Digging up Matthew Flinders

There’s been a bit of noise about Matthew Flinders’ grave just recently. There are plans to extend the very fast train system from London to the north of England, and to do this, a lot of Euston Station and its surroundings will be dug up and redeveloped.

This includes the old graveyard of St James’ Church, where about 61,000 bodies were buried, Flinders included. Some of the graveyard was dug up during the 19th century during various expansions of the station, so many of these bodies have already disappeared. Apparently when his widow died in 1852, her sister looked for the grave but couldn’t find it. The first expansion of Euston Station was then underway.

Matthew Flinders portrait

Matthew Flinders watercolour miniature, c.1800, from State Library of New South Wales

The Victorians tended to take a brutally unsentimental attitude to such things, as the old music hall song suggests:

They’re moving grandpa’s grave to build a sewer,
They’re moving it regardless of expense.
They’re taking his remains, to put in 9-inch drains,
To irrigate some rich bloke’s residence.

In Australia, Flinders is one of the best-known naval explorers, so it’s a bit startling to find a 2014 article in the (English) Guardian announcing the erection of a statue at Australia House ‘to the most famous navigator you’ve probably never heard of’.

I don’t suppose many people these days read Ernestine Hill, My Love Must Wait (1941), a fictionalized life of Matthew Flinders, but when it was first published it was a bestseller, and it was commonly set as a text book in Australian schools. The Esplanade at the end of my street in Sandgate was renamed Flinders Parade at about this time, and Flinders became a common place name. He shares with only James Cook, John Monash, Charles Darwin and Charles Sturt, the honour of having a university named after him.

It helps to have a cat, too.

To the memory of Trim

One of my favourite Flinders stories comes from early in his exploring career. In 1798, he and Bass sailed south to circumnavigate Tasmania. This was an important matter: if the southernmost tip of the continent was a separate island, it wasn’t covered by Cook’s original claim of possession. On their way back, they stopped somewhere along the Ninety Mile Beach, where they came across a group of Aboriginal people feasting on a beached whale.

Soon afterward a man made his appearance. He was of middle age, unarmed, except for a whaddie, or wooden scimitar, and came up to us seemingly with careless confidence. We made much of him, and gave him some biscuit; and he in turn presented us with a piece of gristly fat, probably of whale. This I tasted; but watching an opportunity to spit it out when he should not be looking, I perceived him doing precisely the same thing with our biscuit. (Matthew Flinders, 7 October 1798)

I like the parallel revulsion of the two men towards each others’ gifts of food – whale blubber and ship’s biscuit – and their equal politeness in trying to spit them out discreetly.

Flinders married Ann Chappelle in 1801, intending to take her out to Australia with him on his next voyage of exploration. It was not uncommon for the captain’s wife to sail with her husband, though it was controversial. (Jane Austen covers the debate in Persuasion, set just a few years later.) In this case the Admiralty chastised Flinders for taking Ann aboard, and she was not allowed to go out with him. On his way home from New South Wales, the French Governor of Mauritius detained Flinders there, and it was 9 years before Ann saw her husband again.

By then she was 40. In 1812 she gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Anne. Flinders managed to get A voyage to Terra Australis published just before he died in 1814, but the book had less impact than he would have hoped, because the record of the Baudin expedition had already been published. (François Péron Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes (1807; English translation 1809).

Flinders’ widow and daughter lived on in genteel poverty. For years they pleaded with the British Government for a pension in acknowledgement of Flinders’ work and early death, but as the Guardian article suggests, Flinders was forgotten in his native land. It was only in 1853 that the two colonial governments of New South Wales and Victoria agreed to grant an annuity of £100 per year to the Flinders family.

Ann Flinders had died the year before. That same year, at the age of 40, her daughter Anne married an engineer, William Petrie. Like her mother, she had one child, a son, born at an age – 41 – when childbirth was very dangerous for older women. She named him William after his father, and Matthew Flinders after her own father.

Anne was a scholar of sorts. In 1845, under the pseudonym Philomathes, she published a book, The Connexion between Revelation and Mythology Illustrated and Vindicated, which shows her fascination with Egyptian mythology. She also wrote essays for periodicals under the initials “X.Q.’ Her husband William Petrie was a scientist who took an early interest in electricity and magnetism, and is credited with inventing an early arc light. These two scholarly, aging parents taught their only son at home, using the colonial annuity of £100 per year to enhance his education. He was interested in science and mathematics, but also fascinated, as his parents were, by Egypt. He first went out there in 1880.

