Tasmanians at war

The date for ANZAC Day, April 25th, was chosen because it was the day of landing at Gallipoli in 1915.  The day has been honoured ever since, now an incredible 107 years ago. Tasmania’s contribution to the war effort of WWI was massive from what was then a small society. 181 Tasmanians lost their life at Gallipoli.  They rest in the various cemeteries located in Turkey.  Many Tasmanians saw action on the first day of landing, such as Harry Hodgman who lost his life .They served with the 12th AIF Battalion (Bn) of which more than half were from Tasmania. 

Tasmanians were also strong in representation in the 15th Bn, which held the infamous Quinn’s Post and Pope’s Hill.  Both endured the accuracy of the Turkish guns.  Tasmanians served too, with the 26th Bn and the 9th Battery Field Artillery.

The 3rd Light Horse, with their mounts left behind in Egypt, was used as reinforcements three weeks after the landing to join the 15th Bn at Pope’s Hill.

Gallipoli veterans wore the small letter “a” on their colour patch.

Nearly twenty thousand Australians were wounded at Gallipoli with 8, 300 dying.  Many died at a later date as a result of their wounds and are buried elsewhere.

In round figures, 60,000 Australians died during the war, and (again) in round figures this includes 3,000 Tasmanians.  Dating from April 1915 until November 1918, I calculate approximately 7-8 Tasmanian young men died every three days at the front. This is not counting the wounded or sick. Each day the local newspapers would carry their names.  One can only imagine the stress and grief of the families at home. It is an incredible statistic; a tragic one.  Such figures would not be acceptable in this modern era.

WWI, however, was not the first occasion Tasmanians have been involved in wars and have lost their lives. The first war that Tasmanians served, 158 of them, was the one in New Zealand, 1863-64. I have not been able to find any fatalities among those who left, although I suspect there were one or more. The first recorded Tasmanian to die in battle that I have researched was Arthur Dobson who died 25th March 1879 during the Zulu War.  Other Tasmanians served. Then in the Sudan, artillery man James Robertson died 31st May 1885.

Between 1899-1902 Tasmanians served in South Africa during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. I have found and documented 42 of our sons who lost their life in that far away land. In comparison to WWI of course that may not sound a lot, but putting it in perspective, our recently involvement in Afghanistan, 41 Australian soldiers died over a 13 year period – 41 too many I agree and we must take into account eight times as many veterans have committed suicide since returning.  Something is dreadfully wrong here. Tasmanian, Corporal Cameron Steward Baird was awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) for his services in Afghanistan.  Sadly he was killed in action June 22, 2013.

Two VCs were awarded to Tasmanians during the South African War, eleven in WWI and one in WWII that being Teddy Sheean which was awarded, 12th August 2020 many years after his action.  He was our first naval man to receive the honour.

The conclusion of WWII in 1945 did not see the end of our involvement in war.  We have noted that Tasmanians served with great distinction in Afghanistan with the death of Baird who had served also in East Timor and Iraq. There were Tasmanians serving in the Korean War, The Malaysian Campaign (which really was a war) and the Indonesian Confrontation and in every conflict Tasmanians died.

Then there was the most controversial war of all, Vietnam where a number of Tasmanians died. One of the very few who lost their lives serving with the Royal Australian Air Force was a Tasmanian, Ronald Betts. There is a lovely memorial to Tasmanian Vietnam fatalities at ANZAC Park, Lindisfarne.

ANZAC Day then is a time when we rightly remember all those fallen, all those who returned wounded, at time with horrific wounds which lingered until they passed away. We remember all who served in every theatre of war. This includes the deserts of North Africa, the terrain of South Africa, the jungles of Asia, the Pacific region and of Vietnam, the hell of the western front and Gallipoli. Many experienced the bitter cold of Korea. Our naval personnel served on every ocean of the world and our airmen over the skies of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and North Africa. On ANZAC Day we also reflect on those at home who worked diligently to support our fighting men and of course we remember our nurses who served with valour throughout the war where-ever our military served.

Why the Sport Stadium in Hobart cannot be built

There are very good reasons why the proposed sports stadium to be constructed at Regatta Point, Hobart, cannot be built, rather than it should not be built.

The stadium appears to hang on the acceptance of a Tasmanian team into the AFL as stated by the Minister for Sport and Recreation, Nic Street.  The proposal will cost $750 million and will be funded by various government levels and investment from the private sector.  The site is owned by the people of Tasmania and is managed by the Hobart City Council.

The site is near to the Hobart Cenotaph and the grounds of the Royal Hobart Regatta which includes the historic John Colville Pavilion.  There are other recreational facilities which will be impacted and which are enjoyed by Tasmanians, it being so close to the CBD of the capital.

