We Swear by the Southern Cross – Eureka Stockade Day

Today, 3 December 2022 marks the 168th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion.

On 30 November 1854 miners from the Victorian town of Ballarat, disgruntled with the way the colonial government had been administering the goldfields, swore allegiance to the Southern Cross flag at Bakery Hill and built a stockade at the nearby Eureka diggings. Early on the morning of Sunday 3 December 1854, when the stockade was only lightly guarded, government troops attacked. At least 22 diggers and six soldiers were killed. The rebellion of miners at Eureka Stockade is a key event in the development of Australia’s representational structures and attitudes towards democracy and egalitarianism.

In the early 1850s gold was discovered in Victoria. Thousands of people moved to the state to search for treasure. The state soon made laws that the gold diggers felt were unfair to them. For instance, all diggers had to buy a mining license to dig for gold. Diggers often fought with the police when the police checked these licenses and collected fees. The diggers were also upset about not being able to vote.

Starting in 1853, miners began to gather in ‘monster’ meetings to voice their complaints. Delegations presented their concerns to Governor La Trobe, but he was unreceptive to the requests. Many of the diggers were politically engaged – some had participated in the Chartist movement for political reform in Britain during the 1830s and 1840s while others had been involved in the anti-authoritarian revolutions that spread across Europe in 1848. The situation on the goldfields was tense as police regularly ran ‘licence hunts’ to track down diggers who hadn’t paid their fees. The miners claimed the police were extorting money, accepting bribes and imprisoning people without due process.

When Charles Hotham became the new lieutenant governor of Victoria, he made the police check mining licenses twice a week instead of once a month. Conflicts between the police and the diggers became more frequent. On 6 October 1854 the Scottish miner James Scobie was killed in an altercation at the Eureka Hotel in Ballarat. The proprietor, JF Bentley, was accused of the killing. A court of inquiry was held and Bentley was quickly exonerated. The diggers sensed a miscarriage of justice; not a difficult conclusion since one of the court members, John D’Ewes, was a police magistrate well known to have taken bribes from Bentley. On the 17 October 1854 about 5,000 men and women gathered to discuss the case. They decided to appeal the decision, but after the dispersal of the crowd, a small group decided to set fire to the Eureka Hotel. Having done so, they were arrested by police.

Over the next weeks the miners met and elected delegates who, on 27 November 1854, approached the new Victorian Governor, Charles Hotham. They demanded the release of the men who burned down Bentley’s hotel but the governor took offence to having demands made of him and dismissed their grievances. He then despatched 150 British soldiers of the 40th Regiment of Foot to Ballarat to reinforce the police and soldiers already stationed there. Sensing a change in atmosphere, the diggers held another mass meeting on 29 November 1854 at Bakery Hill. It was here the newly created Eureka flag was unfurled.

The police were unsettled by the hostility building among the diggers and decided to implement a licence hunt the next day. That morning, as the police moved through the miners’ tents, the diggers decided they had had enough, they gathered and marched to Bakery Hill. At this meeting the charismatic Irishman Peter Lalor became the leader of the protest. Lalor led the miners to the Eureka diggings, where the men and women joined him in an oath:

We swear by the Southern Cross, to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties’.

Then the company gathered timber from the nearby mineshafts and created a stockade.

Over the next two days, the men and women remained in and around the stockade, many performing military drills in preparation for possible conflict. This was too much for the Commissioner of the Ballarat goldfields, Robert Rede. He called for the police and army to destroy the stockade at first light on Sunday 3 December 1854.

That morning almost 300 mounted and foot troopers, and police attacked the stockade. The assault was over in 15 minutes, with at least 22 diggers (including one woman) and six soldiers losing their lives.

The police arrested and detained 113 of the miners. Eventually 13 were taken to Melbourne to stand trial. Governor Hotham called for a Goldfields Commission of Enquiry on 7 December 1854, but the citizens of Victoria were opposed to what the government had done in Ballarat and one by one the 13 leaders of the rebellion were tried by jury and released. The Eureka Stockade rising accelerated the enactment of reforms, which followed in 1855.

The battle at the Eureka Stockade near Ballarat in 1854 changed Australia forever. It has come to represent popular struggle and has been called the birthplace of Australian democracy. The Eureka Stockade became a legend, not only because it was the birth of Australian Democracy, but because of the courage, and determination of the diggers and their willingness to defend their rights.

In 1888, the Bulletin launched a campaign to change the date of Australia Day from 26th January (the day Convicts were landed) to 3rd December, the date of the rebellion. In its own words,

Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old.’ Rather than ‘the day we were lagged’, Australia’s national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, ‘the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion”.

‘And so it goes’ … the Centenary of Kurt Vonnegut

11 November 2022 was the centenary of the birth of one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, in Indianapolis, Indiana, who wrote wryly satirical novels that frequently used postmodern techniques as well as elements of fantasy and science fiction to highlight the horrors and ironies.

My favourite Vonnegut novel is his 1969 Slaughterhouse-Five with the underlying philosophy that existence is capricious and senseless. This fictional account almost perfectly mirrors Vonnegut’s real experience in the war. In WWII, Vonnegut was imprisoned in Dresden, was beaten, and made a prisoner in Schlachthof Fünf or Slaughterhouse Five, a real slaughterhouse in Dresden.

As a witness and victim of the horrors of the fire-bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut would argue he has permission to take a satirical literary position and use irony and humour towards these events as well as mocking social conventions as a means to try to understand the utter absurdity of such violent actions of humans against other humans.

On the nights of 13-14 February 1944, the city of Dresden, Germany was subjected to one of the worst air attacks in the history of humanity. By the end of the bombing 135,000 to 250,000 people had been killed as a result of the fire-storms created by the combined forces of the United States and the United Kingdom screaming down the streets of Dresden and howling between the city buildings. Dresden was different than Berlin or many of the other German cities which were attacked during World War II because it was never fortified or used for strategic purposes and, therefore, was not considered a military target.

