Christmas 2020. We finally got here, despite the traumas which we have experienced during the year. Christmas survives. It is a different Christmas to last year and certainty a very different Christmas to past years.
Christmas has changed over the decades in regards to its traditional meaning and its observance. Commercialism, secularism and political correctness have taken its toll. As an example of the latter, for some it is “happy holiday” rather than “Merry Christmas”. This was highlighted with the Obama American Presidency, when he sent out cards with similar words.
Tasmania has seen great changes as well.
For the vast majority of Christians, including of those who are nominal, it heralds the birth of Jesus Christ and provides a Message of Hope for mankind. For the staunch Christian fundamentalist, Christmas is not honoured as they believe December 25th was observed by early European pagans who celebrated the changing of the seasons on that day. Later the Church put a Christmas meaning to it. Various sects contend that it not scriptural, so the day should be ignored.
Historically, the first Christmas was not observed until more than three hundred years after the birth of Christ. Therefore, originally, there was no Christmas. For Tasmania, the first Christmas came with Lt John Bowen RN who settled at Risdon Cove. He held the first one, December 25, 1803. The following year came Colonel David Collins and with him the Rev Robert (Bobby) Knopwood and the first Christmas in Hobart was held December 25, 1804.
In the north of the State, Colonel William Paterson arrived in 1804 with 181 settlers and although I cannot find any documentation of the observance of Christmas, I have no doubt it was held.
In Australia the first ever recorded Christmas (referred to as Yuletide) took place in Governor’s Phillip’s modest residence at Sydney Cove, December 25, 1788,
Christmas 2020 will again be a day of family visiting, wonderful meals, gifts, watching the delights of children, picnics and for some, religious observances. Yet there will also be businesses operating and mass entertainment aired as though it was is just another day.
It was very different once – and not so long ago. When black and white television was introduced into Tasmania for a number of years on this special day, only religious programmes were presented. It was the same for the wireless (radio) until a certain hour in the evening, only religious and Christmas music was aired. Businesses were closed for the day. Everyone enjoyed themselves, rested and had the time to catch up with family. Churches were full with many who rarely went to church making this day a particular reason to attend.
In short there was more reverence, more respect and a more relaxed day. Christmas has always been commercial, but the sense and belief that it had a spiritual significance was recognised.
We live in a very secular society. The meaning of Christmas may be still there, but it has faded into the back ground. It is now no longer fully acknowledged. Perhaps we have become too embarrassed over its meaning? After all, don’t we live in a multi-cultural society, one of many faiths and cultures? We certainly do not want to offend anyone. Yet in all my years (and I am now matured) I have never, ever, met a person (outside Ebenezer Scrooge) who wanted Christmas or even its meaning, banned. I stress no atheist have I met, agnostic or those of a different faith or culture have expressed a desire to do so. They are content to enjoy Christmas Day in their own way and while they may not observe its religious significance, they are not the ones complaining. Are we being therefore, socially manipulated and non-Christians being used as an excuse?
I personally think we have lost some of the quality of Christmas. For me I thoroughly enjoy the carols, Christmas cards, the lights, the goodwill, the food, the fun, the family, the visiting. Perhaps we should regain some of that something that made Christmas a day of uniqueness, specialness with a spiritual meaning. A child-like expectation.
Times are grim enough and those who wish to see the end of Christmas, I say “Bah Humbug”. Let’s continue to enjoy ourselves and observe Christmas for many years to come. And yes,
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL
Remembrance Day is exactly that – to remember. To remember those who went away, leaving their families, their community and country, to serve in war zones, risking their life and limb. Most were young and many were to die young. Nations call upon their youth to answer the call, while the older men, either military or civilian, direct their destinies. For many it was a call to adventure or let’s be frank, an opportunity to get away from an unpleasant love affair, a boring job or financial trouble. No doubt many too, enlisted because of patriotic reasons.
Remembrance Day is to remember those who served during World War I and is perhaps over shadowed by ANZAC DAY which has become increasingly popular. But on this day 11th November all those wars and conflicts our nation has been involved in, even before federation and after world war one, are also embraced.
So why do we remember and who do we remember? Remembrance Day for me is to remember those ordinary folk who served in our military forces and our nurses who gave so much. We remember the families whose sons, brothers, grandsons, friends and cousins who were thousands of miles away and they, not knowing what their fate was to be, suffered anguish. Remembrance Day should not be exclusively recalling the feats of those in charge like Generals Monash, Chauval, Birdwood, Blamey, etc, albeit worthy they were, but the young soldier, sailor and airman who plodded the jungles, the marshes, the seas, the skies, the deserts, the arctic ice and whatever for they were really the ones who sacrificed themselves on behalf of others. We remember the privates, the stokers, the able seamen, the air crew, the non-commissioned officers, the lieutenants and captains who led troops while at an incredibly young age and the rate of fatalities of the latter two, per ratio, was very high. We remember those who served in the merchant navy and our nurses should also be remembered because of their unflinching call to duty, their sense of obligation and too, their sacrifice. These are the people what Remembrance Day is all about. The generals have their medals, their awards, their exclusive clubs, with books written about them revealing their exploits on how great they were. But it was young Johnny that really fought and made the sacrifice and if he came home at all, often he did without an arm or leg(s) or perhaps a mangled burnt face as did our fighting airmen and certainly all with jangled nerves.
