Category Archives: Australian History

History, war and remembering in 2018

100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice

The 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice will be one of the most notable anniversaries commemorated in 2018.

On 11 November 2018 it will be one hundred years since the First World War Armistice. On this day,  at the eleventh hour, all military action ceased — four years of global war ended.

In allied countries, like Australia, the news of the Armistice and their victory was greeted with immense joy. Reconciling the real cost of the war would come later.

The Australian War Memorial will commemorate the centenary of the Armistice with a creative public program, which will combine public activities, displays, installations and events for the five-week period from 5 October to Remembrance Day, on 11 November 2018. Details can be found here.

The centrepiece for the commemorations will be the installation of 62,000 knitted red poppy flowers on the Memorial’s grounds. Each poppy represents an Australian life lost in the First World War, who are individually listed on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour.

Other 2018 military anniversaries

Other significant military anniversaries in 2018 include:

1 May 2018: 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943
13 May 2018: 50th anniversary of the Battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral (Vietnam War) in 1968
27 July 2018: 65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice in 1953
16 October 2018: 75th anniversary of Australian work on Hell Fire Pass and completion of the Thai Burma Railway in 1943

What will you be remembering in 2018?

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Armistice Day, 1918, Swanston St. Melbourne




Women of Empire 1914-1918

I often think of Virginia Woolf’s words — for most of history, anonymous was a woman — so I was really pleased to come across the exhibition Women of Empire 1914-1918.

Fiona Baverstock and her husband Keith came up with the idea of the touring exhibition during the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. At the time there seemed to be little recognition that women were involved in the First World War. Fiona and Keith were determined that this should be addressed for the centenary of the First World War.

The exhibition profiles Australia and New Zealand women whose experience of the First World War was especially eventful and illustrative of the varied roles women played during the war. Each woman is represented by an original outfit of the era from the extensive collection of the Dressing Australia Museum of Costume. These costumes are a simple and powerful way of letting us imagine the lives of these women.

A few of the women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918 are familiar names in Australian history. Most though are women, who at best are remembered as historical footnotes, but should be better known in Australian history.

To me all these women sounded remarkable but especially interesting were:

Marion Leane Smith: The only known Indigenous Australian nurse to have served in the First World War. A Cabrogal woman born in NSW, she was raised in Canada and served that country and Britain as a war nurse. During World War II she brought the Red Cross to Trinidad.

Ettie Rout: She set up the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood taking them to Egypt in July 1915 where they manned canteens and established a Soldiers’ Club. A safe-sex pioneer Ettie devised a prophylactic kit — eventually adopted by the military — to sell at the New Zealand Soldiers’ Clubs in England in 1917. After the war, she was called the wickedest woman in Britain for her book Safe Marriage, which provided instruction on avoiding venereal disease (VD) and pregnancy.

Dr Elsie Dalyell: In the laboratory at the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont her pioneering protocols for the treatment of gangrene saved limbs as well as lives. After this, she enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a senior bacteriologist in Malta and Salonika. In Constantinople (now Istanbul), she tackled a severe cholera outbreak. Twice Mentioned in Despatches, Elsie was awarded the OBE in 1919. In World War II, she organized the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service.

If you want to know more about the women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918 you can read their profiles here.

GOLD STAR to Fiona Baverstock and her husband Keith for their work to ensure that women of the First World War are not overlooked during the centenary.



Miles Franklin and Vida Goldstein, two of the more well-known Australian women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918


Remember this is a voice from the tomb

James Wilson was one of the last convicts transported to Australia. His words below are from a smuggled letter sent in 1874 to John Devoy, a Fenian leader, in America. James Wilson’s desperate appeal led the American Fenians to organise the 1876 Catalpa rescue — the liberation of six Fenian convicts from Fremantle gaol.


Now, dear friend, remember this is a voice from the tomb…we have been nearly nine years in this living tomb…it is impossible for mind or body to withstand the continual strain…one or the other must give away.
— James Wilson


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The last convicts transported to Australia

Very best wishes for the New Year.

Today, is the anniversary of a significant date in Australian history.

One-hundred and fifty years ago convicts stopped being transported to Australia. The last convicts arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia on 10 January 1868, on the ship Hougoumont.

According to Richard Reid in Sinners, Saints & Settlers, 62 of these last convicts were Irishmen who would not have accepted their criminal status. They were Fenians, part of the revolutionary 19th century movement to establish an Irish Republic, through physical force if necessary. Forty-five of the men were political prisoners, tried for treasonous acts or taking part in attempted uprisings in 1867. The remaining men were military Fenians —  soldiers in the British army court-martialed for mutinous conduct.

You can find interesting articles about the Hougoumont and the end of convict transportation in Troves Digitised Newspapers. One article, that caught my interest was the Perth newspaper, the Inquirer and Commercial News, listing on 15 January 1867 of the Fenian convicts and the sentences they received. See below for this or you can find it here.


list of convicts

2nd list of convicts

The sentence hanged, drawn & quartered must have been underlined in the original newspaper. It is a bit disturbing knowing this sentence was actually given to convicts. Agree or disagree? 

Survey of 2017 Australian history awards

My survey of Australian history awards has helped me discover some more history books that sound really interesting. Sharing some of my finds below. Happy reading ahead.

2017 NSW Premier’s History Awards

From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories by Mark McKenna
Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War, Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb, Beatrice Trefalt and Dean Aszkielowicz
Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia’s Immigrant Past, Peter Hobbins, Ursula K. Frederick and Anne Clarke

Chief Minister’s Northern Territory History Book Award 2017

Alice Springs: From Singing Wire to Iconic Outback Town by Stuart Traynor

University of Southern Queensland History Book Award 2017

Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney by Paul Irish (Short-listed)

Tasmania Book Prize 2017

Into the Heart of Tasmania: A Search for Human Antiquity by Rebe Taylor (also winner of the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award 2017)

2017 ACT Book of the Year Award

Fighting Fit by Laura Dawes (Short-listed)

What do you think of this selection? What is on your reading list for the holidays and the New Year?