ANZAC Day is the one day of the year…

ANZAC Day is the one day of the year that many Australians show any genuine respect for Australian history. For the remaining 364 days, many remain ignorant, dismissive, racist, sexist and bigoted. These overtly patriotic Aussies access a deeply-hidden reverence on April 25 and demand that the remainder of the population display an equal amount of pride in the achievements of soldiers and the nation as a whole.

Respect Australian history!

Many Australians implore us all to respect the nation’s history on ANZAC Day during personal conversations, across social media, in the workplace and on the flagpole in front of their house. These same people exhibit very little interest in the stories of women, migrants and Aboriginal people and the part they played in the nation’s history. History for many Australians extends to accounts of WWI and WWII, the Gold Rush, Federation and the Explorers. The figures they credit with building the nation are Diggers (soldiers) farmers, sportspeople and Explorers – almost all of whom are Caucasian and male. All Australians recognise the part these people played in shaping the modern nation, but some realise that women, migrants and Aboriginal people also made a significant contribution to contemporary Australia, and deserve to be remembered.

The respectful mourners cling to the following tried and true phrases about the history of this nation:

Australia has no history

Proud, flag-waving patriots often bemoan the fact that Australia has no history. They perpetuate this idea with reference to the age-old cultures and structures of Europe or Asia and compare these to Australia’s comparative youth. There is one major flaw in this thinking; it completely dismisses the existence of Indigenous Australians, who continue the world’s oldest surviving culture.

It happened long ago, forget about it

When confronted with the truth of colonisation and the forceful dispossession of Indigenous people from their land, many Australians tell Aboriginal people that ‘it happened a long time ago’ and that everyone should ‘let it go’, ‘move on’ or ‘forget about it’. They issue the same response to stories of the Stolen Generation, The Aboriginal Day of Mourning’ and accounts of individual massacres of Aboriginal people across the nation. Interestingly, they refuse to forget about WWI even though that happened ‘a long time ago’.

They defend our way of life

We are told that Australia’s armed forces defend the nation. We are told that our armed services personnel ‘keep us safe’ and ‘protect our way of life’. The last time we were reminded of this our prime minister, Scott Morrison, even forced himself to cry for the cameras. Most of us believe these broad statements, out of patriotism or naivety. We fail to recognise that these statements are often used to justify support of the multi-million dollar defence industry, and to send young people to needless deaths. Armed forces play a part in defending the nation, but so do trade and diplomacy.

Did the ANZACS protect Australia?

ANZAC Day was created to recognise the sacrifices, hardships and deaths of soldiers in WWI, particularly in Gallipoli, Turkey. WWI never directly threatened Australia. Australians lost their lives protecting Great Britain. ANZAC Day also recognises Australia’s contribution to WWII, when we fought again for the British. Our own country was directly threatened in WWII when Japanese submarines entered Sydney harbour and their planes bombed Darwin. It is also argued that the fall of Singapore posed a subsequent threat to Australia, and that Australian soldiers suffered while defending the tiny nation. That said, most Australian armed forces personnel fought for Great Britain in WWII, in battles waged a long way from Australia. Did they protect Australia, or did they protect our relationship with our colonial masters?

Current ANZAC Day commemorations pay tribute to soldiers who have have worn the Australian uniform in any war, but all of these battles have occurred overseas, most often in service of The United States during their wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. The only extended battle that occurred on Australian soil was the battle between the British colonisers and Indigenous Australians, but the ANZAC Day commemorators don’t like to be reminded of this. They cling to another popular phrase associated with the history of the nation: Australia was settled, and not invaded.

Do Australians realise this historical truth, or are they too enamoured with the patriotism of ANZAC Day to accept the subtle and nuanced details of modern history?

The strength and depth of emotion prompted by ANZAC Day could be explained by a question:

What is Australian?

The problematic nature of Australian identity also explains the heightened reverence towards ANZAC Day. April 25 has become a quasi national day and surpassed January 26 in the minds of many Aussies, because Australia Day is problematic.

Many Australians continue to celebrate Australia Day with joy and pride, while Indigenous Australians refer to it as Invasion Day. The day itself raises the difficult question of what it means to be Australian. Is an Australian an Indigenous person? Is an Australian a Caucasian soldier, farmer or athlete, or is an Australian a migrant who could have been born anywhere in the world? Is it all of the above?

For many Australians, this question is too difficult to answer, or even to consider, so they impose their patriotism on ANZAC Day. Some keen observers have tracked the increasing patriotism associated with ANZAC Day, and fear it could overshadow the remembrance of fallen soldiers, for whom the day was created.

Don’t criticise ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is sacred. ANZAC Day is off limits. Even this article is likely to be met with scorn and criticised as unpatriotic or an insult to fallen soldiers – most likely by the same people who carry bumper stickers reading:

Australia, if you don’t like it, fuck off!

Any questioning of any aspect of ANZAC Day is interpreted as an attack on the memories of fallen soldiers and their surviving families. These reactive, emotional responses exemplify the blind reverence for April 25 among a section of the Australian population, who show little to no interest in nuanced and varied accounts of Australian history for the remainder of the year.

