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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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.
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 Retrialbegan 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.”
“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.)
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
‘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 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.
On 1 January 2021 the 1990 Queensland Cabinet Papers were released, including a Cabinet Minute on “Options in Relation to Daylight Saving”. The implementation of Daylight Saving in Queensland is a perennial issue that rears its head every 5 or 10 years.
In August 1989 the sun was setting on then National Party Queensland premier Mike Ahern’s parliamentary career. Having just survived a leadership spill within his own party, the National Party leader decided to go against his party’s advice and announce a one-year daylight saving trial. One of his last acts as premier was to introduce legislation to get the trial up and running by the summer of 1989.
On 2 December 1989, the sun set on 32 years of conservative rule in Queensland when 38-year old lawyer Wayne Goss claimed victory in a Labor won landside. Goss and Labor scored a 24-seat swing, the worst defeat of a sitting government up until that time in Queensland. Voters had clearly grown tired of the Joh era and the stench of corruption uncovered by Tony Fitzgerald QC. With the election of Goss and Labor, Queensland was rescued from the deep chasm of corruption, self-indulgence and arrogance it had fallen into.
Queensland had briefly used Daylight Saving during WW1 and again during WWII for three summers as a means to conserve fuel. Queensland again trialed Daylight Saving in the summer of 1971-1972. The Bjelke-Petersen government was of the view that Queensland’s geography was not suited to daylight saving.
The Goss government went ahead with the daylight saving trial over the summer of 1989-1990. The Daylight Savings Task Force identified that the “Brisbane and Moreton regions were clearly in favour of Daylight Saving but the other regions were not”. More than 89 per cent of written submissions were not in favour of daylight saving, with people citing the climate, family lifestyle, meals, television news, long days, skin cancer and primary production as reasons they opposed it. 1990 Cabinet Papers show the recommendation was the clocks only be wound forward in south-east Queensland.
In August 1990, cabinet agreed to introduce legislation to enact daylight saving across the state “on a permanent basis”. However the legislation was not to be enacted until the end of the three year trial extension.
A referendum on the issue held on 22 February 1992 asked the question: “Are you in favour of daylight saving?”. Queenslander’s came back with a 54.5 per cent “no” vote. Antony Green noted:
“In the 53 seats in the urban south east, the Yes vote won 60.6% to 39.4%, with the yes vote passing 70% in the southern Gold Coast. In the 36 seats covering the rest of the state, the Yes vote was clobbered 22.9% to 77.1% No.”
The implementation of Daylight Saving in Queensland is a perennial issue that rears its head every 5 or 10 years. It will never be accepted by Queenslanders outside South-East Queensland. The only option for establishing Daylight Saving in Queensland would require a two zone system. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh stated in 2010:
“I intend to be a Premier for the whole State – not just one part – therefore my Government will not introduce daylight saving in Queensland“.
It all began with the Daylight Saving fiasco in Queensland in 2016. The Queensland vote went against falling-in-line with the other eastern states, so the Federal Government intervened to force time consistency.
In hindsight, it is absurd how Queensland police enforced Federal Legislation by inspecting clocks in government buildings to check for time compliance. But absurdity and impossibilities stand side-by-side in a world where live piranhas in glass handbags are the celebrity fashion accessory of choice.
The crunch came in the summer of 2018. It became downright ugly when North Queenslanders, like my grandmother in Charters Towers, were busted for time cheating.
My Gran. So many clocks in her house. Gran loved clocks — clocks with chimes, clocks that dinged and donged on the hour and half-hour, a cuckoo clock, and even one with a cat on its face that gave a sickening meow every quarter hour.
But the most frustrating thing of all was that not one of these clocks kept the same time. In Gran’s home, time was never accurate but it could always be heard. I guess she never had to be anywhere at a set time. Her life was very fluid. Days merged into each other. Week days, weekends — they all had a sameness.
Not that Gran’s life wasn’t full and rich. But it wasn’t constrained by the work-a-day weeks that bind most of us. “Gran Time” we called it. For her, time was never uniform, singular or predictable. It was relative. To what, we never knew. But when she was told all her clocks had to be set to the new ‘Canberra Time’ you could almost hear the cogs in her mind synchronise for the coming battle.
Here’s the nub. The feisty old girl not only refused to turn forward her clock the mandated hour, but also started saving daylight.
