THE WORLD FAIR IN THE DESERT

 

Camels Coolgardie

Three camels in front of commercial buildings in Coolgardie in the 1890s. (National Library of Australia)

 

It was nothing but desert in 1892. Seven years later Coolgardie was the third-largest town in Western Australia. Shops lined the extraordinarily wide main street, there were seven newspapers, six banks and two stock exchanges, schools, theatres, churches, a synagogue and a mosque for the ‘Afghan’[i] cameleers who kept the 5000-or-so inhabitants supplied with goods. And much of their water. Two cemeteries held over a thousand underground residents, while three breweries and twenty-six hotels slaked the prodigious thirst of the miners. In 1896 the railway arrived and just a few years later ‘the mother of the Western Australian goldfields’ hosted a World Fair.

The first of the grand celebrations of industry and technology that began the World’s Fair movement was held in Paris in 1844. Fifty years later they were an international fad and no self-respecting country or industry could not have one. The Coolgardie event was officially titled ‘The Western Australian International Mining and Industrial Exhibition’. Nothing like it had been seen in the west and there would never be anything quite like it again.

On 21 March, the special train from Perth arrived carrying one hundred and fifty VIPs, including the Governor and the Premier with their respective families and entourages. They were welcomed by the mayor and all the dignitaries that Coolgardie boasted, together with the Mayor of Melbourne, an Archdeacon and the vice-consul of Denmark. The triumphal arch of flowers on Bayley Street had only just been completed in the early hours of the morning and there were: ‘festoons at the end of the street facing the exhibition, and these, with profuse displays of bunting at the hotels and other establishments along Bayley Street, comprised the decorations with which the town had arrayed itself for the occasion. Interwoven with the arch were the words, ‘Welcome to Coolgardie’, while similarly hospitable greetings appeared on the walls of buildings along each side of Bayley Street.’

Anyone who was anyone was there, as well as many who were not. The speeches, toasts and backslapping were almost endless. The shortest was made by a colourful entrepreneur named Jules Joubert, manager of the event. Joubert was an early example of a global organiser that we have become familiar with through international sporting networks and affiliations. He had parlayed an earlier involvement with the World Fair movement into a position of control and influence. Not surprisingly, he was happy. He claimed to have ‘managed fifty exhibitions, and the present one was therefore his jubilee. He would have liked to have stopped the sun for a fortnight, for then they would have had one of the best exhibitions ever seen in Australasia.’

And everyone else was in good spirits, especially when the official opening of the grand Exhibition Building finally took place. There were more speeches, of course. Premier Forrest was overflowing with praise, emphasising that the government was in full support of the Exhibition and ‘were most anxious that the Exhibition should do all its promoters desired it should do. There had been a great many sceptics and unbelievers, and people who threw cold water on the project, and if it had not been for the people of Coolgardie – supported, he thought, by himself and he might say the Government – this Exhibition would not have been in the position it was now.’

And there was more, rather a lot. But the topic that every miner and business-owner in the goldfields finally came:

There was one thing he missed, which he had hoped to see, and that was a river of water coming into the town-(cheers)-a river he had promised he would do his best to bring. And they were bringing it. People might say what they liked, they might be sceptical or disbelievers, but he could tell them that the great water scheme was raising itself up like the Temple of Jerusalem was raised silently. (Cheers.) There was no great sound of hammers going on. These hammers were, however, being applied, and in a very short time, like that magnificent edifice, this great water scheme would rear itself up, and fresh water would flow into the town. (Cheers).

A strike of wharfies at Fremantle meant that loads of exhibits being waggoned from Perth were still wending their way towards the glittering event. Despite this, the show went on with balls, orchestras and entertainments of all kinds – ‘Dancing was indulged in till after midnight.’ Over five thousand people attended on the first day and more than 60 000 were estimated to have visited by the time it ended almost three and a half months later. The Exhibition was pronounced a great success, particularly in the circumstances, as the press pointed out:

it may be safely asserted that no event of this nature has been attempted under more discouraging circumstances than those which have attended the present undertaking in this remote portion of the Australian continent, where eight years ago there was not a vestige of civilisation, and when the aboriginal, like Robinson Crusoe, was monarch of all he surveyed, but which through the discovery of gold has become a great mining centre and a hive of industry. It was undoubtedly a bold undertaking to induce the manufacturers of the old world to unite in displaying their wares and products to the population of these fields. Coolgardie being in the heart of a wilderness, and at a distance of nearly 400 miles from the sea coast, presented almost an insurmountable difficulty in this respect alone.[ii]

The city in the desert was on its way to even greater things!

