It is important to keep the Upper House independent

There have been progressive moves over the years for political parties to dominate what was once an independent Legislative Council (LC), the Upper House of the Tasmanian Parliament. The House has fifteen members. Now, eight are party members. More and more, political parties are selecting candidates for the Upper House and with the political machine behind them; an independent rarely has the resources to effectively compete. The future can only see more political party members.

But what does it matter? The problem is showing itself already, and it will be detrimental for the electors of Tasmania. To understand why, one has to know the history of the House and its purpose.

The LC’s heritage goes back a long way. Independence from New South Wales for Van Diemen’s was proclaimed in 1825 and the following year, the LC was formed to administer the new colony. There were six members, all nominated. In 1854 the number of members was enlarged to 33, most mostly nominated, but new members were elected by restricted voting.

In 1856, the colony, now called Tasmania, received Responsible government and a bicameral Parliament established, made up of the Lower House, the House of Assembly and the Upper House, the Legislative Council. This system was established by the Tasmanian Constitution Act of 1854. The first Speaker of the LC was Sir Richard Dry.

Voting in Tasmania is compulsory and the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1973. Whereas those who were allowed to vote in LC elections was previously restricted to the property classes, since 1969 full adult franchise exists.

Voting systems, length of time served, and boundaries differ for both houses, but so is the purpose and that difference are vital to good government.

Tasmania’s Upper House has been unique in Australia in that it has had a long tradition of independent members. Past years it has been seen as a comfortable institution for members of the establishment acting more like a men’s club than anything else. Opponents have criticised the LC as being “archaic” and time for it to go. The role it plays, however, is most important. One reason is to ensure the Lower House, which is dominated by two parties, Labor and Liberal, and a number of Greens, is held in check.

The LC can be very powerful, able to block supply and call elections. Because of this and for other reasons, it is often the bane of the Lower House. Often legislation coming from the Lower House, which must be passed by the Upper House for it to become law, is not only poorly worded, but it may not be in the interest of the Tasmanian people. Therefore the LC is a house of review. Legislation from the Lower House can be sent back, delayed or even rejected. By nature the LC has been a deliberate conservative house, so there can be a check and review on what is coming from the other House.

Some decades ago, wanting to know further on the workings of the LC, I was advised to interview the late William (Bill) Hodgman who was a member of the Upper House from 1971 until 1983 and a an ex-President of the House. He pointed out to me, in no uncertain terms, that the LC was not only a house of review, but also a legislative house, being able to introduce its own legislation.

There are regular calls for the abolishment of the LC. Only recently, ex-Premier Michael Field said so, backed up (oddly enough) by Independent member Ivan Dean. Ex-Premier Robin Gray in his new book agrees, believing that if is dominated by party politics there is no reason for its existence. While I do not agree with Mr Gray, I can understand his reasoning.

The Labor Party has more LC members than the Liberals. The LC can abolish itself and given enough party politicians it could be in the party’s interest to do so. We can see this happening. What then, are the ramifications of only having a unicameral system of Parliament?

Party politics does not necessarily represent the people. Political parties first established themselves in Tasmania’s Parliament in 1909. Members of whatever party represent the party first and if they do not are asked to move on. They also can represent powerful lobby groups and international bodies. This may not be in the interest of the Tasmanian people. The parties tell the people at election time, these are our policies, now choose between us, whereas it should be the reverse. The people should be saying, these are our policies, now represent our will.

If there are no independent members of the LC we will see further poorly worded and ambiguous legislation, which (again) may not in the interest of the electorate, passed without any review or checking. The LC exists for an important service. On most occasions the debate of the LC is superior to the Lower House. W.A. Townsley wrote (his book The Government of Tasmania 1976) LC members express their views “in the strongest term, unhindered by party affiliation” and later “The great strength of the Council rests on having a body to reach decisions without having to respect party affiliations” (P. 82).

Without this check, political parties would be able to pass legislation in their own interest. On occasions the opposition will support the government which (again) may not be in the interest of Tasmanians. We will see political parties even more, push their own agendas.

The development of political parties taking over the LC will ultimately see the abolishment of the LC which will result in less representation for the electorate and less checks and balances on politicians. Good for the government, but not for the people.

