In Memoriam | Heritage at the Old Kings School, Parramatta 2002-2016

I hesitated to make this post one year ago, but now on the first anniversary it seems an apposite moment.  There are many good people working within the heritage system in New South Wales, often against overwhelming and depressing odds.  This story is part of our patrimony, to be remembered.

The days of ‘Yes Minister’ as an ironic statement from the enduring mandarin Sir Humphrey are long vanished.  In its stead is ‘Yes Minister’ as a statement of deference from a disposable short-term contractor.  The responsibility for the white-anting of public heritage management,  the dissipation of the NSW Crown estate, and the devaluing of heritage conservation as a proper role of the State and governments, has to be shared between those we have elected to high office, and we who elected them.  As one of the elect is reported to have said

The state government houses hundreds of back-office bureaucrats in prime … real estate with stunning views … historic, iconic and centrally located buildings are accessible only to government bureaucrats, with their heritage locked away from the public who own them … inefficient use of real estate … big government is a broken relic of a bygone era … we are to sell land in sites such as Parramatta.

Unwatched, the garden bough shall sway

This memorial notice is but another reflection on the continuing despoliation.

Unwatched, the garden bough shall sway,
The tender blossom flutter down,
Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
This maple burn itself away.[1]

[1] ‘In Memoriam AHH’, Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1849


Friday 22 April 2016 marked the final demise of the New South Wales’ state heritage agency’s life in the Old Kings School in Parramatta.  After just 14 years, and in recent years an alphabet soup of name changes, the once-great NSW Heritage Office has finally been interred in an anonymous office block beyond the railway line, its beautiful historic offices and their parkland setting cast aside as a mere extravagance.

Once was a library …

Once was a Heritage Council chamber …

I joined the NSW Heritage Office in 1997, moving with it to the Old Kings School in Parramatta on 17 December 2002.  The new Office was officially opened on 12 March 2003.  Three days later, Ben Chifley’s House in Bathurst was listed on the State Heritage Register.  I had worked on that listing, and it seemed an auspicious beginning.

It was a time of high hopes in the tardis-like Old Kings School, with its 1832 southern facades and 1906 northern facades encapsulating a fantastic early 21st century interior.  For the first time, there was a dedicated Heritage Library open to heritage professionals and the public, with a professional librarian on staff.  For the first time there was atmospheric Heritage Council Meeting Room from where the Council exercised its stewardship of a growing heritage estate in Australia’s oldest jurisdiction.

Time slows to standing-still on the 1832 facade …

… and the cloister falls silent on the 1906 facade

There were decent work spaces for a dedicated and professional staff of (mainly) young and enthusiastic public heritage officers.  Professional development, heritage education and community outreach were the order of the day.  Heritage had come of age, in that fantastically adapted heritage building that was itself a model and showcase of possible futures.  It was never empty, near quiet, always hosting public and community events, nourishing a living heritage as a part of a whole community.

The date stamp fades into cobwebbed archaeology …

Now, all is abandoned.

The Heritage Library, once an unparalleled collection of unique conservation studies and a source of expert research, now just an empty shell of vacant shelving.  The grand Heritage Council Meeting Room, once resounding with passionate debate, now fallen silent, only the sound of the wind to disturb the funereal gloom, or was that the walls whispering their memories while there was still someone to hear them?

Wandering the grounds of the Old Kings School, gardens bedraggled and overgrown, lawns rank and patchy, piles of pigeon droppings on the sandstone paving, autumn leaves swirling in unkempt nooks and crannies, it’s hard to believe that delegations from interstate and overseas once beat a path to this very place to see and learn the ways of an innovative and dynamic heritage system.

while the State of Things reveals a truth …

The garden wall where the emblem and the name of the NSW Heritage Office once proudly welcomed all, prised from the wall in 2007, just faint scars remaining.  Five short years, a golden age.  After that, nothing was the same.  I resigned in August 2008, my diary till then an endless round of staff farewells.  I thought my work was finished on my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the nomination of the Australian Convict Sites for inscription on the World Heritage List.  Luck and a remote Pacific island exile would prove otherwise.

Back in Parramatta, the beauty of ruins, their capacity to provoke the imagination, their embodiment in crumbling decay of the poetry of lives lived and yet to be dreamt.  But the melancholy and pain in the ruin of a great institution, so much so carelessly wasted. The windows of that lovely edifice stare blindly out, hooded as if ashamed of once visioning the shared patrimony of community, history, tradition, continuity, future.

The tender blossom flutter down …

Just 14 years, just 5 years.  The chill winds of the neoliberal revolution blow through the grounds of the Old Kings School.  As I stood in those dusty rooms and neglected grounds on that end-day on 22 April 2016, there are tears in my eyes, stung neither by mote nor impermanence but the tragic irony of mammon’s hand.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.[1]

[1] ‘Ozymandias’, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818


And today, one year later on 22 April 2017, the Old Kings School remains empty and forlorn, a wrecked monument to a monumental wreck.

… and a future marches onwards … Look on my works, Ye mighty, and despair

All photos by mrbbaskerville, 22 April 2016

The Battle for the Commons, Episode No 4353

The never-ending battle for the commons goes on.  It must be one of history’s great continuities.

