Aspects of Australia
An Epic for a Great Southern Land

by Kerry White

1. Ancient times

Aeons ago Pangaea gave birth to a new southern land:
Gondwana was a new child of the ancient universe,
From the cold south to the hot north, paradise borne.
Long before my ancestors thought about coming to this land,
A people and their spirits roamed its hills and plains,
Before the pale people of the olde North dreamt of a New Land,
The tribes under a Southern Cross had many a Dreamtime:
Jagara, Giabal, Jarowair, Keinjan, Kitabal,
Kambuwal, Bigambul, Barunggam – last of the nomads,
Once described, but wandering where seasons and taboos
Took them across a land with no titles and no fences.
In the mountains rising from the plains where the sun sets,
They gathered from afar to feast on the nuts from the giant trees,
To talk, trade, sing and dance, corroborees and feasts were many,
Marriages and trade brought together tribes who occasionally fought.
Some crossed the great range where the sun rises at Dambugoon-dammi;
Others following the river from the south to the point before it turned west.
Many ages before, the Bidjara in the West on the banks
Of the Budhurradala set alight the evil Goori Goori bird
And created a fiery legend that became a Milky Way.
The stars led others in tall new ships across this planet,
In search of room to move far from the overbearing sprawl;
Conquering, vanquishing clash of civilisations, following
The eternal quest of man to go forth into the unknown –
Dreamtime overshadowed by the Age of Enlightenment.
“We simply conquered them by gunpowder”, history records,
“the noble savage, uncontaminated by civilisation”.
Their early welcome and friendship were spurned,
Some took on the white man, early guerrilla war, like
Multuggerah and his men, trying to hold onto their land
Against the settlers - who called him King Moppy - with their guns and horses.
Billy Burmoondo also took them on, a bushranger who robbed the Chinese
Of their cursed opium, which became in turn a curse for this ancient race,
Along with disease and despair, and a lingering patronisation.
While Galileo was wanting people to believe the Moon’s not part of Heaven,
Our ancient people knew it as coming from the healing earth grub.

2. From the Olde Country

Though others had been before, unimpressed and sailed off the wind between their sails,
Captain Cook came from England, born in Yorkshire and Great Ayton, to claim
The land for the Crown and Empire, a Crown and Empire to die for, as many had.
Later, this far-off place, not valued much from stories told on Cook’s return,
Except as an exiled land for society’s outcast to regret their misdeeds, for
Villains to be sent from sight and ease the ooze of ever-swelling cities.
No worry that most had done little wrong, at least to warrant what could be hell!
Away they were sent to the new Southern Land, no hope for the hopeless,
The Rulers not recognizing the new continent is older than the Empire.
With 11 ships under command, Captain Arthur Phillip set sail to plant the Flag,
Along with 750 of England’s tried not to be trusted, and their uniformed minders:
Alexander, Borrowdale, Supply, Prince of Wales, Fishburn, Golden Grove, Sirius,
Scarborough, Lady Penrhyn, Charlotte and Friendship – a journey begun.
And Sydney Town was born, delivered by the convicted and their soldiers;
More followed, a mixture of the free and the chained, farmers to feed the growing colony,
With grain, sheep, cattle – furrowing forefathers of those who came to the Downs.
One later ship, Bellona, sailed with settlers and toughened women, serving time
For misdemeanours that would not have made a dent on snobby wealth.
On the voyage, a farmwoman lost a baby daughter to weak too carry on,
A crewman fell into the seas, never to be found though they tried,
Numerically they were replaced by babes born to the convicts on the high seas.
Other cargo of variety – flour, molasses, pork, rum, hammocks, rugs and cloth –
With women sent to another world, dispatched by uncaring courts:
Margaret had stolen cups and saucers, and died after three years aged only 44;
Catherine erred in stealing lace from a haberdashery; Ann also had stolen –
Her baby died, but three more followed on dry land; Mary Ann stole clothes;
Esther was sentenced to die for taking seven yards of cloth,
But reprieve gave her a chance for a new life in the land of the unknown;
Stealing a watch, case and chain landed Sarah her journey to a Southern Land.
Joseph, son of Elizabeth, was one of these born on the voyage,
Baptised in the new world he became a sawyer and helped build Sydney Town.
So the new colony, New South Wales, became settled as more ships made the journey,
And more settlers and convicts arrived, some new citizens born here, others to
Die here overcome by the harshness or the traditional people –
Like farmer Joseph, attacked some said in retribution for ill treatment.
Over the mountains to the west, along the coast north and south, more land was claimed.

