Category Archives: Australia

The ring trees of Victoria’s Watti Watti people are an extraordinary part of our heritage



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Ring trees were made by binding young branches of young trees with reeds. As the tree grew, it formed a ring.
Tim Church/Timmy Church Films.

Jacqueline Power, University of Tasmania

In the forests of Watti Watti Country of north-west Victoria, you can find trees, typically ancient river red gums, with their branches trained by the Watti Watti people to form rings. There is little knowledge about these marker trees beyond the community, and they are currently afforded little in the way of formalised heritage protection.

Watti Watti (sometimes spelled Wadi Wadi) Elder Aunty Marilyne Nicholls describes family and community connections to the river red gum forests along the Murray in the following way:

Often we visit to pay respect to the sacred sites that are earthed on the land among the red gum trees. In the forest are some really old red gum trees that are known as markers and often can be seen near a heritage site. These huge old red gum trees have massive trunks and big branches that are joined together to make a ring.




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These significant trees would have had their young, supple branches fused together using string woven from cumbungi reeds. The binding process trained the branches to grow in the form of a ring shape over time.

The number of rings in an individual tree varies. Sometimes there can be up to four rings in a single tree. My research on ring trees aligns with the goals of the local Traditional Owners, who are working to educate and build knowledge in the area.

There are other, more well known cultural practices in various parts of the country that involve trees, such as “dendroglyphs”, also called “carved trees”, that had decorative patterns engraved for ceremonial purposes.

Other examples are scar trees that had sections of bark removed to make canoes, shields, coolamon (or carrying) vessels and for the construction of other timber objects.

The role of ring trees

Watti Watti Elder Uncle Doug Nicholls has explained to me that ring trees demarcate boundaries and mark special areas on Country. The trees mark significant cultural locations in the landscape and have been found at “water junctions and inlets, campsites and burial grounds.”

Knowledge of these important places which the ring trees mark could then be conveyed to visitors to Country involved in trade and ceremony. A defining feature of the Watti Watti landscape is the mighty Murray River (miilu is the traditional language term of this area for river), its tributaries, and associated floodplains.

Ring trees were often made from river red gums around the Murray River.
Tim Church/Timmy Church Films.

Water remains an important story associated with the ring trees, including “cultural flows” – the right to water for cultural purposes. Elder Aunty Marilyne Nicholls has explained that the ring trees all hold stories and have spiritual and cultural significance.

There is one ring tree that is recognised by the broader community and even sign-posted. It is located in the township of Koraleigh on the New South Wales side of the state boundary. Its context has been disrupted by colonisation, cut-off from the broader environmental and cultural landscape, and is flanked by a road and a paddock.

Due to the disruption of its context, this tree has become a single “site”, rather than part of the wider cultural landscape – isolated and dislocated from its complete story. It is now a stranger in an agrarian landscape. The tree is no longer alive, impacted by the drought and lack of access to the river, although its heart-shaped ring remains visible.

Connecting past and present

Many ring trees that can be found in the forests of the Watti Watti landscape have been killed because of the colonial practice of ring barking. Ring barking describes the forestry practice of cutting into a tree’s trunk to kill it and was used for opening the land up for grasses and to source timber for paddle steamers. While we don’t know how long the Ring Tree making practice has been taking place, it is likely that it halted during colonisation, which proved destructive to the continuation of cultural practices.

However, ring trees continue to play an extremely significant role for the Watti Watti community. According to Uncle Doug Nicholls, ring trees form a recognised place where important cultural ceremonies can take place.




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Building knowledge and understanding in the broader community of these trees is important for their future protection. While formal heritage processes enable one avenue for protecting culturally significant sites, such as listing earth ovens and middens in the forests, Watti Watti Traditional Owners have been working to foster collaborations and space for dialogue about culture.

In the 1990s, the Indigenous Land Corporation, the federal agency which assists with Indigenous land acquisitions, purchased the Tyntyndyer Homestead in Swan Hill which is built on the traditional lands of the Watti Watti. Listed on the Victorian Heritage Register this colonial homestead has two stories to tell – a colonial one and a much older one – the story of the Watti Watti people.

This homestead provides a place for the coming together of Watti Watti Traditional Owners, as well as others in the community who support the goals of preserving the colonial heritage of Tyntyndyer Homestead.

The ConversationThe ring trees exist beyond the curtilage of this property. However the homestead is a focal point to connect with and tell the stories that weave through and across the landscape that is Watti Watti Country, and are manifest in the ring trees.

Jacqueline Power, Lecturer, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The violent collectors who gathered Indigenous artefacts for the Queensland Museum



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Aboriginal protectors Walter Roth and Archibald Meston between them collected over 700 objects for the Queensland Museum.
State Library of Queensland

Gemmia Burden, The University of Queensland

Europeans collected a huge number of Aboriginal artefacts during the colonisation of Australia. These include weapons, bags, toys, clothing, canoes, tools, ceremonial items, and ancestral human remains. Many institutions that hold these items are repatriating them to Aboriginal people. While repatriation is important, what often goes unrecognised is the crucial part that collectors played in the violent dispossession of First Nations people.

My research is on the Queensland Museum’s collecting networks. Formed in 1862, the museum amassed a significant collection of Aboriginal artefacts over the following 60 years. Despite countless, undocumented interactions between makers, owners, collectors and curators, many of which were no doubt benevolent, frontier violence was a crucial aspect of the museum’s collecting.

Instances of grave robbing and body snatching as methods of collecting are not specific to Queensland. Many institutions in Australia and abroad have problematic acquisition histories, particularly in relation to the study of remains.

Activists have been agitating for the return of cultural materials for decades, and museums across Australia, including the Queensland Museum, have developed repatriation programs and policies. It works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to prioritise the return of ancestral remains and sacred objects. But much material collected through violent means is still held in its collection.

While there is no evidence of the museum being directly involved in frontier killings, the use of the police, protectors, missionaries and frontier doctors as the dominant network of collectors implicates the museum as a passive beneficiary of dispossession.

In a response to The Conversation, the Queensland Museum said: “We believe these are important stories to be told and understood, and we recognise past hurts and are actively working to address these issues.

“Queensland Museum Network acknowledges that between the 1870s and 1970s, a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral Remains, Burial Goods and Secret and/or Sacred Objects were acquired without consent or due regard to traditional lore and custom.”

Illustration of the new Exhibition Building at Bowen Park, 1891.
State Library of Queensland

Dispossessing and collecting

In the 1870s, police Sub-Inspector Alexander Douglas, noted for his role in violent dispersals of Aboriginal people, sent the Queensland Museum ancestral remains and burial goods. These had been stolen during punitive raids on Aboriginal people in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The following decade, Francis Lyons, a “pioneer resident of Cairns”, offered the museum mummified remains he had stolen during a retributive attack on Aboriginal people. In his accompanying correspondence he wrote:

They abandoned everything except the [remains] … and it was not until after a long and desperate chase, and when their lives were in imminent danger that the[y] … dropped it.

In many instances cultural items – mostly weapons and bags – were purchased from Aboriginal people. The museum issued its collectors with tobacco for payment, itself pointing to the power imbalance of frontier currency. Yet as both Lyons and Douglas’s cases show, items were also removed after Aboriginal people were forcibly dispossessed from their country, taken from the surface, and at times stolen following raids.

Inside Queensland’s first natural history museum, 1872, showing Aboriginal artefacts and images on the back wall.
State Library of Queensland

Some ancestral remains held by the museum were plundered from grave sites. Remains were dug up, stolen from caves, burial trees, and bags, depending on regional customs.

