Tag Archives: Australia

Issues that swung elections: the ‘unlosable election’ of 1993 still resonates loudly


Haydon Manning, Flinders University

With taxes, health care and climate change emerging as key issues in the upcoming federal election, we’re running a series this week looking at the main issues that swung elections in the past, from agricultural workers’ wages to the Vietnam War. Read other stories in the series here.


The 1993 election is known as the “unlosable election” for the Liberal Party. It highlights how the course of a campaign can shift voter opinion to produce a result few would have predicted a month out from polling day.

As the current election campaign unfolds, a foreboding message may resonate from the 1993 campaign. Namely, that being the clear frontrunner tends to foster complacency, and touting a “big target” invites more intense scrutiny.




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‘Fake news’ is already spreading online in the election campaign – it’s up to us to stop it


Labor’s unlikely triumph

Labor in 1993 was a triumph, comparable to Whitlam’s 1972 win. After a year languishing in the polls, Labor won a fifth term and increased its majority by two seats.

In his victory speech, Prime Minister Paul Keating declared it “the sweetest victory of all”, and “a victory for the true believers – the people who in difficult times have kept the faith”.

For some, these words reflected one of the great Labor speeches; for others, they reflected the hubris that would eventually envelop the Keating government.

To win a fifth term having recently presided over a severe economic recession and a bitter leadership challenge was unprecedented. The combination of these factors should have sunk the Keating government.

Why Labor should have lost

The early 1990s recession was far worse than the 1974 or 1982-3 recessions that contributed to the Whitlam and Fraser governments’ defeat. And Keating appeared heartless when, as treasurer in November 1990, he remarked:

This is a recession that Australia had to have.

A year later, he challenged Prime Minister Bob Hawke in a leadership spill and defeated him by 56 votes to 51.

For the nation, mired in recession, Labor seemed indulgent and power-hungry. It was no surprise that the Liberals led comfortably in the polls.

Hewson’s policy platform was a ‘large target’

Keen to move beyond the bitter rivalry between Andrew Peacock and John Howard during the 1980s, the Liberal party turned to John Hewson after the 1990 election.

Hewson was inexperienced in politics, having only entered Parliament in 1987, but skilled in his working life as a merchant banker, former advisor to John Howard and professor of economics at UNSW.

Hewson was a visionary who managed to unite both the Liberal and National Parties around one of the most significant policy platforms ever enunciated in Australian politics: a 650-page document titled “Fightback!”.

Fightback’s enduring virtue lies in its coherent articulation of reform, accompanied by detail. Its problem was that it pushed too far into the realms of a neo-liberal economic reform. With such a “large target” as Fightback, Keating was able to make the opposition the issue during the campaign.




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Fightback’s centrepiece was a 15% GST, set alongside big personal income tax cuts. Fightback also detailed the introduction of enterprise bargaining, cuts to Medicare bulk billing, the sale of government owned assets, and other commitments aimed at limiting the size of government expenditure.

Over the course of 1992, voters observed a colossal political struggle as Hewson worked at selling Fightback to voters, and Keating warmed to the task of dismantling its vision. This would reach a crescendo in February-March 1993, with one of Australia’s most memorable election campaigns.

The Australia Election Study surveys show this election stood out because voters recognised that there was “a good deal of difference” between the parties.

Different styles of leadership

Arguably, this was not just about policy, it was also about the fact that Hewson and Keating had different leadership styles.

Hewson was committed to “policy as an end in itself” and he tended to shun the hard sell, preferring a more earnest type of advocacy delivered through public rallies.

Hewson’s problem was with Fightback’s complexity. According to the political journalist Laurie Oakes, he often appeared “mean and shifty” when he tried to explain the details. This was most evident when he tried to explain on television how the GST would apply to a birthday cake.

Keating fundamentally believed that the strength of political leadership would prevail. Lampooning Fightback, Keating said:

If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it; if you do understand it, you’d never vote for it!

With his superior command of rhetoric, Keating framed the campaign as one about core Australian values. Keating shied away from defending Labor’s achievements, instead making his opponent the focus. He championed Australian egalitarianism while painting Hewson as a radical. Keating once referred to Hewson as “the feral abacus”, a theorist hopelessly out of touch with average voter.

By the eve of the election, the parties were evenly balanced, but pundits were still predicting a Liberal win.




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Discontent with Nationals in regional areas could spell trouble for Coalition at federal election


In favour of a detailed policy platform

Why did Hewson take such a political risk with Fightback? The answer can be found in Hewson’s valedictory speech to parliament.

In the speech, Hewson reflected on the purpose of Fightback. He said it was to convince voters “in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years” that significant change was required, that the Liberal Party was once again credible because it “stood for something”, and that it was prepared to “challenge vested interests”.

He also said that entering government required a mandate based on detailed policy if there was to be any hope of getting legislation through the Senate. It is worth noting how pertinent this last point is today.

Since Fightback, no opposition has put forward such detailed policy. Putting aside one’s own ideological preferences, Hewson’s Fightback should be viewed as positive because voters deserve to be presented with detailed policy choices rather than just political spin.The Conversation

Haydon Manning, Adjunct Associate Professor, Politics, Policy and Global Affairs, College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University., Flinders University

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

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Issues that swung elections: the ‘credit squeeze’ that nearly swept Menzies from power in 1961



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Arthur Caldwell almost defeated Robert Menzies in the 1961 federal election, dominated by debate over the economy and unemployment.
National Archives, National Library of Australia, Wikimedia, CC BY

David Lee, UNSW

With taxes, health care and climate change emerging as key issues in the upcoming federal election, we’re running a series this week looking at the main issues that swung elections in the past, from agricultural workers’ wages to the Vietnam War. Read other stories in the series here.


In 1961, the Australian Labor Party came within a whisker of an unlikely victory.

At the time, the ALP was still recovering from a split with the Democratic Labor Party and was not viewed as a serious threat to the Liberal-Country Party Coalition. The DLP was a conservative, Catholic-based, anti-communist party that consistently gave its preferences to the Coalition over the ALP.

In the 1958 federal election, aided by DLP preferences, the government of Robert Menzies was returned to power in a major swing against the ALP. The Coalition gained 54% of the two-party preferred vote, with 77 seats in the House of Representatives to the ALP’s 45.

What nearly cost the Coalition the next election, though, was the Menzies government’s “credit squeeze”.




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The end of import restrictions and the credit squeeze

Despite its huge electoral advantages, the Menzies government began to encounter political problems in the early 1960s. From 1952 to 1960, the Menzies government had been forced to license imports because Australia’s rural exports did not earn enough to pay for its imports. An opportunity to abolish import licensing came at the end of the 1950s, when inflation started to rise.

