Our Darling River in a Land of “Droughts and Flooding Rains”

I do not class myself as a “greenie” (a person who campaigns for protection of the environment) but my environmental conscious was pricked when in the last two days two separate news items brought home to me the need for urgent action. I felt obliged to write this blog.

The first item was the latest Australian Story on the ABC called “Cry Me a River” about the plight of the Darling River at Menindee near Broken Hill. The current situation along our once darling river (without capitals) is a result of Government authority decision-making, emanating from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, in conjunction with the current severe drought conditions.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority was established after the millennium drought, regarded as our worst ever drought. The Basin Plan 2012 was prepared under the Water Act 2007 by the Authority. The following is an excerpt from the Plan:

“5.02      Objectives and outcome for Basin Plan as a whole

(1)       The objectives for the Basin Plan …

(2)       The outcome for the Basin Plan as a whole is a healthy and working Murray‑Darling Basin that includes:

(a)       communities with sufficient and reliable water supplies that are fit for a range of intended purposes, including domestic, recreational and cultural use; and

(b)      productive and resilient water-dependent industries, and communities with confidence in their long‑term future; and

(c)       healthy and resilient ecosystems with rivers and creeks regularly connected to their floodplains and, ultimately, the ocean.”

On 24 December 2018, WaterNSW noted on their website that:

“A Red Alert level warning (high alert) for blue-green algae has been issued for the Darling River at Louth and Trevallyn, located in the Far West region.

Both sites are located upstream of the Menindee Lake system where multiple Red Alerts are already in place.”

As we know, the situation resulted in three major fish kills that occurred in the Darling River near Menindee in December 2018 and January 2019. The resultants Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling river system has found that river allocations were driven by politics, and called for a complete overhaul of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It argued that a scientific approach must be taken in determining how much water should be returned to the environment. (new.com.au on 1 Feb 2019)

As the champion of the Australian Story, a young Kate McBride indicated that all the decisions and actions were apparently quite legal but asked the question of whether they were moral. Irrespective there was undoubtedly a failure here in regard to the “outcome[s] for the Basin Plan” and it is only hoped that as a community and nation we can do something about this matter.

The Darling River is of special significance for me because my great-grandfather, Henry Harrison Briscoe lived and worked around Wilcannia from the 1870s. Later with his family he spent several years at other places along its banks like Louth and Bourke. Paddle steamers used had the Darling for river trade (except in drought times) until about 1880 when more reliable roads and railways were established. The river played a significant role in opening up the outback.

During a recent visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales a painting by William Charles Piguenit caught my eye. Painted in 1895 it is called The flood in the Darling 1890, depicting when the town of Bourke was submerged by floodwaters. I understand that despite the current drought there will more than likely be other floods on the Darling, but the difference between the scene in this painting and the present reality was striking.
“The flood in the Darling 1890” by W C Piguenit (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

The Darling will never again be as navigable as it was in those early days, but it still has important social, economic and environmental contributions to make, and on which many rely. I hope we can learn to love our darling river again.

The second item was the United Nations report on the decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, but maybe more about that later…

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Thoughts on ANZAC DAY 2019

Today it is 104 years since that fateful day when the youth of Australia and New Zealand, as part of the British force, stormed the beaches of Gallipoli. April 25 is the one day of the year when we stop to commemorate them and all the men and women who served in defending our way of life.

World War 1 ended 101 years ago, with WW2 ending 74 years ago, the Korean War 66 years ago and our “boys” returned from Vietnam in 1975 some 44 years ago. The history of our world, however, is not one of peace among peoples but of conflict and since 1990 Australian forces have been involved in various Middle East conflicts, not to forget a number of peace keeping operations.

Unlike many other countries Australia is not a militaristic nation, and this was the theme of the address of a very eloquent young man at the local Dawn Service that I attended this morning. He stressed how our service men and women were defending our way of life and how as individuals we all have a responsibility to uphold the standards that have, and are continuing to be fought for. He suggested that by emphasising and practicing a sense of community (is that “mateship”) and inclusiveness it would help counteract those who wish to spread division and hate in our society. If this young fellow’s views are typical of the coming generation we will be in safe hands.