Should we ignore ANZAC Day?

No

Absolutely not.

This article is in no way intended to diminish the sacrifices of individual soldiers, civilians and their families. It is not intended to brush aside the sufferings and horrors of war. It is designed to remind people that historical perspective should be exercised every day of the year, not just when commemorating war. It is also designed to remind all Australians that patriotism is a vital component of ANZAC Day celebrations but it should not overshadow the original purpose of the day; to pay respect to individual soldiers, and to do everything possible to make sure war never happens again.

Image: http://www.abc.net.au

Free show bags at the Easter Show.

How much have you spent on show bags at the Sydney Royal Easter Show? How much are you planning to spend, or how much do your kids expect you to spend?

What if those show bags were free?

In the early days of the Easter Show, show bags were all free.

In the good old days the show was held at the Royal Agricultural Society grounds at Moore Park, in what is now Fox Studios and the EQ complex beside the SCG, and show bags were sample bags. The bags were distributed by various companies and were originally quite useful. They included products like food staples, soap and laundry liquid, and allowed families to stock up on essential items for free.

Realising the popularity and the potential of the bags, confectionary companies began to offer a sample of their existing products, or a new product, in the hope that crowds would enjoy their products then rush to stores to buy more in the weeks that followed. It was also effective PR for the companies.

The bags themselves were much smaller, and were paper bags which carried the logo of the company. They contained a limited number of products which guests normally snacked on as they wandered the agricultural displays or admired the prize winning cows. They did not hang heavily off the handles of prams while burdened parents lumbered from ride to ride behind children high on sugar.

At one point, the samples were given out for free in the mornings, then sold at a small cost in the afternoon.

It is a stark contrast to the show bags of today. Companies from a diverse array of industries compete with each other to outsell their rivals, in a massive hall that could house an entire airline fleet. Bags are now predominantly plastic, as are many of the contents. Food and confectionary companies still dominate the selection, but pressured parents can now splash out on bags from football clubs, Hollywood movies, toy companies, lifestyle programs, cartoon characters and even Aussie rock legends. In the high-tech present, bags are listed online with a description of their contents, and sell for as much as $30.00.

Show bags can even be ordered online and delivered to your door. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Isn’t the show bag part of the grand experience of attending the show, negotiating the crowds, seeing the livestock and fruit stands, watching the woodchopping, eating dodgy takeaway and vomiting on the pirate ship?

The sample bags belong to an era when the Easter Show was more focussed on the agricultural aspect. It was dedicated to bringing together farmers from across the state to socialise, network and compete for best in show, and to educate and entertain city-slickers about life on the land.

Jarryd Hayne saves NSW Premier.

Jarryd Hayne’s substandard performance in the 2009 NRL Grand Final has saved former NSW Premier Nathan Rees from great embarrassment. Hayne performed well below expectation during the Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm and saved Rees from having to fulfil a promise made to the people of Sydney and NSW in the lead up to the game.

Rees promised to name a new Sydney train The Hayne Train in honour of the Dally M Medallist and the season’s most outstanding player. The train would have been painted in the blue and gold of the Parramatta Eels, and would have run on the western line between Central and Parramatta, as well as the western suburbs where Hayne grew up.

If Hayne and the Eels had found a way to overcome the star-studded Storm team, Rees would have used taxpayers’ money to name a train after a football superstar who was twice accused of sexual assault, and recently found guilty of the second case. Hayne is likely to serve time in prison for the assault which he committed on the night of the NRL Grand Final in 2018.

Considering the state of trains in metropolitan Sydney, that train could still be on the tracks today.

Jarryd Hayne saved the NSW Blues on many occasions with his brilliance during State of Origin games. This time he saved the NSW premier with a poor performance.

Nathan Rees must be very relieved.

Image: http://www.abc.net.au

What happened to this national relic?

This site hosts a national relic. It marks of one of the most famous events in the history of the nation. Now, it is nothing more than an empty space beside a highway bordered by construction mesh.

This small site just outside of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of NSW hosts the Explorers Tree – or it used to. The Explorers Tree is a famous landmark etched with the markings of famous explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, who were credited with opening up the region and creating a path from Sydney through the mountains to the flat lands to the west. The three explorers are commemorated in the suburbs Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth Falls in the mountains, and feature in the Australian school history curriculum.

Of course, like most conventional historical accounts in Australia, this story ignores the fact that the Indigenous people of the mountains already knew how to travel between Sydney and the western plains; they’d been doing it for years. The Dharug and Gundungurra people have been living in the Katoomba region, and the Megalong Valley below, for thousands of years. Some accounts even go so far as to say that the explorers such as Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson ‘discovered’ the region. Aboriginal people knew it was there, they’d been living on the land for at least 50,000 years.

Where is the tree now?

According to Blue Mountains City Council, the remnants of the tree were taken to a Transport for New South Wales depot in Lawson. At least it lies in a suburb with some connection to the people who made it famous. The tree was removed in late February this year for fears that it would slide away in heavy rain and land on the highway. The tree, the degraded base and the fence were removed. All that’s left now is an interpretive display further off the highway. According to TfNSW, the tree may feature in a cultural interpretation strategy for the planned upgrade of that stretch of the Great Western Highway.

