Saturday, April 7, 2018

Australian History Bytes


A brief look at some bits of Australian history . . .

The Day of the Roses:

The Granville rail disaster occurred on Tuesday 18 January 1977 at Granville, New South Wales, a western suburb of Sydney, when a crowded commuter train derailed, running into the supports of the overhead Bold Street bridge that then collapsed onto two of the train's passenger carriages. It remains the worst rail disaster in Australian history and the greatest loss of life in a confined area post war: 83 people died, more than 213 were injured, 

Of the total number of passengers travelling in the third and fourth carriages, half were killed instantly when the bridge collapsed on them, crushing them in their seats. Several injured passengers were trapped in the train for hours after the accident, with part of the bridge crushing a limb or torso. Some had been conscious and lucid, talking to rescuers, but died of crush syndrome soon after the weight was removed from their bodies. (Crush syndrome is a medical condition characterised by major shock and renal failure after a crushing injury to skeletal muscle.  It is often seen in earthquake victims who have been trapped under fallen or moving masonry.)  This resulted in changes to rescue procedures for these kinds of accidents.

Today a memorial wall at the site records the names of those who died.  Family and relatives gather at the location on each anniversary and drop roses on the track in memory, the tragic day now being known as The Day of the Roses.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lays a wreath at the Granville memorial on 18 January 2017, on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.


The movie business began in Australia:

The world’s first feature film (see comments below as to whether this was a feature film) was made in Australia in 1899 by the Salvation Army. Soldiers of the Cross focused on the life and deaths of early Christian martyrs and ran for 2.5 hours. It was first screened in 1901. It was an illustrated lecture, combining photographic glass slides with short dramatised film segments and orchestral or choir music to relate the stories of Christ and the early Christian martyrs.  It initially consisted of 200 glass slides and 15 films, each film running for approximately 90 seconds. The presentation took slightly over two hours. No motion picture film from Soldiers of the Cross is known to have survived. However some glass slides of the production remain.

Title slide

Christ in the Temple
Glass slide from Soldiers of the Cross
There is dispute as to whether Soldiers of the Cross, the world’s first narrative drama film, was a movie per se.  If not, then the honour of the world’s first feature film goes to The Story of the Kelly Gang, which opened in Melbourne on Boxing Day 1906.  At over an hour long, it is thought to be the world’s first feature-length narrative movie.  Some lucky finds and painstaking work by the National Film & Sound Archives has pieced together and restored nearly a quarter of the film.  The silent film traces the exploits of 19th-century bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang.

Some images from the film:

Fitzpatrick incident at Mrs Kelly's homestead



Botany Bay

Farewell to old England for ever,
Farewell to my rum culls as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey
Where I used to cut such a swell.

Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, ay,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
And we're bound for Botany Bay.

There's the captain as is our commander,
There's the bo'sun and all the ship's crew,
There's the first- and the second-class passengers,
Knows what we poor convicts go through.

'Taint leaving old England we cares about,
'Taint cos we mis-spells what we knows,
But because all we light-fingered gentry
Hops around with a log on our toes.

Now all my young Dookies and Duchesses,
Take warning from what I've to say:
Mind all is your own as you toucheses
Or you'll find us in Botany Bay.

Transportation was originally seen as an alternative to the death penalty and therefore applied to the more serious crimes including arson and highway robbery. Murderers, reprieved from hanging, were also transported. However, there were other significant groups of prisoners sent including rioters, advocates of Irish Home Rule or Trade Unionism (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) and other political protesters. People who had been convicted for theft, particularly if it was a second offence, were also sentenced to transportation.  However, not all were hardened criminals. Penal Colonies were often situated in frontier lands, especially the more inhospitable parts, where prisoners' unpaid labour could be useful in the times before immigration labour became available. Sometimes people were sentenced for trivial or dubious offences to generate cheap labour.

Btw #1:
That’s Hyde Park Barracks in the background in the photograph above.  Built in 1819 by convict labour, it was the principal male convict barracks in New South Wales, providing lodgings for convicts working in government employment around Sydney until its closure in mid-1848. It was an Immigration Depot for single female immigrants seeking work as domestic servants and awaiting family reunion from 1848 to 1886 and also a female asylum from 1862 to 1886. From 1887 to 1979 law courts and government offices were based at the Barracks.  Today is has been restored and is a convict museum.  Well worth a visit if you haven’t been.

Btw #2:
In 1839-40 transportation to New South Wales was discontinued. By this time, New South Wales well developed and was considered a desirable place for settlers. It was no longer seen as a punishment to send convicts there. By that time 150,000 convicts had been sent to the colonies.  Transportation continued to Van Diemen's Land until 1853. In 1849 transportation started to Western Australia.  After the 1853 only long-term transportation was retained and it was finally abolished in 1857. Some convicts were still transported after 1857 act. The last convict ship, the Hougoumont, left Britain in 1867 and arrived in Western Australia on 10 January 1868. In all, about 164,000 convicts were transported to the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1868.

'The landing of the convicts at Botany Bay', engraving from Watkin Tench's book, A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay (1789). 

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