australia

These days there aren’t many people who haven’t heard of the Santa Ana winds, the California wildfires, or this year, the burning of Australia. We hear all about how global warming is the cause of the tragic fires and loss of both vegetation and life, human and animal. I agree with the analogy that the fires in Australia are horrific, but the cause…well, that has been determined to be, not global warming, draught, or lightning, but rather arson…ARSON!! Disgusting just isn’t a big enough word for what that is.

I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to burn something…anything. You can call it a sickness, and maybe it is, but that cannot be an excuse. If we allow such an excuse, more and more people will use it, take out their frustrations on things around them, and then expect to be excused because they are “sick.” At this point, firefighters are battling wildfires across Australia. Meanwhile, the police in New South Wales have arrested dozens of people for offenses related to fires, including 24 for deliberately lighting fires and three for looting fire-ravaged communities. There is also a story saying that 183 to 200 people are suspected of “fire-related offenses since November 8th, including for ‘allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land,’ but no verification as to the exact charges being lodged.

It is sad that the most common motive for wildfire arson is crime concealment. Fires are set for the purpose of covering up a murder or burglary or to eliminate evidence left at a crime scene. Fires have also been known to be set to further social, political, or religious causes. The fire set to cover up a crime, while horrific, is at least explainable, but fires set for political, social, or religious reasons is completely disgusting. There is just no excuse for the loss of homes businesses, and lives, human and animal, that could excuse such destruction. One fire, set to cover up a crime is reasonable, though disgusting, but these are all over Australia. And while one person might be a “sick” arsonist, to find 24 to 200 “sick” arsonists, is not even possible. The other thought that makes me so mad I could scream, is that even if this is socially, politically, or religiously motivated, what is the point? What are they trying to prove? All I can say is, that I hope they find the people who did this and that they give them the maximum sentence possible. I don’t know Australian law, so I don’t know if they have the death penalty or not, but I think these people should get it, if they do. And if not, solitary confinement for the rest of their lives might…just might, be punishment enough, but I really doubt it.

These days, it seems we are all aware of what an emu is, probably due to the Liberty Mutual commercials that are out there, but in 1932 Australia, these were a nuisance bird. They were everywhere and they were not popular. In fact, they were running amok in the Campion district of Western Australia, and the public was very concerned. They had made several attempts to curb the growth of the emu population, including the Australian soldiers being armed with Lewis guns…leading the media to adopt the name “Emu War” when referring to the incident. While a number of the birds were killed, the emu population persisted and continued to cause crop destruction.

After World War I ended, the Australian government gave land to large numbers of ex-soldiers from Australia and the UK. The purpose of the gift was to take up farming within Western Australia, often in areas that had been counterproductive. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, these farmers were encouraged to increase their wheat crops. The government promised assistance in the form of subsidies, but later failed to deliver. In spite of the recommendations and the promised subsidies, wheat prices continued to fall, and by October 1932 matters were becoming critical, with the farmers preparing to harvest the season’s crops and threatening to refuse to deliver the wheat.

To make matters, the area was hit with the arrival of as many as 20,000 emus. This is apparently an annual event as the emus regularly migrate after their breeding season, heading to the coast from the inland regions. With the cleared land and additional water supplies being made available for livestock by the Western Australian farmers, the emus decided that the farmlands were a good, and closer habitat, and they began to foray into farm territory, especially in the marginal farming land around Chandler and Walgoolan. The emus began to eat and spoil the crops. In addition, they left large gaps in fences where rabbits could enter and cause further destruction.

When the farmers relayed their concerns about the birds ravaging their crops, and a group of the ex-soldiers were sent to meet with the Minister of Defense, Sir George Pearce. Something had to be done. Having served in World War I, the soldiers-turned-settlers were well aware of the effectiveness of machine guns, and they requested their deployment to fight this new enemy. The minister readily agreed, although with conditions attached: the guns were to be used by military personnel, troop transport was to be financed by the Western Australian government, and the farmers would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition. The farmers agreed and Pearce also supported the deployment on the grounds that the birds would make good target practice, while some in the government viewed the operation as a way of being seen to be helping the Western Australian farmers, as a way of staving off the secession movement that was brewing.