Why is it significant?

Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson are said to have marked the tree during the first crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813. History tells us that a tree was marked by someone, at some point, somewhere near a site called Pulpit Hill, some time in the 1800s, when the region was being explored by Europeans. Pulpit Hill is just a short distance from the current site of the tree. No one can say for certain that the tree which stood proudly beside the highway for so many years, and the tree which was removed just a few weeks ago, is actually that tree. Nevertheless, that particular tree was set aside as a site of national significance, and the platform and fence were built around it, while a plaque was laid nearby detailing its importance.

That said, the tree wasn’t very spectacular before it was removed. Like any living organism, it started to age, and the Explorers Tree was looking more like an explorers stump. Most motorists flew by the landmark on their way to Medlow Bath and beyond without a second thought, and for a long time the site had been bordered by flimsy orange construction tape – it was a rather forlorn view. What’s more, the tree was mostly concrete. Many years ago, the rotting trunk had been filled with concrete in an effort to protect it, and metal rings circled its base and top.

A sign next to the site also indicates that Blue Mountains City Council had planned to take action as far back as 2012. It’s now 2021. Perhaps the councillors just put the numbers in the wrong order.

The Explorers Tree tells us a lot about Australian history. It tells us how that history is recorded, prioritised and sustained.

Generations of Australians accepted that the tree on the platform had been marked by famous explorers, despite no empirical evidence to prove this. I remember stopping to view it as a child during a family trip through the mountains. I don’t remember every detail, but I do remember that it was actually a tree, not a sad looking stump.

The tree demonstrates the prioritising of certain historical events. The preservation of the tree exalted the exploits three Caucasian males who did something Aboriginal people had been doing for thousands of years before them – crossed the Blue Mountains. The Explorers Tree demonstrates how the efforts of male colonisers were mythologised and recognised far more than the actions of other Australians.

Now, long-accepted truths are being questioned. Historians and other Australians are staring to challenge the traditional narrative of colonial history, and to ask questions such as:

Were the explorers’ achievements as impressive as we were led to believe?

If they wanted to know how to cross the mountains, why didn’t they just ask the Aboriginal people?

Why aren’t there more stories about Australians who are not white males?

Should we spend taxpayers’ money to preserve a tree that probably isn’t real?

Only time will tell what happens to the site currently sitting empty beside the highway just outside of Katoomba.

Are you really surprised the British royal family is racist?

Harry and Meghan’s recent interview with Oprah Winfrey revealed shocking evidence of alleged racism within the British royal family. During the highly-anticipated re-branding exercise on US television, Meghan revealed that senior unnamed figures within the House of Windsor were deeply concerned that their child Archie would have dark skin. Furthermore, Archie’s complexion would apparently preclude him from certain privileges accorded other royal children.

Social media users and commentators were aghast at the revelation.

Are people genuinely surprised that such overt racism exists within the institution which drove the most wide-reaching colonisation of the modern era?

Racism is central to colonisation.

Britain took possession of more indigenous lands than any other European power. This is how English came to be the international language. Those lands were claimed in the name of the reigning King or Queen.

Terra Nullius

Terra Nullius is a salient example of manifested racism, and it was central to colonisation. Terra Nullius means ‘uninhabited land’, and this theory justified the invasion of many lands, including the nation now known as Australia. The premise of Terra Nullius is that the people who inhabited the lands when the British arrived were not people. Defining the original inhabitants in this way allowed the British to invade and steal land that they knew belonged to someone else.

Except the British knew they were people. They saw people in every land they reached. The British interacted with many of them, they established peaceful and constructive connections with some of them – initially. They knew they were people. However, their ingrained racial superiority and dismissal of the cultures of the indigenous people allowed them to plant the Union Jack on inhabited land throughout the world and to claim that land as their own.

In Australia, the Aboriginal people were classified as Flora and Fauna. Yes, people were relegated to the status of plants and animals, and the British royal family was entirely complicit in this action. It was not until 1967 that Aboriginal people were classified as humans, after non-Aboriginal Australians voted in favour of changing the classification during a referendum.

The British royal family encouraged, supported and funded the colonisation of other people’s lands in the South Pacific, South-Eastern Africa, the Caribbean, the sub-continent, South-East Asia and North America. Racism thrived in the royal family during the era of colonisation, and it thrives to this day, in the form of Prince Philip.

The ageing husband of the Queen, and Harry’s grandfather, is famous for his outrageously racist comments, such as:

“If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.” Said to a British student in China in 1986.

“You managed not to get eaten then?” Said to someone who had just hiked across Papua New Guinea.

“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?” Said to a Scottish driving instructor in 1995.

“Do you still throw spears at each other?” The Prince to Aboriginal Elder William Brin in Queensland, 2002.

These comments cannot simply be dismissed as the ravings of an unbalanced old man, because he was quite young when he uttered some of them.

