Category Archives: Australia Day

How my Daddy saved the Birthday Beacon

It’s Australia Day today.  I’ve blogged about Australia Day before,  here and here and here and here. I think I’ve said all that I can think of to say about Australia Day, especially as I feel rather ambivalent about the whole thing. So today, I’ll take a different but related tack about Australian patriotism and its expression.


Some weeks ago I attended a seminar called ‘Fire Stories’ presented by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions, held at the University of Melbourne.  I intended blogging about it but found myself caught yet again between the desire to take time to reflect before putting fingers to keyboard, and the inexorable march of days rendering the whole post irrelevant and undermining my confidence that, after such a long time,  I could render the presentation or  my responses faithfully.  So it remained a blog post unwritten.

I particularly enjoyed Associate Professor Alan Krell’s presentation on beacons where he juxtaposed the grand beacons of antiquity, the splendid imagery of the Beacons in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the more prosaic beacons of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, before moving on to Turner’s little known painting The Beacon Light [1840]. From his abstract:


Functioning variously as guidance, warning and inspiration, the Beacon Fire may also be turned to ill use.  Embodying fire’s paradoxical character, the beacon fire lends itself to multiple representations in text and image, the subject of this paper.  From the lingering evocations of the Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, describing the progress of the beacon fires that carried news of the fall of Troy, to the thrilling spectacle provided by the film director Peter Jackson, who describes another type of ‘progress’ in his Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [2003], the beacon fire flares triumphantly.  These grand scenarios are countered by the prosaically patriotic lighting of over 4000 beacons (around the globe) to celebrate the British Queen’s 60 years on the throne [2012].

We were sitting watching the final scene of Broadchurch on television some months back- if you saw it, you’ll remember where the town assembled on the beach to light the first of a string of beacons around the bay to mark their support for Danny Latimer’s family.

Broadchurch Beacon

“What was that beacon I helped with again?” asked Dad.  Beacon? What beacon? we said.  It was up at La Trobe University (my university, very close by) during the 1980s, he said.  A real schemozzle, apparently.  We had no idea what he was talking about.  Off to Google we went, as you do- and there it was, Australia’s very own “prosaically patriotic” Bicentennial Beacon Project.

According to the IPA review (I can’t believe that I’m quoting this source), the Bicentennial Birthday Beacons project arose from “concern at the direction the Bicentennial was taking”.

When the Australian Bicentennial Authority first published its national program of projects and events, it was a product of modern special interest politics.  It had a special program on multiculturalism to satisfy the ethnic lobby; another to satisfy the feminists; another for the trade unions; another for the Aborigines; a program for youth and a program for the handicapped and so on.  It emphasized the diversity of Australians without a balancing emphasis on the overarching unity and identity of the nation. (Ken Baker p. 48)

As the ‘Bicentenary Battles’ chapter in Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark’s book The History Wars points out, Ken Baker’s rather snide and waspish comments above reflect a concern that he had expressed as early as 1985 that the bicentenary was turning into an apology rather than a celebration.

And so, headed by Claudio Velez from La Trobe University, the birthday beacon project was born, comprising 550 official sites around Australia on the night of 18-19th June 1988, with an estimated two million Australians taking part.  None of this special interest stuff: this was something that ‘ordinary Australians’ could embrace and be part of.  La Trobe University, as the administrative heart of the whole project, was to have its own beacon.

So, what was my daddy’s involvement?  Dad was Lumley’s Loaders, Lumley’s Constructions and Lumley’s Farm Machinery with a sizeable collection of low loaders, caterpillars, graders etc. based at Thornbury, just a few kilometres away from La Trobe University.  He can’t recall just how he became involved- he remembers it as a phone-call (the extracts below notwithstanding)- because the Glen College site is not visible from public roads, and he was unlikely to see it just driving past.  But what he does remember was that it was an “absolute schemozzle”  in the pouring rain and that if he hadn’t brought along his heavy artillery, there was no way that the La Trobe beacon would have eventuated, let alone flared.