Sir George Pearce, who was later referred to in Parliament, as the “Minister of the Emu War” by Senator James Dunn, ordered the army to selectively thin the nuisance emu population…by large numbers. The “war” was scheduled to begin in October 1932, under the command of Major G P W Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. Meredith was supposed to use troops armed with two Lewis guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition, but the operation was delayed by a period of rainfall that caused the emus to scatter over a wider area. The rain finally stopped by November 2, 1932, and the troops were quickly deployed with orders to assist the farmers and, according to a newspaper account, to collect 100 emu skins so that their feathers could be used to make hats for light horsemen. On November 2nd, the men travelled to Campion, where some 50 emus were sighted. Unfortunately, when they got there, the birds were out of range of the guns. The local settlers attempted to herd the emus into an ambush, but the birds split into small groups and ran so that they were difficult to target. Nevertheless, while the first attack from the machine guns was ineffective due to the distance from the targets, a second round of gunfire was able to kill “a number” of birds. Later the same day, a small flock was encountered, and “perhaps a dozen” birds were killed.

The next significant event was on November 4th, when Meredith established an ambush near a local dam. More than 1,000 emus were spotted heading towards their position. This time the gunners waited until the birds were in close proximity before opening fire. The gun jammed after only twelve birds were killed and the rest scattered before any more could be shot. No more birds were sighted that day, so the decision was made to move further south, where the birds were “reported to be fairly tame.” The group had only limited success in spite of Meredith’s efforts. As the pursuit continued, it became apparent that “each pack seemed to have its own leader now…a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction and warns them of our approach.” In desperation, Meredith even went so far as to mount one of the guns on a truck. He was still ineffective, as the truck was unable to gain on the birds, and the ride was so rough that the gunner was unable to fire any shots, even if they had been able to get close. By November 8th, six days after the first attack, 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fired. The number of birds killed is uncertain. One account estimates that it was 50 birds, but other accounts range from 200 to 500, the latter figure being provided by the settlers. Meredith’s official reported that there were no casualties among the men.

Summarizing the operation, ornithologist Dominic Serventy commented, “The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month. On 8 November, members in the Australian House of Representatives discussed the operation. Following the negative coverage of the events in the local media, that included claims that “only a few” emus had died, Pearce withdrew the military personnel and the guns on 8 November.”

After the “Emu War” was over, Meredith compared the emus to Zulus and commented on the striking maneuverability of the emus, even while badly wounded. After the withdrawal of the military, the emu attacks on crops continued. Farmers again asked for support, citing the hot weather and drought that brought emus invading farms in the thousands. James Mitchell, the Premier of Western Australia lent his strong support to renewal of the military assistance. At the same time, a report from the Base Commander was issued that indicated 300 emus had been killed in the initial operation.

The killing continued periodically, with similar results. The Emu was just too fast, too aware, or too “lucky,” to be caught or killed. By December 1932, word of the Emu War had spread, reaching the United Kingdom. Conservationists protested the cull as “extermination of the rare emu”. Dominic Serventy and Hubert Whittell, the eminent Australian ornithologists, described the “war” as “an attempt at the mass destruction of the birds”. Throughout 1930 and onward, the farmers tried exclusion barrier fencing as a means of keeping emus out of agricultural areas (in addition to other vermin, such as dingoes and rabbits). In November 1950, Hugh Leslie raised the issues of emus in federal parliament and urged Army Minister Josiah Francis to release a quantity of .303 ammunition from the army for the use of farmers. The minister approved the release of 500,000 rounds of ammunition. The emu continues to thrive today.

As nations grow in size, population, or power, many no longer want to be under the rule of another nation, even one that helped get them to where they are, and even one that has owned their land for years. It is something we, as Americans can’t really fathom, considering that we fought the Revolutionary War to leave British rule.

