true there were divisions, Labour versus Liberal, Catholic and Protestants, but these divisions were not out of control.  The tensions between Catholics and Protestants were played out on the school boy’s football field with perhaps a black eye as a result.  Today in modern Australia we are divided not only on race, but culture, sexual orientation and religion. We don’t seem to be able to agree on anything. I have seen my country once united now developed into a country divided.

The social manipulators tell us this is all very good, but it has produced severe tensions and frictions.  I am reminded what Christ said (as endorsed by Abraham Lincoln) “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. I much prefer the wisdom of Christ than that of the politically correct.

There was little fear in previous years of being frightened in what you said and wrote and having now near fifty years of published experience I know how it has changed. Today you can be prosecuted and persecuted for speaking one’s mind and having an opinion, particularly with the legislative powers of 18C (federal) and Section 17 here in Tasmania which is even more repressive than the former.

 One could move about without the horrid control which exists now.  In those days a trip to the airport was pleasant.  Now it is an unfriendly place where one is looked upon with suspicion.  Tasmanian Parliament House you could walk in as you wish; now you have to go through rigid security and to leave, your access is blocked, which I think is quite illegal impeding your right of progress.  This is all because of “terrorism “, yet I wonder whether this is often used as an excuse.

Going to a place of entertainment like football or cricket can also be unpleasant.  Security guards even approach one outside the stadium to check your bags (again I believe this quite illegal as you are on a public place).  Once in, you are a captured audience exactly the same with the Hobart Cup.  In past years one was able to take one’s own beverages, now it is not permitted forcing everyone to buy what is offered at inflated prices.

There was very little control in past days when attending local football.  It was fun and casual with only a constable or two in sight.  Now there are dozens and dozens of security guards of dubious talent.  Something has happened to society.

The other issue which one did not have to content with was drugs.  Even in my early twenties, I never came across the scourge.  Today of course they are everywhere, even with primary school children, resulting in crime that is often brutal in the extreme.

A couple of years ago I went to a book launch at a primary school where the author told the students they have the right to say what they want without being threatened.  That may have been the case, but it is not so today.  With political correctness, people are fearful of repercussions if they speak up, try to contest the status quo or act independently. Of course, most of us will agree to the concept of freedom of expression, but herein lays the problem;   most will only tolerate freedom of expression if that opinion agrees with them. We are afraid of offending others who have a variety of ways to silence those who offended them and take vengeance.  Yet freedom of expression can only exist when one has the right to offend.  People have become too sensitive and too self-centred.  I never thought I would live to see the day when Australia had to pass legislation to protect freedom of religion.

Mankind’s march for freedom began thousands of years ago.  Socrates faced it, even in liberal Classic Athens, by questioning the gods. He was convicted and died as a result.  Yet through those thousands of years, the inborn desire for freedom has always been present and won not only on the battlefield, but through the corridors of power. Both Benedict Spinoza and English Liberal John Locke developed a political theory where natural rights were protected by governments. However, with the growing power and interference of governments, the opposite is happening.  Our rights are actually not only being curtailed but being taken away from us. The weakness of the party system is of course that most politicians will do exactly what their party tells them to do. If you don’t, you will not survive within the system.

Political correctness, which is simply people control, now dominates the entertainment industry, corporate Australia, advertising, art, science, professional sport, the public service and education. That is why it is imperative to safeguard the freedom of the press.

Things have certainly changed and one can site much more.  If they continue as they do, I can see us entering a new dark age.  Freedom will only come if the people take a stand. The hunger for freedom cannot be stifled regardless of the efforts of those in control and it is deliberate; it is not happening by accident.

Categories In the news

Let's reflect on the good that comes from January the 26th 1788

1/11//2018

The criticisms, indeed attacks on January 26th being Australia Day has already begun proceeding our national holiday for 2019. Charges from groups and individuals state it is offensive to a section of society and that it is quite inappropriate to hold it on the day the first British settlers arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788.

