It was on his first voyage of discovery that Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour, sighted the eastern coast of Australia. A man aloft in the crows nest, one Lieutenant Zachary Hickes, made the first sighting, which Cook repaid by naming Point Hicks (spelling was not, apparently, one of Cook’s many talents). But although they saw evidence of the natives of this new land – the smoke of numerous campfires, mostly – it was not until four days later that first contact was made between the Englishmen and Australian Natives. (Specifically, members of the Gweagal people, who dwelt on the shores of Botany Bay around modern Kurnell.)
Perhaps setting a template for future interactions between blacks and whites in Australia, the contact was hostile, although no one was killed. The scientists on the crew, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, gathered specimens, primarily botanical (hence the name given to the bay where they landed), to take back to England. Cook and his crew continued on their way after spending a week or so in Botany Bay, taking home news that would eventually spell the doom of the Gweagal and a great many of their relatives.
By the time Ned Kelly was finally brought down by the police, not long after dawn on the 28th of June, the bushranger had to know it was all over for him. The other three members of his gang lay dead inside the hotel at Glenrowan where they had holed up, and he himself was bleeding from several injuries and running low on ammunition. He was cut off from any possible support or escape – but there’s a reason why we Australians have the expression ‘as game as Ned Kelly’.
Kelly made the police fight to the very last – whether he was trying to get himself killed or simply incapable of giving up we will never know, but what is certain is that Kelly surrendered only when physically overpowered. Police accounts say that he was surprisingly good-humoured after his capture, and that jokes were exchanged between men who had, an hour earlier, been trying to kill each other in a foggy Glenrowan morning. Such is life, I suppose.
Despite his long list of charges, Ned Kelly was convicted of only one capital crime: the murder of Constable Lonigan at Stringybark Creek, two years and two days earlier. However, a single conviction for murder still carried the death penalty, and Judge Redmond Barry wasted no time in pronouncing it, ending with the traditional “…and may God have mercy upon your soul.”
Kelly would have none of that, and his response was chilling: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” Kelly was hung on November 11, 1880. Redmond Barry died of a sudden illness on November 23, 1880. It is not known whether the two saw each other afterwards as Kelly had promised.
Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent is perhaps the best known – and most notorious – of the various travelling outback boxing shows that once went from town to town in Australia. It put on displays of bare-knuckle boxing as well as occasional bouts where locals could try their luck against the professional boxers.
It was a brutal sport, and often exploitative – but it was also one of the few ways a black man could make a living, albeit a dangerous one that might leave you maimed. The outback boxing circuit flourished for a few decades, but it largely faded away by the time of World War Two.
One of the greatest of Australian painters, Albert Namitjira was 36 when his first solo show opened. It ran for about a week, at a gallery in Melbourne – far away from the rugged landscapes of the Flinders Ranges that Namitjira loved to paint. It was the first solo show by a painter of indigenous origin in Australian history, and it was a harbinger of bigger and better things to come.
Namitjira’s work blended European painting styles with the artistic traditions of his people, in a harmonious blend that showed Australians of all kinds a new way to look at their country. (And its gum trees. Namitjira loved to paint gum trees.) He died in 1959, mourned by a nation and after a too-short career that changed Australian art like no painter before or since has done.