I’ll let Shaun Patrick Kenaelly in Australia’s Birthday Beacons: The Story of June 18-19th 1988 tell the story.   He puts it down to “Beacon luck…the kind of luck which found Mr John Lumley of Lumley Loaders in Thornbury, driving by in the afternoon.” (p.25)  He quotes from Dr Richard Luke, the President of Glenn College:

There was a special incentive to build a beacon at La Trobe University, as Glenn College had been ‘home’ for “Birthday Beacons” since the beginning of the concept itself grew out of meetings held in the College.  Initially it was thought that students of the College might prepare a simple beacons, and a talk by the Executive Officer, Wayne Jackson, on 13 April, provided further impetus.  Then followed involvement of community groups, notably 1st and 3rd Rosanna Scouts and Rosanna Primary School, and the goals became more ambitious! Decision to provide entertainment meant that sponsorship became necessary and this was provided by local firms and Councils.

Weeks prior to the event, under the watchful eyes of the University’s Landscape Manager, material for the bonfire was delivered to the site by employees of Preston City Council.  No attempt was made to arrange the rather unsightly heaps into a bonfire until the actual day and the experience of a nearby group whose bonfire was prematurely lit TWICE vindicated this approach…

Anxious attention to weather forecasts for days before the event was a waste of time! The day itself dawned clear and full of promise that the forecast of a fine evening would be borne out.  How misplaced was such optimism.  As a small band of people struggled with increasing weariness and legs which were beginning to object to climbing ladders (“…what, not again…!”), the clouds began to gather and the clock began to go even faster.  Then [a] miracle occurred! A stranger who had been driving past and had stopped to help, quietly asked whether some heavier equipment would be of use.  An unambiguous ‘yes’ from the builders was followed a little later, by the arrival of a low loader and Drott.  Our ‘welcome stranger’ turned out to be a local earthmoving contractor! For the  next couple of hours the unsightly pile got smaller, the bonfire got larger and our ‘saviour’ got wetter and wetter! As the rain got heavier and the ground got softer under foot, the organizers (along with many others in Victoria!) wondered whether anyone would brave the elements to see whether liberal applications of diesel would enable a bonfire to be lit in the pouring rain!

By dusk the weather had cleared a little and the CFA brigades from Diamond Creek, Eltham and Epping were able to stage a most impressive torchlight procession.  The large marquee, which was to have been the focus of bush-dancing was full of people trying to stay warm(ish) and dry.  The unlit bonfire was surrounded by a large number of more adventurous people interested to see whether the torches borne by the shivering runners could, in the hands of two Mayors and the University’s Vice-Chancellor, find the ‘priming’ hidden under a mountain of sodden vegetation! The deep laid plans of the organizers…! Where were those air vents so cunningly constructed according to…instructions? Answer…buried under the material moved by the Drott!

Well after a few minutes (which seemed much longer to at least this organizer!) and repeated use of the flame-thrower, the fire ‘took’.  The remainder of the evening was greatly enjoyed by the estimated 2000 people in attendance… The last pole did not fall until the small hours of the morning (by which time there was a cloudless, star-filled sky!) and the fire was still burning days later.  (p. 25)

The local newspaper, the Heidelberger talked it up: (you can click to enlarge)


A quote:

Australia will be a ball of fire this Saturday night- but Heidelberg families need not worry.  Local people will light a fire of their own at La Trobe University as part of the bicentennial birthday beacon project.  Australia will be embraced by the longest chain of beacons in world history, with the first being lighted by the Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen at Botany Bay. The national project, which is based at La Trobe, is the brain child of university sociology professor Claudio Veliz. It has been designed to give communities around Australia their own slice of the 200th birthday celebrations…

Communities around Australia will light their own beacons at staggered times, effectively starting a ball of fire around the country.  Heidelberg’s beacon will be lit promptly at 5.45 at La Trobe University between carparks three and six.  Attractions on the free evening will include a torchlight procession, fireworks and a bush band.

