Australia Day 2020


Australia Day.  A day when Australians can come together to celebrate this country of ours.  As all school children know (or at least, should) January 26th 1788 was the date when the half English, half German, Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with his settlers after a 15,000 mile voyage from Portsmouth, England to Sydney Cove and planted, as an historic fact, the Union Jack. He had moved those who came with him, from Botany Bay where they had arrived January 20th. Phillip after leaving Botany Bay searched a more suitable site where there would be water, a place to clear the land, erect huts and begin cultivation.  What he found, he described as “The finest harbour in the world in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in perfect security”.  Thus history was made and so began Australia.  The decision to come to that part of the world for the near 1400 souls and eleven vessels was based to a great degree on Captain James Cook’s visitation to the eastern part of Australia in April 1770, this year being the 250 anniversary of his exploration. Cook landed at Point Hicks before proceeding to Botany Bay. He was, without doubt, one of the world’s greatest explorers.

Arriving with Phillip was Elizabeth King who was the first white woman to set foot in Australia.  She is buried at Back River, near New Norfolk.

On January 1, 1901 we became a nation.  However, we would not have become the Australia we now know so well, if it was not because of Phillip’s landing. What we enjoy today and have the privilege of living in, have been constructed on the foundations of those who went before. Things do not just happen and the peoples who came long ago and even up to recent times, endured the sacrifice, the bravery, the struggles, the enormous challenges, and the many set-backs and yes the failures from which we can learn.

Between 1788 and1901, the six colonies thrived and it is incredible what was achieved within that short space of time.  When Tasmania received Responsible Government in 1856 and a name change to Tasmania from Van Diemen’s Land and until federation, tremendous development took place, allowing Tasmanians to enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world. Convict transportation had ceased several years previously. There followed substantial progress for industry, farming, fruit growing, communication, railways, the growth of cities, education and recreation activities.  Then came federation and a new country was born.  We began with our own Constitution and together with the Statute of Westminster 1931 we became a fully independent country from Mother Britain and with the passing of the Australia Act in 1986 conclusively sealed it. We adopted our own flag on September 3rd 1901. As early as the Versailles Treaty of 1919 which ended the First World, we signed the treaty as an independent nation and much to the chagrin of Britain, Australia said “no” to the execution of our own soldiers during that war whereas all participants, Britain, New Zealand, America, Canada, France and Germany did shoot their soldiers for various offences. Then in World War Two, exercising our independence once again, our war-time Prime Minster, John Curtin, turned to the USA for support much against the will of British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

We have become the envy of the world setting an example of how to achieve and succeed against adversity. Politically we are stable. Economically we are wealthy. On the world stage we are respected. We are still a cohesive society, although there are cracks.  We are a freedom loving country, despite dreadful government legislation, both on the state and federal level that curtails our freedom of thought, speech and movement.  It is the people which must fight continually for that freedom to be restored. It is our rightful inheritance.

Australia Day, January 26th, is the day for all Australians to celebrate, whether one has been here for thousands of years, hundreds of years or just several months.  Our aboriginal heritage is a part of it, with Australia Day being endorsed by aboriginal alderman from Alice Springs, Jacinta Price, aboriginal politician Warren Mundine, Aboriginal pastor Cedric Jacobs whom I knew and the late Sir Neville Bonner, the first aboriginal to sit in the Senate with whom I corresponded. It is time for those of British stock and those of all other stocks to come together, forgetting our political, racial and social differences, to fly the flag and enjoy that traditional barbecue.

For this Australia Day in 2020 it would be wonderful to see Australia culture dominate.  We are rich in bush dancing, folklore, music, bush ballads and poems, art and song and no doubt in numerous other ways.  However, during Australia Day celebrations, mainly organised by the municipalities, we see little of this, most resorting to events of a multi-cultural flavour.  The home culture can never get through when this happens.  It is Australia and while respecting all other cultures, because it is OUR Day, let the home culture dominate.

We have much to celebrate, despite what is occurring in the rest of the world, the question must be asked: would you like to live somewhere else? Our thriving cities, our open spaces, our sporting achievements, our recreation facilities, our life style and our comradeship, I would suggest, if we are honest, the answer would be NO.