Harold Holt, the then-treasurer, urged the government to end import licensing to boost imports and thereby dampen inflationary pressure. Sir John Crawford, the secretary of trade, disagreed. He feared a blow-out in the balance of payments, and urged caution and a gradual easing of import controls.




Read more:
Menzies, a failure by today’s rules, ran a budget to build the nation


Despite Crawford’s objections, the Cabinet preferred Holt’s plan and abolished import restrictions in February 1960. The result, as Crawford predicted, was a balance of payments crisis. In November 1960, Menzies took drastic action, sharply increasing sales taxes and imposing restrictions on credit to bring the economy back into balance.

The consequence of the “credit squeeze” was a minor recession. Unemployment, rose to 53,000 people at the end of 1960, and 115,000 at the end of 1961. The Menzies government’s longevity after 1949 had partly been due to its achievement of high levels of employment. Even moderate levels of unemployment posed a significant danger for a government that would have to face re-election in 1961.

But Menzies remained optimistic. He said:

I do not think we will be beaten. There are no circumstances which would suggest even a remote possibility of the opposition winning 17 seats.

The 1961 election

Gough Whitlam meets with Arthur Calwell.
L. J. Dwyer, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-142691238

The ALP, led by Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam, seized the opportunity given them by the Menzies government’s apparent mismanagement of the economy. Calwell, despite being a far less impressive television performer than Menzies, campaigned doggedly on the economy. Calwell also received support from the Sydney Morning Herald, whose owner, Sir Warwick Fairfax, had become disenchanted with Menzies.

Calwell promised that, if elected, the ALP would reduce unemployment through a series of selective import controls and expanded social services. Menzies lampooned Calwell’s ideas as pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, and broadened his attack to include the ALP’s alleged closeness to the Communist Party.

Queensland was the key state. The Coalition held 15 of the 18 Queensland seats in the House of Representatives, and the ALP needed to win a swag of them to have any chance of victory. But election observers predicted that the ALP would not pick up more than two or three in Queensland, and that the ALP’s overall gains would be limited to seven or nine seats.




Read more:
Memories. In 1961 Labor promised to boost the deficit to fight unemployment. The promise won


Following a frantic whistle-stop tour by Whitlam to north Queensland, the results of the December 9 election surprised everyone. For days, the election hung in the balance.

In the end, the ALP won a total of 15 seats, eight in Queensland. But the vote count finally tipped in Menzies’ favour when Billy Snedden was returned in Bruce and James Killen in Moreton, both supported by DLP preferences.

Menzies was so shell-shocked by the results that he did not congratulate Killen on his victory, forcing Killen to concoct a story that the prime minister had famously greeted him with the words:

Killen, you were magnificent.

Consequences of the election

In the long-term, Menzies and his colleagues were able to turn the near-defeat in 1961 into another decade of Coalition rule, aided by further electoral victories in 1963, 1966 and 1969.

When Labor was finally able to win office in 1972, it faced three years of unremitting hostility from the Senate, non-Labor states and an opposition that regarded an ALP government as so exceptional as to be illegitimate.

If Labor had won in 1961 and lasted until 1964, or perhaps longer, could this have had a longer-term impact on the country? Would Australia have entered the Vietnam War? Would conscription have been introduced? Would Australia have officially recognised the People’s Republic of China a decade earlier?

Menzies’ legacy also would have been cut short by what would undoubtedly have been considered one of the biggest election upsets in Australian history.The Conversation

David Lee, Associate Professor of History , UNSW

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


Issues that swung elections: petrol shortages and the dawn of the Menzies era



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Paying for petrol in Brisbane in 1949 using what are likely petrol ration coupons.
State Library of Queensland

David Lee, UNSW

With taxes, health care and climate change emerging as key issues in the upcoming federal election, we’re running a series this week looking at the main issues that swung elections in the past, from agricultural workers’ wages to the Vietnam War. Read other stories in the series here.


In the 1949 federal election, a Liberal-Country Party Coalition led by Robert Menzies defeated the Australian Labor Party, ending Ben Chifley’s four years as prime minister. Menzies also dashed expectations that Labor had established itself as the “natural party of government” following decisive victories in 1943 and 1946.

Prior to the 1949 election, Labor had led Australia successfully through the second world war. The popular mood was solidly behind its agenda of full employment and social welfare.




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The Chifley government only began to encounter troubled waters in 1947. Its bid to nationalise the private trading banks swung popular opinion behind the Liberal Party. But after the High Court’s invalidation of bank nationalisation, the fortunes of the Labor Party revived. A Gallup poll in April 1949 showed a narrow lead for Labor and presaged a tight contest at the end of the year.

Historians have tended to attribute Menzies’ eventual victory to issues like bank nationalisation and the differences between the major parties over how to handle the Australian Communist Party. While these were undoubtedly factors in the election, the decisive issue was something else: petrol rationing.

Robert Menzies’ election policy speech in 1949.

Petrol rationing and the ‘sterling area’

In the 1940s, Australia was a loyal member of the British Commonwealth, as well as of a monetary and trading group known as the “sterling area”. Australia and other members of the group pooled their external reserves in London and rationed “hard currencies” like the American dollar. The sterling area was a system that helped British Commonwealth countries get through the second world war.

After the war, Australia continued to import most of its goods from Britain, with the exception of essential items such as petrol and news print. Petroleum, sourced overwhelmingly from US producers, could only be purchased with dollars. But Australians could not secure enough dollars to meet all their petrol needs. This meant that Canberra had to go to the British Treasury every year to ask for extra dollars – a situation that soon became unsustainable.

Britain was virtually bankrupted by the second world war. In an effort to avert a financial crisis, British leaders convened a meeting of Commonwealth finance ministers in July 1949 and asked the group to impose restrictions on dollar imports for the common good.




Read more:
Liberal Party ads from the 1940s speak today’s political language


To meet the British government’s request, Chifley had to overcome a major hurdle: the High Court’s invalidation of federal petrol rationing regulations. Menzies himself had introduced the rations as a wartime measure in 1940. But in June 1949, the High Court ruled that the rationing of petrol could no longer be justified in peacetime. To work around the court ruling, Chifley had to secure the agreement of the states. Once he did, petrol rationing was again in force across the country.

But by that time, Australians were hooked on petrol. In 1949, about one in every 10 Australians had a car in the garage. When rationing came back into effect, it sparked a national crisis. Motorists suddenly found it harder to fuel up than at any time during the war.