The beautiful common lake, St Albans Common, NSW. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

The beautiful common lake, St Albans Common, New South Wales. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

After failing in November 2016 to persuade the NSW Parliament to abolish the commons, the NSW Government is preparing to again try and convince Parliament to do what it so conspicuously refused to do just three months ago.

Black swans on the common lake, St Albans Common. photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Black swans on the common lake, St Albans Common. photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Submissions closed on 21 February 2017 for public responses to the latest proposals for ‘reform’ of commons from the NSW Department of Industry’s Crown lands agency.  The Government’s ideas of Crown lands as a just a resource to be monetised is illustrated by this administrative arrangement, and it is difficult not to be cynical about any reasons given for wanting to remove the commons from their commoners.

A mob of cattle being mustered, coming over a crest in Wollombi Road and heading for the bottom yards. photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

A mob of cattle being mustered, coming over a crest in Wollombi Road on St Albans Common and heading for the bottom yards. photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

A commoners’ campaign, lead by the commoners of St Albans Common in the Macdonald Valley, north of Sydney, developed a set of basic principles for the future care and control of commons in New South Wales.  These include:

  • Commons belong to their commoners – they are not Crown land, and their arbitrary confiscation must not be allowed
  • Commons must remain under the care and control of representatives elected by the commoners – not ‘managers’ appointed by the minister
  • Commons legislation must remain as stand-alone legislation – it should not be repealed or otherwise replaced by Crown lands or other legislation
  • The responsibilities of commoners, and their rights of commonage, are of great traditional and historical significance – this should be respected and supported by the State
  • Commoners who have managed their commons sustainably, especially over many generations, should not be arbitrarily penalised because some others haven’t.
The mob going through the gates into the bottom yards, St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

The mob meanders through the gates into the bottom yards, St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Commoners watch the mob as it moves into the bottom yards. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

Commoners and drovers making sure the mob is in the bottom yards, St Albans Common. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

I made a submission on the Department’s proposals, from the perspective of a historian of commons rather than that of a commoner.  My submission is essentially consistent with the commoners’ principles.  It also calls for the Department to abandon its attempts to abolish the commons, and instead adopt a ‘common-centred’ approach to revitalising the commons, and increasing local community engagement with their commons, especially commons that are claimed to have been neglected, or for which commoners now seem to be unaware of their traditional rights and responsibilities.

Cattle being inspected in the race at the bottom yards, St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Commoners inspecting cattle in the race at the bottom yards, St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

My submission can be dowloaded here and the St Albans Common site contains links to the commoner’s submission, and to several other useful resources in the ongoing battle to save the commons of New South Wales from mammon.

The Settlers Arms, in the nearby village of St Albans. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

The Settlers Arms, in the nearby village of St Albans. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

A Scotch Thistle in flower - one of the more exotic inhabitants of St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

A Scotch Thistle in flower – one of the more exotic inhabitants of St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Sullivans Bight, one of the many little vales that edge the flats of St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Sullivans Bight, with post and rail fence of the old weaner’s yard, one of the many little vales that edge the flats of St Albans Common. Photo mrbbaskerville 20 January 2017

Old quarry along Wollombi Road, in St Albans Common. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

Old quarry along Wollombi Road, a landscape record of one of the multiple historic and contemporary uses of St Albans Common. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

Koalas, kangaroos and wombats - a sign of some of the natural inhabitants along Wollombi Road in St Albans Common. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

Koalas, kangaroos and wombats – a sign of some of the natural inhabitants whose environment is conserved along Wollombi Road in St Albans Common. Photo mrbaskerville 20 January 2017

St Albans Commons, cared for by its commoners since 1824, granted to its commoners in 1853, a place of historical, traditional and cultural significance that must, and will, survive and thrive long into the future. Photo mrbbaskerville, 20 January 2017

St Albans Commons, cared for by its commoners since 1824, granted to its commoners in 1853, a place of historical, traditional and contemporary cultural significance.  The common and its commoners will continue to survive and thrive long into the future, while transitory governments come and go. Photo mrbbaskerville, 20 January 2017

Historic Reserve Trusts & Boards Abolished, Commons Almost Go Same Way

The NSW Government’s new Crown Land Management Act 2016 came into force on 14 November.  This new Act repealed the Crown Lands Act 1989 and a number of other Acts such as the Trustees of Schools of Arts Enabling Act 1902, the Western Lands Act 1901, the Hay Irrigation Act 1902 and the Orange Show Ground Act 1897, as well as the regulations and by-laws made under these Acts.  The mainstream media failed to cover any of these fundamental changes.

One Act slated for repeal was the Commons Management Act 1989, legislation with roots going right back to the first commons established by Governor King on 11 August 1804 and the historic Epitome of the Existing Laws respecting Commons drawn-up by Judge Advocate Richard Atkins in Sydney in January 1805.  This was the first ‘charter’ of common rights created in Australia, linking the new commons here with the customs and practices of their ancient predecessors and with a future in which local people – commoners – would share and manage resources for their mutual benefit as communities.  Wherever they came from, however they arrived, their shared interests as local commoners were what mattered.  About half the first trustees appointed in 1805 were ex-convicts.