The British royal family has a long history of racism, and the justification it used to invade and colonise the lands of indigenous people throughout the world proves the existence of racism.

Harry, Meghan, Oprah and the rest of the world should not be surpirsed.

Senior figures within the royal family were apparently deeply concerned that Archie’s skin would be dark, but at least it proves that he is not inbred.

What about Sydney?

Where are the Emus in Emu Plains,

Did they run off to Emu Heights?

How many red ferns remain in Redfern, and

Were other body parts thrown in Liverpool?

Was the view ever beautiful at Bella Vista?

Do learned gentlemen ply the waterways at Wiseman’s Ferry?

Does life smell sweeter at Lavender Bay, and

Is it Christmas year round in Merrylands?

Do coral reefs fringe Blair Athol, and

Is the water still fresh at Freshwater?

Can I go skiing at Glen Alpine, and

Is Neutral Bay popular with the Swiss?

Will I see acres of greenery at Greenacre, and

Are many children conceived at Rooty Hill?

Are horses still fed at Haymarket, and

Will I get shot at Hunters Hill?

Where is the forest in Frenchs Forest, and

Must I speak French in La Perouse?

How many real men live in Manly?

How many Roses grow in Rose Bay?

What time is Mass at Quakers Hill, and

Do they shear sheep at Warwick Farm?

Do any black heathens live in Blackheath, and

Will I find love at Kissing Point?

Can Skippy be spotted at Kangaroo Point?

Do whales still frolic at Whale Beach?

What’s so great about Alexandria, and

What’s new in Newtown?

Will a field of lilies great me at Lilyfield?

Do any banksias thrive in Banksia?

Can I take lunch at Breakfast Point, and

Does Morning Bay’s beauty wane by midday?

Has all the rush been cut from Rushcutters Bay?

Does anyone care about Sans Souci?

Do any republicans live in Queenscliff?

Should I avoid Edgecliff if I suffer from vertigo, and

Is adrenaline promised while traversing Ropes Crossing?

Are there any orchards at Orchard Hills,

or any wattles at Wattle Grove?

Do high achievers live in Pennant Hills, and

Does the world end at Ultimo?

Australia’s biggest fear.

Australia is afraid. It is home to the world’s deadliest snakes, to poisonous marine stingers and deadly crocodiles. It suffers through annual floods, fires and cyclones, and dangerous spiders lurk in its undergrowth. But something else terrifies Australia: History.

Australians are afraid of their own history. A deep fear of acknowledging its past paralyses Australia and prevents the majority of its citizens from making public statements about the colonisation of the land and the suffering of Aboriginal people.

Politicians are afraid to acknowldge the truth of Australian history.

The current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is afraid. In 2020, he publicly declared that there was no slavery in Australia. He later qualified the statement with obfuscation in order to extricate himself from a PR disaster, but he never acknowledged that slavery did exist in Australia.

On a separate occasion, the PM dismissed the suffering of indigenous Australians when he said,

“You know, when those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either.”

He was referring to the First Fleet, which carried colonisers from Great Britain and began the dispossession of Aboriginal land in 1788. There were only 11 ships.

Scott Morrison is not stupid. He attended an academically-selective high school and he holds university qualifications. He is also a master of marketing (many Australians argue that’s all he is). Morrison knows the consequences of telling the truth. He knows he has to appease the ignorant, racist, lowly-educated constituency which keeps him and his party in power.

Slavery occured in Australia. It was called ‘Blackbirding’ in some places, and called ‘education’ in others – it was never called slavery.

Blackbirding lured indigenous Australians and people from islands north of Australia to the mainland with the promise of work and high wages. Upon arrival at the farm, the workers were not paid for their work, were treated horrendously, forced to work in stifling tropical heat and horrible conditions, and were prevented from leaving or returning to their homelands.

When indigenous children were stolen from their families, they were ‘educated’ in the ways of the white man then sent to work for white families. Girls were normally set to work as domestic servants, while boys were forced to be farmhands. They were not paid. This is slavery.

Wave Hill walk-off

Another example of exploitation led to the Wave Hill walk-off. Some Australians learned about it in their history classes, some learned about it through the Paul Kelly song: From Little Things Big Things Grow.

The original inhabitants of Wave Hill, the Gurindji people, sustained the vast cattle station. In return, children under 12 were forced to work, accommodation and rations were inadequate, Aboriginal women were sexually abused and forced into prostitution for rations and clothing. There was no safe drinking water, nor sanitation or rubbish removal. In August, 1966, the Gurindji walked off under the leadership of Vincent Lingiari.

Furthermore, many indigenous Australians are still trying to recoup unpaid wages to this day.

The Prime Minister is not the only politician with a selective memory. The current opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, recently omitted a crucial paragraph from a speech about indigenous Australian soldiers. Albanese recognised the indigenous Australians who have fought in many wars for Australia, but it was later discovered he had omitted the following paragraph:

“A continent for which their ancestors had fought so desperately during the frontier wars-wars we have not yet learned to speak of so loudly.”

Albanese was happy to mention overseas wars, but left out the paragraph about the war on Australian soil between British colonisers and indigenous people. He left out the paragraph which concedes that Australians do not talk about colonisation – do not talk about the truth of our history.