Another article in the Heidelberger of 15 June noted that Rosanna Primary School children were selling commemorative programs for $3.00.  The beacon would be lit by three torches to be handed to the mayors of Heidelberg (Cr. Hec Davis) and Preston (Cr. Gary Jungwirth), and the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University Professor John Scott.

The Heidelberger of the following week (22nd June) carried the rather anti-climactic news of the evening- with no pictures.  More than 2000 had braved the cold, wet and windy weather, it reported.  Costs were just covered by sponsorship, and some money was made from food sales.  To add insult to injury, thieves stole a $500 chainsaw, owned by the university.

But Dad had his fifteen minutes of anonymous fame:

Mr Braddy paid tribute to an anonymous man who had turned up with a front end loader to help build the beacon after seeing the organizers were having trouble.

Trouble? A schemozzle, in Dad’s words.  It puzzles me, actually, why I didn’t attend this.  Did Dad even tell me about it at the time? I had a 4 year old and 2 year old who would have enjoyed it but perhaps the weather was just too daunting.  In fact, I remember nothing about it at all, and it would have slipped from family memory completely had the sight of the Broadchurch beacons not triggered Dad’s recollection.


We were going through old pictures and I found this one. Here it is!  On the right you can see the ‘Celebration of a Nation’ van, with the marquee beside it. On the left you can see the bare bones of the beacon, with all the tree branches around it.  And sure enough, it’s sunny then but those high clouds are a bit of worry.  And yes, given that the beacon was about to be lit that night, there was quite a bit of work to be done!


Photographer: John Lumley

Australia Day 2012/1842

Ooops- is it over already?

I haven’t spent the day driving around with Australian flags fluttering from my car, announcing “Australia- love it or leave it”. I’m uncomfortable with the aggressive edge to both these relatively recent incarnations of a swaggering nationalism and I’m disturbed by the images I’ve just seen on television.  I have written about Australia Day each 26 January since I began keeping this blog in 2009, and if you’re interested you can read my mutterings listed here  and some ruminations about alternative national days here  and  here.

The ‘Australian’ editorial on the eve of Anniversary Day, the NSW precursor to Australia day had this to say in 1842:

To-morrow is an universal holiday in the Colony. The Regatta will be witnessed by assembled thousands of our countrymen. The most extensive and liberal preparations have been entered into for its good management, and for creating a spectacle worthy of the wealth and public spirit of the most important and most ancient Colony in the Southern Hemisphere. The Governor, as heretofore, will be present with a numerous suite. A military review will also take place. The harbour will be alive with steamers, and its crowded shipping will be decorated with all their colours.

In the evening 220 fellow citizens will set down to a sumptuous entertainment at the Royal Hotel, presided over by a native Australian second to none in worth and respectability. The festivities of the evening will not be marred by political discord, but will have reference solely to the celebration, common to all, of our natal day. These anniversaries are proper in themselves, and are worthy of the approval of the wise and the good. They tend to mitigate the rancour of party, and to cement the bonds of brotherly esteem, to knit man to man closer together in the struggle for common interests, to melt the frozen springs of selfishness, to teach us the value of sympathy under national depression. It is no mean thing, amid the conflict of antagonistic opinions, to know of a resting place where the hand of one man can meet that of another in the grasp of friendship, where the better feelings of human nature can, for however short a term, be allowed to display themselves. It is something to know that one land mark at least is periodically pointed at by the hand of time, the attainment of which is hailed by united and national re joicings. So that some pause is hereby given for the recovery of temper, ere the armour of party is once more buckled on by those, who from the all-powerful associations of youth, and from the unalterable determination of mental purpose which springs from maturer conviction, must inevitably continue on[?]. It is something, we say, to fling the flowers of present good will upon the grave of departed bitterness.     Enjoy yourselves then, Australians, on this your native day. But we beseech you to temper even the most festive hour of relax- ation with thoughtfulness for the future. Probably there never will be, certainly there never has been, a time in your history, when a national heed for the future was more called for.