The Derwent River Recreational History and Future Potential

Hobartians are blessed with a spectacular recreational and beauty area called the River Derwent with its many wonderful beaches. Weekends see the various sailing clubs utilising its resources and during the various months, bathers take to its waters enjoying its pleasures. Sometimes it is just plain worthwhile to sit and view the scene. Even so, can more be done to use of what we have?  Indeed in the past, water activity was more substantial than what it is now. True, in this modern age, there is so much to occupy our leisure time.

Water activity began right from the beginning of settlement in 1804. Indeed a newspaper report from the 1827 mentions horse racing on New Year’s Day at Long Beach, Sandy Bay which was “crowded with people”. From thereon there a great deal of activity which the public could enjoy and may I add, more than now.  The question can be asked.  Are we under utilising our natural resource and if so, what can we do to maximise this asset without affecting its beauty and natural environment?

Regattas on the Derwent were numerous, not only the Hobart regatta (the oldest continuous in Australia), but Bellerive (1853), Kingston, Sandy Bay and as far afield as New Norfolk and at one time Prince of Wales Bay. The Royal Hobart Regatta began in 1838 and I remember in the 1950s, 60, 70s how enormous crowds flocked to it, but I have to say, attendances are now down.  The Sandy Bay regatta began in 1849 while the Kingston regatta is now more commonly known as A Day at the Beach. One can see how early our river was used for pleasure and recreation.

Then there were the numerous jetties from Old Beach and Sandy Bay (Manning Reef still exists), Lindisfarne, Bellerive right down to Kingston Beach. Jetties were vital with the advent of river steamers dropping off passengers, the delivery of fruit and cargo, for pleasure craft and for recreational fishing and diving for swimming.

At Sandy Bay there were public baths dating back to the 1840s.  Baths areas were set aside for changing for both women and “gentlemen” allowing a great deal of community interaction. The Baths were located where the Sandy Bay Rowing club now are. In September 1882 a Mercury report makes mention of the spring board and in every hour of the summer season were in constant use. In 1929 the newspaper reported of the “sickening and filthy conditions”. Indeed they were closed because of water quality.

And what of the river ferries and the amazing past river ferry races?  I am mature enough in years to recall the many that were used not only for recreational reasons but for passenger services between Hobart City and the eastern shore destinations. John Sargent local river ferry historian adds that way back in 1816 a licence was granted to Urias Alexander and John Newland to operate boats propelled by sail and oars between Hobart Town and Kangaroo Bay. Olsters may remember the romantic days of the river ferries, RowittaDoverExcella and Cartela, the latter, the last of the lot.

Then there were the beaches.  Hobart and the river are ringed by magnificent places of leisure. Long Beach, Sandy Bay Beach was the hotspot for swimming and picnics.  By the 1920s and onwards thousands arrived by cars and later trolley buses enjoying the waters of this easily assessed beach.  It was not only on weekends, but week nights as well.  Bands played, hundreds strolled with many taking advantage of the then bathing boxes. To service the demand boat sheds were erected, tables and seats, swings for children and reserves were set aside adorned with pine trees and picnic booths, plus shops to supply ice-creams, cordials and cups of tea. It was a marvellous festive atmosphere. There were also lifesaving team demonstrations.

The river has often been a venue for swimming competitions and still is, such as the Trans Derwent Swim, a Royal Hobart Regatta event and the Derwent River Big Swim, a 34km competition from New Norfolk to Hobart, judged as one of the thirteenth toughest marathon swims in the world.

Sailing for recreational reasons began almost from the year dot, although one would have to watch out for the many whales which swam in the river during early colonial times. Yacht competitive classes of Dragon, Sharpies, Lasers and Fireballs are seen nearly every weekend, home to a number of yachting clubs.  One of the main one is the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania (1880) which is reputed to be Australia’s largest yacht club and plays a major role in the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race as the finishing line.

However, much has been what was and we should be looking at what can be. The river has so much potential for a greater amount of water activities and facilities to the benefit of the public, not so much to the big developers and corporations.  It is OUR river for all Tasmanians and visitors alike.  We have an incredible asset right on our door step, yet I cannot help think it is so under-used and with a little more planning, thought and innovation I am confident much more can be made of its practical use.