While these practices may have sat outside the bounds of European expectations of death and burial, the plunderers were acutely aware of the damage they were inflicting. One correspondent informed the museum in 1880 that exhuming the remains of a recently deceased man was “too much like desecrating unless it was in the interest of science”. The idea of contributing to scientific knowledge was used to justify these actions.

Remains were also plundered from massacre sites, often decades after the event, as well as former mission sites, and sent to the museum with the sanctioning of the police and protectors.

Remains were also taken from regional hospitals, at times with the approval of the Chief Protector, the government agent responsible for Aboriginal people. Rogue doctors stole others from post-mortem rooms. In 1885, for example, the remains of South Sea Island labourers were sent from the Polynesian hospital in Mackay with specific instructions to “make them look a little ancient”.

Empire and science

The emergence of racial science in the mid-19th century, combined with the British Empire’s expansion, drove the desire for Aboriginal artefacts. Objects were collected as anything from curiosities to scientific specimens, tendentiously used to “prove” European superiority.

With an interest in the “science of man”, the Queensland Museum’s curatorial staff maintained a network of collectors across the colony through relationships forged with (predominantly) men in remote locations. They included missionaries, journalists, station managers, doctors and public servants. A 1911 request targeted these networks, stating that “every effort” must be made in “acquiring those symbols of the life of the original Australian inhabitants whose rites, ceremonies, customs and traditions are becoming obsolete and being entirely lost to us”.

Plate from The Evolution of Culture, Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, 1906, Plate XII.

However, the most profitable collectors were the government agents regulating Aboriginal people’s lives. For example, from the 1870s, the police channelled material and information to the museum. The Native Police officers became particularly important contributors.

The museum exploited their violent methods of colonial policing and practices of “dispersal” – a euphemism for massacre – and the police themselves noted this role. Following his dismissal from the force, and five years after leading an attack on Aborignal people at Creen Creek, former Native Police officer William Armit wrote of ethnographic collecting that “no one can be more fortunately situated for such work than the Native Police officers”.

The passing of the 1897 Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act also led to increases in the museum’s acquisitions. Protectors, such as Northern and later Chief Protector Walter Roth and Southern Protector Archibald Meston, were active collectors. They became two of the museum’s largest donors with upwards of 700 items between them, both acquiring material through their official duties.

Collecting as violence

Apart from benefiting from the spoils of colonial violence, the act of collecting itself can be seen as violent. Structural violence – the social, cultural, legal, economic and political structures that marginalise groups – does not only cause physical harm, it also inflicts damage on the mind and spirit.

Collectors knew that taking ancestral remains from burial places would cause harm. Indeed one collector noted: “I feel repugnance to hurt their feelings willingly.” While procurement may have been void of direct violence, waiting for an old man to die in order to send his body to the museum, as in one case in 1915, was a malevolent act of indirect violence.

Taking materials from country also served Europeans in claiming possession, both emotional and physical, of the land. By removing Aboriginal people and culture, the invaders were writing their own narratives of ownership over the land. As settler colonies were built on the dispossession of Indigenous people, the removal of cultural materials became part of the appropriation of land.

The ConversationWhile repatriating Aboriginal cultural materials is undeniably important, we must also acknowledge the histories behind their collection. This is an important part of the repatriation process itself.

Gemmia Burden, Faculty Post-Thesis Fellow, Honorary Research Fellow in History, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How an Australian scientist tried to stop the US plan to monopolise the nuclear arms race



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Mark Oliphant in 1939.
From a collection at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. Gift of Ms Vivian Wilson 2004

Darren Holden, University of Notre Dame Australia

Australian scientist Mark Oliphant, who helped push the United States to develop the atomic bombs in World War II, also played a major role during the war in attempting to stop the US dominating the UK in any further development of nuclear weapons.

Details of the Adelaide-born physicist’s efforts are included in new research published today in the CSIRO’s Historical Records of Australian Science, based on documents sourced from the UK Cabinet archives.

These archival documents reveal how Oliphant attempted a British rebellion against scientific collaboration with the US that escalated all the way to the top of Britain’s wartime leadership.




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The rise of the physicist

Oliphant (1901-2000) described himself as a “belligerent pacifist” and his humanitarianism and compassion forms an indelible image of the gentle giant of Australian science.

After studying at the University of Adelaide he moved to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge in the UK. Oliphant joined a freewheeling cabal of atomic physicists led by fellow antipodean Ernest Rutherford. He later took up a position at Birmingham University.

But soon the war was to change everything for him.

In late 1938, nuclear fission of uranium was discovered in Berlin and within months the thunderclap of war clattered over Europe. After convincing the Americans of the potential of an atomic bomb in 1941, Oliphant joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 as a leading member of the collaborative British Mission.

At war with secrecy

Oliphant found that wartime secrecy was totally opposite to the usual culture of open science. The US military police opened his mail, and the FBI interrogated him on his casual attitude to rules.

In September 1944 Oliphant complained of his restrictions to the US Army’s no-nonsense military head of the project, General Leslie Groves. Groves was frustrated with progress and gave Oliphant a lecture on war and security.

In doing so, the cabinet documents on Oliphant’s notes show that the normally circumspect Groves also let slip that the US had no intention of honouring an agreement with the British to share atomic technology after the war. Groves stated that even after the war America needed to prepare for an “inevitable war with Russia”.

Oliphant’s notes added:

In this conversation Groves insisted that he spoke for the armed forces and for every thinking man and woman in U.S.A. He said that any effort U.K. might make must be confined to central Canada. He excluded specifically Australia or any other part of the Empire. Every possible source of supply of raw materials would be monopolised and controlled by U.S.A.-U.K.

How to warn the UK?

Oliphant saw weapons development as merely a vehicle on which to carry the potential of almost limitless energy and he was intent on resuming his open research after the war.

He could not risk his mail being opened again. So he headed from Berkeley, California to the British Embassy in Washington to write a secret report to London detailing his conversation with Groves.

Oliphant had a plan. He proposed that, without delay, the entire British Mission leave the Manhattan Project, return to Britain and restart their own programs. In late 1944 he seemingly had traction and the British project, code-named Tube Alloys, was reinvigorated with new plans tabled to construct uranium isotope plants.

Oliphant’s plan escalated up the chain to Lord Cherwell, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisor, and to Sir John Anderson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the authority on atomic matters inside the British War Cabinet.

James Chadwick, the scientific head of the British Mission, was furious at Oliphant’s cavalier approach and wrote to the British polity arguing that the British Mission must stay in America to complete the task at hand.

Oliphant’s bombast, confidence and directness is famous. As he approached the door of 11 Downing Street (the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on January 9, 1945, he was likely optimistic that his meeting with Sir John would result in a decision to follow his new plan.

But Sir John was in a pessimistic mood. There was still a war on, and the allies were being pushed back by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. Sir John put a stop to talk of this scientific rebellion, and ordered Oliphant back to America to complete the job.

The atomic bombs fell on Japan in August 1945. World War II soon ended.

The wrecked framework of the Museum of Science and Industry in Hiroshima, Japan, shortly after the dropping of the first atomic bomb, on August 6, 1945.
Shutterstock/Everett Historical

After the war

In mid-1946 the newly formed United Nations debated control of atomic technology and Oliphant was in New York as an Australian advisor. He and other scientists pushed a plan to abolish weapons and throw the science open.

