About drglenndavies

Dr Glenn Davies is a teacher, author, republican activist, and historian. In any spare time, which seems increasingly rare, he is an occasional science fiction writer and reviewer, and has been an Aurealis Award Science Fiction Short Story Judge. He believes strongly in the epithet ‘publish or perish’ – no matter how constant and demanding the teaching load, it is vital, as historians, to be writing.

Amazing Grace is 250 years old today

New Year’s Day, 1 January 2023 marks the 250th anniversary since Reverend John Newton, a former slave trader, delivered his ‘Amazing Grace’ sermon.

Today, Amazing Grace is one of the most recognisable songs in the English-speaking world.

Amazing Grace was composed in the weeks leading up to John Newton’s New Year’s Day 1773 service at St Peter and St Paul Church, Olney in Buckinghamshire to accompany his New Testament teaching on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 where King David said:

Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

The lyrics for Amazing Grace are an ideal subject for New Year’s Day reflection. The first verse, for example, can be traced to the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son. In the Gospel of Luke the father says:

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”.

The story of Jesus healing a blind man who tells the Pharisees that he can now see is told in the Gospel of John. It is here that John Newton used the words: “I was blind but now I see”.

It is also in the 2014 film Freedom where the story is told of John Newton’s composition of the Amazing Grace hymn.


In the United States, Amazing Grace became a popular song used by Baptist and Methodist preachers, especially in the American South, during the early 19th century. However, in the rest of the world, including the United Kingdom, it was largely forgotten until the mid-twentieth century.

With the folk music revival of the 1960s the trans-Atlantic traffic of musicians saw the rise of performances of Amazing Grace in Church congregations and folk festivals in Britain. The influence of Amazing Grace can be seen in it making an appearance at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival.

From the 1960s Amazing Grace also became a favourite with supporters of freedom and human rights. During the US civil rights movement of the 1960s and opposition to the Vietnam War, Amazing Grace took on a distinctly political tone.

Amazing Grace encourages looking back at life and considering who you are now, as well as looking forward to what the future might hold.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come

It is also about journeying back to home.

In 1970, Amazing Grace went mainstream when Judy Collins released her iconic rendition.

In 1985, Joan Baez opened the US portion of Live Aid with Amazing Grace.

On 26 June 2015, President Obama delivered the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine black parishioners murdered by a white supremacist in a shooting at Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel Ame Church, where he called on the “reservoir of goodness”, and reflected that if we can find that that grace, anything is possible.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Judy Collins re-released Amazing Grace with the assistance of the Global Virtual Choir comprising 1000 singers from around the world.

Amazing Grace is frequently performed on bagpipes and has become associated with this instrument ever since it became popular in a 1972 recording by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards that became a Number 1 radio hit. At the recent Berlin Tattoo over 200 bagpipes played Amazing Grace.

There has been long-standing association of Amazing Grace with the House of the Rising Sun popularised initially by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

We could all do with a little more grace in our lives.

Texas Terror’s last flight

Today is the 80th anniversary of the USAAF B-24 Liberator, #41-23825, commonly known as Texas Terror, of the 400th Bomb Squadron of the 90th Bombardment Group, crashing into the southern side of Mount Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island shortly after its departure from Garbutt Field in Townsville. The accident was to be blamed on a violent storm and navigational errors.

An air-to-air left side view of four B-24 Liberator aircraft in formation. The B-24 was built for World War II combat.

On 18th December 1942 the factory-new Texas Terror B-24 Liberator was being flown from Amberley to Iron Range in north Queensland by 1st Lieutenant James Gumaer for delivery to the 90th Bombardment Group. A total of 12 persons were killed in this tragic crash. 1st Lt. Gumaer and his 4 crewmen had picked up at least 7 passengers at Garbutt airfield in Townsville on their way to Iron Range.

This was the fourth B-24 (and crew) that the 90th Bombardment Group had lost in almost as many days.

18th December 1942 was to be the last day of their war for the crew of the Texas Terror, a B-24 Liberator belonging to the United States Army Corps 90th Bombardment Group. The day dawned hot and overcast. The tropical low that had halted air operations all along the coast for nearly a week was beginning to lift. Although flying conditions in some places and at some times would be marginal at best, the war would not wait.

From soon after first light, Garbutt Air Base, Townsville began to accept and despatch aircraft that had spent a week weather bound along the coast, from Brisbane, 800 miles to the south of Townsville, to Iron Range, 500 miles further north.

Conceived in the panic days between the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway when it appeared that the advancing Japanese would overrun New Guinea, the airstrip at Iron Range was a dusty red scar gouged in the rain forest on the eastern coast of Cape York, a temporary pierced-steel-planking strip from which the 90th Bombardment Group entered the war in mid-November 1942. For the 90th, Iron Range was a harsh initiation to the rigors of a tropical campaign.

Most of the 90th’s aircraft had been grounded by the weather between 14 and 18 December, 1942. On the 15th December, 1942 a B-24 left Iron Range for Garbutt to collect a load of bomb fuses and flares. One of the crew, Staff Sergeant F.A. Matthews noted laconically in his diary:

Ran into bad weather on the way down. Mighty rough. We were grounded here until 18 December”.

About 10.30am on the morning of 18 December 1942, Matthews flew out of Garbutt to return to Iron Range. He makes no mention of the weather in his account of the return flight; presumably it was clear on their track and at their time of flight along the Queensland coast between Garbutt and Iron Range. An hour after they arrived they were away on a mission over New Guinea during which the weather claimed a 400 Squadron aircraft. Several others on the strike were forced back by a ferocious snowstorm over the Owen Stanley Ranges.

