In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

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The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

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Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

patten-children01

1a

Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Dhakiyarr vs The King on NITV last night

In Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV and How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits… earlier this month I recommended Channel 34 should become a regular part of our viewing. Indeed, I can think of few better ways to celebrate Australia Day than to go on over to Channel 34 as much as possible. Don’t miss the News at 5.30 pm. It’s a revelation.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Jeremy Geia is a regular on the news. He is really very good. He is also an artist.

Last night NITV showed the 2004 documentary Dhakiyarr vs The King.

In his acceptance speech when the film won the Audiovisual History prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2004, the producer of the film, Graeme Isaac remarked, "It has been said that history is written by he who holds the pen, but much of the Aboriginal history of Australia since white settlement has been unwritten history, a history conveyed orally rather than through books and letters. The court case of Takiyar vs The King and the following appeal to the High Court is a famous part of Australian legal history, often taught to undergraduate law students, but Dhakiyarr’s story has never really been told from the point of view of his own people. We fashioned this film project to rectify that imbalance, and to fill in the gaps in the white history created by our ignorance of the Aboriginal oral tradition. We wanted the film to be a mouthpiece for Dhakiyarr’s descendants to tell their side of the story from their own perspective.

They told it not just in words but also with their painting and their ceremony. And in commemorating Dhakiyarr’s memory in the way they did in the High Court in Darwin, with their generous offer of reconciliation with the system and the society that took their leader’s life, they have also changed the feelings and the views of many others, effectively becoming not just tellers of history but also makers of history" We made our film specifically to present the point of view of a participant, to enrich our understanding of a story that is important not just to the Yolngu but to all Australians, one of the great iconic stories of our frontier history – not a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ history but a shared history, where both sides must understand and learn from the other in order to glimpse the full story.

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Dhakiyarr

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When men of the law meet.

Northern Territory Supreme Court Justices Brian Martin (left) and David Angel (right) and High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson (second from right) meet Yolngu Law Man Wuyal Wirrpanda.
Date: Unknown
Photographer: Peter Eve

Just inspiring.

In 2004 my former SBHS student Sacha Molitorisz had this to say:

Tom Murray and Allan Collins have a remarkable story, and they’d prefer to let someone else tell it. It’s about a blackfella called Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from north-east Arnhem Land.

In 1933 this Yolngu tribal leader came across a policeman who had broken Aboriginal law by trespassing on Yolngu land. He had also chained up Dhakiyarr’s wife. In accordance with black law, Dhakiyarr speared the policeman, Constable Albert McColl, through the leg. McColl died.

The retribution, in accordance with white law, was equally harsh. On the advice of a missionary, Dhakiyarr travelled to Darwin to face the Northern Territory Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to death for murder.

After lobbying by academics and unions, however, the High Court overturned the decision, ordering Dhakiyarr be freed. At the time, it was a hugely controversial result, recognising Aborigines should be treated equally before the law. "It was an amazing decision," Murray says.

But the Yolngu celebrations were short-lived: as soon as Dhakiyarr was released, he disappeared. Rumour had it he was killed, possibly by vengeful policemen, or by vigilantes. His remains have never been found.

Murray, a Manly resident with a deep love for Arnhem Land culture, has long been fascinated with Dhakiyarr. "I’ve spent a bit of time up there. I’d heard the story in whispers. It was such a significant trial of the time, so I’d read bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, ‘I bet Dhakiyarr’s family have an amazing story.’ When I went to meet them, this raw, unreconciled story of wanting to know what happened to Dhakiyarr revealed itself."

When Dhakiyarr’s descendants reconciled with the McColl family, Murray decided to make a film about them. As an experienced maker of radio documentaries who lacked film experience, he teamed up with Allan Collins, the cinematographer of Beneath Clouds.

Funding proved hard to raise – until Film Australia’s National Interest Program saw the project’s significance. So filming began, with the focus on two of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons, Wuyal and Dhukal.

"In the Yolngu way, they call themselves sons of Dhakiyarr," says Murray. "To us they’re his grandsons. The film is about Wuyal’s and Dhukal’s attempts to reconcile this raw wound after 70 years."