The 1949 election and its consequences

Following an electoral redistribution in 1948, the size of the House of Representatives had increased from 74 to 121 seats. A September 1949 Gallup poll estimated the Chifley government still had enough electoral fat to withstand a 3% swing against it in the enlarged House.

It was not enough. In the campaign speeches in November 1949, the Chifley government stood on its record. Menzies, meanwhile, pledged to do away with petrol rationing, in part by drawing on defence oil reserves held in Australia.

A Liberal Party campaign ad in the 1949 federal election campaign.

This bold, some might say reckless, move by Menzies was precipitated by Arthur Fadden, leader of the Country Party, who had earlier promised in his own campaign speech to eliminate petrol rationing. Fadden would later write:

I am inclined to think that petrol rationing was the rock on which the government finally foundered.

Opinion polls taken after the election confirmed Fadden’s assessment. The Coalition swung 6.61% of the popular vote to its side. Of the voters who switched allegiances, 60% said they considered petrol rationing when casting their votes. At the election on December 10, Menzies’ Coalition won 74 seats to the ALP’s 47 – a sizeable majority.




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Menzies, a failure by today’s rules, ran a budget to build the nation


After the Coalition victory, Menzies followed through on his campaign promise and brought an end to petrol rationing. And the economy began to look up. The Korean War ushered in a boom in the early 1950s. A massive increase in Australian wool exports, as well as other raw materials from British Commonwealth countries, helped bring about a revival in the fortunes of the sterling area.

So, the gamble by Menzies and Fadden on petrol rationing proved lucky. Far from confirming the ALP as the “natural party of government”, as would be the case in New South Wales from 1941 to 1965, the 1949 election actually began a period of more than two decades of Liberal-Country Party rule.The Conversation

David Lee, Associate Professor of History , UNSW

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


Issues that swung elections: an arbitration dispute and the first ousting of a PM from parliament



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Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce and Prime Minister-elect James Scullin hold a private meeting a day before Scullin takes office in 1929.
Wikimedia Commons

James C. Murphy, Swinburne University of Technology

With taxes and health care emerging as key issues in the upcoming federal election, we’re running a series this week looking at the main issues that swung elections in the past, from agricultural workers’ wages to the Vietnam War.


Some issues electrify Australian voters. They take over elections, crowding out all other factors. We saw it in 2001 with terrorism and in 1954 with communism.

It also happened back in 1929 when Australians went to the polls, focused almost solely on arbitration.

In its early days, Australia pioneered a system of compulsory arbitration — basically a new kind of court to settle disputes between unions and employers and set wages. From the late-1800s, arbitration courts were set up in most of the Australian states, and after Federation, a federal court was established in Canberra. At first, this federal layer was designed only to deal with the most serious, nationwide industrial disputes, but it soon became a full-fledged second layer of arbitration governing all facets of industrial relations.

Most unions and employers rather begrudgingly came to accept arbitration as a kind of compromise – an institution that could make industrial disputes a little more civil and, hopefully, a little less violent.




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But not all accepted the compromise. In the 1920s, the Coalition government (it was the Nationalist-Country Party Coalition back then, but they are roughly comparable to today’s Liberals and Nationals), led by Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce, made several attempts to water down the arbitration system, or at least remove one of the layers.

While unions saw the dual-layered system as an important check preventing a pro-business state or federal government from watering down hard-won protections and wages, the government believed it allowed unions to “venue-shop” until they got the result they wanted.

The Coalition also believed that high wages were putting off foreign investors and risked Australia’s economic development. Something had to be done.

The Coalition’s unpopular assault on arbitration

Initially, Bruce tried to solve the problem by asking the states to give up their courts in favour of one centralised system in Canberra. The states, then mostly governed by Labor, refused to hand over their powers to the feds.

Next, Bruce sought to change the Constitution to beef up the Commonwealth’s power to regulate industrial relations. The referendum, brought in 1926, failed to gain a majority of votes or states, with only Queensland and New South Wales voting “yes”.

Stanley Bruce, recording ‘A Talk to the Nation’ during the 1929 federal election.
National Library of Australia, nla.obj-137205196

Frustrated, and alarmed by a growing economic crisis and a slew of bitter strikes, the Coalition government changed direction, attempting to abolish the federal layer of arbitration. In 1929, Bruce introduced the Maritime Industries Bill, a law taking the Commonwealth out of arbitration for most industries, leaving just the state courts.

The bill did not pass. Six MPs, led by former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, dramatically crossed the floor to add an amendment requiring a popular mandate for the law, either through a referendum or a general election. Bruce told the house he considered the bill a matter of confidence and called an early election.




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(This “hair trigger” approach to confidence has since fallen out of vogue. Losing on any old bill – or indeed, even a very important one – is no longer treated as a proxy confidence vote. See, for instance, the case of the Medevac Bill passed against the wishes of the Coalition government last year. The government continued in office.)

What happened on election day and why it still resonates today

In the 1929 election, both sides of politics insisted that arbitration was the question being answered by the electorate. Labor, under James Scullin, clearly tapped into the public mood with his argument that arbitration, though imperfect, was the best hope for progress in Australia. The Coalition lost 18 seats and with them, their majority. Scullin took Labor into government for the first time since 1917.

James Scullin (right), standing outside Sydney’s Central Station after becoming prime minister in 1929.
National Library of Australia

To add insult to injury, Bruce lost his own blue-ribbon seat of Flinders – the first time a sitting Australian prime minister lost his seat.

It would prove a rare event, not occurring again until 2007, when John Howard lost Bennelong. Funnily enough, that election, like 1929, was also largely focused on a conservative government’s fundamental reforms to the industrial relations system.

Only twice in the past century have Australians seen fit to throw a prime minister out of parliament, and both times, it was over proposed reforms to industrial relations. It’s a striking fact — one that might tempt us to question whether there is some deep continuity here. It could speak to the legacy of trade unions, which have made industrial relations a fraught area for governments, even well after the heyday of union power and organisation.

For my money, I’d say this speaks more to the basic attitude to government in Australia — what Laura Tingle, borrowing from linguist Afferbeck Lauder, dubbed “aorta politics” (as in, “they oughta fix x”; “they” being the authorities).




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Very much unlike our more libertarian cousins in the US and UK, Australians have historically wanted the state to solve many of their problems. Whether or not it is a good idea, we’ve had the state irrigate farmland, deliver the mail, provide electricity, pay for our health insurance and help us buy our first home. Nowadays, Australians seem to expect it to tackle things like domestic violence and climate change.