The reason Vonnegut’s satire is so popular and works so well is because he had personal ties to all the elements that he lambasted in his works. Vonnegut’s experience as a soldier in WWII during the firebombing of Dresden corrupted his mind and enabled him to express the chaotic reality of war, violence, obsession, sex and government in a raw and personal manner.

Slaughterhouse-Five follows a non-linear time progression to represent the anguish of the human mind as a result of trauma. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time,” when his mental state takes a drastic turn after witnessing the bombing of Dresden during World War II. In the novel, Kurt Vonnegut uses the fantastical notion of time travel to portray the negative effects on the soldiers who fight in wars.

Satirists such as Kurt Vonnegut use their creative work to reveal the comic elements of an absurd world and incite a change in society. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut steps back from society and sees the absurd circus the world has become.

Slaughterhouse-Five depicts a profoundly absurd and distinctly postmodern world. It is an account of Billy Pilgrim’s capture and incarceration by the Germans during the last years of World War II, and scattered throughout the narrative are episodes from Billy’s life both before and after the war, and from his travels to the planet Tralfamadore (Trawl-fahm-uh-door). The novel tells of the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and refers to the Battle of the Bulge, the Vietnam War, and the civil rights protests in American cities during the 1960s.

Slaughterhouse-Five is written in the third-person omniscient point of view with interruptions from a first-person narrator who appears to be the author, Kurt Vonnegut.

The language of Slaughterhouse-Five is straightforward, so it’s easy to understand what’s happening in each of the sections. But with all the time jumping, alien abduction, and heavy-duty philosophy, it can be tough to work out how the sections go together.

His New York Times obituary in 2007 declared Vonnegut the “novelist who caught the imagination of his age”. Norman Mailer called Vonnegut “our own Mark Twain”, a comparison many have made, and praised him as “a marvellous writer with a style that remained undeniably and imperturbably his own”.

Due to its use of obscene language, depictions of sexual acts, lack of patriotism, and mentions of homosexuality, the novel has undergone at least eighteen banning attempts in public school systems and libraries in the United States.

Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five is a desperate, painfully honest attempt to confront the monstrous crimes of the twentieth century.

Slaughterhouse Five is one of the most enduring anti-war novels of all time.

100 years ago – Goondiwindi total eclipse of sun finally proves Einstein’s theory of relativity

Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. In his work leading to his later General Theory of Relativity (published in 26 November 1916), Einstein proposed the then paradoxical and counterintuitive theory that strong gravitational field would bend not only mass, but light itself. This is known as the Gravitational Red Shift or Einstein Shift:

This notion could be proved or disproved, Einstein suggested, by measuring the deflection of starlight as it travelled close to the Sun, the starlight being visible only during a total solar eclipse. Einstein predicted twice the light deflection that would be accountable under Newton’s laws.

The 1922 eclipse had a lot of scientific interest with teams of scientists from Sydney and Melbourne converging on Goondiwindi, in southern Queensland, a group from the British Astronomical Association (N.S.W. Branch) heading for Stanthorpe and a magnetic observer from the Carnegie Insitution setting up in Coongoola, north of Cunnamulla.  The other major centre for scientific observations was at Wallal in Western Australia where a team from the Lick Observatory of California was at the centre of an international effort.


The chief concern of the astronomers at that time was to confirm predictions arising from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Einstein had predicted that light from the stars would be displaced by gravity as it passed close to the sun and a total eclipse was the only time that stars could be observed close to the sun before the advent of space travel.  Observations during an eclipse in 1919 had agreed with Einstein’s predictions but further confirmation was needed as the expected displacement is very small and microscopic measurement of the photographic plates is required to detect the difference.

A member of the Sydney University team at Goondiwindi, James Nangle, recalled the experience of the eclipse in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, the experience still vivid in his mind in 1937.

“A total solar eclipse is the most awe inspiring of Nature’s phenomena,” said the Government Astronomer (Mr. James Nangle) yesterday. “I shall never forget the spectacle of the total eclipse which I saw from a backyard at Goondiwindi, in South Queensland, in 1922.

“A scientific party, of which I was a member, rented a shop and we erected our apparatus in the backyard.  For some days we each rehearsed our tasks so that when the great moment arrived, scientific observation could proceed as rapidly as possible.

“When the day did arrive we were nervous, excited, and on edge. Just before the total eclipse, shadow bands, about three inches wide and three inches apart, raced across the earth like millions of snakes. There was a galvanised iron fence at the back of the yard, and it seemed to me that reptiles were crawling all over it.

“Meanwhile, the moon was rapidly covering the face of the sun. The light became a bilious green. Animals became uneasy, and fowls, thinking that normal night was setting in, returned to roost. Then, suddenly, day turned to night. We were able to look toward the sun with the naked eye.

“The scene for three minutes was indescribably lovely and eerie. We saw the great streamers of the corona suspended from the disc of the moon. Their colour was a combination of silver and pearl. We saw, also, the chromosphere, which can best be described as a ring of rosy light at the outer edges. The chromosphere is irregular and its prominences extend for thousands of miles.

“There were two incidents during that eclipse that I shall never forget. I saw a crow, completely bewildered by the turn of events, endeavouring to gain a foothold on the revolving arm of a windmill.

“And there was the man from whom we rented the shop. Before the eclipse, he used to watch us making our preparations, but he was certain that there would not be an eclipse. He probably regarded us as a lot of crazy scientists.

“I saw him after the eclipse, which he had witnessed from a meadow, and he said that if anything similar was likely to occur again in Australia, he would leave the country.”


The Melbourne journalist, John Sandes, writing under the pseudonym ‘Oriel’, published a poem in the Melbourne Argus, 16 September 1922 a week before the eclipse:

Back of Bourke and the Mulga there’s a township on the plains,

Where there’s nearly always sunshine and it hardly ever rains,

And the chaps who planned Australia were so hard up for a name,

That they called, it Goondiwindi and that was its only fame

There it lay, neglected, for a long, long stretch of years,

its streets were oft deserted, except by herds of steers,  

And the raucous shouts of the stockmen, and the pistol crack of the whips,

Were Gundy’s chief amusements before the big eclipse

Then the news ran round the stations, and raised the squatters’ hopes,

When the scientists got busy and unpacked their telescopes,

And the cowmen flocked, to the township in eagerness to see

The testing of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

There was Long Jim Smith and his cobbers, and Shorty, the lasso king,

And they gathered around the scientists in a tough but admiring ring,

And Old Man Smith from the Seven Mile leaned up against the bar.