The Australian, 25 January 1842. From Trove

The Day That Came To Be Known As Australia Day, 1788

The Founding of Australia (1937) by Algernon Talmage

Just to keep all this flag-waving in perspective, here is Governor Phillip’s own account of what we now know as Australia Day.  From his telling, the presence of the French ships was of more significance than the flag-raising ceremony, especially during this time of uneasiness in British-French relations.  It all seems rather understated, really.

From The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay by Arthur Phillip

25 January 1788

On the 25th of January therefore, seven days after the arrival of the Supply, Governor Phillip quitted Botany Bay in the same ship, and sailed to Port Jackson. The rest of the fleet, under convoy of the Sirius, was ordered to follow, as soon as the abatement of the wind, which then blew a strong gale, should facilitate its working out of the Bay. The Supply was scarcely out of sight when the French ships again appeared off the mouth of the harbour, and a boat was immediately sent to them, with offers of every kind of information and assistance their situation could require. It was now learnt that these were, as the Governor had supposed, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, on a voyage of discovery, under the conduct of Monsieur La Perouse.

26 January 1788

On the 26th, the transports and store ships, attended by the Sirius,finally evacuated Botany Bay; and in a very short time they were all assembled in Sydney Cove, the place now destined for their port, and for the reception of the new settlement. The French ships had come to anchor in Botany Bay just before the departure of the Sirius; and during the intercourse which then took place, M. la Perouse had expressed a strong desire of having some letters conveyed to Europe. Governor Phillip was no sooner informed of this, than he dispatched an officer to him with full information of the time when it was probable our ships would sail, and with assurances that his letters should be punctually transmitted. By this officer the following intelligence was brought back concerning the voyage of the Astrolabe and Boussole.

… (omitted- long description of the French ships)…

The debarkation was now made at Sydney Cove, and the work of clearing the ground for the encampment, as well as for the storehouses and other buildings, was begun without loss of time. But the labour which attended this necessary operation was greater than can easily be imagined by those who were not spectators of it. The coast, as well as the neighbouring country in general, is covered with wood; and though in this spot the trees stood more apart, and were less incumbered with underwood than in many other places, yet their magnitude was such as to render not only the felling, but the removal of them afterwards, a task of no small difficulty. By the habitual indolence of the convicts, and the want of proper overseers to keep them to their duty, their labour was rendered less efficient than it might have been.

26 January 1788

In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king’s health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages. From this time to the end of the first week in February all was  hurry and exertion. They who gave orders and they who received them were equally occupied; nor is it easy to conceive a busier scene than this part of the coast exhibited during the continuance of these first efforts towards establishment.

The morning after the night before: Anniversary Day 1841

So how was your Australia Day?  From the coverage of Melbourne (Port Phillip)’s Australia Day celebrations, it seems to have been a street parade with different multicultural groups represented, citizenship ceremonies, flags at the Australian Open tennis tournament and Lily Allen in a flag dress at the Big Day Out.

From The Australian, 28TH JANUARY 1841

And as for Sydney in 1841?  There was a long report about the yacht regattas on the Harbour, mention of a cricket match and the dinner that followed it where

Turtle, venison and the other good things of this life were in abundance, conjointly with sparkling champagne &c.; and a more loyal set never yet met at the festive board.  The Queen’s health was drunk with enthusiasm, and Australia, the land of their adoption, was honored with reiterated cheers.  These jovial souls kept up the joyous scene to a late hour, and returned to their homes delighted with their evening’s meeting.  May they meet on many such occasions, is our hearty wish.

then the Harmonic Club who presented a prize to the winner of the sixth race.

