Friday, April 24, 2009

VIC Greats 2 - Weary Dunlop and Albert Coates

Today being Anzac Day (ignore the publication date above - here in Australia it is currently 25th April)  it is only proper that the next of our installments of our "greats" concerns persons whose greatness was forged or perhaps recognised in times of conflict. 

Weary was a giant of a man. Both in spirit and in body.  He stood 6'4".  He was one of those people who excels in so many areas of life. In addition to extraordinary academic success he played rubgy for the Wallabies (the national team) and was Melbourne University's  champion boxer.  Professionally, he was a surgeon with qualifications in Pharmacy and of course surgery.

According to his biography, Weary got his nickname at uni.  Following a tradition of initiation.. , newbies at Uni were made a sort of slave to the older students and as part of this the young men were given nicknames.  Well, with Dunlop for a surname the obvious connection is Dunlop tyres... tyres is a synonym for tires and then it's not much of a leap to get to "weary".  Obviously the name stuck and while most Aussies know Weary Dunlop as a hero, I wonder how many could tell you his proper name.

Weary Dunlop became a household name as a consequence of his war service and his leadership after the war.  Weary was in charge of "Dunlop Force" on the Thai-Burma railway as a prisoner of the Japanese where, like a number of other medical officers, he was noted for displaying the courage to stand up to their Japanese captors risking their lives fighting to improve conditions for the prisoners.  Weary however became a household name, apparently because he featured in Ray Parkin's books about his experiences as a prisoner.  

As a member of a younger generation I remember Weary from his interviews.  The media would seek him out for his opinion when some controversial matter was in the news, maybe the government was forging closer ties with Japan or whatever. Weary stood out for his leadership in encouraging Australians to forgive the horrifying events and atrocities of the war and to move forward as friends with nations who had been bitter enemies.  As a society I am sure many of us felt "well, Weary was there, Weary saw it first hand as he cared for the sick and dying and if he can forgive surely we can too. He's right, how can we maintain peace for the future if we do not forgive."

There is a memorial to weary in Benalla Victoria.  It is very moving and I will here repeat the picture I published on an earlier post.    

Just in case you can't read it, the words around the plinth are Friendship, Courage, Forgiveness. By the way, if you haven't noticed, you can click on the photo to open it in full size for a better look. Weary is the big bloke at the back supporting the emaciated POW.
Weary also had a very successful professional career, active internationally including leading humanitarian efforts in Asia.

I simply cannot do Weary justice here please read his biography on the Australian War Memorial website.

If you're really keen you can also read Weary's war diaries which were published. His biography is also worth a read.

As a young man Albert Coates enlisted as a medical orderly and served on Gallopoli.  Subsequently he transferred to the intelligence staff. After the war he completed his medical degree and established his medical career, simultaneously serving in the Army Medical Corps.   A primary means for Australia to maintain its defences has always been to have some sort of citizens militia.  Similar to todays military reserve system. 
It can be hard to appreciate today with our social welfare system and considerably greater prosperity, what was involved in achieving this sort of success in those times.  The biography linked to the title above, gives an idea of the aptitude and dedication and sheer hard work that was required.
Anyway, Albert Coates, like Weary Dunlop, served in a senior position as a prisoner of the Japanese. ITurning down a number of opportunities to avoid capture in order to stay with his patients and care for them.  Indeed he was such a person that Weary Dunlop looked upon him as an inspiration. Albert Coates has not received the widespread fame in the community that Weary knew, but he was an amazing man and I think should be better known.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

VIC Greats 1 - Alfred Deakin and John Monash

This post has come about after some discussion on Trip Advisor about Aussie top 10 destinations. Having a tendency to wander off on tangents I started to muse about great Australians and determined to come up with 10 notable personages from each State. Obviously given their longer history and larger population, and also that I am born and bred Sydneysider it has been a lot easier to come up with lists of truly greats from Victoria and NSW. Clearly I am not an expert on such matters and would welcome suggestions for others that readers might admire.

Let us start our State and National lists with Victoria. If I had to pick a State from which my heros have eminated, it would be Victoria. So lets start with a couple whom I sincerely admire....