Following determined representations by the community in St Albans and the commoners of St Alban’s Common to all State MPs in all parties, all references to commons and the Commons Act were removed from the Bill by parliament.

One effect of the new Crown Lands legislation is to abolish or otherwise fundamentally change existing community bodies managing various Crown reserves.  This includes many boards and trustees.  In their place, the Minister may appoint a ‘land manager’, which could be a local council, a ministerial corporation, the head of a government agency or the existing reserve trust or board, among others, at the Minister’s discretion.  The Minister may sell, lease, exchange, transfer or otherwise dispose of such Crown land.

Another effect of the new Act is that many old and historic local community-based institutions have been abolished or transformed.  About 700 local reserves are (or were) controlled by local trusts.  For example, the 119-year old Orange Showground Trust will be replaced by Orange City Council as Orange Showground Land Manager. On the other hand, five reserve trusts are designated ‘special reserve trusts’ and appear to be exempt from the new Act, such as the 150-year old succession of trustees for Wagga Wagga Racecourse Reserve, and the 133-year old succession of trustees for the Hawkesbury Racecourse Trust, as well as all Crown cemetery trusts.  Apart from these few, the whole concept of local community trusteeship has been discarded in favour of management processes subject to the Minister.

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common from the goose.

Folk rhyme, 18th century

The quick action of the St Albans Commoners means that all commoners still retain control of their commons.  St Albans Common is one of the ‘old commons’, established in 1824, under the control of the trustees chosen by the commoners.  It is the oldest common still continually managed by its commoners as trustees, formalised in an 1853 Deed.  At 163-years old, the commoner’s Trust is older than any other form of self-governance in NSW and Australia, older than the parliament (160 years) which almost abolished it without a second thought, older than any local council, and equal in age to the Supreme Court of NSW.  Only the Governor and the Crown itself predate the St Albans Commoners as continuing historic institutions in New South Wales.  Commons and their trustees are just as significant to our shared heritage.

A politician realizes the significance of a common. Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 26 January 1917, page 8

A politician realizes the significance of a common. ‘St Albans Common’, Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 26 January 1917, page 8

However, the late change in the Bill does not mean commons are safe.  They will be considered again in 2017 when further amendments to the Act will be made.  The abolition of Commons Trusts has only been ‘deferred’ (Second Reading speech, Hon Niall Blair MLC, 8 November, and Kevin Andrews MLA for Tamworth, 9 November), so all commoners, whatever their common, need to remain alert.  In the debate, Clayton Barr MLA for Cessnock noted that the ‘deferral’ only occurred because commoners

“…came bearing arms against the changes … they were repulsed … they took up arms – their pens and keyboards – they were successful and should be congratulated for dragging the Government to agree to an amendment … at the eleventh hour

(Legislative Assembly, Second Reading Debate, 9 November).

It is clear from reading the debates that the Commoners of St Albans played a key role in saving the commons (see, for example, speech by David Shoebridge MLC, 8 November).  The commoners continued a very long tradition of upholding their rights, and their actions today recall those of the commoners of the Field of Mars Common and Ham Common in the 1860s and 70s and many other commoners over the years who fought valiantly, but often unsuccessfully, against enclosure and privatisation of their commons.  Eternal vigilance is the real price of commonage.

Commoners have a long history of fighting to defend their commons. 'Field of Mars Common', Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1862, page 5

Commoners have a long history of fighting to defend their commons. ‘Field of Mars Common’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1862, page 5

Are you a trustee or member of a reserve trust?  Are you aware of the impacts of the new Crown lands legislation on you, the Crown reserve that you steward, or your local community?  Has your reserve, its trust or its board been in existence for many years?  Do you know its history?  Is it embedded in the traditions of your community?  Do you know where its records and archives are (the new Crown land managers are specifically not ‘government agencies’, and so will not be subject to the State Records Act 1998)?  Do you know if it is being abolished?  Is your reserve listed on your local council’s LEP or the State Heritage Register as a heritage item?  Are you a commoner worried about the future of your common and commonage rights?  Do you know if you are a commoner of your local common?  Do you know where your common is (or perhaps, used to be)?

Commons are a part of our shared histories as communities, and they are also part of our present and future.  Commons were the first places where people had to work out how to live together in a new place, how to share resources so that all could benefit, and how to care for and look after a sustainable local environment that could support them all now and into succeeding generations.  Some succeeded, some didn’t, but that is part of our ‘common history’ from which we can learn so much about communal endeavour and ways for people to live and work together.  Conservation of historic institutions such as commoners and their trustees goes hand-in-hand with the conservation of environments and natural resources.  The ‘tragedy of the commons’ is never inevitable.