There’s then a report about the town itself:

…It was expected that the festivities in celebration of the natal day of the colony would have been concluded with a general illumination throughout the town; but, the the great disappointment of the good folk of Sydney, the streets were all in darkness with the exception of the houses of Mr Diod [?] of Pitt Street who displayed in beautifully variegated lamps, a star, with the age of the colony (53) underneath, supported by the letters A. A. on either side; and of Mr Ward of Bridge-street, who exhibited the Scottish Thistle and the letters V. R. which had a beautiful and dazzling effect, and drew a large concourse of admiring spectators.  Both these decorations were executed by Messrs Wood, of King-street, who have long been known to the Australian public as the most celebrated “illuminati” of the age.  Mr Aldis, the tobacconist had a few lamps in his window; and Mr Carrick, the publican of Bridge-street sported a few tallow candles in the same manner, both of these, however, only sufficed to make the “darkness visible”.

I must confess myself mystified by these “illuminations”- perhaps one of my readers might illuminate me!  From the Sydney Gazette of May 27 1841 it seems that gas was not supplied to Sydney until 1841, although as editorials at the time pointed out, this was a mere 25 years after gas lights were introduced for general use in London.

Many reports of celebrations mention “illuminations” but I’m not sure how they worked.  I see advertisements for “illumination lamps” and “transparencies” and on 21 April 1829 T. Wood the Lamp Contractor advertised that “Persons desirous of illuminating on His Majesty’s Birth Night are requested to make an early application to T. Wood, Lamp Contractor, George-Street who will provide Lamps and Devices at moderate charge” .  Inclement weather tended to extinguish the illuminations. The Colonial Times (Hobart)  of 26 Aug 1834 reports on an illumination at Government House that cost three hundred pounds but could not go ahead for two nights because the wind was too strong, and when the lamps were finally lit, the view was obscured by large ugly pine trees.   There is a long description of the Queens Birthday illuminations on 25 May 1839 (i.e. two years before the Anniversary Day illuminations mentioned above and two years before the introduction of gas):

In the evening the customary birth night ball was given at Government House, and, notwithstanding the unpromising state of the atmosphere, it was very numerously attended. The entrance to Government House was brilliantly illuminated, the gate being surmounted with the word ” Victoria,” in very large letters, and the verandah with a large crown and wreath. In various parts of the town the inhabitants displayed their loyalty in the shape of illumination. The following principally attracted our reporter’s attention : -Australian Club House. – The words ” Vivat Regina.” in large letters, surmounted by a large crown, and star with festoons &c. Mr. James Wood, opposite the cattle market, wine merchant, Crown and V. ; Anchor and Hope (Doran) public house, corner of King and Pitt streets, neat variegated star ; Shakespeare Tavern (Rogers) Pitt-street, letters Q. V. with Shakspeare’s head illuminated. Cornwallis Frigate, (Meredith) Pitt street, the letters V. R. surmounted with large crown and star, a truelover’s knot &c. King’s Arms (Stone) Pitt-street,.Star and Garter with letters V.R.,rows of variegated lamps &c. Garriek’s Head (Murray) Pitt-street, letters V. R. surmounted by Crown. Australian Chop House Pitt street, letters V.R.  and Crown, festoons &c &c ; Mr. Dole, Tobacconist, George-street, opposite Police Office, letters V.R.; Mr. Martin, Castlereagh-street, (publican) near Cattle Market, star; Forbes Hotel (Mrs Barnes) King and York-stree, letters V. R. with handsome crown, festoons of variegated lamps, suspended round the windows. William the Fourth (Morris) Pitt street-, illuminated transparency of Queen Victoria. Mr. Denne, Pitt-street, Brunswick Star. M. Gill confectioner V.R.. and Crown Pitt-street. Crooked Billet (Puzey) George and Hunter-streets, V. R. and Crown. Mr. Samuels V. R. and Crown, George-street.