Why have we not yet learned to speak of it so loudly?

Albanese’s office later claimed the omission was unintentional. Maybe it was, or maybe Albanese and the Labor party also feel desperate to appease the racist majority-especially since a federal election is expected this year. Thus, the current leaders of both of Australia’s major parties have failed to publicly acknowledge the truth of Australians history.

The national broadcaster is also afraid. The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) initially referred to January 26 as Invasion Day and not Australia Day in 2021. The label Invasion Day recognises the colonisation of the land, as opposed to the peaceful settlement myth perpetuated in some history books. The ABC soon removed Invasion Day from all official publications and replaced the term with Australia Day.

History is political

Politicians determine the curriculum taught to Australian school students. Until recently, Aussie school kids learned that Aboriginal people were ‘primitive’ and ‘savages’. That they were simply ‘nomads’ who wandered the continent living hand-to-mouth, devoid of science, culture or technology. Students were also taught that Australia was ‘settled’ and not ‘invaded’, that the British were ‘settlers’ and not ‘colonisers’.

Textbooks soften the truth. Many Australians learned that indigenous people died in large numbers due to the introduction of disease for which they had no immune system, and not as a result of murder. Many politicians fought, and continue to fight, to keep this version of history in the school curriculum, and while the teaching material has changed, it is not always becoming more truthful.

Apartheid

Apartheid existed in Australia. Most Australians don’t know, or don’t want to admit, that this is true. The incident at Moree pool proves the existence of apartheid. Aboriginal people were officially excluded from the public swimming pool in the rural NSW town of Moree. Summer gets very hot in Moree. A group of Aboriginal activists visited the town in 1965 and attempted to enter the pool with local indigenous children. Three hours of debate and tension followed, during which fights broke out and non-Aboriginal locals threw eggs at protestors.

Moree Council eventually rescinded the by-law and Aboriginal people were allowed to swim at the pool. Aussies are happy to criticise South Africa for its apartheid, but are largely reluctant to admit its existence in Australia. Or, as one white South African once told me,

“South Africa is not the only country with apartheid, the mistake they made was giving it a name.”

Why is Australia so afraid of its history?

Why are so many Australians afraid to tell the truth about their past?

Racism.

Australia is a racist country, and the worst of this racism is directed at indigenous people. Racism justified the invasion of Australia by the British. The notion of Terra Nullius, or uninhabited land, justified the dispossession of the land from the original inhabitants. If no one lives here, they believed, then it can’t be stolen – it belonged to no one. Terra Nullius is supported by notions of cultural and racial superiority. The colonisers saw people on the land. They interacted with them. However, they claimed the land was uninhabited because it was devoid of structure and buildings which in European minds constituted habitation.

Racism is not going away. News outlets carried images of a large group of Caucasian Australian men celebrating their membership of a neo-Nazi group on Australia Day weekend this year. Many citizens and even elected politicians have publicly declared their support for Trump and his rhetoric. Fringe political parties with a platform of racism and bigotry, such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, are winning more votes in elections – which is why mainstream parties are so keen to appease the racists.

Lies

Australians are also fed lies about the consequences of telling the truth. Australians have been convinced that officially acknowledging the truth will cost them their homes, as indigenous people will make endless land rights claims and take back possession of suburbs throughout the nation.

Image:www.worldatlas.com

Makes a million robes per year.

Who makes a million robes per year?

A Frenchman, who died a gruesome death after changing the course of French history. His name was Maximilien Robespierre and it’s doubtful he ever made a robe, let alone a million in one year. Robespierre’s significance reaches far beyond haute couture as he was a central player in the Reign of Terror, and a Jacobin leader during the French Revolution. His death was far more dramatic than anything that has graced a French catwalk.

Maximilien-François-Marie-Isidore de Robespierre was born on May 6, 1758 in Arras, France, and was described as intelligent, altruistic, frugal and well-groomed, but also as dictatorial, a bloodthirsty creature or a timid bourgeois. So how did such a man die such a gruesome death?

A weak voice

Robespierre is remembered for having a weak voice, but he gave voice to the voiceless. He is also remembered for once shooting his mouth off. During meetings of the National Assembly from 1789 onwards, he exhibited simple manners and a soft voice which was often drowned out by those who opposed his views. Nevertheless, in the 500 or so speeches that he made to this assembly angered the conservatives because he advocated universal suffrage and unrestricted admission to the national guard, public offices and the commissioned ranks of the army. He fought for the right to petition and he opposed the royal veto, as well as the abuses of ministerial power, and religious and racial discrimination. These were all burning issues in France at the time and underpinned the desire for revolution and change.

The lawyer

Robespierre also attracted attention after defending actors, Jews and black slaves while working as a lawyer. He entered the legal profession in 1781 after excelling at the college of Oratorians at Arras and then the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied on a scholarship. He won praise for his work in philosophy and law and was well versed in the writings of the French philosophers of the Enlightenment. He drew inspiration from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and these ideas informed his political thinking.