Commoners were not always successful in keeping their commons out of the clutches of the enclosers and privatisers. 'Sydney Common Estate', Evening News (Sydney), 17 October 1881, page 3

Commoners were not always successful in keeping their commons out of the clutches of the enclosers and privatisers. ‘Sydney Common Estate’, Evening News (Sydney), 17 October 1881, page 3

The new Act has only just been passed, and the fate of the ‘deferred’ commons and the ‘special reserve trusts’ has yet to be decided by your parliamentarians.  Instead of waiting to see what might happen, you can begin making inquiries now with your local council, Lands Office or State MPs.  Ask your MPs which way their vote was cast on this legislation, what they said in the debates, and which way they will vote for commons in the future.  Remind them to keep you informed of what they will do when commons next come before parliament.  Let them know you’ll be watching.  Don’t let them forget that historic, learned ways of local stewardship of local environments are central to continuing community traditions, living local economies and healthy local communities.  They must not be quietly stolen away.

Sometimes, a politician had to admit that a common was important, even if a public servant had to be the whipping boy. Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 23 February 1917, page 4

Sometimes, a politician had to admit that a common was important, even if a public servant had to be the whipping boy. Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 23 February 1917, page 4

Some Useful Resources

 Some useful words:

  • Common: land over which rights of common may be exercised without personally owning the land.
  • Commonage: generic term for rights of common, such as grazing, wood gathering, camping, mushrooming, collecting clay and fishing.
  • Commoner: a person with rights of common, usually defined by residence near a common.
  • Tragedy of the commons: an economic theory claiming commoners only act in their self-interest and will inevitably destroy their shared resources, but which ignores the reality of commoners managing their shared resources prudently and cooperatively without any need for enclosure or privatisation.
Commons management in action, by the trustees elected by the commoners. Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 12 September 1908, page 16

Commons management in action, by the trustees elected by the commoners. Windsor & Richmond Gazette, 12 September 1908, page 16

Happy 225th Queen’s and King’s Birthday Holiday

Today, Monday 10th June 2013, is the 225th Queen’s (or King’s) Birthday holiday in eastern Australia (Western Australia has the holiday in September or October, during the wildflower season).  It is Australia’s first and oldest public holiday, having been celebrated and recorded every year since 1788.

Captain Watkin Tench of the Marine Corps wrote the following description of the King’s Birthday in Sydney Cove on the 4th June 1788:

“Hours of festivity, which under happier skies pass unregarded and are soon consigned to oblivion, acquire in this forlorn and distant circle a superior degree of acceptable importance.

On the anniversary of the King’s birthday all the officers not on duty, both of the garrison and His Majesty’s ships, dined with the governor.  On so joyful an occasion, the first too ever [be] celebrated in our new settlement, it were needless to say that loyal conviviality dictated every sentiment and inspired every guest.  Among other public toasts drunk was prosperity to Sydney Cove, in Cumberland county, now named so by authority.  At daylight in the morning the ships of war had fired twenty-one guns each, which was repeated at noon and answered by three volleys from the battalion of marines.

Nor were the officers alone partakers of the general relaxation.  The four unhappy wretches labouring under the sentence of banishment were freed from their fetters to rejoin their former society; and three days given as holidays to every convict in the colony.  Hospitality, too, which ever aquires a double relish by being extended, was not forgotten on the 4th of June, when each prisoner, male and female, received an allowance of grog; and every non-commissioned officer and private soldier had the honour of drinking prosperity to his royal master, in a pint of porter served out at the flagstaff, in addition to the customary allowance of spirits.  Bonfires concluded the evening and I am happy to say that excepting a single instance which shall be taken notice of hereafter [the convict Samuel Payton’s attempt to rob an officer’s tent], no bad consequence or unpleasant remembrance flowed from an indulgence so amply bestowed.”

In one of the more formal rituals on the day Governor Phillip described the boundaries and named the plain around Sydney Cove as the County of Cumberland, in honour of the King’s brother Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland.  This was the first significant regionym (royal or vice-regal placename) bestowed in New South Wales, and the first and oldest sub-division of the colony.  He had also planned to unveil the name of the intended town in Sydney Cove but decided otherwise, although that name was rumoured to be Albion.

Landscape plan of Sydney Cove in April 1788, showing Government House where the Governor entertained the naval and military officers, and the camps where the convicts received their grog.  Image source National Library of Australia

Landscape plan of Sydney Cove in April 1788, showing Government House where the Governor entertained the naval and military officers, and the camps where the convicts received their grog. Image source National Library of Australia

The King’s Birthday was also celebrated in the colony’s other settlement of Sydney Bay, on Norfolk Island, where Lt Governor King recorded the following in his journal:

“Wednesday 4th June 1788, Winds NW, no surf at landing place, fresh gales and cloudy, began breaking up part of the ground on the NE side of the hill [Mt George, now Flagstaff] to sow wheat.  At sunrise hoisted up the colours in observance of the Anniversary of His Majesties Birth Day and gave each of the people some liquor to drink His Majesties health and at their request excused them from any work in the afternoon.”