I’d guess the sunshine hoarding was what alerted the Federal Time Marshal about Gran. It was all over the house. Drawers overflowing with it. Cupboards full. A spare room packed to the rafters with sunshine. Boxes of it stacked in the hallway and under the beds. And all her curtains faded from the inside.
My Gran had compensated for what had been taken from her by Federal intervention with her own sunshine bank. Who knew, though, what could be the effect of so much banked sunshine?
When the Time Marshal and the Queensland Police burst through Gran’s front door one Sunday morning they were first hit by a blinding burst of sunshine, then an overpowering smell of food that had rotted well before its expiry date. And there, sitting on her favourite blue-patterned sofa, wearing huge welding glasses, was my now teenage Gran, her internal body clock reversed from so much living within her own sunshine state.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marks the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front after the bloodshed of World War I. Over the past century, this moment has been adopted across the globe as a time to remember those who served and sacrificed in all wars and conflicts.
November is always a time of remembering. The Feast of Saints is held at the beginning of November and is now widely observed across the world to remember those recognised as today’s saints. This is followed by All Souls that encourages the remembering of those that have gone before us.
A few days later on 5th November is Guy Fawkes Night, which remembers the survival of James I from Guy Fawkes’ assassination plot when he attempted to blow up the House of Lords.
And of course, Remembrance Day held each year on 11 November for just over a century is when Australians ‘remember to remember’ and pause for one minute of silence at 11am to honour those who served.
More than 2000 Australian nurses served in the Australian Army Nursing Service during World War I. They may have been motivated by adventure or by loyalty to Australia and the British Empire – or held hopes that enlisting would take them closer to loved ones serving overseas.
Nurses worked in hospitals, on ships near battlefields inaccessible by land, on trains and in casualty clearing stations (makeshift wards close to the frontline). Nurses had to be aged between 25 and 40, and unmarried. Twenty-five Australian nurses died during the war and eight were awarded the Military Medal for bravery. One of these nurses was Sister Rosa O’Kane from Charters Towers, north Queensland.
Sister Rosa O’Kane, granddaughter of infamous nineteenth century newspaper editor Thadeus O’Kane, was born and raised in Charters Towers in the 1890s and into the new century. She trained as a nurse in Townsville and became a matron in western Queensland hospitals before World War 1.
Rosa signed up to train as a battlefield nurse in 1915 and was called up in 1917. On 11 November 1918 she was bound for Europe on the SS Wyreema to serve as part of the Australian Army Nursing Service when the Armistice was declared. Following her ship’s return to Perth, she volunteered to tend to World War 1 servicemen suffering from pneumonic-influenza, the Spanish Flu, who while returning to Australia on board the transport ship SS Boonah, were struck down with the ‘Flu’.
Between 1918 and 1920, pneumonic-influenza, commonly known as the Spanish Flu, plagued society. This pandemic caused more deaths than World War 1.
To prevent the spread of the Spanish Flu, those on-board the SS Boonah were unable to disembark and reunite with family for some time. Sister O’Kane was tending to soldiers at the Woodman Point Quarantine Station to the south of Fremantle, WA when she too became ill and died on 21 December 1918.
This extraordinary work at Woodman’s Point Quarantine Station in Western Australia in December 1918 was instrumental in maintaining the quarantine of Australia against the deadly influenza pandemic sweeping the world.
“From that moment in 1919 until the day of her death, Mrs O’Kane was in every respect a ‘war mother’ and no cause was ever so dear to her as that of the digger or the nursing sister. As each year passed she was an outstanding personality among those who organised the annual dinner (luncheon) in honour of soldiers on Anzac Day, and the aim or unanimity in public commemoration of Anzac Day was an objective for which she was an unceasing champion.”
Jeanie O’Kane, Rosa’s widowed mother, had been the editor of the Towers Herald for a couple of years after the death of her husband, John G. O’Kane (son of the infamous editor of the Northern Miner, Thadeus O’Kane) in the early 1890s. The O’Kane family comprising the widow Jeanie O’Kane, her daughter Rosa O’Kane and two younger brothers (including Frank O’Kane who was to serve in WW1) left Charters Towers in May 1898 when she returned to teaching with the Education Department. Over the next 12 months Jeannie O’Kane was appointed to a number of provincial Queensland schools, such as Liontown, Upper Olam (near Rockhampton, in the Dawson Valley), Scotchy Pocket (Gympie), and the Broughton (Charters Towers), with her eventually returning to Charters Towers, where she worked until her retirement at the Richmond Hill and Boys Central State Schools.