Last year, Wuyal and Dhukal sent a video letter to Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, asking for the return of Dhakiyarr’s remains. Alternatively, the brothers asked to hold a ceremony at Darwin’s Supreme Court, where Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death. Martin agreed to the latter, and the ensuing scenes – featuring a meeting of Dhakiyarr’s descendants and McColl’s family – form the climax of the finished film, Dhakiyarr vs The King, a powerful piece of work. Last week, the filmmakers learnt they’ve been nominated in the best doco category at this year’s Dendy Awards, scheduled during the Sydney Film Festival.

The Supreme Court ceremony had a reconciling effect on the Wirrpandas and the McColls. As Joan McColl of Narracan wrote to The Age last week: "The Wirrpanda family involved the McColl family in a wonderful healing Wukidi ceremony during which they apologised for Albert’s death and presented to Alan McColl, his nearest living male relative, a ceremonial headpiece. In turn, gifts were presented from the McColl family and the two families now are in close, friendly contact."

Says Murray: "I think it’s been a profound experience for the McColl family. Alan McColl is from Gippsland. He said to me a year ago he’d never even met a black person, and now he has a family of them."

In the process, the McColls have adopted a sporting legend: 24-year-old David Wirrpunda, a star with AFL team the West Coast Eagles. He spells his name differently, but he is Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s great-grandson. Wuyal is his dad. Yesterday, Murray, Wuyal and Dhukal went to a West Coast game in Melbourne.

"It’s the first time Wuyal has seen his son play football since he was a kid. David lives in Perth, and Wuyal is the leader of a community in north-east Arnhem Land," says Murray.

This week, Murray returns to his hometown for the Sydney big screen premiere of his film at the Chauvel in Paddington. Wuyal and Dhukal will attend. "It takes courage to acknowledge the past and to apologise, as Wuyal did to the McColls. That’s been missing from the national debate, where we don’t seem to have that leadership. Dhakiyarr going to face white law, that’s showing leadership … With Wuyal, his leadership was made very clear. He showed dignity and courage, and I think that’s what people are responding to. And the same is true of Alan McColl – the McColls were willing to reconcile their own past."

One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it lets the Wirrpandas tell their own story. "Where there is narration, the two brothers narrate," says Murray. "And I think the film was really affirming for them, especially now so many people are saying to them, ‘You’ve done something really important for the Aboriginal debate. You’ve told a really important story.’

"After the screenings, people have been saying that it’s the first time they’ve been given the privilege of gaining insight into an Aboriginal community, unmitigated by a white voice trying to explain it."

It will no doubt be repeated. Don’t miss it.

Given a choice between romantic piffle and actual history…

… most of us prefer piffle, especially patriotic piffle or piffle serving some political agenda, be that left or right.

We may get a serving of piffle tonight on SBS on the subject of Eureka, which has attracted much well-intentioned piffling and some not so well-intentioned – a bit like Ned Kelly.  Tonight’s SBS offering (Dirty Business) won’t all be piffle, of course, if one is to judge from last week, some of which was most interesting. But it will be very scrappy and rather too obviously thesis-driven, as certainly was last week. It is not nearly as good, in my view, as The First Australians, currently being repeated on NITV.

The Victorians (the royal era, not the Aussie state) were excellent at patriotic piffling, inventing whole rafts of tradition. The Irish and Scots have been excellent pifflers – take for example the oeuvre of Sir Walter Scott – and of late – well almost twenty years ago – we had Braveheart. Last night ABC2 offered The True Story: Braveheart. I was impressed.

BraveheartMel Gibson’s Oscar winning box office smash of 1995 tells the story of real life Scottish rebel and freedom fighter William Wallace. With savage battle scenes, a cast of thousands and a tragic love story at its heart, it is a sweeping historical epic brought to the screen with stunning photography set amongst the highlands of Scotland.

But ever since it was first shown historians have asked questions about the accuracy of the movie. No one doubts that William Wallace was a real historical character – as was Edward 1st, Robert the Bruce, and many others who feature in the film. But was he really the “ordinary joe” made good portrayed by Mel Gibson, and did his life unfold in the way Braveheart depicts?