Map of Norfolk Island (right) and Sydney Bay (left), c1790.  Image source Nationbal Library of Australia map-rm3460-v

Map of Norfolk Island (right) and Sydney Bay (left), c1790. Image source Nationbal Library of Australia

Back in London, on the other side of the globe, there were official ceremonies that were reported in newspapers across the kingdom, of which this is a typical example:

“Yesterday being the anniversary of His Majesty’s birth-day, who entered into the fifty-first year of his age, the drawing-room at St. James’s was one of the most numerous and brilliant perhaps ever seen at the British Court.  Their Majesties, the Princess Royal, Augusta, Elizabeth and Mary, Prince of Wales, Dukes of York, Gloucester and Cumberland, with all the foreign Ambassadors, Envoys, Secretaries, and Consuls, Duke of Orleans, Mons. de Calonne, and other foreigners of the first distinction; the Lord Chancellor, most of the Bishops, all the great officers of State, a number of the Nobility of both sexes, &c, &c, were precient.  Their Majesties, and the Princesses … came to the ball-room … at nine-o’clock, and the Princes and Duke of York a few minutes before them.

The King was dressed in a dark coloured suit, exceedingly plain, not even a diamond.

The Queen was superbly dressed in a blue silver tissue buoy, train and petticoat; the latter entirely covered, in waves, with deep fine blond lace; in front, finer stripes of blue satin ribbon, edged with diamonds; in the middle of the ribbon were roses of diamonds at proper distances, and pendant from each a tassel of diamonds; round the bottom a deep silver fringe; on each extremity on the top of the hoop was a large bow of diamonds; the stomacher one blaze of diamonds, and a large bouquet of diamonds placed on the left-side sleeve knots of diamonds; necklace and ear-rings equally superb.

Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, mezzotint by Thomas Frye, 1762.  Image source Tumblr

Queen Charlotte, the first queen-consort for New South Wales, mezzotint by Thomas Frye, 1762. Image source Tumblr

The Duke of Cumberland appeared in his naval uniform.

The King was surrounded by all his Ministers during the evening, but conversed mostly with Mr Pitt, Lord Sydney and Lord Howe.

Some of the illuminations, particularly at the west end of town, were splendid as were all the places of public amusement.”

Many of the newspapers also printed the ‘Ode for His Majesty’s Birthday 1788’, that included lines such as “What native Genius taught the Britons bold/To guard their sea-girt cliffs of old?/’Twas Liberty …/ The King’s, the people’s balanc’d claims to found/ On one eternal base, indissolubly bound/ … For lo, revering Britain’s cause/ A King new lustre lends to native laws/ The sacred sovereign on this festal day/ On Albion’s old renown reflects a kindred ray/”

George III as the colonists in New South Wales may have encountered him.  Image source Museum of Victoria.

George III as the colonists in New South Wales may have encountered him. Image source Museum of Victoria.

George III as the colonists may have imagined him.  Image source Museum of Victoria

George III as the colonists may have imagined him. Image source Museum of Victoria

But what does it all mean?

Historian McKenna argued in 2004 that the Sir Robert Menzies’ understanding of allegiance to the crown was a means of connecting contemporary Australians with enlightened and noble historical traditions, with a mystical past.  The constitution itself, in the mystical, shakespeareanesque language of its covering clauses and preamble, connected Australians to an ancient and mythological past.  Republicans see this as anachronistic, but overlook its profound appeal, its mythological language of belonging, what might be called a Dreaming.  For Menzies the crown was ‘an element of the spirit, a spiritual and emotional conception’.  Political scientist Judith Brett has written that the crown still fulfils the need to symbolise the foundations of the nation-state by something beyond itself, something broadly accepted and emotionally rich in symbols.  The foundations of this civic creed, as described by McKenna and Brett, flows through the readings of the King’s Birthday celebrations in 1788 in Sydney Cove and Sydney Bay and London.

The colonists, by the act of place naming, imagined into existence new places such as New South Wales, Botany Bay, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, Norfolk Island, Sydney Bay, and Cumberland County.  This is how they imaginatively and intellectually occupied, historicised and inhabited the native spaces of the continent.  The first king’s birthday celebrations added further historical depth to these new/old places.  It was part of the revolutionary transformation of locally indigenous spaces into globally connected places.

Part of the history evoked in these new/old place names, and the serial royal birthday celebrations (as Tench indicated, this was the first of many to come), is a history of a direct mystical connection between peoples and their king, regardless of place or social status.  The king’s ethereality is enhanced by distance and absence, by being in a faraway place, present only in the symbolic representations of royal heraldry and royal portraiture.  For most colonists, his presence can only be imagined, rather than physically encountered as it was by the denizens of St James’ Palace (although even they encountered but a representation, a king ‘in a dark suit without even a diamond’ amidst the silken blue finery of his official birthday party).

The annual Queen’s Birthday holiday reveals, year after year, the enduring founding mythos of a sacred covenant between subjects and their sovereign that extends across time and space, ‘indissolubly bound’ as the Ode declaimed, and which remains at the heart of the society that has evolved in Australia.

Indeed, this mythos is contained in the preamble to the Australian constitution which states the people have agreed (through the Federation referenda of 1898, 1899 and 1900) to “unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown”.  A deep desire to retain this immemorial entanglement was again expressed by the people through the republic referendum in 1999.