And even today, as in 1929, we expect the state to keep the industrial peace – to prevent bosses or unions from going too far in their quest for economic power, to keep things civil.

The point here is not that arbitration or even industrial relations shall forever be a sacred cow in Australian politics. What we learn from 1929 is simply that the Australian voter does not take kindly to our governments trying to drop an issue because it is too hard. We are, it seems, a demanding lot.The Conversation

James C. Murphy, PhD Student in Politics & History, Swinburne University of Technology

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


What happens now we’ve found the site of the lost Australian freighter SS Iron Crown, sunk in WWII



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A bathymetric map showing SS Iron Crown on the sea floor.
CSIRO, Author provided

Emily Jateff, Flinders University and Maddy McAllister, James Cook University

Finding shipwrecks isn’t easy – it’s a combination of survivor reports, excellent archival research, a highly skilled team, top equipment and some good old-fashioned luck.

And that’s just what happened with the recent discovery of SS Iron Crown, lost off the coast of Victoria in Bass Strait during the second world war.

Based on archival research by Heritage Victoria and the Maritime Archaeological Association of Victoria, we scoped an area for investigation of approximately 3 by 5 nautical miles, at a location 44 nautical miles SSW of Gabo Island.

Hunting by sound

We used the CSIRO research vessel Investigator to look for the sunken vessel. The Investigator deploys multibeam echosounder technology on a gondola 1.2 metres below the hull.

Multibeam echosounders send acoustic signal beams down and out from the vessel and measure both the signal strength and time of return on a receiver array.

The science team watches the survey from the operations room of the CSIRO research vessel (RV) Investigator.
CSIRO, Author provided

The receiver transmits the data to the operations room for real-time processing. These data provide topographic information and register features within the water column and on the seabed.

At 8pm on April 16, we arrived on site and within a couple of hours noted a feature in the multibeam data that looked suspiciously like a shipwreck. It measured 100m in length with an approximate beam of 16-22m and profile of 8m sitting at a water depth of 650m.

Given that we were close to maxing out what the multibeam could do, it provided an excellent opportunity to put the drop camera in the water and get “eyes on”.

Down goes the camera.

The camera collected footage of the stern, midship and bow sections of the wreck. These were compared to archival photos. Given the location, dimension and noted features, we identified it as SS Iron Crown.

The merchant steamer

SS Iron Crown was an Australian merchant vessel built at the government dockyard at Williamstown, Victoria, in 1922.

SS Iron Crown afloat.
South Australian Maritime Museum, Author provided

On June 4 1942, the steel screw steamer of the merchant vavy was transporting manganese ore and iron ore from Whyalla to Newcastle when it was torpedoed by the Japanese Imperial Type B (巡潜乙型) submarine I-27.

Survivor accounts state that the torpedo struck the vessel on the port side, aft of the bridge. It sank within minutes. Thirty-eight of the 43 crew went down with the ship.

This vessel is one of four WWII losses in Victorian waters (the others were HMAS Goorangai lost in a collision, SS Cambridge and MV City of Rayville lost to mines) and the only vessel torpedoed.

After the discovery

Now we’ve finally located the wreck – seven decades after it was sunk – it is what happens next that is truly interesting.

A bathymetric map showing SS Iron Crown on the sea floor with its bow on the right.
CSIRO, Author provided

It’s not just the opportunity to finally do an in-depth review of the collected footage stored on an external hard drive and shoved in my backpack, but to take the important step of ensuring how the story is told going forward.

When a shipwreck is located, the finder must report it within seven days to the Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwreck Program or to the recognised delegate in each state/territory with location information and as much other relevant data as possible.

Shipwrecks aren’t just found by professionals, but are often located by knowledgeable divers, surveyors, the military, transport ships and beachcombers. It’s no big surprise that many shipwrecks are well-known community fishing spots.

While it is possible to access the site using remotely operated vehicles or submersibles, we hope the data retrieved from this voyage will be enough.

It was only 77 years ago that the SS Iron Crown went down. This means it still has a presence in the memories of the communities and families that were touched by the event and its aftermath.

No war grave, but protected

Even though those who died were merchant navy, the site isn’t officially recognised yet as a war grave. But thanks to both state and Commonwealth legislation, the SS Iron Crown was protected before it was even located.

All shipwrecks over 75 years of age are protected under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. It is an offence to damage or remove anything from the site.

A drop camera view of the bow of SS Iron Crown with anchor chains.
CSIRO, Author provided

This protection is enhanced by its location in deeper water and, one hopes, by the circumstances of its loss.

Sitting on the sea floor in Bass Strait, SS Iron Crown is well below the reach of even technical divers. So the site is unlikely to be illegally salvaged for artefacts and treasures.

Yet this also means that maritime archaeologists have limited access to the site and the data that can be learnt from an untouched, well-preserved shipwreck.

Virtual wreck sites

But, like the increasing capabilities for locating such sites, maritime archaeologists now have access to digital mapping, 3D modelling technologies and high-resolution imagery as was used for the British Merchant Navy shipwreck of the SS Thistlegorm.

You can move within the video.

These can even allow us to record shipwreck sites (at whatever the depth) and present them to the public in a vibrant and engaging medium.




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Better than a thousand words could ever describe, these realistic models allow us to convey the excitement, wonder and awe that we have all felt at a shipwreck.
Digital 3D models enable those who cannot dive, travel or ever dream of visiting shipwrecks to do so through their laptops, mobiles and other digital devices.

Without these capabilities to record, visualise and manage these deepwater sites, they will literally fade back into the depths of the ocean, leaving only the archaeologists and a few shipwreck enthusiasts to investigate and appreciate them.

So that’s the next step, a bigger challenge than finding a site, to record a deepwater shipwreck and enable the public to experience a well-preserved shipwreck.The Conversation

SS Iron Crown alongside SS Hagen.
National Library of Australia, Author provided

Emily Jateff, Adjunct lecturer in archaeology, Flinders University and Maddy McAllister, Senior Curator – Maritime Archaeology, James Cook University

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


Before the Anzac biscuit, soldiers ate a tile so hard you could write on it



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Christmas hard tack biscuit: Boer War. Australian War Memorial. Accession Number: REL/10747.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Lindsay Kelley, UNSW

Before Anzac biscuits found the sticky sweet form we bake and eat today, Anzac soldiers ate durable but bland “Anzac tiles”, a new name for an ancient ration.

Anzac tiles are also known as army biscuits, ship’s biscuits, or hard tack. A variety of homemade sweet biscuits sent to soldiers during the first world war may have been referred to as “Anzac biscuits” to distinguish them from “Anzac tiles” on the battlefield.