Interviewing script-writer Randall Wallace we discover that the inspiration for the movie was the stories generated by an ancient Scottish poem about the life of Wallace. But an analysis by modern historian’s show that this poem, as much as any movie, was designed to create a legend rather than explain history

On the poem see Blind Harry’s Wallace: Introduction and Index.

…There are many episodes in Harry’s poem which will never be possible to prove as having occurred. However, there are passages that have been proven false. One example comes from the opening stanza, in which Harry states that Wallace was the son of Malcolm Wallace, yet the letter Wallace wrote to the Hanseatic League after the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Stirling carried Wallace’s seal, which clearly states that he was "Wilelmus Filius Alani Walais" – William, son of Alan Wallace. Harry’s recounting of the Battle of Falkirk, July 1298, provides another example: it is documented that this battle was won by the English side, yet Harry’s version maintains that the Scots had the advantage, and concludes with King Edward fleeing in fear for his life.

Regardless of whether Harry had sources beyond oral tradition upon which to base his poem, and the fact that the poem reads as a biography of William Wallace, it should be considered historical fiction – a long-lived ballad that expresses profound pride in a nation’s patriot hero.

braveheart-3

Blue face Mel – nice idea, but around a thousand years out of place for William Wallace

See also BraveHeart – The 10 historical inaccuracies you need to know before watching the movie

So Braveheart is, one could say, piffle.  Very convincing piffle for some. Compare How accurate was "Braveheart"?

In brief, the history in "Braveheart" is absolute garbage.

William Wallace did indeed lead a rebellion against English occupation in 1296. He won a surprising victory at Stirling Bridge and lost at Falkirk. After his capture, he was tried and executed as depicted. That’s about all that matches history. The rest of the film was inaccurate, grossly distorted, or absolutely made up. I can’t cover it all (and I should have done this when my memory of th film was fresher) but here are some, er, "highlights".

Wallace was portrayed as a poor man who was secretly married right before he got in trouble with the English. Actually, he was a landed commoner with a good education, and in peaceful times he might have been a scholar. All landed men were required to sign the Ragman Roll, which bound signatories in loyalty to England’s King Edward I. Those who refused, like Wallace, were outlawed. In response, Wallace and Andrew Moray organized other outlawed men into an army. Moray was killed at Stirling Bridge and mostly forgotten, and was not mentioned in the film. Wallace was invovled in a romantic relationship, but he was unable to settle down due to spending his entire adult life at war or in hiding. He was with her when the English discovered his hiding place. When they discovered she had stalled them to give Walalce time to escape, she and the rest of the household were killed.

From watching "Braveheart", one would think that Wallace invented the use of spears against cavalry in a moment of improvisation. Everyone in the Clann knows that this tactic is literally ancient. From the film, a viewer would think that these Scottish peasants could find swords and axe heads, but somehow couldn’t manage spearpoints. Also, they didn’t stand in one big mob, but in circular formations called schiltrons, the predecessors of our pike blocks, and a formation Wallace might have invented but certainly perfected. At least they looked impressive with their painted faces, which was indeed a Celtic practice—during Roman times, over a thousand years before.

During the battle of Falkirk, Wallace was shown going into battle against the wishes of the other Scottish commanders. The accounts I’ve seen indicate the opposite, that he opposed fighting then on the grounds that the field did not offer the advantages of Stirling Bridge. It was a neat scene when the Irish troops with the English switched sides as they were supposed to charge into battle, but I never heard of this incident. We also saw the Scottish nobles desert Wallace and ruin his plans right as the battle started, but I haven’t heard of this happening either. The cavalry did withdraw without orders, but the circumstances are unclear, though he might have won with them available. It’s true his hold over the Scottish lords and chiefs was weak. He wasn’t knighted until after Stirling Bridge (quite possibly by Robert Bruce) at which time he was made Guardian, which gave him the power of a king. However, having no land or vassals, his leadership depended wholly upon success in battle. When he lost his luster he was replaced.