3. Discovery

Inspired by an urge to see what lay beyond the mountains and over-crowding,
Many set out, with tents and guns and flour and horses packed to the mane,
Out of the increasing sprawl around Sydney Cove went Blaxland, Lawson, Wentworth
To find plains and ridges appearing to stretch forever – both inviting and forbidding,
As wide as the distance from where the sun is born to where it sleeps;
They discovered what had never been discovered, but had always been.
Grinning gorges, cruel mountains, rivers long and wide, more greens
Than anyone could count – the explorers rode on, awakening ancient dreams;
So it came to pass as inked tentacles reached out on uncertain maps,
As more of the country was found and claimed, one came across the Downs:
Cunningham came north from Sydney Town, further than his England end to end,
Then returned coming by way of the mountains from Moreton Bay, a Gap
Named after himself, and the Downs he loved after his Governor, Darling.
Of the inhabitants he saw little, they kept away, many headed for the hills,
In awe perhaps, or fear, or not wanting to be conquered; while others resisted
Until numbers and technology proved too much: the spirits had succumbed.
From Warthill in the Olde Country to a new life in an ancient country –
But new to them – came the Leslies, firstly Patrick paying one thousand pounds;
With a map from friend Cunningham they prepared for their long quest,
They headed north to build a dream and founded an empire on the distant Downs.
With them were a trusted lifer, Murphy, and 22 others of his ilk,
As well as 4000 ewes, 100 rams, many hogget, horses and cattle;
There were tough times, and there were good times for both new and old landholders,
For the new chums, a few bottles of rum on Christmas Day to be dead drunk,
And flooded rivers after sudden mighty storms near awakening the dead,
Fishing in the calmer waters, cod near as big as the man who caught it.
Another, Russell, came from Harrow and Oxford – explorer and historian;
Four expeditions he made and found land for his family for generations,
When they came across the “natives”, they yelled bel coolot (not enemies),
But leading to no increase in understanding or acceptance;
For a time, they said, they were met with Aboriginal curiosity; resistance
Stiffened, blood was shed, eventually “visitors” became “residents”.
The Battle of One Tree Hill fuelled the resolve of the newcomers to stay,
In moved the soldiers left, right, left – and the power of guns prevailed;
Some recognised their right to defend their land and their courage,
But the settlers also believed they had a right to prevail and progress.
West of Moreton Bay had now become a secure outpost, more than that,
A land of developing farms and stations, of towns and villages, with shops,
Churches and schools – like at home but never to be the same.
For a young Macarthur, sheep pioneers, daughter Emmeline married a Leslie,
The “pastoralist frontier” of the Darling Downs was her honeymoon spot,
She stayed longer in this newly civilised life with a garden and piano grand,
And she learnt of the workers drinking out their wages on tobacco and rum;
Bitten by a snake, the pricks were lanced, she didn’t faint and lived.