The law practice he established in Arras with his sister, Charlotte, quickly established a solid reputation, and it was not long before he was appointed a judge at the Salle Épiscopale, a court with jurisdiction over the provostship of the diocese. His legal firm followed in the footsteps of his lawyer father and earned Robespierre a comfortable income and the ability to pursue a life in politics.

It would also lead to his gruesome death.

The politician

Robespierre began his political career at the age of 30. His first office was deputy to the Estates General in 1789 as one of the representatives of the Artois region. In 1790 he was elected secretary of the National Assembly and he soon came to preside over the Jacobins, a political club promoting the ideas of the French Revolution. His involvement with the Jacobins would lead to controversy, attacks on his life and clashes with various sections of French society.

The Jacobins were famous for advocating liberty, and clashed with the royal family and their supporters. Robespierre was labelled a dangerous individual for his challenge to the status quo, and when King Louis XVI fled, threats against Robespierre and the Jacobins became violent. As a result, Robespierre hurriedly called for a vote on changes to the constitution. In the ensuing chaos, martial law was proclaimed in France and the national guard opened fire on a group of protestors at Champ-de-Mars who were demanding the abdication of the king.

Friends and enemies

The physical attacks on progressive thinkers placed Robespierre’s life in danger. He took refuge with the family of a cabinet maker, Maurice Duplay, where he considered his next move. The complication was that many of the Jacobins had since joined a rival club. Eventually, the National Assembly dissolved itself and the people of Paris organised a triumphal procession for Robespierre.

Robespierre would soon return to public life in the new Legislative Assembly. Even though he excluded himself and his colleagues from this assembly, he still spoke at the Jacobin Club where he delivered about 100 speeches until August 1792. One topic of his speeches was opposition to the European war that Jacque-Pierre Brissot was proposing in order to spread the aims of the Revolution. For Robespierre, there was still more work to be done in France.

Brissot and Robespierre were to clash repeatedly. Brissot disagreed with Robespierre’s denouncement of the secret intrigues of the court and of the royalists, and their collusion with Austria. Robespierre questioned the preparedness of the army, and suggested that some aristocratic officers had committed treason. At the same time, he defended patriotic soldiers, including those of the Châteauvieux regiment, who were imprisoned after a mutiny at Nancy.

In response to criticism from Brissot, Robespierre founded the newspaper Le Défenseur de la Constitution (“Defense of the Constitution”), in order to win more support from the people. Through the newspaper, Robespierre attacked Marquis de Lafayette, who was now commander of the French army. Robespierre suspected Lafayette of plotting to establish a military dictatorship but was unable to secure Lafayette’s dismissal.

Insurrection

Particular incidents which highlights the contrasting reputation of Robespierre occurred in 1792. Robespierre had long advocated insurrection “only with the sword of the law”, but on August 10 an attack was carried out on the Tuileries Palace, and even though Robespierre did not participate in the attack, he was nominated to the insurrectional commune. A month later, nobles and clergy were imprisoned and murdered during the September Massacres and, as a member of the electoral assembly of Paris, Robespierre exonerated the mob. Soon after, the people of Paris chose him to lead the delegation to the National Convention.

At this stage, Robespierre had attracted many supporters, and many enemies.

The dictator

Robespierre was accused of a dictatorial leadership style on various occasions. In 1792, The Girondins accused him of dictatorship during his sessions with the National Convention. The Girondins were a political group which favoured political but not social democracy, and clashed with the ideals of the Jacobins. They also controlled the government and the civil service. To support their accusations, the Girdondins cited Robespierre’s call for the death of the king during his trial in December 1792.

Other critics point to Robespierre’s use of the phrase “une volonté une” or “one single will” as proof of his dictatorship. Robespierre adopted this phrase to unite all of the disparate forces of the revolution, including the warring factions in the Vendee region, the Montagnards and the federalists. Robespierre saw that the foundations of the revolution had been established, and he accepted responsibility for mobilising all of these forces in a combined effort.

The Committee of Public Safety

The Committee of Public Safety also prompted many people to question Robespierre’s legacy. The committee had been set up in April 1793 to essentially maintain public order during the revolution, but critics argued its methods were excessive. The committee utilised vigilance committees to maintain unity among revolutionaries, and Robespierre himself established a revolutionary militia to fight counterrevolutionaries and grain hoarders.

Conscription

Another aspect of Robespierre’s leaderhip which drew claims of dictatorship was conscription. Robespierre sought to mobilise the masses in order to defeat the counterrevolutionaries and conservatives. The policy of conscription, the management of the economy and the centralisation of power under Robespierre became known as the Reign of Terror.

Robespierre is often regarded as the architect of the Reign of Terror, but it is also accepted that he opposed pointless executions and opposed the arrest of deputies during the arrest of the Girondins, and even the arrest of the king’s sister. He also spoke out against various massacres and demanded that the perpetrators be recalled for “dishonouring the Revolution”.

Meanwhile, tensions were heightened, violence was increasing, and Robespierre’s enemies were circling.

