When you drive streets in Maclean lined with tartan telegraph poles and hear the skirl of the bagpipes echoing in the main street, you know the town is definitely a stronghold of Australia’s Scots history. And mine for that matter. Over two million of us claim Scots ancestry – my grandchildren have the blood of the Baird, Carey, Murray and McDonald clans in their veins.
So, I spent a day or two there recently, looking under the ancestral kilt to see why big numbers of Scots moved here in the mid-1800’s. I was heartened to discover that the claim we Australians make for having one of the best lifestyles in the world, could well have been built on a bedrock of purposeful duty to God mined out of bare hills and heather half a world away in Scotland.
It seemed highly unlikely that a boy christened ‘Hyacinth’ would one day become one of the great figures in Australia’s military history. His devout Irish Catholic mother may have admired St Hyacinth as a heroic strategist who spread the Christian message from China to Scotland in the 12th century, but the name Hyacinth Honner predictably caused the quiet lad from Three Springs, 300 km North of Perth, a great deal of grief at boarding school! He swiftly resorted to using his second name, Ralph.
Hefting 180-pound wheat bags on the family farm at Dalwallinu bulked the slight, scholarly boy into an accomplished athlete at the University of Western Australia between 1923-25. In his studies in English and History, Ralph developed a deep affection for two key concepts – chivalry and the epic. These gave shape to his unshakable Catholic ideals and fired a conviction that he should live and die - with absolutely no half measures – by what he believed in. They melded into the steel that became the backbone of Ralph Honner’s career as a soldier.
A few rotting timbers are all that remain of a shipyard where the three-masted barque Royal Tar was built from local timber in 1873. I stumbled across the story walking along the Nambucca River in Northern NSW and the name rang a bell with me. It called back to mind a strange tale about an idealistic union man called William Lane recruiting bush workers in Bourke to join him in creating a Utopian settlement - in Paraguay of all places!
And here I was standing on the birthplace of the same Royal Tar that carried this Australian ‘Moses’ 10,000 km across the Pacific and round Cape Horn to build a ‘new Australia’.
We've had some pretty wild weather lately and travelling home through some heavy downpours, we decided to take time out in the town of Yass in southern NSW. It was a great opportunity to seek out a story. We headed first to the Tourist Centre, had a bit of a walk around town and then hunkered down in the local library for a while. Here's the story we discovered.
I remember being gripped when I first read Trooper Ion Idriess’ first hand accounts of the Light Horse in the Sinai desert in World War One. You can feel the breath of bullets sheering the emu feathers from his slouch hat as he and his mates galloped away under the rifle fire of the Turks. It was stirring stuff for a young bloke to absorb!
But there were mentions of something intriguing that happened to those young Australians on the long draining rides between battles. The hooves of their horses were kicking up the centuries of dust that covered adventures recorded in the Bible – in a very real sense they felt they were riding with the ghosts of Moses, Joshua and Caleb. The chaplains alongside the men became the storytellers bringing that history to life. Events that had remained locked inside a leather-bound book with gold-edging that belonged in church, suddenly became real.
Idriess told a very Australian story that happened when, led by amateur archaeologist Padre Maitland-Woods, the troopers carefully dug up the mosaic floor of an ancient church to ship back to Australia as a prize of war! The padre enthusiastically reported to the Army Records Division they’d also found the bones of a saint and got a request back asking for Trooper A. Saint’s dog tag as they had no record of him!
The Shellal mosaic is on display in the War Memorial in Canberra. It contains Jesus’ words ‘I am the True Vine’. I like to think of it as a tribute to the chaplains who brought the life of the True Vine to the young ANZAC’s. Chaplain David Garland was one of them and this is his story.
Stuart Piggin has been a professor of Australia’s Christian story in the fullest sense of the word, having professed it far and wide across the country over a lifetime. I’ve walked with him for a dozen years or more and have been proud to call him my teacher. The recent ETERNITY newspaper carried an interview where he explained the prophetic role of the historian to make this increasingly hidden story visible. “The only way the future is being shaped is by the past. I think the more you understand the past, the more you’ve got a chance of shaping the future.” The two recent volumes of research into Australia’s substantial evangelical history, done in collaboration with Robert Lindner, have gone a long way to doing just that. I’m working to mobilise storytellers to seize on their work and carry it to younger generations. READ MORE from the recent Eternity News.
Betty Cuthbert first sprinted her way into history and into Australians' hearts as an eighteen year old when she won three gold medals at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. She went on to break nine world records over short distances and was the only Olympian, male or female, to win gold in all sprinting events. Though a sprinter, she had her own marathon to face when her body began to be overtaken by multiple sclerosis in 1969. LISTEN as Paul tells something of Betty's story.
It's been a busy couple of months!
In February something dawned on me listening to John Dixon in St Phillip's church in Sydney reviving the moment when words from the Bible were read out on Australian soil for the very first time. READ MORE...
Paul tells the unknown story of our flag
Flags are symbols which mean different things to different people. Sometimes it helps to learn the stories that give them redemptive meaning - bigger than the flag itself. Here I tell a story that shows what it meant to Australians of every background who added value by their selfless service. And I unpack some hidden symbols which have added positive things to the lives of everyone in our country.
What do the Wright Brothers’ aeroplane, the Abbey and the Big Bogan, an ANZAC and an Outback Art gallery have in common? Absolutely nothing is the immediate answer. But then there is something.
Contrary to popular opinion that the backcountry is READ MORE...
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.