Category Archives: Australia

Histories written in the land: a journey through Adnyamathanha Yarta



It is impossible to fully capture the landscape of the Flinders Ranges in one image. Spanning 400km, it is constantly changing.
Shutterstock

Jacinta Koolmatrie, Flinders University

The Flinders Ranges covers a vast area spanning over 400 kilometres. The nearest capital city is Adelaide which, like all of Australia, exists on Aboriginal land. Adelaide is in Kaurna Country, about 200 kilometres from the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, one of the world’s most interesting and beautiful locations. This is a short drive, relative to most travel in Australia.

It is impossible to describe the Flinders Ranges as just one environment. The landscape changes as you travel from south to north and there is no way you could see its entirety in the span of a lifetime. But to give you an idea of how this land varies, lets start at its most southern end with its flowing green hills, near the small city of Port Pirie. This part of the Flinders Ranges is Nukunu Country. The land here is beautiful and your experience of it is very different, depending on whether you choose to drive on the eastern or the western side of the Ranges.

If you continue driving on the western side you will witness the place where the Ranges meet the ocean. You don’t need to pass through many towns, but you definitely should do so as they all sit on the beautiful coast of the Spencer Gulf. Port Germein, one of the stops, is a lovely seaside town and home to what was once the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. One and a half kilometres long, it lets you experience what it would be like to stand in the middle of the sea looking across to the Ranges. An amazing view indeed.

From Port Germein, you can feel like you are standing in the middle of the sea.
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The eastern side will take you through farmland and small towns. Gum trees, creeks, gorges and green grass surround you and it is one of the first times you will find yourself up close to the Flinders Ranges. Here, you will be travelling through Nukunu Country, or if you veer further east, possibly Ngadjuri or Adnyamathanha Country. There is a stronger colonial history in the towns here, which you can see in the monuments and buildings that now seem tattered and old. But before we get ahead of ourselves, there is one more stop I want to show you on the western side.

As you continue to travel you see the hills gradually turn into shades of dark green and brown. Their shape begins to change too, their soft edges turn to sharper points. The green grass transforms into red sand and you notice that the dark green and brown on the hills are the colours of the shrubs embedded into this sand. You eventually reach the small city of Port Augusta which sits at the top of the Spencer Gulf. This area is a meeting place for a number of Aboriginal groups that are separated on each side of the gulf, however, it is specifically connected to Barngarla and Nukunu. It is no surprise that this place is of great interest to so many Aboriginal Nations. It is the one place where the desert truly meets the sea. It is also the town where I grew up.

At Port Augusta, the desert meets the sea.
Shutterstock

The beauty of home

Growing up in Port Augusta, I never realised just how beautiful this place was or how fortunate I was to experience such stunning views. It is not until you have lived in a city and travelled the world that you start to see the beauty in the place you call home. I spent many days during summer down at the beach during high-tide. But I was more concerned with opening my eyes under water than opening my eyes to the beauty of the Ranges.

My house was not far from an amazing view. If I took a short stroll to the end of my street I could look over a large white salt-lake to the Flinders Ranges. In this area the Ranges become more textured, their edges rougher, the creases highlighted by the shadows cast during sunset. The vegetation here is overflowing.

But even this is not the best part of the Flinders Ranges. To reach the highlight, you must travel from Port Augusta along a small gorge until you reach the point of intersection with the eastern side of the Ranges at the tiny town of Quorn. Continue through this town and the land begins to flatten out. There are fewer hills and you see horizontal red ground for miles around. You are now in a much drier area of the country. Dust. Fewer trees. But shrubbery everywhere. In the distance small hills are rising. As you reach these hills you are exiting Nukunu country and merging into Barngarla and Adnyamathanha country.




Read more:
Revisiting colonial ruin in the Flinders Ranges


When you arrive at the small town of Hawker, you are presented with the option of two roads, and two different adventures. You must ask yourself which side of Ikara (Wilpena Pound) you want to see – the east or the west? If you choose the eastern side, you get to travel at a higher elevation. This section of road brings stunning views that you cannot see anywhere else unless you climb a hill. You feel engulfed by the Ranges, seeing their true magnitude. As you travel north you begin to really enter Adnyamathanha Yarta (Country). You are fortunate to see open plains alongside the beautiful ridges of the Flinders Ranges. Despite the perception that this region is dry, there are flecks of green everywhere. The ground is not just red: it varies between orange, yellow, white and black. These are the same colours that are present in the malka, markings and rock art that exists throughout our Yarta.

On the edge of Ikara you see open plains alongside the ridges of the Ranges.
Jacinta Koolmatrie, Author provided

If you travel further north-east you will continue to see small hills in the distance that transform into mountains. You might even be able to glimpse a line of white on the horizon – the salt lake, Lake Frome. The further north you drive, the closer you get to Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. Here you can see creeks and high gorges and you begin to realise this area is not so dry.

Travel further west and you eventually arrive in Nepabunna, a central hub for Adnyamathanha people. During the 1930s, our people decided they needed assistance from missionaries because our land had essentially been destroyed by the influence of pastoralism. When farm animals were introduced to our country, the land began to change, our waters changed, and parts of our country were no longer open to us. It was decided that we needed to turn the place known as Nipapanha into a mission. Today, Nipapanha is known as Nepabunna and is home to a small number of Adnyamathanha people. Despite most of us living outside of this area, we still feel connected and call this area our home.




Read more:
The evidence of early human life in Australia’s arid interior


If you continue driving west, you will end up in the small mining town of Copley or Leigh Creek. This place is home to even more of us. The mine is located not too far outside of the town and operated for over 70 years. Coal was being mined here for use at the power stations in Port Augusta. When the power stations shut down, so too did the mine.

Travelling south out of Leigh Creek and Copley, you see even more amazing views. The hills around this area seem unreal. They create a strange illusion because they are close enough for you to see what is on them, but far enough away to look artificial. These hills are curvy and shapely; they look smooth. They look like what sand looks like when a snake slithers across it.

The Flinders Ranges look like what sand looks like when a snake slithers across it.
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The views from this entire road are gorgeous. On one side you have a flat plain with no hills, because past this is the salt lake, Lake Torrens. On the other side the hills transform from smooth and curvy to the textured, ridged, multi-coloured ranges that circle Ikara. About half-way along this road, you will see the sign for Nilpena, the location of the Ediacaran fossils.

Measuring time

Ediacara is just one small location in the vast area known as the Flinders Ranges. Geologically, the fossils that are found here have transformed discussions about time periods and how the earth, and everything on it, came to be. Even the Ranges themselves are examples of this geological conundrum. They are not only scientifically amazing, they are incredibly breathtaking to witness. This region is truly an amazing place.

The fossils found in Ediacara are ‘breathtaking.’
Fieldwork, Ediacara Hills, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Photo © Mariana Castillo Deball, 2018

Despite the Flinders Ranges being so large, my ancestors and the ancestors of our neighbouring groups have explored it all. They mapped the entire country thousands of years before our colonisers had even thought of maps. Our people set borders between each other and formed customs that controlled how we entered each other’s country. They named every hill; every rock formation, big and small; every creek and every stream running off that creek. If you see something here, you can bet that we have given it a name.

The name of the Ediacaran fossils comes from their location in the Ediacara hills. But talking about the Aboriginal origins of this name is not as simple as you might think and it stems back to the colonial naming of all Australian places. Back in the time when the settlers were naming and claiming as many places as possible, some given names were original, some paid tribute to colonial figures and some were named after towns in other parts of the world. What is interesting is that many places were also named using Aboriginal words.




Read more:
Friday essay: trace fossils – the silence of Ediacara, the shadow of uranium


Some Aboriginal words that are used for places are not actually place names. In fact, there are many records of humorous words being given to settlers instead of the real name of a place. Due to the complexity of our naming, settlers often mistook words that referred to a specific spot rather than to the broader landscape that they were enquiring about. It was like using the name for a street as the name of a town. This adoption of names also led to the mispronunciation of words. Settlers were in no way linguists, and many Aboriginal words used as placenames have been altered and pronounced very differently to the way they were initially used.

Documentation of the word Ediacara does not clearly indicate which Aboriginal language it comes from, but there is some information about its meaning. One understanding is that this word is linked to a place where water is present. It is also believed that it could be a mispronunciation of the words “Yata Takarra” meaning hard or stony ground. Speaking to Adnyamathanha people about the meaning of the word Ediacara presents difficulties because of the linguistic history of Aboriginal place names. It is most likely that Ediacara was once pronounced very differently and it is possible that it may not be the name of the place where the Ediacaran fossils are located. Either way, the name that exists today in no way diminishes the Adnyamathanha history of the region.

Indigenous knowledge systems

From an archaeological perspective my ancestors have been in this area for over 45,000 years. Our histories are written in the land and passed down from generation to generation through talking and by marking rock walls. If you had traversed the land via the roads I took you on earlier, you would have passed many stories. But in order to tell you one of the main stories about the formation of our country today, I must return to the coalfields of Leigh Creek.

Although the closing of Leigh Creek mine caused distress amongst miners and power station workers, for me it felt like the land had finally won. It was no longer being attacked. Leigh Creek is not the only mine that exists on our country: we have had a long history of mining extending back to early colonisation. Up north uranium is extracted and down south, where the Ediacaran fossils are, copper and silver were once mined. I remember standing next to the Leigh Creek mine and looking inside the incredibly deep hole in the ground. You don’t feel well when you witness scenes like this because they are not pretty and you know that they are the direct result of human conflict. When I looked into that hole I saw a battle lost by my ancestors against developers. I saw my people’s fight and I saw their hurt. Mining coal may have been used to power parts of the state, but in terms of my Adnyamathanha community, it was a form of disempowerment.