Anzac Day 2020

Anzac Day.  On that day 105 years ago Australian and New Zealand troops went ashore at Gallipoli, hence the term embracing Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. Nearly 8,000 Australians died from the bullet, disease and sickness during that campaign which continued to the end of the year. There were another twenty six thousand casualties. Yet, it was not the first action Australians saw nor was the first fatalities for our nation recorded at Gallipoli. It was during an action against a German signal station in New Guinea which was then under German control.  It is called the Battle of Bita Paka (11/9/14). It was a successful Australian attack, navy and military, in which we incurred our first casualties. Seven Australians were killed.

Perhaps on this day, 25th April, we should remember Private Harry Hodgman, the first Tasmanian to die, perhaps the first Australian, on that fateful morning when he was being rowed ashore.  A Turkish sniper put an end to his young life. He was twenty three years old and is buried at Line Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli.

We should remember Nurse Elizabeth (Lizzy) Orr, later Sister Orr, and then Matron.  Lizzy hailed from near Hamilton and was Matron of the hospital ships that took the wounded and sick from Gallipoli, the Mediterranean and Salonika, over those many months.  What a responsibility. That was not her first military experience as she was a nurse during The Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. Like all nurses at that time, she paid her own way to get the front.

And we remember, General Sir John Gellibrand, born at Ouse, not far from where Lizzy was.  Gellibrand became Tasmania’s highest ranking officer during the war. Gellibrand, though always controversial, was a humane man and after the war started the Remembrance Club helping the veterans, widows and families. It became Legacy, a nation-wide organisation which still has the same principles commenced by Gellibrand.

From Gallipoli of course, men were evacuated to the Middle East, to be joined by many others, for recreation, re-training and to be sent to the battle fields of the Western Front, France and Belgium. Thousands of Australians remained in Palestine and Egypt as mounted infantry with the Australian Light Horse to fight the Ottoman Empire.

There were many battles and campaigns in the western front and Tasmanians were awarded eleven Victorian Crosses, one going to Henry William (Harry) Murray from Evandale, who became the highest decorated soldier in the British Commonwealth. Overall, 60,000 Australians died during WWI, including 3,000 Tasmanians and three as many, casualties.  In all, a quarter of million men from a small national population of under five million.

The war ended 11th hour, 11th November 1918 and the Versailles Treaty was signed the following year.  Just twenty years on, the scenario was repeated when on the 3rd of September 1939 WWII began. Australians served in all theatres of war, army, navy and air force and more than eight thousand died because of neglect, brutality and disease while POWs under the Japanese. The toll of our Air Force men was enormous, more than ten thousand.

In all, 14 Tasmanians have been awarded the Victorian Cross, our last in Afghanistan Corporal Stewart Cameron.  By my reckoning, that’s 14 per cent of the hundred awarded to the whole of Australia.  Yet, we make only up only 2 and half per cent of the national population.  A huge sacrifice and record.

Many memorials dot our hamlets, villages, towns and cities calling us to remember those who made the greatest of all sacrifice and those who served.  Post WWII saw Korea, Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam and the latter military campaigns, including Afghanistan which rages still.

They fought for freedom.  Yet, freedom is not only won on the battlefield.  The freedoms which we have and have inherited go back thousands of years.  Freedom is not given; it is won by sacrifice backed by a hunger to treasure such a concept. War is not the only way to defend our freedoms.  We, as a people, must be forever vigilant to maintain those freedoms, such as freedom of movement, thought and expression.  Those treasured rights that our forefathers fought for – and won, are under severe threat, not by an enemy heading to our shores, but from our own legislators.

This year 2020 is a strange year in that our usual ANZAC services cannot be held.  This is a tragedy. Never before, in my now long life or anyone’s for that matter, has this occurred.  Still, we must not be deterred.  We must remember those whom we honour on this day and reflect on for what they fought.  They fought for their families, their community, Australia and their friends and our way of life. Let us reflect not only on their sacrifices, but also why they left our shores to do so.

Lest we forget.

Captain Cook 250th Anniversary

Captain Cook

April 26th 2020 will be the 250th anniversary of the first voyage of James Cook and the first European discovery of the eastern coast of Australia then known at New Holland.