The alternative, the scientists argued, would be an escalation of an arms race. Only openness in science could reduce suspicion between nations.

The US and the Soviet Union almost agreed to the plan. But the Americans refused a Soviet request to first destroy their atomic arsenal and the Soviets refused to allow UN inspections.




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The US passed their Atomic Energy Act in August 1946 which prevented any collaboration on atomic technology. Oliphant’s prophecy came true. But the scientists had made another prophecy: atomic secrets cannot be contained.

As the critical mass of international scientists that had gathered together for war radiated back out around the world, they carried with them the secrets of the atom.

The British restarted their bomb project in 1947 and tested their first weapon in 1952, and the Soviets tested their first bomb in 1949. The US monopoly on atomic weaponry was a fleeting moment.

The ConversationSo the opportunity was lost in 1946 to abolish weapons, and today more than 14,000 nuclear weapons exist, held by nine countries. Even in a post-Cold War world this sword of annihilation hangs by a thread over the head of all us.

Darren Holden, PhD Candidate, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How Captain Cook became a contested national symbol


Tracy Ireland, University of Canberra

Captain Cook has loomed large in the federal government’s 2018 budget. The government allocated $48.7 million over four years to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific and Australia in 1770. The funding has been widely debated on social media as another fray in Australia’s culture wars, particularly in the context of $84 million in cuts to the ABC.

Closer scrutiny suggests that this latest celebration of Cook may serve as a headline for financial resources already committed to a range of cultural programs, at least some of which could be seen as business as usual. These include the development of digital heritage resources and exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, National Library, AIATSIS and the National Museum of Australia, as well as support for training “Indigenous cultural heritage professionals in regional areas”.

However, the budget package also includes unspecified support for the “voyaging of the replica HMB Endeavour” and a $25 million contribution towards redevelopment of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, including a proposed new monument to the great man.

So while the entire $48.7 million won’t simply go towards a monument, it’s clear that celebrating the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Botany Bay is a high priority for this federal government.

In 1770 Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook, on a scientific mission for the British Navy, anchored in a harbour he first called Stingray Bay. He later changed it to Botany Bay, commemorating the trove of specimens collected by the ship’s botanists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.

Cook made contact with Aboriginal people, mapped the eastern coast of the continent, claimed it for the British Crown and named it New South Wales, allowing for the future dispossession of Australia’s First Nations. He would later return to the Pacific on two more voyages before his death in Hawaii in 1779.

Scholars agree that Cook had a major influence on the world during his lifetime. His actions, writings and voyages continue to resonate through modern colonial and postcolonial history.

Cook continues to be a potent national symbol. Partly this is due to the rich historical written and physical records we have of Cook’s journeys, which continue to reward further study and analysis.

But the other side to the hero story is the dispossession of Australia’s Indigenous peoples from their land. As a symbol of the nation, Cook is, and has always been, contested, political and emotional.

Too many Cooks

There are other European contenders for the title of “discoverer of the continent”, such as Dirk Hartog in 1616 and William Dampier in 1699. However, both inconveniently landed on the west coast. Although Englishman Dampier wrote a book about his discoveries, he never became a major figure like Cook.

Cook’s legend began immediately after his death, when he became one of the great humble heroes of the European Enlightenment. Historian Chris Healy has suggested that Cook was suited to the title of founder of Australia because his journey along the entire east coast made him more acceptable in other Australian states. Importantly, unlike that other great contender for founding father, the First Fleet’s Governor Arthur Phillip, Cook was not associated with the “stain of convictism”.

Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, by Emanuel Phillips Fox, 1902.
Wikimedia

Australians celebrated the bicentenary of Cook’s arrival in 1970, and the bicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1988. Throughout this period it was widely accepted that Cook was the single most important actor in the British possession of Australia, despite the fact that many other political figures played significant roles.

This perhaps partly explains why Cook has featured so prominently in Aboriginal narratives of dispossession, and why the celebrations in 1970 and 1988 triggered debate around Aboriginal land rights.

Other scholars have examined the Aboriginal perspective on Cook’s landing. In the 1970s archaeologist Vincent Megaw found British artefacts in a midden at Botany Bay. He cautiously suggested that these items might have been part of the gifts given by Cook to the Aboriginal people he encountered.

Historian Maria Nugent has assessed the narratives recounted by Percy Mumbulla and Hobbles Danaiyarri. Both were senior Aboriginal lawmen and knowledge holders who, in the 1970s and ’80s, shared their sagas of the coming of Cook to their lands with anthropologists.

Too pale, stale and male?

Controversy over the celebration of Cook as founding father is not a new thing. It dates back to the 19th century when his first statues were raised.

This latest Captain Cook fanfare comes hot on the heels of broader global debates about the contemporary values and meaning of civic statues of (“pale, stale, male”) heroes associated with colonialism and slavery.

In Australia, there has also been debate about how the events of the first world war have been commemorated so expansively by Australia. A further $500 million was recently allocated for the extension of the Australian War Memorial, at a time when other cultural institutions in Canberra are being forced to shed jobs and tighten their belts.

The view from Captain Cook’s landing in Botany Bay, Kamay National Park.
Wikimedia/Maksym Kozlenko, CC BY-SA

The funding cycle for our contemporary cultural institutions and activities in Australia has been closely linked to anniversaries and their commemoration since at least the 1970 bicentenary. The 2018 budget lists support for programs at a number of cultural institutions and for training Indigenous cultural heritage professionals. It would be interesting to know whether these funds have been diverted away from existing operational budgets and core activities in these institutions to support the Cook celebrations.

The master plan for Kamay Botany Bay National Park has also been in development for some time. While centred on the historical event of Cook’s landing, the plan itself is more about the rehabilitation and activation of this somewhat neglected landscape. Plans have been drawn up in consultation with the La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council.

Should we be devoting scarce financial resources to yet another celebration of Cook? Focal events such as these can divert funds into cultural activities and may allow researchers and creative practitioners to unearth new evidence and develop fresh interpretations. Some of these funds may also go to support initiatives driven by First Nations communities.

The ConversationThere is no escaping the fact that Captain Cook is a polarising national symbol, representing possession and dispossession. Another anniversary of Cook’s landing may give us much to reflect upon, but it also the highlights the need for investment in new symbols that grapple with colonial legacies and shared futures.

Tracy Ireland, Associate Professor Cultural Heritage, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Vikings exhibit hangs up the sword, and gives us a welcome insight into domestic life



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A reconstructed Viking ship.
Caitlin Mills

Tom Clark, Victoria University

The Vikings are in Melbourne. It is hard to see anything “Vikings” without thoughts of the seafaring thugs who invaded or raided much of coastal Europe and beyond. As Viking scholar Judith Jesch has reminded us, that is essential to what the word originally meant: Norse-speaking people who got into surprisingly small ships and went in search of adventure, very often violent.

However, this is not the full story. A new exhibition at the Melbourne Museum is at pains to demonstrate this other side.




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The television series Vikings goes out of its way to show how its characters did some pretty amazing things in their rovings – just surviving those sea voyages must rate high on the list – but mostly we know about them because they plundered far from home, to great effect. From 793 until 1066, or thereabouts, many people feared a visit from the Vikings more intensely than they feared their own rulers.

Jesch has also explained how the word broadened its meaning, even at the same time as Vikings became increasingly caricatured in poplar knowledge (think the Terry Jones movie Erik the Viking). “Vikings” can now mean all people from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Shetland and many other colonies across the North Atlantic who lived during “the Viking Age”.