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Rations and care package treats alike can be found in museum collections, often classified as “heraldry” alongside medals and uniforms. They sometimes served novel purposes: Sergeant Cecil Robert Christmas wrote a Christmas card from Gallipoli on a hard tack biscuit in 1915.

The back of the biscuit reads “M[erry] Christ[mas] [Illegible] / Prosperous New Y[ear] / from Old friends / Anzac / Gallipoli 1915 / [P]te C.R. Christmas MM / 3903 / [illegible] / AIF AAMC”. More than a Christmas card, biscuits like these gave family at home a taste of foods soldiers carried and ate in battle. Archives around the world hold dozens of similar edible letters home.

Damaged army hard tack biscuit used as a Christmas card. Accession number REL/00918.
Courtesy of Australian War Memorial

Biscuit as stationery

This Anzac tile was made in Melbourne. In pencil, an anonymous soldier has documented his location directly on the biscuit’s surface: “Engineers Camp, Seymour. April 2nd to 25th 1917.”

Army Hard-tack Biscuit. Australian War Memorial. Accession Number: REL/03116.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

In her history of the Anzac biscuit, culinary historian Allison Reynolds observes that “soldiers creatively made use of hardtack biscuits as a way of solving the shortage of stationery”.

Hardtack art

Army biscuits also became art materials on the battlefield. This Boer War era “Christmas hardtack biscuit”, artist unknown, serves as an elaborate picture frame.

Incorporating embroidery that uses the biscuit’s perforations as a guide, it also includes bullets, which form a metallic border for the photograph mounted on the biscuit.

Christmas hard tack biscuit: Boer War. Australian War Memorial. Accession Number: REL/10747.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

A tin sealed with sadness

During WWI, any care package biscuit that was sweetly superior to an Anzac tile might have been called “Anzac biscuit”. Eventually, the name “Anzac biscuit” was given to a specific recipe containing golden syrup, desiccated coconut, oats, but never eggs.

Anzac biscuits held in our archives evoke everyday experiences of baking and eating. In one case, the biscuits also tell a story of loss. Lance Corporal Terry Hendle was killed in action just hours after his mother’s homemade biscuits arrived in Vietnam. The tin was returned to his mother, Adelaide, who kept it sealed and passed it down to his sister, Desley.

Australian War Memorial curator Dianne Rutherford explains that the museum will never open the sealed tin, because “this tin became a family Memorial to Terry and is significant for that reason. After Terry’s death, Adelaide and Desley never baked Anzac biscuits again”.

Sealed biscuit tin with Anzac biscuits: Lance Corporal Terence ‘Terry’ Edward Hendle, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Australian War Memorial. Accession Number: AWM2016.460.1.
Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Today, biscuit manufacturers must apply for Department of Veterans’ Affairs permission to use the word “Anzac”, which will only be granted if “the product generally conforms to the traditional recipe and shape”. Variations on the name are also not permitted – in a recent example, ice cream chain Gelato Messina was asked to change the name of a gelato from “Anzac Bikkie” to “Anzac Biscuit”.

The Anzac tile, on the other hand, rarely rates a mention in our commemorations of Anzacs at war – although school children and food critics alike undertake taste tests today in an effort to understand the culinary “trials” of the Anzac experience.

Scholar Sian Supski argues that Anzac biscuits have become a “culinary memorial”. What if the biscuits you bake this Anzac day ended up in a museum? What stories do your biscuits tell?


Lindsay will be launching a three year project about biscuits called “Tasting History” during the Everyday Militarisms Symposium at the University of Sydney on April 26.

She is recruiting participants for upcoming biscuit tasting workshops. Sign up here.The Conversation

Lindsay Kelley, Lecturer, Art & Design, UNSW

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


A whole new world: how WWI brought new skills and professions back to Australia



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The war spurred surgeons to develop new techniques, such as traction splints and blood transfusions.
from shutterstock.com

James Waghorne, University of Melbourne and Kate Darian-Smith, University of Tasmania

The first world war was significant to the formation of Australian national identity and defining national characteristics, such as making do and mateship. This is well acknowledged.

But it was also a technical war, which spurred advances in knowledge and expertise. Combined with the status of professionals in the public service, it profoundly reshaped Australia. It also led to the development of universities as places for training and professional qualification, as well as important research.

Before the war, concern about efficient use of public money and a desire to protect the public led governments to pass legislation to control professional practice. This ensured only qualified doctors could provide medical treatment, only qualified teachers taught in schools, and so on.

The recently released book The First World War, the Universities and the Professions in Australia, 1914–1939, edited by the authors, outlines how the war sped up these developments and widened the range of workers, such as physiotherapists, who saw themselves as part of a professional group.

New knowledge created in war

During the war, surgeons and dentists developed new techniques, such as traction splints and blood transfusions. The use of saline fluid to treat shock dramatically improved the survival rate of the wounded. Advances in plastic surgery – led by New Zealand-born but London-based Harold Gillies and assisted by Australian surgeons – helped those with devastating facial injuries. Psychiatrists contended with the new condition of shell shock.




Read more:
World War I: the birth of plastic surgery and modern anaesthesia


Engineers gained experience in logistics and the management of people. John Monash received a Doctor of Engineering in 1920 for his wartime developments in the coordinated offensive.

New ideas spread rapidly. As the noted surgeon Victor Hurley observed in 1950:

… treatment of large numbers of wounded and the stimulus of war necessities presented the opportunity for close observations and investigations on a large scale, such as were not readily possible in civil life.

The “regular contacts with officers of other medical services” allowed developments to be exchanged.

Professional contributions to the war

Professionals were also important to the war effort at home. Linguists provided translating and censorship services, lawyers drafted international treaties, while scientists and engineers developed processes for the mass manufacture of munitions and tested materials for use in military equipment.

The gas mask developed at the University of Melbourne.
Australian War Memorial

Often these initiatives combined expertise from different professions. Medical, engineering and science professors at the University of Melbourne developed a gas mask, manufactured in large quantities but not deployed.

Back in Australia, the Commonwealth government established the first federally funded research body – the Advisory Council of Science and Industry (later CSIRO) in 1916. Its first task was to tackle agricultural production issues, such as the spread of prickly pear. Australia’s farm production was essential to the war effort.

University research expanded after the war, as government and industry worked with the universities.

The greatest need was for doctors and nurses. Medical students who had broken their studies to enlist were brought back from the front to complete their training before returning. University medical schools shortened courses to rush more graduate doctors to the front. Women medical graduates, such as Vera Scantlebury-Brown, also served in Europe, although they could not join the medical corps.