On the 26th August 1768, one of the world’s greatest explorers, James Cook, left Plymouth England on the bark, The Endeavour, of 370 tons, originally called The Earl of Pembroke. Then a lieutenant (commissioned by King George III) and not captain, this Yorkshireman of forty years of age was ordered to sail to Tahiti where the transit of Venus was observed the 3rd June 1769. It was hoped that by doing so, the distance could be worked out between the sun and the earth.  Navigation depended on astronomy, so besides being a voyage of exploration it was also a scientific one. On board with Cook were some notable people, such as astronomer, Charles Green, two well-known naturalists, Swedish Dr Daniel Carl Solander and 25 year old Joseph Banks together with assistants and artist John Reynolds and artist and naturalist Herman Sporing. There were also a crew of 71 and 12 marines, making a total of 93 men.

Cook was also innovative in that he took measures to prevent scurvy (lack of vitamin C) in his men, making sure they ate fresh meat, fruit, vegetables, pickled cabbage and vinegar where ever possible. He looked after the men’s clothing, so they would have dry and warm things to wear in the cold latitudes. He also took musical instruments, books and fishing lines for the men to use in their time off.

Opening his sealed orders after the transit, he was told to explore the existence of any great land south of Tahiti to latitude 40.  Leaving the south Pacific island he took a chief with him named Tupaia.  Not finding any great south land he sailed for New Zealand. There he met the local natives, which was a peaceful encounter, leaving on the 1st March 1770 after five months sailing around the two islands. He then had to make a decision to return directly to England via Cape Horn or to go home via Cape of Good Hope. So, on 1st April 1770 the Endeavour sailed westward towards Van Diemen’s Land. On the 20th April, second-in-command, Lieutenant Zachary Hicks sighted land which was on the north-east coast of Victoria. Cook named it Point Hicks. Nine days later, 29th April, following the coast, he anchored for the first time in Australian waters at a spot knows known as Kurnell a site on Botany Bay. Cook ordered his wife’s cousin Isaac Smith to “jump out” and set foot on land.  Therefore Able Seaman Smith was the first recorded Englishman to set foot on Australian soil. The following day, in the afternoon, Cook, Banks, Solander and Tupaia landed. Here they met some aborigines and a minor altercation occurred, but efforts of friendship were fruitful. They stayed for a week. During this time, Seaman Forby Sutherland died of illness on the 2nd May and became the first European known to die on the shore. Sutherland District takes his name. Also one sailor deserted and what became of him no one knows.

There are numerous memorials to the landing, sometimes confusion with the date.  This is because Cook’s log dates are a day behind calendar dates. After leaving, further exploration and landings occurred. Port Jackson, Port Stephens, Cape Hawke, Moreton Bay, Cape Townhend, the Barrier Reef, Magnetic Land, Whitsunday Passage and many other points and localities were named.  Off the coast of Queensland the Endeavour struck a reef and after 23 hours on the rocks, Cook succeeded in heaving her off into deep waters. He did this by throwing overboard guns, ballast, casks, decayed stores, in an effort to lift the ship off the coral on the next high tide. Initially he was unsuccessful; finally in a higher tide the Endeavour was free and floating. In his journal he gave the overall name of “New South Wales.” He then sailed through the strait between Australia and New Guinea and landed at Batavia, where a number of his companions and crew died from malaria. Finally Cook returned to England where he became the hero of the day.

So what are we doing to celebrate and highlight this remarkable man and most important historical voyage to our land?  Very little I am afraid, whereas New Zealand is planning substantial events. Here we are bereft of leadership on the issue.  The replica of the Endeavour will be sailing around Australia for the anniversary, but in actual fact, it only sailed the eastern coast. There will be a number of exhibitions. How can such a powerful event be down-played by the nation?  One can only shake one’s head for lack of fibre.

Cook, as we should all know, had two more voyages and after the second voyage he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. He died 14th February 1779 while in Hawaii on his third voyage.

How do we sum up Cook?  His meticulous maps of his discoveries and his humanitarian treatment of both his crew and the people he came in contact with have given him a heroic reputation which has lasted for centuries.

Bowen and Batman – who were they?

There have been further demands to change traditional names, the latest being the bridges Bowen and Batman. Recently of course we had calls for the renaming of Franklin Square, named after Sir John Franklin. Bowen Bridge in the south was named after Lt John Bowen RN, while the bridge in the north, Batman, was named after John Batman. Their contribution not only to this state, but especially with Batman, to the nation is enormous and they are worthy to have important venues named in their honour. Neither men were perfect; no one is, including those who criticise them. Perhaps as Christ implores, they should cast out the beam in their own eye first.