But it was not to be. Rich as Coolgardie’s lodes of gold might be, they were outdone by the even richer and more abundant ores of Kalgoorlie and Boulder, not much further down the track, now known as the ‘Super Pit.’ Combined with the slump in gold prices at this period, Coolgardie began a slow decline. A School of Mines was opened in 1902 but closed a year later, supplanted by Kalgoorlie’s own school. In the 1930s the Grand Exhibition Building burned down, by which time the town was in terminal decline. Not quite a ghost town, Coolgardie today has around 900 people living there, but its glory days have long faded and its mainstay, like many bush towns, is tourism.

 

CoolgardieSchoolOfMines_WEFretwellCollection

William E. Fretwell (1874 – 1958)W.E. Fretwell Collection Photographs of William Edward Fretwell (1874 – 1958). Burned down 1929.

NOTES:

[i] The cameleers also came from various regions of India and what is now Pakistan; ‘Afghan’ was a colloquial term.

[ii] Quotations from The West Australian 22 March 1899, p. 5; see also Lynne Stevenson, ‘The Coolgardie International Exhibition, 1899’ in: Lenore Layman and Tom Stannage (eds). Celebrations in Western Australia, Studies in Western Australian History, No. 10, April 1989, pp. 100-106.

THE RETURN OF TYPHOID MARY

Mary_Mallon_(Typhoid_Mary)

‘Typhoid Mary’

 

Now she is called ‘Public Harm Auntie’ – in South Korea. In the 1980s and 90s she was known in the western world as ‘AIDS Mary’, a virulent and reckless transmitter of the HIV virus. In the twentieth-century America she was known as ‘Typhoid Mary’.

These creatures of twisted history and folklore were – and are – said to be spreading deadly disease. In early 2020, Public Harm Auntie is wantonly infecting South Koreans with Corona virus, or COVID-19.

How durable are these mass delusions, the spawn of fear and misinformation? Mary Mallon, born in Ireland in 1869 migrated to the USA where she worked as a domestic and cook for wealthy households. In 1906, it was discovered that the families she worked for had developed typhoid. It turned out that Mary was a carrier of the disease, and immune to it herself. Authorities quarantined her and later let her free on condition she never worked as a cook again. Unfortunately, Mary did. When she was discovered, she was again quarantined – for twenty-three years until her death in 1938.

Over this period, a worldwide typhoid epidemic raged, killing one in ten victims. Assisted by the press, panic erupted in America centred on Mary’s grim reaper status. Hysteria, misinformation and prejudice did their usually dirty work and Mary became the cause of untold typhoid deaths across the country.

As always, the reality was much different. Mary was a carrier who never contracted the disease herself, as were about fifty others. Mary only infected 33 people, three of whom died of the disease.

AIDS Mary (sometimes ‘Harry’) was, according to popular belief, at least as lethal. But, unlike Mary Mallon, she never existed. And while Public Harm Auntie appears to be an actual person, the alleged number of her infections with COVID-19 is undoubtedly swelled through the transmission of rumour as much as the virus.

Typhoid May, AIDS Mary (Harry) and Public Harm Auntie were [products of the pre-digital era. Now we have the greatest transmitter of falsehood, ignorance and fake news ever invented. The World Wide Web will ensure that this information virus spreads much faster than the disease itself.

REFERENCE:

David Mikkelson, ‘Did Typhoid Mary Cause the Deaths of Thousands of People?’, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/typhoid-mary/. The Snopes investigative and fact checking site is highly recommended as a vaccination against bullshit.

FACT AND FAKE – THE FIRST ANZAC DAY

anzac pak high res

Photographs by JarrahTree…commons.wikimedia.org

 

Albany historian, Douglas Sellick, presents a myth-busting guest post on the real history of Australia’s most powerful tradition. He provides the real story and also a mystery…

*

In the Western Australian town of Albany from where many single voyage troopships and two great military convoys departed for the Great War there is a recently installed  municipal memorial plinth in front of the Anglican Church on which is reported a great deal of mis-information relevant to the Anglican parish church S. John the Evangelist, its Parish Priest and the civic happenings on Anzac Day in Albany between 1918 and 1938.