He didn’t use his first names, so few people know of the connection, but he eventually became a good deal more famous than his eminent grandfather, in Britain at least. Perhaps there’s an irony in the fact that if archaeologists dig up the graveyard in St James’s Gardens, they will do so according to scientific principles of archaeology that were first laid down by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in his ‘small but epoch-making book’, Methods and Aims in Archaeology (1904).

Pauline Hanson and Alpacas

My sister lives outside Pomona, a small township in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. One Saturday, nearly 20 years ago, we decided to go to the agricultural show together in the neighbouring town of Cooroy.

I love agricultural shows – not the big commercial jobs like the Ekka or the Royal Easter, full of overpriced rides and rip-off show bags – but the small local affairs. These used to be a staple of every small town, with the CWA selling tea and sandwiches, reps demonstrating new harvesters and post-hole diggers, and competitions for the best cakes and fat lambs.

They are now a dying breed, like the fat lambs. Tastes have changed, from cake stalls to sausage sizzles, and farmers buy their agricultural machinery after doing their research on the web. (Or they do in South East Queensland – my sister has the NBN, whereas I’m still waiting for it here on the outskirts of Brisbane.)

In 1998, Cooroy teetered on the edge of the new economy. Since then the butter factory has reopened as an Arts Space, the timber mill has closed, but there’s a new microbrewery. The area is full of refugees from high house prices, not just in Brisbane, but from Sydney and Melbourne as well, and telecommuters in the knowledge economy are thick on the ground. People from the other, older economy have been left behind. Within an hour’s drive of Noosa are some of the poorest postcodes in Queensland.

The Cooroy Show should have rung clearer bells, though at the time I just found it curious that, amongst the cakes and cultivators, 2 groups stood out: there were several booths advertising the One Nation Party, which was just gearing up for the Queensland election, and there were alpacas wherever you looked. Both were attracting queues.

I’ve always associated Pauline Hanson with alpacas ever since: the short curly topknot, the stiff neck and square jaw, fiercely defensive of the group they are protecting, the tendency to spit…. And then there are those cute alpacas.

The people in the queues at Cooroy in the late 1990s were at the end of their tether, their way of life under threat from economic changes they could not control. Dairying was failing, the timber industry too, the market for canned pineapples and vegetables had shrunk. At the same time, big producers were taking over strawberries and tomatoes, with the capital to install hothouses and hydroponics. (James Ashby was spokesman for one of these new strawberry farms, at Beerwah, when its hydroponics system was mysteriously poisoned.)

Suri-alpaca

Suri alpacas, from Wikipedia

The salesmen with their alpacas appealed to desperate people. Australians have always had a tendency to seize on new agricultural fads in their never-ending ‘search for a staple’, the Next Big Thing, ever since John Macarthur imported merino sheep in a ship he renamed the Argo in honour of the Golden Fleece. Some of these products, like merinos, took off. Most become at best a niche market, some disappear entirely. Remember when jojoba beans were a Thing?

The first alpacas were imported into Australia in 1858. A few years earlier, the NSW Governor and the businessman Thomas Mort decided that alpacas might be the New Big Thing. They asked Charles Ledger, an Englishman who bred alpacas in Peru, to import some of the animals and he finally arrived in Sydney with a group of South American shepherds and a flock of over 200 alpacas, llamas and vicunas, after a hair-raising journey (for men and beasts alike) from Peru to Bolivia to Argentina to Chile and finally across the Pacific to NSW.

Unfortunately by the time he arrived, the Government had changed and nobody was interested in alpacas any longer. Henry Parkes took his daughter Clarinda to see some of them at the Sydney Domain.

At Cooroy the slick alpaca salesmen didn’t talk about wool or meat – or even the alpaca’s potential value as a guardian animal amongst a herd of sheep. They talked about how valuable they were as breeding animals, because after buying high, next year the farmer could sell on their offspring for equally high prices. It was all a bit like a pyramid scheme – but for desperate people the promise of breeding alpacas represented the last throw of the dice.

At the One Nation booths there were also slick salesmen. Those people filling in forms and paying their money thought they were signing up as members of the new political party – it later turned out they were just ‘supporters’, with no input into party policy, and in 2002 the party was deregistered for not having the necessary 500 members.