The four lane Bowen Bridge crossing the Derwent River was opened in 1984 and was (as stated) named after Lt. John Bowen. Bowen was twenty three years of age (incorrectly stated in many sources as eighteen) with 48 other settlers, (free, military and convict) who settled at Risdon Cove in September 1803. He was instructed to land at Risdon Cove on the order of Philip Gidley King, acting on the recommendation of explorers, John Hayes and George Bass. Thus Bowen established the first British settlement in Tasmania. For that alone, he should be remembered and recognised. It was an incredible important historic episode for Tasmania and for Australia. He came with Martha Hayes Quinn who remained here after Bowen left our shores. Martha had two daughters by him, with descendants living here today. Martha went on to marry twice after John had gone and had further children.

Importantly, the settlement at Risdon Cove was named “Hobart” as testified by correspondence between Bowen and King. The settlement at Sullivan’s Cove the following year, which of course became Hobart Town, was actually the second settlement of that name. Lord Hobart was the Secretary of War and Colonies.

The contentious aspect about the Risdon Cove is the confrontation between the natives and the settlers which occurred in May 1804. An historian in a recently published book states that Bowen was there at the time, but in actual fact this is erroneous, as he was away exploring the Huon River. In charge of the settlement was marine Lieutenant William Moore. The scene saw a large number of natives confronting the small number of settlers and shots were fired. The few documented accounts we have indicate that possibly up to five natives were killed. The figures have now escalated to one hundred. A lot of this comes from the testimony of Edward White who gave evidence at the March 1830 inquiry into the affair. The big problem is, despite White saying he was there at the time, he was not, and thus his evidence cannot be accepted as accurate.

The arrival of Colonel David Collins to Risdon Cove in February 1804 was the start of the end of the Risdon Cove settlement. Even so, four settlers who died from Collin’s expedition are buried there. Dr C Pardoe, anthropologist, actually inspected the remains of one several years ago. The skeleton was found by farmer Fred Sargent in 1917.

Bowen, who came from a distinguished naval family, left the island to fight the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Much more can be said of this young man, his achievements, his frustrations and yes, his failures. That he played an important role in this state’s history cannot be denied.

The Batman Bridge spanning the River Tamar was opened in 1966. It is named after John Batman, who probably is best remembered for the founding the city of Melbourne. We should be proud as Tasmanians that we not only preceded Melbourne, but that city had its origins from one who lived here.

Batman was born in Parramatta, NSW, in 1803. Leaving NSW, he and his brother Henry arrived in Launceston in 1821 and his life here was full of achievement. He actually captured bushranger, Matthew Brady. Batman did indeed take place in the Black Line in 1830 which was an attempt to round up the aborigines of Tasmania. Here we have the conflicting nature of Batman. He did attack and kill a number of natives, including a woman and a child. Yet in October 1830 he gave refuge to twelve natives who sought sanctuary from him after a ferocious inter-tribal fight. He lived on his property which he called Kingston, north east Tasmania where he co-habited with Elizabeth Callaghan. They had a number of children and were eventually married. By 1835 he with friends, John Fawkner and John Helder Wedge, discussed plans to make discoveries on the mainland. Batman visited Port Phillip (where Melbourne now stands), returned and then set sail again on the vessel Rebecca which was built at Rosevears in the north. Once there he noted a suitable place for a village, the future Victorian capital. He was accompanied by a number of Sydney aborigines who he said (his journal – Mitchell Library) helped him with his dialogue with the local aborigines, he writing that they “perfectly understand each other”. The whole episode is a large story unto itself.

I would like to end on Batman what I have written in my book Parramatta – Tasmania historic connections about this man. “Certainly as John Bonwick early historian and author picture him, he was no hero, full of warts and all. Indeed, he was human. He was a man, however, who rose from humble beginnings and obtained prominent heights in our history books. It can be said that he grasped an opportunity and made the most of it.”

Changing names because certain people are out of favour with certain people is not a genuine reason to do so. If we are looking for perfect people to name things after, then we shall not find them. Many prominent people of international renown, like Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, Ghandi, Mandela (etc., etc.) had their flaws and some serious ones, but we must recognise their positive contributions as we must with Bowen and Batman.

Reg. A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author of “John Bowen the Founder of Tasmania”.