Councils nation-wide, even in Tasmania, have moved their citizenship ceremony from that date, Perhaps many of those Councillors are forgetting that they are there to represent the people as are all politicians and not themselves.  They are as our representatives.  Those Councils that have forced their opinion on the rest of their municipality have done so without their consent or support.  There is an easy way of finding out the mood of the people and that is by a simply municipal referendum on the subject. Of course they would not want to do that as the result most possibly would not go their self-opinionated way.  As one who is in favour of Citizens Imitated Referendum (CIR) this is one way to not only to let governments know what the people want but also a way to curb excessive government power and ambitions.  That governments and politicians hate the concept means it has a lot going for it.

Back to Australia Day.  There are those who say we should have the national birthday on the first sitting of Federal Parliament in Melbourne (May 4). Others say it should be January 1, the date of Federation. Under the previous Gray Tasmanian Government, Tasmania Day was inaugurated November 24, the day Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted our island.  To have a national day on the date of sighting is unusual.  Right across the world national days are usually held on the date of settlement or independence. Hence January 26th is most apt, the day Governor Arthur Phillip, half German half English, set foot on Australia’s shores which was the foundation of the nation.

From that humble beginning near 231 years ago (Jan 26 2019) settlements spread out across the continent. Towns and cities were established, farms and stations developed as did industry. Trade boomed, mining, communication with the coming of the telegraph, education, charities, churches and parliamentary democracy (to name but a few progresses) all occurred within those very first years. Self-governing colonies arose such as Tasmania (1856) just 53 years after Lt John Bowen’s raw settlement at Risdon Cove in September 1803.

Then the nation federated becoming one nation in 1901. Great strides rapidly eventuated with booming cities and centres, freedom of speech and movement, legal protections for the individuals and groups and we can go and on to the point where we were strong enough to fight successfully two world wars despite all their horrors.  Post WWII saw a nation where, it would seem, most of the world wished to share our lifestyles and freedoms (although these are under threat from within).  We have done something right.  We have been successful even though there are those who are among us who criticise everything good about this country.  Herein lies a truth; they can do so without any threat of persecution or even gaol.  This fact is never admitted by those who wish to change society to their way of preference. 

Unpalatable as it may seem to the critics, but a great deal of this heritage goes back to those beginnings of British settlement in 1788.  Was it perfect?  No it was not, but human nature is not perfect and those who again criticise, look at yourselves…are you perfect?  Do you make mistakes?  Do you error sometimes badly?  Of course you do. Nonetheless, what developed from January 26th 1788 has been an outstanding success.

One must be blunt and again it will be unpalatable for some.  The fact of the matter is if the British did not come here in 1788 or to Tasmania in 1803/4 none of us would be here, excluding naturally the full blooded aborigine; the government in Canberra would not be here (nor in Hobart), nor local government, none of our institutions; I would not be here (happy for some I suppose), our cities would not be here and so on, but perhaps one can get the point.

What occurred January 26th was the foundation of our nation.  From that date developed, albeit slowly at first, then very rapidly a nation which is the envy of the world. For me, I would not have wanted it any other way.  Those who have come to our shores know and appreciate this fact.  Very few of our new arrivals are calling for the abolishment of our national day or for the abolishment of our national institutions, symbols and traditions.  The call for change come from a very well-oiled and funded (mostly with tax payer’s money), often over educated with plenty of time on their hands.

Categories Events

Cambria

13/9//2018

What type of tourism should Tasmania have?

True tourism is when the visitor experiences the life and the environment of the locals.  In essence they blend in and absorb.  There is another type of tourism which has become very prevalent and could be called “manufactured” tourism. This is when visitors in large numbers arrive only briefly and then leave our shores really not experiencing the real Tasmania.

Tourists of this manufactured kind can over stay their welcome.  This is currently being seen in Europe where places like Venice (Italy) reveal that the residents have had enough because of their lives being dramatically altered. This type of ugly tourism can make the natives feel like living in a zoo.

