Monday to Wednesday, November 2 – 5 ~ Albany
Albany, population 25,000 on the southwestern coast of Western Australia was gifted by nature with one of the country’s best harbours, King George Sound, named after King George III by Captain George Vancouver. As the best natural harbour between Shark Bay and Melbourne, Albany thrived as a port for exporting timber (jarrah from Western Australia was used to pave the streets of London), wool, wheat and mutton. Hillsides around Albany are still grazing grounds for large flocks of sheep and even more cattle.
Our caravan park is at Middleton Beach separated from the Southern Ocean by sand dunes dense with vegetation, a sign of a well protected shoreline. We are getting used to the design of these places – I hesitate to call them “parks” – where we are in a row of other caravans and campers on a cement slab which keeps the vehicle level for sleeping. Privacy is a foreign concept and there are times when I long for a treed campsite out of sight of neighbours, the kind that we’ve grown up with in Ontario Provincial Parks. The upside is the amenities block with wonderfully hot showers and clean toilets, a pool and the ubiquitous book exchange.
National ANZAC Memorial (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps)
The new museum commands a spectacular view of Albany’s harbour. From the entrance visitors look through a plate window almost the size of the grand wall itself out to the harbour, the scene of the departure of convoys of ships carrying 40,000 soldiers and 17,000 horses (in all 160,000 horses were shipped overseas) off to support the British Empire in WWI. By all accounts it was a spectacular sight with 30 ships in three orderly rows awaiting the signal to turn in formation towards the harbour mouth on the long sea journey to the battlefields of Egypt, Palestine, Turkey (Gallipoli where the ANZAC forces distinguished themselves even as they sustained catastrophic casualties) and Europe.
We each received a card with the name of a soldier; Geoff had the distinguished officer Lt. General Sir John Monash after whom many streets and a university are named, and I received Lt. Ormand Burton from New Zealand. At various points in the displays we placed the card on a reader that brought up information on our soldier, his occupation, family background, enlistment document, war record, personal letters, writings and post war activities.
Burton left teaching in a one room school to enlist with great enthusiasm and served in the medical corps rising in rank to Lieutenant. Following his return home he became disillusioned with the Treaty of Versailles and what little had been achieved at such a tremendous cost. He embraced pacifism, became a Methodist minister, and spent 19 months in jail for his activism against NZ’s involvement in WWII. I wonder if it takes as much courage to oppose war as it does to go to war. A soldier is lauded by the nation while a pacifist endures condemnation and charges of cowardice.
Museum of Western Australia ~ Albany
Albany is also home to an excellent local museum which was hosting a display, Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, photos of soldiers in WWI. Most were Australian but a few were not and I kept hoping to find one of my grandfather Victor Smith, great-uncle Playford Hales or Geoff’s grandfather and uncles Alf, Harold and Percy Bradshaw. I am surprised at how personally these displays have affected me. It was a war with no major objective and it seems to me, no outcome that could possible justify the sacrifice of life.
The quality of museums in even a town of 25,000 is outstanding. So here are few facts that fascinated me.
Australia is drifting towards Indonesia at the rate of 6-7 cm a year, rather speedy in geological time.
Long before Europeans arrived in Australia, Chinese and Arab traders and Macassans from Indonesia built up a trading relationship with Aboriginal people in northern Australia, certainly in the 17th century and perhaps as early as the 1400’s.
During WWII Aboriginal wives of white Australian soldiers were unable to go into a bank to cash their husbands’ war pay. Signs posted outside the post office, bakery, library, butchers and tea room warned, “No person of Aboriginal origin may enter.”
Between 1905 and 1936 the Commissioner of Native Affairs was “the legal guardian of all native children whether or not they have a parent living.” The Commissioner determined where a child would live and attend school. Many families retreated into the bush with their children when government officials came into sight. In Australia children who were removed from their families are referred to as the “stolen generation.”
Many Aboriginals were valued for their ability to find lost people, cattle and sheep. It was said that a skilled aboriginal tracker could track a dog over ironstone.