The closing of the Leigh Creek mine ‘felt like the land had finally won.’
Mariana Castillo Deball, digital collage, production process Replaying Life’s Tape 2019. Courtesy Mariana Castillo Deball, 2019. Images © Studio Castillo Deball, Author provided

The coal in Leigh Creek mine is connected to the story of Yurlu’s coal. Yurlu is a Kingfisher, but more importantly, he is the Master of Ceremonies. He came down from Kakarlpunha to Leigh Creek where he made a big fire out of mallee sticks. The fire was created to alert everyone to go south with him to Ikara where there would be a ceremony. Along the route of his travels he made several fires and these became the coal deposits you can find on the way down to Ikara. While doing this he was being followed by the two big snakes known as Akurras. These snakes pursued him all the way down to Ikara and you can see their travels represented in the shape of the hills and the ranges as they slithered south. They slid into the pound where they watched the ceremony, their bodies forming each side of the shape of the pound. There is more to this story, but this is enough to illustrate the breadth of our wisdom about our country. We never had any large animals to use as transport, we developed strong knowledge of place by traversing this land on foot.

Aboriginal stories are often viewed as mythology or folk tales, but they are much more than that. This is true of stories about Aboriginal places across the entire continent. Our stories come in many forms and provide various types of knowledge. In some instances they are used as maps. The places travelled to by the beings (they can be human, animal, plant or object) in these stories can be remembered over many generations. Even when these lands were no longer accessible during periods of environmental change, our people could recall them thousands of years later.

Our stories can be used as lessons, indicators of places or things that are dangerous. And I mean real danger, not “taboo”. Places where you can easily become disorientated and lost are in these stories as well as plants or other substances that are chemically dangerous to touch or consume. Our lesson stories can also lead us to places that can help us. They may describe natural springs in land where fresh water is uncommon, or they may map out the locations of rare food sources. They might relate to aspects of our culture such as the origin of certain ceremonies or the ways we identify ourselves in relation to each other.

Our stories are extensive and full of purpose, but because they are boxed into the category of mythology, the knowledge they contain is not seen as scientifically reliable. Western science has always prided itself on being objective and quantifiable and there is no doubt that it has presented some of the most important discoveries across the world. However, it has also been responsible for the oppression of my people. Western scientists developed ideas that enabled them to see Aboriginal people as lesser beings, that suggested “Western civilisation” was more intelligent than us. Western science is behind the forced removal of Aboriginal children, known more commonly in Australia as “The Stolen Generation”. Western science is the reason my people are seen as nomadic: it claimed we had no understanding of the land we existed on and that we were aimlessly wandering the country. Ultimately, Western science is the reason our land was originally taken away from us.

45,000 years of connecting to heritage

Western science and Indigenous knowledge clash because of their histories. In western society, science will always be placed on a higher pedestal, it will always be seen as more trustworthy. But Indigenous knowledge is the result of many thousands of years of observation. You cannot compare that to the past thousand or so years that western science has existed.

Scientific understanding of the Ediacaran period seems to be completely beyond the scope of Indigenous knowledge systems. It is unknown whether my ancestors had seen or even understood what the fossils were. However, the extent of our knowledge of the land and its creatures cannot be denied.

Adnyamathanha Country spans the plains and the ranges.
Jacinta Koolmatrie, Author provided

A similarity can be found between these fossils and our cultural heritage. Both are significant and vulnerable, and both need to be protected. When geologists and paleontologists started going to Ediacara the station owner made an admirable decision to restrict the removal of fossils for research. Therefore, all documentation of the fossils is completed on site. Additionally, their location is kept private due to the fear of vandalism and looting.

Adnyamathanha people have similar fears about our heritage. Our rock art is routinely destroyed and artefacts are removed from their original place. They are taken as souvenirs or vandalised out of disrespect for our culture. Unfortunately, we do not have the comfort of owning private land. Our heritage is used for tourism and whilst it is great that this shines a light on our history and culture, you have to wonder whether it is all worth it when our cultural heritage is in danger of destruction. Adnyamathanha heritage deserves as much consideration as the Ediacaran fossils.

Prior to Reginald Sprigg announcing his discovery of the fossils in 1946 they were of no interest to anyone, but we have continually been connected to our heritage for 45,000 years.

That has to count for something.


This essay was commissioned for Mariana Castillo Deball: Replaying Life’s Tape, to coincide with the exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), 5 October – 7 December 2019The Conversation

Jacinta Koolmatrie, Lecturer in Archaeology, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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New research turns Tasmanian Aboriginal history on its head. The results will help care for the land


Aborigines Using Fire to Hunt Kangaroos, by Joseph Lycett. New research suggests the assumption Aboriginal people lived in open vegetation sustained by fire is misplaced.
National Library of Australia

Ted Lefroy, University of Tasmania; David Bowman, University of Tasmania; Grant Williamson, University of Tasmania, and Penelope Jones, University of Tasmania

American farmer and poet Wendell Berry said of the first Europeans in North America that they came with vision, but not with sight. They came with vision of former places but not the sight to see what was before them. Instead of adapting their vision to suit the place, they changed the landscape to fit their vision.

The same can be said of the first Europeans in Australia. They modified the landscape to suit their domesticated plants and animals. They sowed seeds to create pasture for sheep and cattle and opened up areas to cultivate crops brought from the northern hemisphere.

This eye for the open parts of the Australian landscapes likely contributed to a view that Aboriginal people, too, almost exclusively preferred open vegetation types such as woodland and grasslands.

But findings from our recently published study of archaeological records challenge this notion. They show that Aboriginal people also inhabited Tasmania’s forests, in particular wet sclerophyll forests.

It’s important to understand how people used, affected and related to the natural environment. The way Tasmanian Aboriginal people hunted, gathered and used fire had a major influence on the structure, function and distribution of today’s plant and animal communities. This has big implications for conservation today.

The painting Group of Natives of Tasmania, 1859, by Robert Dowling.
Wikimedia



Read more:
Explainer: the evidence for the Tasmanian genocide


A renaissance in understanding

In recent years, a series of books have examined Aboriginal land management over at least 50,000 years. Bill Gammage’s Biggest Estate on Earth, Billy Griffiths’ Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu have all helped us read the country as a cultural landscape that Aboriginal people managed intensively – shaping it intelligently over tens of thousands of years through fire, law and seasonal use.

A valley near Hobart in Tasmania. From the book The Last of the Tasmanians’ (1870), by James Bonwick.

Gammage in particular emphasised Aboriginal people’s unvarying dependence on open vegetation sustained by frequent burning. Our findings question this dogma, which has prevailed for centuries.

Our research suggests imposed visions of former places – and the nostalgic license of colonial artists – had previously skewed our perception of preferred Aboriginal landscapes towards those that match a northern hemisphere ideal of human habitat, rooted in the theory of prospect and refuge.

Prospect refers to a view over open ground affording sight of game and forewarning of danger. Refuge refers to features offering safety such as easy-to-climb trees. The ideal combination of prospect and refuge is a view of water over closely cropped grass, framed by the horizontal branches of a mature tree. This ideal dominates real estate advertising to this day.

What we found will surprise you

Our study used archaeological data in an ecological model to identify habitats most likely occupied by Aboriginal people in Tasmania during the Holocene – the last 10,000 years of the Earth’s history following the end of the last ice age.




Read more:
Friday essay: Dark Emu and the blindness of Australian agriculture


The model identified the environmental characteristics of 8,000 artefact sites in the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Register, including features such as altitude, slope, aspect, soil type, pre-1750 vegetation, distance to the coast and distance to fresh water. We then mapped all parts of the island that shared the environmental characteristics associated with artefact sites.

Where Tasmanian Aboriginal people probably spent most of their time over the last 10,000 years based on environmental features associated with over 8,000 artefact sites.
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jbi.13684

The spread of artefacts showed us that while Tasmanian Aboriginal people occupied every type of habitat, they targeted coastal areas around the whole island, and drier, less steep, environments of the central lowlands.

Few archaeological materials from the last 10,000 years of the Holocene have been found in the wet, rugged western interior. However archaeological materials from the preceding Pleistocene period indicates the western interior was more intensively occupied during the last ice age.

The most important finding of our analysis, however, is that physical aspects of landscape proved to be stronger predictors of Tasmanian Aboriginal occupation than vegetation type. The strongest predictors proved to be flat ground, clay soil as an indicator of fertility, low altitude, proximity to the coast and proximity to inland waters. In particular, our results indicate Holocene Tasmanian Aboriginal people exploited wet eucalypt forests as much as open vegetation types.

Why these findings matter

This result points to a more complex and interesting relationship between Tasmanian Aboriginal people and forests, such as if and how frequently fire was used in these environments.

Fishery of the Wild People of Van Diemen’s Land, probably by artist Friedrich Wilhelm Goedsche (1785-1863)




Read more:
Aboriginal fire management – part of the solution to destructive bushfires


More archaeological surveys, particularly in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, are needed to test whether our analysis is a true reflection of Aboriginal resource use. An upside to the recent bushfires in Tasmania is that such surveys are more easily carried out in burnt environments. So we have a perfect opportunity to discover more about how Aboriginal people shaped their island home.

Our research contributes to restoring Tasmania’s cultural heritage, reclaiming the history of the island and dispelling the myth of the nomad. All of this supports Tasmanian Aboriginal and non‐Aboriginal people in working towards culturally sensitive conservation and land management.The Conversation

Ted Lefroy, Associate Head Research, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania; David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania; Grant Williamson, Research Fellow in Environmental Science, University of Tasmania, and Penelope Jones, Research Fellow in Environmental Health, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Leila Waddell, Australian violinist, philosopher of magic and fearless rebel



Leila Waddell performing during the Rites of Eleusis.