Mind you, one of my greatest heroes was a general – Sir General John Gellibrand, the highest ranking Tasmanian officer in WWI. A sign of a good general is one who looks after the welfare of his troops and Gellibrand was one of them. His concern was so great that during WWI he clashed constantly with superiors and in one incident, General Monash actually apologised to him, admitting he was right. Gellibrand’s concern for the men continued after the war, founding what was then called the Remembrance Club, later to become Legacy.
Gellibrand would not be easy to get on with. In civilian life he clashed constantly with those with whom he worked, but always, always, his concern was with the returning servicemen. On ANZAC DAY he marched with the men in civilian uniform much to chagrin of Monash and Chauval. In my eyes, Gellibrand was a great man who would not suffer fools easy. Oh, how we need such in these grim days – fearless and righteous leaders!
They are the ones who should not be forgotten. Many of them nameless. Many in unmarked graves in Western Europe and elsewhere, buried at sea or shot down over enemy territory. How much did their mothers and fathers, grandparents, their brothers and sisters and all those who loved them, grieve? How many ladies in black were to be seen in the streets of our cities after World War One? Three thousand young Tasmanians died in that war, not to mention the 6,000 who returned wounded.
They went away to fight for their country, their family and freedom, from the Boer War to Afghanistan and in between. We have seen, however, how fragile freedom is. It can be taken away without a flicker by the whims of those in charge, backed up by State authorities. Yes, they went away to fight for the continuation of freedoms which we enjoyed in Australia to the extent of fighting off an invading, brutal enemy – but freedom can be taken easily away. It is important, nay, imperative that we remember those who went before us to battle on our behalf and that we cherish what they believed in; freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom to make our own choices. We must never, never give it up so easily as it seems to have happened in this modern era.
Remembrance Day. To remember those who left our shores and as distance in time increases there is the possibly that it will grow dim in our memory. To do so would be selfish in the most extreme. Today and next year and the years after, let us pass the lantern to those who follow.
Left: Reginald Gordon Watson 2/12th WWII
Middle: Trooper Frederick Wentworth Watson, 2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen. The Anglo-Boer War
Right: 2nd Lieutenant Richard Marriott Watson Royal Irish Fusiliers WWI. KIA
Australia has changed. It is not the Australia I knew. As a mature man I can compare what was to what is. Our freedoms are something which I took for granted. I was under the illusion that those in authority would protect and honour our inherit freedoms, but we have seen those very same identities who should be in the forefront in defending our freedoms, only too willingly to erase them. Not only that, but to persecute those who stand up for freedom backed by a police force which, in instances, has become an instrument of the government and not the servant of the people. I never, ever, thought I would see things happening in this land of ours under the banner of “we are doing it for your own good”
The late US President Regan said that the ten most feared words of the English language are “I am from the government, I am here to help” (2nd August 1988). Yet even before the present virus outbreak, our freedoms were being eroded and this current situation has provided an excuse to erode them even further. Democracy we have seen is not a guarantee for freedom. We have witnessed dreadful laws enacted and enforced throughout Australia, especially in Victoria and Queensland that would make some less worthy nations envious.
Freedoms do not come easy; they are not given; they are fought for and won. We must be eternally vigilant otherwise they will be taken away. We are familiar with those who went to war to ensure that our way of life and freedoms are protected from a brutal enemy. Freedom, however, has to also be won through the corridors of powers, such as our parliaments and institutions. We cannot be free unless we have freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of thought. We must have a free media. We must be protected by unbiased laws, but we have seen Australia governed by the executive and not by parliament.
The freedoms which we have enjoyed have been inherited from Great Britain. Millions have been attracted to our shores because of the freedom we offered and once enjoyed. Long before the Norman Conquest, King Alfred, (the only British king to be called “Great”) implemented laws which laid foundation of the rights of the common man. He was a studious law giver, a man who promoted literacy and was concerned with the weak and the dependent. He based his laws on earlier worthy codes and the bible. He was a learned man who was full of compassion.