The decision was very different for Australia on November 6, 1999. Treasurer Wayne Swan and senior opposition figure Malcolm Turnbull, who once was Australia’s Republican Movement president, came together in the capital Canberra on the prior Monday to launch a book of essays called ‘Project Republic: Plans and Arguments for a New Australia’. Mr Turnbull, who sits on the front bench for the conservative opposition, described this latest push as “simply, purely patriotic” and called for an ‘interactive plebiscite’ to use cyberspace to better inform Australians of the issues surrounding constitutional change.

As it was, many feared the change, and the work and uncertainty that could accompany it. Still others, like being a part of the monarchy. “Many argue that the sexy celebrity status of William and Kate will sweep all before it and their star quality will revive the monarchy in Australia. I don’t think so,” Turnbull writes. “They will certainly be far more interesting and telegenic than Charles and Camilla – but I am not convinced that will translate into enhanced support for William (or indeed Charles) remaining our head of state.” His opinions aside, the people of Australia voted and decided that they just weren’t ready, and quite possibly they never would be ready to walk away from the British Monarchy. That actually happened in America too, because while the overwhelming number of citizens wanted to go for independence, there were those who did not.

In Australia, it didn’t appear that the situation would have come to war, as it had in America, but one never really knows what can trigger a war of this type. I guess that in the case of Australia, if they are tired of the Queens rule, they have chosen to wait and see what the future ruling parties might bring. If they don’t like the outcome, they could always choose to break away at a later date.

The Swamp Ghost began its very short career on December 6, 1941, one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Swamp Ghost started out as B-17 Flying Fortress, 41-2446 (which is not a tail number, and indicated that the plane was a new purchase) and under that number it was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). Eleven days later, the bomber departed California for Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The plane and her crew were based at Wheeler Field in Wahiawa for a very short time, and flew patrol missions for the Navy until February 1942, when the Japanese Troops invaded Rabaul on New Britain and established a base. Of course, this was a threat to the rest of New Guinea and Australia. In response to the invasion, 41-2446 was ordered to Garbutt Field, Townsville, in Queensland, Australia. Swamp Ghost’s crew included Pilot Captain Frederick C. “Fred” Eaton, Co-Pilot Captain Henry M. “Hotfoot” Harlow, Navigator 1st Lieutenant George B. Munroe Jr, Bombardier Sergeant J.J. Trelia, Flight Engineer Technical Sergeant Clarence A. LeMieux, Radio Operator/Gunner Sergeant Howard A. Sorensen, Waist Gunner Sergeant William E. Schwartz, Waist Gunner Technical Sergeant Russell Crawford, and Tail Gunner Staff Sergeant John V. Hall. The only crew change would be Sergeant Richard Oliver, who replaced Bombardier Trelia after he became ill.

Because of the B-17’s long flying range, the Japanese control of Wake Island and Guam, and the Vichy government’s armistice with the Nazi government, 41-2446 island hopped nearly 5,700 detour miles to get to Townsville. They didn’t want to take a chance on running into enemy fighters, if they could help it. On February 22, 1942, nine B-17Es of the 19th Bombing Group were scheduled to take off for Rabaul. Unfortunately, this mission seemed doomed from the start, as nothing would go quite as planned. Out of the nine aircraft, four had to completely abort the mission due to mechanical problems. To further complicate matters, bad weather conditions made it difficult to see up in the air for those who were able to takeoff. Finally, poor visibility separated the five remaining in flight.

I would like to say that was all the problems they ran into, but there’s more. When 41-2446 was to drop its payload, the bomb bay malfunctioned. The crew had to go around for a second pass, where they managed a clear drop over their target. The Japanese were working hard to make this mission fail too. Japanese fire was intense and a flak round managed to punch a hole through the starboard wing of 41-2556. Fortunately for the crew, the wing didn’t detonate. While the crew hoped to make it to Fort Moresby, they were low on fuel. The dog-fight, had seen to that. They would have to land in New Guinea.