In the aftermath of Falkirk came the scene that almost made me yell at the screen. When Wallace goes riding after King Edward, one of the knights accompanying Edward turns to stop Wallace and knocks him off his horse. When his face is uncovered, this knight turns out to be—-Robert Bruce. A great dramatic twist, but why don’t the histories mention Bruce at Falkirk? Most likely he wasn’t there, or else he fought with Wallace but did nothing significant. "Braveheart" portrayed Bruce so villainously that the English chroniclers who demonized him would have been envious. When, at the end of the film, Bruce asks the soldiers at Bannockburn if they will fight for him, he wouldn’t have reason to doubt: they had been following him for years already. I’ll admit having Bruce as narrator was a great idea, but that doesn’t alter my opinion of his portrayal.

Hollywood thinks movies have to have romance, but Wallace and Princess Isabella? I’ve never heard of a princess being used as an envoy, and with such an important mission to boot. I don’t even know that she had gone to England and married Edward II during Wallace’s lifetime. It’s difficult to believe she ever met Wallace or that she was this delicate flower who was ashamed of English cruelty toward the Scots. On the contrary, she had her husband imprisoned and murdered when he refused to abdicate in favor of their son, and she then launched her own invasion of Scotland….

Mel later went on to make The Passion of the Christ, of course…

Another documentary on William Wallace:

Now for something completely different.

Lately I keep encountering in novels and newspapers the idiom “bored of” – which strikes my ear with a very loud cacophonous clang!  When did this happen, I ask?

So I did ask Oxford.

Which of these expressions should you use: is one of them less acceptable than the others?

  • Do you ever get bored with eating out all the time?
  • Delegates were bored by the lectures.
  • He grew bored of his day job.

The first two constructions, bored with and bored by, are the standard ones. The third, bored of, is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.

I trust you are not so bored with this as not to want any more…  Let’s resist it, albeit in vain. BORED WITH! Understand? WITH!

See also Daily Writing Tips.

Some bits kind of relevant to today in Illawarra…

Well, the first is. And I am ashamed to say I had clean forgotten about it. See Black Christmas 2001-2. Helensburgh is on the northern side of Illawarra, north of Otford, up against The Shire and the Royal National Park.

After lunch a dark brown cloud came out of the Appin, Darkes Forest area. At first it blanketed Stanwell Tops, sweeping down into Stanwell Park. As it thickened, the Burgh crew down at the Park realized they were in for a massive bushfire. By the time they got up to the Burgh, the fire had already jumped the F6, the Princes Highway, down past Binners, Symbio, the Hindu Temple and was racing toward Stanwell Tops.

By late afternoon the power was off and the fire had reached the Ampol service Station, Busy Bee and the Mower Shop. It worked through to Mrs Lawson’s industrial area and took out a number of sheds – Helensburgh Metal Fabrications, owned by Michael Brooks, and Kurt Martison’s car restoration business. Rajani Road was next to feel the force of the fire, with one house in Excelsia Avenue totally destroyed.

In the meantime the fire had reached Stanwell Tops, devastating the Tops Convention Centre, and taking out properties owned by the Gilmour, Parker, Host, Saverino, McWilliams, Price, Green and Armstrong families. Mrs Luck’s home next to the Hindu Temple was nearly lost. Trent Luck heard about the fire and tried to get home and protect the property, but was stopped at Waterfall. So he parked the car and with three police chasing him, ran through the bush to the Burgh. "Mosley", owned by Mrs. Loyd, was only just saved. The fire then moved to Otford.

That doco is well worth a look.

On days like today all kinds of things can start a true catastrophe. For example:

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Car accident – image from Helensburgh RFS Facebook page.

Not really related, except geographically,  but worth seeing is Alan Bond’s Ghost Tunnel.

Consider….

1. You know where you are…

Australia has been inhabited for at least 50,000 years. It was first inhabited by the remote Asian ancestors of the current Australian Aboriginal people. Australia was not discovered by Europeans until the 17th century


1768
Captain James Cook voyage of discovery in the Endeavour


1769
Captain James Cook reached Tahiti on 3 June


1770
Captain James Cook discovers New South Wales and takes possession of the Australian land in the name of Great Britain


1771
Captain James Cook returns to England


1772
13 July: Captain James Cook embarks on the voyage of discovery in the Resolution


1776
12 July: Captain James Cook with the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery look for the Northwest passage but bad weather drives him back to Hawaii


1779
14 February: Captain Cook is killed by natives


1779
Banks suggests founding a convict settlement at Botany Bay.


1783
Plans for the colonization in New South Wales are made in the UK


1788
Foundation of Sydney.


1795
1795-1796: George Bass and Matthew Flinders make voyages in the Tom Thumb


1798
George Bass discovers the Bass Strait and Westernport.


1803
Matthew Flinders circumnavigates Australia.

And so on…

2. Where I now sit there were people living, breathing and walking about 20,000 years ago and more. According to a family tradition I had ancestors among them.