At the time it was common for a widow to receive a war pension if an unmarried son was killed during the war and the mother could show that she was a dependent. A decision needed to be made as to whether a widowed mother of a deceased and unmarried daughter should receive the same benefits.
On 6 June 1919, Jeanie O’Kane wrote an eloquent eight-page letter to the Governor of Queensland. In July 1919, the Governor’s Private Secretary replied with an expression of the sympathy from the Governor and his wife and their grief at hearing such sad news, as well as their apologies for being unable to assist Mrs O’Kane in her application for her late daughter’s pension as it was a federal matter.
“Both his excellency and Lady Goold-Adams were deeply grieved to learn of the death of your daughter whom they remembered very favourably at the Kangaroo Point Hospital, and they appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending such a fine photo of her”.
Then, after a lot of letter writing Jeanie was able to have Rosa’s effects forwarded to her in Charters Towers in September 1919.
Even without the support of the Governor, Rosa’s widowed mother continued to dispute the decision to refuse her the war pension.
On 18 November 1919, the acting Assistant Commissioner, Pensions and Maternity Allowance Office, Department of the Treasury, Melbourne queried the Officer-in-Charge, Base Records, Department of Defence, whether Rosa O’Kane was
appointed for service outside Australia on the date she was called up for duty on 27 November 1917, or, if not, on what date?
On 24 November 1919 the response from the Officer in Charge, Base Records was she embarked for active service abroad on 14 October 1918.
“as members of the Army Nursing Service are soldiers within the meaning of the Repatriation Act an application….may be accepted from Mrs. O’Kane”.
The, after she proved her dependence upon her late daughter during the 12 months before Rosa’s enlistment, her claim was reassessed and she was granted a pension of two pounds per fortnight.
The impressive letter-writing skills of the ex-editor and school teacher Jeannie O’Kane were evident on 9 June 1921 when she demanded the Australian Imperial Force Base Records forward her daughter Rosa’s medals to her, as she was her next-of-kin, as stated in her enrolment form. Even though the ‘Deceased Soldiers Estates Act 1918’ argued medals went to nearer blood relations than a mother first, she was also successful in achieving this request in honour of her daughter.
The death of Rosa O’Kane prompted her home town of Charters Towers to fund a monument to her thousands of kilometres away to the south of Fremantle in Western Australia. It was intended to embody all who died in the Great World War.
“Sister O’Kane’s grave, with a headstone erected by the patriotic committee of Charters Towers in memory of her magnificent self-sacrifice, is in the only military cemetery in Australia— that at Woodman’s Point— and each Anzac Day a contingent of returned soldiers visits the cemetery and places wreathes on the graves of the three nurses who made the supreme sacrifice.”
The WA Defence Department wanted to transfer O’Kane’s remains to Karrakatta cemetery as her story had become of great interest to the community, but her mother Jeannie O’Kane
‘would not have the remains disturbed’.
The bodies of Rosa O’Kane and Hilda Williams remain at Woodman Point Quarantine Station rather than the Military Cemetery at Karrakatta, the former marked by an impressive granite obelisk, and the latter by a simple wooden cross.
In the century since 1919, the surroundings have overgrown with bushland, but the graves are maintained by the Friends of Woodman Point Recreation Camp. The Quarantine Station is open to the public with Friends of Woodman Point Recreation Camp.
The Miner’s Cottage in central Charters Towers where Jeannie O’Kane lived for many years has become a museum that houses an extensive collection of Australiana, Antiques, Collectables and Curios.
Today is the day to remember Rosa O’Kane and all nurses who have died caring for others, and their mothers who kept their memories alive.
Queenslanders took the day off work today, not in recognition of their hard work, but to recognise a monarch who will most likely be sleeping through the public holiday held in her name.
Australian’s love their public holidays even if the reason for the occasion is a little vague. For goodness sake, we even have a public holiday in Melbourne for a horse race and in Brisbane for an agricultural show. Nevertheless, the Queen’s birthday purpose is the most vague of them all.
But where are the community events with Queenslanders feasting on finger sandwiches, washed down with a pot of Earl Grey tea, followed in the afternoon with re-watching The Crown. The lack of any public activity around the Queen’s Birthday Queen’s Birthday public holiday shows how the concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia.
National Director of the Australian Republic Movement (ARM) Sandy Biar said the Queen’s official website indicates the date didn’t rate a mention at Buckingham Palace:
“The head of our country should be someone who lives here, is proud to be an Australian and is in touch with Australians.