Captain Fred Eaton thought he was setting down the bomber in a wheat field, however, they actually landed wheels-up in the middle of Agaiambo swamp. The only good news in this horrific failure of a mission was that the crew was unscathed, except for one with minor cuts and scrapes. Now, they still had to get out of the swamp. It took two days of hacking their way through the razor-sharp kunai grass for the men to reach dry land. They ran into some locals who were chopping wood. The locals took them, horribly bitten by mosquitos and infected with malaria, to their village. After a night of rest, they traveled downriver in canoes, where they were handed over to an Australian magistrate, and eventually arrived at Port Moresby on April 1…thirty six days after their crash. After a week in the hospital, the men returned to combat, but their plane did not. After 41-2446’s crash, Captain Fred Eaton flew 60 more missions. Whenever these missions would take him over the crash site, he would circle it and tell his new crewmembers the story of what happened. I suppose it was therapeutic to re-live the amazing escape from the Agaiambo swamp. This was where the plane’s legend was born. After Eaton returned home, 41-2446 slipped from the public eye for nearly three decades.

Then, in 1972, some Australian soldiers happened upon the crash. After spotting the wreckage from a helicopter, they landed on the aircraft’s wing and found the plane semi-submerged, and strangely intact. The machine guns were in place, and even the coffee thermoses were intact. They nicknamed the plane, Swamp Ghost, and the name stuck. Thanks to warbird collector Charles Darby who included dozens of photographs in his book, Pacific Aircraft Wrecks, word spread in 1979 . Once the fad of recovering World War II aircraft really took off. Trekkers hiked into the site and began stripping the aircraft for keepsakes and sellable items. Despite the stripping, the aircraft structure itself remained remarkably intact, until it was removed from the swamp.

Alfred Hagen, a pilot and commercial builder from Pennsylvania, set his sights on Swamp Ghost and wanted to take it free it from the disintegration of the swamp. In November 2005, he obtained an export permit for the B-17 for $100,000. For four weeks they labored over the aircraft, dismantling it in order to ship it out of the country. The controversy over its removal halted the cargo before it could be shipped to the United States. Eventually, it was cleared for import and by February 2010 it arrived at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor for display.

In the midst of World War II, February 1942, to be more exact, the Japanese fleet gave the combined Dutch-American-Australian-British fleet a beating that almost wiped them out completely, during the Battle of the Java Sea. The defeat brought about the Japanese occupation of the entire Netherlands East Indies. After the battle ended, only four Dutch warships were left in the Dutch East Indies. They knew there was no way they would be able to take down the Japanese fleet by themselves, so they decided to try to escape to Australia. The failed attempt left three of the four ships sunk, and one in hiding. The problem they had, was that the seas were full of warships and the skies were swarming with Japanese planes. It was going to be virtually impossible to sail the 1,000 miles of ocean to safety. The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, which was the last ship, had a big problem, for which they found a crazy solution.

The HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen was a slow-moving minesweeper vessel that could get up to about 15 knots. It also had very few guns…a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20mm cannons…making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above. The secret weapon of the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, however, was it’s captain, who came up with a crazy scheme to disguise the ship as a small island. The Abraham Crijnssen was a relatively small ship, but it was still a big object, measuring approximately 180 feet long and 25 feet wide. The crew used foliage from island vegetation and gray paint to make the ship’s hull look like rock faces. They figured that it was better to be a camouflaged ship in deep trouble, than a completely exposed ship. Still, logic said that the Japanese would probably notice a mysterious moving island, and they might wonder what would happen if they shot at it. So,the plan came about that during the day, they would not move…thereby actually becoming an island.