Like alpacas, though, the One Nation Party represented a last throw of the dice. A few years later, their neighbours in Fairfax elected a noisy, plausible businessman, Donald-Trump-lite Clive Palmer.

In The Saturday Paper [paid link] yesterday, Karen Middleton has a fascinating article about ‘One Nation’s business model’. She quotes a number of disaffected ex-PHON party members from Western Australia. ‘It’s not a political party’, said a former president of the WA branch, Lyn Vickery. ‘Most political parties under the electoral act are supposed to be incorporated associations. That’s what the electoral commission prefers. This is in fact a business. And in fact it’s a pyramid business, much like Amway.’

The trouble with pyramid schemes is that they depend on growth. Without constantly expanding, they invariably collapse. A pity most of them aren’t as cute as alpacas.

Open House in Brisbane 2016

Next weekend (8-9 October) is Open House, Brisbane, when a wide variety of buildings are thrown open to the public.

open-house-2016

The idea began in England, where there has been an Open House London since 1992, but in the last few years the idea has spread more widely. Melbourne has been involved since 2008, and in all other capitals as well – Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth now have open days as well. Nothing yet in Darwin, by the look of it, and I haven’t checked out our regional cities.

The aim is to open up interesting buildings that are not normally accessible to the general public. Private institutions such as clubs and societies, government offices, commercial buildings that are old, or beautiful, or interesting – or all three – are open for us, the curious public, to have an annual snoop around.

I was lucky enough to be in London one year, quite accidentally, on its Open House weekend. With more preparation and more stamina, I might have seen more, but as it was, I spent a happy hour or so pottering around Marlborough House. The building is now the Commonwealth Secretariat, and usually closed to visitors.

Marlborough House was built as a town house for John and Sarah Churchill, first Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and is just the sort of pied-à-terre you might expect from a couple whose idea of a country shack was Blenheim Palace. Marlborough House wallows in stucco ornamentation, gilded cornices and chandeliers. Sarah Churchill first hired Sir Christopher Wren – as you do – but sacked him, presumably for not being sufficiently over the top. John Churchill may have beaten Louis XIV’s armies on the field, but Louis got his own back architecturally. Along the rear of the building is a long gallery which was clearly influenced by Versailles’s gallerie des glaces.

This room is now the main conference room, and it is almost entirely filled with an enormous table, large enough so that every member of the British Commonwealth can sit down together in a round table discussion. Except that the table is not round, but an extended oval. The seating is arranged alphabetically around the circumference, from A to Z, starting at the middle of one long side. This arrangement means that M for Malta can happily chat across the narrow axis to A for Antigua or Z for Zambia, but G for Guyana might have difficulty communicating with S for Singapore along the long axis.

When I was there about 15 years ago, relations between Australia and Malaysia were still tetchy* after years of very personal antagonism between Prime Ministers Paul Keating of Australia and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, and visions of them glowering at each other across the table during heads of government meetings really made my day. So it was a bit of a disappointment to learn that Keating and Mahathir never met there, and the seating is laid out as it was at a much earlier Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1969.

As the role of the Commonwealth inevitably declines, no doubt eventually Marlborough House will be recycled once again. Goodness knows what they’ll do with that table. They will need to break it up to get it out the door, but I suppose that’s how they got it in there in the first place.

Meanwhile, Brisbane’s Open House day offers some interesting possibilities, though there will be fewer nymphs, and less stucco generally. Tattersall’s Club has a splendid Daphne Mayo frieze, the Masonic Memorial Temple has terrific black and white marble decorations, and the former Treasury Building, now the Treasury Heritage Hotel, includes a tour of the office of the Minister for Lands.

It should be a good weekend.

*They are again, thanks to the Hooray Henrys at the Formula 1 race the other day.

Apologies – this is an update of my post from 2013. Three years ago I was complaining that neither Sydney nor Hobart had Open House days – now they do 🙂
On the other hand, the Irish Club, which I urged people to visit 3 years ago, has since closed 😦

For another, architectural, perspective on the Open House phenomenon, this article by Susan Holden in The Conversation is worth reading.