The Melbourne Museum’s exhibition takes this broader sense of the word and uses it against that other, narrower one. Brought to Melbourne by the Swedish History Museum, which owns the collection, it explores the lives of the Vikings as much more holistic than just the adventures of those Norsemen who went a-viking.

The approach will disappoint some people. There are weapons on show, some of them remarkably elegant for all the ravages of time, but none are better preserved than the bent sword from a burial mound in Sweden. Archaeologists reckon it was bent precisely to render it useless for violence – to prevent its misuse in the afterlife.




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There are boats, both original and reconstructed. Compared to the palpably seaworthy wonders of Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, though, the standout here is a half-ship plotted in the abstract by its rivets — the planks have all perished in the boat’s burial site, but the rivets that once fastened them have been suspended in their true positions in mid-air. It offers a haunting impression of the boat that once was.

Rivets from a Viking ship create a ‘ghost ship’.
Swedish History Museum

Still, these are not displays to get the adrenalin pumping. The interactives will not push you to imagine yourself in armour, screaming from behind a wall of shields on some stricken hillside, mead in one hand and great axe in the other.

Instead, this exhibition focuses on domestic life, economy, religion and technology. Nobody should imagine that any visiting show at a museum can do comprehensive justice to even one of those four, but this one gives us plenty of concrete evidence if we wanted to imagine Swedish and similar communities in the Viking Age.

It shows us the basics of Scandinavian clothing, for example, which is so essential for imagining the people in those countries. Its displays of jewellery remind just how fine the silver and gold smithing traditions of Germanic Europe were — for example, a filigreed pendant depicting Mjölnir (“Mealgrinder”), Thor’s hammer.

Pendant, Thor’s hammer, in gold and silver. The pendant is richly decorated with filigree ornaments and is one of a kind. Erikstorp, Ödeshög, Östergötland.
Swedish History Museum

The Mjölnir pendant is also an example of how this exhibition explores the religious and spiritual dispositions of the Vikings. The gradual progression of Christian conversion through Scandinavia and Iceland meant that some southern communities were converted long before the recognised Viking Age began. Others in the north held to their faith in the Aesir (one of two tribes of Norse gods) until well into the 12th century.

What we miss in that story of incremental northwards progression, though, is how varied and often contradictory the local beliefs were. There may have been as many different schools of Aesir worship as there were settlements across the Norse-speaking lands. Certainly, during the period of Christian conversion, many people practised a dual worship — keeping the old gods alive, even though the new God forbade it.

There is a wealth of riches in the exhibition, as you might expect, which could be chaos if it lacked a strong logic of curation. Importantly, then, elements of the curation speak with great depth. The collectors have clear points to make, and they use the exhibits to make them.

A case in point is the questioning, rather than definitive, discussion of hair combs. Archaeologists have curiously found such apparently mundane items in most of the Scandinavian burial sites. Were they for carrying into the next world, for a final grooming of the dead person before burial, or something else entirely? If we cannot understand those combs, how can we understand the worlds they joined?

This emphasis on the social and everyday is quite different from many other Viking exhibitions – in English-speaking countries at least – which have tended to focus on the martial vigour of those people who repeatedly invaded “us”. A recent example was the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend, which cast them as fighting fanatics for their religion, a medieval precursor of Daesh or ISIS.

Here, the curators are trying first and foremost to redirect our attentions. War was only a part of the Viking life, and only for a segment of Viking society at that. Anyone who wears a horned helmet to see this exhibition may feel an urge to take it off.


The ConversationVikings: Beyond the Legend is showing at the Melbourne Museum until August 26 2018.

Tom Clark, Associate Professor, First Year College, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australia’s history of live exports is more than two centuries old



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A sheep undergoing live export in 2017.
Animals Australia

Nancy Cushing, University of Newcastle

A recent episode of 60 Minutes has captured public attention and the political agenda by airing dramatic video footage from Animals Australia, showing the fate of Australian animals in the live export trade.

Video shot secretly by a crew member shows sheep on five separate voyages from Fremantle to the Middle East last year. They are buffeted by the movement of the ship, strain to breathe in the hot, noisy and acrid atmosphere between decks and trample the dead and dying under their hooves.

But while these glimpses inside a transport ship are new, the practice of live animal export is as old as the European colonisation of Australia.




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Can live animal export ever be humane?


Animals of the new colony

The first arrival of animals that would later be exported from Australia, including sheep, cattle and goats, can be dated with unusual precision to January 1788.

Like the convict workforce who made up the bulk of the human cargo on the First Fleet, the livestock, purchased mainly at the Cape of Good Hope, were considered necessary to transplant a British society and economy in Antipodean soil. Live animal import from other colonies, like India and Batavia, and from Europe continued throughout the first century of colonisation.

Hoists were used to load and unload live animals in ports without purpose-built ramps. This photograph demonstrates the practice in India in 1895.
Source: William Henry Jackson, World’s Transportation Commission photograph collection. Library of Congress

Breeds that suited the climate and their roles in the colony, especially those that helped displace native plants and animals and Indigenous peoples, were sought after and carefully nurtured.

Gradually the inward flow of animals reversed. Flocks and herds increased to the point where some could be sold on to other destinations. Initially, this was to the other colonies Britain was establishing in the region, such as Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Western Australia, New Zealand and South Australia. These animals were primarily traded to establish new populations at their destinations.

Animals from New South Wales were also sent to the French colony of New Caledonia, and in small numbers farther afield to Russia, Japan and India. As numbers rose, larger-scale live export for consumption became established.

A hidden process

As in the present, this trade had distinct phases, some more visible than others. The process began where the animals were raised, generally on lightly stocked rangelands in the interior. They were driven on foot or loaded onto rail carriages to be taken to ports, where they waited in open yards to be loaded onto ships.

Thus far, the animals were moving through public spaces, where their treatment and conditions could be seen and in some cases recorded. Members of the public could register their concerns and seek to have mistreatment addressed. And even in a period when animal welfare was still an emerging concept, some did.

Railcars laden with frightened stock led to complaints about overcrowding and lack of access to food and water. One observer labelled such treatment “as gross a case of cruelty as it is possible to conceive”.

However, once the animals were hoisted or walked onto ships, they became invisible. No outsider could see them. Only those involved with the voyage knew how densely they were packed, how secure their pens were, whether their dung was cleared away, or how much food and water they received over journeys that could last for weeks. In the case of sheep, the advice was to pack them like wool bales, so tightly pressed together that they prevented one another from falling over.

In many cases, the animals were barely seen at all, except by one another, being left to their own devices on short voyages. During longer trips they would be tended to minimally, because of the toxic environment created below deck by what were termed their “exhalations of carbonic gases”.

Even the evidence of how many died on the voyages was hidden. Their bodies were thrown overboard before reaching port and few records were kept.

Animals carried on open decks could be seen while at the docks and had access to better-quality air, but were more vulnerable to high seas and inclement weather.

Animals carried on open decks could be seen while at the docks and had access to better-quality air, but were also vulnerable to high seas and inclement weather. Sheep in pens on a ship’s deck, Sydney Harbour, circa 1929.
Sam Hood photograph, State Library of New South Wales, Home and Away, 4066.

At the other end of the journey, the exported animals came back into view. This was often when the most useful accounts were recorded. Complaints about their poor condition, reduced numbers or the loss of entire shipments of animals were considered worthy of writing about in local newspapers by those who had eagerly awaited their arrival. It is at the receiving end of the export process that accusations of flimsy pens, overcrowding or the loading of animals that were not fit for the voyage can be found.