And cried in a voice that was hoarse with beer, ‘The star, me boys the star!”

There were telescopes and cameras and gadgets by the score –

Then Baldwins crowd from Melbourne town brought just as many more.

Yet still they came, those scientists, in dozens and in scores,

Until the Goondiwindians were forced to close their doors.

By train they came and motor-car, by horse and four-wheeled trap –

Goondiwindi smiled serenely – it was once more on the map;

And the squatters and the cowmen, why, their knowledge scientific,

defies all explanation. It was simply- well, terrific!


Centenary of Abolition of Queensland Legislative Council

100 years ago today, the Queensland Legislative Council, the state’s Upper House, voted itself out of existence. The Queensland Parliament is unique among Australian state parliaments as it is unicameral, that is, it only has one chamber.

The T.J. Ryan Labor Government came to power in 1915 with a large majority in the Legislative Assembly but with only three members in the Legislative Council. Part of the Labor Party’s ‘fighting platform’ was to abolish the Legislative Council.

T. J. Ryan - Wikipedia

After the election of Ryan Labor Government in 1915, the unelected, unrepresentative, conservative members of the Upper House was to be a thorn in the side of this reformist Queensland Government. Between May 1915 and December 1918, the Legislative Council rejected, or drastically amended, about 800 Bills, including Bills addressing major reform issues on health, industrial relations, the Criminal Code and local government.

Queensland marks 100 years since the state's upper house was abolishedOn 12 November 1915, Premier Ryan introduced a Bill entitled ‘A Bill to Amend the Constitution of Queensland by Abolishing the Legislative Council’. The Legislative Council rejected the Bill in early December 1915 by 26 votes to 3. The Bill was re-introduced into the Legislative Assembly by Premier Ryan on 14 September 1916 where it was passed but again rejected by the Council by 19 votes to 3. Since the Bill had been twice rejected by the Council, the way was now open for a referendum of the people on the issue of abolition of the Legislative Council.

The Queensland Cabinet decided to save money by holding the referendum on the same day as the Federal election on 5 May 1917, together with another referendum about liquor outlets. The endeavour to abolish the Legislative Council by referendum failed.

Between 1917 and 1920, the Ryan and Theodore Governments appointed increasing numbers of government representatives to the Upper House.

In March 1918, the Ryan Labor Government was returned to power with an increased majority, holding 48 seats to 24 in the Assembly, thereby claiming that its landslide victory gave it a confirmed mandate to abolish the Legislative Council. The process of abolition was set in train once more in 1918 with a Constitution Act Amendment Bill being passed by the Assembly but rejected by the Legislative Council. In August 1919, the Bill was introduced a second time into the Assembly but again rejected by the Council. However, while a referendum was the next step, it was never taken. It seems that the political preference was to achieve a Labor majority in the Council and not risk failure again in a referendum.

In 1919, the Upper House blocked then-Treasurer Ted Theodore’s Unemployed Workers Bill, which would have enshrined full employment in Queensland, in line with Theodore’s belief that “every citizen of the state has a right to get work and earn a livelihood within the state”. Premier Ryan retired from the Queensland Parliament in 1919. His replacement as Premier was Edward Granville Theodore, a vigorous and staunch abolitionist. William Lennon, the Labor Speaker of the Assembly, was then appointed as Lieutenant-Governor in the temporary absence of the Governor. On the death of Legislative Council President William Hamilton in 1920, the Theodore Government – through the Lieutenant-Governor – had the power to appoint William Lennon as President of the Legislative Council. However, it would not have been appropriate if William Lennon, Lieutenant-Governor, called William Lennon to the Council and appointed himself President. Accordingly, Lennon conveniently suffered a sore knee and was sent across the border to the Tweed in New South Wales to recuperate. The Chief Justice was then called upon to act as Administrator. However, he flatly refused to sign the Executive Minute on the grounds that there were already too many members of the Legislative Council. The Minute appointing William Lennon as President of the Council was eventually signed by William Lennon.

Abolition of the Legislative Council was again part of the Labor Party’s platform for the
October 1920 election campaign. The Country Party supported abolition and replacement with an elected body with restrictive property franchise using proportional representation. The Nationalists did not agree with abolition at all, fearing that once gone the Council would never be restored. However, they supported making the Council elective. Behind the scenes, Premier Theodore was reassured that objection from London to Royal Assent to an abolition Bill was unlikely and that colonial legislatures were ‘masters of their own destiny’. Labor won the 1920 election narrowly and Premier Theodore believed he had the mandate to proceed with his plans for abolition of the Legislative Council.

On 24 October 1921, the Constitution Act Amendment Bill was introduced into the Legislative Assembly for the fourth time. Only 40 of the 56 Council members attended the beginning of the debate and two left before the end when the Bill was passed by 28 votes to 10.

On 23 March 1922, legislation to abolish the Queensland Legislative Council was passed and Queensland became the only unicameral state parliament in Australia.

Why does Queensland in Australia have no upper house legislature when every  other state does? - Quora

When the government representatives appointed to the Upper House ultimately voted the House out of existence, removing what Prime Minister Paul Keating has called ‘unrepresentative swill’, they paved the way for a more democratic and representative government in Queensland.

‘The Breaker’ Morant – 120 years later time to pardon or not?

Today, 120 years ago, Harry “The Breaker’ Harboard Morant and Peter Handcock were executed by firing squad in South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War. The recent findings of alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan in the 2020 Brereton Report  and the allegations being made in the Ben Roberts-Smith defamation case, have drawn comparisons to the case of ‘The Breaker’ Morant who was executed for murder during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant, stockman, station hand, horse breaker, bush poet and soldier occupies a place in Australian folklore as the last Australian soldier executed. Most Australians have heard of the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 and of Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, a figure who rivals Ned Kelly and Peter Lalor as an archetypal Australian folk hero, but was he really wrongly executed for war crimes – or simply a petty criminal and murderer who got what he deserved?