The devices most attractive to the spectators were a very neatly executed transparency of the noted “Jim Crow” exhibited above the door of the Flower Pot, public house, York-street, and a handsome transparency in Pitt-street, in front of the residence of Mr. Gould, painter and glazier, representing Queen Victoria, with a rampant lion, having  the motto Invicta on the one hand, and  the Royal Arms on the other, each occupying a window.-Two fire balloons were sent up in the course of the evening.

Here we see expressions of loyalty amongst the working people of Sydney, in their pubs and businesses- and quite a collection it is- with many V.R.s and crowns, Shakespeare’s head, lovers knots and a “Jim Crow”.

Anyway, enough of the mysterious illuminations- back to Anniversary Day in 1841 from The Australian.

A number of Australians dined together on Tuesday at the St. John’s Tavern, to celebrate the Anniversary of their Native Land.  There were about fifty present; the dinner was sumptuous in the extreme, and after the cloth was removed, several loyal and patriotic toasts were proposed, which were responded to by the warmest enthusiasm.  During the evening some very eloquent speeches were made, which reflected much to the credit upon the heard and head of the speakers, breathing as they did, a true loyal feeling for their Sovereign, and a love for their Father Land.  The harmony of the evening was enlivened by some very pleasing music.  They kept up the festivities of the day until a late hour, and departed with a feeling of mutual reverence to the Parent Country, and love for Australia and her institutions.

I find it interesting that there is a distinction drawn between the “good folk” of Sydney and the “Australians” who no doubt are the native-born.   Australia is their “Father Land”, but Britain is the “Parent Country”.   The term “the anniversary of their Native Land” (meaning of course only fifty-three years!)  grates harshly on our 21st century ears.


The wonderful National Library of Australia Newspapers page of course!

Australia Day editorials

One of the set pieces in the editor’s armoury must be the Australia Day editorial which needs to be dusted off each January and polished around the edges a bit to distinguish it from the editorial the year before, and the year before that.

I was interested to compare the editorials of The Australian newspaper in 1841 and today.  The Australian as we know it today was founded in 1964 and is part of the Murdoch empire.  It’s not a paper that I read regularly, except for the Australian Literary Review which is issued on the first Wednesday of every month, and even there the paper’s centre-right stance seeps through. It shares the name but not the lineage of the Australian newspaper founded by William Charles Wentworth as New South Wales’ first privately-owned newspaper in 1824.  Wentworth’s Australian newspaper in 1841 acted as a mouth-piece for Wentworth’s own politics at the time where he was agitating for representative government and independence from the twin and paradoxical evils of Colonial Office oversight and neglect.  It published its last edition in 1848.

The Australian 2010

So, The Australian’s editorial of 25th January 2010 on the eve of Australia Day-  what did it have to say? Well, there’s plenty to celebrate apparently:

Australia Day marks the real start of the year in this country: once tomorrow’s holiday is out of the way, the nation gets down to the serious business of work and school after the summer break. This year, the celebratory mood is likely to linger longer thanks to the upswing in the economy and a growing confidence in the future after a year of living anxiously in the shadow of a global downturn.  The year begins with real hope that economic stability and strength will nurture the social coherence and health that must be the core goal of any modern society.

The paper notes the financial emphasis of Rudd’s speeches over the last week leading up to Australia Day (productivity, deficits, infrastructure blah, blah, blah) but then warns us:

There’s more to life of course, and the Australia Day celebrations draw attention to the less tangible questions of community, social tolerance, and national identity…But our national holiday becomes an empty affair if we ignore the real challenges facing many of us.

The editorial then goes on to speak about “Twenty-two years ago, at the Bicentennial celebrations on Australia Day” when “the nation was trapped in a painful historical debate that denied the real issues facing indigenous people, particularly those in remote areas.  The often fruitless arguments over whether the country had been invaded or settled 200 years earlier served to polarise rather than educate white and black Australians over their shared history.”