The main part of the text on the parish church plinth reads:

…on the morning of 24th February 1918, a very special service was held at St. John’s Church that would shape future ANZAC Day commemorations. A mass for the war dead of World War 1 was offered by visiting Reverend and army chaplain, Arthur Ernest White. Reverend White – or Padre White as he was known – followed the service with a pilgrimage to Mt. Clarence. Atop Mt. Clarence looking across King George’s Sound, memories were conjured of the great fleet which had departed only a few years earlier. To pay tribute to the troops, “the flower of Australian manhood”, Padre White arranged for a boatman to cast a wreath into its waters.

 Also inaccurate is a local newspaper article dated Friday, April 26, 2019 which begins:

Easter dawns with tradition. Worshippers packed into St. John’s Anglican Church in Albany on Sunday for the [9.30am.] Easter Eucharist. The service followed the traditional Easter Sunday dawn service honouring Padre Ernest White, who held Albany’s first Anzac Day dawn service in 1930 at the top of Mt. Clarence…

Both these careless items are perfect examples of local “made up” or “fake history” of very important Anzac Day events and people in 1916, 1918, 1930, 1931, 1937 and 1938.

New research, focusing on the important happenings on significant Anzac Days in Albany has revealed many myths which have gone uncorrected. It is obvious the above historical information has been compiled by researchers and writers without the benefit of primary research. Their findings have been copied and used by tour guides, municipal local histories, tourist brochures and scores of popular internet sites over many years. Also, there is the municipal claim that Albany is “where the great Anzac Legend had its beginning”, which completely ignores the first military embarkation ports of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Wellington, Lyttleton, Port Chalmers and Fremantle. Alas, all these mistakes have had the effect of perpetuating Albany’s famous history myths.

What then is the true Albany story?

The true Albany Anzac Day story of 1930 must start with the 1912 arrival in Albany of the The Reverend Arthur White, BSB, London born and English trained priest-member of the Bush Brotherhood of S. Boniface in Western Australia whose Clergy House was at Williams,  a small town north on the old road to Perth. Fr. White visited Albany often in pre-war days and made a considerable number of friends. He delivered his first Albany sermon at Evensong in S. John’s Church on Sunday, 27th October 1912 and celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in Albany at the 8 a.m. in S. John’s Church on Christmas Day in 1913. The date of 24th February 1918 claiming to be the date the first Dawn Service in Albany celebrated by Fr. White is wrong. However, Fr. White was indeed in church that Sunday morning officiating at three morning services:  8am Holy Communion, 10am The Litany and 11am Matins, because the Rector, Archdeacon Thomas Louch was away from the parish. There is no record of an entry in S. John’s Service Register of any other regular Holy Communion service or Private Mass Fr. White may have celebrated during any of his recorded visits to Albany prior to 1929.

In 1930, Anglican Dawn Church Services were conducted in parish churches in Western Australia in Collie, Northam and Roebourne, and quite possibly elsewhere around Australia and New Zealand.  In 1930 Albany was just one of many places to hold an early morning Dawn Requiem service  on 25 April, which is also S. Mark’s Day in the church calendar. It is important to remember a service is a formal church ceremony of worship and cannot be applied to many of the very first informal silent gatherings of servicemen at dawn which occurred in some other places around Australia claiming to be the site of the Australia’s first dawn service.

The first Albany public Anzac Day Commemoration of the district war dead was during Matins at 11a.m. in 1916 in S. John’s Church, the names of known soldiers were first read out by the Church Warden, this event was followed by a civic service held in the Albany Town Hall organised by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, the Women’s Auxiliary and the Sons of Soldiers’ League. Later the returned Services League (RSL) organized a street parade to the Albany War Memorial on York Street. These rather clumsy parades were held in various forms for many years until the RSL officially re-organised their membership rules and parade procedures in 1925.

The Albany Anglican dawn service in 1930 was simply following a then Church of England custom of the daily early morning celebrating of the Eucharist, the tradition lasted at S. John’s for about fifty years and was never revived, being replaced on Anzac Day by the present day RSL type service and parade.

 

The Mystery of the 1930 Albany Dawn Service

In The Albany Advertiser’s first edition on 24th April 1930, under CHURCH NEWS and the heading  CHURCH OF ENGLAND appears the following announcement :

Saint John’s Church, Anzac Day.

6 a.m. Service at Dawn.  Holy Communion.

Recital of Names of the Fallen.

Procession to the War Memorial.

Laying of Wreaths.