In Australia, the Second Anglo-Boer War, or Boer War is often called Australia’s ‘forgotten war’. The Boer War was the first conflict in which Australian soldiers left these shores en masse and fired a shot in anger. Between 1899 and 1902, 16,000 men went from Australia to the Boer War in South Africa, with more than 500 of them dying there.

Federation took place in the middle of the war and the events that followed were the first test of Australian nationhood. In truth, it was a nasty, bloody affair. Cruelty abounded. British soldiers besieged in Kimberley refused to let Africans have meat or vegetables. Many starved to death or died of scurvy. In Mafeking, Colonel Baden-Powell left 2,000 Africans to starve or be shot by the Boers. The Boers flogged and shot Africans caught working for the British and did the same to white army scouts. Some units swore not to take prisoners.

Whenever the Boer War is mentioned, the first thing many Australians think about is the court-martial and the 27 February 1902 execution by firing squad of Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant and Peter Handcock. The trial and execution of Lieutenant’s Morant and Handcock for killing 12 unarmed Boer prisoners has been a controversial aspect of Australia’s history in the Boer War. A third man, George Witton, was jailed for life. Some Australians were uneasy that the British army had punished these men. The execution occurred during the closing stages of the Boer War, but the debate over their convictions continues to this day.

Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant was born in Somerset on 9 December 1864 and claimed to have come from landed gentry in Devon. This was but one of a number of romantic legends he created about his past. Far more likely is it that he was the son of Edwin Murrant, the master, or manager of a workhourse for the poor in Bridgewater, Somerset.

Harry Morant moved to Australia when he was 19, arriving in Townsville, north Queensland in June 1883. He quickly travelled inland to Charters Towers where, then known as Harry Edward Murrant, his horsemanship secured him a stockman’s job on a local station, Fanning Downs. It was here he met and married Daisy May O’Dwyer. On 13 March 1884, one Murrant married Daisy May O’Dwyer. A number of historians have uncovered hard evidence that Murrant and Morant were the same person. It seems she found the gloss of marriage vanishing early. The marriage lasted just over a month. Her new husband was accused of disobeying a summons on payment for the wedding and of stealing a saddle and a number of pigs. This period also marked the first time he used the name Morant instead of Murrant — on a dud cheque for two horses. Daisy told him to pull his ‘bowyangs’ up. He was to reform himself and meet her in a couple of years back at Charters Towers. The reunion never took place.

The English immigrant took off to the Winton and the backblocks of western Queensland, and over the next 15 years relocated to various places in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. He found fame in the 1890s as a horse-breaker, drover and poet. Morant earned a reputation as a charming scoundrel, an expert horseman but a heavy drinker and a womaniser. He earned himself the moniker of ‘The Breaker’ for his extra-ordinary horse-breaking skills, which most famously included being one of the few who managed to ride and tame the notorious buckjumper horse Dargin’s Grey, the wildest brumby ever to be brought out of the bush, in a race that became a roughriding legend. As well as writing his popular bush ballad, Morant became friendly with famed Australian bush poets Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, and Will H. Ogilve.

When the South African War broke out in 1899 he enlisted in Adelaide in the 2nd Contingent, South Australian Mounted Rifles, as Harry Harboard Morant. In 1901, his unit – the Bushveldt Carbineers – killed 12 prisoners of war and one German witness. The Bushveldt Carbineers had an Australian flavour, drawing on colonials who were accomplished riders, expert shots and well-adapted to the South African climate and terrain. More than 40 per cent of its 320 members were Australian.

The killings of prisoners took place over four days and followed the death of the men’s commanding officer, Captain Frederick Hunt in an assault on a Boer stronghold. Hunt was a close friend of Morant’s and the latter was reportedly enraged by accounts that his body had been mutilated. The men admitted to the shooting but it was not clear whether they had been ordered to kill the prisoners or not. The three never denied the shootings, but claimed it was accepted practice in the fog of war. They also maintained that General Lord Kitchener, the commander of British troops in South Africa, handed down secret orders not to take any prisoners.

As news came out about the murders a consensus grew — shaped by a noisy campaign by Witton’s family — that Morant and Handcock deserved their fate, but Witton did not. As a result, Witton was released from prison after three years following a petition by 80,000 Australians to King Edward VII.

Descendants of the three Lieutenants believe they had not received a fair trial and campaigned from then on to clear their names. The line of ‘The Breaker’ Morant legend for over a century has been that he was doing no more than following orders, and that his own trial for war crimes was a travesty of justice.

The story attracted national attention in the early 1980s, following the publication of The Breaker by Kit Denton and the subsequent Bruce Beresford 1980 film Breaker Morant, starring Edward Woodward. The hopelessly romantic film centres on the war-crimes trial of three Australian soldiers by a British court-martial during the South African war at the turn of the twentieth century. The suggestion is that the real enemies of the newly minted Australia were not the Boers they went to fight, but their supposed allies, the British. Opposition between Britain and Australia is at the heart of Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant.

This was the first of a series of films investigating the role of Australian soldiers abroad, like Gallipoli and Anzacs. But the movies were about more than that. In fact, the soldiers were a symbol of the question the nation was asking itself: what is our relationship with the British who started white Australia and who are we now?

The campaign for Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant to receive a pardon was reinvigorated by former Navy lawyer, Commander James Unkles in 2009 after watching Breaker Morant. He became concerned by the disregard for the rights of the accused to a fair trial, in particular a reasonable opportunity for their Australian defending officer, Major James Thomas to prepare a defence case for Lieutenants Morant, Handcock and Witton.

In October 2009, Unkles attempted to address the denied justice by forwarding two petitions for pardons, one to the Australian House of Representatives Petitions Committee and the other to Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II. The petition did not question Morant and Handcock’s guilt but rather argued their convictions were unjust, partially because the soldiers’ right to plea for mercy from an execution was denied and the Australian government was not told of the trial until after they were both killed. In May 2010, he also sent a petition to the Australian Senate. However, in October 2010 the case for pardons were rejected by the British government. However, the British decision did not deter Unkles.