Like most of my baby boomer era many of my family and extended family have served Australia. A few of those family members who I particularly wish to remember are:

Alfred Edward Henry Harrison BRISCOE, who served at Gallipoli contracting malaria after which he was evacuated to Cairo, where he now rests in the War Memorial Cemetery.

Alfred Ernest Cornelius BRAY, who as an 18 year old volunteered in 1915 serving on the Western Front where he was wounded and gassed. He again volunteered in in 1941 serving in a training capacity.

Alfred Ernest MORRISON who as a member of the 8th Division was captured following the fall of Singapore in February 1942 spending three and a half years as a Japanese prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma railway.

Norma Beryl BRAY, who joined the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1942 serving at HMAS Harman and HMAS Rushcutter.

Clyde John Thomas BRUCE, who served in 4 Squadron defending Australia from the Japanese advance in New Guinea.

Violet Joyce TROTT, who was a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment in a vital support role.

The military service of others in my extended family is commemorated at http://morrisons.id.au/ui49.htm

Joseph Banks and Bankstown

It has come to my attention that on this day in, 13 February in 1743, Joseph Banks was born at Westminster, England. he subsequently rose to become a baronet and a very important and influential man.

In Australia he is remembered for accompanying James Cook on his wonderful voyage of discovery, when as a naturalist he presented to Europe and the world many samples and drawings of the varied flora and fauna of Terra Australis. He grew up at Revesby Abbey in the Lincolnshire village of Revesby and along with Banks on Cook’s expedition was an artist, Peter Briscoe, also from Revesby. I wonder whether Peter might be related to my Briscoe family. Among the specimens that Banks took home were examples of the species that now bears his name, the Banksia.

Banks also gave his name to many locations throughout Australia, New Zealand and indeed the Pacific area. In the greater Sydney area my own home town of Bankstown is named for him and his statue proudly stands in the City centre.

Sir Joseph Banks at Bankstown

A few kilometres to the south of Bansktown is the suburb of Revesby which commemorates Banks’s home town.

As time passes and things change across the years, I find it humbling to stop and contemplate the origins and history of where we live…

Jervis Bay

Australia is a big country with much to see and learn about.

Point Perpendicular and Jervis Bay (Courtesy of Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, 2003)

Jervis Bay is one of our favourite holiday destinations being just over two hour’s drive south of home in Sydney. The bay itself part of the larger Jervis Bay Marine Park and bordered by the Jervis Bay and Booderee National Parks with their white sandy beaches and clear waters. Accordingly there are many ways for visitors to enjoy the area swimming and boating plus remarkable snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities, and whale and dolphin watching.

Honeymoon Bay (on Jervis Bay)

The local Council has prepared the Jervis Bay Settlement Strategy in collaboration with the other NSW Government to preserve the character and values of the Jervis Bay Region by setting out a framework for managing settlement and growth into the future.

The bay is over 100 square kilometres in area opening to the Tasman Sea between Bowen Island to the south and Point Perpendicular to the north.

The bay was sighted by Captain Cook in 1770 (on about Saint George’s Day) and he named the southern headland Cape St George and the northern headland ‘Long Nose’ (near Point Perpendicular). It wasn’t until August 1791 that the bay was explored by Lieutenant Richard Bowen aboard the convict transport ship Atlantic of the Third Fleet. He named it Jervis Bay and several years later George Bass named the island off Cape St George, Bowen Island.

A young Captain John Jervis by Francis Cotes courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery (London)

In thinking about places in Australia and their history it occurred to me that I had not long ago come across Cape Jervis in South Australia near Kangaroo Island (See post of 7 December 2018). Was that cape named for the same Jervis as the bay, and if so who was he?

It turned out that it was the same John Jervis whose name was given to both locations. Who was he?