Alice Gorman, Flinders University

Leila Waddell (1880-1932) was a country girl from Bathurst, NSW, who entered the world stage as an acclaimed violinist – and left it having influenced magical practice into the 21st century.

Her early life focused on music. She studied violin and joined the Sydney music scene, teaching genteel girls at some of Sydney’s most prestigious schools. Her concert performances earned her a devoted following. She favoured composers such as Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and soon gained a reputation as one of Australia’s leading violinists.

Waddell left Australia as part of a touring orchestra in 1908, and found herself in London. Here she was introduced to New Zealand author (and cellist) Katherine Mansfield at a concert. They became firm friends, and regulars in a Bohemian society centred around the Cafe Royal.

As well as musicians, poets and artists, the cafe attracted members of London’s magical orders. It was likely here that Wadell first met the magician Aleister Crowley, who liked to distribute samples of the hallucinogenic drug peyote at parties. The meeting opened the door into another world.

Sex, drugs and violins

Within a short time Waddell and Crowley became lovers. Waddell began studying magic as part of Crowley’s order, the A .‘.A .’. (Astrum Argentum), in which she was known as Sister Agatha. Crowley, however, called her Laylah, his Scarlet Woman. In his magical universe, the role of the Scarlet Woman was a sort of anti-Virgin Mary who transgressed the boundaries of feminine virtue by wallowing in excess.

A photo of Leila Waddell on the cover of Crowley’s The Book of Lies.
Wikimedia Commons

Waddell is often relegated to a character in Crowley’s life. But if we assess her life on its own terms, we see a brilliant musician, a philosopher of magic, and a rebel who was unafraid to take risks and be true to herself.

Crowley was experimenting with using sex in rituals. He was interested in how heightened emotions could be harnessed for magical outcomes, such as achieving transcendental states or summoning otherworldly beings.

The moment of orgasm, he believed, focused the magician’s will and increased their power. As a poet and playwright, Crowley was also exploring rituals as theatrical performances, where the audience were co-practitioners.

Crowley was entranced by Waddell’s musical prowess. Together, they began devising magical rituals which combined music, poetry and dance. The idea came about during a weekend at the house of Crowley’s disciple Guy Marston (who believed that married English women could be induced to masturbate by the sound of tom-tom drums).

Waddell’s extensive experience as a performer was a key part of bringing this idea to fruition. The result was the Rites of Eleusis: musical theatre redefining magic for the new era of modernism

Democratising ecstasy

The Rites had seven parts, each associated with a planet or celestial body. Waddell composed original music for them, as well as drawing on her favourite composers. The purpose was to enable the audience to attain spiritual ecstasy.

Digital version of Waddell’s composition Thelema – a Tone Testament, by Phil Legard.

The first performances were tested before small groups, enhanced by drug-laced “libations”. A journalist, describing Waddell’s playing, wrote:

Once again the figure took the violin, and played […] so beautifully, so gracefully, and with such intense feeling, that in very deed most of us experienced that Ecstasy which Crowley so earnestly seeks.

In October 1910, the Rites were ready for the public. The venue was Caxton Hall in London. The audience was encouraged to dress in the appropriate colour for each Rite, such as violet for Jupiter, russet for Mars.

Waddell played her violin, Crowley’s disciple Victor Neuburg danced, and Crowley intoned his turgid paeans to the god Pan. The hall was in semi-darkness. The performances were filled with sexual symbolism, but no sex magic took place on stage.

The critics were not very kind to the public Rites of Eleusis, but most agreed Waddell’s virtuosity was a highlight.

‘Consciousness exalted into music’

The Great Beast and the Scarlet Woman had a prolific creative life. Both contributed to The Equinox, a publication devoted to Crowley’s circle. Other contributors included Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Susannah Pritchard and the Irish writer Frank Harris.

After the Rites of Eleusis, Crowley embarked on writing a book which many consider his most significant work. Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4 was a collaborative effort between Crowley, A.‘.A.’. member Mary Desti, and Waddell. In Part III, they reflected on the lessons learnt from the Rites of Eleusis.

They concluded that an audience of initiates would more effectively channel magical power than the general public. As for the music, it should be composed specifically for the ritual – indicating that Waddell’s own compositions had hit the mark. The book was published in The Equinox in 1912.

Waddell booked a concert tour to the US. She had planned to buy her passage on the ill-fated Titanic, but just missed out on a ticket. Her narrow escape was widely reported in Australian newspapers. After completing this engagement, she returned to Europe to tour with the Ragged Ragtime Girls, a violin group managed by Crowley. She continued her magical studies in the Ordo Templi Orientis, an order with a strong focus on sex magic.

Revolution

The First World War interrupted the idyll of sex, magic and music. Ireland was under British rule, and many Irish nationalists saw the war as an opportunity to fight for independence. As the daughter of Irish famine refugees, Waddell was sympathetic. In New York she joined a secret revolutionary group under the name of “L. Bathurst”.

Crowley arrived in New York in 1914, purportedly on a mission to discredit Germany by spreading absurd propaganda. This was the impetus for an extraordinary stunt.

At dawn on the morning of 3 July 1915, Waddell, Crowley and a party of Irish revolutionaries sailed down the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty, with the intention of declaring Irish independence and war on England.

But the guards wouldn’t let them land. Crowley made an impassioned speech, which no-one could hear from the prow of the boat, then tore up his passport and threw it in the river. Waddell played the rebel anthem The Wearing of the Green to accompany the Declaration of Independence.

The following year the Easter Rising, an armed rebellion which aimed to overthrow English rule in Ireland, was brutally suppressed in Dublin.

Aleister Crowley in the garments of the Ordo Templi Orientis in 1916.
Wikimedia Commons

Crowley left New York for the West Coast, while Waddell continued to tour, write and socialise. She was friends with writers like Rebecca West and Theodore Dreiser, and regularly attended salons held by Frank Harris, who had not yet attained notoriety as the author of the sexually explicit My Life and Loves.

While touring US cities, she played lunch time concerts in factories, organised by the YMCA. The venues were barns, sheds, and gardens, and the audiences were mostly male migrant workers. The men sang along with the arias and would give her wildflower posies. She loved this experience and considered it the greatest work of her career.

Already a seasoned writer, Waddell came to wider notice with her memoir of Katherine Mansfield, who died in 1923. Details are murky, but it seems this led to contracts for a novel and a book of short stories with a London publisher. Crowley, meanwhile, had set up a magical Abbey in Sicily with his new Scarlet Woman. It was time to move on.

Return to the Antipodes

In 1924 Waddell returned to Australia as her father was very ill. The prodigal violinist was greeted enthusiastically, and quickly became immersed in concerts, touring, and radio appearances. She resumed her earlier career teaching violin to affluent schoolgirls. If Sydney society remembered her association with Crowley, dubbed “the wickedest man in the world” by the press, it did not dim their eagerness for her music.

However, soon she became ill herself from uterine cancer. Her books were never finished. She died in 1932 and was buried next to her parents in Sydney.

The Rites of Eleusis are still performed today by Crowleyites across the world, including the Ordo Templi Orientis in Australia. In 2015, Wadell was celebrated as one of Bathurst’s favourite daughters at the town’s 200th anniversary. From country to city to world and other-world, her life was truly a magical journey.The Conversation

Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Marau Ta’aroa, the Sydney-schooled ‘last Queen of Tahiti’


Nicholas Hoare, Australian National University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

From Tongan Princes to the daughters of Sāmoan political leaders, elite Australian schools have long been considered desirable locations for the children of high-ranking Pacific families. One such student was a young Tahitian named Joanna Marau Ta‘aroa who attended Sydney Ladies’ College from 1869 to 1873.

While easily “mistaken for a Spaniard” on the streets of downtown Sydney, the young Marau was in fact the second youngest daughter of an aristocratic Tahitian mother, Ari‘i Taimai, and a wealthy Englishman of Jewish descent, Alexander Salmon. (The pair, who had married in 1842, had nine children, all of whom enjoyed a cosmopolitan upbringing, speaking English and being educated overseas.)

Although little is known about her time in Sydney, other than an abiding memory of ice-cold baths and unpleasant Australian mutton, Marau’s Australian education was cut short at the age of 14 when she was summoned home to marry Prince Ari‘i-aue. Her marriage to the alcoholic future king, who was some 22 years her senior, saw her written into the history books as “the last Queen of Tahiti”.

An unhappy match

By all accounts, Marau’s royal wedding was a spectacular affair, with a fusion of Polynesian and European style festivities continuing across Papeete, the Tahitian capital, for two days. However, unlike that of her parents, her marriage was far from a love match.

It was a strategic alliance between the Pōmare family – who had always struggled to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Tahitian public – and her mother’s Teva dynasty, who were more readily recognised as the true holders of chiefly power and prestige.

But in Marau’s words, her husband’s behaviour “quickly became impossible to tolerate”. Allegedly suffering from syphilis, tuberculosis and occasionally pneumonia, the prince’s predilection for rum before noon was legendary.

Despite the kindness shown to her by his mother Queen Pōmare IV, palace life was far from happy for Marau. She found herself spending more and more time at her mother’s home in Papara, where she occupied herself reading, learning Tahitian embroidery and unravelling the secrets of her family’s land.

After the death of the Queen, she was briefly encouraged to return to her prince’s side to ascend the throne in September 1877. However, less than two years later, the now-Queen Marau accepted a royal pension of 300 francs per month and moved out permanently.