 On Anzac Day directly after the Dawn Requiem Mass Fr. White, using a steel nib and black ink, filled in his Service Register as required by Canon Law and his Bishop. No other person is permitted to make any entry in this Register other than the parish priest. I have carefully examined Fr White’s entries, his handwriting in black ink appears hurried and spidery. However, in another hand alongside the main entry are the mysterious bracketed words ‘First Dawn Service held in Australia’ made by a wide fountain pen nib in blue ink by a person or persons unknown, it was certainly not made by Fr. White. This claim has been vigorously maintained by local parish and civic historians, they insist that this extra entry was categorically made by Father White.  If it was, how was he to know it was Australia’s first dawn service he had just celebrated?  Nor would he have added any additional entry in the Service Register.

The evidence of the extra entry suggests an un-authorised and illegal entry made in blue fountain pen ink by an ever-helpful parishioner or an interested local historian at a later date alongside the principal service entry of the day. Who made this entry? It has become one of the most poignant myths of the period. Unsuspecting local church and civic historians failed to pick up this strange discrepancy and its careless use has been accepted by many as fact and has become one of the many strange Albany historical myths, including the myth Fr White returned in 1923 for a holiday.  In 1923 he was hard at work in Broken Hill and the Riverina all that year and spending a few weeks holiday on Kangaroo Island.

 

The True  Story of the Anglican Parish Pilgrimage of 1931.

 The local tradition of an Anglican Parish Pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Clarence on Anzac Day began in 1931, not 1930, at a site now known as “Padre White’s Lookout” so named by a municipal worthy who had perhaps viewed a 1938 photograph of Fr White standing rock looking out to sea. Look-Outs are popular in scenic Albany.

The pilgrimage custom arose as follows: After the second Dawn Service Father White and some of the congregation reached the rocky summit of Mount Clarence well after dawn had passed. They gathered in silence there to remember those whose names were not recorded on parish or district war memorials but had passed by Albany throughout the war.The Albany Advertiser on Monday 27th April 1931 under its Church News column reported: ‘Following the Dawn Service at St. John’s a small party climbed Mount Clarence to over-look the anchorage where in 1914 the first convoy of transports assembled to carry the Anzacs to war’.

In the years following this simple pilgrimage initiated by Fr White, became part of the Dawn Service custom at S. John’s Church.  Many years later in Queensland he told one of the Sisters of Sacred Advent at St. Mary’s School in Herberton that he considered that climb to be his personal pilgrimage. This pilgrimage site and custom should not be confused with the present day RSL Dawn Service at the site of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial which is a short distance down from the summit of Mount Clarence. Today, a recently established RSL style service on Mount Clarence is held before a huge crowd at dawn on Anzac Day. This RSL gathering originated shortly after the relocation from Egypt of the famous Desert Mounted Corps Memorial at the head of Apex Drive just below the summit of Mount Clarence. This grand memorial, incorrectly called locally the Anzac Memorial was originally situated on the banks of the Suez Canal, was re-erected and dedicated at Albany on Sunday 11th October 1964.

 

The True  Story The Sound  Wreath and Boatman of 1937.

Early in 1937 Fr White made a suggestion to the local RSL and TocH that they might like to make arrangements for a boatman to drop a wreath into the narrow entrance of The Princess Royal Harbour. It was thought the wreath would float out into King George Sound on the early tide.  The first occasion the custom was successfully carried out by a member of the Harbour Master’s staff, standing on the end of the Harbour Master’s jetty was on Anzac Day, Sunday 25th April 1937. On the day it had been decided a boat was not necessary.

This event could not have seen from the summit of Mount Clarence as claimed by many town witnesses between 1930 and 1936 due to the fact the shoreline of King George Sound is obscured by Mount Adelaide. The tiny wreath even if it had been carried far out into King   George Sound would have been difficult to see even with powerful binoculars.  The telling of this event has confused many, lasting only a few years and declined shortly after the start of Second World War in 1940.

 

The True Story of the Famous Summit Photograph of 1938

The most frequently used black and white photograph of Father White depicting him on the summit of Mount Clarence was taken as a young girl by Mrs. Patricia Davies, the widow of an Anglican priest, a close friend of the Rector. The 1938 photograph depicts Father White standing on a large rock in silhouette in street clothes looking out to sea. This subject must be one of the more bizarre myths associated with Albany’s history. Many years later when reproduced for the first time the caption stated it depicts ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Service, 25 April 1930’.  A weirder mistake which has become a myth cannot be imagined. Father White is doing no such thing, in fact, he was enjoying a last visit to Mt. Clarence on the very day – Friday 20th May 1938 – he sailed away to become the Parish Priest at Forbes in New South Wales.