Is it possible for a new civic mythos to be imagined, a fusion of indigenous and settler ancientness, another Dreaming that explains peoples and places across the continent and its isles?  Could it be argued that the Queen’s Birthday holiday, pregnant with possible futures, is the real Australia Day?

A re-imaging of the Queen's Birthday holiday in Sydney in 2013.  Image source Keystone Group

A re-imagining of the Queen’s Birthday holiday in Sydney in 2013. Image source Keystone Group

Watkin Tench A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, 1793; edited by Tim Flannery and published as 1788, Text Publishing, Melbourne 1996: pages 66-68

Philip Gidley King Remarks & Journal kept on the Expedition to form a Colony in His Majestys Territory of New South Wales …His Majesty’s Ship Sirius …, 24 October 1786 – 12 January 1789pages 150-151

Historical records of New South Wales, Vol. I, Part II, 1783-1789, Government Printer, Sydney 1889

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 5th June 1788

Chelmsford Chronicle, 6th June 1788

Mark McKenna This Country: A Reconciled Republic, UNSW Press, UNSW 2004, pages 98-101

The dedicated reader will find it useful to have a look at Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme & Power of a Common-Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill, first published in London 1651, particularly Part II: ‘Of Common-Wealth’; and (regarding the power of place naming) Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History, Faber and Faber, London and Boston 1987.

Prince Alfred’s tour in the summer of 1867-1868

One Hot Crown presentation

Click on the ‘One Hot Crown’ Podcast above to hear me  talking about Prince Alfred’s tour of The Australias (yes, that’s the plural) over the summer of 1867-1868.

This was the first royal tour in Australia, and it has largely been ignored by historians of Australia except for the novelty of an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Prince at Clontarf, on the north shore of Sydney Harbour.

Brown bread, oysters and stout formed the picnic menu at Clontarf on 12th March 1868: photo taken on 12th March 2013 at Mt York Reserve in the Blue Mountains where it was proposed in 1895 to erect a statue of Prince Alfred.  Photo mrbbaskerville 2013.

Brown bread, oysters and stout formed the picnic menu at Clontarf on 12th March 1868: photo taken on 12th March 2013 at Mt York Reserve in the Blue Mountains where it was proposed in 1895 to erect a statue of Prince Alfred. Photo Bruce Baskerville 2013.

I argue in the talk that the tour has much greater historical significance that has been attributed to it, and outline my current attempts to write a history that uses the Crown, rather than any idea of the nation, as its organising principle.  I begin the talk by trying to position my work beyond the nationalist orthodoxy that I think has presented history in Australia as too mono-dimensional and myopic.

I think our history is much wilder, regionalist, communal and contingent than is presented in orthodox histories.  I think that the only historical constant is change, and that therefore nothing is inevitable.  Hopefully, some of this comes across in the presentation.

See The Lost Option for a more orthodox view.

Eating our Coat of Arms: imagining a Commonwealth Cuisine

The idea of eating Australia’s coat of arms occupied some media attention over the 2013 Australia Day long weekend when a fast food chain marketed its ‘coat of arms burger’ (rather confusingly as ‘a new anthem that you eat’).  As is often the case in such discussions, ideas of what constitutes a coat of arms were rather hazy.  For this article, it means the whole design, known as the full achievement.

What was meant as edible in the above case was the supporters of the Commonwealth Arms, the kangaroo and emu (reduced to a meat patty).  It apparently did not include the black swan in the Western Australia quarter.  The lions in the New South Wales and Tasmania quarters, and the piping shrike in the South Australia quarter seem unlikely culinary items.  The wattle sprays usually depicted with Arms might contain foods such as wattle seed and wattle flour, but they weren’t included in the patties.

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of the Commonwealth of Australia, granted by Royal Warrant in 1912

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of the Commonwealth of Australia, granted by Royal Warrant in 1912

The Arms of the states and territories set out a veritable degustation: Queensland has sugar cane, wheat, beef, lamb and venison; New South Wales has wheat and kangaroo; Tasmania has apples, hops and fresh water; Victoria has kangaroo, olives and corn; South Australia has wheat, vines and citrus fruit; Western Australia has kangaroo and swan; Northern Territory has kangaroo, conch and cockles; ACT has swans and rose and Norfolk Island has kangaroo and laurel (bay leaf).

The inclusion of edible elements in national coats of arms is a feature of some three quarters of Commonwealth countries.  The Bahamas has a blue marlin and a conch; Barbados has sugar cane and dolphin; Canada has maple and rose; Cayman Islands has pineapple and turtle; Dominica has banana; Grenada has roses, corn and banana; Guyana has sugar cane and rice; Jamaica has pineapples and crocodile; St Kitts and Nevis has sugar cane and coconut; St Lucia has roses; Turks and Caicos Islands has conch and lobster; Kenya has chicken; Lesotho has crocodile; Mauritius has sugar cane and venison; South Africa has wheat; Namibia has oryx; Botswana has beef, sorghum and fresh water; Zimbabwe has fresh water and kudu; Zambia has maize; Tanzania has cloves; Ghana has cocoa; Seychelles has tortoise, coconuts and swordfish; Bangladesh has rice; Malaysia has pinang (areca or betel nut); Maldives has coconut; Pakistan has wheat and tea; British Indian Ocean Territory has turtles; Ascension has turtles; Tristan da Cunha has lobsters; South Georgia has venison; New Zealand has wheat; Solomon Islands has crocodile, turtle and shark; Tuvalu has mussels and bananas; Cook Islands has flying fish; Fiji has cocoa, sugar cane, coconut and bananas; Samoa, Tonga, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Cyprus and Malta have olive branches.  The United Kingdom has roses, shamrocks and thistles.