Some northbound aircraft that day passed Garbutt without landing. Captain Everett Woods and his crew had spent a month hanging about in Brisbane waiting for an aircraft. On 18th December 1942, they finally boarded their brand new B-24 and took off from Amberley outside Brisbane for Iron Range. It was very nearly their last flight. As Captain Woods reported:

… passing Townsville, we encountered bad weather, so I dropped down to sea level in an attempt to fly along the coast, but the visibility was zero, and there were so many mountains to the left of us, I proceeded to head out to sea. At 3000 feet I levelled off, not wishing to get too far from shore, and took up my old heading. Twenty minutes passed (blind) when my navigator screamed into the interphone that we had just missed a mountain on our right. This meant that for 20 minutes I had been flying over land that was covered with 4000-foot hills, while I was at 3000 feet. I immediately hit the throttles, increased the RPM and climbed out of danger, expecting at each moment to crash into an unseen mountain”.

1st Lieutenant James Gumaer also took off from Amberley on the morning of 18th December 1942, ferrying another new B-24 to Iron Range. Gumaer was the operations officer of 400 Squadron. After bringing a B-24 across the Pacific in early November 1942, he had taken part in several operations out of Iron Range. His crew on that December 1942 morning were Second Lieutenant Dewey Hooper (co-pilot), Second Lieutenant David Lowe (navigator), Technical Sergeant Waldo Kellner (engineer) and Staff Sergeant Walter Haydt (radio operator).

The aircraft that Gumaer was delivering was B-24 41-23825, built by Consolidated at its San Diego plant, the first of a run of 25 B-24 D-7’s. The Army Air Corps had taken delivery of her on 20th August 1942, at a cost to the US taxpayer of $287,276. On 3 November 1942, Gumaer and his B-24 left Hickham Field for the long flight across the Pacific Ocean. While the B-24 was at Amberley she had been modified by strengthening the nose strut. In the fashion of the day she bore a nickname, Texas Terror.

During the flight north along the east coast of Australia, Gumaer was diverted into Garbutt. The purpose of the diversion can only be guessed but while the crew were on the ground they collected a group of passengers for Iron Range, transients drawn from various arms and services scattered along the route to New Guinea.

The most senior of the passengers was Colonel Carroll Riggs, a West Pointer commanding the 197th Coastal Artillery. He had held the appointment since 26 June 1942 when the regiment had been deployed to protect Perth from Japanese aircraft. The regiment was now fulfilling the same function in Townsville but two batteries had been deployed to Iron Range. Colonel Riggs was paying his first visit to these detachments.

Accompanying Colonel Riggs was Lieutenant Raymond Dakin, also of the 197th, carrying money for the gunners who had not been paid since August 1942.

Captains Peter Kiple and Carl Silber were both members of the 8th Fighter Group stationed at New Guinea.

Lieutenant John Cooper was on attachment to the 19th Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bombardment Group.

The last member of the services to board the aircraft was Technician 4th Grade Michael Goldstrop of the 1156th Quarter Master Company.

One civilian completed the passenger list. He was Robert Trevithick, a representative of the Pratt & Whitney Division of the United Aircraft Corporation whose motors powered the B-24.

At a quarter past eight on the morning of 18th December 1942 the Texas Terror lifted off from Garbutt, disappeared into the overcast sky and passed from the knowledge of all people.

Searches were started immediately but no trace of the big bomber was found. Two clues came from civilian sources. About nine o’clock that morning while Ingham, 70 miles to the north of Townsville, was being lashed by a heavy storm, the residents heard an aircraft circling overhead. At roughly the same time the inhabitants of the small coastal settlements near Ingham reported having seen a flash high on the face of Mount Stralock on Hinchinbrook Island, just off the coast.

For several nights from then on there were reports of a flashing light on the shoulder of Mount Stralock. Workers in a nearby sugar mill claimed that in certain conditions they could see reflections from metal on Mount Stralock. The American and Australian authorities discounted these sightings. They considered the missing Texas Terror aircraft would have been much further north by 9am on the day she went missing.

The search was abandoned a month later. Hinchinbrook Island is extremely rugged, covered with dense tropical rainforest and uninhabited. The discovery of the missing aircraft might, except for the remotest of chances, have been delayed indefinitely.

It wasn`t until late in 1943 that Aborigines reported to authorities that they had discovered burnt US currency whilst scratching for tin in the creeks at the southern base of Mount Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island.

A search party found the plane on 7th January 1944 and the remains of the crew were removed and interred in the US Armed Forces Cemetery at Ipswich before they were disinterred and interred as a group at Fort McPherson National Cemetery, Nebraska.

Amongst the debris was also found a red stiletto heal shoe. Its presence is yet to be explained as there were no women listed in the crew.

The Texas Terror Memorial in Ingham was unveiled in 1999 and commemorates the American airmen who were killed in the crash of the B-24 Liberator Bomber in 1942.

On 18th December 2002, the 60th anniversary of the crash, a memorial commemorating the victims of the Texas Terror was unveiled at Borello Park, Lucinda.

A cross has also been erected at Mount Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island.

It is as well to remember, in the grand sweep of historical events, that the fighting and dying in the Second World War was done by individuals. Many of them died far from home and found their graves in unlikely places.

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.