I find it interesting that the touchstone date in this editorial (and in commentary generally)  is now 1988 rather than 1788.  In the last twenty-two years, the editorial says, we have ” come a long way in recognising the rights of indigenous Australians to decent housing, education and jobs” and “there is room for optimism…”.  Twenty-two years ago the population was 16.6 million; now it is 22 million and projected to be 35 million mid-century and The Australian is “excited by the potential for vibrant social and economic growth” although cautioning of the need for clear plans.  “The integration of more ethically diverse Australians must be carefully guarded” and “racism has no role in Australia which, since the abolition of the White Australia Policy in the mid-1970s, has built an enviable reputation as a tolerant and welcoming nation”.

Australia Day- marked by citizenship ceremonies around the nation- is a perfect time to affirm belief in a mature and single society that also accomodates difference.

The paper notes the affection for Prince William at his recent (fleeting) visit and the respect for his grandmother, but asserts that “those feelings would seem to have little or nothing to do with Australians’ support for a republic”.

The Australian 1841

Why 1841? Because Judge Willis was still in Sydney in January 1841, although it was well-known that he had been appointed to Melbourne and his house, horses and phaeton were being advertised in the newspaper.  In a few days, he would make his farewell speech from the bench- in itself a matter for controversy as might be expected.  But given that Anniversary Day celebrations were most conspicuously celebrated in Sydney compared to the other colonies, it seems fitting to look at Judge Willis’ last Anniversary Day in Sydney.

The editorial of 26th January 1841 (published on the actual day) starts off with a blaze of optimism:

On this 26th of January 1841, the Colony of New South Wales commences the fifty-third year of its existence.  What striking and gratifying recollections does the reoccurrence of this, our natal day, recall to our mind? Where, in the whole range of ancient and modern history, can an instance be found of a similarly rapid advance towards wealth, importance, and respectability, under circumstances so singularly discouraging, under the pressure of obstacles of such peculiar magnitude?

The Australian was very much Wentworth’s creation, and the next very lengthy sentence goes on to criticize the Colonial Office, and the influence of the South Australian lobbyists, with their Wakefieldian agricultural-based ideas, who were pushing an alternative to the squatter-based, pastoral future that Wentworth was agitating for:

Labouring under all the odium which has naturally attached itself to a penal colony, systematically disdained and neglected by the Colonial Office, the only quarter to which we have been enabled, and indeed are still able to look for assistance and sympathy, with out financial resources misapplied, our most earnest prayers for free institutions disregarded, autocratically governed at the caprice now of this, now of that minister, with enemies avowed, and enemies concealed, handed over with indifference within the last twelve months to the tender mercies of Colonel Torrens and the Land Board…

This gargantuan sentence continues with a look to the past, going back fifty, even twenty years to the penal origins of New South Wales.  As with the editorial of 2010, there’s an element of bringing observations within the scope of living memory.  The bleak environmental picture painted here sits at odds with the more benign environment portrayed in Grace Karsken’s recent book The Colony, and the reference to Aborigines is very much of its time:

we yet can exhibit, where half a century, nay twenty years since, gangs of lawless convicts laboured upon a limited and uncleared desert, where the hallowed names of religion and justice were unknown, where the wandering savage, lowest in the scale of humanity, and the wretched English criminal, scarce gained a scanty subsistence from an ungrateful soil, where unblest sons poured their angry luster upon the thirsty sand

Now the observant eye of Englishmen beholds:

far-stretching districts, hundreds of miles in extent, covered with flocks and herds, teeming with convertible wealth, the fertile banks of numerous rivers producing abundant supplies of agricultural produce…

and a maritime industry that is “sending home annually in the place of hundreds, no less than eight millions of pounds of wool…verging upon the annual value of a million of money…” and “importing British manufactured produce to the amount of twice this sum.”  It seems a little incongruous to us now to think with pride on the amount we import (as distinct from export), but in 1841 it was a matter of pride that New South Wales was now a sophisticated and modern consumer society, proud of its place within the broader imperial marketplace.