Read more:
The forgotten Australian women doctors of the Great War


The Great War’s broader influences

More broadly the experience of travelling to European theatres of war exposed professionals to international ideas. Architect soldiers, in particular, brought the influences of European and Middle-Eastern sites to Australian buildings.

A notable example is the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons building. This was designed in a Greek revival style by returned soldiers Leighton Irwin and Roy Kenneth Stevenson. It opened in 1935 to house the college, which accredited Australian surgeons and sought to raise the standard of surgery and hospitals, efforts also spurred by the Great War.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons building was designed in a Greek revival style.
from shutterstock.com

Repatriation efforts cemented the position of professionals in the public sphere. Doctors determined eligibility for invalid benefits and managed treatment.

Returned soldiers received training, both in technical skills and also professional degrees. Many took the opportunity of studying in overseas institutions, including British and European universities, schools of the Architectural Association, London, or the Royal College of Surgery.

Australia’s universities remitted tuition fees for returned soldiers. This allowed individuals such as Albert Coates to go to university and become a noted surgeon. Coates would later gain renown for his work with prisoners of war in the second world war.

How did the war change professions?

After the war, new communication technologies created careers in radio broadcasting and advertising.

In response to the cascade of new knowledge, and to keep up with professional developments, university courses became increasingly specialised, at the expense of the generalist. The gaps created by specialisation allowed new groups to seek professional status, often competing with other professionals.

For instance, the number of war wounded, combined with poliomyelitis (polio) epidemics, created unprecedented demand for masseurs. Universities had offered individual subjects in massage at the turn of the century. Now masseurs pressed for full degree status, clashing with doctors who controlled medical practice.

By the time of the second world war, masseurs had become physiotherapists, with professional status.

Nurses learnt new skills during the war, and achieved greater social recognition.
Wikimedia Commons

Nurses had learnt new skills during the first world war and achieved greater social recognition. To build on this, the Australian Nursing Federation (now known as the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation) – established in 1924 – lobbied for university qualifications. It sought to overcome the prevailing conception nursing was marked by “service and sacrifice”, ideals encouraged by the reliance on volunteer nurses during the war.

All Australian states had nursing registers by 1928, admitting only qualified nurses. Although nurses could attend subjects in some universities before the second world war, a full university course waited until the latter part of the 20th century.




Read more:
Friendship in war was not just confined to bonds between men


A new national sentiment, fostered by the war, was evident in all of these developments. Professionals no longer fought battles only within local and state areas. Now they argued in general terms, confident their expertise supported national priorities.

Professionals lobbied through national associations, such as the Institution of Engineers (established in 1919), the Australian Veterinary Association (established in 1926), and the Law Council of Australia (established in 1933). These groups sought to raise the standing of their members and defend their interests, on this new basis.

The histories of professional groups and higher education have often focused on the period after the second world war, and the expansion of the sector. However, this overlooks the role of the first world war in transforming Australia into a nation that valued expertise, knowledge and professional standing.The Conversation

James Waghorne, Academic Historian, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne and Kate Darian-Smith, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Arts, Law and Education, University of Tasmania

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


Telling the forgotten stories of Indigenous servicemen in the first world war


Jim McKay, The University of Queensland

Warning: This story contains images of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people who are deceased.


The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served with Australian forces in the first world war is estimated to be in the range of 1,000-1,200. But the precise figure will never be known, because a number of those who served changed their names and birthplaces when they enrolled to get around racist enlistment practices.

Despite fighting and dying for Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders still weren’t considered citizens upon their return from the war. Many of these veterans were also denied repatriation benefits, and excluded from returned services clubs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have long sought to gain recognition for the service and sacrifices of their men and women. Some do this by telling stories in their families and local communities about the military careers of their forebears.

These stories often take the form of oral histories. Oral history projects by groups of Aboriginal people have proven valuable for redressing the unrecognised service and racist treatment of their ancestors who served in the Australian Light Horse during the Sinai-Palestine Campaign of 1916-18.




Read more:
On Anzac Day, we remember the Great War but forget our first war


Commemorating the Battle of Beersheba

Although most Australians know little or nothing about the Battle of Beersheba, the Australian government funded its centennial commemoration at Beersheba (now in southern Israel) in October 2017.

One hundred Australian and a few New Zealand military history reenactors attended the joint service as part of a commercial tour, during which they rode in period military outfits along the route of their ancestors.

A group of Aboriginal men and women, who were descended from some of the estimated 100 Aboriginal members of the Australian Light Horse, also participated in the tour. Several had ancestors who were in the “Queensland Black Watch”, a predominantly Aboriginal reinforcement unit.

The group’s participation was enabled by a transnational network of organisations, but the key driver was Rona Tranby Trust, which funds projects to record and preserve Aboriginal oral histories. In 2017, it a group of Aboriginal men and women to complete 11 histories of their ancestors who fought and died in the Sinai-Palestine Campaign.

Like the other reenactors, Aboriginal participants were honouring their ancestors’ courage and sacrifice. But they also wanted to document the neglected stories of their service, and the racial discrimination their forebears experienced.

Here we share, with permission, some of the stories that came from the trip, and from the family history projects the group members continue to work on.

Ricky Morris

Gunditjmara man and retired Army Sergeant Ricky Morris was officially invited to lay a wreath on behalf of all Indigenous veterans at the service in Beersheba. Morris is the 19th of an astonishing 21 men and women Anzacs in his family. He served in a progeny of the Light Horse unit of his grandfather, Frederick Amos Lovett.

Frederick Amos Lovett of the 4th Light Horse Regimen and his grandson Ricky Morris.
Rona Tranby Trust

At a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were neither citizens nor counted in the census, Frederick and his four brothers left the Lake Condah Aboriginal Mission, 300 km west of Melbourne, to sign up.

But their service counted for nothing. Gunditjmara people were subjected to a “second dispossession” when they were forced off Lake Condah under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. The scheme granted land to returning soldiers, but like almost all Aboriginal applicants, the brothers were denied soldier settlement blocks.

Morris is a member of the Victorian Indigenous Veterans Association Remembrance Committee and gives talks at schools about Aboriginal culture and his family. He interviewed two elderly aunts for his family history project, which he described as:

…a unique opportunity to follow in the footsteps of those who fought and died for Australia, and the diversity of Australians who put their hands up to answer the call.




Read more:
In remembering Anzac Day, what do we forget?