Categories Events

Christmas is once again upon us


Christmas is once again upon us. It is to herald the birth of Jesus Christ, born possibly 4-2 B.C., now more than two thousand years ago.  Yet, there is nothing in the Gospels to say we should honour His birth and certainly no instruction to do so. Indeed the first Christmas, as we know it, was not observed until the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great more than three hundred years after Christ’s birth. Some Christian denominations do not honour Christmas Day at all, believing December 25th has its basis in a pagan event thousands of years ago. Historically they are right.

Nonetheless, today in the year 2019 right around much of the world we will celebrate Christmas day on December 25th except for the Orthodox Christians who will do so January 4th. The festivities which accompany Christmas, such as the tree, Father Christmas (Santa Claus) and the giving of presents came much later and are really a product of modern times and may I add, commercialism.

Therefore Christmas in its varying forms has been with us (i.e. Christian-based nations) for near seventeen hundred years. A long time.  In Australia we still observe the day even though, increasingly, we are becoming a secular society and the number of those professing to be active Christians, diminishes.  We live in a post-Christian era.  There has been a rise (and census returns will prove this) in those claiming to be atheists, certainly agnostic and of non-Christian religions. For instance, those soldiers who left our shores to fight during WWI, 97 per cent claimed to be Christian.  Today it is down to about 60 per cent. That is a dramatic drop and it does affect the meaning of what Christmas is all about.

Over the decades, growing up in the 50s 60s and even 70s, there has been a substantial change in people’s attitude towards Christmas.  For the first ten years of my life there was no television in Tasmania. For a number of years of its early existence, television on Christmas Day screened programmes of a religious nature and the wireless (radio) played only (again) religious and Christmas music. All shops and service stations were closed and certainly no sport was played, except for those children who were already enjoying their Christmas gifts that may have been of a sporting nature.   It was indeed a day of reverence and quietness and those who wished to do so went to church. Oh, how it has changed.  TV and radio air nothing special, shops and service stations are open, the roads are full and the serenity and the respect of the special meaning of the day has long since gone. True we still have the Carols being sung at the various community venues, which is good to see.  However, already, there are questions over their relevance. For instance, Mitchell Council in Adelaide decided to ban them all together, but back-tracked their decision because of public backlash. This was positive, but the movement has begun with the excuse that Christmas does not reflect the diversity of modern Australian society. Yet, as one who has many agnostic and atheistic friends, never have they once complained about the observance of Christmas. Nor have I heard Jewish friends being offended. It is part of our annual calendar and while they may not put any religious meaning to the event, it can be enjoyed by being with family and friends and not forgetting those who may be alone or ill. 

As stated, we now live in a very secular society and the influence of the church in our lives has lessened over the years, certainly from when I was a boy. Christmas then, is a legacy of the past and part of our national heritage.  Christmas came to our shores from Britain with the First Fleet in 1788. The first Christmas held in Australia was on December 25th 1788. Christmas was brought to Tasmania by Lt John Gordon Bowen Royal Navy who settled at Risdon Cove, September 11 1803.  He was instructed by Governor King from Sydney to observe all Church of England rites and while there is no documentation that I have come across of the first Christmas, there is no doubt it would have been held at Risdon, December 25th 1803. It must have been a bland affair, perhaps dining on opossum and wallaby, even native hens.  In February the following year David Collins arrived and moved the settlement to the present site of Sullivans Cove, Hobart.  With him was the Reverend Robert (Bobby) Knopwood who conducted the first Christmas in Hobart December 25, 1804.  In the north of the island, Colonel William Paterson had settled in November 1804 and while, again, I cannot find any documentation pertaining to the event, I am sure Christmas was held.

Consequently, Christmas in Tasmania has been observed continuously for 216 years and in Australia for 230 years.  Its meaning and respect over the years, particularly of late, may have changed, but I hope Christmas will continue. I am fully aware of course, there are Scrooges who utter, “Christmas Humbug!”.  Even so, it is a special day and it should be a reminder that there is meaning to life and that there is HOPE.

Categories Events

Rememberance Day 2019


On November 11th annually, we remember the end of World War One.  On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, millions of men around the world laid down their guns. The horrible, horrible conflict was over – at least for another short twenty years. That was the first Armistice Day, while the following year Armistice Day became more formalised, much as we know it today. This particular event is observed around the world.  For Australia, most crowds prefer ANZAC Day, but observances are nonetheless held throughout the nation, which includes a dedicated time of silence.