The impact will be considerable. The government has stated that it will be in continual dialogue with the RSL and the Regatta Association.

However, there are considerations not yet taken into account and are not stated on the government’s website regarding the proposal.

I have had on good authority that if the stadium is built, it will block out any visual observance of the rising sun during the dawn service on ANZAC Day. This, alone, is why it should not be constructed at Regatta Point.

Near the proposed site exists the old Queen’s Battery and is close to the Domain Cenotaph where the main military observances take place in the south. Built in 1864, the Queen’s Battery served as protection from foreign invaders until the mid-1920s. It is also the site where the 12th battalion camped before going to WWI.  The site was excavated some decades ago and by the request of the RSL in 1992, it was filled in. Another historic aspect, still there under the earth, are trenches of a zig-zag formation.  These exist closer to the John Colville Pavilion and while their purpose has been forgotten, I surmise they were bomb shelters from WWII.

The question must be asked; what impact will such a huge stadium have on these historic structures?  This also must include the John Colville Pavilion with its many plaques imbedded in its stand, such as those to the boatmen and rowers who served in both world wars. There are tablets also in memory of John and his brother Charles Colville who served with distinction in promoting and serving the regatta in past years.

Other questions must also be asked.  Is the stadium needed?  In the south for large entertainment productions we have the Deck near Elwick and in Clarence, Blundstone Stadium for sporting events, such as cricket and football, including AFL matches. Is the proposed new stadium warranted, even though it is a wonderful dream?  It will be financed by government and private funds.  We all know that budgets blow out and the said $750 million will probably be no exception.  Governments will borrow to finance it and if the private investment does not eventuate as it is hoped, then we the tax payer will be paying more for its completion. Will it prove to be a white elephant?

Upon inquiry regarding parking for the stadium I have been informed that it is still being planned.  If parking will be close to the site, then roads will have to be constructed to the venue and huge parking areas will be provided. Parking on the existing Queen’s Domain is quite a distance away from Regatta Point and how it would be managed has not been suggested.

This does not even take into account the impact upon future regattas after the stadium is completed and ready for the 2027 football season. The Royal Hobart Regatta, dating from 1835, will see its 185th anniversary next year.  It is the oldest continuous regatta in Australia.

Too many questions are still not answered and I would suggest they have not even been considered during the eagerness to plan the stadium and how much, already, has the government paid to the architects in drawing up plans?  It has to be substantial.

That the stadium will block out the sun during the dawn service on ANZAC Day is enough to say ‘no’ to the proposal while taking into account other questions regarding its construction.

The Tasmanian Irish

St Patrick’s Day.  It is a day which is not only enthusiastically celebrated world-wide, but in Tasmania as well.

From the beginning Irish immigrants and people of Irish descent played an important part in the settlement of Tasmania and the development of attitudes and institutions. Since the days of convicts there have been many Irish societies and organisations. Probably the first Irishman of some note to settle here would be Dr Jacob Mountgarret who came with John Bowen in 1803.

We tend to think that the majority of convicts who came to Tasmania were Irish, but this is not so. About 25 per cent of all convicts were, with the rest, 70 per cent being English, and a spattering of other nationalities and races. Most of the Irish convicts were sentenced because of criminal acts, but many also were victims of a defective land system, which meant the peasant became increasingly dependent on the landlords. Many were transported on what was called “White Boy” offences, ranging from disturbances and taking illegal oaths to stealing cattle, sheep and horses, particularly in times of hardship, such as during the potato crop failure. The worse offenders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land then to Macquarie Harbour.  Peak times were during the 1830s.

There were also political prisoners such as the seven Irish exiles to Van Diemen’s Land, John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher, John Martin, William Smith O’Brien, Kevin O’Doherty, Terence MacManus and Patrick O’Donohoe, They were sent to their penal home in 1849 and 1850.  Three of the seven exiles were Protestant. 

Another political prisoner of note was surveyor James Meehan who played an important part in the establishment of Hobart under our first Governor, David Collins.

The Irish influence was strong during the most peculiar social upheaval in 1879 that Tasmania has ever seen. Whipped up by a visiting preacher, Charles Chiniquy, he held meetings at the Town Hall and lambasted those of the Catholic faith.  The disturbance was so great, that it was the only time the army has been called out in Tasmania to restore peace.

As with many thousands of Tasmanians, from a very difficult beginning they carved a life for themselves, foundations of which seceding generations have enjoyed. The Irish blended in well. True, they kept their pride in being Irish, but over all there was little confrontation in Tasmania.  Most worked hard, many made good for themselves.  Hard, working, law-biding, moral, strong family people.