Moving only at night, the ship was able to blend in with the thousands of other tiny islands around Indonesia, and miraculously the Japanese didn’t notice the moving island. The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces, and fought with the Allies until the end of the war. During those years of service under the Australian Navy flag, Abraham Crijnssen detected a submarine, while escorting a convoy to Sydney through the Bass Strait, on 26th of January 1943. Along with the Australian HMAS Bundaberg, they depth charged the submarine. No wreckage of the submarine was found, nor was the kill confirmed, but the ex-minesweeper Abraham Crijnssen suffered some damage due to hastily released depth charges. Several fittings and pipes were damaged, and all of her centerline had to be replaced during a week-long-dry docking. After this incident, the ship was returned to Royal Netherlands Navy service on May 5, 1943, spending the rest of the war in Australian waters. Abraham Crijnssen ended its WWII career just like the ship started it, as a minesweeper that was responsible for clearing mines in Kupang Harbor before the arrival of an RAN force to accept the Japanese surrender of Timor.

The reasons that Britain decided to start a Penal Colony at Botany Bay, Australia are not fully agreed upon. Some say that that there were deeper motives than just a place to house their criminals. The soil at Botany Bay was perfect for growing flax. I suppose that the prisoners would need to be doing some kind of work as penance for their crimes. Nevertheless, Britain would be making a profit from the flax that was produced thee, and the bay was perfect for a port, which would be necessary to assist with trade. All in all, Botany Bay seemed like the best option for a penal colony for Britain, so the plans were put in place, and before long the penal colony became a reality.

When Governor Phillip arrived in 1788, he asked for carpenters, masons, bricklayers to help set up the colony, along with many tools of the trades. In January of 1788, the first 736 convicts banished from England to Australia arrived in Botany Bay. Over the next 60 years, approximately 50,000 criminals were transported from Great Britain to the Botany Bay in one of the strangest episodes in criminal-justice history. I think many of us have thought that some criminals should be place on a deserted island, but Britain basically did just that…with every criminal, it seems.

The accepted wisdom of the upper and ruling classes in 18th century England was that criminals were inherently defective. They did not believe criminals could be rehabilitated and that they simply required separation from the genetically pure, law-abiding citizens. Consequently, lawbreakers had to be either killed or exiled, because prisons were too expensive, and they criminals were not worth the money. With the American victory in the Revolutionary War, transgressors could no longer be shipped off across the Atlantic, so the English had to look for a colony in some other direction.

Captain Arthur Phillip, a tough but fair career naval officer, was charged with setting up the first penal colony in Australia. The convicts were chained beneath the deck during the entire hellish six-month voyage. The first voyage claimed the lives of nearly 10 percent of the prisoners, which remarkably proved to be a rather good rate. On later trips, up to a third of the unwilling passengers died on the way. These were not hardened criminals by any measure; only a small minority were transported for violent offenses. Among the first group was a 70-year-old woman who had stolen cheese to eat.

Although not confined behind bars, most convicts in Australia had an extremely tough life. The guards who volunteered for duty in Australia seemed to be driven by exceptional sadism. Even small violations of the rules could result in a punishment of 100 lashes with a whip. It was said that blood was usually drawn after five lashes, but they didn’t stop there. Convicts usually ended up walking home in boots filled with their own blood, if they could walk at all. Convicts who attempted to escape were sent to tiny Norfolk Island, 600 miles east of Australia. The conditions there were even more inhumane. The only hope of escape from the horror of Norfolk Island was a “game” in which groups of three prisoners drew straws. The short straw was killed as painlessly as possible and a judge was then shipped in to put the other two on trial, one playing the role of killer, the other as witness. I guess the only hope of escape was, in reality, death. There were no second chances for them.

imageWhen most of us think of a space station, we think of the International Space Station that exists today, but in reality, that is not the first space station that ever floated above our atmosphere. The first one was a small space station called Skylab 1, The idea of a space station and crew to live and work in space was one that was tossed around for years. It was finally realized and launched into space on May 14, 1973, but this was not to be a mission without any issues.

Just 63 seconds into the launch, a meteoroid shield that was supposed to shelter Skylab accidentally opened. This put Skylab 1 at serious risk. Later the facility experienced communications problems with the antenna as a direct result of the launch incident. Nevertheless, as problems go, this was the least of the agency’s worries. “When the meteoroid shield ripped loose, it disturbed the mounting of workshop solar array wing No. 2 and caused it to partially deploy. The exhaust plume of the second stage retro-rockets impacted the partially deployed solar array and literally blew it into space,” NASA wrote.