Filming of Breaker Morant – The Retrial began on location in Charters Towers on Monday, 11 March 2013. The two-part documentary series is partly based on the work of military lawyer James Unkles and his legal challenge to the original convictions and sentences. Many Australians may know this story through the movie, but the documentary series picked up where the film left off.

Boer War historian Craig Wilcox, author of Australia’s Boer War: The War in South Africa, argues ‘The Breaker’ Morant and Peter Handcock should not be honoured with a posthumous pardon for their war crimes. Wilcox states the petition to pardon Morant and Handcock is feeding off their myth as folk heroes, instead of their reality as cold-blooded killers. After their death in 1902, the execution gradually took on the dimensions of martyrdom and his story mutated into a cautionary tale about what can happen when Australian soldiers’ lives are given over to foreign wars and foreign generals. Like the legend of Ned Kelly, Morant’s story sits comfortably with us today. But Wilcox argues that his deeds resemble Kelly’s only in so far as he was executed for murder and he died game. For Wilcox, Harry Morant is a war criminal.

Peter FitzSimons 2020 Breaker Morant is the latest exploration of the legend of Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant. He also, like Wilcox, takes an opposing view to Jim Unkles and argues strongly against the call for a pardon. FitzSimons takes the non-hagiographic road and shows the evidence is overwhelming that:

Morant was indeed responsible for shooting an unarmed prisoner, gunning down four Afrikaan fighters and four Dutch commandos who had surrendered, and the shooting of a Boer farmer and his two teenage sons.”

Peter FitzSimons’ Breaker Morant is a book of our times. A book about war crimes in “a different country and in a different war”. A book that explores a grievous tale of moral failure. A book about a variety of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

FitzSimons has spared nothing in his bleak portrayal of ‘The Breaker’:

it is a dark, black book about grievous moral failure, about a wrongly conceived and dreadful, appalling war, and about the destruction of a society and its people.”

FitzSimons position is the argument Morant and his fellow officer Handcock were following orders from General Lord Kitchener to “take no prisoners” is spurious and there is no evidence that any such order was given. He writes on p.495:

the idea that Morant and Handcock were wrongly convicted and shot is a wish that becomes a truth too strong to ever be torn by facts.”

He continues on p.5oo:

There can be no doubt that Breaker Morant would love the fact that people are still quarreling over him 120 years later, and that there remain so many romantics who cannot reconcile the poet with the killer that he still has people arguing his case well into the twenty-first century. But a killer he was.”

Murder is murder and no illegal orders from British superiors can justify it. According to FitzSimons, Morant was a murderer and he should not be celebrated. As to whether they should have been executed, that is a different question.

Descendants of Morant, Handcock and Witton continue to maintain they suffered an injustice during their trial. The current push by ‘The Breaker’s descendent Cathie Morant to have Harry Morant’s name added to the Adelaide Boer War Memorial is being supported by the Bathurst RSL Sub-Branch and James Unkles. The argument is that his brief service with the 2nd South Australian Mounted Rifles from January 1900 was honourable. It was later that his crimes were committed with the Bushveldt Carbineers. However, it appears this is not supported by the Adelaide veteran community.

The NSW country town of Tenterfield is backing a pardon for Harry Morant due to James Whitton having lived in the area after he returned from service in the Boer War. Major James Francis Thomas, the defence lawyer for the three Lieutenants, also lived in Tenterfield.  Interestingly, Morant’s personal remains were discovered a few years ago in a Tenterfield rubbish tip and is now displayed in local museum.

It appears the contestability around the absence of the rights of the accused to a fair trial, and the claims of murder and being war criminals will probably continue for another 100 years.

‘The Breaker’ is also remembered today with ‘Harry’s Haunt’ museum in Beaudesert, Queensland, the memorial located in a park near the Bogan Gate War Memorial, and a memorial in Poets Corner, Central Park in Bourke that commemorates the time he spent in the Bourke area writing bush ballads. Ironically, Breaker Morant Drive is a 500-metre drive that surrounds the oval in Kitchener Park, Gunnedah. Now, in death, Morant encircles and dominates General Lord Kitchener.

(For more information about James Unkles campaign to get a pardon for Breaker Morant and brothers-in-arms, see his Breaker Morant blog.)

Charters Towers – 150th anniversary of founding

Today is the 150th anniversary of Gold Commissioner W.S.E.M. Charters issuing the first protection ticket for a prospecting area to Mosman, Clarke and Fraser. Due to the 1871-72 wet season, it had taken Hugh Mosman, one of the discoverers of gold at Charters Towers, three weeks to ride to Ravenswood as he was unable to cross the flooding Burdekin River until well into the month. The granting of the protection ticket triggered an immediate gold rush.

A persistent Charters Towers myth is that the town had originally been called ‘Charters Tors’. Charters, after the first Gold Commissioner, and Tors, because the countryside reminded the miners of the rolling hills of Britain.

Charter’s issuing of the protection ticket on 26 January 1872 can be considered the birth certificate for Charters Towers.

W.S.E.M. Charters

Tor is Welsh for protuberance; a hill; a rocky eminence. However, the name ‘Charters Tors’ was actually a later creation. It was Tors that was a substitution for the original Towers, not the other way around as always suggested. This occurred somewhere after the turn of the last century, because all nineteenth century references always use the name ‘Charters Towers’. It was only in the twentieth century that the legend of Charters Tors was created and entered local folklore.

In the first year of discovery in 1872, the goldfield of Charters Towers was only a convenient geographical description. The reality was 4000 or 5000 miners scattered across several kilometres of country, with three villages – Upper camp, Just-in-Time, and Millchester. Each contained some of the amenities to serve them. But these three camps were collectively known as Charters Towers in the first year of the goldfield discovery.

It was Upper Camp, based around Mosman Street, that eventually became the administrative and governmental centre and retained the name Charters Towers.