Queen Marau, 1879, photographer unknown.
Collection du Musée de Tahiti et des îles – Te Fare Manaha

Children shut out

While the pair did not officially divorce until January 1888, from 1879 onward they would appear together only at official ceremonies where neither would talk to the other. However, Marau would not let these personal circumstances get in the way of living a life befitting of royalty.

In 1884 she took to Europe – without the King’s blessing – where she was “received and celebrated all over”, often finding herself in homes and palaces of elite Parisian families. Wearing old-style Tahitian dresses, Marau would attend the theatre most nights, where she revelled in the limelight as any 25-year-old guest of honour would do.

Meanwhile, back in Tahiti, her husband felt that press reports of his wife’s reception by the French political class “offended our dignity and insulted us as people”. This was perhaps a little rich coming from somebody who just four years earlier had ceded sovereignty over Tahiti and its dependencies to the French for a sizeable pension in return. (Famed American historian Henry Adams would write that he “now gets drunk on the proceeds, $12,000 a year”.)

For Queen Marau, the tip of the iceberg was the King’s refusal to recognise her two daughters, Teri‘i (born in 1879) and Takau (born in 1887), as his own.

Though they eventually took the Pōmare name – the third, Ernest, who arrived several months after the divorce proceedings, was never officially recognised – all three children were shut out of the royal inheritance. After Pōmare V’s refusal to recognise the third child, Marau famously snapped back that none of them belonged to him anyway.

‘True old-goldishness’

In the months preceding the death of Pomare V in June 1891, Queen Marau played host to Henry Adams and his artist-friend John La Farge. Bored and growing increasingly critical of colonial Papeete, the pair’s fortunes changed upon meeting Marau and her brother Tati Salmon at Papara. Of Marau, Adams wrote:

If she was once handsome, certainly her beauty is not what attracts men now. What she has is a face strongly marked and decidedly intelligent, with a sub-expression of recklessness, or true old-goldishness … One feels the hundred generations of chiefs who are in her, without one commoner except the late Salmon, her deceased parent.

Finding her “still showy, very intelligent, musical, deep in native legends and history, and quite energetic”, Marau became the perfect conduit between Adams and her ageing mother. In turn, this enabled the pair to work on the production of the Memoirs of Arii Tamai (1901). A history of pre-colonial Tahiti from the perspective of the Teva family, it is now regarded as a canonical text in Tahitian ethnography.

A dominant public figure

With most scholars tending to lose interest in Marau’s life at this point, it would be tempting to end our story here with the Queen living out the rest of her years “hard-up” on a measly government pension.

But the reality was that she remained a dominant public figure until her death in February 1935.

When massive phosphate deposits were discovered on the nearby island of Makatea in 1907, Marau frustrated the progress of an Anglo-French consortium by using her influence to sign contracts with local landowners, despite knowing she lacked the means to exploit the mineral herself.

While the intervention netted her a tidy payment of 75,000 francs and an ongoing royalty of 37 and a half centimes per ton of phosphate extracted, victory was even sweeter as the man behind the phosphate operation was her ex-husband’s lawyer, Auguste Goupil, chief architect of the plan to write her children out of their royal inheritance.

Finally, just as the stories of Ari‘i Taimai were collected and written down by a younger, energetic Marau, her own daughter Takau did the same for her mother in her dotage (eventually published in 1971 as Memoires de Marau Taaroa). As modern and tumultuous as her life may have been, the Memoires also portrays someone who never lost her grounding in ancient Tahitian culture.

Nothing reflects this better than Marau’s grand tomb at Uranie cemetery just outside of Papeete. Her tomb, taking the form of the grand Teva-family marae, Mahaiatea, it is a tribute to one of Tahiti’s greatest cultural and spiritual monuments.

Tomb of Queen Marau, Uranie Cemetery, Tahiti.
Photo by Nicholas Hoare, 2018

This monument to the Tahitian god ‘Oro, consecrated by the famous Tupaia between 1766-8, had been destroyed in 1865 by a European planter in order to construct a bridge. The bridge itself was soon washed away by flood.The Conversation

Nicholas Hoare, PhD Candidate in Pacific History, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Friday essay: how a Bengali book in Broken Hill sheds new light on Australian history



The large book bearing a handwritten English label, ‘The Holy Koran’, was not a Quran, but a 500-page volume of Bengali Sufi poetry.
Samia Khatun

Samia Khatun, SOAS, University of London

Some 1,000 kilometres inland from Sydney, over the Blue Mountains, past the trees that drink the tributaries of the Darling River, there stands a little, red mosque. It marks where the desert begins.

The mosque was built from corrugated iron in around 1887 in the town of Broken Hill. Its green interiors feature simple arabesque and its shelves house stories once precious to people from across the Indian Ocean. Today it is a peaceful place of retreat from the gritty dust storms and brilliant sunlight that assault travellers at this gateway to Australia’s deserts.

The corrugated iron mosque in Broken Hill.
Samia Khatun

By a rocky hill that winds had “polished black”, the town of Broken Hill was founded on the country of Wiljakali people. In June 1885, an Aboriginal man whom prospectors called “Harry” led them to a silver-streaked boulder of ironstone and Europeans declared the discovery of a “jeweller’s shop”.

Soon, leading strings of camels, South Asian merchants and drivers began arriving in greater numbers at the silver mines, camel transportation operating as a crucial adjunct to colonial industries throughout Australian deserts. The town grew with the fortunes of the nascent firm Broken Hill Propriety Limited (BHP) — a parent company of one of the largest mining conglomerates in the world today, BHP-Billiton.

As mining firms funnelled lead, iron ore and silver from Wiljakali lands to Indian Ocean ports and British markets, Broken Hill became a busy industrial node in the geography of the British Empire. The numbers of camel merchants and drivers fluctuated with the arrival and departure of goods, and by the turn of the 20th century an estimated 400 South Asians were living in Broken Hill. They built two mosques. Only one remains.

In the 1960s, long after the end of the era of camel transportation, when members of the Broken Hill Historical Society were restoring the mosque on the corner of William Street and Buck Street, they found a book in the yard, its “pages blowing in the red dust” in the words of historian Christine Stevens. Dusting the book free of sand, they placed it inside the mosque, labelling it as “The Holy Koran”. In 1989, Stevens reproduced a photo of the book in her history of the “Afghan cameldrivers” .

I travelled to Broken Hill in July 2009. As I searched the shelves of the mosque for the book, a winter dust storm was underway outside. Among letters, a peacock feather fan and bottles of scent from Delhi, the large book lay, bearing a handwritten English label: “The Holy Koran”.

Turning the first few pages revealed it was not a Quran, but a 500-page volume of Bengali Sufi poetry.

Sitting on the floor, I set out to decipher Bengali characters I had not read for years. The book was titled Kasasol Ambia (Stories of the Prophets). Printed in Calcutta, it was a compendium of eight volumes published separately between 1861 and 1895. It was a book of books. Every story began by naming the tempo at which it should be performed, for these poems were written to be sung out loud to audiences.

The mosque’s interior.
Samia Khatun

As I strained to parse unfamiliar Persian, Hindi and Arabic words, woven into a tapestry of 19th-century Bengali grammar, I slowly started to glimpse the shimmering imagery of the poetry.

Creation began with a pen, wrote Munshi Rezaulla, the first of the three poets of Kasasol Ambia. As a concealed pen inscribed words onto a tablet, he narrates, seven heavens and seven lands came into being, and “Adam Sufi” was sculpted from clay. Over the 500 pages of verse that follow, Adam meets Purusha, Alexander the Great searches for immortal Khidr, and married Zulekha falls hopelessly in love with Yusuf.

As Rezaulla tells us, it was his Sufi guide who instructed him to translate Persian and Hindi stories into Bengali. Overwhelmed by the task, Rezaulla asked, “I am so ignorant, in what form will I write poetry?”

In search of answers, the poet wrote, “I leapt into the sea. Searching for pearls, I began threading a chain.” Here the imagery of the poet’s body immersed in a sea evokes a pen dipped in ink stringing together line after line of poetry. As Rezaulla wrote, “Stories of the Prophets (Kasasol Ambia) I name this chain.”

Its pages stringing together motif after motif from narratives that have long circulated the Indian Ocean, Kasasol Ambia described events spanning thousands of years, ending in the sixth year of the Muslim Hijri calendar. Cocooned from the winds raging outside, I realised I was reading a Bengali book of popular history.

Challenging Australian history

In the time since Broken Hill locals dusted Kasasol Ambia of sand in the 1960s, why had four Australian historians mislabelled the book? Why did the history books accompanying South Asian travellers to the West play no role in the histories that are written about them?

Moreover, as Christine Stevens writes, the people who built the mosque in North Broken Hill came from “Afghanistan and North-Western India”. How, then, did a book published in Bengal find its way to an inland Australian mining town?

Captivated by this last enigma, I began looking for clues. First, I turned to the records of the Broken Hill Historical Society. Looking for fragments of Bengali words in archival collections across Australia, I sought glimpses of a traveller who might be able to connect 19th-century Calcutta to Broken Hill.

As I searched for South Asian characters through a constellation of desert towns and Australian ports once linked by camels, I encountered a vast wealth of non-English-language sources that Australian historians systematically sidestep.

A seafarer’s travelogue narrated in Urdu in Lahore continues to circulate today in South Asia and in Australia, while Urdu, Persian and Arabic dream texts from across the Indian Ocean left ample traces in Australian newspapers.

One of the most surprising discoveries was that the richest accounts of South Asians were in some of the Aboriginal languages spoken in Australian desert parts. In histories that Aboriginal people told in Wangkangurru, Kuyani, Arabunna and Dhirari about the upheaval, violence and new encounters that occurred in the wake of British colonisation, there appear startlingly detailed accounts of South Asians.