Apparently more than 5.1 million Australians holding a day in the Queen’s honour still isn’t enough to get the attention of Buckingham Palace. It’s time the day was set aside to honour those who would truly appreciate it instead, such as our frontline service men and women and volunteers”.
So, on the day more than 5.1 million Queenslanders acknowledge the ‘Birthday of the Sovereign’, the Queen and Buckingham Palace appear not to be aware about it at all. Despite an entire day being set aside in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, Queensland’s tribute – the state named in honour of her great-great-grandmother – seems to have gone entirely unnoticed.
It has always seemed absurd that Australians acknowledge the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II at a completely different time to her actual birthday. Around Australia in 2020, the Queen’s Birthday public holiday will be held on the second Monday in June — except in WA on Monday, 30 September and in Queensland on Monday, 5 October,
Queen Elizabeth II will turn 94 on Tuesday, 21 April 2020. You have to wonder when will she be allowed to put up her feet? Most 93-year-olds are long retired, but not that trouper the Queen. My grandmother will be 95 later this year. She’s a hardy soul, but there’s no way she would be up to the frantic pace needed to be a world leader. Even though retirement plans for many people keep going further and further beyond 60, Queen Elizabeth II has still well and truly exceeded this. Prince Philip was able to officially retire in August 2017 at 96 after his dramatic announcement of his intention to retire from active royal duties in May 2018. So surely it’s time for the British monarch to step down and start having afternoon naps.
After the election of the LNP Newman Government in 2012, until its shock electoral loss in January 2015, there was a steady outpouring of ideological revisionism aimed at bolstering the concept of monarchy in Queensland. During 2011, there had been widespread consultation by the Bligh Labor Government on changing the public holiday system in Queensland. It was agreed, in 2012, that Labour Day would remain in May and the Queen’s Birthday public holiday would move from June to the first weekend in October, while retaining a one-off Queen’s Diamond Jubilee public holiday in June 2012. However, Australia completely ignored the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
All this was thrown out the window later in 2012 when legislation was passed through the Queensland Parliament by the newly elected LNP Newman Government to move the 2013 Labour Day public holiday from the historically traditional 1 May to the first Monday in October and the Queen’s Birthday public holiday back to its previous June timing. The change in attitude towards the public holiday timetabling suggested the Newman Government was determined to take a conservative monarchical stand. With the election of the Palaszczuk Labor Government in Queensland in 2015, one of the first actions was changing the Queen’s Birthday public holiday for 2016 to the first Monday in October and restoring the Labour Day public holiday to the first Monday in May. With this move Queensland had become a little less ‘Queenie’, but no one seemed to have noticed the move.
Surely, this must be the most irrelevant and outdated of all public holidays? Although the Queen’s Birthday public holiday is observed as a mark of respect to the Sovereign, there are never any public celebrations or community engagement around it whatsoever. The Queen’s Birthday holidays don’t remind us of anything good about our country. At worst, they tell us Australia’s head of state gets the job by inheritance and that Australians are subjects of a foreign crown — the opposite of democracy and liberty. The lack of any public activity in Australia around the Queen’s Birthday holiday is a clear example of how much the entire concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia. It appears Australians will turn out and show respect to the Queen when she is here but when she is not, then the concept of monarchy becomes irrelevant. Australians may like the celebrity surrounding the monarch and the royal family when they visit Australia but are then totally uninterested in any form of royal celebration when the “party girl” is not here. You can’t have a party without the “party girl” — which brings up the issue of an absent head of state.
We have our own identity as Australians. The Royals represent Britain, but cannot represent us or unite us as Australians. Australians believe in freedom and equal opportunity, not that some are born to rule over others. Monarchist’s can prattle on endlessly about how retaining the monarchy brings stability and is cheaper than having a homegrown head of state and the like. But when you boil it all down, you can’t escape the fact there’s something a little unnatural about a grown child of, shall we say, 230 years, still electing to live in mummy’s back bedroom.
It is a disgraceful fact that without constitutional change the citizens of Australia will not even be consulted on our next head of state. Since his birth, Prince Charles has known he will take over the top job. One morning we will simply wake up to hear news from England that will change our country for decades to come.
