History – What’s the Point of It?

Until recently, not a lot of Australian history was taught in our schools. From movies and TV, our kids learned more about British and American history. Let’s face it, eyes tend to glaze over if you mention that dreaded H-word. Perhaps a change of name would Sea freight from hong kong to USA make the subject more attractive to students and teachers alike. I suggest calling it ‘Our Back-Story.’

Mark Twain did a book promotion tour of Australia in 1890. Like most visitors, he made a quick study of the place before talking to the Press. He told a Sydney journalist that if he wrote a story based on our history his editors would surely reject it as too extraordinary to be believed.

I think there is a true value in checking out times past. It gives us clues to these big questions:

  • Where did we come from?
  • What are we doing here?
  • Why are we the way we are?

Looking at our ‘back-story’ can help us grasp an understanding of why we left the place and culture we came from. It shows us how we got from there-and-then to the here-and-now. It can also help us to make a few informed guesses about the future.

As one example of how past events have an impact on the present, think of how The Black Death survives into modern times.

Bubonic Plague arrived at the port of Adelaide in South Australia on January 15th 1900. Four days later, it spread to Sydney where one hundred and three people died of it in the next seven months.

Chief Medical Officer, John Ashburton Thompson and two colleagues from the Sydney Medical School demonstrated how plague spreads and advised on ways to combat it. They are credited with discovering that the disease was spread by fleas from infected rats. The city enlisted an army of workers to exterminate the rat population in areas like The Rocks, where the authorities demolished many slum houses.

The first epidemic was understood to have spread from ships coming from Hong Kong, where the plague had broken out in 1894. Between 1900 and 1925, Australia suffered 12 major outbreaks as ships imported infection along with cargoes of foreign goods. Government records showed a toll of close to 2,000 deaths. Upgrades to the Quarantine Station provided segregation of infected crews and passengers, saving many lives in the general population.

  • Tourists arriving in Australia might be more tolerant of their scrutiny by Customs and Quarantine officers if they knew…
  • This ancient scourge, originally known as The Black Death, was brought into Europe in 1347 but it has never really died out. In 1994, five states in India suffered epidemics. In 2010, cases were reported in Peru and in the USA.

Dorothy Gauvin is the author of Conlan’s Luck, An Epic Story of the Shearers’ War. This little-known uprising of the 1890s has been called a ‘Secret Civil War.’ Scholarly texts have been published about this seminal and colourful period of Australian history, but Conlan’s Luck seems to be the only novel yet published on the subject. See more about the novel at [http://www.bestbooksfor.com/novel]

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