Central to the history of encounter between South Asians and Aboriginal people in the era of British colonisation were a number of industries in which non-white labour was crucial: steam shipping industries, sugar farming, railway construction, pastoral industries, and camel transportation. Camels, in particular, loom large in the history of South Asians in Australia.

Camel harnesses at the mosque.
Samia Khatun

From the 1860s, camel lines became central to transportation in Australian desert interiors, colonising many of the long-distance Indigenous trade routes that crisscross Aboriginal land. The animals arrived from British Indian ports accompanied by South Asian camel owners and drivers, who came to be known by the umbrella term of “Afghans” in settler nomenclature.

The so-called Afghans were so ubiquitous through Australian deserts that when the two ends of the transcontinental north-south railway met in Central Australia in 1929, settlers rejoiced in the arrival of the “Afghan Express”. Camels remained central to interior transportation until they were replaced by motor transportation from the 1920s. Today the transcontinental railway is still known as “the Ghan”.

As a circuitry of camel tracks interlocking with shipping lines and railways threaded together Aboriginal lives and families with those of Indian Ocean travellers, people moving through these networks storied their experiences in their own tongues. Foregrounding these fragments in languages other then English, this book tells a history of South Asian diaspora in Australia.

Asking new questions

I start by reading the copy of Kasasol Ambia that remains in Broken Hill, and interpret the many South Asian- and Aboriginal-language stories I encountered during my search for the reader who brought the Bengali book to the Australian interior. Entry points into rich imaginative landscapes, these are stories that ask us to take seriously the epistemologies of people colonised by the British Empire.

My aim is to challenge the suffocating monolingualism of the field of Australian history. In my new book, Australianama, I do not argue for the simple inclusion of non-English-language texts into existing Australian national history books, perhaps with updated or extended captions.

Instead, I show that non-English-language texts render visible historical storytelling strategies and larger architectures of knowledge that we can use to structure accounts of the past. These have the capacity to radically change the routes readers use to imaginatively travel to the past. Stories in colonised tongues can transform the very grounds from which we view the past, present and future.

In July 2009, when I first encountered Kasasol Ambia, the Bengali book long mislabelled as a Quran made front-page news in Broken Hill. With touching enthusiasm, the journalist announced that I would “begin work on a full translation shortly”.

The author talks to local school children in the mosque in 2012 with Bobby Shamroze, a descendant of the original South Asians who worked in the area.
Eirini Cox

Overwhelmed by such a task, I began trawling mosque records held by the Broken Hill Historical Society, soon beginning a search through port records, customs documents and government archives. I did not know how to decipher the difficult book, and so in these archival materials I hoped to glimpse, however fleetingly, the skilled 19th-century reader who had once performed its poetry.

Slowly, it dawned on me that I was following the logic that Rezaulla outlines in his schema for translation. For I too had stepped into the imaginative world of the poetry in search of answers to some hard questions: How do we write histories of South Asian diaspora which pay attention to the history books that travelled with them? Who was the unnamed traveller who brought Bengali stories of the prophets to Broken Hill? Can historical storytelling in English do more than simply induct readers into white subjectivities?

Threading together seven narrative motifs that appear in Kasasol Ambia, I began to piece together a history of South Asians in Australia.

This is an edited extract from Australianama by Samia Khatun, UQP, rrp $34.95, out from 6 September.The Conversation

Samia Khatun, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How clay helped shape colonial Sydney



A large bowl or pan thought to have been made in Sydney by the potter Thomas Ball between 1801 and 1823.
Courtesy of Casey & Lowe, photo by Russell Workman

Nick Pitt, UNSW

In April 2020, Australia will mark 250 years since James Cook sailed into Kamay (later known as Botany Bay) on the Endeavour, kicking off a series of events that resulted in the British arriving and staying uninvited first at Warrane (Sydney Cove) in 1788, and later at numerous locations across the continent.

Indigenous sovereignty was never ceded, and as a nation we are still grappling with the consequences of these actions of 221 years ago. Although we often focus on the large-scale impact of British settlers – the diseases my ancestors brought, the violence they committed – we are less good at seeing the small and unwitting ways that settlers participated in British colonialism. One such story emerges when we track the history of an unlikely cultural object – clay from Sydney.

In April 1770, Joseph Banks – the gentleman botanist on James Cook’s first voyage – recorded in his journal how the traditional owners of Botany Bay painted their bodies with broad strokes of white ochre, which he compared to the cross-belt of British soldiers.




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Eighteen years later, Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales, sent Banks a box full of this white ochre – he’d read the published journal and suspected Banks would be interested. The ochre was a fine white clay and Phillip wondered whether it would be useful for manufacturing pottery.

Once in Britain, this sample of clay took on a life of its own, passed between scientists across Europe. Josiah Wedgwood – Banks’ go-to expert on all things clay-related – tested a sample and described it as “an excellent material for pottery”. He had his team of skilled craftspeople make a limited number of small medallions using this Sydney clay.

These medallions depict an allegory according to the classical fashion of the time. A standing figure represents “Hope” (shown with an anchor) instructing three bowing figures – “Peace” (holding an olive branch), “Art” (with an artist’s palette) and “Labour” (with a sledgehammer).

The Sydney Cove medallion.
State Library of NSW

A cornucopia lies at their feet, representing the abundance that these qualities could produce in a society, while in the background a ship, town and fort suggest a flourishing urban settlement supported by trade.

This little ceramic disc made out of Sydney clay represented tangible evidence of how the new colony could flourish with “industry” – the right combination of knowledge, skills and effort. Yet notably absent from this vision of the new colony was any representation of Aboriginal people.

The back of the Sydney Cove medallion.
State Library of NSW

For something only a little larger than a 50 cent piece, this medallion had a long legacy in colonial NSW. It was reproduced on the front page of The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay – one of the first accounts of the fledgling colony. Later it was adapted for the Great Seal of New South Wales – attached to convict pardons and land grants.

Later still, a version formed the first masthead of the Sydney Gazette – the first newspaper in the colony. The ideas behind the medallion gained even wider circulation in the colony. As historian of science Lindy Orthia has argued, the Sydney Gazette was a place where various schemes for improving manufacturing and farming were regularly discussed.

The first Great Seal of New South Wales as used on a land title deed.
State Library of NSW

We can see the impact of these ideas by looking at what colonists themselves did with the clay. Although the first examples of Sydney-made pottery were unglazed and fragile, by the first decades of the 19th century, the quality had improved.

Over the last 30 years, archaeologists have found examples of Sydney-made pottery across Sydney and Parramatta on sites dating from the 1800s to 1820s.

Commonly called “lead-glazed pottery”, this material ranges from larger basins and pans, to more refined, decorated items, including chamber pots, bowls, plates, cups and saucers. Although basic, it clearly was based on British forms. The discovery of the former site of a potter’s workshop in 2008 confirmed this material was made locally.

It has been found on sites ranging from the Governor’s residence on the corner of Bridge and Phillip Street, Sydney, to former convict huts in Parramatta, alongside imported British earthenware and Chinese export porcelain. Visitors to the fledgling colony commented on this pottery as evidence of its growth and development.

Examples of Sydney-made pottery found at an archaeological site at 15 Macquarie Street, Parramatta.
Courtesy of Casey & Lowe, photo by Russell Workman

Sydney-made pottery helped colonists maintain different aspects of “civilised” behaviour. When imported tableware was expensive, local pottery allowed convicts living outside of barracks and other poorer settlers to use ceramic plates and cups, rather than cheaper wooden items.

Locally-made pots were also used to cook stews over a fire. Stews not only continued the established food practices of their British and Irish homes, but also conformed to contemporary ideas of a good, nourishing diet.




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These practices around food would have distinguished colonists from the local Aboriginal people. In the coastal area around Sydney, locals tended to roast meat and vegetables, and to eat some fish and smaller birds or animals after only burning off their scales, feathers and fur.

George Thompson, a visiting ship’s gunner who had a low opinion of most things in the colony, thought that eating half-roasted fish was evidence of “a lazy indolent people”.

As historian Penny Russell has discussed, eating “half-cooked” food became a well-worn trope in the 19th century, frequently repeated as evidence of the supposed lack of civilisation by Aboriginal people. By contrast, as the historian and curator Blake Singley has suggested, European cooking methods frequently became a way that native plants and animals could be “civilised” and incorporated into settler diets.

The colonists’ use of Sydney clay helped to distinguish their notion of civilisation from Aboriginal culture, and so implicitly helped to justify the dispossession of Aboriginal people. The story of this clay demonstrates how quickly colonists’ focus could shift away from Aboriginal people: although Aboriginal use of white ochre continued to be recorded by colonists and visitors, Sydney clay primary became seen as the material of a skilled European craft.

Through the use of local pottery, ordinary settlers could participate in this civilising program, replicating the culture of their homeland. These small, everyday actions helped create a vision of Sydney that excluded Aboriginal people – despite the fact that they have continued to live in and around Sydney since 1788.The Conversation

Nick Pitt, PhD candidate, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The Cowra breakout: remembering and reflecting on Australia’s biggest prison escape 75 years on



The burial of some of the Japanese prisoners of war who lost their lives in the mass outbreak from B Camp, (the Japanese section), at No. 12 Prisoner Of War compound in the early hours of August 5, 1944.
Australian War Memorial (073487)

Rebecca Hausler, The University of Queensland

Today (August 5) marks the 75th anniversary of Australia’s largest prison escape: the Cowra breakout, in New South Wales, during the second world war. In fact, it is one of the largest prison escapes in world history, but unless you are a keen war historian you may have never heard about it.

A small farming community was forever changed in 1944, when the sound of a bugle cut through the crisp night air at the Cowra Prisoner of War camp.