Deciding to pack our bags and finally leave our Buckingham Palace nursery room isn’t being rude to the Queen. It’s just the natural order of things and the Queen has reportedly acknowledged as much to past prime ministers. We can have respect and affection for Britain and its celebrity royals but still question why we do not have our own head of state. The royals are welcome to visit as representatives of Britain, but I look forward to when the British people and their royal family will welcome a visit by the first Australian head of state.
How many more Ashes tours must we endure with the Barmy Army taunting us with their song, ‘God Save Your Queen’? Time to cut the apron strings, assert our independence and let one of our own people serve as Australian Head of State.
For the past nine years I’ve been arguing the lack of any public activity around the Queen’s birthday shows how the concept of monarchy is out-of-step with contemporary Australia.
THE FIRST DAY OF SEPTEMBER has many names. Some welcome it as spring’s dawn, a time to celebrate nature’s renewal. For others, it is National Wattle Day — a time when the smells of spring are in the air as well as Australia’s vivid gold blossom.
In Australia, the wattle is the largest genus of flowering plants. In Australia, you could plant two or three different wattles for every day of the year and still have plenty left over, for Australia has more acacia species than the year has days. These acacias are extremely diverse and found in habitats from rainforest to arid lands.
I have written before on how Wattle Day is celebrated annually on the first day of spring. A sprig of Australia’s national floral emblem, the golden wattle – Acacia pycnantha – is traditionally worn on the first day of spring. The green and gold of wattle leaves and blossoms were declared our national colours in 1984; in 1988, the wattle was adopted as the official national flower; and National Wattle Day was formally declared on 1 September 1992.
Australians may have made a home for themselves among the gum trees, but it is the wattle tree that has found its way into Australian republican symbolism. In 1993, the Australian Republic Movement gave its support to Wattle Day celebrations being held throughout Australia on 1 September. Wattle captures something crucial to the success of the republic — feeling for country. It is a unifying symbol.
September 1 marks the 28th anniversary of the declaration of National Wattle Day, as well as the 27th anniversary of the Australian Republic Movement giving its support to National Wattle Day celebrations throughout Australia.
Wattle Day has been celebrated annually on the first day of spring since 1910. However, the first known use of wattle as a meaningful emblem in the Australian colonies was in Hobart Town in 1838, when a resident suggested wearing a sprig of wattle to celebrate the golden jubilee of the landing at Sydney Cove. In this seemingly small gesture lay a suggestion of an independent Australia.
Wattle is a broad and inclusive symbol of an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry. It grows in all parts of Australia, differing varieties flowering throughout the year. This democracy of wattles – the fact that they grow in all states – was the overpowering reason why the wattle and not the waratah was chosen as the floral emblem in the early 20th Century.
Wattle celebrations first arose as occasions when earlier generations of Australians stood up and said: “I am from this land. This place is home.”
It is a symbol that comes directly from our land. Wattle is Australian and represents us all. Like the Southern Cross, the appeal of wattle is not first and foremost to the idea of nation — but to the idea of place.
We could link National Wattle Day, with Australia Day as joint days on which we celebrate Australia, this land, its waters and environment, its people and our nation. National Wattle Day would not compete with Australia Day, rather it would complete Australia Day. It would do what Wattle has always done — unite us.
Perhaps we could also see its blossoms as a metaphor for the land waving its flag to remind us to care properly for it. It is precisely wattle’s long presence in and deep association with the land that sets it apart as a national symbol and endows it with added meaning.
Wattle touches all levels of society.
Early pioneers and World War I diggers were buried with a customary sprig of wattle. Then Governor-General Sir William Deane took wattle blossoms to Switzerland to commemorate young Australians who died there. Prime Minister John Howard also wore sprigs of wattle at ceremonies after the Bali bombings.
“…wattle has journeyed with us in kitbags, pockets and letters to places that become synonymous with our shared story; be they Gallipoli, Kokoda or Swiss canyons.”
Australian athletes wear wattle-inspired green and gold uniforms and those honoured with an Order of Australia receive awards with an insignia designed around the wattle flower.
Let’s all take a moment this National Wattle Day and reflect on the wattle flower which symbolises an egalitarian, classless, free citizenry.
So, when the blaze of wattle lights up the Australian landscape each year, let’s all remember that the wattle is a symbol of our land that unites us all.
The golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha is already our national floral emblem. Why not extend the symbolism a step further? Wattle Day may be the answer to the debate around celebrating Australia Day on January 26. Spring represents hope and renewal, so needed in our nation right now and in the foreseeable future. But above all, 1 September would be so much more inclusive.