Taking this longer view of the Australian live export trade shows just how extraordinary the opportunity to see what happens during live export is. Animals Australia has noted that “Australia’s live sheep trade has operated for over five decades with only those financially invested in the trade having visual access to the conditions and welfare implications for the sheep on-board”.




Read more:
Assessing Australia’s regulation of live animal exports


This has been an issue for much longer than 50 years, but it’s now possible for outsiders – including farmers, politicians and members of the public – to see the appalling conditions of the live export trade for themselves.


The ConversationThis article is based on a blog post originally published by White Horse Press.

Nancy Cushing, Associate professor, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Friday essay: the story of Fook Shing, colonial Victoria’s Chinese detective


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A depiction of Fook Shing in Melbourne Illustrated, November 13 1880.
State Library of Victoria

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, La Trobe University

On July 25 1882, Inspector Frederick Secretan, the head of Victoria Police’s Detective Branch, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. In the wake of the Kelly Gang fiasco, during which Ned’s infamous band of outlaws had managed to elude the police until the bloody shootout at Glenrowan, a royal commission had been called to inquire into Victoria’s police force. Secretan’s detectives had been singled out for particular criticism. Now, as he fronted the commissioners, the inspector sought to explain the methods he deployed for detecting crime in Melbourne and across Victoria.

The anxiety and sense of impending chaos that accompanied the 1850s gold rushes had led to the early adoption of plain-clothes policing in colonial Victoria. Unlike in Britain, where detectives were discouraged from wearing plain clothes and liaising with criminals, Melbourne’s gumshoes were to move across the colony, detecting crime and weeding out offenders. Lacking scientific modes of inquiry, they relied on their ability to conduct surveillance and to establish relations with informants, or “fizgigs”.

By the 1880s there were 28 detectives in the colony. Seven were based in country districts, one serviced the post office, four were clerks and 16 were deployed on outdoor duty across Melbourne. The metropolitan force, Secretan explained, divided the city into spheres of influence, with the numbers of detectives apportioned accordingly. Ideally, Secretan suggested to the commissioners, 38 detectives would be deployed across Victoria, “including one Chinese”.

Secretan’s Chinese detective, and one of the men who had been briefly involved in the hunt for the Kelly Gang, was Detective Fook Shing.

Like tens of thousands of his countrymen, Fook Shing had journeyed from China to Australia during the gold rushes of the 1850s. Leaving troubled Guangdong, via the British ports of Hong Kong and Singapore, he appears to have arrived at South Australia (probably to avoid the poll tax implemented to deter Chinese arrivals at Melbourne) and to have walked overland to the goldfields.

On the Bendigo diggings, Fook Shing served the colonial government as a local “headman” (a “Chief of the Chinese” as he put it) and took a leading role in community life – being active in Chinese societies, running a successful theatre and brickworks. Wealthy, connected and well represented in court, he kept a pistol under his pillow for when extra-legal methods were required to protect his followers.

For the (heavily Irish) Victorian police force, who relied on interpreters of mixed quality, were befuddled by Chinese names and struggled to identify Chinese criminals, men like Fook Shing proved invaluable on the goldfields. During the 1860s, as the Chinese in Victoria increasingly left the gold country and congregated in Melbourne, particularly around the city’s growing Chinatown in Little Bourke Street, Fook Shing was formally appointed to the Victoria Police.

Arrival of Chinese Immigrants in Little Bourke Street, Frederick Grosse 1828-1894, engraver. Melbourne: Ebenezer and David Syme, 1866.
State Library of Victoria

For the next 20 years, Fook Shing served as Melbourne’s Chinese detective.
From his home, just off Little Bourke Street, he policed the Chinese community and visitors to the area. Among his colleagues he was regarded as a “trustworthy member of the service” who could “always be relied upon” and impressed with his “intimate knowledge of the Chinese criminal class” in Melbourne.

This support was mirrored up the chain of command. Superior officers paid tribute to his performance in the line of duty and awarded a number of gratuities in acknowledgement of service.

But the work of the Chinese detective was hardly confined to Melbourne. Fook Shing could regularly be found on assignment in country Victoria. There he was given “every facility” by local authorities, who (in the words of one goldfields constable) found him “in a position to give all necessary information and point out any further steps” for tracing Chinese criminals.

Word of his arrival in country towns spread quickly among local Chinese criminals and suspects. In 1875, for instance, the Chinese detective asked the murder suspect An Gaa: “You know Fook Shing?” The accused replied that he did, having been warned of the detective’s impending arrival by his fellow Chinese prisoners in Castlemaine Jail.

‘A civilised specimen’

At much the same time, Fook Shing served as guide for colonial and foreign observers seeking to understand the Chinese and their coming to Australia. “We need no magic horse or flying carpet to take us into China,” the great colonial author and journalist Marcus Clarke reflected in 1868.

All we do is turn down Little Bourke-street and our friend F – S –, once a Mandarin, now a distinguished member of the detective force, will point out to us the ‘manners and customs’ of his countrymen.

A decade later, in a two-part feature entitled “Melbourne Illustrated”, the London Graphic illustrated newspaper surveyed all the usual marks of colonial progress: the port, the commercial exchange, the university, the public library and gardens, and (of course) the racecourse.

Finally came a reflection on the “Anti-Chinese Movement” and a visit to Chinatown. “The Chinese question is the topic of the day”, the author informed his metropolitan audience, reflecting on the strong racial anxiety that the presence of the Chinese in Australia had evoked since the gold rushes, “and it may interest you as well as the Australians … We had as our guide Fook Shing, the Chinese detective, whose portrait I have taken as being a civilised specimen of a Chinaman.”

Melbourne Illustrated – In the Chinese Quarter, Graphic, November 13 1880. 1. Fan Tan Table. 2. Head of a Fan Tan Player. 3. Fook Shing, Detective. 4. Entrance to a Chinese Eating House.
State Library of Victoria

But just as he was etched into contemporary impressions of colonial Victoria, Fook Shing also confronted anti-Chinese racism and discrimination. Despite his impressive record over 20 years, and in contrast to a number of less accomplished white colleagues, the Chinese detective was never promoted above his entry rank of detective third class.

Opium and information

At times he endured poor relations with both uniformed policemen and fellow detectives. Colonial newspapers, meanwhile, regularly critiqued his gambling and his opium smoking, reporting his appearance in the gambling houses and opium dens that grew up along Little Bourke Street to service the community. “The Chinese Detective”, The Age declared in January 1873, while complaining about the lenient sentences being handled out to illegal Chinese gamblers, is “himself an inveterate gambler”.

Interior of a Chinese gambling house, 1871. Wood engraving published in the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers.
State Library of Victoria

While they disliked the sensational media attention, Fook Shing’s superiors were rather less concerned by these apparent moral failings. In fact, they quietly accepted them as essential to policing the Chinese – and helped to pick up the tab. After interrogating An Gaa, for instance, Fook Shing submitted a receipt for funds “spent obtaining information”.

“The amount charged,” Secretan noted when organising Fook Shing’s reimbursement, “is principally for opium supplied to the Chinese … I know opium is necessary to obtain anything from the Chinese at all.”

On occasion, Fook Shing appears to have carried his investigations beyond Victoria. In October 1875 the Chinese detective travelled to Sydney in pursuit of Ah Hon for “larceny of opium” and successfully ensured the offender was committed for trial.