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Tristan da Cunha, assigned by Royal Warrant in 2002

Coat of Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Tristan da Cunha, granted by Royal Warrant in 2002

This list does not included representations of sheep as wool or a golden fleece rather than meat, or of horses.  Deer, as a metaphor for venison is included, as are thistles and other plants mainly known only to ‘wild food’ connoisseurs.  There are occasional examples of edible national emblems outside the Commonwealth, such as the olive branches of the Israeli Arms, or US state seals and other emblems, but they are uncommon.  More usual are agricultural implements, especially in former communist state emblems, but they are no longer common.

There are two rhetorical questions often asked: are Australians the only ones who eat their national symbols?  Does eating national symbols show disrespect for the symbols and/or the nation they represent?

As this quick survey shows, Australia is far from being alone in having edible and culinary symbols and elements in its national Arms.  In fact, a very diverse and tasty ‘Commonwealth menu’ could be prepared that should suit many gastronomic tastes, drawing upon wild and farmed animals and plants, spices, herbs, seafoods and sweets.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for a budding restaurateur?

The issue of disrespect or offence is more complex.  Eating a nice swordfish steak does not immediately bring the Seychelles to mind, yet it is one of their national heraldic beasts.  However, if a dish is listed on a café menu as a country’s ‘coat of arms’, do we defile their sovereignty by eating it?  Another fast food chain recently withdrew its ‘Virgin Mary’ labeled dish of chips with tomato flavouring after complaints that it (the name) was offensive to Catholics.  So, is it the denominating of a national coat of arms or a religious icon as a ‘food’ that is the problem?  After all, kangaroo meat is freely available in supermarkets and butchers, but I never seen it marketed as ‘Dexter Supporter’, or any sort of coat of arms.  Should the namers of new fast foods be scorned for their lack of cultural sensitivity, or should heraldists ‘piggyback’ on their view that any controversy generated by such names is free advertising and good for their bottom line, as a means to educate the public about national and community symbols?

A confusing culinary message?   Image by Andrew Leigh, Cosmos, 2008: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/opinion/fry-me-kangaroo-down/

A confusing culinary message?
Image by Andrew Leigh, Cosmos, 2008: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/opinion/fry-me-kangaroo-down/

None of the media commentary suggested that being offended by the marketing or eating of produce that is also represented in national symbols should be against the law.  A civic space remains for public debate and comment – and therefore opportunities to promote heraldic knowledge and understanding.

Do we, for instance, by some sense of appreciation for culinary heraldry, come to understand something of another culture when we knowingly eat its symbols?  Do we, in some primal sense, absorb something in the same way a warrior might have once eaten his defeated opponent’s liver (or other organs) to both honour and ingest his warrior spirit?

What if we slice and eat a cake with a national coat of arms depicted in the icing? Perhaps respect is shown or offence avoided more by the way a ‘heraldic food’ is served and consumed than by the way it is marketed?  Is leaving most of the swordfish steak on the plate, or using the armorial cake in a juvenile food fight, really where offence is given – to the fisher, the farmer, the cook, the cleaner, the rubbish tip attendant? Similarly, is the not uncommon practice of placing a coat of arms in a floor pattern, where it is walked on every day, disrespectful?  There are no simple answers, and it is important to understand the context for these issues.

Heraldically, however, there is an interesting question of why does food, or food sources, feature so prominently in British-influenced national heraldry?  We might suppose that it would be a feature of Mediterranean, Chinese, Indian, South East Asian or Middle Eastern heraldry, of cultures where me imagine cuisines are so much more exciting and adventurous than our own.  It is a question probably more suitable for debating over a long, slow lunch, and I look forward to any reader’s thoughts on these gustatory ‘brain food’ delights.  Bon appétit!

(Originally published in The Australian Heraldry Society’s Members’ Circular, No. 158, January-February 2013)

References:

‘Coat of Arms Burger Launch @ Grill’d, Shafto Lane, Perth CBD’, www.Perthfoodjournal.com

‘Royal Bunfight: Monarchists warn Grill’d will roo its menu’, MX, 21 January 2013, page 1

http://www.franchise.net.au/news/grill-d-criticised-for-coat-of-arms-burger

‘Advance Australian fare’, The Cook and The Curator – eat your own history, 26 January 2013,

http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/advance-australian-fare

‘Stay in Touch: With a happy face and a sandwich to go’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4th February 2013, page 14

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/first-world-problems

Necro-Nationalism Struggles to Rise from the Grave

A response to Charles Miranda’s ‘An Admiral Endeavour’,

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18th May 2013, page 17

So, ten years ago Premier Bob Carr secretly commissioned expatriate lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, Queen’s Counsel, to locate the remains of Captain Arthur Phillip, who died in 1814, and report on sending them to Sydney for reburial.  Secret commissions, exhuming dead bodies, Sydney politicians and lawyers – it sounds like a case for ICAC.  But, as these things are no doubt all perfectly legal and above board, it seems more like a case of necro-nationalism.