Then in 1215 we had the Magna Carta when King John was forced to sign the charter forcing the King to be subject to the same laws as any other person. It influenced the United States Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Both these latter peoples’ right were also influence by the British Bill of Rights of 1688 which set out the basic laws of parliamentary rule and rights of the common man, while putting a break on the powers of the Monarch, the then government.
Then we have the Australian Constitution, with sections 92 and 117 guaranteeing the freedom of movement backed up by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, with Article 13 guaranteeing the free movement in and out of a country, with Article 20 guaranteeing the right for peaceful assembly and association. Australia signed this, but what is the point of signing something which we are NOT going to honour? What is the point of an Australian Constitution if State Governments do not honour it? Or a federal government too weak to do anything about it? We have a High Court for the Federal Government to show these States that they are simply acting illegal.
We also operate under English Common Law and among other aspects, states that we are innocent until we are proven guilty, not the other way around. Governments exist to serve the people, we the people are not here to serve governments.
We have seen State Governments act in a dictatorial way, again especially in Victoria. There, the police do terrible things to their own citizens and there have been multiple breeches of human rights in this regard. When Premier Daniel Andrews were questioned on this during a media conference, he replied “THIS IS NOT ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS”. His own words. We are in trouble. We, the people, must protect our rights, because it has been shown that the political elite will not do so on our behalf while the various Oppositions have proven to be weak and hopeless including that in Tasmania. Our governments have been bereft of compassion.
But how come we have got to this stage? Simply out of fear. Fear is feeling overwhelmed. Fear will make people submissive. Fear creates the belief that is it enduring and because of fear we believe life can be reduced to a set of rules and the more rules we create the more habit-bound we become. We lose innocence and spontaneity, we forget the light and vitality of life and we end up living in the shadows.
Hence, because of fear, we allow ourselves to be under house arrest, putting our trust in governments that not only tell us what to do, but supplies all our needs. Government then becomes not only our mother and father, but god. When the true God is rejected all we have is Big Government. Again to quote the late President Regan, “Government is not the solution, government is the problem”. (Jan 29 1981).
We have a brain, an intelligent and hopefully enough wisdom because of experience to be able to judge for ourselves. We are individuals, not sheep. Too many of our people have accepted what is being told and the message is one of fear giving predictions that simply have not happened. We cannot every time a new virus appears shut down society, imprison its citizens and destroy its economy.
The one fear I have, come January next year (2021) we will truly see the horrific hardship of this shut down fully occur, which a leading QC, Michael Wyles, has stated is illegal. It has not only destroyed the economic life of people, but too, their mental and social life. The rate of suicide is far higher than the death rate of this current virus, much of which could have been avoided if the vulnerable were instantly protected and those who had the virus were adequately quarantined which governments failed to do. We also must take note that 99 per cent of those who contract the virus will survive and that most will only have a mild case of it.
A certain percentage (and it is quite high) of people like to be told what to do. It brings security and they don’t have to make decisions for themselves. I have been staggered how easy and how quickly we have been willing to give our freedoms away and let us not be fooled, governments have learnt from this.
I thank you for your time. We are a loving people, loving our family, our friends and our country. Therefore, we are indeed concerned what is going on. Our national anthem says, “We are young and free” – well, we are no longer free.
Perhaps on this day, 25th April, we should remember Private Harry Hodgman, the first Tasmanian to die, perhaps the first Australian, on that fateful morning when he was being rowed ashore. A Turkish sniper put an end to his young life. He was twenty three years old and is buried at Line Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli.
We should remember Nurse Elizabeth (Lizzy) Orr, later Sister Orr, and then Matron. Lizzy hailed from near Hamilton and was Matron of the hospital ships that took the wounded and sick from Gallipoli, the Mediterranean and Salonika, over those many months. What a responsibility. That was not her first military experience as she was a nurse during The Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. Like all nurses at that time, she paid her own way to get the front.
And we remember, General Sir John Gellibrand, born at Ouse, not far from where Lizzy was. Gellibrand became Tasmania’s highest ranking officer during the war. Gellibrand, though always controversial, was a humane man and after the war started the Remembrance Club helping the veterans, widows and families. It became Legacy, a nation-wide organisation which still has the same principles commenced by Gellibrand.
From Gallipoli of course, men were evacuated to the Middle East, to be joined by many others, for recreation, re-training and to be sent to the battle fields of the Western Front, France and Belgium. Thousands of Australians remained in Palestine and Egypt as mounted infantry with the Australian Light Horse to fight the Ottoman Empire.
There were many battles and campaigns in the western front and Tasmanians were awarded eleven Victorian Crosses, one going to Henry William (Harry) Murray from Evandale, who became the highest decorated soldier in the British Commonwealth. Overall, 60,000 Australians died during WWI, including 3,000 Tasmanians and three as many, casualties. In all, a quarter of million men from a small national population of under five million.