Armistice Day later became known as Remembrance Day or even Poppy Day. We must recall that WWI ended with an armistice which is not a good way to finalise a war.  The First Boer War (1880-81) was an armistice, which resulted in the Second Boer War (1899-1902).  The Korean War ended the same with continual war footing as a result as was the German-French Armistice of June 1940 which ended with the Germans soon occupying the whole of France.  And it was with WWI.  In my opinion, WWII was just a continuation of the earlier world war.  It was inevitable, what with the terrible demands made on a defeated Germany by the Versailles Treaty, (which was worse than what the Prussians demanded of the French after the their war of 1871), together with the American bankers calling in their German loans laid the way for social upheaval in Germany that could only result in either a Communist or National Socialist take over.  It was of course the latter.

November 1918  was the time of great world-wide rejoicing at least on the victorious side, but one would suspect those Germans and their allies were relieved (except for the die-hards) that is was all over and it was time to rebuilt their lives and cities. It was no different in Tasmania, every little hamlet, village or city such as Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, Burnie and districts such as the Huon, west and east coasts, celebrated with festivities, dancing and music in the streets, school sports and holidays, church thanks-giving services, politicians giving speeches and parades. It was all over and then began the building of numerous memorials right around the State to those who served and those who died, some memorials grand, some small, but every community erected one.  Such was the impact on us.

Tasmania’s contribution to the war was enormous when taking into account that we were a small community of just under 200,000. Official figures state that 13,500 of our men and nurses served overseas and on the seas (navy) and over the skies (air) of every theatre, Gallipoli, Palestine, Middle East, the Western Front, Africa and the Pacific. Again, official figures state that 2, 320 men died, but it would have been much higher, probably near 3,000 taking into account those Tasmanians who served not with Tasmanian units and those who died many years after returning home. I can recall when I was a boy growing up the 50s and early 60s how men suffered still from gassing they had received during the war.  It is probable they died as their result of their war illnesses, but they would not be included in the casualty figures. There were many outstanding stories of bravery and eleven Victorian Crosses were awarded to Tasmanians during WWI. In the aftermath of the war, many men spent their final days in what were called the Asylum, unable to cope physically or mentally and many sadly, decided to end their own lives, something which is still a problem with returning veterans. Dealing with this contemporary problem is a massive challenge. And return they did, looking for jobs and help.  The Repatriation Department was set up in April 1918 with permanent offices located in Elizabeth Street Hobart.  The war itself was a huge challenge for society with all its massive demands including supporting the troops in the field both with goods and with funds.  The war now over, posed different and further challenges.  While the war ended, the problems did not.

A great deal of the helping the returning servicemen particularly those who returned damaged physically or mentally (or both) was left up to the families, especially their mother and father.  One can only imagine the trauma and sadness that was experienced by our fellow Tasmanian families to have their sons return, many shattered by their experience. And in twenty year’s time it was all repeated.

It was a long time ago now, a hundred years, so why should we bother?  How can we not pay homage? They were our brothers and sisters, they were part of the Tasmanian family.  Remembrance Day is not highlighting war, although obviously that cannot be fully avoided, but it is more honouring those who served for whatever reason and those who did not return and those who did, affected by the war. It is a day of reflection and thinking of others and of those foundations which made our country.

Let us end with what was said by Tasmania’s highest ranking soldier of WWI, Major-General Sir John Gellibrand K.C.B. D.S.O. “We have lost so many whose lives promised to play a full and honourable part in carrying out the high ideals of our national motto. Many who survived have returned broken in health and prematurely aged and unfit to take their due share in the work of the community. Others may have fallen into the error of mistaking cause and effect and return without having realising their significance of what they took part in. These three factors carry a weight which cannot be minimised and their effect on our life as a community must be felt for many a log day.  Our consolation and reward will come when the loyal spirit of co-operation, the disregard of petty motives, the unselfish devotion to a common cause, that characterised the work done throughout the war, became typical of our nation life in peace.”

Categories Events

The Need to Increase Tasmanian Parliamentary Numbers


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?


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


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


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


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
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?


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