While it was quietly approved by the Victoria Police’s top brass, Fook Shing’s drug use eventually took a heavy personal toll. By the 1880s, his health declining, he was utilised as an interpreter, before eventually being retired unfit for further service in 1886. A decade later, having anglicised his name, Henry Fook Shing was laid to rest in Melbourne Cemetery.

In recent decades, the importance of Australia’s commercial relationship with China and increasing migration from China to Australia have helped to spark renewed interest in the historical links between the two countries. As stories like Fook Shing’s remind us, colonial Australia was not simply an outpost of Britain, it was also a society intricately connected to China.

Towards the end of the 1850s, perhaps as many as one in five men in the colony of Victoria was Chinese; by the end of the 19th century Melbourne’s Chinatown was among the most well-known in the world.

As he trawled the streets of Marvellous Melbourne and traipsed across the countryside on behalf of the Victoria Police, Fook Shing played a vital role in mediating between the colonial state, white settlers and the first generations of Chinese migrants to arrive in large numbers and to make their homes in Australia.


The ConversationBen Mountford will give a talk on Fook Shing at Kyneton Museum on May 12 at 2pm.

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, David Myers Research Fellow in History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


A brief history of fake doctors, and how they get away with it



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Impersonation of doctors is a modern phenomenon that grew out of Western medicine’s drive towards professionalism.
from shutterstock.com

Philippa Martyr, University of Western Australia

Melbourne man Raffaele Di Paolo pleaded guilty last week to a number of charges related to practising as a medical specialist when he wasn’t qualified to do so. Di Paolo is in jail awaiting his sentence after being found guilty of fraud, indecent assault and sexual penetration.

This case follows that of another so-called “fake doctor” in New South Wales. Sarang Chitale worked in the state’s public health service as a junior doctor from 2003 until 2014. It was only in 2016, after his last employer – the research firm Novotech – reported him to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), that his qualifications were investigated.

“Dr” Chitale turned out to be Shyam Acharya, who had stolen the real Dr Chitale’s identity and obtained Australian citizenship and employment at a six-figure salary. Acharya had no medical qualifications at all.

Cases of impersonation, identity theft and fraudulent practice happen across a range of disciplines. There have been instances of fake pilots, veterinarians and priests. It’s especially confronting when it happens in medicine, because of the immense trust we place in those looking after our health.

So what drives people to go to such extremes, and how do they get away with?

A modern phenomenon

Impersonation of doctors is a modern phenomenon. It grew out of Western medicine’s drive towards professionalism in the 19th century, which ran alongside the explosion of scientific medical research.

Before this, doctors would be trained by an apprentice-type system, and there was little recourse for damages. A person hired a doctor if they could afford it, and if the treatment was poor, or killed the patient, it was a case of caveat emptor – buyer beware.

But as science made medicine more reliable, the title of “doctor” really began to mean something – especially as the fees began to rise. By the end of the 19th century in the British Empire, becoming a doctor was a complex process. It required long university training, an independent income and the right social connections. Legislation backed this up, with medical registration acts controlling who could and couldn’t use medical titles.

Given the present social status and salaries of medical professionals, it’s easy to see why people would aspire to be doctors. And when the road ahead looks too hard and expensive, it may be tempting to take short cuts.

Today, there are four common elements that point to weaknesses in our health-care systems, which allow fraudsters to slip through the cracks and practise medicine.

1. Misplaced trust

Everyone believes someone, somewhere, has checked and verified a person’s credentials. But sometimes this hasn’t been done, or it takes a long time.

Fake psychiatrist Mohamed Shakeel Siddiqui – a qualified doctor who stole a real psychiatrist’s identity and worked in New Zealand for six months in 2015 – left a complicated trail of identity theft that required the assistance of the FBI to unravel.

Last year, in Germany, a man was found to have forged foreign qualifications that he presented to the registering body in early 2016. He was issued with a temporary licence while these were checked. When the qualifications turned out to be fraudulent, he was fired from his job as a junior doctor in a psychiatric ward. But this wasn’t until June 2017.

2. Foreign credentials

Credentials from a foreign university, issued in a different language, are another common element among medical fraudsters. Verifying these can be time-consuming, so a health system desperate for staff may cut corners.

Ioannis Kastanis was appointed as head of medicine at Skyros Regional Hospital in Greece in 1999 with fake degrees from Sapienza University of Rome. The degrees were recognised and the certificates translated, but their authenticity was never checked.

Dusan Milosevic, who practised as a psychologist for ten years, registered in Victoria in 1998. He held bogus degrees from the University of Belgrade in Serbia – at the time a war-torn corner of Europe, which made verification difficult.

3. Regional and remote practice

It’s easier to get away with faking in regional or remote areas where there is less scrutiny. Desperation to retain staff may also silence complaints.

“Dr” Balaji Varatharaju fraudulently gained employment in remote Alice Springs, where he worked as a junior doctor for nine months.

Ioannis Kastanis had worked on a distant Greek island with a population of only around 3,000 people.

4. It’s not easy to dob

Finally, there are two unnerving questions. How do you tell a poorly trained but legally qualified practitioner from a faker? And who do you tell if you suspect something is off?

The people best placed to spot the fakes – other hospital and health-care staff – work in often stressful conditions where complaints about colleagues can lead to reprisals. If the practitioner is from another ethnicity or culture, this adds an extra layer of sensitivity. It was only after “Dr Chitale” was exposed that staff were willing to say his practice had been “shabby”, “unsavoury” and “poor”.

So, why do they do it?

The reasons for fakery are as diverse as the fakers. “Dr Nick Delaney”, at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, reportedly pretended to be a doctor to “make friends” and keep a fling going with a security guard at the same hospital.

On a more sinister level, there are possible sexually predatory reasons, like those of bogus gynaecologist Raffale Di Paolo. Fake psychiatrist Mohamed Shakeel Siddiqui said he only did it to help people.

There are also the less easily understood fakers, like “Dr” Adam Litwin, who worked as a resident in surgery at UCLA Medical Center in California for six months in 1999. Questions only began to be asked when he turned up to work in his white coat with a picture of himself silk-screened on it: even by Californian standards, this was going too far.

So how do we stop this happening?

Part of the problem is our cultural dependence on qualifications as the passkey to higher income and social status, making them an easy target for fraudsters. Qualifications only reduce risk, but they can’t eliminate it. Qualified doctors can also cause havoc: think Jayant Patel and other bona fide qualified practitioners who have been struck off for malpractice, mutilation and manslaughter.

Conversely, no one complained about “Dr Chitale” in 11 years. The only complaints Kastanis received in 14 years were from people who thought his Ferrari was vulgar. The German junior doctor had an excellent knowledge of mental health-care procedures and language – obtained from his time as a psychiatric patient.

The ConversationMost of these loopholes can be closed with time and patience. What would help is if hospital and health-care staff felt sufficiently supported to report their suspicions to their employer, rather than to their colleagues. This would foster a more open culture of flagging concerns about fellow practitioners without fear of formal or informal punishment. It might also uncover more “Dr Chitales” before anyone is seriously harmed.

Philippa Martyr, Lecturer, Pharmacology, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How gold rushes helped make the modern world



File 20180314 131605 1jxxe4f.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
JCF Johnson’s, Euchre in the bush, circa 1867, depicts a card game in a hut on the Victorian goldfields in the 1860s.
Oil on canvas mounted on board, 42.0 x 60.2 cm.
Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ballarat

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, La Trobe University and Stephen Tuffnell, University of Oxford

This year is the 170th anniversary of one of the most significant events in world history: the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. On January 24, 1848, while inspecting a mill race for his employer John Sutter, James Marshall glimpsed something glimmering in the cold winter water. “Boys,” he announced, brandishing a nugget to his fellow workers, “I believe I have found a gold mine!”