The origin of the first part of the name Charters Towers cannot be disputed. In January 1872, W.S.E.M. Charters happened to be temporarily presiding as Gold Commissioner at Ravenswood when Mosman lodged a claim for a new protection area for his new find. Later in 1872 he was to become the Gold Commissioner on the new field that now held his name.

It is the origin of the second part of the name Charters Towers that has been debated.

The Ravenwood Miner’s correspondent at Charters Towers started his report published on 17/2/1872 entitled ‘Charters Towers’ by:

Such is the name which Mr. Mosman’s camp has been christened … The place was named (I am told) by the prospector ‘Charters Towers’ in honour of the big man from the Cape.” (W.S.E.M. Charters)

In local publications of the time the township was always referred to as the Towers or Charters Towers.

Hugh Mosman

In 1872, Superintendent Gold Commissioner John Jardine had visited the new goldfield now administered by Charters. In his report to the Queensland Government, he described that goldfield as “of a very peculiar appearance”.

It is a large-Barren undulating flat, very scantily wooded and grassed, extending from the Burdekin to the Broughton River, and dotted with a number of very remarkable pyramidal peaks of granite, rising abruptly from the plain to a considerable height, their fantastic shapes having suggested the name of ‘The Towers’.”

This was written on 31 December 1872. It was the granite hills of “a conical or sugar-loaf shape, from one to 200 feet in height” that suggested the term Towers. This was written at the end of the first year of the founding of Charters Towers.

Indeed, in Jardine’s letter of instruction from the colonial government dated 12 September 1872, he was instructed to investigate the Charters Towers. Nowhere is there any mention of ‘Charters Tors’.

Possibly the first appearance of the word ‘Tors’ occurs in an article entitled ‘Premier Goldfield of Queensland’ published in The Queenslander, 29/12/1894.

The name of the goldfield was thus innocently announced in compliment to the mining warden, and the second word ‘Tors’ or ‘Towers’ referred to the appearance of the surrounding country, which is so prettily embellished with a large number of these peculiar looking conical peaks.”

Further references to the name ‘Tors’ was in Jubilee History of Queensland:

The warden on the Ravenswood field at the time was Mr. Charters and the new field read his name in association with the granite ‘tors’ forming the most characteristic feature of the scenery. The name ‘Charters Tors’ soon became corrupted into the now favoured Charters Towers.”

It appears that authors at a later date tried to instill some romance into the naming of the town. It is unusual for a single syllable word to be corrupted into one of two syllables.

It is true that Tors means hills, but it was not the original name used. At no time in the first two decades of the founding of the goldfield was there any mention of Charters Tors.

The legend goes that over the years Tors became Towers. This is not true. It was the other way around.

Townsville’s ‘Tree of Knowledge’ claims first place

Today is the Labour Day public holiday in Queensland. The birthplace of the Australian Labor Party has traditionally been claimed to be under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ at Barcaldine in 1891 during the great shearer’s strike. However, it wasn’t known as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ until the 1930s. An investigation into other ‘Trees of Knowledge’ around Australia raises the question to which has the claim as the original ‘Tree of Knowledge’?

Queensland unionists and community members will break out their hats and placards today for the annual Labour Day marches across the state. The first weekend in May has been of major cultural and historical significance for the union movement in Queensland ever since the state’s first Labour Day procession took place in Barcaldine on 1 May 1891. The Labour Day public holiday has been celebrated by workers in Queensland on the first Monday in May since 1901 (apart from a few years during the Newman government). It is deeply ingrained in Queensland’s history as a day to recognise workers’ rights.

Labour Day March, Queensland

Labour Day, like Anzac Day, is a day when we remember the sacrifices our forebears made: the mateship, the loyalty and the determination to build and protect the freedom and rights we now enjoy. Both are also occasions when we recognise the ongoing struggles of today, and thank those standing beside us in the fray.

The Labour Day date was moved from May to the second Monday in March in some parts of Australia after World War II. For a large section of the Brisbane labour movement it remained important that the Labour Day celebrations be changed to enable participation by all Queensland workers and that the date of the procession from the traditional one on 1 March to 1 May. The main arguments for changing the date of the celebrations was to make them part of the international campaign, begun by the International Labour Congress in 1889, to make 1 May an official workers holiday around the world. This campaign was given a major boost when, on 1 May 1891, more than 1000 striking shearers participated in Australia’s first May Day march through the streets of Barcaldine, where their leaders wore blue sashes and they carried banners and the Eureka flag. It was reported that cheers were given for “the eight-hour day”. Henry Lawson wrote “Freedom on the Wallaby” to mark the day.

Tree in Oak Street, Barcaldine

The meeting of the shearers under the Queensland ghost gum, a Eucalyptus Papuana, outside the Railway Station, Barcaldine during the strike of 1891 is widely regarded as a defining moment in Australian political history. Australian Labor history has long held that it was under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ that the Australian Labor Party was founded.

There are many other  trees dubbed the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ around Australia.

  • The 150-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree in Randwick, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, known by locals as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, was removed in July 2016 to make way for a light rail line.
  • Goondiwindi
  • The Galamarrrma, or ‘Tree of Knowledge’ is located in the courtyard of the Darwin Civic Centre, and has been used as meeting place, postal address and community notice board
  • The Perth ‘Tree of Knowledge’ was craned into the children’s section of the City of Perth library.
  • ‘Kidman’s Tree of Knowledge’ is a mature coolabah tree at Glengyle Station, Bedourie under which he reputedly camped when contemplating the development of his pastoral empire. It is for this reason it has been heritage-listed.
  • The ‘Tree of Knowledge at Camooweal’ is a mature Coolibah tree on the eastern side of the Georgina River where drovers, teamsters and others would camp, rest and yarn.

Trees are significant in many of the world’s mythologies, and have deep and sacred meanings throughout history. They are powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth, with evergreens sometimes considered symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility.

The source of knowledge in many ancient myths is a tree that symbolises how knowledge represents the connection between ideas from different worlds, for example the world of humans and the divine world. The tree of knowledge (World Tree) is found in many religions and mystic traditions such as the Tree of Eden, the Norse Yggdrasil, and the Kabalistic Sephiroth Tree, to name but a few.

