November 11, 1975 — The Whitlam government is dismissed by the Governor-General

On November 11, 1975, then Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the ALP government of Gough Whitlam and installed Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser (of the Liberal Party) as a caretaker Prime Minister until a double dissolution election could be held.

The precipitate cause was the inability of the ALP government to pass Supply (Budget) bills in the face of a hostile Senate. However, Whitlam, unaware of Kerr’s decision when they arranged to meet that morning, had planned to call a half-Senate election, which would likely have solved that particular problem. Kerr, however, had already made his decision. While, under the Australian Constitution, he had the legal power to take this action, he was widely seen as lacking the moral authority.

The double dissolution election was held on December 13, 1975, and delivered a massive victory to Fraser, allowing him to govern in earnest. (Under the terms of his caretakership, he had not been permitted to introduce any legislation other than passing Supply bills and calling the election.) Ironically, December 13 is also when Whitlam’s planned half-Senate election would have taken place.

November 11, 1880 — Ned Kelly hung in Melbourne

Ned Kelly was the most famous of the Australian bushrangers, and perhaps the greatest. He was smart, articulate and a skilled criminal. It was only his weariness at life on the run that had trapped him at Glenrowan. But once he was trapped – and the other three members of his gang killed – Kelly surrendered to the police with every evidence of good humour, for all that everyone knew that the court’s verdict was a foregone conclusion.

On the day of his execution, he reportedly muttered the immortal last words “Such is life”, which became one of the greatest maxims of Australian stoicism. A pity then that the exit line was invented by a journalist – the hangman and others close enough to actually hear Kelly swore he never said those words. Most historians have printed the legend.

Ned Kelly in 1880

As mentioned in:

Gough — The Whitlams

November 11, 1869 — “An Act to provide for the Protection and Management of the Aboriginal Natives of Victoria” is presented to the Victorian Parliament

The first legal attempt to codify the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was largely an attempt to give the government more or less complete control over their lives. It was guided by Christian ideals, misunderstandings of Darwin’s theories and economic imperatives to varying degrees. It was, in modern terms, racist af.

It would be followed by similar laws in other states and territories, then federally. Until 1967, the native peoples of Australia were, legally speaking, defined as native fauna rather than humans.

The most infamous provision of the act was to allow for children – especially children who were not full-blooded natives – to be removed from their parents, so that they could be integrated into white society (as servants, of course) for their own good. The children removed – and this policy went on for decades, with removals still taking place more than a century after 1869 – would become known as the Stolen Generations. It was done in the name of a larger, predominately white society that had little or no idea it was happening until the early 1980’s.

In a colonial history as replete with shameful episodes as any other, this is one of the most shameful, and accordingly, the Prime Minister of Australia formally apologised for it in Parliament on February 13, 2008, and compensation has been paid to some of the victims and their families. Scant recompense for the pain caused, but better than nothing.