John Jervis was a career sailor in the British Royal Navy who started as an able seaman in 1749 and after many years of service around the world was, on 1 June 1795, promoted to admiral. In 1797 he was part of Horatio Nelson’s force that defeated the Spanish Cartagena fleet in the battle of Cape St Vincent and following that victory he was created Baron Jervis of Meaford and Earl of St. Vincent. In 1801 he succeeded Earl Spencer as first lord of the Admiralty. It was in honour of his Admiralty position that inspired both Matthew Flinders (in South Australia) and Richard Bowen to name these locations after him.

Point Perpendicular Lighthouse

Getting back to the present day, we recently took a two hour cruise from Huskisson showing off the charms of the bay including the secluded beaches and diving spots.

We were in awe of the 75m high cliffs at Point Perpendicular atop of which sits the historic lighthouse marking and the northern entrance to the bay. The lighthouse was active from 1889 to 1993 and replaced the earlier Cape St George Lighthouse.

From this site there is the view of most of Jervis Bay, the villages around its shoreline, Bowen Island and the Tasman Sea.

(John Jervis: https://morethannelson.com/officer/john-jervis-1st-earl-of-st-vincent/ )

Thomas Speechley at Currambene

Bush walking and family history are not often commonly associated. However on my morning walk along Currambene Creek off Jervis Bay I revisited a favourite site of mine which has both local and family history significance.

During summer I look forward to visiting Myola and as well as enjoying the delights of Jervis Bay, I take at least one morning walk though the neighbouring bushland. From Myola Road, I head along Catherine Street that runs north past the last house following Currambene Creek until the sealed pavement comes to an end near the local boat ramp. Beyond that point the dirt track is generally passable only in a four wheel drive vehicle used mostly by free campers along the creek. My walk route is generally triangular and after leaving the creek the track heads towards Callala, again rutted with evidence of trail bikes. The final leg is a well maintained fire trail back to Myola Road.

Recent rain had helped the breeding of mosquitoes but even these don’t really detract from the pleasure of listening to the chorus of cicadas that spasmodically rose to thunderous proportions ensuring that even on the cooler morning it was a reminder of summer.

About five minutes walk past the boat ramp there are a number of pine bollards beside the track marking the path to the lone grave of six year old Thomas Speechley who died over a hundred years ago. If you weren’t aware it was there you would miss the notice erected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service about the site. Along the path past the notice, the grave sits within its bush setting with clear evidence of regular visits.

Finding the grave site

About the Grave…

There it is

The grave provides a glimpse into the history of the area and the Speechley family and is a place I visit every time I take this bush walk.

Thomas Speechley

A lot has been written about Thomas’s grave and by googling him you can find details of his tragic death as well some local and aboriginal history of Currambene.

I have distance Speechley cousins in my own family tree and one day I will delve further into that family to see if I have a connections with Thomas’s family.

Edward Leech and Malmsbury

While on a recent family history road trip in Victoria, which was otherwise unfruitful, I saw the turn-off to Malmsbury (some 86 kms north-west of Melbourne), alerting my genealogical antenna with its connection with my great-great Grandfather, Edward Leech.

Some time ago I was contacted by Susan Walter, who was undertaking a PhD thesis entitled ‘Malmsbury Bluestone and Quarries: Finding Holes in History and Heritage’. During her research Susan came across the 1861 birth record for Martha Elizabeth Leech at Malmsbury and finding my family website where my Leech family is identified, she took the trouble to email me. At the time I had no idea that Edward and his family had lived anywhere else but Sydney after their arrival from England, but more of that shortly.

Of course I took that turn-off.

The connections were due to Edward being a stonemason and the building of the Malmsbury railway viaduct using the local bluestone. The viaduct is a significant historic structure and was the largest masonry arch railway bridge in Victoria at the time. It has 5 spans totalling 100 meters long and is 25 metres high. The dark blue granular basalt, or bluestone, quarried in Malmsbury was used widely on important buildings throughout Victoria including Parliament House.