Shortly before 2am, hundreds of Japanese prisoners of B Camp ran towards the barbed wire fences brandishing makeshift weapons such as sharpened table knives and clubs.

The morning after the outbreak revealed the dead bodies of many Japanese POWs lying everywhere along the blanket draped wire.
Australian War Memorial (044172)
Knives recovered in and around B Camp.
Australian War Memorial (073486)

Rushing through a hail of bullets fired by the Australian guards, hundreds of prisoners escaped into the countryside. In the following days, 334 prisoners were recaptured.




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Four Australian soldiers and at least 231 Japanese prisoners were killed, while a further 108 prisoners and three guards were wounded. No civilian casualties or injuries were recorded.

As the dust settled, many would question why the prisoners would attempt such a bold and ultimately lethal escape plan. How do we as a society make sense of such bloodshed?

Burial of Australian soldiers killed during breakout of Japanese prisoners at B Camp.
Australian War Memorial (044119)

From non-fiction to fiction

While there have been a number of non-fiction works written on this event by authors such as Hugh Clarke, Charlotte Carr-Gregg, and Harry Gordon, it is works of fiction that have sought to fill in the gaps of history. They give us a way of understanding the incomprehensible.

The first author to do so was Australian poet and novelist Kenneth Seaforth Mackenzie. Mackenzie was stationed at Cowra during WWII and was on duty the night of the breakout.

Dead Men Rising, by Seaforth Mackenzie.

His novel Dead Men Rising was based on his experiences. Because of this, the book was initially halted from Australian release due to the publisher’s fears of libel claims.

The book was released in the UK and USA in 1951 but Australian readers had to wait until 1969, several years after Mackenzie’s death, to read his interpretation of the event.

Dead Men Rising is largely focused on camp life through the eyes of the guards in the lead up to the break out. There is little interaction with the Japanese inmates who are represented as “un-human”, “animal-like” and “unpredictable”.

Mackenzie depicts them as utterly foreign and incomprehensible to the Australian soldiers. This narrative likely reflects attitudes at the time with anti-Japanese sentiment still high in the early post-war years.

A Japanese perspective

Several years later, Japanese author and former military doctor Teruhiko Asada, wrote Hiroku Kaura no Bōdō a title that translates as “The Secret Record of the Cowra Riot” in 1967.

Japanese Prisoners Of War marching back to their quarters after being issued with new clothing a month before the breakout.
Australian War Memorial (067200)

It was received eagerly by English speaking audiences when it was translated by former Australian soldier and interpreter Ray Cowan in 1970 under the sensationalist title The Night of a Thousand Suicides.

The Night of a Thousand Suicides, by Teruhiko Asada and translated Ray Cowan (left) and The Naked Sun, by Ted Willis (right)

Presented as a first-person narrative, the story had an intimate feel lacking in previous accounts, which led to some claiming the book was more fact than fiction, no doubt reinforced by Cowan’s inclusion of photographs from the Australian War Memorial. But this attribution is problematic given Asada was never imprisoned at Cowra.

The breakout was again revisited by authors in the 1980s. The Naked Sun, published in 1980 by British author Lord Ted Willis, uses a split narrative.

Alternating between an Australian and a Japanese perspective of the war, this novel highlights the unlikely similarities shared between the story’s two opposing protagonists, an ex-farmer from occupied New Guinea and an imprisoned Japanese Sergeant.

Childhood memories

Later that decade, British-Australian author Jim Anderson (of OZ Magazine fame) draws on his own memories of the Cowra breakout as a child in his 1989 novel Billarooby.

Billarooby, by Jim Anderson.

The coming of age novel depicts a young boy who seeks to help the “samurai” escape from the POW camp, amid a backdrop of familial trauma and the hardships of rural life.

The boy’s innocence highlights the inherent racism, bigotry and violence that permeate the town’s pleasant façade, disrupting the notion that the “enemies” are the ones behind the barbed wire fence.

In 1989 Thomas Keneally revised and republished his 1965 novel The Fear.

The 1965 edition drew upon his boyhood memories of the breakout with this work briefly depicting the camp and subsequent breakout in the latter half of the book.

But in the revised 1989 edition, which was renamed By the Line, he omits any mention of the camp entirely. The author later said this early depiction was largely inaccurate.

The Fear, By The Line and Shame and the Captives, by Thomas Keneally.

With this fresh perspective, Keneally returned again to the breakout in 2013 with Shame and the Captives which is set in the town of Gawell, a fictionalised version of Cowra.

Keneally said in his introduction that now, rather than drawing on his faulty memories of childhood, he spent considerable time researching the historical event which informs his work.

By aiming to create a “a truth in this fiction” Keneally hoped to “interpret the phenomenon of Cowra”. His reimagining included explorations of Italian and Korean POWs who were also held at Cowra, but whose stories are often overlooked.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss.
Simon & Schuster AU

The most recent work which revisits the breakout is by Wiradjuri author Anita Heiss.

Her 2016 work Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms provides an Indigenous voice to the history of Cowra, a voice that has often been silenced in accounts of Australian history.

Issues of race, discrimination and loyalty take on a new sense of urgency in this wartime setting, yet also highlight that while much has changed in the last 75 years, so much has stayed the same.

Heiss echoed this view when she asserted there “are lessons still to be learned from the history of Cowra”, lamenting the regression in Australia’s treatment of detainees in centres such as Manus Island or Don Dale.

Cowra today

From this bloody chapter of history, the township of Cowra – today, a four hour drive inland from Sydney – has moved forward to promote itself as a beacon of peace, friendship, and understanding.




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In a show of respect for the dead, the Cowra RSL Sub-branch cared for the Japanese burial ground informally until eventually the graves were relocated to what is now the Cowra Japanese War Cemetery, which opened in 1964.

In 1979 the Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre opened, and is considered to be a “tangible monument to peace and reconciliation”.

The Japanese gardens in Cowra, taken in April 2018.
Flickr/Robert Montgomery, CC BY

The gardens and the cemetery were symbolically linked by an avenue of cherry blossoms in 1988, and in 1992 Cowra was awarded further recognition to its peace efforts with The Australian World Peace Bell.

Festivals such as the Sakura Matsuri festival and the Festival of International Understanding further showcase Cowra as a “unique place … of reconciliation”.The Conversation

Rebecca Hausler, PhD Candidate, Researcher, and Sessional Lecturer in Japanese Studies, School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Flos Grieg, Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator



Grata Flos Greig, First Female Law Graduate, c1904, University of Melbourne. Flos was the first woman admitted to the Australian legal profession.
University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/5131

Renee Knake, RMIT University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

When Grata Flos Matilda Greig walked into her first law school class at the University of Melbourne in 1897, it was illegal for women to become lawyers. But though the legal system did not even recognise her as a person, she won the right to practice and helped thousands of other women access justice. In defying the law, Greig literally changed its face.

That she did so is a story worthy of history books. And how she achieved this offers key insights for women a century later as they navigate leadership roles in the legal profession and beyond.

Flos, as she was known, grew up in a household full of possibilities unlimited by gender boundaries. Born in Scotland, as a nine-year-old she spent three months sailing to Australia with her family to settle in Melbourne in 1889. Her father founded a textile manufacturing company. Both parents believed that Flos and her siblings – four sisters and three brothers – should be university educated at a time when women rarely were.

She grew up firm in the knowledge that women could thrive in professional life, and witnessed that reality unfold as older sisters Janet and Jean trained to become doctors. Another sister, Clara, would go on to found a tutoring school for university students. The fourth sister, Stella, followed Flos to study law.

Women could not vote or hold legislative office, let alone be lawyers, when 16-year-old Flos began to study law. Yet she did not let this deter her. As she approached graduation she focused on, “the many obstacles in the path of my full success. I resolved to remove them”.

Other feminine aspirants, she noted, had previously wished to enter the profession, “but the impediments in the way were so great, that they concluded, after consideration, it was not worthwhile”.

Flos felt otherwise. She declared, even in 1903 when women were largely excluded from public life: “Women are men’s equals in every way and they are quite competent to hold their own in all spheres of life.”

‘The Flos Greig Enabling Bill’

Six years after entering the University of Melbourne, Flos witnessed the Victorian Legislative Assembly’s passing of the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill, also known as the Flos Greig Enabling Bill. Suddenly, women could enter the practice of law. How had she made this happen?

While childhood had provided Flos with role models from both sexes, she did have to rely upon a series of men to navigate her entry into the exclusively male club of the legal profession. Her male classmates had initially questioned the capabilities of a woman lawyer and resisted her presence, but she soon persuaded them otherwise.

Not only did Flos graduate second in her class, but the men took a vote to declare – affirmatively – that women should be allowed to practice law. Their support undoubtedly fuelled her ambitions.

Next, Flos turned to one of her lecturers, John Mackey, who happened to also be a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Together they worked with other supporters to craft the legislative change. Mackey argued that by passing the law, Parliament could ease the concerns of women who believed they could not get justice from a legislative body made up only of men.

Still, Flos needed to complete a period of supervised training known as “articling” before she could be sworn into the bar. No Australian woman had ever engaged in the “articles of clerkship” before. A Melbourne commercial law solicitor Frank Cornwall employed her, and she was officially admitted to the practice of law on August 1, 1905.

Supreme Court of Victoria circa 1905 when Flos was admitted to practice.
State Library of Victoria.

At her swearing-in ceremony, Chief Justice John Madden described Flos as “the graceful incoming of a revolution”. He also expressed some scepticism about her future success:

Women are more sympathetic than judicial, more emotional than logical. In the legal profession knowledge of the world is almost if not quite as essential as knowledge of the law, and knowledge of the world, women, even if they possess it, would lie loth to assert.

