Category Archives: Australian history

Reader comment Prison Hulk to Redemption

Comment: Barry Fitzgerald (Denham Court NSW)
I bought your book because I like the title Prison Hulk to Redemption, but did not read the review in the Annals. It is one of the few history books that I have read and do not recall being taught Australian history at school.

I have written about my ancestors since they arrived in Australia in the early nineteenth century, but in far less detail than in your book.

Before we left Sydney in 1936 to live on a property on the Darling Downs in Queensland, I can recall very few instances instances when fun was made of me because of my Catholic school uniform. However I can recall my aunts and uncles referring to problems they were having because they were Catholics. But after reading your book I am inclined to believe it was more to do with the economy and the belief that the English were a superior class to the Irish.

[The chapter] ‘Bit and Pieces’ is superb and reminded me of my childhood at Jimbour. Our exploits and adventures were not as daring.

Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about early Australia.

Weaving together history, culture and religion

The following review is from good friend Garrett Ward Sheldon, The John Morton Beaty Professor of Political and Social Sciences, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, USA.

Finished your family history and enjoyed it very  much. Can’t wait to read the sequel!  The way you weave together history, culture and religion is excellent.  I really got a sense of the roughness of early Australia; and yet the quick civilizing of the British and Irish influences.  Also the development of democracy is very good. Your description of Irish Catholicism on page 54 is most enlightening.  What does the expression “reaching for a bucket ” (p. 59) mean?  Your description of the convict women [on the First Fleet] (p. 245) is priceless.  The Case of the Stolen Opposum (p. 252) is hilarious.  The story of the Catholic educational system (p. 310) is very like the USA in the twentieth century.
Garrett Ward Sheldon

A fascinating introduction to Australia as nation

I have made contact through ancestry.com with several members of my extended family. Mike Chapman who lives in Canada is a fifth cousin through my mother’s line. After reading my family history book he posted the following five star review on the kobo website:

A Personal History of Australia
I found Gerard Wilson’s book a fascinating introduction to the development of Australia as a nation and the people responsible for its success. His research into his personal ancestry provides the reader with an insight into the lives of ordinary men and women who first settled the Australian continent. Many of them were petty criminals, (thieves, pickpockets, prostitutes) in British cities that were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to ‘transportation’ by the courts. Some were even sentenced to death (for theft in those days) but had their sentence commuted to transportation. Others were the officers and crew in the “First Fleet” of 11 ships that undertook the hazardous voyage in 1788 to Australia and of the convict ships that followed. It is remarkable that so many men and women banished from their homeland because of criminal convictions became hard-working, successful farmers and well respected citizens in the new land.
Mike Chapman, Canada

Australia’s institutional inheritance from Britain

I sent a copy of Prison Hulk to Redemption: Part One of a Family History 1788-1900 to the Hon. Robert Clark Liberal Member for Box Hill and Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations in the Victorian State Parliament because of his interest in Edmund Burke. My book is a Burkean examination of cultural continuity and identity. The shadow minister had written a favourable review of Jesse Norman’s excellent book on Edmund Burke – Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician and Prophet. He replied with this comment:

‘I’ve enjoyed reading the concluding chapter of the book and your Burkean assessment of Australia’s institutional inheritance from Britain.  I particularly enjoyed your assessment and critique of those Australian historians and commentators who seem to have a desire to belittle the British aspects of our heritage, whether that be from a teenager lack of confidence or (which may be a more complex version of the same phenomenon) from a socialist desire to tear down existing institutions.’

Free movement between Australia, New Zealand, Canada and United Kingdom

A proposal for free movement between Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom was proposed around three years ago. The agreement would be on the same sort of basis as the EU.  London Mayor Boris Johnson, a great supporter of the proposal, pointed out that the people of Australia and the United Kingdom could hardly be more alike culturally and ethnically.  Indeed, that is the central thrust of my just published book Prison Hulk to Redemption – all about the cultural foundations and continuities between the two blocks. This last week the proposal has had some more airing – much to my delight.

A RE-ORGANIZATION OF FAMILY HISTORY TITLES

My intention to undertake an extensive revision of my first family history title has resulted in a complete replanning and rewriting of the series. I had wanted to add much new information about family members and put all the people and action into their proper social and historical context.

