Monthly Archives: January 2012

Images of Cinderella

Footage of Julia Gillard in Canberra being dragged by a security detachment to a waiting car went viral yesterday.  At one stage, she was running neck and neck for top viewing on the BBC website with George Clooney.

There will be an investigation, endless analysis and blame – but the image of the stumbling PM was probably more striking than anything that may follow.  And the image reminded me of another picture, in grainy black and white, of another woman dragged across the bitumen by solid men without necks, and losing a shoe in the process – Evdokia Petrova, nearly 60 years ago. Continue reading

One Year On

I began this blog a year ago today.

26 January is a significant date in Australian history.  According to your perspective, it is Australia Day, the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay, or Invasion Day, the date that began the dispossession of Australia’s Aboriginal people.

I didn’t choose 26 January for either of these reasons.  26 January is also the anniversary of the 1974 Australia Day flood, when Brisbane was flooded.  After that, we built a new dam and people said ‘it could never happen again’ – until last January, when it did.

I planned to start writing a blog when I retired, but last year’s flood provoked me into writing my first post – about the Brisbane floods of 1869, 1890, 1893, and 1931.

People forget.  I decided last January that my theme would be telling stories to entertain people who enjoy history, but also to remind people that – usually – things have happened in the past, and are likely to happen again. Possibly quite soon. Continue reading

Oscar Ameringer and the Life and Deeds of Uncle Sam

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.

We seem to be going through a phase of extreme cynicism about politics and politicians, so I’d like to introduce a delightful author and, by all accounts, a very nice man.

Oscar Ameringer was born in a small town in Bavaria in 1870, and brought up in a conservative Lutheran household.  He had a talent for painting and music.  His father was a master craftsman, and young Oscar learned furniture making from him, but in the 1880s, industrial production was taking over traditional craftsmanship.

One after the other, guild masters gave up the ghost [and] were sucked into factories… I never minded learning the furniture trade… There is something fascinatingly creative about helping a dead piece of wood evolve into a thing of beauty and service to man.  But young as I was, I foresaw the end of the golden age of handicraft.

Oscar left for America 8 months before his 16th birthday – to seek his fortune, but also to avoid call up for military service. Continue reading

Young Turks and Braveheart

The Scottish Nationalist Party hopes to hold a referendum on Scottish independence on 24 June 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Scottish victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Too bad they missed the opportunity to hold it on the 700th anniversary of Stirling Bridge, 11 September 1297, since thanks to Mel Gibson, William Wallace is better known these days than Robert the Bruce.

I first saw Braveheart in very odd circumstances.  In 1995 my husband and I visited Turkey.  Turkey offers everything to the tourist – history, archaeology, architecture, food and scenery – and in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, tourism had collapsed, so we had the place almost to ourselves.  I remember wandering around the ruins of the Hittite city of Hattusa with only a goat for company. Continue reading

Australian Whalers in Japan

I hate the thought of whaling, and I would love to see Japan stop killing whales in the Southern Ocean – but I can’t help feeling that the actions of Sea Shepherd are counterproductive.  ‘The insufferable in pursuit of the intractable in pursuit of the inedible’, as a letter writer in the Australian put it.

Maybe I’d feel differently if their efforts were directed to saving blue fin tuna, which really are being hunted to extinction by the Japanese, but the long line fishermen are more elusive, the photos aren’t as bloody, and we humans seem to get sentimental only over mammals. Continue reading

The Great Unwashed

Confession time.  I do not now, nor have I ever worn deodorant.  I’ve always disliked its smell, and the vague rumours that its aluminium content might be unhealthy.  And I don’t use antiperspirant, since it seems perverse to do so in our hot climate, where sweat serves the serious purpose of keeping our bodies cool.

Lifebuoy Soap advertisement 1902

Lifebuoy Soap advertisement 1902, from Wikipedia.

I’m lucky.  I live in a society with ample hot water, and I can bathe or shower daily – twice a day in hot weather – and wear fresh clothing every day.  This seems quite adequate – or at least, my nearest and dearest have yet to tell me otherwise.

But I never knew before that my personal habits made me un-Australian.

In this morning’s Australian, the opposition citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro has called for mandatory ‘cultural awareness training’ for immigrants, so that they can learn how to fit into Australian culture on issues such as health, hygiene and lifestyle.  Continue reading

Charles Dickens and Australia

Watercolour of Abel Magwitch from Great Expect...

Abel Magwitch, from Wikipedia

Two hundred years ago this year, Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February.  As a result, we are about to be drowned in Dickensiana.  So I thought I’d get in early by looking at one common element in many of Dickens’ novels, his use of Australia as a plot device. Continue reading

2011 in review

WordPress really is impressive, given that I don’t pay them a brass rahzoo. They’ve just sent me a summary of my year of blogging, which is here to share, for those who may be interested.

Thank you all for your continued support, and particularly to those few of you who have made comments on the blog.  It is nice to get feedback, and to know that people are reading.  The rest of you – blurkers, the term is – remember that I’d love to hear from you one of these days.

Happy New Year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Reading the Rum Rebellion

At about five o’clock on the afternoon of 26 January 1808, Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps led his men from the barracks in Bridge Street.  They marched in a line two or three deep along the streets of Sydney to Government House.  They carried the regimental flag, and played The British Grenadier.  They carried their weapons, with bayonets fixed.  Their plan was to arrest Governor Bligh.  Arriving at Government House, they found the governor’s daughter and a number of his supporters who had just finished dinner, but they spent some time hunting for her father, until he was found in an attic bedroom.  He would later say he was destroying documents there.  The soldiers insisted he was hiding under a bed.

Governor Bligh seized under the bed

One of the few contemporary images of the Rum Rebellion. Painted on thin paper, the illumination would have been placed in the window, with a lamp behind it. Needless to say it is propaganda rather than an accurate portrayal of the arrest

In the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting a long neglected project of mine, a biography of an early Australian settler called Walter Davidson who became an opium trader in China. Continue reading