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60,000 years ago:  Age of Lake Mungo 3 human remains (age range between 56,000 and 68,000 years), south-western NSW, 987 km west of Sydney. Footprints discovered at Lake Mungo are believed to be 23,000 years old….

22,000 years ago: Occupation site at Wentworth Falls, NSW.

16,000 years ago: Hearths, stone and bone tools, Shaws Creek near Yarramundi (60 kms north-west from Sydney), NSW. Sea levels begin to rise as ice caps melt. Inland lakes such as Lake Mungo have dried up.

8,000 years ago:  Earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal belief connected with the rainbow Serpent. This becomes the longest continuing belief in the world.

5,000 years ago:  Occupation site, Penrith Lakes (about 50 kms west of Sydney), NSW. Coastline of Australia takes its present form

And so on… Source Australian Aboriginal history timeline.

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28,000 thousand years old. How many generations of humanity before Abraham is that?

3. All of which makes it very difficult to treat the following with the awe and wonder it may have attracted in the past, or indeed in my own past. How do you reconcile the fact that in light of the above the grand cosmic narrative of the Abrahamic religions looks decidedly less impressive?

4004 B.C.
Creation of Adam and Eve – [Very few accept this “date” as having any connection whatever with anything that really happened in the history of this planet. — NW]


2348 B.C.
Noah’s Flood – [never happened — NW]


1996 to 1690 B.C.
The Biblical Patriarchs lived during this time – from Abraham to Jacob – [totally myth and legend, reflecting certain rather mundane developments in the movements of people and cultures, but having no resemblance to actual history. — NW]


1491 B.C.
The Exodus


1451 B.C.
Joshua leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land


1410 – 1050 B.C.
Time of Israel’s Judges


1050 – 930
First Kings of Israel – King Saul, King David and King Solomon


960 B.C.
Building of the first temple in Jerusalem


930 B.C.
Division of the Kingdom of Israel


930 – 723
The period of the Kings of Israel from Jeroboam I to Hoshea


930 – 586 B.C.
The period of the Kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Zedekiah


840 – 400 B.C.
Period of the Minor Prophets


723 B.C.
The fall of Israel


586 B.C.
Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple


515 B.C.
Temple at Jerusalem Rebuilt


63 B.C.
The Romans occupy Palestine


37 B.C.
Herod the Great is appointed ruler of Judea by Rome


Jesus was born either before 4 BC (when Herod the Great died) or in 6 AD (when the historical Census of Quirinius was undertaken).

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My childhood vision of Jesus, from one of the several “Uncle Arthur” books that were my primary source of religious imagery between the ages of 8 and 12. Any resemblance to the person born most likely in Nazareth (rather than Bethlehem) around 4BC is totally unlikely. Of course, symbolically…

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And yet, echoing Justin Erik Halldór Smith:

I know that I am picking and choosing, and that by many standards I’ve failed to meet the requirements of being a Christian. Many, like those with the banners at the sports events, take John 3:16 to contain the core message of the Gospels. I also claim to know what the core message of the Bible is: love and forgiveness (1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Matthew 5:38), and I claim that there is much extraneous stuff too, which can have little to do with our understanding of the essence of Christianity: the rules concerning marriage, the disregard for animals, the cosmic significance of crucifixion. How do I justify my picking and choosing? Well, who wants me to justify it? The hoarse-voiced goon at the sports match shouting about how Jesus Christ died for my sins? What concern is he of mine?

Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16’ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

I will be exploring and developing the implications of this post in various ways in the future.

Bushfires

My brother lives in Tasmania, but not in an area currently affected. This is the latest news at the time of writing: Fears for missing residents as fire fighting continues.

Police fear there may have been deaths in the fire-ravaged south-east of Tasmania, with a number of people reported missing.

