Happy Birthday Henry Lawson

Drought

Summer has hit Ireland, it’s a heatwave out there!  Well, in Irish terms.  Today is the birthday of an Australian poet who had a better understanding of heatwaves and drought.

 

Andy’s gone with Cattle; by Henry Lawson

Our Andy’s gone to battle now
‘Gainst Drought, the red marauder;
Our Andy’s gone with cattle now
Across the Queensland border.

He’s left us in dejection now;
Our hearts with him are roving.
It’s dull on this selection now,
Since Andy went a-droving.

Who now shall wear the cheerful face
In times when things are slackest?
And who shall whistle round the place
When Fortune frowns her blackest?

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now
When he comes round us snarling?
His tongue is growing hotter now
Since Andy cross’d the Darling.

The gates are out of order now,
In storms the `riders’ rattle;
For far across the border now
Our Andy’s gone with cattle.

Poor Aunty’s looking thin and white;
And Uncle’s cross with worry;
And poor old Blucher howls all night
Since Andy left Macquarie.

Oh, may the showers in torrents fall,
And all the tanks run over;
And may the grass grow green and tall
In pathways of the drover;

And may good angels send the rain
On desert stretches sandy;
And when the summer comes again
God grant ’twill bring us Andy.

A Sailors Life for me

First Fleet

Following the War of Independence in America the British Crown was denied a dumping ground for its convicts sentenced to transportation.  On 13th May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships was sent to a new dumping ground, Australia.  This is known as “the first fleet”.

The fleet consisted of 1,420 when it left Portsmouth in May 1787.  The number had fallen to 1,336 by the time the fleet arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.  20 children were born along the way.  So I was curious about the statistics.  What was the most dangerous position to hold on the fleet?

Marines, their Wives and Children did best on the trip.  Beginning with 247 Marines and 46 wives and children, they lost only 3 along the way and with 9 births they increased their number overall.

Female convicts began with 193 and lost only 4 along the way, which is a 2% death rate.

Of the 14 convict children who departed 3 were lost, a staggering 21% death rate, the highest on board of any group.  Then 11 new convict babies were born on the voyage, so the overall number of convict children actually rose to 22.

Senior officials & ships officers had a 7% death rate, losing 1 of their original compliment of 15.  This is the same death rate as applied to male convicts, who lost 39 out of the 582 who left Portsmouth.

The fleet set out with 323 sailors and lost 54 along the way.  Being a sailor was a dangerous job in the 18th century.  That was 17% death rate.

A Sailor’s Song: by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh for the breath of the briny deep,
And the tug of the bellying sail,
With the sea-gull’s cry across the sky
And a passing boatman’s hail.
For, be she fierce or be she gay,
The sea is a famous friend alway.

Ho! for the plains where the dolphins play,
And the bend of the mast and spars,
And a fight at night with the wild sea-sprite
When the foam has drowned the stars.
And, pray, what joy can the landsman feel
Like the rise and fall of a sliding keel?

Fair is the mead; the lawn is fair
And the birds sing sweet on the lea;
But the echo soft of a song aloft
Is the strain that pleases me;
And swish of rope and ring of chain
Are music to men who sail the main.

Then, if you love me, let me sail
While a vessel dares the deep;
For the ship ‘s my wife, and the breath of life
Are the raging gales that sweep;
And when I ‘m done with calm and blast,
A slide o’er the side, and rest at last.

 

 

Battle Dress

Shrimp

This is the dress that shocked the world.  Known popularly as the “Derby Day Dress” or the “White Shift Dress” worn by Jean Shrimpton on Australian Derby Day, Oct 30th, 1965.

Shrimpton, AKA “The Shrimp” was the world’s first supermodel.  She was contracted to judge racegoers fashions at the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival in 1965.  For reference she was paid £2,000 for this contract at a time when the Beatles earned £1,500 for their Australian tour.

Shrimpton was on contract with DuPont who were promoting a new acrylic fabric.  When it turned out that there was a shortage of the fabric for the dress design Jean told her dressmaker to just make it shorter, as nobody would notice.