The Currency of Corruption

The Labor Party has now lost 2 shadow ministers since the election on 2 July, which suggests a high level of carelessness. Nobody seems to know yet just why Stephen Conroy decided to leave, but the reasons for Sam Dastyari’s resignation are hideously clear – accepting money from a Chinese donor to pay a $A1600 travel bill – and 2 bottles of Grange. He listed these in the donor register as ‘two bottles of wine’ and says he subsequently gave them to a charity auction.

It’s all a bit sordid, not least because the sums involved are so small. It reminds me a bit of that line in A Man for All Seasons, when Thomas More learns that Richard Rich has given perjured evidence against him in return for the job of Attorney-General for Wales: ‘It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world – but for Wales, Richard?’

For $1600 and a couple of bottles of Grange, Sam?

One can only hope that Andrew Leigh is finally getting an appropriate salary, which he missed out on when, for arcane factional reasons, the size of the shadow ministry blew out to 31.

Political gifts are curious things, and you can waste a pleasant hour at the moment googling the name of any Australian politician and the word ‘Grange’. In a depressing number of cases, up pops a gift bottle. The most famous recent examples are Dastyari and, before him, the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, who says he forgot all about the gift, but nonetheless resigned when his thank you note popped up. Other recipients, though, include Peter Costello, who received ‘a 6-pack’ in 2008, Kevin Rudd in 2006, and just maybe Tony Abbott in 2015/6.

Women don’t seem to get bottles of plonk in the same way – Julie Bishop and Tania Plibersek seem to be cleanskins, and the top item under ‘Julia Gillard + Grange’ shows her visiting the Milford Grange Retirement Community before the 2011 election – which is either admirable or sad, depending on your point of view.

grange2001

Penfolds Grange, for anyone living on another planet, is widely touted as Australia’s best wine. It is expensive, but it can always be described, on the politician’s register of gifts, as ‘a bottle of wine’, just as a Rolex can be just ‘a watch’.

Naturally it is very expensive, especially the older bottles, so Penfolds has designed a dinky little website to let buyers type in the date they want – here. O’Farrell’s bottle of Grange dates from 1959, his birth year, but sadly the system crashes if I enter my birthdate, which dates back earlier than the first Grange production. Sigh.

Unlike cash, a political gift is not intended to buy a politician outright, but to sweeten him up, to remind him – as he sips his wine or glances at his watch – of good old so-and-so. Often, the gift is an investment in the future. A strategic gift to a rising star in the opposition – Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, Sam Dastyari – is like laying down a bottle of good wine to drink at some time in the future.

There are fashions in political gifts, as in other things. Sometimes cash is king. Lawyers still wear robes with a feature known as the ‘money bag’, a thin strip of material trailing down the front of the gown and the remainder of a ‘pocket’ on the back. Once upon a time – say, in Thomas More’s time – the lawyer would turn his back and pull on the strap to jingle the bag, ‘reminding’ the client that payment was due. English wigmakers (and professional spoilsports) Ede and Ravenscroft say the money bag is just the remnant of a monastic hood.

Usually though, the idea is to gently remind the recipient of a mutually advantageous friendship.

In the early 19th century, the Macarthur family perfected the art of the political gift. In 1804 John Macarthur’s fortunes turned when the Colonial Secretary, Lord Camden, authorized a land grant, which he named Camden Park. Keeping sweet with Lord Camden and his secretary George Watson-Taylor was important, so when his son Edward sailed to England in 1808, he took with him a menagerie of Australian wildlife to distribute strategically to potential allies.

Emus and chicks

Emus from John Gould, The Birds of Australia

Lady Castlereagh (wife of the Colonial Secretary) got two emus. It’s unlikely the poor birds survived for very long at Mount Stewart, the Castlereagh estate in Northern Ireland. A black swan and a goose also survived the voyage to be presented to Lady Camden – since Camden was no longer in office, she didn’t rate a matched pair. But they missed out on a pair of bronze-wing pigeons because Watson-Taylor thought ‘that too many presents at one time would overdo the business’ – and possibly coveted the birds himself, for Edward gave him ‘a very handsome present in the bird way’. ‘I have made several [presents] to different people’, Edward added, ‘and have not parted with all yet’.

More than a decade later, the Macarthurs were still greasing the wheels. George Watson-Taylor finally got a pair of black swans in 1821, and two years later John Macarthur Jr sent the junior minister at the Colonial Office, Robert Wilmot Horton, a number of kangaroo skins to make into boots: ‘It resembles dog skin, but is much more durable’.

