The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright, (Text Publishing: Melbourne, 2013).
This book is bold. A bed-time story this ain’t. Its prose slaps you around the face to make sure you are paying attention. It is assertive and provocative. It sucks you into the time that was, on the Ballarat goldfields of the mid-nineteenth century.
The history of Victoria’s gold rushes and the Eureka Stockade is one of Australia’s well-worn foundational stories. Each year the story is told in school classrooms throughout Australia and children dutifully do their Gold Rush project with varying degrees of interest. Students are told about the flood of people from all over the world rushing to Australia to find gold. They learn about the crowded diggings, about the mass communities of tents which suddenly appeared only to be taken down in great haste when rumour told of a find of gold somewhere else. The lessons go on to tell the story of the miners’ grievances about the compulsory miners’ licence and their complaints about their treatment by authorities on the gold field. They culminate in the rebellion known as Eureka Stockade and the deaths of miners and soldiers after a raid on the Stockade by government forces.
This story could be interesting but the only memory I have of my grade five Gold Rush lessons is how deadly dull they were. One of my daughters didn’t see the point of the project at all. Yet to my surprise a few months ago the same child, now an adult, told me how much she enjoyed reading an academic article about the Gold Rush for her first year university history course. The article was by Clare Wright, the author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. I was aware of the impending release of her book but the fact that Wright’s academic writing had excited a student who had a personal history of thorough disinterest in Gold Rush history made me eager to read the book.
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Warning: This post contains references to Aboriginal people who are now deceased. The books referred to in this post may also contain references and images of deceased Aboriginal people.
My Ngarrindjeri Calling by Doreen Kartinyeri and Sue Anderson (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2008).
“Never put black history on white paper” the elders taught her. One time Doreen Kartinyeri did not follow this instruction. She wrote about secret women’s business on Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island), South Australia, in a bid to stop the desecration of important Aboriginal sites on the island. The instruction, “to be read by women only” was written on the outside of the sealed envelope and it was sent to the office of the Federal minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra.
In this memoir Doreen Kartinyeri gives her explanation of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge controversy of the 1990s. Kartinyeri shares the story of her life and explains how she came to know about the secret women’s business. Her life story clearly establishes her expertise in Aboriginal knowledge and her identity as a Ngarrindjeri woman.
Kartinyeri was devastated when the Federal shadow minister for the environment, Ian McLachlan, threw her instructions aside and tabled the contents of the envelope in parliament. “I knew I would pay for this error of judgement”, she says. “That day my mi: wi [soul, spirit] was ruptured. I should never have put black words on white paper, and my punishment for breaking that Ngarrindjeri law was about to begin.” “It was still no consolation when two days later McLachlan did resign or even when Deane Fergie brought the secret envelopes back from Canberra. I was feeling really disturbed, really sick to my stomach about it all”.
A Royal Commission was held in South Australia to ascertain whether the Aboriginal women had fabricated evidence about secret women’s business. It concluded that they had lied. “I cried enough tears to flush the River Murray”, said Kartinyeri.
This book sears with emotion. Kartinyeri’s childhood on a mission living in a two-room house built from flattened kerosene tins was rent apart when her mother died. At the age of ten she was forced to leave the mission and live in the Fullarton Girls Home in Adelaide. Continue reading
Paint Me Black by Claire Henty-Gebert (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2005).
One day I was reading brief accounts in the newspaper written by some people who were over one hundred years old. And there she was, Margaret Somerville, the link to the book Paint Me Black, that was waiting on my bedroom floor to be read.
I was a missionary, I went to Croker Island, just off Darwin, and was a cottage mother at a home for part-Aboriginal children. The government had asked the church to take over care of these children. I’d been up there a few months when Darwin was bombed and then we had to be evacuated. The government and the church worked together to get us to Otford, a [then] campsite on the NSW south coast. It took six weeks to get all 95 children there. We spent four years at Otford and once the war was over, I was the only staff member that went back to Croker Island. I was there for 24 years.
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 March 2013.
Claire Henty-Gebert was one of those children evacuated from Croker Island under the care of Margaret Somerville and her fellow missionaries. Henty-Gebert’s memoir, Paint Me Black, is an absorbing read. The clarity of her language and the power of her story engrossed me in this book. She has an amazing story to tell.
Henty-Gebert’s mother was Aboriginal and her father was white. She was born sometime in the 1920s in a remote part of the Northern Territory. Along with thousands of children like her she was removed from her Aboriginal family at a young age. Continue reading
Kitty’s War by Janet Butler, (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2013).
This is the kind of history I want to read. Thorough research, deep analysis and compelling writing, Kitty’s War by Janet Butler engaged me from cover to cover.
In Kitty’s War author, Janet Butler, does not merely recount what she has learned from the diary of World War I nurse, Kit McNaughton, she interrogates McNaughton’s diary, draws heavily on a myriad of contemporary historical resources and produces a searching analysis of war, gender and the nature of diary writing while maintaining an engrossing narrative.
Kit McNaughton served with the Australian Army Nursing Service from 1915 for the duration of the war. Initially stationed in Egypt, she served on the island of Lemnos treating men injured men at Gallipoli. After the withdrawal from Gallipoli she was transferred to northern France where she served in a number of hospitals in northern France treating enormous numbers of soldiers injured in the horrific battles on the Western Front.
Looking back through my notes in my reading journal I see that I have repeatedly used the word ‘perceptive’. Butler does not take the diary at face value and the book is all the better for it. The chapters about Butler’s service on the island of Lemnos treating soldiers injured at Gallipoli would have been bland if Butler had not dug deeper. Butler is sensitive to the cultural constraints under which the nurses worked. The ideals of a ‘good nurse’ required nurses to be stoic in the face of difficulty, ministering angels only thinking of the needs of the patient and not of their own. McNaughton reflects these ideals in her diary hence she makes little mention of the awful conditions under which she is working. Drawing on other sources Butler allows the reader to understand the context in which McNaughton’s diary is written. Continue reading
‘Our Schools and the War’ by Rosalie Triolo (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012).
War is not just about tactics on the battlefield or the machinations of political leaders. It is also about community, both at the site of active fighting and in the home towns and cities that have seen their men disappear to fight.
In ‘Our Schools and the War’ Rosalie Triolo explores Australia’s participation in World War I in terms of community. She focuses on the students, parents, teachers and officials who comprised the Education Department of Victoria. Triolo examines the battle field as well as the home front in her quest to understand how this education community responded and contributed to what was referred to as ‘The Great War’.
The consideration of the role played by Victorian school children in the war is one of the strengths of this book. Throughout the war the Education Department exhorted school communities to raise funds for the war effort. Triolo shares a long list of activities undertaken by students. In Leongatha students raised canaries for sale, made photo frames, caught mice and sold fish they caught. Students at other schools sold vegetables they grew, helped to feed farm animals, gave musical performances, caught rabbits and sold their skins and made fly nets. Innovation in fundraising was encouraged as long as it did not have the taint of gambling.
Children were made to feel as real contributors to the work of the communities in which they lived. Their contributions to the war effort gave them many opportunities to apply what they learned at school. We may have a stereotype view of education in this era, that it was about the three R’s rote learning and corporal punishment, but Triolo observes,
…children were given unprecedented responsibility and autonomy in their communities. They were freed to exercise initiative, step out of desks and classrooms and engage in activities for the wider community as never before.