Marshall had pulled the starting trigger on a global rush that set the world in motion. The impact was sudden – and dramatic. In 1848 California’s non-Indian population was around 14,000; it soared to almost 100,000 by the end of 1849, and to 300,000 by the end of 1853. Some of these people now stare back at us enigmatically through daguerreotypes and tintypes. From Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands; from South and Central America; from Australia and New Zealand; from Southeastern China; from Western and Eastern Europe, arrivals made their way to the golden state.

Looking back later, Mark Twain famously described those who rushed for gold as

a driving, vigorous restless population … an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men – not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves…

“The only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together”, Twain reflected, it was “not likely that the world will ever see its like again”.

Arriving at Ballarat in 1895, Twain saw first-hand the incredible economic, political, and social legacies of the Australian gold rushes, which had begun in 1851 and triggered a second global scramble in pursuit of the precious yellow mineral.




Read more:
Eureka! X-ray vision can find hidden gold


“The smaller discoveries made in the colony of New South Wales three months before,” he observed, “had already started emigrants towards Australia; they had been coming as a stream.” But with the discovery of Victoria’s fabulous gold reserves, which were literally Californian in scale, “they came as a flood”.

Between Sutter’s Mill in January 1848, and the Klondyke (in remote Northwestern Canada) in the late 1890s, the 19th century was regularly subject to such flooding. Across Australasia, Russia, North America, and Southern Africa, 19th century gold discoveries triggered great tidal waves of human, material, and financial movement. New goldfields were inundated by fresh arrivals from around the globe: miners and merchants, bankers and builders, engineers and entrepreneurs, farmers and fossickers, priests and prostitutes, saints and sinners.

A nugget believed to be the first piece of gold discovered in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in California.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History

As the force of the initial wave began to recede, many drifted back to more settled lives in the lands from which they hailed. Others found themselves marooned, and so put down roots in the golden states. Others still, having managed to ride the momentum of the gold wave further inland, toiled on new mineral fields, new farm and pastoral lands, and built settlements, towns and cities. Others again, little attracted to the idea of settling, caught the backwash out across the ocean – and simply kept rushing.

From 1851, for instance, as the golden tide swept towards NSW and Victoria, some 10,000 fortune seekers left North America and bobbed around in the wash to be deposited in Britain’s Antipodean colonies alongside fellow diggers from all over the world.

Gold and global history

The discovery of the precious metal at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848 was a turning point in global history. The rush for gold redirected the technologies of communication and transportation and accelerated and expanded the reach of the American and British Empires.

Telegraph wires, steamships, and railroads followed in their wake; minor ports became major international metropolises for goods and migrants (such as Melbourne and San Francisco) and interior towns and camps became instant cities (think Johannesburg, Denver and Boise). This development was accompanied by accelerated mobility – of goods, people, credit – and anxieties over the erosion of middle class mores around respectability and domesticity.




Read more:
All that glitters: why our obsession with putting gold on food is nothing new


But gold’s new global connections also brought new forms of destruction and exclusion. The human, economic, and cultural waves that swept through the gold regions could be profoundly destructive to Indigenous and other settled communities, and to the natural environment upon which their material, cultural, and social lives depended. Many of the world’s environments are gold rush landscapes, violently transformed by excavation, piles of tailings, and the reconfiguration of rivers.

The Earth, at the End of The Diggings.
Courtesy, Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute.

As early as 1849, Punch magazine depicted the spectacle of the earth being hollowed out by gold mining. In the “jaundice regions of California”, the great London journal satirised: “The crust of the earth is already nearly gone … those who wish to pick up the crumbs must proceed at once to California.” As a result, the world appeared to be tipping off its axis.

In the US and beyond, scholars, museum curators, and many family historians have shown us that despite the overwhelmingly male populations of the gold regions, we cannot understand their history as simply “pale and male”. Chinese miners alone constituted more than 25% of the world’s goldseekers, and they now jostle with white miners alongside women, Indigenous and other minority communities in our understanding of the rushes – just as they did on the diggings themselves.

Rushes in the present

The gold rushes are not mere historic footnotes – they continue to influence the world in which we live today. Short-term profits have yielded long-term loss. Gold rush pollution has been just as enduring as the gold rushes’ cultural legacy. Historic pollution has had long-range impacts that environmental agencies and businesses alike continue to grapple with.




Read more:
The world protests as Amazon forests are opened to mining


At the abandoned Berkley pit mine in Butte, Montana, the water is so saturated with heavy metals that copper can be extracted directly from it. Illegal mining in the Amazon is adding to the pressures on delicate ecosystems and fragile communities struggling to adapt to climate change.

The phenomenon of rushing is hardly alien to the modern world either – shale gas fracking is an industry of rushes. In the US, the industry has transformed Williston, North Dakota, a city of high rents, ad hoc urban development, and an overwhelmingly young male population – quintessential features of the gold rush city.




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Why increasing shale gas production won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions


In September last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that a new gold rush was under way in Texas: for sand, the vital ingredient in the compound of chemicals and water that is blasted underground to open energy-bearing rock. A rush of community action against fracking’s contamination of groundwater has followed.

The world of the gold rushes, then, is not a distant era of interest only to historians. For better or worse, the rushes are a foundation of many of the patterns of economic, industrial, and environmental change central to our modern-day world of movement.

The ConversationBenjamin Mountford and Stephen Tuffnell’s forthcoming edited collection A Global History of Gold Rushes will be published by University of California Press in October 2018. A sample of their work can also be found in the forthcoming volume Pay Dirt! New Discoveries on the Victorian Goldfields (Ballarat Heritage Services, 2018).

Benjamin Wilson Mountford, David Myers Research Fellow in History, La Trobe University and Stephen Tuffnell, Associate Professor of Modern US History, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Black skies and raging seas: how the First Fleet got a first taste of Australia’s unforgiving climate


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The British First Fleet knew little of conditions in Port Jackson, later Sydney Cove, before their arrival.
George Edwards Peacock, State Library of New South Wales.

Joelle Gergis, University of Melbourne

The women screamed as the huge waves crashed loudly on the wooden deck. Horrified, they watched the foaming torrent wash away their blankets. Many dropped to their knees, praying for the violent rocking to stop. The sea raged around them as the wind whipped up into a frenzy, damaging all but one of the heavily loaded ships.

The severe storm was yet another taste of the ferocious weather that slammed the First Fleet as it made its way across the Southern Ocean in December 1787. Now, after an eight-month journey from England in a ship riddled with death and disease, the passengers’ introduction to Australia was also far from idyllic. The unforgiving weather that greeted the First Fleet was a sign of things to come. More than once, intense storms would threaten the arrival of the ships and bring the new colony close to collapse.




Read more:
Modern Australia’s defining moment came long after First Fleet


So how did the early arrivals to Australia deal with such extreme weather? Have we always had a volatile climate? To answer these questions, we need to follow Australia’s colonial settlers back beyond their graves and trace through centuries-old documents to uncover what the climate was like from the very beginning of European settlement. By poking around in the settlers’ old diaries, letters and newspaper clippings, we can begin to piece together an idea of what the country’s climate was like long before official weather measurements began.