Boots and swans; wine and watches. Fashions change but the objective remains the same – a valuable and exotic gift that will remind the politician of his friends, but if necessary can remain virtually anonymous. When Robert Wilmot Horton climbed the stairs of the Colonial Office in his kangaroo-skin boots, he could revel in their uniqueness, but nobody else would know. It was just a friendly gift, after all, without a hint of corruption. The gift of shares in the Australian Agricultural Company, on which he turned a quick profit of £12,000, were perhaps another matter.

References: Edward Macarthur’s gifts are discussed in S.Macarthur-Onslow, Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (1914)
John Macarthur Jr.’s gifts are recorded in the Macarthur Papers (Mitchell Library) and the Willmot-Horton Papers (Derbyshire Record Office).

An 1840 Wedding at Parramatta

On 9 September 1840, Patrick Leslie married Kate McArthur in the Anglican church in Parramatta. Kate was 22, Patrick would be 25 in a few weeks, and they had been engaged for over 3 years. Their marriage had been delayed again and again because Patrick and his uncle, my Walter Davidson had quarreled. Davidson sacked Patrick as manager of his property, leaving his nephew without a suitable home to which he could bring his bride.

The details of the quarrel are too complicated to go into here – you’ll have to read the book! – but Davidson sold the property – Collaroy station, in the Upper Hunter – to a cousin, Edward Hamilton, who arrived in New South Wales in early 1840. Meanwhile Patrick set out to find a new squatting run for his younger brothers on the Darling Downs. Leaving Walter Leslie and some servants on their new station on the Condamine, Patrick rushed back to Sydney to register their squatting run, which he did in August.

Then he finally married Kate.

I’ve spent most of the last week struggling to read the 13-page account of her wedding written by her sister Libby to send to Patrick’s mother in Scotland. I suspect I may be the first person who has read the letter since it did the rounds of the Leslie family during 1841. Libby’s handwriting is dreadful, and most pages are crossed, a method of squeezing as much as possible onto the page to save on the cost of postage. ‘Are you tired of this scrawl,’ Libby asks at one point – and I most definitely was.

But Patrick’s wedding is a key set piece in my book, the final scene in in the second-last chapter, the point at which the two families I have been following – the Macarthur family in New South Wales, and Walter Davidson’s extended family in Britain – were united in marriage.

Kate’s parents were Hannibal McArthur (nephew of John Macarthur) and Anna Maria King (daughter of Governor King), so she belonged to the colonial elite, but the wedding was a surprisingly low-key event, probably because they had very little time to plan ahead for the big day. The wedding was held in the morning, followed by a big celebration at the Macarthur’s estate, Vineyard, a few miles out of Parramatta.

The Vineyard, Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur's estate at Parramatta

The Vineyard, Parramatta, by Conrad Martens, 1840, from Wikipedia

The bride and groom soon left, but the party continued, with many of the guests staying overnight. Patrick and Kate spent their first few nights at Hannibal’s holiday home at Clovelly before going to Dunheved, Uncle King’s estate, which Patrick had rented while King was the resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens.

Phillip Parker King's estate, Dunheved

View of Dunheved, New South Wales, by Conrad Martens, 1837, from Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences between this wedding in 1840 and a wedding celebration these days. In some ways they are quick alike. The toasts and speeches haven’t changed much, nor has the sense that the groom, with one best man, was outcompeted by the bride with her host of bridesmaids. The fashionable clothes are much the same, even to the mother-of-the-bride’s outfit in – yurk – violet. Kate didn’t throw a bouquet, but the business with ‘Papa’s wedding ring’ seems to follow the same rules of pre-planned prediction – everyone knew that Mary was going to marry Patrick’s friend Hugh Gordon as soon as he returned from China.

I think in the days of My Kitchen Rules, we are more preoccupied with food than Libby seems to have been, although I suspect their ‘cold collation’ was pretty similar to our rubber chicken – and prepared without refrigeration, too. Less similar is the sheer size of Kate’s family – she had 5 sisters and 5 brothers, most of whom were present.

There’s something about family celebrations that brings out the best and worst in the human condition. That’s why suicide rates go up around Christmas, people fall in love at their friends’ weddings, and fights break out after funerals. Libby’s letter is full of the joy of the big event – but below the surface were a seething mass of tensions, only some of which were evident at the time.

