'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

07 February 2011

Australian Stories

It is generally accepted that animal life on Earth began in the Flinders Ranges which is one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet. The oldest marine fossils have been located in this South Australian wonder.

Our indigenous population seem to have walked possibly from Africa around the Indian coastline and across the land and shallow seas to this continent around 40 - 60,000 years ago. They spread across the land in many nations and in harmony they adapted to the harshness of this unique island cut off from the evolutionary trends of Asia and Europe. However when Europeans in the form of the English first arrived in this island-continent it was declared uninhabited, even though the population that had lived here for tens of thousands of years years were staring the invaders in the face.  Military officers, over 160,000 criminals, both political and economic made the bulk of our early new settlers. They began a process of extermination, assimilation and destruction of the lifestyle, culture and families of the indigenous population. not until 1966 were the original inhabitants even counted or emancipated. It will no doubt be many generations before forgiveness and healing will take place and so much has yet to be done to make the wider population understand just what happened. Today although some official and significant apologies have been made we still perpetuate the cruelty in many ways and still many in our churches and our leaders are blind to this smear on our collective conscience. If there is a soul to a nation I also believe it comes from our past. I know many would not agree, but I do believe that even though it is hardly recognised, the lore and spirit of our indigenous population have infiltrated the psyche of us all.  When I first stepped onto the streets of London, I thought I could feel the life and footsteps of a city populated for two thousand years, so how much greater must be the spirit of a land that has been lived in and resonates with the footprints of sixty thousand years. 
Eventually the Irish arrived, the Greeks and Italians, the Lebanese and the Vietnamese. Luckily we have now been peopled with adventurers from over two hundred countries and receive the benefits of being a true multicultural society. It is good for a country so far from the world mainstream to have the world come to us.
 The political history of Australia since Federation (above left), just over one hundred years ago (1901) has had its heroes and villains but  from the swearing in of the first Governor General (left) through the stature of the now maligned  Anglophile, Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies (above) , who led our parliament while I was growing up, to the ups and downs of our modern leaders we have not fared too badly. I have gone through times of strong feelings for or against our Prime Ministers, but happily we remain stable, cynical and have a healthy lack of respect for the powers of our men and women of politics. 
Click for my page on the calm tolerance of Australian Politics.
There is a move for a greater feeling of nationalism, which I feel uneasy with, as I would prefer to see the world unite with commonality not divide with difference. Cultural assets should be maintained and shared, but not used to exclude. A flag is a symbol which can give a sense of identity, but I also try to avoid seeing it as a sacred object which at its worst can produce a bad case of xenophobia. Our soldiers have an affinity for the flag under which they fought and perhaps our new arrivals acknowledge it as a symbol of the country they have adopted, but the culture of the world is also there to enrich us all. There is however more than one flag which can symbolise different things for different people within a country. The Aboriginal Flag is now a proud part of our landscape and the historic Eureka Flag came from the only armed rebellion in Australian colonised history. The Eureka Flag is thought to have been designed by a Canadian gold miner by the name of " We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." The defiance of the gold miners against officialdom failed, but their stand resonates through Australian history and the Eureka flag is still an occasional symbol of dissent. Now we are many and can we respect all the diversity and see it as a fundamental and beneficial part of where we live? We are one of the pieces in what is called humanity and we have our role and our treasures to share, but they make us not better, merely a piece of the whole.
The art of Australia goes back perhaps further than any on earth. Some of the cave images rubbed in stone or sprayed on rock surfaces with white, yellow and red ochre go back tens of thousands of years. There is also the body painting, the Toas (above) and painted weapons that show an exquisite thoughtful heritage. I will neither  presume nor attempt to explain my meagre understanding of the Aboriginal Dreamtime, but it should be studied by all who wish to understand man's concepts of his origins and beliefs. Traditions of art begun with hand prints have survived for so long and went on to produced some of the most beautiful art and spiritual masterpieces in the world. Today Australia begins to explore, honour and include the rich heritage that is unique to this ancient continent.

In the early days of Australia, Opera came to the outback. The first performance was Bishop's 'Clari' in 1834. Various private companies and visiting Italian companies filled the gaps spasmodically until the companies in Sydney and Melbourne sought an alliance in 1952 and the eventual formation  in 1954 of The Elizabethan Trust to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the first season of a national company in Adelaide. Through trial and tribulation it survived, continued and is now Opera Australia and  coming full circle it is now based in both Sydney and Melbourne.

The National Anthem - Advance Australia Fair
 was composed by Glasgow-born Peter Dodds McCormick (1834?-1916). It's first public performance is thought to have been sung by Andrew Fairfax in Sydney on St Andrews Day November 30th 1878 at a concert for the Highland Society. It was also sung, with amendments, by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. On 19th April, 1984 'Advance Australia Fair' became Australia's national anthem,  to be played at all official and ceremonial occasions but 'God Save the Queen' remains the "royal anthem", to be played when the Queen or members of the Royal Family are present.
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free,
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts,
Of beauty rich and rare,
In history's page, let every stage,
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We'll toil with hearts and hands,
To make this Commonwealth of ours,
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas,
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine,
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

The National Song        –        Waltzing Matilda 

Banjo Paterson most likely wrote the lyrics of Australia's most well known song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in 1895 whilst staying with the Macpherson clan on Dagworth Station, north-west of Winton in Queensland. It appears that Christina Macpherson wrote the music although she claimed to have adapted the tune of an old folk song.
Waltzing Matilda
Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree…
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
"Who’ll come a waltzing matilda with me?"

"Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda, who’ll come a waltzing matilda with me?"

And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
"Who’ll come a waltzing matilda with me??"
Up came a jumbuck to drink out that waterhole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
"You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me!!"
Up rode the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred
Up came the troopers, one! two!! three!!!
"Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me!!"
Up jumped the swagman, sprang into that billabong
"You’ll never catch me alive!" said he..
And his GHOST (sing softly and slowly) may be heard as you pass
by that billabong..
"You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me!"
"Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda, who’ll come a waltzing matilda with me?"
And his ghost  may be heard
as you pass by that billabong
"Who’ll come a waltzing matilda with me?"

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