11 November in Australian history

Danny Cusack

an historian remembers

It is strange how some dates seem to take on a special almost talismanic quality. 11 November is a prime example. 

Eureka Flag

1854:   Foundation of the Goldfields Reform League at Ballarat in the lead up to the Eureka Rebellion.

1869: Aboriginal Protection Act enacted in Victoria restricting the movement, residence and marriages of Aboriginal people. As historian Clare Wright says, it is an event too readily forgotten in Australian history.

From Museum of Australian Democracy

Ned Kelly

1880:   The hanging of Ned Kelly at Melbourne Jail.

1918:   Armistice Day signifying an end to World War I

Hugh Mahon

1920:    The infamous expulsion of Hugh Mahon, Irish-born Labor MP for Kalgoorlie, from the House of Representatives for “disloyal and seditious utterances” after he had supposedly made reference to “this bloody and accursed Empire” at a public meeting in Melbourne held two weeks previously to protest the death on hunger strike in Brixton Prison of Terence McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork.

Gough Whitlam

1975:    The sacking of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-General John Kerr.

With the exception of the Whitlam sacking all of these events had obvious Irish resonances.

And here are a few extra 11 Novembers of my own, readily recalled if only because I happened to be present:

Judy Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics (LaTrobe University)

1998:    Dr Judith Brett, newly arrived from Melbourne to take up her term as Professor of Australian History at University College Dublin (UCD), delivered her inaugural lecture in the History Department boardroom K114 on the rise of Pauline Hanson and One Nation in Australia.

2000:    Commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Mahon’s expulsion from the Federal Parliament with a talk by Danny Cusack in the boardroom of the Irish Club at Subiaco in Perth. And later that evening in the main bar/lounge of that same establishment a major commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Whitlam sacking organised by Allanah MacTiernan MLA [now an MLC and minister in the West Australian Labor Government]

Captrain Francis de Groot unceremoniously severs the ribbon.

2003:   Guest lecture by visiting Sydney-based historian Andrew Moore in the aforementioned board-room of the History Department at UCD on the Irish-born New Guarder Captain Francis de Groot who, mounted on a horse, cut with a flourish of his sword the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932, thus upstaging NSW Premier Jack Lang. Moore wondered aloud as to the fate of that sword.

Present in the audience was Gearóid Kilgallen (past president of the Australian-Irish Association, a frequent visitor to Australia and well known to many Australians in both Ireland and Australia). During question time Gearóid revealed that he had once met de Groot in an antique store in Dublin which the Captain ran after his return from Australia. Gearóid’s contribution was promptly trumped by an elderly gentleman who piped up to announce that he was de Groot’s nephew* – and that he had possession of his uncle’s sword!

* Frank de Groot of Bray, Co. Wicklow died 15 April 2014

Senator Patrick Lynch. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Common.s

2014:   Lecture by Danny Cusack on Hugh Mahon and fellow Irish-born West Australian Federal MP Senator Paddy Lynch in the exact same location at UCD, the lecturer having deliberately chosen the date of 11 November for his presentation because of its significance. In his introduction that day he briefly explained the significance and related the episode that had occurred eleven years previously.

Danny Cusack is an Australian freelance historian who has lived and worked in Dublin and Meath for almost three decades.

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