The most obvious tension was between the two branches of the Macarthur family. The ‘Camden Macarthurs’ and the ‘Vineyard McArthurs’ took opposing positions in the quarrel between Patrick Leslie and Walter Davidson, and the families were becoming estranged. They even used different spellings of their name! But Hannibal was John Macarthur’s nephew, so John’s children should have been at their cousin’s wedding. John Macarthur’s widow, Elizabeth, was a friend of ‘Grandmama’ – Anna Josepha King – but she was also an old lady, and could be excused attendance, and her eldest daughter was always treated as an invalid. James’s absence was another matter, and his wife Emily could surely have got there too, though her baby was only born the previous May.

There were other tensions too. The Leslie brothers, the McArthur brothers and Robert McKenzie were all beneficiaries of the squatting boom, but the economic situation was about to go very bad indeed. Their friend Stuart Donaldson was a businessman in Sydney, supplying their stations and selling their wool on consignment. This made him their creditor – and it would be many years before he ever got his money back.

Finally there were the absent brothers. Walter Leslie missed the wedding because he was holding the fort on the Darling Downs – pretty much literally. The first building they put up there was made of stone, the better to resist attack by Aborigines, with windows just large enough to fire a gun. ‘It is a lovely place & there have been no blacks seen on our run for 18 months’, wrote Patrick ominously less than 2 years later. Meanwhile the oldest brother, William Leslie, was in Macao where he was a partner in Dent & Co, one of the biggest opium traders in the business. News from China was scarce in September 1840 because of the First Opium War. Libby clearly thought this war with China would be good for trade.

For those who may be interested, I’ve attached the whole of Libby’s letter below – there are still a few words that defeat me, and I’d be grateful for any clues/guesses as to what they may be. Libby’s punctuation is erratic. I’ve adjusted accordingly, and added paragraphs to make it easier to read.

Continue reading

Heather Radi (1929-2016)

The Australian historian Heather Radi died recently in Sydney. She taught Australian history at the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney for many years, and she was on the board of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

I only met Heather a few times, but I knew of her from when I first began work in the History Department at the University of Queensland in 1970, for Heather had preceded me there during the 1950s, as a student and as a research assistant, and long after she left on a scholarship to the London School of Economics, people still talked about her fondly – and sometimes rather nervously.

photo of Heather Radi

Heather Radi, portrait in Dawson and Radi, Against the Odds

Heather was born on a settler block at Mt Tamborine in 1929. Now it is just an hour’s drive from Brisbane, but then the area was quite remote. She was the first of her family to get to university. Unlike most historians, she was good at mathematics, and might have done maths rather than history at university but for the flip of a coin.

After graduating, she went teaching briefly, and hated it. So did I. Then she worked as a research assistant for Professor Gordon Greenwood. So did I.

Those were the days of the God-Professor, whose power within his (with only one exception* always his) department was absolute. Professors like Greenwood kept a stable – I use the term advisedly – of female research assistants who prepared the raw materials for his work. (Greenwood was not the only one – I’ve always wanted to know more about the near-invisible research assistants who helped shape Manning Clark’s multi-volume history.)

In 1984, Heather wrote, ‘The professor exploited me of course as it was my work which enabled him to publish as much as he did, with a few words of acknowledgement in the final paragraph of the preface.’ When I joined the history department it was common knowledge that Heather had written most of the chapter on the 1920s that appeared under Greenwood’s name in Australia: A Social and Political History (1955). This was particularly unfair, not just academically but financially as well, because Australia was a text book that sold widely, went into a second edition, and no doubt earned Greenwood a good deal of money.

The upside of the arrangement was that Heather could write a thesis at the same time. She says:

To compensate for my low salary, I was permitted one day a week to work for a postgraduate degree. I was allowed to enrol for a topic so close to that which I was employed to research that the distinction of when I worked for the professor and when I worked for me was merely a notion in my mind.

I had a similar experience, though by the time I worked for Gordon Greenwood, his powers were waning. One of his earliest and most imaginative books was a study of Australian-American relations in the early 19th century. I was put to work gathering material for a second volume that would take the story of Australian-American relations through to 1901. I spent my time happily enough transcribing reports from American consuls in Sydney and Melbourne, chasing down the Americans at Eureka, and tracing the fascinating story of the Singer sewing machine. No book ever resulted from my labours, but many ideas that I have later played with came from those months of research. A few years after my job as research assistant ended, I snuck into the office one day and nicked all my notes from the filing cabinets. Nobody ever noticed.