This information was given to me by Mrs Davies because I had asked her to confirm the circumstances of the photograph and sort her opinion relevant to its incorrect use. It was her opinion the photograph had fallen in the hands of an unknown amateur parish historian who misunderstood its real significance and captioned it with “made up” details. Regrettably, this photograph has been used incorrectly in many publications. This I fear is because of the surprising prominence given in the official exhibition and guide to the Albany National Anzac Centre. The official, though false, caption reads ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Dawn Service, 25 April 1930. Courtesy of St. John’s Anglican Church, Albany’.  This incorrect and absurd caption, accompanied by a very poor, disjoined biography of Father White’s priestly life, must surely rank as the source of the most ludicrous myth relating to the true site of Albany’s first Anzac Day Dawn Service in St. John’s Church. More the pity it is part of the Official Exhibition and Guide to The National Anzac Centre at The Princess Royal Fortress in Albany

 

Sources

The Albany Advertiser various editions 1914-1939, Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, Cairns Post, The Church Chronicle, The Western Australian Church News, Bunbury Diocesan Year Book, Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1953 Edition. The Anglican Religious Communities Year Book various and current issues. The RSL Listening Post, The Western Mail, Perth various editions 1911-1948. Albany Parish Service Registers 1901-1948, Batty Library of Western Australian History. The Albany Wizbang. Official Organ of the Albany Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League 1936-1941. The Link (TocH) 1926-1973 all found in the National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia and the State Library of Western Australia.

Conversations with a retired Sister of the Sacred Advent in Brisbane, a Sister of the Community of  Holy Name, Melbourne. The late Reverend Father Tony Bolt of Albany who was taught Greek and Latin by Father White, Brigadier John White, son. Father John A. Moses & George F. Davis, Anzac Day Origins: Canon D.J. Garland and Trans-Tasman Commemoration, Canberra; Barton Books, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

HOW DID LINNAEUS KNOW THAT?

Andromeda drawing by Linnaeus

Sketch by Carl Linnaeus 1734. The drawings clearly reference the Andromeda story in which the heroine is chained to a rock and in danger of being killed by a sea monster

 

Around 1444, Queen Maria of Castile had a manuscript made for her by an unknown author. The document was a collection of plants drawings, together with their medical and culinary uses. The modern system of naming and categorising plants invented by Carl Linnaeus, would not be in existence for centuries and so the plants are identified according to their folk names. One plant was named Andromeda, after the Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus.

There are many versions of most Greek myths, but the basic story of Andromeda is reasonably stable. She was the beautiful daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, rulers of an upper Nile region. Cassiopeia’s boasting of Andromeda’s great beauty offended the Nereids and as a result of this hubris, Poseidon had Cepheus and Cassiopeia’s lands ravaged by a sea monster. Cepheus and Cassiopeia chained Andromeda to a rock as a propitiatory sacrifice to the monster. Luckily, the travelling hero Perseus was in the neighbourhood and slew the monster just in time. Andromeda and Perseus were married and lived happily with many children in Greece. When Andromeda died, Athena had her whisked up to the night sky as the constellation named after her, near those of Perseus and Cassiopeia.

Ahh. Great story, no wonder people remembered it, including Linnaeus.

In the fifteenth century, and probably long before, it was believed that the Rosemary-heather was good for preserving womanly beauty, an early anti-ageing potion. Mixed with holy water into bread dough, and with the uttering of certain magical words, Rosemary-heather was believed to reverse the ravages of ageing. It seems that this knowledge, or belief, was subsequently lost.

But it was known to Linnaeus. When he came to name Rosemary-heather, he drew on this ancient knowledge to call it Andromeda polifolia, his use of that term based on the connection between the Greek myth of the beautiful Andromeda and the alleged ant-ageing properties of the plant. It used to be thought that Linnaeus had simply made up the name based on the general popularity of Greek myths, but we now know that he was making use of a traditional connection between the two.