Robespierre regularly justified the centralisation of power, and some interpreted this as a justification of dictatorship. He called for purges of local authorities and other factions which threatened the government, and he clashed with groups such as the Hebertists and the Cordeliers. Some of these groups called for radical actions to secure the revolution, and disagreed with Robespierre on the matter of religion.

The Christian

Defence of Christianity set Robespierre at odds with other revolutionaries. Various factions called for the de-Christianisation of government and society, but Robespierre modelled himself on the Deist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A report to the National Convention in his name affirmed the existence of God and advocated a civic religion and support for the notion of a supreme being. This increased his popularity among some quarters, but it angered others, so much so that on May 22, Henri Admirat attempted to execute Robespierre. He survived this attempt and was soon elected president of the National Convention, in which capacity he led the festival of the Supreme Being (“Etre suprême”) in the Tuileries Gardens on June 8, further angering his detractors.

Accusations of dictatorship, support for Christianity, leaderhip of the Jacobins and calls for the king to be executed all contributed to a growing list of opponents, and Robespierre’s life was now under genuine threat.

Robespierre fell ill and disappeared from public life for about a month. He returned to denounce the radical leader Jacques-Rene Hebert, who along with foreign agents was executed. Other opponents such as Georges Danton criticised the policies of the Committee of Public Safety and launched violent attacks against Robespierre in order to halt the revolution and end the Reign of Terror. They were unsuccessful and faced the guillotine in April of that year.

More enemies

Opposition continued to grow. Critics disagreed with the reorganisation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, and they included people he had himself threatened, as well as Georges Couthon, Louis de Saint Just, Joseph Cambon, the minister of finance, and even members of the Committee of Public Safety.

How much longer could Robespierre survive?

The political and military battles and the threats on his life took their toll. Robespierre suffered ill health and he was said to be irritable and distant. Accusations of dictatorship affected him personally and he absented himself from the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety, appearing only at the Jacobin club to denounce counterrevolutionaries.

At the same time, he began to lose the support of the people, whose hardships continued. From his partial retirement, Robespierre followed the unleashing of the Great Terror in the summer of 1794 and the progress of opposition.

In an attempt to win back public support and complete his patriotic work, he reappeared at the Committee of Public Safety on July 23 and at the National Convention on July 26. While his speech at the convention was first greeted with applause, this soon turned to disquiet, then majority opposition. On the same evening he attended a reception at the Jacobin Club where he was well received, but the next day he was prevented from speaking at the Convention. The situation worsened when Robespierre, his brother and three associates were taken to the Luxembourg prison. Even though the warden refused to jail them, the threat to Robespierre’s safety was growing by the day.

Robespierre and his closest allies sought refuge at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), where he was expected to lead an insurrection utilising the armed contingents from some of the sections of the city who had been summoned by the Paris Commune and were awaiting orders. Robespierre refused, however, and then something strange happened. After being declared an outlaw by the National Convention, Robespierre severely wounded himself by a pistol shot in the jaw.

Chaos reigned as his supporters and allies were thrown into confusion and soldiers of the National Convention attacked the Hôtel de Ville, easily seizing Robespierre and his followers. What had been anticipated for months would finally eventuate.

On the evening of July 28, Robespierre and the first 22 of his condemned supporters were guillotined before a cheering mob on the Place de la Revolution, (now the Place de la Concorde). In total, 108 people would die for their support of Robespierre’s cause.

Maximilien Robespierre left a lasting impression of France. He presided over political organisations which attracted many supporters and just as many critics, and his ideas and actions led to the overthrow of existing power structures, and prompted attacks on his own life. His actions will forever be debated, but his influence of France is undeniable, and is far greater than that of any fashion designer.

Images: http://www.onthisday.com, http://www.histhrill.com

Who are the Black Heathens?

Residents of the mountain town of Blackheath are known as Blackheathans, but who were the Black Heathens?

Black Heathens are the original inhabitants of what is now called Blackheath. They are black, and they were heathens, and belonged to two main language groups; the Gundungurra and the Darug (Dharug, Daruk)

The small town lies in the Upper Blue Mountains about two hours west of Sydney, Australia, and is surrounded by bushland and national parks. It is famous for its annual Rhododendron festival and as a base for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and nature lovers.

The original inhabitants are black and they were heathens because they did not follow Christianity or another major religion. Most Aboriginal Australians became Christians because the church was complicit in the colonisation of the country.

Historical research reveals very little information about the original inhabitants, and this is due to historical bias and climate.

Australian history is extremely biased. Indigenous Australians have been ignored or stigmatised in official accounts since the 1700s, and stories of Blackheath are no different. Mountains of information detail the actions of explorers, governors, engineers and landowners and their role in establishing the town that exists today. In contrast, descriptions of the Gundungurra and Darug are very limited.

We discover that a site now known as Walls Cave is of significance to Aboriginal people. Researchers found a buried fireplace in the cave and dated it at about a thousand years old, and uncovered a buried hearth which is said to be approximately ten thousand years old.

The site is divided into areas for men and women. The area along the ridge is apparently a special zone for men, while women were responsible for the area closer to the water. At both sites, traditional knowledge was passed from one generation to the next.