The Irish Legacy in Tasmania lives on. The Irish largely settled towns such a Richmond and Westbury and a number of Tasmanian towns have Irish names such as Avoca, Blessington, Irishtown, the Shannon River and Liffy Falls.  Castle Forbes Bay in the Huon was established by the landing of Irish female convicts in 1836 from the vessel of the same name.

Up until when Eric Reece (a Methodist) became Premier, all Labor Premiers were of Irish extraction and Catholic. One such was Dwyer-Gray a most colourful and interesting Premier.  He was a staunch Tasmanian who actively worked for secession, believing Federation had not been kind to the island he loved and served. True like many Irishmen he loved the bottle, which proved to be a bit of a problem. We must not forget that our only international film star, Errol Flynn was of Irish stock. Errol was more prone to claim Irish ancestry than his Tasmanian origins.

Militarily of course, their contribution to our war effort was strong.  Perhaps during the Boer War, they sympathised with the hardy Boer, but during World War I their contribution is without question and they suffered the price as well as everyone else.  Indeed the Irish participation in the war on the side of the British was enormous and that is why the Irish uprising in 1916 was a failure. During World War II of course they had so harmonised with the rest of the population they were no longer, by a large degree, distinctive to the rest of the population.

C.M Dennis, the great Australian poet, up there with Lawson and Paterson, was of Irish extraction as was Rolf Bolderwood who wrote the Australian classic, Robbery Under Arms, two among many.

Our affection for Ireland is strong, not forgetting that the influence that it has had in shaping our State which cannot be underestimated.  Irish humour is world renown. The Irish have the wonderful ability to be able to laugh at themselves. Irish humour has not only delighted us all, but has influenced how we view matters.

70th Anniversary of the Queen’s reign

The 6th February 2022 was the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, being proclaimed Queen. She was a young married woman of 26 years of age, born in 1926.  March 6th is not the date that she was crowned. The coronation would come later, 2nd June 1953 in Westminster Abbey. Her first visit to Tasmania occurred in February 1954 when she was invited to open the Tasmanian Parliament. The Queen was accompanied by her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

The Queen was the first child of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. She did not expect to become monarch so soon, if ever.  She was third in line, after her uncle, Edward, The Prince of Wales and her father, the Duke of York.  She and Philip married 20th November 1947 at Westminster Abbey.  The Duke died 9th April 2021, three months shy of his 100th birthday. Who could forget the lonely figure, clad in black, mourning alone?  The Queen had been informed that it was not necessary, but she chose to adhere to the same regulations that had been imposed upon her people.  We have seen it was not the case for many politicians obeying the same rules which they themselves decreed.

What dramatically intervened in her life was the Constitutional crises involving Edward the Prince of Wales and Mrs Wallis Simpson. The affair ended in controversy when Edward, the king, but not crowned, abdicated in 1936. This meant that his younger brother George had the throne forced on him, a role he had not preferred to have inherited. It was Shakespeare who said, “some have greatness thrust upon them”. The reluctant Prince, then known as Albert, proved to be a great king.

The King did not enjoy good health and underwent an operation and afterwards appeared though weak, fitter. His illness continued and it was obvious he was dying of cancer. At this time Princess Elizabeth and the Duke had two young children, Charles and Anne. For a number of months the King prevailed. On the 31st January 29t 1951 the King waved goodbye to his daughter and son-in-law from the London Airport. They were off to a tour of East Africa.  In the small hours of 6th February 1952 the King died.

The young couple were enjoying a stay at a hunting lodge, a wedding present from the inhabitants of Kenya, when the news of the death of her father, was received. She had planned to move on to Australia and New Zealand, but she immediately drafted apologies herself. One vital chore she had, as now monarch, was to declare as Queen, how she would be known. Her full name is Elizabeth Alexandra May.  Her title would now be Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

In 2022, she is also the Queen of 14 Commonwealth Countries and Head of the Commonwealth of Nations.  He has the title, “Defender of the Faith”.

By the time of her crowning in June 1953 she was the celebrated monarch of nearly a quarter of human beings then living on earth.  She was crowned against the setting of Handel’s, Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet.

Australia’s first l visit of the royal couple was when they arrived into Sydney 3rd February 1954 and later, on Saturday 20th February 10:30 am, the royal yacht Gothic berthed into Hobart where their hectic and extensive tour of Tasmania began. Upon arrival they were met and addressed by the Lord Mayor of Hobart, Sir Richard Harris and Lady Harris, at the Town Hall. It was on the Monday that Her Majesty opened the fifth session of the 30th Parliament of Tasmania, which was followed by a Garden Party at Government House. The media on the day said that 150,000 people lined the city streets as the royal couple proceeded from Parliament House to Government House. On the way in Stoke Street, a little Dutch girl, Jeltje Folkerts, in national costume, was waiting with a bouquet of roses as a tribute of loyalty from the New Australians.  The Queen’s car halted, the Queen leaned over and accepted the bouquet with a warm smile.