4. Drovers and squatters

Down south had been born a currency lad, James Tyson – son of a woman
Transported for theft, a father leaving a farm to fight Napoleon’s forces –
Who made his first money selling beef on the fevered gold fields of Victoria,
Heading north by Bourke he claimed properties as he went, along the rivers,
Towards the Downs and far out west he became the biggest and the richest,
He owned more land, more sheep, more cattle than anyone,
Dying single and alone, intestate, the nation’s first millionaire.
Others, too, opened up the vast continent, crossing boundaries of the mind,
To north, south, east and west where distance knew no bounds.
From where the sun rose over the ocean, and set flaming red across the land,
To the other side where the sun rose over land, and set below the wavy waters.
In this Great Southern Land, they dreamed they conquered their terra nullus,
Thousands of miles across vast oceans of a Never Never Land,
Where men, horses, sheep and bullocks went mad with thirst,
Watched and niggled by ancients who knew the land and its secrets.
Squatters frowned as drovers were joined by stockmen and shearers,
To create the legend – myth – of the Great Australian Bush;
Not to mention the colonial Robin Hoods, bushrangers led by Kelly,
And the freedom-fighters of Eureka under a sword-flashing Peter Lalor
On the avaricious goldfields where the “locals” now felt invaded,
As the British tax collector sought his share for the faraway Throne,
And the Chinese, working hard to make a fortune and run.
Those squatters on their thoroughbreds built colonial castles
Some of stone on hills overlooking their grass-fed kingdoms;
Others built in town their rural palaces, these “pure Merinos”,
But some like Tyson roughed it always, leaving the splendour
From their wealth to coming generations who found more comfort.
Pasture began to give way to the plough, shearing to harvesting,
As the squatters moved west, pushed out by government-backed cockies,
Keen to grow the land for cabbages and cream, oranges and lemons.
Outposts became villages, and they in turn became towns and cities
As land in any way inhabitable was settled by the newcomers;
Steam engines drove ships faster, brought more settlers chasing dreams,
Ships in turn brought train engines from the furnaces of England;
Railway lines snaked steadily over the countryside to move men and machines,
Taking back the produce for growing hungry mouths far afield,
The plains of areas like the Downs became vast larders;
Ingenuity found a way for trains to climb the Great Divide,
From factories they carried cheese, cream and milk,
From fields of green and brown, the grain for staples;
Industry grew in train to mill flour, brew beer, spin wool, cast iron;
More people came from far away and many lands, fortune-seeking,
After a new life away from the slums of their over-crowded cities.
Victoria the Queen kept a leash on the new land, but it was loosening,
Self-government was evolving, but with no great passion,
As in the bloody independence won on the other side of the world.
For the young southern nation, Terra Australis, wealth mushroomed,
From the sheep’s back, from golden veins, from new factories,
Making giant windmills, engines, mouldboard ploughs, machines
To click the shears, plant and reap the grain, make roads and rail lines;
And refrigeration came to cool the milk, now extracted by machine;
With the beginning of an electric grid, and farms self-powered.
They also learnt the vagaries of nature – drought, flood, wind and fire,
As the cockies challenged the might and influence of pastoral power.
The first boom was interrupted by a series of recessions,
Families struggled, as Lawson related their plight on the wallaby.

5. Blooding a nation

So in Sydney, on the first day of 1901, shearers and miners, wharfies and butchers,
Bakers, coopers, painters and dockers, tailors and stonemasons, stokers and moulders –
All near the head of the parade leading Prime Minister Barton and other hobnobs,
With the Queen’s Man, the 7th Earl of Hopetoun, bringing up the rear,
For it was the Proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Then in May – the Big Smokes sharing honours – Parliament was opened,
The honours done by a Duke and Duchess, future King and Queen no less,
Who then “roughed it” inland to Brisbane with a picnic on the Downs.
While the “new” population was mainly of British stock - pretentious Poms,
Rugged Scots, ruddy Irish and warbling Welsh – others were in the mix:
The serious Germans, excited Italians, mannerly Chinese among them,
Dealing with issues of the indigenous in right and righteous, regrettable ways,
As the modern Australia sailed in a sea of wealth and warmth.
In Europe there was tension, an icy feeling as governments played tough,
Fear of war grew, as nations armed themselves with the fruits of the
Industrial Revolution: industry spawning bigger, meaner guns and fighting machines.
When the Great War came, our volunteers rushed to join, most innocent of war,
Except for some who fought with Breaker against the Boers, and from other wars;
Now farmers, stockmen, drovers and miners joined clerks, storekeepers and jewellers,
Builders and bards, career soldiers from Digger to General – a special blend
To fight the war against the dreaded Kaiser and his modern war colossus;
To “save the world for democracy” the new Nation joined the fight,
A first test for the “mateship” born in the Australian bush.
Why go all that way to spill your blood on a warn-out old foreign soil?
Because the heart strings that bind with the Mother Country were still strong and loyal;
But in a wise decision made for future posterity and independence
It was to be an Australian force, the AIF, not elements to be divvied up by Poms,
And the Aussies united with a shoulder badge: a Rising Sun and “Australia”.
To another ancient land they sailed, ready for the Dardanelles, the ANZACs
They became under Birdwood – did he know he was leader in the making of a legend?
Ships with giant guns could not overcome the solid Turkish forts that blocked the way,
So brilliant minds thought that men with rifles could do the job, and ships
Brought them off Ari Burnu on a day never forgotten, 25th April, 1915,
Ships called Ribble, Usk, Chelmer, Scourge, Foxhound, Colne, Beagle with
Others and tows from London, Prince of Wales and the Queen.
And men of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade following their leaders as one:
Clarke, Tulloch, Butler, Lalor, Margetts, Strockland, Rafferty, Robertson and more;
It was no place for the innocent, a mass of men attacking hills of terror;
In the first few days 8500 hit and 2300 of them to die where they lay or later,
After being rescued by brave medics like Simpson with his donkey;
Heroism overcame calamity as those stretcher-bearers moved the wounded,
First to the beach, and later to ships where a lucky Digger, if alive enough,
Might get a smile, a drink and a cigarette from a darling Aussie Nurse.
Guns from the ships, it had been planned, would give support, keep the Turks low;
But they were useless, not knowing where to fire or at risk of hitting their own.
And the sand and seas, and the useless soil of foreign slopes became stained forever;
Diggers went without sleep for days, half of them annihilated, the dead upon one another,
Others sick or wounded, staying unless dragged away, resolute, believing in a cause;
But more important, believing in each other – mates to the end;
As historian Bean would relate: “true to their idea of Australian manhood”.
Carrying a sword among the dead was Lalor, grandson of the leader at Eureka;
By Christmas the Queensland 25th , the Black over Blues, had come with others
To reinforce spent men; to lose more before the order came to depart Gallipoli,
Leaving the spirits of the brave behind, inspiring generations to come in homage.
And more was to come in the bloody, muddy trenches of France,
Among the men of the 25th was a Blackhall grazier, Towner, who went through
Gallipoli, Pozieres and Flers, and won a VC at Mont St Quentin.
From Gympie the family Auchterlonie lost two sons at Gallipoli, one at Amiens,
To be remembered with others in heritage and names such as Lone Pine, Quinn’s Post,
And in France at Passchendale, the Somme, Bullecourt and Morlancourt,
Peace came on a day always to be Remembered, a nation’s cost too huge to imagine,
At long last an exhausted world ended the “war to end all wars”.