She then turned up for Derby Day wearing no hat, no gloves and no stockings.  The Australian Fashion community and the conservative bourgeois classes were outraged.  The paparazzi had a field day.  The incident sparked a media frenzy as Shrimpton was condemned and insulted by one side, while the British press rounded up to support her.  They described her as a “Petunia in a garden of onions”.

For young Australian girls it signaled the arrival of the Swinging Sixties.

By today’s standards the dress seems almost conservative.  It is hard now to understand the levels of outrage sparked by the wearing of a simple white shift dress.

But it reminds me of a time when Dublin Theatre goers rioted upon the utterance of Synge’s lines “It’s Pegeen I’m seeking only and what’d I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself maybe, from this place to the Eastern World?”  His play, “The Playboy of the Western World” caused as much of a sensation in Ireland as Jean Shrimpton did in Australia.

A shift is an Irish term for an undergarment, a night dress or a slip.  The line is a reference to a tale from Irish folklore when Cúchullainn was in such a rage following a battle that the king could not allow him to enter the palace.  Instead he sent thirty maidens clad only in their shifts out onto the plain.  The great warrior was shocked and embarrassed, he blushed, lowered his eyes to the ground, and the battle rage drained from him.

What is funny today is that the term “Shift” in Ireland now has distinct sexual connotations.  When Irish boys and girls go nightclubbing they are hoping for a “shift”.  Depending on circumstances a shift could mean anything from a kiss to full on sexual intercourse.

Islamism is not Faith

I love the quote from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” when the Knight Hospitaller says to Bailan:

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. I’ve seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves. And goodness – what God desires – is here [points to Balian’s head] and here[points to Balian’s heart] and by what you decide to do every day you will be a good man…or not.

Here is a man who seems to believe in religion:

Gunman

He went into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney, Australia, but he did not want Chocolate.  He was looking for trouble in the name of extreme Islamism.  You can say what you like about Islam being peaceful, but as long as we have people like this the overwhelming image of Islam from non Muslims will be dictated by people like this.

Ask this lady, a clerk in the Chocolate shop who ran for her life, if she thinks Islam is a religion of love.

Lindt

Ask this guy, who holds the Koran aloft, why he also needs the AK 47

Koran

Now I guess some Muslims will tell me that Christianity has a terrible reputation for violence, and you would be right.  Christians used to behave in the past the way some Muslims are behaving today.   But that was the past.

Some Muslims will point out that these people do not represent “Muslims”.  Sorry, but they do.  And as peaceful Muslims you need to do something about them.  Take responsibility for how Islam is portrayed.

I am sure of one thing; God does not speak from the barrel of a gun.

Missing the target

Tasmanroutes

It was on this day in 1642 that Abel Tasman discovered the island that bears his name.  Tasman is an explorer that I feel sorry for.  He is not remembered as a ‘great’ explorer like Captain Cook.  In his own lifetime his employers, the Dutch East India Company, expressed their disappointment with his findings.  They thought that a more diligent explorer might have made a better fist of mapping and exploring the territories that he found.

On his first voyage of discovery he sailed right around Australia, and managed to miss it!  Quite a feat.

When you see his track in 1642 it does seem very much like a sail by and not a discovery trip.  And when he did hit Tasmania, was he not curious to see how far north he could map the land?  But bear in mind the sailing technology of the time!  He was doing his best with what he had.  It was a huge task for them to land at all in Tasmania.  One of his crew had to swim to shore in a storm to plant a flag.  He tried to sail north but was blown away by the weather.  Even today the Bass Strait has a bit of a reputation with sailors.

He found New Zealand and he did not discover the Cook Straight which divides the islands, he thought it was a long inlet.  But then he thought that he was on the west coast of South America.  Remember that the charts were not very accurate in those days.  Also, they were under constant attack by the Maori on the coast of New Zealand, and had to use their cannon more than once to defend themselves.