But how did Linnaeus know that? No-one else seems to have had the knowledge. Was he heir to some informally transmitted repertoire of ancient magic and medicine? He was a man of science, but at that period the modern rational character of scientific inquiry was not fully established and scientists, including the great Isaac Newton, among others, frequently delved into or were influenced by all sorts of esoteric traditions. Alchemy, magic and mysticism often coexisted with rational inquiry and experimentation. Linnaeus’s notes on his drawing of Andromeda show that he was familiar with the esoteric tradition associated with the plant. The Latin translates as ‘fiction that is true’, ‘mysticism that is genuine’ and ‘forms that are depicted’. He happily adapted that connection to give the Rosemary-heather the scientific name it has had ever since.

We’ll probably never know the answer to this intriguing mystery. But what it does highlight is the survival of venerable knowledge and ideas over considerable periods and the transmission of that knowledge independent of formal channels. A great deal of serious scientific and medical interest is now being taken in traditional medicines of indigenous peoples around the world, as modern science re-discovers the efficaciousness of natural treatments previously ignored and refuted. This is beyond quackery and a reminder that, despite the technological and other wonders of our modern world, we don’t know everything and it pays to keep an open – and always critical – mind.

 

rosemary from ms

The Rosemary-heather as drawn in the original manuscript.

 

SOURCE:

The information and images in this post are drawn from Gerard E Cheshire, Plant Series, No. 6. Manuscript MS408. Andromeda polifolia at https://www.academia.edu/41594847/Plant_Series_No._6._Manuscript_MS408._Andromeda_polifolia, Jan 2020.

KITTY GRAVY WORKS THE SYSTEM, 1825

Mrs Gravy

Mrs Gravy

 

In the English city of Chester one day in September 1825 ‘an elderly-looking woman’ was brought before a local magistrate and the town clerk to answer a few questions. She had arrived back in London from Australia two years earlier, where she had ‘promptly been robbed of 170 pounds’.

In those days there were no social security welfare payments and those without other means of support had to apply to the parish for relief.

The interview began with the woman being asked her name:

‘Well my name, your Honour’s, a very ugly name – it’s Kitty Gravy, (dropping a curtsey) I come from the Vale of Clwyd.’

Next, they wanted to know if the woman was married;

‘Married! O yes; I are be married very often; I have had four husbands, and the last he is in Liverpool Infirmary with a broken leg, and his name’s John Joachim Gravy; a very ugly name, isn’t it your Worship?’

What His Worship replied, if anything, was not recorded but Mrs Gravy went on to tell the panel that she had been married at Botany Bay. They thought she meant a place in Chester near the canal, opposite Queen Street.

‘Pooh, no: I mean Botany Bay – the real Botany Bay, 30 000 miles off, your Honour.’

‘And what took you there?’

‘ ‘Pon my word, they transported me for seven years for doing nothing – nothing at all; God knows what for, I can’t tell. I never stole anything in my life.’

Kitty then put her hand into her ‘sinister pocket’ and drew out some papers. They turned out to include what purported to be a certificate from the Governor General of New South Wales dated twenty years earlier. On the back was a description of the ‘fair complexion’ of a much younger Kitty. When the clerk read it out ‘Mrs Kitty, looking very knowing, and with a shrug of her shoulders, exclaimed, “Aye, but it’s withered now”.’

Kitty went on to explain that Mr Gravy, a German, had been a free settler in New South Wales, living at Woolloomooloo. It was there that she had, presumably, met and married him.

All this time, Kitty ‘appeared to be in high glee’. So much so that she was rebuked for her levity by one of the Aldermen. She replied:

‘Thank your Honour, (curtseying), I’m much obliged: I paid 100 pounds for my passage home, and everyone loves poor Kitty. I’m all fair yea and nay, your Honours.’

It was then suggested by one of the interviewers that Kitty was in fact living with a Frenchman in Brighton ‘but she repelled the charge indignantly’ and went on to catalogue the history of her various husbands.

‘My first husband was James Miller, and he was a Scotchman; Thomas Wilson was my next, and he was a Hollander in the Navy; my third husband John Grace, an Irishman, from the County of Wicklow; and my fourth was John Gravy, a German. So you see (said Mrs Kitty with all the naivety of an accomplished punster) that for my last two husbands I had Grease and Gravy!’ Of the four, Kitty reckoned the first had been ‘worth them all.’

When asked when she had first married, Kitty replied:

‘Eh! The Lord knows, it’s a long while ago.’ She told the panel that she had a daughter aged 46 with six children and it was eventually decided that Kitty Gravy must have been seventy-six years of age.