One reason why Heather Radi stirred nervous memories at the University of Queensland was because, during her 5 years there, she was involved in a complicated sexual entanglement with two men within the department. In the 1950s she worked in a deeply sexist environment where women were barred from the Senior Common Room, employed in lowly positions on short-term contracts, and very vulnerable. Things had not changed a great deal by the time I arrived; I still clearly remember all of us women – secretaries, tutors and research assistants – reluctantly lining up to kiss the professor goodnight after an ANZAAS conference party in the early 1970s.

Heather was used, and abused, by her experience. She wrote about it openly in 1984, but since she did not mention the men concerned by name, I won’t either. Both are dead, but their children are not.

Many years later I realized that possession of my body had been a minor part of a bitter male relationship, between one man who was eminently successful and widely respected and another subordinate to him, less successful, less capable and resenting loss of patronage….

The men who had made me part of their rivalry each fathered a child in these years and I knew that whatever place I had in their lives it was secondary. I do not pretend that this was other than a bitter discovery but it supplied the incentive for me to complete a Ph.D. and to leave.

She got away. She won a travelling scholarship to the London School of Economics where, as ‘a quaint colonial hangover’, she was required to enrol in a second Ph.D.

I first encountered Heather Radi in the flesh in 1976. By then she had returned to Australia. She taught at the University of New South Wales, then moved to the University of Sydney. She and Peter Spearritt organized a conference on Jack Lang, the remarkable depression era New South Wales Premier. I had never been to a proper academic conference before and I loved every minute of it. I’ve been a bit of a conference junkie ever since.

Heather went on to organize more conferences, and write more books and chapters. She was a generous teacher and mentor. Reading her work again after so many years, I am saddened that I didn’t know her better. I’d like to tell her that things have changed at the University of Queensland – at least a little bit.

Update: Heather’s memory lives on in the Dr Heather Radi Scholarship ‘for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who display outstanding potential’. Details here.

Heather Radi, ‘Thanks Mum’, in Madge Dawson and Heather Radi, Against the Odds: 15 professional women reflect on their lives and careers (Hale & Iremonger, 1984).
Gordon Greenwood, Early American-Australian relations: from the arrival of the Spaniards in America to the close of 1830 (1944)
Gordon Greenwood, ‘The 1920s’, in Gordon Greenwood (ed), Australia: A Social and Political History (1955)

*The only female professor at the University of Queensland in the 1950s was Professor Dorothy Hill in the Geology Department, but she was not immediately made Head of Department because the selection committee thought a woman would not have the requisite leadership abilities. One member of the selection committee was Gordon Greenwood.

The South China Sea and Freedom of the Seas

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has just reached a decision arbitrating the case brought by the Philippines against China in the South China Sea. The court has decided that the ‘9 Dash Line’ drafted by China back in 1947 is invalid. China has angrily rejected the ruling, and there’s really not a blind thing the Philippines can do

about it, no matter how gleeful they may be at present.

South China Sea 9 Dash Line

From US Central Intelligence Agency, would you believe, via Wikipedia

It’s appropriate that this decision as made in The Hague, because international maritime law as we know it began in the Netherlands, 400 years ago, when a Dutchman, Huig de Groot, wrote an unpublished treatise De Indis (On the Indies) in 1604/5, and followed up by publishing Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) in 1609. These laid down the concept of the freedom of the seas, on which the South China Sea decision is based.

Freedom of the Seas sounds both worthy and universal, but even apparently universal legal concepts occur in a particular context. Huig de Groot, better known by his Latinized name Hugo Grotius, was dealing with a very specific event that occurred not all that far from the South China Sea. In 1603, Dutch merchant adventurers seized a Portuguese caravel near Singapore, and subsequently hired a smart young lawyer – Grotius – to provide the legal backing for their action.

Hugo Grotius, legal theorist

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, Hugo Grotius (1631), from Wikipedia

To understand the background, we need to go back before Grotius’s birth to 1568, when the Dutch rose in rebellion against their Spanish rulers. The Netherlands had been incorporated in the Hapsburg Empire when the last Duke of Burgundy died on the battlefield, leaving his only daughter Mary the greatest heiress in Europe. After tense diplomatic negotiations, she was quickly married off to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Their son married the heiress of the Spanish kingdoms, so their grandson, Charles V, found himself ruling an empire that stretched from the Netherlands (i.e. Burgundy) to Austria to Spain to Spanish America.