Aboriginal people occupied the site because of its reliable water supply, abundance of food and plants and effective shelter. It is also a comparatively easy access point to what is now referred to as the Grose Valley to the east, and the Kanimbla and Megalong valleys to the west.

At the time of writing, the walking track to Walls Cave was closed due to flood damage.

Apart from the aforementioned references, Aboriginal people are only acknowledged to as a threat to explorers and workers on the roads and train lines that were built during the 1800s.

The climate is another reason for the scarcity of knowledge of the original inhabitants.

Blackheath sits at just over 1000m altitude and is famed for its relatively extreme weather. Numerous visitors who ventured west from Sydney referred to it as wind swept, icy, bleak, dismal and cold, and it is known colloquially as Bleakheath. For this reason, it is thought that the Darug and Gundungurra people spent more time in the valleys which lie below the escarpment and offer a more temperate climate.

The Gundungurra and the Darug are the Black Heathens and the original Blackheathans.

Bondi Beach closed to the public?

Bondi Beach was once almost closed to the public, and it had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia’s most famous beach was nearly lost to the public as far back as the 1880s.

Bondi Beach did close for a period of time in 2020 when many public spaces throughout Sydney were closed, and after hundreds of people flocked to the beach during warm autumn weekends despite requests from health authorities to stay at home and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The last time Bondi and nearby beaches had been hidden behind wire fences was during WWII. The mere notion of closing a beach incensed many Eastern Suburbs locals and fellow Sydneysiders, who regard beaches as an egalitarian sanctuary and a birth right to all Australians.

Their fierce reaction to the COVID closures reflects their emotional attachment to sand and surf. These feelings are put in context when considering that not even WWII closed Bondi. Military fortifications such as barbed wire, concrete tank traps, wire coils and iron stakes were installed on the golden sands, but swimming was still permitted. Swimmers at Bondi did have to negotiate a wire maze which was nicknamed the ‘rat run’, but they were not banned from entering the water in the 1940s as they were during autumn 2020.

Many swimmers must have regretted their decision to take a dip during the war, because Japanese submarines later breached a defence boom and launched bombs which exploded at Bondi, Rose Bay and Woollahra. Many swimmers were also rushed to Bondi Beach Public School first aid post to be treated for cuts and bruises.

Temporary closure

Short-term closures are not uncommon at Bondi. In August 2018 the beach was closed after the body of a whale calf washed ashore and had to be removed. The presence of the whale calf also increased the risk of shark activity and the sighting of the ocean’s apex predator will often close beaches.

Bondi lifeguards are cognisant of the dangers of big swells and strong currents after five people drowned and hundreds had to be rescued on February 6, 1938, which has since been known as Black Sunday.

Permanent closure

Whale carcasses, shark sightings and dangerous surf have closed Bondi Beach temporarily, but not permanently. A permanent closure almost came into effect in the 1880s.

The land around Bondi Beach was originally granted to road builder William Roberts as far back as 1809. In those days, Bondi was far from a tourist haven and an exclusive Sydney suburb. Limited access and transport meant that very few people ventured to the beach. Even in 1851, the beach was still sat a long way from the city, so Edward Hall and Francis O’Brien were able to purchase 200 acres in Bondi which encompassed most of the beach frontage. Modern-day Sydneysiders would die for such water views. The new owners named the land ‘The Bondi Estate’.

Perhaps this is the first recorded evidence of ‘Brand Bondi’

Between 1855 and 1877, O’Brien began buying sections of the estate from Hall, who was his father-in-law. Soon, O’Brien owned all of the land and renamed the area ‘O’Brien Estate’. Initially, the new owner was happy to share the property and the beach with the public and it became popular as a picnic ground and an amusement resort.

Then problems arose.

O’Brien felt that the beach and the surrounding area were becoming too popular and he threatened to stop public beach access. After much discussion among the people of Sydney, the Municipal Council contacted the government with the message that the beach must remain open to the public. As a result, Bondi Beach became a public beach on June 9, 1882.

The public were allowed to enjoy the beach, but it didn’t mean they would swim. In fact, daylight bathing was considered immoral and scandalous behaviour until the ban was lifted in 1903, and Bondi Surf Club was not established until 1906.

Since the tramway to the beach was completed in 1884, visitor numbers have increased year after year and Bondi is undoubtedly the most visited beach in the country. In 1929 it is estimated that 60,000 people were visiting the beach on any given Saturday or Sunday in summer.

Interestingly, Waverley Council currently faces another challenge to keep the entire beach open to the public. A business groups wants to establish a private, European-style beach club at one section of the beach in 2021, which would charge about $AU80 per person for entry.

While the private club would restrict entry to only about 2% of the famous stretch of sand, the proposal has divided opinion among Bondi locals and Sydneysiders. Some people believe the club will boost the local economy and add vibrancy to the space after the restrictions of COVID-19, while others claim that forcing people to pay to go to a beach is simply ‘UnAustralian’.

Sydneysiders will soon find out if they must once again fight to keep Bondi beach open.

Image: http://www.timeout.com