Mischa Fisher and Elsie Amamoo

Mischa Fisher and her daughter, Elsie Amamoo, undertook the tour to obtain information for a website about Mischa’s grandfather, Frank Fisher.

Trooper Frank Fisher was an Aboriginal serviceman who enlisted in Brisbane on 16 August 1917.
Australian War Memorial

Frank was born into the Wangan and Jagalingou community in the goldmining town of Clermont, 1,000 km north of Brisbane. He was one of 47 men from Barambah Aboriginal Settlement who enlisted in the first world war. While Frank was away, his wife Esme was prevented from accessing his salary. After Frank was discharged, he was again placed under the control of the superintendent at Barambah.

Mischa and Elsie have interviewed Frank’s descendants, and accessed archival footage from the Ration Shed Museum – an Aboriginal heritage, educational and cultural centre. Elsie only recently learned that Frank, who is also the great-grandfather of Olympic 400m champion Cathy Freeman, was a member of the “Black Watch”.

While training for a reenactment of the Light Horse charge at Beersheba, she tearfully told a reporter what the project meant to her:

To me, it feels like I have got a missing piece of the puzzle of who I am […] That’s what it basically means to me: just being able to have that ability to close the gap in terms of my identity and knowing who I am and where I fit in the Australian history, but also within my family as well.

Michelle and Peta Flynn

Peta Flynn, great niece of Charles Fitzroy Stafford.
Rona Tranby Trust

Sisters Michelle and Peta Flynn are descendants of “Black Kitty”, a Cannemegal/Warmuli girl, who, in 1814, was among the first group of Aboriginal children placed in the Parramatta Native Institution at the age of five.

The sisters have been researching their family history for over 20 years. Their ancestors include the three Stafford brothers, who were in the Light Horse.

At Beersheba, Peta explained her motivation for writing a book about her great uncle, Charles Stafford:

My daughter, niece and nephews will be able to take [the book] into their schools and communities and actually be proud of who we are and where we come from – and ensure our family’s history will not be lost to future generations.




Read more:
Indigenous soldiers remembered: the research behind Black Diggers


Lessons and legacies

The experiences of Ricky Morris, Mischa Fisher, Elsie Amamoo, and Michelle and Peta Flynn show how exploring family histories can generate feelings of solidarity, honour and closure.

Although group members were on a reenactment tour, their emotions were typical of the inward pilgrimages often experienced by genealogical tourists. Past and present family connections were heightened by being there; feelings of sadness, solidarity and pride arose.

At the same time, these stories show the benefits of combining academic, public and vernacular accounts to study silences and absences in the histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The official commemoration at Beersheba will only ever be studied by a handful of specialist scholars, but the family histories of this group will have enduring value for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians alike.The Conversation

Jim McKay, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

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


Archaeology is unravelling new stories about Indigenous seagoing trade on Australia’s doorstep



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A Motu trading ship with its characteristic crab claw shaped sails. Taken in the period 1903-1904.
Trustees of The British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

Chris Urwin, Monash University; Alois Kuaso, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery; Bruno David, Monash University; Henry Auri Arifeae, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, and Robert Skelly, Monash University

It has long been assumed that Indigenous Australia was isolated until Europeans arrived in 1788, except for trade with parts of present day Indonesia beginning at least 300 years ago. But our recent archaeological research hints of at least an extra 2,100 years of connections across the Coral Sea with Papua New Guinea.

Over the past decade, we have conducted research in the Gulf of Papua with local Indigenous communities.

During the excavations, the most common archaeological evidence found in the old village sites was fragments of pottery, which preserve well in tropical environments compared to artefacts made of wood or bone. As peoples of the Gulf of Papua have no known history of pottery making, and the materials are foreign, the discovered pottery sherds are evidence of trade.

This pottery began arriving in the Gulf of Papua some 2,700 years ago, according to carbon dating of charcoal found next to the sherds.




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This means societies with complex seafaring technologies and widespread social connections operated at Australia’s doorstep over 2,500 years prior to colonisation. Entrepreneurial traders were traversing the entire south coast of PNG in sailing ships.

There is also archaeological evidence that suggests early connections between PNG and Australia’s Torres Strait Islands. Fine earthenware pottery dating to 2,600 years ago, similar in form to pottery arriving in the Gulf of Papua around that time, has been found on the island of Pulu. Rock art on the island of Dauan further to the north depicts a ship with a crab claw-shaped sail, closely resembling the ships used by Indigenous traders from PNG.

It is hard to imagine that Australia, the Torres Strait and PNG’s south coast were not connected.

The region termed the ‘Coral Sea Cultural Interaction Sphere’ where archaeology is gradually uncovering evidence of ancient interconnections.
Author provided

An unconventional trade

The trade itself was quite remarkable. When British colonists arrived in Port Moresby (now the capital of PNG) in 1873, some 130 kilometres from the start of the Gulf of Papua to the west, they wrote in astonishment of the industrial scale of pottery production for maritime trade by Indigenous Motu communities.

Each year, Motu women would spend months making thousands of earthenware pots. Meanwhile the men built large trading ships, called lakatoi, by lashing together several dugout hulls. The ships measured 15-20 metres long and had woven sails in the shape of crab claws.

In October and November, Motu men would load the pots into the ships and sail west towards the rainforest swamplands of the Gulf of Papua. The trade on which they embarked was known as hiri. The voyages were perilous, and lives were sometimes lost in the waves.

Rows of Motu pots ready for shipment to the Gulf of Papua. The pots are arranged on a beach situated in today’s Port Moresby region. Taken by Reverend William G Lawes in 1881-1891.
Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

When the men arrived – having sailed up to 400 kilometres along the coast – the Motu were in foreign lands. People living in the Gulf of Papua spoke different languages and had different cultural practices. But they were not treated like foreigners.

Sir Albert Maori Kiki, who became the Deputy Prime Minister of PNG, grew up in the Gulf of Papua in the 1930s. He described the arrival of the Motu in his memoirs:

The trade was not conducted like common barter […] the declarations of friendship that went with it were as important as the exchange of goods itself […] Motu people did not carry their pots to the market, but each went straight to the house of his trade relation, with whom his family had been trading for years and perhaps generations.

In exchange for their pots, the Motu were given rainforest hardwood logs from which to make new canoes, and tonnes of sago starch (a staple plant food for many people in Southeast Asia and across the island of New Guinea).

The Motu would stay in Gulf villages for months, waiting for the wind to change to carry them back home.