Although she was asking for financial help, her fingers were decked with rings, some silver, and the papers in her ‘sinister pocket’ included a number of receipts for relief she had already received from other parishes. Whether the interviewers decided that Kitty was a deserving case for the Poor Books we do not know. But her practiced arts of flattering and cajoling the system to satisfy her needs, real or contrived, were certainly on display that day in Chester and they would also have served her well in the penal system of New South Wales.[i]

 

NOTES

[i] A broadside from The Australian of 1826, reproduced in Geoffrey Ingleton, True Patriots All, p. 104. A version of this story appeared in my Great Convict Stories.

NUMSKULLS, NINCOMPOOPS AND THE AGE OF FOOLS

SHip of fools Pieter_van_der_Heyden_Die_blau_Schuyte_1559

Ship of Fools – Pieter van der Heyden  (fl. 1551–1572)

In our current era of globalised stupidity it seems fitting to take a look at the folklore of fools. Pretty much every culture has them and the same tales of their stupidity often turn up in different traditions. The Turkish Hadji, the Italian Bastienelo, the Cambodian Kong, the Chinese Wang and the Arabic Djuna typify this class of heroism, which seems to be largely restricted to males. Hmm.

Numskulls, as these characters are often known, characteristically perform foolish tasks through misunderstanding a verbal communication or taking one too literally. The English Lazy Jack simply does whatever he is told, regardless of the circumstances. The Drongo is the Australian nincompoop, a heroically stupid figure who interprets whatever he is told literally. When the boss tells him to ‘hang a new gate’, the Drongo takes the gate out to the nearest tree and hangs it in a noose.

Jean Sot is a character in French and French diaspora lore. In the Louisiana French versions Jean is a fool who usually misunderstands instructions and shoots the cow instead of milking it. Or he may take what he is told literally and throw a dog named Parsley into the broth instead of the herb parsley, as his mother has requested. On other occasions Jean may remove and take with him a door he has been asked to guard and sometimes makes a fortune when he accidentally frightens off the robbers who have stolen it.

Some cultures have so many fools they have to keep them all in areas or towns designated for the purpose. In ancient Greece those who lived in the province of Boetia were treated as hopeless hayseeds and hicks. The English town of Gotham in Nottinghamshire has been the focus of numskull tales since at least the fifteenth century. One story told of the Wise men of Gotham is that twelve of them went fishing in a boat but returned in a state of great despair believing that one of them had drowned. They knew this because they could each only count eleven fishermen: each forgot to count himself.

Other fooltowns include Chelm or Helm in Poland, where even the intellectually-challenged Berel the Beadle seems like a mental giant; Altstätten in Switzerland, and Emesa in what used to be Persia. Other towns of clowns are found in Pakistan (Buneyr) and Sri Lanka, (Kadambawa), as well as in Japan, Finland and elsewhere.

In German tradition, the inhabitants of Schwarzenborn and Mutschingen are said to be foolish, as are those of the mythic German town of Schild. Here, the people were so stupid they built a council house without windows but were unable to understand why it was so dark inside. Eventually they realised that no light was able to enter the building, but instead of putting windows in, the people of Schild tried to carry beams of sunshine into the building. This did not improve the lighting and so they next took the advice of a passer-by to take the roof off, richly rewarding him for his assistance. This was fine and the people of Schild were very happy – until it rained. They had to replace the roof and consider what they might do next.

Groping around in the darkness of the council house, one of the fools noticed a small beam of daylight lancing in through a crack between roof and wall. After looking at the light for a while and giving the matter a good deal of thought, he suggested to the others that it might be possible to brighten the building by adding some windows. After considering this suggestion for quite a long while there was general agreement that it just might be worth a try.

Many of these tales are more or less affectionate and the characters in them often much loved. What is there to like about stupidity? Perhaps folk fools are reflections of ourselves. With rare exceptions, few of us are actually fools, we just sometimes do foolish things. It’s all part of being human and if we can find a way to weave an enjoyable and witty yarn around foolish deeds of trivial as well as gargantuan dimensions, we will, just as we have done for thousands of years.

What a pity that foolishness seems to have now broken out of folkloric fantasy and into reality.

Wise_Men_of_Gotham_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

William Wallace Denslow’s illustrations for Three Wise Men of Gotham, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose

 

 

 

TRACKING MATILDA – A CONTINUING CONUNDRUM

swaggie

Landscape with Swagman (also known as The swagman’s camp by a billabong), painting by Gordon Coutts, oil on canvas, 35.6 x 45.7 cm stretcher; 55.0 x 65.2 x 7.7 cm frame : 0 – Whole; 35 x 45 cm Art Gallery of NSW

 

Sometimes said to be the world’s most recorded song, the origins of Australia’s accidental anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’, has troubled historians and folklorists for a century or so. Just when was it first composed. In what circumstances, where and by whom?