When the British sailed into Australian waters, they had no idea of what awaited them. Eighteen years before the arrival of the First Fleet, Captain James Cook had barely spent a week in Botany Bay. He didn’t even stop in for a quick stickybeak at Port Jackson, the settlement site that eventually came to be known as Sydney Cove. HMS Endeavour had only briefly skirted past modern-day Sydney Harbour in May 1770, so the British knew next to nothing of the land, its climate or its people. Perhaps they expected that life would resemble their other colonial outposts like India, or an undeveloped version of England. With enough hard work, surely the land could be tamed to support their needs. But when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Cove, they unknowingly entered an ancient landscape with an unforgiving climate.

Violent storms

Even before Governor Arthur Phillip set foot in Botany Bay, violent storms had battered the overcrowded ships of the First Fleet. During the final eight-week leg of the journey from Cape Town to Botany Bay, the ships had sailed into the westerly winds and tremendous swells of the Southern Ocean. Ferocious weather hit the First Fleet as it made its way through the roaring forties in November–December 1787. Although the strong westerlies were ideal for sailing, conditions on the ships were miserable. Lieutenant Philip Gidley King described the difficult circumstances on board HMS Supply: “strong gales … with a very heavy sea running which keeps this vessel almost constantly under water and renders the situation of everyone on board her, truly uncomfortable”. Unable to surface on deck in the rough seas, the convicts remained cold and wet in the cramped holds.

As Christmas approached, King noted the surprisingly chilly conditions off the southwestern coast of Western Australia: “The cold is in the extreme here as in England at this time of year, although it is the height of summer here.” Aboard HMS Sirius, Judge David Collins wrote about how the crew tried to celebrate in “mountains high” seas, to no avail. On New Year’s Day 1788, Arthur Bowes Smyth, a surgeon aboard the Lady Penrhyn, described how the sea poured into his cabin:

Just as we had dined, a most tremendous sea broke in at the weather scuttle of the great cabin and ran with a great stream all across the cabin, and as the door of my cabin happened not to be quite closed shut the water half filled it, the sheets and the blankets being all on a flow. The water ran from the quarterdeck nearly into the great cabin, and struck against the main and missen chains with such a force as at first alarmed us all greatly, but particularly me, as I believed [the] ship was drove in pieces. No sleep this night.

In a letter to his father, Sirius crew member Newton Fowell described the terrible weather that greeted the new year: “This year began with very bad tempestuous weather, it blew much harder than any wind we have had since our leaving England.” As the atrocious conditions continued, the First Fleet was forced to slow down to prevent the ships’ sails from tearing. Earlier in December 1787, the Prince of Wales had lost its topsail and a man washed overboard in what a sailor on the Scarborough described as “the heaviest sea as ever I saw”.




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Explainer: the wild storms that lash Australia’s east coast


Captain John Hunter described how the rough seas made life on the Sirius very difficult for the animals on board:

The rolling and labouring of our ship exceedingly distressed the cattle, which were now in a very weak state, and the great quantities of water which we shipped during the gale, very much aggravated their distress. The poor animals were frequently thrown with much violence off their legs and exceedingly bruised by their falls.

It wasn’t until the first week of January 1788 that the majority of the First Fleet sailed past the southeastern corner of Van Diemen’s Land, modern-day Tasmania. As his boat navigated the coast, surgeon John White noted: “We were surprised to see, at this season of the year, some small patches of snow.” The fleet then began the 1,000-kilometre struggle up the coast of what would soon be called New South Wales, against a strong headwind and the East Australian Current. Newton Fowell wrote:

The wind variable and weather dark and gloomy, with a very troublesome high sea. About two o’clock p.m. we had one of the most sudden gusts of wind I ever remember to have known. In an instant it split our main-sail; and but for the activity shewn by the sailors, in letting fly the sheets and lowering the top-sails, the masts must have gone over the side… Fortunately for us the squall was of short duration, otherwise the ships must have suffered considerably from the uncommon cross sea that was running; which we had found to be the case ever since we reached this coast.

According to Bowes Smyth, faced with a “greater swell than at any other period during the voyage”, many of the ships were damaged, as were seedlings needed to supply the new colony with food. Bowes Smyth continued:

The sky blackened, the wind arose and in half an hour more it blew a perfect hurricane, accompanied with thunder, lightening and rain… I never before saw a sea in such a rage, it was all over as white as snow … every other ship in the fleet except the Sirius sustained some damage … during the storm the convict women in our ship were so terrified that most of them were down on their knees at prayers.

Finally, on January 19, the last ships of the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. But after just three days there, Phillip realised that the site was unfit for settlement. It had poor soil, insufficient freshwater supplies, and was exposed to strong southerly and easterly winds. With all the cargo and 1,400 starving convicts still anchored in Botany Bay, Phillip and a small party, including Hunter, quickly set off in three boats to find an alternative place to settle. Twelve kilometres to the north they found Port Jackson.

View of Dawes point at the entrance of Sydney Cove, described by one voyager as the ‘finest and most extensive harbour in the universe’.
Joseph Lycett, State Library of New South Wales

When the Endeavour had sailed past the location 18 years earlier, Cook had simply noted: “About two or three miles from the land and abreast of a bay or harbour wherein there appeared to be safe anchorage, which I called Port Jackson.” Early in the afternoon of the second day of their exploration, Phillip and his party discovered a large sheltered bay with a freshwater stream flowing into it. As Phillip later relayed to England, they “had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world”. It was decided that their new home would be here, not Botany Bay. It was named Sydney Cove after Lord Sydney, the home secretary of England at that time. John White was even more blown away by Port Jackson, gushing that it was “without exception, the finest and most extensive harbour in the universe”.

On 23 January 1788, Phillip and his party returned to Botany Bay and gave orders for the entire fleet to immediately set sail for Port Jackson. But the next morning, strong headwinds blew, preventing the ships from leaving the harbour. On 25 January, King wrote: “The wind blowing strong from the NNE prevented … our [the Supply] going out,” adding that they were obliged “to wait for the ebb tide and at noon we weighed and turned out of the harbour”. In the meantime, the rest of the fleet was still trying to sail out of Botany Bay. A surgeon, George Worgan, wrote about “the wind coming to blow hard, right in to the bay, the Sirius and the transports could not possibly get out”. A huge sea rolling into the bay caused ripped sails and a lost boom as the ships drifted dangerously close to the rocky coastline. According to Lieutenant Ralph Clark:

If it had not been by the greatest good luck, we should have been both on the shore [and] on the rocks, and the ships must have been all lost, and the greater part, if not the whole on board drowned, for we should have gone to pieces in less than half of an hour.

Finally, as Bowes Smyth described, the ships left the bay: “With the utmost difficulty and danger [and] with many hairbreadth escapes [we] got out of the harbour’s mouth … it was next to a miracle that some of the ships were not lost, the danger was so very great.” By 3 p.m. on January 26, 1788, all 11 ships of the First Fleet had safely arrived in Port Jackson. Meanwhile, while waiting for the others to arrive, Phillip and a small party from the Supply had rowed ashore and planted a Union Jack, marking the beginning of European settlement in Australia.

After such an epic journey, the whole ordeal was washed away with swigs of rum. Unknowingly, it marked the start of our rocky relationship with one of the most volatile climates on Earth.


The ConversationThis is an edited extract from Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change by Joelle Gergis, published by Melbourne University Publishing. An edited version of this article has also appeared on Pursuit.

Joelle Gergis, ARC DECRA Climate Research Fellow, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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