The arrangement worked more or less under Charles V (1500-1558), who was brought up in the Netherlands, spoke Dutch, and spent most of his life racing from Kingdom to County to Duchy around his crazy empire, but his son, Philip II, settled down outside Madrid, a Spaniard through and through. Add in the complexities of the Protestant Reformation, and the whole tottering edifice began to crumble.

Then in 1580, the legitimate Portuguese royal line died out. Philip’s mother had been a Portuguese princess, so he claimed this throne as well. The Hispanic Peninsula was combined under a single ruler – and so were their trade and territories overseas.

During the 16th century, Europe slowly digested the amazing implications of Columbus’s discovery of a whole New World. In a supreme act of European hubris, in 1494 the Pope divided the globe between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

tordesillas map

Carved up like an orange – the Treaty of Tordesillas and later modifications. Note that the Portuguese managed to scrape in Brazil. From Wikipedia

Spain (actually Castile) took the Western Hemisphere, while Portugal – which had been expanding down the African coast and soon entered the Indian Ocean – took the Eastern Hemisphere. No one outside Europe, of course, knew that the carve up had taken place – and even within Europe, it took some time for other nations to pay attention. After 1580, the Hispanic domination of the world seemed complete – at least from the European perspective.

Except that, like mammals evolving during the age of the dinosaurs, smaller maritime powers were beginning to emerge.

The Dutch had nothing like the economic or military power of the Spanish/Portuguese Empire – but they were sailors and businessmen, and they knew how to use their maritime power to hurt. The Dutch – and the English under Elizabeth Tudor, who backed the Dutch Revolt – attacked Philip II’s combined empire through its shipping. Dutch and English privateers bled the Spanish state of its bullion, attacking the heavy galleons that brought the gold and silver back to Europe.

They also began to challenge the Hispanic monopoly, setting up trading posts in West Africa and the West Indies to draw trade (including the slave trade) away from the Spaniards. It was Portugal’s bad luck that, from 1580, another dynastic accident meant that its trade in the East Indies was also fair game.

In 1603, the newly created Dutch East India Company [Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC] seized the spice-laden Santa Catarina off Singapore and sailed it back to Amsterdam. The shareholders were delighted, but there were some uneasy consciences amongst them, and Grotius was given the task of demonstrating that the seizure had taken place in open waters and was therefore legal.

Grotius argued that the sea belongs to no one. Any state has the right to sail across it, and in the 1603 context, the Dutch were not trespassers on a ‘Spanish lake’. (As rebels, they were entitled to the seizure as an act of war). Of course, Grotius’s treatise, especially the published 1609 version, has a much wider context, but he was also dealing with a particular situation and its implications.

It was at every level a very Eurocentric perspective. No one in the Netherlands had a clue that Polynesians had sailed the Pacific – the so-called Spanish Lake – for centuries, or that Malays, Javanese, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Filipinos all shared the waterways of South East Asia, including the South China Sea.

This sharing was not, of course, necessarily good-natured. In the South China Sea, for instance, there was a very long history of Cantonese clans and families competing with each other, building levees and planting barriers strategically across the outlets of the Pearl River estuary so that they – and not their neighbours – could hold on to the precious silt that poured down the river. Ironically, perhaps, the Netherlands has a similar tradition of reshaping their estuarine landscape with canals and river mud. Such historic ‘terraforming’ is, of course, very different from the massive earthworks China is undertaking today.

China’s ambit claim to control of everything within the ‘9-dash line’ has now been rejected, but perhaps it is time to abandon Grotius’s doctrine of Liberum Mare. According to Grotius, and by implication in the recent decision in The Hague, nobody owns the open sea, and freedom of navigation should be protected at all costs.

What needs protecting today, though, is not just freedom of the seas, but the seas themselves. The oceans are dying – from overfishing, pollution, acidification and rising temperatures. What belongs to no one is cared for by no one. We need to move on to a new way of sharing a precious common resource.

Note: I’m sorry I’ve been silent for so long. My excuse is a bad reaction to a yellow fever shot, and a broken rib. Normal transmission is now resumed.