No doubt the Barcaldine Oak Street ghost gum tree bore silent witness to those events of 1891 that saw riots and 2000 police and army personnel in the town to protect the strike breakers, however there is no evidence that the strikers met there. Also the ghost gum was never called the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ at the time, in fact it wasn’t until at the least the 1930s that the tree began to receive this moniker.

The tree was first known as the ‘Alleluia Tree’, so called because local members of the Salvation Army congregated to worship under its branches. Bullock drivers who were constantly on the move throughout Western Queensland also used the tree as place to gather and swap yarns and news from along the trails.

The ghost gum continued to be referred to as the ‘Hallelujah Tree’ in 1914, and in 1919 when Myles Ferricks, a Labour senate candidate, addressed the crowd it was reported to have occurred at the Hallelujah Tree, in 1921 the Barcaldine newspaper, the Western Champion reported the Hallelujah Tree was in decline in health. In 1923 there is again reference to the ‘Hallelujah Tree’ in the local media in Barcaldine, continuing still in 1927. It’s not until 1931 there is evidence in the Western Champion referring to the old ghost gum as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ rather than the ‘Hallelujah Tree’.

The argument to support the position that Barcaldine never referred to a ‘Tree of Knowledge’ in its community until the 1930s is the reference in the Western Champion, 29 March 1919 to the regular unemployed meetings in Townsville

held under a tree, which is now described as the “Tree of Knowledge”.

There is no reflection in the newspaper column on the name being originally a Barcaldine term from the 1891 strike, almost 30 years before. As an article that was critical of the success of the Townsville unemployment meetings reference to the unoriginality of the name of the meeting place would have been mandatory. It was not mentioned.

In 2006, the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ at Barcaldine was poisoned. The culprit/s were never found and the ALP (Qld) has a $10,000 reward for identifying who poisoned the tree at Barcaldine.

The dead gum tree was removed and a sapling, propagated from the original, now grows at the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. Ironically, the Barcaldine ‘Tree of Knowledge’ also achieved National Heritage listing in 2006. A memorial has been erected to commemorate the history of the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ in Barcaldine and its significance to the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine and Queensland.

The north Queensland city of Townsville also has had an historical ‘Tree of Knowledge’.

Public meetings held in Townsville under the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ played a role in the development of Townsville’s industrial and trade unions. Flinders Street, Townsville has been the home of cafes, theatres, hotels, and jubilant celebrations, yet it has also witnessed under Townsville’s own ‘Tree of Knowledge’ unemployment meetings, weekly communist party meetings, political protests and individual spruiking, as well as in 1919 gunfire and union agitation after a demonstration when 3,000 meatworkers protested over their wages and conditions.

The ‘Tree of Knowledge’ linked closely to the Townsville Workers Electoral Leagues, established on 17 July 1891 and eventually became the Australian Labor Party in Townsville. The impetus for the League came from trade unionists whose pursuit of solidarity and reform quickened in 1888 with the formation of the Townsville Trades and Labour Council and its reconstitution in 1890 as the Townsville District Council (TDC) of the Australian Labour Federation.

The Townsville ‘Tree of Knowledge’ was actually three trees planted in the 1890s. It appears the three ‘Trees of Knowledge’ stood outside the Aplin Brown Building at the corner of Flinders and Denham Street and was a central meeting point for union meetings in Townsville. Until about 1918 they were referred to as ‘The Shade Trees’. However, by early 1919 when the Unemployed Committee first began having outdoor meetings in Townsville the name had changed and within a month the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ had started to appear in the local press as an address.

The three trees were Terminalia catappa, commonly called beach almond, or sea almond. The name Terminalia comes from the Latin terminus, end, and refers to the clustering of the leaves at the ends of the shoots; catappa is the Malayan name for the tree. These were suitable trees as a meeting place (clustering) for the labour community who did not have access to the wealth needed to distribute their political positions, such newspapers, radio, the outdoor public meeting was their only option.

The ‘Tree of Knowledge’ remained a Townsville city landmark for many years and was a popular place for the public to rally and listen to union officials, labour candidates and politicians, such as Tom Aikens, the long-term Member for South Townsville, and Fred Paterson, the Communist Party Townsville Alderman. In 1926 the first major tree was cut down. It was under the second and third trees where all the soapbox debates occurred, and the opening rallies of all political campaigns—municipal, state, federal.

Flinders street in Townsville with Tree of knowledge, at right. W. J. Laurie Album, 1912, NQ Photographic Collection ID 156. Reference: https://jculibrarynews.blogspot.com/2013/10/special-collections-fossickings-28.html

It’s not clear when the third tree disappeared, however the second and final tree was badly damaged by Cyclone Althea in 1971 and was removed on 8 January 1972. However, it is reputed that a cutting was saved and replanted in Anderson Park, Townsville. It was from this tree that three cuttings were planted in a triangle by the Townsville Probus Club in 1986 in Ogden Street near the tree’s original position in Denham Street to represent the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, ‘The Tree of Love’, and the ‘Tree of Understanding’.  The cuttings were planted in a triangle with a brass plaque set in a granite rock in the middle with the words:

“We pray that those who come by here will have the knowledge, love and understanding of their fellow man”.

The replanting of the trees was a memory to the soapbox oration of politicians, union officials and others over at least 80 years under the Townsville ‘Tree of Knowledge’.

In 1985, the Townsville City Council with the support of the local unions, commissioned Anthony Dennis Pryor to create a ‘Tree of Knowledge’ steel sculpture as a remembrance of the old tree.

It was unveiled by Margaret Reynolds, Minister for Local Government on 21 November 1987 and continues to reside in Perfume Garden Park, a block away from where the original ‘Trees of Knowledge’ had stood.

As Barcladine had not stopped referring to their meeting place tree as the ‘Hallelujah Tree’ until the 1930s, then it appears Townsville can lay claim to the first ‘Tree of Knowledge’ under whose broad branches and leaves the men and women of labour could meet to act collectively to help each other to seek a better and purposeful life.