The proposed Cambria Green resort project is one of these manufactured tourist schemes, which do not entirely benefit the locals changing their lifestyle. It certainly will benefit the big end of town and for governments, State and local who then can boast of growth figures, even though the economic positiveness is not passed down to the general population.

The original Cambria is of great historic significance to Tasmania and perhaps more can be made of this for Tasmanians and visitors alike. It was the home of George Meredith with Cambria being the ancient name for Wales.  It was known as “Government House” with a procession of Governors and their wives staying there. At one time son Charles (who was to come a politician and there is a memorial to him on the Queen’s Domain) and wife Louisa Anne lived on the property.  Louisa was an outstanding observer of colonial life and society.  Described by historian Douglas Pike as a “poet in feeling” she was much more than a writer, but also an artist, naturalist and botanist who achieved international fame. She wrote of Cambria: “commands an extensive view of large tracts of bush and cultivated land and across from Head of Oyster Bay of the Schoutens.”

Now it is to be a golf course, 100 room five star hotel (where locals cannot afford to stay), 300 units and an airstrip.  While the developer said the historical aspects of the property will be maintained, one wonders how will this be achieved. 

To be truthful it will only be a playground for those overseas visitors who can afford it.  They will fly in (own airstrip) enjoy the manufactured surroundings, then fly out….what have they really seen or experienced of the true Tasmania?  Little.

I have said it before and I will say it again, Tasmania’s attraction is being Tasmania; in other words, being unique.  Our lifestyle, our small population, our history, the scenery, quality of product, our distinctiveness is what attracts people to our beautiful island.  We can boom with proper visitations, but these “playgrounds” will only destroy our lifestyle.

I repeat, the true experience of tourists should be to experience the REAL Tasmania.  As an example of this, some years ago I was employed to take a day trip of visitors from New Jersey in a mini bus.  The itinerary was ridiculous.  Picking them up from the boat, I first took them up Mount Wellington, then to Salmon Ponds, then to National Park, then to Richmond and the finally back to the departing vessel. All within a few hours.  They were totally exhausted and some of the elderly ones complained – and quite frankly I did not blame them.  I thought the whole thing embarrassing. Did they see the real Tasmania? No.

It is pleasing that many community groups have taken the time to protest against the Cambria development with similar developments going on throughout Tasmania.  The problem is of course in such circumstances, whole areas are changed dramatically and forever and after the damage, the developer moves on to another project and does likewise.

Do we need development?  Of course, we can’t stay in a time warp – but we can have good and controlled development.  Can we have a successful tourist industry which is welcomed by the locals and not abhorred?  Of course, but not this ugly and stressful input.

On many occasions the local are treated like second class citizens because of the perceived need to attract huge numbers of visitors.  As another example, when booking into a Tamar resort I also booked a seat for dinner in the dining room.  In the meantime, two large tourist buses arrived and because so, I was delegated to the bar.  In the morning hoping for a fine breakfast I found that the tourists had already come and gone, leaving little left; it was like a horde of locusts had descended on everything.  Leaving the premises to return home, I, stopping at a dining premises down the Mainland, was refused entry because a tourist bus had come and there was no room. This type of thing can only build resentment from locals.

The developer has stated that those who will be staying at Cambria will be people from China and finance will be coming from both China and the USA.  To be quite frank I am tired of our politicians who are prepared to sell our real estate out to the highest and short term buyer.  To those who may charge me with “racism” let me say, the Cambria development in its present form from any nationality would be opposed by me.

The fact is that such a massive development with change the attractiveness of the area.  It is true I do not live in Glamorgan, although I am a member of the local history society and and my family, the Watsons, were colonial settlers.  However, the east coast is also the playground of all Tasmanians and quite frankly, we do not like our State exploited.