Malmsbury Railway Viaduct

The bridge itself was part of the railway line connecting Melbourne and Bendigo over the Coliban River where prospectors used to cross on their way to the Castlemaine goldfields. The viaduct itself was constructed between 1858 and 1860 with the railway opening in July 1861.

All the documentation relating to Edward Leech refers to him as a stonemason. He was born in 1812 in the Herefordshire village of Wellington where his father Anthony Leach was also born. Wellington is 51/2 miles north of Hereford on the Leominster Road and seems to have had a relative static population over the years of between 600 to 700 people. Its parish church dates from the 12th century and has been added to over the centuries. There is a quarry less than a mile from the village which probably gave Edward his living.

No other record was found of him or his family in the area. He is not found in the 1841 or 1851 censuses and it is assumed he moved to the London area where on 1 August 1852 he married Martha Thwaites at Kennington in Surrey, although according to informant, Edward on the NSW birth certificate of his daughter, my great grandmother, Emmelina it was at Camberwell in London.

On 30 September 1854 he departed from the Port of London on the ship Queen of England with Martha and daughters Mary Jane and Anne bound for New South Wales. The family reached Sydney on 9 January 1855 and when Emmelina was born on 30 August 1856 they were living at Maryland, Camden, County of Cumberland. The Maryland homestead and outbuildings are historically significant and some are made of stone masonry. It is not known whether Edward was involved in their construction.

Being a stonemason and it is assumed that work on the Malmsbury viaduct took him and the family to Victoria where baby Martha Elizabeth was born on 14 February in 1861.

Soon after the new daughter and the opening on the railway the “Leich family”, in August 1861, is recorded on local shipping aboard the Wonga Wonga from Melbourne back to Sydney. By 1864 home was at Botany Road, Waterloo where Edward lived until he died on 19 September 1877. Within two years Martha was also dead. They were buried next to each other at the Necropolis, Rookwood Cemetery. Of their four daughters two were already married and Emmelina and Martha Elizabeth were wed in the year of their mother’s death.

In his will Edward again referred to himself as a stonemason and living at Leechs building, Botany Road, Waterloo. Can it be construed that he was successful at his trade over his lifetime?

 

Kangaroo Island, Flinders and Baudin

Kangaroo Island was never on the top of our list of places we must visit, but when we were able to accompany good friends on their four day excursion we jumped at the chance and were glad we did. It followed on from our Murray River cruise and, of course, was only a short hop from Adelaide where that trip finished. I had some expectations of what we would find on the island in terms of scenery, wildlife and probably its isolation but were surprised at how it would be so historically significant.

At Penneshaw

Our home for the visit was at Penneshaw with a wonderful view across the 13.5 km Backstairs Passage to where the ferry departed at Cape Jervis near the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Day trips in our hired SUV took us to many of the most scenic and interesting spots on the island. We drove as far as Flinders Chase at the south western extremity to see the impressive Admiral’s Arch where we enjoyed the sight of a dozen young seals playing in the sheltered little cove below. On a nearby headland were the Remarkable Rocks which we imagined could have easily been the inspiration for modern sculptors.

Admiral’s Arch

Remarkable Rocks

The wildlife park was surprisingly well presented with a large variety of animals and birds and we were fortunate enough to be there when a delivery of more than a dozen wallabies arrived from a closing Hunter Valley park. After a quick overnight dash to minimise their distress, each animal was released from its hessian sack that, we were told, produced a pouch-like calming environment during their trip, before they bounded free into its new large grassy enclosure. Among the other highlights was a local gin distillery and tasting of honey ice cream produced with the nectar of the Italian Ligurian bees, now only found on our island and of course some souvenir shopping when we visited the island’s largest town of Kingscote.

Our accommodation at the small township of Penneshaw provided us with a tranquil setting only disrupted by the arrival of tourist buses on overnight tours. With several restaurants and a very friendly pub, all our simple needs for a quiet few days of unwinding were nicely met. It was helped by the fact that September is still “out of season” and the water temperatures of the Great Australian Bight (and Southern Ocean) did not encourage swimming.

