Amongst the National Museum’s initial list of 100 Defining Moments in Australian history is 16 November 1920, the establishment of Qantas. This date was the culmination of a series of defining moments – years of trial and error that got Qantas in the air. From partnerships formed on the First World War battlefields, a long drive, chasing government subsidies and public support, and finding suitable aircraft, the Qantas story is focussed on responses to the social, environmental and economic possibilities and needs for an aerial service across western Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Today, 94 years after the company’s inaugurating papers were signed in Brisbane, it seems appropriate to reflect on the circumstances, technologies, personalities, events and environments that gave rise to the flying kangaroo.
Last week I attended the opening of The Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year 2014 exhibition at the South Australian Museum, in Adelaide. It was wonderful to be amongst the excitement as the competition winners were announced. Celebrating the landscapes and animals of the Australasian region, the competition attracts the amazing talents of thousands of photographers each year. I went to the exhibition opening with one of the finalists, Ruth Smith – a friend and contributor to the National Museum’s Landmarks gallery – and enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on her work and the art of photography.
It’s truly serendipitous how the fabrics of our lives sometimes manage to weave themselves into fortuitous little knots of connection, and it seems that just such a knot led to this guest blog post – exploring two women’s contemporary lives in the bush – by Pappinbarra River valley resident Chay Khamsone and her neighbour-come-colleague Bryony Anderson.
You see, not long ago, I wrote an article titled “A botanical life”, which explored the life of a young girl named Annabella Innes. In the 1840s, Annabella lived at Lake Innes Estate, about 11km west of Port Macquarie, and was fascinated with the surrounding natural environment, carefully recording it in her diaries and botanical watercolours. She was an Continue reading
This watercolour painting, English mail day at the Post Office, Melbourne by Nicholas Chevalier, shows a frenzy of activity outside the original post office building at the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets about 1862. People flocked to the post office in anticipation of receiving news from home. Continue reading
‘It is busy with trees, with animals and with men. It is lonely and beautiful. It is a million wild acres. And there is no other forest like it.’
- Eric Rolls, A Million Wild Acres.
The Pilliga is a beaten-up burnt-out forest where the creeks flow underground and the trees grow barely as wide as a child’s arm. Its grasses have been eaten and its soils pulverised, its timber ringbarked and wood-chipped. It is criss-crossed with fire breaks and narrow old logging roads. Wild boars tear out from its sandy watercourses and wind whips dust into your eyes here.
And yet there are a bunch of people lining up to get arrested – to turn their lives upside down – for this ‘scrub’.
On a cold and windy day, the National Museum’s ‘Horse team’ were amongst thousands of people gathered to witness history in a paddock at ‘Willow Vale’, just outside of Yass, New South Wales. An initiative of the Yass Antique Farm Machinery Club Inc, ‘Woo back!’ hosted 28 horses and their humans to set a Guiness World Record for the most heavy horses ploughing in one field. It was an enthusiastic celebration of the contribution of equine muscle to Australia’s agricultural history, allowing a new generation to see horse drawn ploughs in action.
It’s 11pm on a Saturday night and I’ve arrived at Eaglehawk Service Station (about 10 kilometers to the north of Canberra) a little worse for wear. Desperately hungry, I devoured a giant sausage roll and a number of the other “healthy” options on offer. No, this wasn’t the end of a day-long pub crawl or buck’s night. I had, in fact, just spent the day cycling over 300 kilometers with two mates from my cycling club, Audax Australia. One of my more experienced riding companions, Pete Heal, shook my hand: ‘Congratulations’, he said, ‘welcome to the darkside’.
In December 1889, Dr G. A. Thorne from Melbourne found himself with a spare fortnight at his disposal. A keen bike rider, he decided to take his new ‘taut and trim’ safety bicycle (that he referred to as his ‘trusty little horse’) by train to Sale in Gippsland, Victoria. From there he would cycle to Sydney, following the coast as closely as possible.
On the first day of riding, when he approached Bairnsdale, a horse drawn buggy approached from the opposite direction. The horse appeared to grow restive. The woman driver yelled at Thorne to get off his bicycle. He dismounted and slowly approached the horse, leading it further along the way. As he did so, she blackguarded the good doctor in what he described as an ‘absurd manner’. ‘The Government’, she raged, ‘should not allow “those things” on the road’. Thorne retorted that she should learn to drive before taking charge of a horse. He then left the scene only to be ‘followed by a torrent of abuse’.
Today marks 150 years since the birth of Australian poet Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Given that the talented horse rider took his pen name ‘Banjo’ after a racehorse owned by his family, it is not surprising that Paterson’s work was filled with lively descriptions of horses and riders in various settings, in particular the high country of New South Wales and Victoria. Paterson’s passion for his subjects can be found in each word of his poems, with a distinctive rhythm that brings their actions to life for his readers. It is perhaps those qualities that have given Paterson’s work its longevity, so that generations after his words were written, Banjo’s equestrian ballads are still a defining marker for the characters and lifestyles they have come to represent.
I first met Darrell Hick on Rottnest Island in 2007 while I was doing some research with the island’s heritage officer, Patsy Vizents, for the National Museum of Australia’s Landmarks gallery. Darrell had just undertaken some conservation work on an historic firearm that had been on display in the Oliver Hill WWII gun battery. I was enjoying a pie from the ever-popular bakery. He asked me what kind of objects the Museum was hoping to display as part of a planned exhibit about Rottnest. The most obvious and important symbol of the Island, I said, was a bicycle: “Do you happen to have one that you used on the Island”, I asked hopefully.