The war ended 11th hour, 11th November 1918 and the Versailles Treaty was signed the following year. Just twenty years on, the scenario was repeated when on the 3rd of September 1939 WWII began. Australians served in all theatres of war, army, navy and air force and more than eight thousand died because of neglect, brutality and disease while POWs under the Japanese. The toll of our Air Force men was enormous, more than ten thousand.
In all, 14 Tasmanians have been awarded the Victorian Cross, our last in Afghanistan Corporal Stewart Cameron. By my reckoning, that’s 14 per cent of the hundred awarded to the whole of Australia. Yet, we make only up only 2 and half per cent of the national population. A huge sacrifice and record.
Many memorials dot our hamlets, villages, towns and cities calling us to remember those who made the greatest of all sacrifice and those who served. Post WWII saw Korea, Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam and the latter military campaigns, including Afghanistan which rages still.
They fought for freedom. Yet, freedom is not only won on the battlefield. The freedoms which we have and have inherited go back thousands of years. Freedom is not given; it is won by sacrifice backed by a hunger to treasure such a concept. War is not the only way to defend our freedoms. We, as a people, must be forever vigilant to maintain those freedoms, such as freedom of movement, thought and expression. Those treasured rights that our forefathers fought for – and won, are under severe threat, not by an enemy heading to our shores, but from our own legislators.
This year 2020 is a strange year in that our usual ANZAC services cannot be held. This is a tragedy. Never before, in my now long life or anyone’s for that matter, has this occurred. Still, we must not be deterred. We must remember those whom we honour on this day and reflect on for what they fought. They fought for their families, their community, Australia and their friends and our way of life. Let us reflect not only on their sacrifices, but also why they left our shores to do so.
Lest we forget.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
I would like to answer the question why January 26th?
Many people may think that January 26th was the exact day the British arrived in New South Wales for the first time. Well, actually the British arrived at Botany Bay on the 18th January, after the eleven vessels sailed from England, 13th May 1787. We can only imagine the difficulties and challenges which faced all on that eight month voyage and admire the fortitude and endurance of our early settlers.
Upon arrival at Botany Bay, Governor Arthur Phillip was disappointed in what he saw. He had been instructed to go there on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society, when he had accompanied Captain James Cook to the area. Convinced that Botany Bay was unsuitable, after the rest of the fleet arrived, Phillip set off to explore together with David Collins, who was to play a major role in Tasmania’s history and John Hunter, later to take over from Phillip as Governor, a spot just north of Botany Bay. There he discovered Port Jackson which he described: “the finest harbour in the world in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.”
Well satisfied with the choice he immediately returned to Botany Bay and transferred all to the new site. At sundown on January 26th, 1788 a simple ceremony took place at Sydney Cove. The English flag was raised, toasts were drunk and volleys were fired. The other ships came in soon afterwards and next morning the transfer began of men and tents, equipment and stores.
Thus was the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia. From this settlement of New South Wales, came firstly the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (1803) then all the others. As time progressed they became fully separated colonies from New South Wales, Tasmania in 1825, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1850, and Queensland in 1859. The colony of Western Australia – independent from New South Wales - was formed in 1829. From the 1880s there was a concerted effort to bring all the colonies into one new nation and on the 1st January 1901, the colonies became States of the new nation of Australia.
So why not the 1st January 1901 for Australia Day? It is not unusual for a State or nation to celebrate its birthday on the date of settlement, so January 26th is apt indeed and from those very humble and harsh beginnings came Australia!
So how long has January 26th been celebrated as our birthday?
By 1808, January 26 was being celebrated as “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day” with drinking and merriment. Thirty years after the arrival of the First Fleet, in 1818, the Governor of Australia, Lachlan Macquarie, ordered a 30-gun salute, hosted a dinner ball at Government House and gave government employees a holiday. In the following years, employees of banks and other organizations were also given holidays. In the following decades, horse racing and regattas were popular activities on January 26.
In 1838, Foundation Day was Australia's first public holiday. It was also the occasion of the first public celebrations of the founding of Australia. The shores of Sydney Harbour were crowded and there was a firework display. By 1888, January 26 had become known as 'Anniversary Day' and was celebrated in all colonies except Adelaide. In 1888, the centenary of the arrival of the First Fleet was celebrated with ceremonies, exhibitions, banquets, regattas, fireworks and the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria.
By 1935, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still called Anniversary Day. In 1938, large scale celebrations were held. These included a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet.
From 1946, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states. However, the public holiday was moved to the Monday nearest to January 26 to create a long weekend. Since 1994, the Australia Day public holiday has been on January 26 in all states and territories.
We should be proud of the accomplishments of our people and of the nation. This why we celebrate our nation’s birthday on January 26th....