The East India Company were not interested in maps.  They were looking for trade goods to bring back to Europe or areas to exploit and colonize.  They were disappointed because he found neither.  Had the weather been more favourable Tasman might have stumbled upon Botany Bay 100 years before Cook.

It is easy to criticize the failings of past explorers when we have the complete map in front of us.  But given the Charts and directions that were available to Tasman would we do any better?  He had no way to calculate longitude, only dead reckoning.  And yet he rounded the Australian continent on his first voyage and found his way safely home.  On his second voyage he confirmed the existence of the fabled ‘Terra incognita australis’ and mapped most of its north coastline.  He filled in a lot of knowledge gaps and gave subsequent explorers a far better idea of where to look.

Discovery of the New World: By Carter Revard

The creatures that we met this morning
marveled at our green skins
and scarlet eyes.
They lack antennae
and can’t be made to grasp
your proclamation that they are
our lawful food and prey and slaves,
nor can they seem to learn
their body-space is needed to materialize
our oxygen absorbers –
which they conceive are breathing
and thinking creatures whom they implore
at first as angels or (later) as devils
when they are being snuffed out
by an absorber swelling
into their space.
Their history bled from one this morning
while we were tasting his brain
in holographic rainbows
which we assembled into quite an interesting
set of legends –
that’s all it came to, though
the colors were quite lovely before we
poured them into our time;
the blue shift bleached away
meaningless circumstance and they would not fit
any of our truth-matrices –
there was, however,
a curious visual echo in their history
of our own coming to their earth;
a certain General Sherman
had said concerning a group of them
exactly what we were saying to you
about these creatures:
it is our destiny to asterize this planet,
and they will not be asterized,
so they must be wiped out.
We need their space and oxygen
which they do not know how to use,
yet they will not give up their gas unforced,
and we feel sure,
whatever our “agreements” made this morning,
we’ll have to kill them all:
the more we cook this orbit,
the fewer next time around.
We’ve finished burning all their crops
and killed their cattle.
They’ll have to come into our pens
and then we’ll get to study
the way our heart attacks and cancers spread among them,
since they seem not immune to these.
If we didn’t have this mission it might be sad
to see such helpless creatures die,
but never fear,
the riches of this place are ours
and worth whatever pain others may have to feel.
We’ll soon have it cleared
as in fact it is already, at the poles.
Then we will be safe, and rich, and happy here forever.

Happy Anniversary Harry

Image

Harry “Breaker” Morant, Soldier, Poet, Horse Tamer, Lover, Australian folk hero and cattle drover.  Executed 101 years ago today for the murder of Boers during the Boer War.  His “war crimes”, trial and subsequent execution remain a controversy today.  The trial documentation “disappeared” and has never since been found.  The  events have been the subject of many books and articles and the film “Breaker Morant” is well worth a watch.  Directed in 1980 by Bruce Bereford and starring Edward Woodward as Breaker and Bryan Brown as Peter Handcock.

The Australians want him pardoned.  The South Africans object.  The Queen is caught in the middle.

His poetry is the bush doggerel of the outback, and reads a lot like Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.

Butchered to make a Dutchman’s holiday:  byHarry Breaker Morant

In prison cell I sadly sit,
A dammed crestfallen chappie,
And own to you I feel a bit–
A little bit—unhappy.

It really ain’t the place nor time
To reel off rhyming diction ;
But yet we’ll write a final rhyme
While waiting crucifixion.

No matter what end they decide
Quick-lime? or boiling oil? sir
We’ll do our best when crucified
To finish off in style, sir !

But we bequeath a parting tip
For sound advice of such men
Who come across in transport ship
To polish off the Dutchmen.

If you encounter any Boers
You really must not loot ‘em,
And, if you wish to leave these shores,
For pity’s sake, don’t shoot ‘em.

And if you’d earn a D.S.O.,
Why every British sinner;

Should know the proper way to go
Is: Ask the Boer to dinner.

Let’s toss a bumper down our throat
Before we pass to heaven,
And toast: “The trim-set petticoat
We leave behind in Devon.”