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

A Century in Three Overs.

Sir Don Bradman is famous for many amazing achievements. He is regarded by many as the greatest batsman of all time and finished his career with an average of 99.9 runs.

One of his lesser known, but still impressive achievements, is the century he scored in just 3 overs, off only 22 balls.

Bradman scored the unfathomable century at Blackheath Oval in November 2, 1931. Was it the fresh mountain air, the 1000m altitude or the kookaburras cheering him on from the pine trees surrounding the oval? Who knows, but either way it a was a remarkable innings.

Bradman recorded the following figures on the way to his century:

1st Over 6 6 4 2 4 4 6 1 (33)
2nd Over 6 4 4 6 6 4 6 4 (40)
3rd Over 1 6 6 1 1 4 4 6 (27) & 2 to Wendell-Bill.

It was very kind of Bradman to let his batting partner, Oscar Wendell-Bill, score some runs during the blitz. It’s also surprising that he recorded two singles during the century, and that he was not on strike for the first or fifth ball of the third over.

The world-record innings was not scored while playing in the baggy green. It was reached while representing a Blackheath XI against a Lithgow XI to commemorate the opening of the Blackheath wicket. In total, Bradman made 256 including 14 sixes and 29 fours, despite renowned bowler Bill Black being introduced into the attack.

Not only was the century the fastest in history, it was also witnessed by a crowd so large it is unlikely to have been matched since. The young boys among that crowd had come to see the great man play and were also employed to retrieve the ball from the road, people’s backyards and the pine trees after Bradman had dispatched yet another boundary. The collection of the ball is included in the 18 minutes that it reportedly took for Sir Don to reach his ton.

After the game, Bradman wrote about the innings with the humility that was as famous as his sporting talent, saying,

‘It is important I think to emphasise that the thing was not planned. It happened purely by accident and everyone was surprised at the outcome, none more so than I.’

Obviously Blackheath Oval is relatively small and the boundary fence may not measure the same diameter as the MCG or Lords. Bradman was not facing a rampaging Harold Larwood, nor Dennis Lillee or Sir Richard Hadlee. He was instead battling the bowling attack of the Lithgow XI.

Furthermore, he had a little assistance not available to modern day cricketers. He faced overs of eight balls, so over the space of three overs he had an extra six balls in which to compile the ton. That said, he still reached a hundred within the modern-day 3 overs.

Could it be repeated?

Perhaps it has been, somewhere. Perhaps in a game of grade cricket somewhere in the world.

In first-class cricket, the fastest century belongs to David Hookes. The Australian hit 102 runs off 34 balls while playing for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match against Victoria back in 1982. Even in T20 cricket, which was created solely for big hitting and boundaries, the fastest hundred is still slower than Bradman’s Blackheath best. Indian batsman Rohit Sharma scored 100 from 35 balls against Sri Lanka in 2017.

Technically it is possible.

A batter could score 102 runs within 17 balls, then hit a six off the 18th ball just to rub it in to the bowler. It would be a remarkable feat, requiring skill, audacity, timing, power, technique and perfect footwork, all of the traits which distinguished Sir Don Bradman.

This feat, and many other which accompanied Sir Don, does make one ponder…do today’s cricket coaches give kids a golf ball and a cricket stump, and instructions to hit the ball against a water tank for hours on end?

Image: Alessandro Bogliari

Shot by His Own Camel.

John Ainsworth Horrocks died from a gun wound caused by his camel, and despite other notable deeds during his life, this is how he shall always be remembered.

The pastoralist and explorer hadn’t offended the camel in any particular way, apart from loading it with supplies on the long and arduous trek into the unforgiving landscape of northern South Australia in 1846. It was in fact the first camel to be introduced to Australia and is often cited a proof that Horrocks pioneered the use of animals for the exploration of the country.

Horrocks had long regarded the camel as temperamental and obstinate, as it was said to be constantly biting people and other animals, but he had never considered it murderous or vindictive.

The cantankerous camel joined six horses and twelve goats, as well as Horrocks’ travel companions, on a journey from the pastoralist’s property of Penwortham into the northern expanse of South Australia. The journey began on 29 July, 1846 and would take the party through the Flinders Ranges.

Six men set off on the trek which Horrocks initiated and funded because he simply felt the need for adventure. He had already amassed considerable wealth as a sheep farmer and is credited with establishing the first vineyard in the Clare district near Adelaide, which is now one of Australia’s most famous wine districts.

It was his sense of adventure and independence which led to his pastoral success. Horrocks did not wait in Adelaide for the completion of official land surveys, but followed the advice of explorer Edward John Eyre and, at just 21 years of age, explored land near Hutt River north of Adelaide. Finding it to his liking, he established a village in 1839 and named it Penwortham after the village of his birth in England.

Records indicate that when Horrocks arrived in Adelaide, on his 21st birthday, he bought with him a family servant, a blacksmith, a shepherd, four merino rams, sheepdogs, tools, sufficient clothing for five years…and a church bell.

The farming supplies and the personnel were put to good use, and even though he was only granted title to some of the fertile land that he was farming, he persisted and grew his flock to 9000 sheep.

The same restless spirit had prompted Horrocks to run away from school in Paris in 1833 and rejoin his family in Vienna. Thus, it was not entirely surprising that the young man announced his intention to take the camel and a groups of explorers into the outback, claiming,

‘I want a more stirring life’

The specific purpose of the journey was to search for new agricultural lands near Lake Torrens for the ambitious young Englishman, who was described as being 6 ft 2 ins (189 cm) tall, dark haired with blue eyes and possessed of a ‘rugged constitution’.

Despite Horrock’s rugged constitution and the camel’s inherent ability to survie in the harsh expanse of the Australian desert, the travelling party ran into trouble. The horses had been without water for two days when they reached Depot Creek, an old campsite of Eyre’s, on August 21.

The campsite provided an ideal base and the group remained there while making several exploratory trips into the surrounding region. One of the locations they visited was Lake Dutton, and this is where the camel became more than a nuisance and caused Horrocks’ demise.

On September 1, Horrocks loaded his rifle and took aim at a bird. The kneeling camel moved while Horrocks was attempting to reload his gun and the cock caught. This caused the gun to discharge and the round tore off the middle finger of his right hand and removed a row of teeth. Suffering from his injuries and stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Horrocks was rushed back to Penwortham as quickly as possible. He arrived on September 19 but doctors were unable to save him, and he died on September 23.

Horrocks remains buried at Penwortham and his former home is now an interpretive centre. John Horrocks Cottage is also is the oldest stone building north of Gawler, SA.

What happened to the camel?

While on his death bed, Horrocks ordered it to be shot.

Image: http://www.trove.nla.gov.au, Mads Severinsen