My Baird clan genes came fully to attention as I swung down the aisle behind a kilted bagpiper at the Scots School in Bathurst a few years ago. I was the guest speaker and it was stirring stuff! So, my dormant William Wallace rose again, sword in hand, when I read the motto of 130-year-old Scots College Sydney, ‘Brave Hearts, Bold Minds!’ This expresses their commitment to making boys’ education adventurous. I love that idea.
I knew historian Dr Hugh Chilton had been using the stories I’d recorded as ‘Australia’s Invisible History’ in his role as Director of Research and Professional Learning at Scots. So, it was great to catch up with him at the recent Evangelical History Association conference in Parramatta. He’s the Vice-President of this group of researchers who are uncovering great Australian faith stories. Here Hugh gives a window into the way he sets these to work in his classroom.
I didn’t realise that the story of a native-born piano would jump at me out of the clean-up we were doing to prepare for our Storytelling Centre in Dubbo. Octavius Beale’s masterpiece was sitting dusty and neglected in a back room and here I was, asking myself, “Do I really need that thing in here?” How ignorant! It was my colleague, OJ Rushton, who opened my eyes to this story of a unique Aussie icon.
I discovered that apart from being a traveller skilled at languages, President of the NSW Chamber of Commerce and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Beale, an Irish-born Quaker just happened to design the first piano purpose-built for Australia!
The Quakers were a small Christian sect known for building industries focussed on caring for their workers. So, it was no surprise to learn that in 1893 Octavius established Australia’s first piano factory in Sydney and grew it into the largest, not only in the southern hemisphere but also the British Empire in the early 1900s.
This weekend’s AFL indigenous round is named for Sir Douglas Nicholls. Australian Football’s webpage makes a significant comment about the champion Fitzroy footballer, “Arguably one of the most famous, and undeniably among the most important, Australians of the 20th century, Doug Nicholls' most significant accomplishments transcended football.”
What were they?
A few weeks ago, I stood in the humble weatherboard schoolhouse at Cummerugunga where a young Douglas had hidden under the floorboards for fear of the police who were taking the young girls away to the Cootamundra Girls Home. In later life, he said that Jesus’ message of forgiveness enabled him to rise above bitterness.
In July 1985, nearly 2 billion people across 150 nations joined in a rock concert. Organisers employed satellite technology to make it possible for forty percent of the world’s population to raise $127M in a phenomenal humanitarian effort to bring relief to Ethiopians dying from famine. Rock-star Bob Geldoff explained his purpose for the massive ‘Feed The World’ event. “We were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus." It's a forgotten fact however, that long before, in a less connected world, an innovative visionary in Australia had hit on this same possibility of feeding the world.
Twenty-one-year-old Englishman Thomas Mort stepped off The Superb onto the docks in Sydney Harbour in 1838, burning with the ambition to reverse his family’s financial ruin. In the space of forty years, his bold pioneering ventures had changed the face of Australia. He became one of NSW’s wealthiest men, but was never content to merely accumulate wealth. Someone summed him up as ‘perhaps Australia’s most ingenious early entrepreneur and greatest social benefactor.’
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.