Quantity overtakes quality

Pottery has been traded into the Gulf of Papua for 2,700 years, but the trade grew larger in scale about 500 years ago. Archaeological sites of the past 500 years have much larger quantities of pottery than those before them. The pottery itself is highly standardised and either plain or sparsely decorated, in contrast with older sherds that often feature ornate designs.

In the past 500 years it seems that pottery makers valued quantity over quality: as greater quantities of pottery were traded into the Gulf of Papua, labour-intensive decorations gradually disappeared.

Fragments of a decorated earthenware bowl dating to within the past 500 years. Found in an excavation at Orokolo Bay (Gulf of Papua, PNG) in 2015.
Photographs by Steve Morton (Monash University)

We think this is when the hiri trade between the Motu and rainforest villages of the Gulf of Papua began in earnest.

The coming decades promise further findings that will help unravel the forgotten shared history of PNG and Indigenous Australia across the Torres Strait. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Indigenous Australia was not isolated from the rest of the world.The Conversation

Chris Urwin, Researcher, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Monash University; Alois Kuaso, Deputy Director for Science Research and Consultancy Division at the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery; Bruno David, Professor, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Monash University; Henry Auri Arifeae, Cultural Coordinator, Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery, and Robert Skelly, Archaeologist, Monash University

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


When we celebrate Captain Cook’s voyage, let’s mark the epic journey of a Wati Wati man also



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Nicholas Chevalier, Mallee scrub, Murray River, NSW, watercolour, 1871.
National Library of Australia

Stephen Morey, La Trobe University

By now, most of us would know that 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage along the East Coast of Australia. The federal government has allocated $48.7 million to commemorate the occasion, with a replica of Cook’s HMB Endeavour to circumnavigate the country.

But at the time of the voyage, Indigenous Australians often travelled great distances too, with most of those journeys being unrecorded. One that was, however, was the journey of Weitchymumble, a man of the Wati Wati (Wadi Wadi) from the Murray River around Swan Hill who travelled by foot across the dry regions of northwest Victoria around 200 kilometres to Lake Hindmarsh and back. He endured extreme heat, food shortages and exhaustion during this trek.

Back in 1877, Peter Beveridge, a squatter on the Murray River, published an article detailing Weitchymumble’s journey in the Ballarat Star. It had been told to him by Turrangin, a senior elder of the Wati Wati, who was Weitchymumble’s great-grandson.

We don’t know exactly when this happened, but Turrangin did tell us a little about the timing (Beveridge included words in the Wati Wati language in brackets):

When my cokernew (grandfather) was but a very small boy, long before the turrawil ngurtangies (white devils) came with their numberless stock to overrun the country, and drive away the teeming game, from whence the Woortongies (aborigines) drew their food supply […] his father, then quite a young man, was deputed by the tribe to accompany the Ngalloo Watow to the far Wimmera on tribal business.

The Ngalloo Watow was described by Beveridge as a “postman”, who carried news and conducted barters, able to travel “with impunity”.

At the time of the journey Turrangin’s grandfather was perhaps aged 10. Since Turrangin was a senior elder when he told the story to Beveridge in the 1850s, he might have been born around 1810. His grandfather might then have been a boy around 1770, the same time as Cook’s journey.

A journey through a land of plenty

Weitchymumble’s name means “welcome swallow”. The late Luise Hercus, a linguist who recorded many Indigenous languages, heard this word 50 years ago spoken by Mrs Jackson Stuart, one of the last to speak the Werkaya (Wimmera) language as a mother tongue. Hercus spelled it “wity-wity-mambel”.




Read more:
How Captain Cook became a contested national symbol


We don’t know what the business of Weitchymumble’s trip with the Ngalloo Watow was, but it started in the spring, “the season of peetchen-peetchen (flowers), when the whole country was glowing with bloom”. They reached Lake Hindmarsh after “a long weary tramp of many days”.

After a bath and meal of wallup (sleeping lizard), they were spotted by scouts of the Wimmera tribe, who:

fraternised after the fashion of the Aborigines prior to the advent of European customs; […] they walked up to the fire, squatted down by its side without saying one word, until the time (which was considerable) had expired which Australian savage etiquette demands on these occasions. After that, however, they talked fast enough […]

Returning from Lake Hindmarsh in heat described as having “the fervency of a wean chirrick (a reed bed on fire)”, soon they had run short of water and food when they came upon the nest of a lowan, or Mallee Fowl. Lowan is one of the few words from an Indigenous Victorian language borrowed into English.

In the Lowan’s nest, they found “politulu murnangin mirk” (eggs to the number of the fingers on both hands). The Ngalloo Watow made fire “by rubbing a narrow lath-like piece of saltbush across a sun crack in a pine log” then set the eggs on the sand until they simmered, stirring them with a thin twig, through an opening at the top end. When cooked there was a rich yellow paste of yolk and white mixed, the taste was “talko” (good).

Ebenezer Edward Gostelow, The Mallee fowl (or lowan), watercolour, 1939.
National Library of Australia

But, within a few days, they were again short of food when they saw a sleeping “little old man” threatened by a mindi (large snake). Weitchymumble immediately dashed, grabbed the snake, rescued the old man from it, cut off the snake’s head and then collapsed from exhaustion.

Seeing Weitchymumble lying, the old man exclaimed “”Niniwoor wortongie birra. Yetty tumla coorrongendoo. Ka ki nginma. Boorm.” (Ah, the young man is dead. I shall cry very much. Come here you. Quickly.) These words are the longest single piece of continuous written text in this language.

Weitchymumble was carried into a large conical stone, where the old man gave him a special drink and he revived. The old man turned out to be the Ngowdenout, the “spirit of the Mallee”. As Beveridge wrote: “He is both good and bad by turns […] all-seeing, all-powerful, and unvulnerable to everything earthly.”

Because Weitchymumble had acted to save the old man, the Ngowdenout was good to both the travellers, providing them with food and then when they were sleeping, disappearing. When they woke, the stone was nowhere to be seen but a clear path for them to return home had been marked out.




Read more:
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Beveridge concludes the story by noting that “the story of the Ngowdenout and his coorongandoo muckie loondhal (big stone house) is as fresh in the memory of the Watty Watty tribe as it was the day after Weitchymumble and his companion had related it”.

While the Ngowdenout is perhaps a mythical entity, at the core of this story is a real journey. It tells of a land of plenty, of Indigenous tribes meeting and interacting in their own customs’ manners, and of ways of life, like the method of cooking eggs. Such journeys would have happened regularly, but this is the only one from Victoria recorded in such detail.

Along with the Cook voyage, then, in 2020 let’s honour Weitchymumble’s journey and the people of the inland.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University

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


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