But the life of an upstanding member of society has its responsibilities as well and so,

We trust that our readers will permit us to remind them without offence that the joy and the festivity with which they so pleasingly celebrate this birthday of their country, should be tempered with reflections of a higher and a somewhat more thoughtful nature.  These they are bound to entertain for their own sake, for the sake of those who come after them, for the sake of vindicating for themselves that high and leading position in this hemisphere, which it is in the order of things that they must, and that at no distant day attain. We would urge upon all, whatever may be their condition in life, to give their individual efforts for upholding and still further exalting the standard of integrity and of morals in our social community.

In particular, the Australian deplored “with reluctance and with grief” that “an avowed selfishness, the bane of all young communities, is to a very large and engrossing extent, prevalent throughout this country”. The editorial called upon

everyone who occupies a position which gives him influence over his fellow-colonists, to promote these views fearlessly and cordially, if he has any true or forward-looking desire for the welfare of his native or adopted country.

Note that this was leading by example, and a call to the leaders of society rather than to “the people” as a whole.  The political winds were stirring, but nobody was agitating for democracy as we know it today- and would even less so in coming years with the rise of Chartism and the 1848 revolutions to follow.

…if you do your duty at this now early hour of the political day, when the seed can be sown and the tree of virtue planted, you will indeed be “remembered for good”, for upon a nation such as by your wise efforts may be constituted, one in honour, one in high and unswerving principle, one in their passionate love of liberty, one in their disdain of everything that is mean, and sordid, and cowardly, it is not too much to say, that the feet of tyranny, foreign or domestic, shall NEVER trample.

The Australian was confident that representative democracy- limited though it was- would be just around the corner but we know that the drip-feed of a form of self-government would take over a decade.

The eyes of Britain are more and more intently fixed upon you.  The importance of this Colony is being rapidly appreciated at home.  Representative institutions of on the eve of concession to us.  May we so wisely and temperately use them, as to convince our worst enemies that we are worthy of the boon granted.

And now for the important thing- what’s on? Sydney always put on a bigger bash for Anniversary Day than the other colonies did, so here’s what’s happening:

And now, with reference to the sports of this day- His Excellency will be present at Macquarie Point with a numerous party.  We perceive that many excellent boats, several of them newly built for the occasion, will contend for the prizes.  All the available steamers will ply about the harbour during the day with bands of music, to enliven the scene.  The shipping will hoist their colours and be decorated with all their flags.  In the evening Mr Wyatt will present, at the Theatre, the owner of the successful vessel with a silver cup of the value of thirty pounds; and a numerous party of Australians will dine together at the St John’s Tavern, to celebrate the auspicious occasion.  In fact, nothing will be wanting but the sun to shine brightly to complete the happiness of our towns men.  We hope that no accidents may occur to damp the festivities of the day.

I’ll let you know how the day went off, tomorrow.

Enjoying an Australia Day holiday

The Age tells us that a record half a million Australians “chucked a sickie” today in order to have a four-day long weekend.  I know several people who took today as a leave day but that’s not necessarily a “sickie” in my book.   Of course there’s lots of  tut-tutting by employers, designating such enterprising workers as “un-Australian bums”  with “no concept of mateship or the Australian way”.

They should spare a thought for the Tradesmen of Sydney, who were asking the editor of the Sydney Herald to grant a holiday on Anniversary Day (now Australia Day) when it fell on a Tuesday in 1841- let alone angling for a long weekend!


To the Editor of the Sydney Herald.

Sir,- As next Tuesday is the Fifty-third Anniversary of the Colony, and will be kept a holiday by some, you would confer a great favour on many, if you would give the Tradesmen of   Sydney, particularly the Chemists and Druggists a gentle hint in your widely circulated Paper to close their shops on that day, and to allow their so much confined assistants and apprentices a   little recreation. I am Sir, for many,

Your’s very respectfully


Saturday morning, Jan. 23 1841

From NLA Australian Newspapers