NASA scrambled to stabilize the space station and take necessary measures to minimize the posibility of overheating, as well as, figuring out a way to handle its reduced power situation. The first crew, which was led by Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad, would need to make the station habitable before they could get to work. The crew’s first job, which took place during the spacewalk, just hours after launch, was to deploy the solar array, but that didn’t work, because the metal strip holding it is place, refused to release. The crews continued to be frustrated with this and other operations problems, before finally managing to make the space station work relatively well.

Skylab spent six years orbiting Earth until its decaying orbit caused it to re-enter the atmosphere. It scattered debris over the Indian Ocean and sparsely settled areas of Western Australia. In all, three crews successfully lived on board the station for several months each. The last crew spent 84 days in orbit. This was an an American record that stood until the shuttle era.

I’m sure that, looking back on those years now, NASA must have felt like it had been living in the stone age. With the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, going into space in earlier days was rather archaic. Of course, with the end of the Space Shuttle era, we don’t know what the face of space travel will be in the imagefuture. Only time will tell. Nevertheless, in 1973, we were well ahead of the rest of the world with the first space station, no matter how archaic it was.

Because of multiple problems experienced by Skylab 1, the space station’s orbit decayed faster than expected. This was mostly due to intense solar activity heating up Earth’s atmosphere. Soon, NASA knew that it was inevitable that the space station would come down. They adjusted the station as much as possible so it wouldn’t hit populated areas upon re-entering on July 11, 1979. A slight mathmatical error led to pieces falling in Australia, but fortunately nobody was hurt, and thankfully that was not the end of the space stations.

Prince George 3It’s been a fast year in the royal family. Little Prince George has wowed everyone he met. He is a sweet little boy who’s parents’ hands on style has proven to be pretty perfect for bringing up a happy and well mannered little prince. Every time I see his little smile I have to smile too. He is just so cute. We all knew that his handsome parents would produce a handsome little boy, and we were not disappointed. Prince George did not come home to the palace after his birth, but rather went to visit he mother’s family for a time…a very unusual event, and one that the royals really didn’t like. I suppose that like all grandparents, they worried, but this family worried about Prince George’s safety. He was, after all, a very famous boy…even before he was born, and that makes for possible threats to his safety. Nevertheless, while security was high outside, the family had their privacy inside.

Prince George is already a world traveler, having traveled to New Zealand and Australia with Prince George 2his parents at just 9 months of age…one of the youngest princes to travel abroad. Something that not everyone can say they did in their first year, but then Prince George is a special boy. He is the future king of England, behind his grandfather and his dad. He has many things to learn, and there is no time like the present to begin. He will be expected to act in a certain way, and smile even when he doesn’t feel like it. He will be expected to be at least tolerant of
the press, and if he is like his parents, he will do so with winning style. He will host many events himself, such as the opportunity he had recently, to have a play dates with some children at the residence of the Queen…who was away at the time. Not everyone could get away with that, but then Prince George holds a special place in the heart of the Queen. I don’t say he could get away with just anything with her, but maybe more than most kids could.

While he is still a baby, Prince George will soon have royal obligations like all the other royal SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 20:  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge holds Prince George of Cambridge as Prince William, Duke of Cambridge looks on whilst meeting a Bilby called George at Taronga Zoo on April 20, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, the first official trip overseas with their son, Prince George of Cambridge.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)family members. When you are a royal, people expect you to make appearances at different has a lot learn, but he has a while for that yet. Right now, all Prince George needs to do is show us the cute little faces he makes, and we’ll be satisfied. It’s always a bit sad to realize that before we know it Prince George…like all babies with grow up and those baby days will be long gone, but for now, we can enjoy his smiley face for a little while longer. In the years to come, Prince George will be an integral part of the royal family and their face to the world, but for now, he is very much a little boy, and I hope he gets some time to be just a little boy. Happy 1st birthday Prince George…my 18th cousin twice removed!!

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