I found, however, that the undertaking was not so simple. I had badly underestimated the time this would take and the amount of social and historical information I would have to add to give an adequate picture of the period in which my ancestors acted. Providing that adequate picture has meant reorganizing the books (and the existing text) into periods different from those I had originally planned.

The first book with a new title – Prison Hulk to Redemption – will cover the period 1788-1901.   I have given up setting publication dates because I have continually found it necessary to put them back. A paperback edition as well as an ebook edition of Prison Hulk to Redemption will be released in the second half of 2015.

The reason the third book is almost finished is that my original intention was to write a childhood memoir that included some background information about my immediate family (parents and grandparents) and of my pioneering ancestors. After writing about the 1940s and early 1950s, I found that I had material for more than one book.  The project eventually grew into four books.

The Wilson Family History series will now cover these years:
Book 1: 1788-1901 – Prison Hulk to Redemption (nearly there)
Book 2: 1902-1945 – War Depression War pub. 2016 (40% written)
Book 3: 1946-1953 – Me ‘n’ Pete pub. 2016 (90% written)
Book 4: 1954-1958 – Billycarts & Two-Wheelers, 2017 (10% written)

I will keep updating my progress on the rewriting of the first book of the family history series.

Was the past no better or worse than the present?

‘Richard Glover takes a trip back in time’

Richard Glover (presumably the ABC one) wrote a humorous comment about the past for the 17 January 2015 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

More precisely, it was about some of the strange (for people under 50 years) habits and customs of the past. He seemed to be talking mainly about the habits and ways of the 1950s and 1960s. I can attest that most of what he says is true – at least according to my experience.  Let me comment on the more surprising ones.

1. ‘School students, particularly boys, would be regularly beaten with sticks, usually by the teaching staff.’

Very true. My loving parents wielded the cane from a feather duster when we boys tried their patience too much. The nuns also applied the cane to naughty hands and legs. But Glover does not mention the strap. The brothers at the school I went to seemed to have their specially made penitential strap permanently fixed to their hand – so often was it applied to the hands of recalcitrant boys. ‘Six of the best for you, son!’ rang out continually through rooms and halls.

2. ‘When using a public phone, you could avoid paying by shouting into the earpiece, knowing that you could just be heard, however faintly.’

True again. I used the public telephone earpiece like today’s mobile phone to ring my parents to tell them where I was and where to be picked up.

3. ‘A trip to the tip was considered a leisure activity.’

My brother and I had a wonderful time scrounging around the local tip. The only danger we were conscious of was being caught by the tip guard. We found many treasures there.

4. But this one I never witnessed – and there were plenty of smokers who visited my mum and dad. A bit fanciful, I think.

‘When grown-ups had parties, the children would be required to light the guests’ cigarettes.’

5. The following is one of the great myths about the 1950s:

‘As part of a “health” campaign, school children were forced to drink a small bottle of milk that had been left out in the sun until it was warm and about to curdle.’

Not true – a myth grown over time from a few rare cases.

The state government supplied crates of milk in small bottles to primary schools as part of a health policy. During all the time the crates of milk were delivered to the schools I attended, I can think of only one occasion when the crates were left in the sun. And then nobody drank the milk – and did not have to. I always looked forward to that swig of milk still chilled. I was a kid who could down a pint of milk in two seconds flat.

Glover’s point for listing the strange customs:

‘My point isn’t that the past was better or worse than the present. Just that it was a different country – one that now seems unrecognisable even to those of us who once lived there.’

I don’t agree. Every age has its benefits and disadvantages, its joys and sorrows, but to say every age is of the same value is to commit the common fallacy of equivalence. One can make a judgement on the balance of good and bad. I think the 1950s was a special period in Australia’s history.

 

The Era of the White Picket Fence

By Peter Fisher

We cannot return to the days of the ‘white picketfence’. But we should recognise that there were many virtues and human qualities proper to that era that we are now the poorer for having jettisoned.

THESE DAYS, any reference to an era of the so-called ‘white picket fence’ is often accompanied by scorn and derision from modern ‘progressives’. The period in question is the 1950s and early-to-mid-1960s, prior to the coming of age of the baby boomers and the sexual revolution that came in their wake. Continue reading The Era of the White Picket Fence