Monument at Frenchman’s Rock

We enjoyed strolling around Penneshaw and along the Hog Bay beach to the Frenchman’s Rock and the monument that commemorates the bi-centenary of Nicholas Baudin’s visit. This was the start of an understanding of the historic part the French had played in this part of the world. In our travels we came across a myriad of French place names, starting with the Fleurieu Peninsula on the mainland to points on the island including Cape Bouda, Cap du Couedic, Baudin Beach and Vivonne Bay to name a few.

After a relaxing four days on our ferry back to Cape Jervis we met two ladies (one with a place on the island), whom we assumed were academics, and who in our discussions advised us to read “Encountering Terra Australis” (The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders) by Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath, John West-Sooby, as a way of learning more about the history of the region and the significance of Kangaroo Island.

I took up the challenge almost immediately on my return home and was very pleased to learn more about these two remarkable men and the part they played in our history. The book looks at the available historic documents, ship logs and reports to the respective Governments to give us a picture of their respective expeditions with the trials and tribulations, their discoveries and achievements and how history recorded them, often inappropriately.

The two men were different personalities but also had much in common. Their expeditions were very similar being primarily scientific with the French in particular including a large contingent of naturalists. They also had a goal to improve the map of this southern land and learn more about its people.

The expeditions took place during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign, and despite the period of the Peace of Amiens (1801-3), England and France were really still at war so there were definite political and national undertones. Each had to obtain a passport from the opposing country to ensure the safe passage of their expedition.

Nicholas Baudin sailed from France in October 1800 in his ship the Geographe and accompanied by the Naturaliste. It was not a happy company because of the contrary behaviour of some of the many scientists, putting a lot of additional strain on Baudin. Following episodes that delayed the voyage Baudin reached the French island of Mauritius in March 1801 and eventually sighted Terra Australis on 27 May 1801.

Matthew Flinders left nine months later in July 1801 in the Investigator and had a smoother and more uneventful passage, especially across the Indian Ocean and reached Cape Leeuwin on 7 December 1801.

Baudin first proceeded to explore the coastline of Van Diemen’s Land, while Flinders set about mapping of the southern coast of the Australian continent. In April 1802, the two expeditions and their leaders had a very respectful meeting at Encounter Bay near present day Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Flinders, who reached and named Kangaroo Island on his way eastward, advised Baudin of its safe anchorage and the possibility of replenishing supplies of meat from the numerous kangaroos he saw. Baudin was to become the first to circumnavigate and chart Kangaroo Island, whereas Flinders was later to be the first to circumnavigate the whole of Australia, and verify that New Holland and New South Wales were one continent and not two as was widely believed.

Flinders then sailed for Port Jackson arriving in May 1802 and noticed the remarkable advancements that had occurred since his first visit in 1795. After leaving Kangaroo Island Baudin called into Port Jackson in order to reprovision and carry out repairs to his ships. He spent some months there and developed a friendship with Governor King.

Finally after visiting King Island, northern Australia and Timor, Baudin set sail for home. He arrived in Mauritius on 12 August 1803 in a poor state of health and within weeks he was dead. The unhappy nature of those on his ships resulting in him not getting the credit the deserved from the successes on the expedition and his place in history has, probably until recently, been undervalued.

Flinders’ circumnavigation of the continent was completed in what was by then a “leaky, barely seaworthy vessel.” He finally left Port Jackson in September 1803 and reached Mauritius on his way back to England. Unfortunately the Amiens Peace had expired and because of technicalities over his passport together with his own obstinacy he was detained by the island’s governor for six and a half years. By the time he reached home his discoveries and successes were old news.

Nicholas Baudin

Matthew Finders

As indicated in the book, there was a lack of justified recognition of both explorers’ accomplishments by their respective homelands. History however has been somewhat kinder to Flinders in that the emerging nation of Australia and its people have celebrated and honoured his achievements.

Their contributions were similar and complementary in terms of the advancement of the world’s knowledge of our great southern land.