Categories In the news

Religious Freedom

23/8//2018

It is strange that Australia has an inquiry into the need to protect religious freedom and religious expression.  We will see what the report is like when it is handed down by Philip Ruddock.

I say “strange” because I thought there would never be a need for it in Australia. This freedom has existed for many years as it is part of our inheritance from Great Britain and guaranteed in our laws.

This is obviously no longer the case, otherwise it would not be necessary.  Things socially are ever so different to the 50s and 60s, even the 70s.  The younger generation, say from the 80s, have little understanding how it has changed.

When we say “religious freedom” we are in reality meaning Christian freedoms.  Christianity was brought to our national shores in 1788 and to Tasmania in 1803. Britain of course, has been home to Christianity for 1300 years, longer elsewhere in Europe. It has been a part of our culture and heritage.

It was Alfred the Great who codified much from the Old Testament into English law and down the ages we have inherited The Magna Carter, the 1689 Bill of Rights, English Common Law, trial by Jury and Habeas Corpus all resulting from a country with a Christian background.  In Australia we have our own Constitution, which states in its beginning paragraph “relying on the blessings of Almighty God”.  This part was added by the insistence of the Churches of the day, excluding the Seventh Day Adventist Church which took the view that if such a wording was added it would force Sunday worship upon them rather than Saturday.  This obviously did not happened

Whereas “almighty…God” was neutral in its emphasis it was clearly to mean at the time, the God of Christians.

Down through the centuries it has influence dramatically our ethics, morality, modesty, principles,art and consciousness.  There is no denying there are faults; any Institutions developed by imperfect man will fail to some degree.  Over all it worked very well with many leading charitable organisations and acts emanating from Christian belief, not just here in Australia, but world-wide and many examples can be cited.

Australia since settlement has not been a strong church-going community, unlike say the United States. Even in the hey-day attendance percentage-wise would not have been more than fifty percent of the population.  Yet, the influence was there and people though nominally Christian did respect its Institutions and certainly used it for Sunday School, Christenings, Confirmations, Weddings and funerals.  During WWI ninety per cent of our soldiers declared themselves Christian.

Today by recent statistics only about fifty per cent of the population now give the title “Christian”.

In the 50s it was all so different and it was just taken as the norm that what was will continue.  I remember all too clearly when on Christmas Day, all radio stations (and later in the early days of television) played religious music as they did at Easter.  Sundays was indeed a day of rest, with most businesses, sports and entertainment taking a break.  It was a day for church, going on picnics, visiting or being visited. Today of course Sunday is very different, our roads are full of traffic, sport is the new religion, shops are open and while our communication has expanded technologically, we communicate less with each other including families.

All what was has gone and I really do not think for the better.  Society must believe in something and that “something” will determine how we view things and our attitude to situations. It appears that we are still searching for Christianity’s replacement.  There is no such thing as a vacuum as people crave for something.  To some it appears to be socialism, environmentalism, militant atheism, science and even hedonism – whatever.

To some extent the fault does lie with the Churches themselves.  It is apparent such institutions have not fulfilled many people’s spiritual requirements. One naturally has to refer to the appalling publicity which many, particularly of the established mainstream churches, have been subject to.  This has disillusioned many of faith.  Herein lays the problem, because people have placed their faith on man-made institutions and church leaders, rather than the faith itself. Yet that is an easy statement to make. It must be very difficult for those ‘good’ and ‘sincere’ members of the cloth who are now under unfair suspicion.

We do live in a post Christian where the religion and Christians can be subject to criticism, attacks, mockery and even abuse which would not be allowed if the target was another religion or of a particular ethnic group.

I am yet to be convinced we are a better and happier society without Christianity.  We seem to have more problems than a one armed fan dancer.  Australia now is divided sometimes aggressively and it seems permanently on race, religion, culture, gender and sexuality.  We are beset with numerous and it seems unsolvable social problems.  All this has developed and co-incided with the demise of the Church’s influnence.

Categories In the news