On the Tuesday they departed from Cambridge aerodrome to fly to Wynyard and from there visited, Burnie, Ulverstone, Devonport and Launceston.  They flew out of Western Junction aerodrome to Essendon, for Melbourne and for elsewhere.

It was part of a six month tour, so that the new Queen could meet her people world-wide.

The Queen is now 95 years old.  Her reign has seen dramatic changes throughout Australia and the world.  She has served faithfully for 70 years, making her not only the longest serving British monarch, but the longest serving monarch in the world.

Many of the years have not been easy for her, but she has endured through the ability to see things through, to sacrifice herself and dedicate her life to her people, not to governments, but to her people.

  • Reg A. Watson is a Tasmanian author and historian and Tasmanian Convener of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.

Pic:  Author of the article, Reg Watson, with a “”Opening of Parliament by The Queen” (1954) brochure published by the Tasmanian Government. It was presented to him by the late Dr George Howatt, an American political scientist who made his home in Tasmania.  Dr Howatt was the world’s leading expert on the voting system of the Hare-Clark.

Australia Day 2022

Australia Day has its origins two hundred and thirty four years ago. It was when 1500 souls left England for a perilous journey to an unknown land and future. To arrive at their destination 15,000 miles of sailing to the east coast of Australia lay before them. It took eight months to do so, a feat for which Governor Arthur Phillip should be admired.

A form of celebration to remember the event was held as early as 1817. From thereon, the day knew various names, such as Anniversary Day and Foundation Day. In 1931 Victoria adopted the name Australia Day and in 1946 the Australia Day Council was formed in Melbourne to foster national appreciation of the day’s signifigance.

Those involved in the momentous expedition in 1788 were diverse although three out of every four was a convict. Others included officers, marine, crew, women and children. How many actually finally made it to Botany Bay 18th January before moving on to Sydney Cove Port Jackson, January 26th 1788 is debatable. Sixteen of the 1500 died before the First Fleet actually left Portsmouth, England and during the voyage twenty two children were born with several dying. It is recorded that forty convicts died during the journey while others fell overboard and some even escaped. There were numerous accidents. Taking into account all the factors that could have happened and perhaps should have happened the mortality rate was surprisingly modest. It was a well thought out and organised expedition, far better than the Second Fleet when 280 convicts died with another 200 convicts dying on the Third Fleet.

After leaving Portsmouth, the fleet sailed first to Rio de Janeiro, Portuguese Brazil, then on to Cape Town, South Africa to replenish food supplies. Following was the crossing of the Indian Ocean, finally to Port Jackson. One can only imagine the suffering of the convicts.

Landing was a relief, but it was just the start of the challenges that lay before these people. Governor Phillip immediately got everyone working. Male convicts began to clear the land and erect shelters. Construction then work began on the barracks, governor’s house and a hospital. Phillip’s problems were immense. Upon settlement, glaring neglect showed. For instance there was insufficient female clothing. A list of convicts and their crimes and when they were to be released did not exist. He found there were not enough balls or cartridge papers for the armaments. Then there was human nature which he had to deal with such as officers arguing amongst themselves, fighting between convicts and sailors and theft. Before him were the unknown land and how to feed, protect and shelter everyone and how to administer the law and how to implement it. The list went on and on. Yet in November 1791 Phillip could write to Lord Sydney in London, “I can still say with great Truth and equal Satisfaction that the Convicts in general behave better than could be expected.”

Within seven years, food shortages had given way to a relative bounty. In 1795 the main crops had met the colony’s needs with more than 2000 farm animals being grazed which included cows, cattle, sheep and goats. It was a marvellous achievement and Australians should be proud of this fact.

Australia Day belongs to every citizen of this country, whether we are been here in excess of 10,000 years, more than two hundred years, post war or a recent arrival. It is a day where politics is tossed aside. Aboriginal activist and politician, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price recently said, she is “proud to celebrate this day regardless of background and who are not ashamed of our nation’s history or all we have achieved together”.

That achievement is something that should be highlighted. Success just does not just happen; it has to be worked towards with great effort and fortitude. On January 1st 1901 a new country was born when the six independent colonies federated into one. Over the many years the strides towards a vibrant, liberal democracy which is the envy of the entire world, hence the demand, more than we can absorb, to come this land down under and make it home.

Australia Day is the day for barbecues, sports and a time of reflection, that while no country is perfect and that no people are either, we can put our differences aside and act as one on this special day, this day of celebration.