6. A costly peace

In the 1920s, elation that peace had come turned to an excess of sorts,
Money was borrowed by Gallipoli veteran Bruce’s government,
For bringing more immigrants, for soldiers to buy land, for the nation’s progress,
A price too high as the world was set for another battle economic not military,
As boom led to bust across the world, Australia was caught in the whirlpool,
The Thirties saw wages cut, jobs disappearing, workers rising in anger at their lot,
Gallipoli veterans now on different sides: Bruce as Prime Minister,
Blamey as police chief, whose men shot and killed an ANZAC survivor,
Some said the tough reaction sparked by the Red revolution.
Across the nation, men again left families with their swags on the wallaby,
Seeking work to send home money for starving children and praying mothers;
Some who had survived the tough times of the Nineties and the War,
Now found the price too much to bear, some of the rich like Sidney Myer
Gave of their wealth to help and urged others to put in to make jobs for the jobless;
Communists organised riots as “White Army” vigilantes rallied against them;
Effects of the Depression lingered through the decade, but a shadow
Was looming over Europe as the threat of war rose from German discontent,
A nationalist revival of the vanquished of two decades ago, not only
Military might rebuilt, but also a Nazi creed that a race would be exterminated.
Again, young men and women across the Empire were called to serve
Across the seas to dear Mother England again under threat with all free Europe,
To side as well with the Reds of Russia, now also facing peril.
As the Germans invaded nation after nation, they were at the doors of Britain,
A country under siege, defended grimly and fought them on land, sea and sky.
Then another threat disrupted the peaceful Pacific, Aussies came home from
Heroism in Tobruk and other fronts, as Singapore and island after island fell
To advancing, marauding Japanese – a menace heading for Australia.
The Stars and Stripes joined the forces of freedom to help repel the evil forces.
The young Australia rallied to the effort, all doing their bit at home and abroad.
With Darwin bombed and a country under threat, leaders planned a Brisbane Line,
Prepared to surrender half a continent to invaders if the worst came to worst,
But the Japanese were meeting their match in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway,
And on land at Milne Bay, volunteers and conscripted joined ranks, to claim
With others a first defeat of the aggressors on land – the tide was turning.
There were many heroes, one a barber from the Downs, John French of the 2/9th,
Who already had fought on the Western Front, awarded a VC posthumously,
Sacrificing his life taking out three enemy machine gun posts on his own.
Eventually the war was won, but with a finale that shocked the world:
Man had invented nuclear war, a weapon of mass destruction, a new bomb
That brought peace but also an arms race and a Cold War that bred universal fear.