Flos would prove him wrong about her knowledge of the world, both in law and in her other passion, travel.

‘What did I wear? Don’t ask me!’

At the ceremony, her name was the third called – in alphabetical order – before what was reportedly an “unusually large gathering of lawyers, laymen, and ladies … seldom seen in halls of justice”. Attendees noticed smiles that “flickered over the faces of the judges as they entered the crowded chamber” at the sight of Flos among her “somberly-clad male” counterparts.

News accounts focused more on the physical attributes of the first lady lawyer than her qualifications. When questioned by a reporter about her clothing choice for the occasion, Flos blushed, “What did I wear? Don’t ask me!” But then confessed, “Well, if you insist! I wore grey, with a greenish tinted hat, trimmed with violets!”

Another news reporter critiqued the flower-adorned hat as “a most unlegal costume”. As if there was any basis for making such an assessment – until that moment the nation had never seen the “costume” of a female lawyer. The media’s fixation with female lawyers’ appearance endures more than a century later.

Flos soon established a solo practice in Melbourne focusing on women and children. Among other endeavours, she represented the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in lobbying to establish the Children’s Court of Victoria.

A news clipping about Greig and her work.
Creative Commons, Courtesy of Australian Women’s Register.

Media fascination with Flos’s attire did not diminish once admitted to practice. She delivered a speech in 1905 to the third annual National Congress of Women of Victoria on a paper she wrote titled, “Some Points of the Law Relating to Women and Children”.

The reporter noted that Flos “treated her subject in a masterly manner, and gave an immense amount of useful and, at times, startling information”. But Flos’s “stylish, yet simple, gown of grey voile, with cream lace vest” was equally newsworthy as were “her pretty black hat and white gloves”. The fashion choices of other (male) speakers went unmentioned.

Flos also helped open the legal profession to other women. She founded The Catalysts’ Society in 1910. Two years later it became the prestigious Lyceum Club in Melbourne, devoted to advancing the careers of women and offering networking opportunities.

After the launch of the Women’s Law Society of Victoria in 1914, Flos was elected its first president. She cared deeply about the right of all women to vote, arguing in a 1905 debate that if “politics were not fit” for women, “the sooner they were made so the better.” (In 1908 Victorian women won the right the vote.)

Law was not Flos’s only pursuit. She travelled extensively. Two decades after graduating from law school, she took a lengthy trip through Asia, spending time in Singapore, China, Bali, Java, Malaysia and two weeks in the Burma jungle. She stayed in local homes and on her return, spoke to audiences about the experience, delighting them with tales of “leopards, tigers, wild pigs, peacocks, … and wild jungle fowl”. She lectured publicly and on radio stations about the geography, religion and race.

The end of her career took Flos to Wangaratta in Northern Victoria. She practised at a law firm headed by Paul McSwiney, and was known to explore the countryside in a “Baby Austin” tourer. She remained an activist, supporting higher education for women and the Douglas Credit Party, a political party that aimed to remedy the economic hardships of the 1930s depression.

Flos died in 1958. While she did not live to see other female firsts, such as the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003, Flos’ capacity to envision women as equals under the law places her among the profession’s greatest innovators.

Renee Newman Knake’s book Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, the Supreme Court & Beyond will be published by New York University Press in 2020.The Conversation

Renee Knake, RMIT Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Professor of Law at the University of Houston, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Not one but two Aussie dishes were used to get the TV signals back from the Apollo 11 moonwalk



US astronaut Neil Armstrong on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission.
NASA

John Sarkissian, CSIRO

The role Australia played in relaying the first television images of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon 50 years ago this July features in the popular movie The Dish.

But that only tells part of the story (with some fictionalisation as well).

What really happened is just as dramatic as the movie, and needed two Australian dishes. Australia actually played host to more NASA tracking stations than any other country outside the United States.




Read more:
How big is the Moon? Let me compare …


Right place, right time

Our geographical location was ideal as US spacecraft would pass over Australia during their first orbit, soon after launch. Tracking facilities in Australia could confirm and refine their orbits at the earliest possible opportunity for the mission teams.

To maintain continuous coverage of spacecraft in space as the Earth turned, NASA required a network of at least three tracking stations, spaced 120 degrees apart in longitude. Since the first was established in the US at Goldstone, California, Australia was in exactly the right longitude for another tracking station. The third station was near Madrid in Spain.

Australia’s world-leading place in radio astronomy was another factor, having played a key role in founding the science after the second world war. Consequently, Australian engineers and scientists developed great expertise in designing and building sensitive radio receivers and antennas.

While these were great at discovering pulsars and other stars, they also excelled at tracking spacecraft. When the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope opened in 1961 it was the most advanced and sensitive dish in the world. It became the model for NASA’s large tracking antennas.

The Parkes dish with Moon in 1969.
CSIRO, Author provided

The Commonwealth Rocket Range at Woomera, South Australia, also allowed Australians to gain experience in tracking missiles and other advanced systems.

The dish you need is at Honeysuckle Creek

NASA invested a considerable amount in its Australian tracking facilities, all staffed and operated by Australians under a nation-to-nation treaty signed in February 1960.

For human spaceflight, the main tracking station was at Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra. Its 26-metre dish was designed as NASA’s prime antenna in Australia for supporting astronauts on the Moon.

Honeysuckle Creek antenna in 1969.
Hamish Lindsay, Author provided

NASA’s nearby Deep Space Network station at Tidbinbilla also had a 26-metre antenna but with a more sensitive radio receiver. It was called on to act as a wing station to Honeysuckle Creek, enhancing its capabilities, and ultimately tracked the orbiting command module during Apollo 11.

Over in Western Australia, Carnarvon’s smaller 9-metre antenna was used to track the Apollo spacecraft when initially in Earth orbit, as well as to receive signals from the lunar surface experiments.

To augment the receiving capabilities of these stations, the 64-metre Parkes radio telescope was asked to support Apollo 11 while astronauts were on the lunar surface. The observatory’s director, John Bolton, was prepared to accept a one-line contract:

The Radiophysics Division would agree to support the Apollo 11 mission.

The original plan

The decision to broadcast the first moonwalk was almost an afterthought.

Originally, the tracking stations were to receive only voice communications and spacecraft and biomedical telemetry. What mattered most to mission control was the vital telemetry on the status of the astronauts and the lunar module systems.

Since Parkes was an astronomical telescope, it could only receive the signals, not transmit. It was regarded as a support station to Honeysuckle Creek, which was also tasked with receiving the signals from the lunar module, Eagle.

When the decision was made to broadcast the moonwalk, Parkes came into its own. The large collecting area of its dish provided extra gain in signal strength, making it ideal for receiving a weak TV signal transmitted 384,000km from the Moon, using the same power output as two LED lights today.

One giant leap

On Monday, July 21 1969, at 6.17am (AEST), astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the Sea of Tranquillity.

‘The Eagle has landed.’

It occurred during the coverage period of the Goldstone station, while the Moon was still almost seven hours from rising in Australia.

The flight plan had the astronauts sleeping for six hours before preparing to exit the lunar module. Parkes was all set to become the prime receiving station for the TV broadcast.

This changed when Armstrong exercised his option for an immediate walk – five hours before the Moon was to rise at Parkes. With this change of plan, it seemed the moonwalk would be over before the Moon even rose in Australia.

But as the hours passed, it became evident that the process of donning the spacesuits took much more time than anticipated. The astronauts were being deliberately careful in their preparations. They also had some difficulty in depressurising the cabin of the lunar module.

Meanwhile, moonrise was creeping closer in Australia. Staff at Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes began to hope they might get to track the moonwalk after all – at least as a backup to Goldstone in the US.

Bad weather hits

The weather at Parkes on the day of the landing was miserable. It was a typical July winter’s day – grey overcast skies with rain and high winds. During the flight to the Moon and the days in lunar orbit, the weather at Parkes had been perfect, but this day, of all days, a violent squall hit the telescope.

The Parkes radio telescope with the passing storm that almost stopped the dish from broadcasting the images from the Moon.
CSIRO/David Cooke, Author provided

Still, the giant dish of the Parkes radio telescope was fully tipped down to its 30-degree elevation limit (the telescope’s horizon is 30 degrees above the true horizon), waiting for the Moon to rise in the north-east.

As the Moon slowly crept up to the telescope’s horizon, dust was seen racing across the country from the south. The dish, being fully tipped over, was at its most vulnerable, acting like a huge sail.

The winds picked up and two sharp gusts exceeding 110km/h struck the large surface, slamming it back against the zenith angle drive pinions that controlled the telescope’s up and down motion. The control tower shuddered and swayed from this battering, creating concern in all present.

The atmosphere in the control room was tense, with the wind alarm ringing and the 1,000-ton telescope ominously rumbling overhead.

Parkes had two radio receivers installed in the focus cabin of the telescope. The main receiver was on the focus position and a second, less sensitive receiver was offset a very short distance away, which gave it a view just below the main receiver.

Fortunately, as the winds abated, the Moon rose into the field-of-view of the telescope’s offset receiver, just as Aldrin activated the TV at 12.54pm (AEST). It was a remarkable piece of timing.

NASA and CSIRO staff at the Parkes radio telescope.
CSIRO/David Cooke, Author provided

The 64m antenna at Goldstone, the 26m antenna at Honeysuckle Creek and the 64m dish at Parkes all received the signal simultaneously.

At first, NASA switched between the signals from Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek, searching for the best-quality TV picture.

After finding Goldstone’s image initially upside down and then of poor quality, Houston selected Honeysuckle’s incoming signal as the one used to broadcast Armstrong’s “one giant leap” to the world.