Since Friday, more than 100 homes have been destroyed by a bushfire between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula, in the state’s south-east.

Residents of the worst-affected town of Dunalley have told of how they were forced to dive into the canal in the middle of the town to escape the wall of flames coming towards them on Friday.

State Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says there are grave fears for a small number of people reported missing…

We are, it is fair to say, still facing over a month of fire season.  I was trying to remember when there was last a severe fire down here in The Gong. I vividly remember 1968 – and the season came early: November that year. The whole of the Illawarra Escarpment went up. Living where I am now I would have been uncomfortably close.

1968/69: Widespread damage occurred over much of the eastern part of the State. Major fires at Wollongong burnt rainforest, destroyed 33 homes and five other buildings. Fires in the lower Blue Mountains were fanned by 100km/h westerly winds and destroyed 123 buildings. Three lives were lost.

Julie at Woonona has a Flickr collection superimposing historic photos on current shots. There is one showing Austinmer, north of Wollongong, in 1968.

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I was still teaching at Cronulla High at the time and I remember the sky being filled with smoke to the south.  There were also severe fires in 1997-8, though as far as this area was concerned more to the north.

1997/1998: There were major fires in the Burragorang, Piliga, Hawkesbury, Hunter, Shoalhaven, Central Coast and Sydney’s south (particularly Menai) that proved difficult to contain and suppress, and posed a major threat to communities, their assets and the environment.

However the fires were brought under control in a timely manner with only relatively minor property damage. There were in excess of 250 significant fires, and:

  • approximately 500,000ha were burnt
  • over 5,000 firefighters were utilised at any one time
  • over 60 fixed wing and rotary aricraft were involved
  • 10 homes were lost at Menai
  • 20 local government areas were affected
  • 4 firefighter lives were lost.

The principle duration was 16 days, though fires started in late November 1997 and continued until 28 Feb 1998.

Wfall81

The Menai fires, 1997

See also Turn and burn: the strange world of fire tornadoes and Jim Belshaw’s Saturday Morning Musings – fires, land management & risk.

Oldest house in Wollongong?

There is a story in Saturday’s Illawarra Mercury about a house I can clearly see from my window when I look towards Mount Kembla. For example:

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Once upon a time it looked like this:

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Wollongong Public School principal Harold Cosier and partner Jenny Dixon plan to spend the next five years on what many would see as a daunting project.

"It’s been a bit of a struggle getting finance because banks don’t seem to like old buildings, but now we’re to this point it’s all very exciting," Mr Cosier said yesterday.

The once-grand Georgian house in Bukari Street, West Wollongong, was built in 1843 for Judge Roger Therry, a barrister from County Cork who was attorney-general, sitting in the NSW Legislative Council from 1841 to 1843.

President of the Illawarra Historical Society, Carol Herben, said the sale was a victory for the city.

"It’s a landmark building with huge significance and it’s been very sad to see it deteriorate over the years," Mrs Herben said.

National Trust Illawarra-Shoalhaven branch chair Meredith Hutton was overjoyed.

"Properties of this age and style are disappearing through neglect so we welcome restoration plans."…

The house was originally on 143.7 hectares of land.

It had French doors leading on to an upper verandah which wrapped around three sides of the house, which have been lost over time.

Mr Cosier said the restoration would be based on plans supplied by both heritage authorities and Wollongong City Council.

"The aim is to get it back to how it looked externally to when Judge Therry occupied it," Mr Cosier said…

Sadly too the house was cement rendered in the 1930s. Originally it was sandstock brick.

But is it really Wollongong’s oldest house?  Local academic Michael Organ participated in an exchange on this last year.

2 November 2011 – Keera Vale

Protect oldest house – News that the oldest house in Wollongong is on the market – Keera Vale circa 1842 in Bukari St – provides Wollongong City Council with the opportunity to redeem its poor heritage credentials. Decades of over-zealous development by previous councils have resulted in the destruction of numerous 19th century buildings in the city. The survival of Keera Vale in West Wollongong for more than 150 years is therefore to be wondered at. It is perhaps now time that this rare and precious building comes into public ownership, to ensure its ongoing protection and preservation. Keera Vale could serve the community well as a museum, gallery or cultural heritage centre, and form an integral part of Wollongong’s heritage trail for residents and tourists alike. With the council looking to spend $14 million on cosmetic changes to Crown St Mall, surely it can find – with community support – less than a tenth of that amount to purchase and restore this grand old mansion. As the oldest house in town, it deserves nothing less. Michael Organ, Austinmer.