7. Living history

And it was 1945, the year he was born, an inheritor of all the history of this land.
He grew up in a small bush town named after the rich squatter who once owned
All the plains and hills around there and more – Mount Tyson for a nearby hill.
Childhood seemed to go by in a whirl – playing in dust, playing in mud,
Depending on the weather – always a topic of talk – at the time;
Talk also about the crops, from which his father would buy and sell the grain;
Or the cows, whose milk went to the factory – a place to play – down the road,
Or the price of fuel he helped his father, and the workers, deliver
For the tractors and the trucks of a simple, uncomplicated life, interrupted
For weeks on end, by school with slates, books and writing:
Waving flags to a mysterious Queen, hearing talk of a war in faraway Korea.
Life then seemed to happen quickly: father’s death, boarding school, a city move;
And a life was left behind, from then to now like fast-forward:
Fear of war in senior year when young Kennedy stared down old Khrushchev;
Then the death of Kennedy when an assassin’s bullet shocked us all;
Faint memories of the Melbourne Games, future Olympic triumphs and tragedies;
Listening to the cricket on radio, and the Wallabies beating the titan Boks,
Then television came: remember Chips Rafferty selling fridges at Marble Bar.
Life seemed simple – work, rugby, beer, imagining what romance was like.
Then one day his number came out in the Vietnam War roulette game;
And life became a blur till home safe, other bodies came home without their souls;
Seekers on a juke box in Taipei played The Carnival is Over, and it was –
When mines back in ‘Nam played their deadly hit and took out our best;
As back in a quiet home town, Toowoomba Carnavilised its Flowers.
And for a while it was “all the way with LBJ”, then an “honourable peace”;
War outshone by the glory of man landing on the Moon, “a giant leap for mankind”,
And Canberra leaders got their time, sometimes the ideal not matching the real,
Time was up for some, as others took up the cause to make us part of Asia;
The cold war ended when the Wall came down, promise of a chance for peace.
Times mostly prosperous interrupted by recessions, trials and tribulations;
Cyclones, bushfires and floods make havoc in a land of contrasts, contradictions;
Cultural microcosm from Jedda to Crocodile Dundee, Dame Joan to Dame Edna;
Celebration of a Bicentennial, a new conscience emerged as we grappled with
Issues of our original people and newcomers from all lands, creeds and colours,
National identity, national conscience, national heroes, national icons –
Clichés abound as a world recognised a country small in number, big in talent;
Overseas, other threats emerge: terrorism, genocide, health, over-population,
Disasters; and our Diggers serve in all parts of the world, still “doing us proud”;
Their night-time presence chopping the air above our city as they train for reality afar.
Here, in the present there is now more awareness of our past, and the city on the Range,
Far beyond any dream Cunningham might have had when he “found” the Downs;
Would he have envisaged the farms providing wealth for towns to grow,
The struggle when globalisation and corporatisation became buzzwords,
Or a city of thousands with wealth based on education, health, retirement,
Industry, defence and the Garden City blooming, flowers drawing tourists from afar;
And issues to be dealt with of growth, youth, drugs, environment and more,
Aboriginals dying before their time, an issue once ignored but now at least addressed;
Our city in a world becoming smaller, closer than Cook or Flinders could imagine?
There’s plenty to be proud of, but more challenges ahead, more work to be done.

8. Future child

Generations before on her mother’s side, were ancestors of the Dreamtime, one to
Wed a migrant to this land, a warm and rugged man who had come from Ireland.
She thought of her forebears as she rode a pony through the bushland on the Range,
And was startled from her reverie by a jet plane, a noise that didn’t scare her,
For her ambition was to fly like that, through the sky like a bird, faster than sound,
And gifted as she was, they said she could aim even higher - an astronaut –
So she was sure that one day she would fly through the Milky Way, a dream
Becoming reality: In the land of Dreaming all things are possible.

Acknowledgements: Information has been gleaned from several sources including works by C.E.W. Bean, Michael Cannon, R. Dansie, Zita Denholm, Robert Doneley, Maurice French, Duncan Waterson, Megan Martin, and Grahame Walsh; also ABC Centenary of Federation website, and thanks to Toowoomba City Library, particularly Local History branch.

© Kerry White, March 2007
University of Southern Queensland

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