You can listen to the conversations between the Australian and US teams as Armstrong’s first step on the Moon was captured by Honeysuckle Creek (at 2’39”) and Aldrin’s descent was captured by Parkes (at 21’30”).

Eight minutes into the broadcast, at 1.02pm (AEST), the Moon finally rose high enough to be received by Parkes’ main, on-focus receiver. The TV quality improved, so Houston switched to Parkes and stayed with it for the remainder of the two-and-a-half hours of the moonwalk, never switching away.

Honeysuckle continued to concentrate on their main task of communications with the astronauts and receiving that vital telemetry data.

A close-up shot of the monitor showing the moonwalk signal from Apollo 11 as it happened.
CSIRO/David Cooke, Author provided

Throughout the moonwalk, the weather remained bad at Parkes. The telescope operated well outside safety limits for the entire duration. It even hailed toward the end, but there was no degradation in the TV signal.

It’s hailing on the dish.
CSIRO, Author provided321 KB (download)

The moonwalk lasted a total of 2 hours, 31 minutes and 40 seconds, from the time the Eagle’s hatch opened to the time the hatch closed.

Australians saw it first

In Australia, the Apollo 11 feed was split. One feed was sent to NASA mission control for broadcast around the world. The other went directly to the ABC’s Gore Hill studios, in Sydney, for distribution to Australian TV networks.

As a result Australians watched the moonwalk, and Armstrong’s first step through Honeysuckle, just 300 milliseconds before the rest of the world.




Read more:
We need to protect the heritage of the Apollo missions


An estimated 600 million people, one-sixth of the world’s population at the time, watched the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk live on TV. At the time it was the greatest television audience in history. As a proportion of the world’s population, it has not been exceeded since.

The success of the Apollo 11 mission was due to the combined effort, dedication and professionalism of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and around the planet.

Australians from Canberra to Parkes, remote Western Australia to central Sydney played a critical role in helping broadcast that historic moment to an awestruck world.

Parkes gives NASA the best TV pictures yet.
NASA/CSIRO, Author provided267 KB (download)

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong back inside the lunar module on the Moon after the moonwalk.
NASA

You can hear more about the Moon landing in our special podcast series, To the Moon and beyond.The Conversation

John Sarkissian, Operations Scientist, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Isabel Flick, the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia



Isabel, on left, when she was working for Mangankali Housing Company, talking to politicians and/or bureaucrats on the Wollai, the Aboriginal reserve at Collarenebri.
Family collection, provided to author.

Heather Goodall, University of Technology Sydney

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

Like many other Aboriginal kids in 1938, Isabel Flick was denied an education because she was “too black” to be allowed into the segregated public school.

Her father, a returned serviceman, was disrespected by the nation he had fought for. She and her siblings faced the threat of being taken from their family. She was later called a “trouble maker” for demanding justice for Aboriginal women and children and Aboriginal rights to land.

Isabel pictured around 1980.
Heather Goodall

Despite the formidable racism of rural Australia, Isabel, a Gamilaraay and Bigambul woman living in Collarenebri, did not give up on the bush. She returned again and again to the upper Darling River, demanding land for Aboriginal people (who in that area called themselves Murries) and protection of the river from the grazing and cotton industries.

It was an irony that amused Isabel that, in 1991, she was called on to be a spokesperson for the whole town, white and black, in its campaign for safe drinking water and decent river flows for everyone. The town of Collarenebri, which had resisted her calls for justice for most of her life, was now asking her to protect its very existence in the deep drought of the 1990s.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Kathleen McArthur, the wildflower woman who took on Joh Bjelke-Petersen


Born in 1928, Isabel had shown how tenacious she was from a young age – although denied access to the Collarenebri public school, she was determined to teach herself to read and write. And she did. On the veranda of the local manse as a child and then in every place she worked and lived, Isabel grabbed every shred of knowledge and skill she could, determined she would not be defeated by segregation and exclusion.

The group of children who were excluded from Collarenebri public school in 1938 as ‘too black’. The photo is from the Abo Call, an Aboriginal-edited newspaper that existed for six issues in 1938. Isabel is the shortest girl standing in the middle row. The tall boy behind her is Aub Weatherall, her future partner.
Author provided

‘I was terrified when I stood up there’

By the 1950s, as a young mother, Isabel was working as a cleaner in the same school to which she had been denied access as a student. She was trying to hold her family together in the face of uncertainty in the pastoral work her partner did and a precarious existence on the edge of the town.

Murri kids were now allowed to go to the school, but they faced hostility from white students, parents and staff. Isabel used her time there to support them, demonstrating her formidable insight as well as her negotiating skills and keen sense of humour to disarm conflict with teachers and deflect contempt from white parents.

Still, the possibility of her flying under the radar could not last. Indeed it was over children that Isabel decided to take on the town. She and her sister-in-law, Isobelle Walford, had for years been angered by the discrimination their children were facing in the schools and in the main streets. The petty segregation of the town’s cinema, the “Liberty” Picture Show was the last straw.

The Liberty Picture Show, circa 1980.
Heather Goodall

Watching their kids being herded down to the front seats, where they were roped off and had to crane their necks to see the screen, Isabel and Isobelle made the decision in 1961 to challenge the unspoken rules.

They marched up to the ticket box and demanded seats that had been reserved for whites only. Their action made the women and their families vulnerable to retribution at work and on the streets. But this local activism, which happened much earlier than the celebrated 1965 Freedom Ride led by Charles Perkins, later drew the attention of the university campaigners in north west NSW. As Isabel remembered it:

…I stood in front of the ticket office and I said: ‘I want you to come and fix this. Take these ropes off! What do you think we are? Our money is as good as anyone else’s and we want to sit where we want to sit’ … I was terrified when I stood up there … my poor little heart, I don’t know how it stayed in my chest, but it did. Even though I said it as calmly as I could, I was so sick within myself.

Isobelle joined Isabel and the pair stood their ground in front of the ticket seller.

And then he could see I was just going to stand there and keep standing there. Sometimes I think if he’d waited just a little bit longer, I’d have gone away. But then he said: ‘Oh, alright, you can sit anywhere then!’

Still frustrated by the poor health care and education offered to her people in the bush, Isabel brought her family to Sydney in the late 1960s, hoping to escape the suffocating racism of rural towns. She worked in the kitchen at Prince Alfred Hospital in Newtown while her partner, Aubrey Weatherall, worked in factories, but Sydney offered little relief from the racism.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Mary Jane Cain, land rights activist, matriarch and community builder


What Isabel did find were allies. She got to know Aboriginal people from other places, with similar stories. And she met the city students and activists who were eager to learn about conditions in rural areas and to put their shiny new credentials as lawyers, archaeologists and doctors into effecting social change.

Isabel playing cards with students at Tranby, an Indigenous-controlled, post-secondary educational body.
Author provided.

With these people, Isabel fostered strategies that could be put to work in rural areas to support and strengthen Aboriginal communities. And with some, Isabel built warm friendships of trust and confidence which lasted all her life. She had hoped to gain a better education for her children, but in the end, they felt that it had been Isabel who had learned the most from their time in Sydney.

Campaigning for a place of peace

By the time Isabel returned to Collarenebri, she had become a skilled and careful negotiator. After campaigning for Land Rights, she took up a job with Mangankali, the Aboriginal Housing company she helped found.

She was trying to achieve concrete outcomes – better housing, more equitable distribution of resources – but always had a recognition of the importance of the broader, symbolic issues. So, she paid a great deal of attention to the Aboriginal cemetery, in which many of the community had buried their loved ones, old and young.

The town cemetery was segregated – but the Aboriginal community had turned this into a strength, recording their family stories and carefully decorating, washing and caring for the graves in their cemetery over the years.

Decorated graves at the Collarenebri cemetery.
Author provided.

Many people, like Isabel, saw this tiny pocket of land as symbolic not only of community but of all the land they had lost. But the road to this cemetery was unreliable in wet weather, deepening the pain of loss when burials had to be delayed.

In one of the many extraordinary achievements of her life, Isabel developed a consensus among all the Collarenebri families that they would refuse government funding for any other project until it was available to upgrade this road. With so many families impoverished and suspicious of all government actions, it was terribly hard for Aboriginal people to refuse funds.

Their solid collective refusal to take funds for two funding rounds was astounding, demonstrating how deeply the community felt about the cemetery. The government relented, recognising the importance of the demand for reliable access – not only to this burial site but to this tiny corner of their land. The new and upgraded road was opened in 1983. Said Isabel:

The cemetery is a place where Murries can feel at peace, as we are surrounded by our loved ones in spirit and we are able to strengthen our affinity with our land.

After her retirement from the Land Council largely until her death in 2000, Isabel again took on wider roles, particularly focussing on the campaign to end Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and to recognise the right to safety of Aboriginal women and children. She was recognised in 1986 with an Order of Australia Medal. She was proud of this but her later recognition by the Collarenebri and Brewarrina communities with awards and then an Honorary Doctorate from Tranby, an Indigenous-controlled, post-secondary educational body, meant more to her.

The Order of Australia Medal was certainly useful in her continued campaigning. But when asked what OAM stood for, she would always joke, “It stands for ‘Old Aboriginal Moll’”.

Correction: the original version of this article had incorrect dates for the year of Isabel’s birth and death. Thank you to reader Andrew Katsis for alerting us to this.

Heather Goodall met Isabel in Sydney in the 1970s and worked with her in collaborative historical projects. Isabel asked Heather to assist in recording her life story, undertaken during the 1990s, then, after Isabel’s death in 2000, Isabel’s book was finished with assistance from her family.The Conversation

Heather Goodall, Professor, Social and Political Change Group, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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