Any number of competing and conflicting theories have been put forward in what seems to be a never-ending flow of books on the subject. Now, W Benjamin Lindner has come up with the most definitive answer to date. Applying the forensic skills of a criminal barrister and a rigorous historical approach to a decidedly ‘two pipe problem’, as Sherlock Holmes might have put it, Lindner’s detective work has convincingly solved the case. It’s all in his Waltzing Matilda: Australia’s Accidental Anthem. A Forensic History (Boolarong Press, 2019).

Not wanting to spoil the story, I won’t give away his conclusion, so you’ll need to check out the book to find the answer. Despite its deep engagement with archival records and the other dry-as-dust stuff that historians like to engage with, it is a good read. While it sets out to prove a particular and important chronological point about the composition of the song, it necessarily tells the human stories of the people most closely involved with it, at the time, and later.

These are, of course, the two main characters, A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Christina Macpherson. Paterson thought so little of his dashed-off lyric that he sold the rights to his publisher for five pounds and hardly ever talked about it again. Repurposing a catchy Scots tune, often said to be one of the most recorded songs of all time, Christina Macpherson, mostly got lost in the condescension of posterity.  But now she is confirmed in her proper place as the composer of our national song.

And there is a supporting cast of often-colourful other characters who were in on the original events behind the song, as well as later writers who put their efforts towards working out exactly what happened when and where. These include Sydney May, the first person to take an interest, starting seriously in the 1940s. He was misled by some of the accounts he collected but gets the credit for setting the Matilda hunt waltzing.

Then there was the no-nonsense bushman, Richard Magoffin, raised near the legendary site of composition, Dagworth Station. With a commendable disdain for academic historians and the complex copyright issues surrounding the song, he doggedly pursued Matilda through Queensland, across Australia and, ultimately, to the USA. Magoffin made a number of important contributions to the song’s history, though as Lindner shows, like most Matilda researchers, he got one or two things wrong as well. Nevertheless, his work has also been the basis of the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton, dedicated to preserving and representing the history of the song.

Folkies will be familiar with another important figure in the debate. The late and much missed Dennis O’Keeffe advanced the story by investigating family traditions about the song and linking it closely with violent events of the 1890s shearers’ strike in his Waltzing Matilda: The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song (2012). Lindner’s own findings mean he isn’t convinced by that argument but acknowledges the value of O’Keeffe’s contribution to the scholarship of the song.

Many others have also had a crack at solving the mystery, putting forward various theories and speculations. But Lindner aims to avoid supposition and myth in favour of cold, hard facts.  Not too much escapes his steely eye. He combs old train timetables, ships’ passenger lists, letters, diaries and even considers a skull in the Queensland Police Museum to build his case. From all this evidence, he establishes a chronology for the creation and early diffusion of the lyrically sparse and – let’s be honest – pretty silly ditty about a swaggie knocking off a sheep and throwing himself in the billabong when the squatter and the cops turn up.

The rudimentary lyric of our great song is one of its many intriguing characteristics. I once had a literary colleague who studied the words of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and concluded that it was nearly empty of semantic content. It was such a minimal story, told in so few words, that it was – almost – meaningless. We can take this either to mean that it’s one of the slightest pieces of literature ever scribbled, or that Paterson was a genius of narrative compression. Whatever, in my view, this is the secret of the song’s lyrical success. It is such an empty vessel that, like a cliché, it can be filled with just about any meaning we care to pour in – or out, as many have.

But that’s just my take on the song’s curious appeal. Lindner has nobbled the facts on behalf of us all. Apart from those invested in the tourism appeal of ‘Matilda country’ and a handful of researchers, not many people will give a flying jumbuck about his findings, alas. But anyone with even the faintest interest in the intriguing history of this amazingly durable ditty should ‘grab one with glee’ from any good bookshop or from the publisher.

Even after his research and writing epic, Lindner is still interested in the song, noting that ‘the history of the origins of Waltzing Matilda remains incomplete’, and is keen to hear from anyone with something to contribute to its ever-expanding mythology. He can be contacted at waltzingmatildahistory@gmail.com .You can also follow developments on Facebook at W.Benjamin Lindner, Author .

GS