Mr Robertson QC was able to locate the gravesite, or at least a gravesite, about which he casts aspersions as to whether it is actually Phillip’s grave.  These aspersions are valid because the beastly British have once again been treating ‘our heroes’ with their usual casual indifference and shabbiness.  Shockingly, Phillip was buried in the graveyard of a country church, beside his wife, just as he wanted.  More evidence of what the British thought of an Australian hero claims Mr Robertson QC.  Phillip should, he says, have been in entombed in London’s Westminster Abbey with other national heroes.

As the British have recently found the remains of some old kings such as Richard III and Alfred the Great, this means that ‘foreign heroes’ should also be dug up and returned to where they came from.  Things get a bit confusing at this point, as Phillip did not actually come from Australia, so ‘repatriating’ his bones (if they’re his) for burial in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney would be deliberately falsifying history.  Still, that has never stopped nationalists from re-writing the past as they think it should have been.  Once safely repatriated in some harbourside Westminster Abbey of our own (was Mr Carr or Mr Robertson QC channeling Henry Parkes’ State House?), Phillip will then, no doubt, be claimed to have always been a republican, and to have intended all along to found a convict republic at the earliest opportunity and rebel against the nasty imperialists in London.  If only grovelling British-minded historians hadn’t written him out of our history.  Repatriating Phillip’s bones would show those awful Brits that they can’t steal our history.

Once the Poms have been forced to give up our hero’s bones, we could then demand the repatriation of all our vice-regal heroes.  Poor Lachlan Macquarie lying in his cold mausoleum in Scotland, or James Stirling and John Hindmarsh in neglected church paddocks on the English south coast.  Gosh, Britain must be full of the bones of our founder-heroes just aching for repatriation.  But, why stop there?  Lord Sydney, suitably restyled as Tommy Townshend, would be an obvious candidate for liberation from his English family tomb.  Of course, these hero’s descendants, and local people who honour their gravesites today, might object but really, this is our great national project.  They’ll just have to get out of the way, those foreigners, those thieving Brits with no right to purloin our heroes.  Clearly, they learnt nothing from transporting our innocent convicts.

Some of Phillips relics have already been repatriated, such as the bricks from a shed once on Phillip’s farm in southern England.  These were a bicentennial gift to Australia, and some of the bricks ended up on the waterfront in Kingston, Norfolk Island, where they were made into a combined seat and monument to HMS Sirius (a British ship wrecked there in 1790).  Today the bricks are eroding away, not being made for a harsh seaside environment. Phillip never went to Norfolk Island (a tiny detail), but a vice-regal successor, Governor-General Sir William Deane, unveiled the enigmatic seat-monument on the anniversary day of the island’s British settlement in 1788, during the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001.  Its meanings remain as confused as the righteousness of necro-nationalists.

Mr Robertson QC, who has been on this heroic quest for some time, told Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program in 2007 that “The moral of this story is that we can’t trust the English, the Church of England, the British, to look after our national treasures”.  But before we go off body snatching in the cause of the endless nationalist quest to traduce Britain and all things British, perhaps Mr Robertson QC could again be secretly commissioned to report on the fate afforded by ‘us’ to the remains of Henry James O’Farrell, ‘our’ failed assassin of Prince Alfred in 1868.  Sure, anti-heroes are not the stuff of heroic necro-nationalism, but perhaps that’s the point.  Throwing stones about neglecting to tend the graves of the long-departed, heroes or otherwise, will soon reveal myriad glass houses.

Phillip was an Englishman of German and Huguenot heritage who did his job as a professional officer in the Royal Navy.  We should understand him for who and what he was, in his own times.  Trying to saddle him with retrospective Australian nationality and herohood does, I think, a disservice to the man, his memory and his many fine achievements, not all of which were in Australia.  He continued to advocate for New South Wales after he returned to London, but never expressed any desire to return, and certainly not to have his remains transported across the seas to a republic of thieves that he never founded.

Monument to Captain Phillip in St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingston 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Monument to Arthur Phillip in St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingston 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Australia Chapel, St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo  Adrian Pingstone 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Australia Chapel, St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingstone 2006, Wikipedia Commons

I say, leave Admiral Arthur Phillip RN to rest in his grave in England, beside his wife, as he wanted.  The local people there respect his memory, tend his grave and take pride in a shared history between our two countries.  We can probably learn something from their generous spirit.  Nature should be allowed to get on with quietly reclaiming his remains and his headstone free of the not-always tender mercies of heritage restorers and body snatching necro-nationalists.  Dust to dust is at least an honest epitaph.