Alfred Deakin (Politician).Deakins' is a name you trip over without necessarily having much of an idea who he was. Well I suppose the easy answer is that he was Australia’s second Prime Minister, and also the 5th and the 7th and all this in the first 10 years after Federation.
Importantly he was an important person in achieving federation at all. There are others whose names are bandied about in regard to federation (not least of which is Henry Parkes) but Deakin’s biography says that he was one who moved behind the scenes oiling the wheels of consensus without which federation may not have succeeded when it did. Deakin was so well regarded that he was appointed as Minister in governments from both sides of politics. He was what we would dream of having in Parliament today. A man of conscience, intelligence and honour, coupled with great capacity.
The story of the early Federation period is a very interesting one. If Deakin could be Prime Minister 3 times in 10 years, just consider how unstable the balance of power was in the house. If memory serves there were several camps, the protectionists, the free traders and Labor. Protectionism wasn't just about coming into the nation but trade between the various States. Colonies had in the past taken extreme measures to hinder trade between colonies. The break in gauge around the nations railroads was a considered decision believe it or not... but I digress............. During the early federation period the Government was usually a minority government and so each knew they were liable to be toppled at any time and this proved absolutely the case. Over time they came to realise that something had to be done about it, people compromised in the interests of the new nation and the “two party system" was established. If memory serves, Deakin was a key player in this too (or at least his biographer claims it for him) and the two party system provided much greater stability.
Deakin was also a legendary public speaker. The website on Prime Ministers suggests that he was perhaps the finest speaker in the first 100 years of the parliament. He was intelligent, intellectual, and immensely honourable, hence his ability to win the confidence of colleagues of all political persuasions.
Deakin was instrumental in improving the conditions for workers in factories, and the establishment of compensation for injured workers, and limitations on hours of work for women and children.
He was also responsible for setting up the irrigation schemes along the Murray after a 3 month study tour on the subject following a severe drought. Irrigation which transformed the place, though some might say the whole irrigation thing really did get out of hand in the end.
Deakin University is named for him. From the Deakin University website..
As Prime Minister, Deakin was largely responsible for building the basic national government structure by recognising the need for, and fighting to establish, institutions such as the High Court, the Public Service and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Legislation relating to immigration, trade protection, defence and labour were framed by his Government, which gained an international reputation for experiments in welfare policies and reforms in working conditions.
Deakin was highly respected and regarded throughout his public life by both sides of the political spectrum. His stature and renown led to him being offered many honours and awards, including a knighthood; however his modesty led him to refuse all these.

Yes, Alfred Deakin was a very great Australian and his achievements should be better known by us all. His tireless work for his country took a large toll on his health and he died quite young at the age of 63.

Sir John Monash (Great General - but way more than that)
John Monash. A citizen soldier and an engineer in civilian life. He was also a Jew. Anti-Semitism was of course pretty much institutionalised, and yet, John Monash overcame. Perhaps it says something that it is Monash that adorns the Australian $100 bill. Our highest currency note.
Now the term citizen soldier perhaps needs some explaining. Australia did not maintain a large standing army. Instead, the ordinary citizens around the traps joined units and trained in a sort of reserve capacity. John Monash was one such and was already an officer in this capacity before the outbreak of the Great War.
Monash landed on Gallipolli as the commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade. Positioned in what became known as Monash Gully. To cut a long story short, Monash was a very able commander. The King was known to be a firm admirer of his ability. Monash progressed through the ranks. Throughout the war the Australian and New Zealand troops were elements distributed in larger formations under British commanders. Everything I’ve read suggests that the Australians were very frustrated by this situation. We’d come a step forward from the Boer War, the British did not have disciplinary power over the Australians – (thankyou Breaker Morant and others) however we still had some maturing to do. Finally the Australians were brought together into the Australian Corps under Australian leadership. Despite some active lobbying against his appointment by certain influential persons, Monash was appointed to command.
Monash is credited with being the first to really show how to successfully coordinate the modern technologies of war and win battles decisively without the massive losses that had hitherto been suffered. The first such battle was at Le Hamel which ran to time, achieved it’s objectives and suffered few casualties. Though this was a small battle (and by the way the first action of the Americans in the Great War where they took a subsidiary role to the Aussies to show them the ropes… though Pershing was apparently none too impressed about that, and the US seems to keep quite dark about it now).
Monash went on to have some stunning victories, and was knighted in the field by the King. The King travelled to France to Monash’s headquarters to do the deed. He was also honoured by the leaders of other Allied Nations who had been at the point of despair of finding a way out of the savage blood bath of the western front. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau came to address the Australian troops in the field: "When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent".  Our battlefields guide told us that the battle of le Hamel is still taught as today as the example of "how it's done". Just have a look at the honours heaped upon Monash on the war memorial website.
Needless to say Monash was supremely popular among the troops and the Australian people at large, who were heartily sick of the wastage of lives in a war of attrition. It appears that the politicians were afraid of Monash for that reason. He was appointed to manage the repatriation of Australians, which kept him away from Australia during an election period.
What is not terribly well known among the current generations, is that there were movements afoot in the early days of the new nation where elements of the far right, including veteran commanders from the war, formed associations that seemed to have a mind to perhaps overthrow the government if they didn’t like the look of how things were going. Monash steered clear of these elements. There was more than one of these associations, but the fellow who charged in on his horse and slashed the ribbon before the Premier could at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, was a member of one such group.
Monash was very much involved in the building of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
When Monash died his funeral in Melbourne was a huge event. The biggest ever to that time with 250,000 mourners turning out.
Monash University is named for him. This stirring tribute is paid to him on the Monash University website
'Adopt as your fundamental creed that you will equip yourself for life, not solely for your own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community' -- Sir John Monash.
Sir John Monash was a famous Australian who made a contribution to almost every level of Australian life. The University is named after him, not because of his fame but because of the many and important ways in which he contributed to the community.
The motto of Monash University, Ancora Imparo ('I am still learning'), captures the essence of the achievements of Sir John the man as well as the spirit of our university.