  • 8 November 2011 – Standing up for history – The story on Wollongong’s oldest house Keera Vale (1844) at Bukari St (Mercury, November 5) was informative, but worrisome. The comment by the real estate agent selling the property that "it has no heritage listing at all" flies in the face of work done by Wollongong City Council’s former heritage committee during the 1980s and 1990s when the house was allocated a "regional" significance rating. It was also on the list of heritage items submitted on May 12, 1999, for gazettal. Why has this listing disappeared? Heritage management by the council is a shambles and the new councillors need to address this black hole as a priority. The fact that the oldest and most historic house in the city is devoid of any heritage protection reveals just how little value the previous administrations gave to our local heritage. Michael Organ, Austinmer.

  • TherryResponse 14 November 2011 – Value our history – I am writing in support of Michael Organ’s letter (Mercury, November 8) regarding Wollongong’s oldest house – Keera Vale. I would like to thank Mr Organ for voicing his concerns and agree with his sentiments regarding the previous council’s heritage management and hope the newly elected councillors address this problem of the disregard for our local history. I have a personal interest in this property as the original owner, Sir Roger Therry [right], is a direct ancestor. He played a significant part in the history of New South Wales by his involvement in our judicial and political systems. An important trial he presided over was the Myall Creek Massacre that lead to the conviction of the men responsible. He also worked with Father John Therry and the Irish Catholic community in their struggle for justice and equity. Sir Roger Therry’s first house in Paddington was demolished to make way for the Royal Hospital for Women that was also demolished in turn. Apartments now occupy the site. Wollongong councillors have the opportunity to preserve a property that is a last link to a man who brought justice to the Illawarra and described the local area beautifully in his book Reminiscences of Thirty Years Residence in New South Wales and Victoria. It would be nice to have the means to secure the property myself and ensure its preservation but unfortunately I don’t. Linda Crawford, Corrimal.

  • Response 15 November 2011 – Keera Vale not oldest – In response to the article (Mercury, November 5), and the subsequent letter from Michael Organ (Mercury, November 8) in relation to Keera Vale, Bukari St, Wollongong, there are a number of factual errors that should be clarified. Firstly, Keera Vale is listed as a heritage item within the Wollongong Local Environmental Plan 2009 as the "Former Roger Therry Residence", 30 Bukari St, Wollongong. Secondly, Keera Vale is not the city’s oldest house as claimed. It is believed to be pre-dated by a small number of remaining residential buildings including Marshall Mount Homestead (1838-1840), Horsley Homestead (1842), and the small Stockman’s Hut which is incorporated into Nudjia at Unanderra (1839-41). This correction is made to ensure historical accuracy and not to discount the high level of significance of Keera Vale, which forms a key element of our city’s heritage. In response to Mr Organ’s criticisms of council’s heritage management practices, on October 31 council considered two reports relating to heritage matters and resolved: 1. To reform the Wollongong Heritage Advisory Committee, under the guidance of Councillor John Dorahy (chairperson), and Cr Vicki Curran. 2. Adopt the Wollongong Heritage Strategy 2011-2014 and the Wollongong Heritage Action Plan 2011-2014. These policies were developed under the former Wollongong Heritage Advisory Committee membership, and outline council’s significant commitment to the protection of the city’s heritage. Community members interested in the city’s heritage are encouraged to have a look at these documents which can be accessed online, and the many positive things council is doing to protect the city’s heritage. Andrew Carfield, Director, Planning and Environment, Wollongong City Council.

I note too that Therry was a “resident judge at Port Phillip”.

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Outbuildings at Horsley, another candidate for oldest surviving buildings in Wollongong.

Image from Wollongong Library.

Mind you we did have much older in Surry Hills, also rather sadly neglected.

Update

Thanks to Joe Davis for drawing attention to Pitfalls of rewriting history.