The 1891 shearers strike in Barcaldine was a Capital vs Labour reflection to the 1919 Unemployed Committee organizing in Townsville almost 30 years later.  However, the difference was in the use of the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ name. The evidence shows that the term was originally used by the Townsville vagrants marginalised by the post-World War 1 lack of support for employment and who were in direct solidarity with the meat workers strike at the same time.

Today we celebrate those workers and union delegates who stand alongside their mates and colleagues to preserve and better the working conditions of all Australians. We celebrate the toil of men and women everywhere, and in these economically dark times we also extend our hands and hearts to those who have lost jobs and pride.

It’s always worth remembering: if you’re standing alone then you’re begging, if you stand as a collective then you’re bargaining.

* I’d like to acknowledge the research assistance in writing this article from Brian Davies.

Dead Regular – the reality of life as a paramedic

DEAD REGULAR is a novel at the forefront of a new genre — paramedic procedural. Harry Colfer (pen name) is a practising paramedic who tells the reality of life as a paramedic through fiction.

He sees factual television programs such as Ambulance Australia that follow New South Wales and Queensland Ambulance Services from the Triple Zero Control Centres to paramedics on the road as heavily sanitised and not reflecting the reality of the work of paramedics in Australia. Colfer has addressed this sanitisation by portraying reality through fiction.

Dead Regular is a murder mystery set in Brisbane and takes place in 2012. There is a strong sense of place in the novel with the streets of Brisbane anchoring the story.

The paramedic characters portrayed in the novel work for the Brisbane City Ambulance Service (B-CAS), which doesn’t exist and is in no way meant to portray or depict any existing or former ambulance service or organisation. The author makes the point that the 2012 time setting also reflects medical techniques from then.

In Dead Regular, there is one thing stopping Jono from loving his job as a paramedic. It’s not the blood and gore, nor the vomiting drunks, not even the seemingly endless rolling shifts. It’s the overbearing management. He’s a competent clinician who always does the best for his patients, but petty bureaucracy and red tape never fail to fire him up.

Despite this disaffection, Jono won’t ignore the fact that several ambulance “regulars” have been turning up dead. Each death in itself seems innocent enough, but the sudden mounting body count raises his suspicions. Is it just a coincidence, or has someone decided to clean up the city? What’s more worrying is that Jono appears to be the only one who cares.

Catching a serial killer won’t be easy when nobody suspects murder.

Harry Colfer’s excellent descriptive prose and his fantastic use of Australian metaphors make it easy for any reader to enter the fictitious yet very believable world of Jono and his professional life working for the Brisbane City Ambulance Service. Full of unexpected twists that kept me guessing right to the very end, this story made me laugh throughout and even cry on a couple of occasions. It’s craftfully written, at times beautiful in its descriptions, downright and at the same time a real page turner with a plot that rockets along as fast as the code one drives that the Ambos do. It’s an insider’s view of the emergency world that only a few people ever really get to see.

Colfer has a remarkable way of bringing characters into full-blown three dimensional light. There are certainly no flat characters here. Fully developed, Jono and his crew mates take you on a full-tilt journey not only into the world of ambos but also an engaging mystery plot expertly woven in, complete with a little romance.

The quirky references to Brisbane streets and locations were delightful treats to those who can relate. The style is easy to read and brilliantly captures the quick-witted banter and sledging that is a common culture of such close, mission-critical teams.

Colfer stated recently:

‘Everyone knows a paramedic and all paramedics have a story to tell, it’s how we cope with the sometimes confronting nature of our job. Inevitably, when the yarning starts, the stories we tell are full of embellishments and always served with a heavy dose of dark ambo humour.’

The author continued:

‘I started writing Dead Regular back in 2012 because my wife suggested I use it as a stress relief. It took two-and-a-half years to write, and since 2016 have edited numerous times.’

Paramedics face violence on a daily basis. Being ambulance staff can be a high-stress job. They encounter many situations in their daily line of work that can have a lasting impact on their mental health.

Paramedics have one of Australia’s most dangerous jobs — and not just because of the trauma they witness.

Central Queensland University’s Professor Brian Maguire said in 2017:

“The fatality rate for paramedics is six times higher than the national average. Their injury rate is twice as high as the rate for Australian police officers. Assaults account for a large part of the risk, while the number of serious injury cases secondary to assault among paramedics has tripled from ten per year to 30 per year, between 2001 and 2014.”

Violence against people doing their job is unacceptable. And the cost to individuals, the health sector and the public is too great.

In July 2020, researchers at Flinders University published a systematic review of research on paramedics health which found that:

‘…compared with other professions, paramedics have far higher rates of mental health disorders, workplace violence, workplace injuries, fatigue, sleep disorders and suicide.’

The researchers found paramedics say workplace culture – and how state and territory ambulance service management treat their staff – may play an even bigger role in the link between paramedics and poor health.

Harry Colfer has published to date 22 short stories in the Ambo Tales From the Frontline series and plans to write another ten, one for each of the 32 AMPDS codes — the system used worldwide to categorise emergency calls.

Dead Regular is a far cry from the TV reality shows such as Ambulance Australia. It is a funny and clever, fast and unpredictable read with great humour and an extremely descriptive writing style that places you on scene. You gain, as a result, a different perspective of life behind the scenes for a paramedic.

Ambulance Australia season four is filmed on the streets of Brisbane. Dead Regular is set on the streets of Brisbane. One is real and one has been sanitised.

Harry Colfer is definitely an author with a winning, distinct style and one to follow closely as he writes about Jono and his crew roaring ’round and ’round, up and down, through the streets of your town.

Dead Regular is a truly Australian novel.

About the author:

Harry Colfer is the pseudonym of an experienced paramedic who lives and works in Brisbane. Although his stories are total fiction, his writing style is very realistic and he maintains a healthy level of paranoia with respect to his anonymity. He would love to tell you more about himself and someday will, but at the moment he considers that revealing his true identity could be a career-limiting move.

A taster for Dead Regular is available here.