Who are the Black Heathens?

Residents of the mountain town of Blackheath are known as Blackheathans, but who were the Black Heathens?

Black Heathens are the original inhabitants of what is now called Blackheath. They are black, and they were heathens, and belonged to two main language groups; the Gundungurra and the Darug (Dharug, Daruk)

The small town lies in the Upper Blue Mountains about two hours west of Sydney, Australia, and is surrounded by bushland and national parks. It is famous for its annual Rhododendron festival and as a base for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and nature lovers.

The original inhabitants are black and they were heathens because they did not follow Christianity or another major religion. Most Aboriginal Australians became Christians because the church was complicit in the colonisation of the country.

Historical research reveals very little information about the original inhabitants, and this is due to historical bias and climate.

Australian history is extremely biased. Indigenous Australians have been ignored or stigmatised in official accounts since the 1700s, and stories of Blackheath are no different. Mountains of information detail the actions of explorers, governors, engineers and landowners and their role in establishing the town that exists today. In contrast, descriptions of the Gundungurra and Darug are very limited.

We discover that a site now known as Walls Cave is of significance to Aboriginal people. Researchers found a buried fireplace in the cave and dated it at about a thousand years old, and uncovered a buried hearth which is said to be approximately ten thousand years old.

The site is divided into areas for men and women. The area along the ridge is apparently a special zone for men, while women were responsible for the area closer to the water. At both sites, traditional knowledge was passed from one generation to the next.

Aboriginal people occupied the site because of its reliable water supply, abundance of food and plants and effective shelter. It is also a comparatively easy access point to what is now referred to as the Grose Valley to the east, and the Kanimbla and Megalong valleys to the west.

At the time of writing, the walking track to Walls Cave was closed due to flood damage.

Apart from the aforementioned references, Aboriginal people are only acknowledged to as a threat to explorers and workers on the roads and train lines that were built during the 1800s.

The climate is another reason for the scarcity of knowledge of the original inhabitants.

Blackheath sits at just over 1000m altitude and is famed for its relatively extreme weather. Numerous visitors who ventured west from Sydney referred to it as wind swept, icy, bleak, dismal and cold, and it is known colloquially as Bleakheath. For this reason, it is thought that the Darug and Gundungurra people spent more time in the valleys which lie below the escarpment and offer a more temperate climate.

The Gundungurra and the Darug are the Black Heathens and the original Blackheathans.

Bondi Beach closed to the public?

Bondi Beach was once almost closed to the public, and it had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia’s most famous beach was nearly lost to the public as far back as the 1880s.

Bondi Beach did close for a period of time in 2020 when many public spaces throughout Sydney were closed, and after hundreds of people flocked to the beach during warm autumn weekends despite requests from health authorities to stay at home and stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The last time Bondi and nearby beaches had been hidden behind wire fences was during WWII. The mere notion of closing a beach incensed many Eastern Suburbs locals and fellow Sydneysiders, who regard beaches as an egalitarian sanctuary and a birth right to all Australians.

Their fierce reaction to the COVID closures reflects their emotional attachment to sand and surf. These feelings are put in context when considering that not even WWII closed Bondi. Military fortifications such as barbed wire, concrete tank traps, wire coils and iron stakes were installed on the golden sands, but swimming was still permitted. Swimmers at Bondi did have to negotiate a wire maze which was nicknamed the ‘rat run’, but they were not banned from entering the water in the 1940s as they were during autumn 2020.

Many swimmers must have regretted their decision to take a dip during the war, because Japanese submarines later breached a defence boom and launched bombs which exploded at Bondi, Rose Bay and Woollahra. Many swimmers were also rushed to Bondi Beach Public School first aid post to be treated for cuts and bruises.

Temporary closure

Short-term closures are not uncommon at Bondi. In August 2018 the beach was closed after the body of a whale calf washed ashore and had to be removed. The presence of the whale calf also increased the risk of shark activity and the sighting of the ocean’s apex predator will often close beaches.

Bondi lifeguards are cognisant of the dangers of big swells and strong currents after five people drowned and hundreds had to be rescued on February 6, 1938, which has since been known as Black Sunday.

Permanent closure

Whale carcasses, shark sightings and dangerous surf have closed Bondi Beach temporarily, but not permanently. A permanent closure almost came into effect in the 1880s.

The land around Bondi Beach was originally granted to road builder William Roberts as far back as 1809. In those days, Bondi was far from a tourist haven and an exclusive Sydney suburb. Limited access and transport meant that very few people ventured to the beach. Even in 1851, the beach was still sat a long way from the city, so Edward Hall and Francis O’Brien were able to purchase 200 acres in Bondi which encompassed most of the beach frontage. Modern-day Sydneysiders would die for such water views. The new owners named the land ‘The Bondi Estate’.

Perhaps this is the first recorded evidence of ‘Brand Bondi’

Between 1855 and 1877, O’Brien began buying sections of the estate from Hall, who was his father-in-law. Soon, O’Brien owned all of the land and renamed the area ‘O’Brien Estate’. Initially, the new owner was happy to share the property and the beach with the public and it became popular as a picnic ground and an amusement resort.

Then problems arose.

O’Brien felt that the beach and the surrounding area were becoming too popular and he threatened to stop public beach access. After much discussion among the people of Sydney, the Municipal Council contacted the government with the message that the beach must remain open to the public. As a result, Bondi Beach became a public beach on June 9, 1882.

The public were allowed to enjoy the beach, but it didn’t mean they would swim. In fact, daylight bathing was considered immoral and scandalous behaviour until the ban was lifted in 1903, and Bondi Surf Club was not established until 1906.

Since the tramway to the beach was completed in 1884, visitor numbers have increased year after year and Bondi is undoubtedly the most visited beach in the country. In 1929 it is estimated that 60,000 people were visiting the beach on any given Saturday or Sunday in summer.

Interestingly, Waverley Council currently faces another challenge to keep the entire beach open to the public. A business groups wants to establish a private, European-style beach club at one section of the beach in 2021, which would charge about $AU80 per person for entry.

While the private club would restrict entry to only about 2% of the famous stretch of sand, the proposal has divided opinion among Bondi locals and Sydneysiders. Some people believe the club will boost the local economy and add vibrancy to the space after the restrictions of COVID-19, while others claim that forcing people to pay to go to a beach is simply ‘UnAustralian’.

Sydneysiders will soon find out if they must once again fight to keep Bondi beach open.

Image: http://www.timeout.com

A Century in Three Overs.

Sir Don Bradman is famous for many amazing achievements. He is regarded by many as the greatest batsman of all time and finished his career with an average of 99.9 runs.

One of his lesser known, but still impressive achievements, is the century he scored in just 3 overs, off only 22 balls.

Bradman scored the unfathomable century at Blackheath Oval in November 2, 1931. Was it the fresh mountain air, the 1000m altitude or the kookaburras cheering him on from the pine trees surrounding the oval? Who knows, but either way it a was a remarkable innings.

Bradman recorded the following figures on the way to his century:

1st Over 6 6 4 2 4 4 6 1 (33)
2nd Over 6 4 4 6 6 4 6 4 (40)
3rd Over 1 6 6 1 1 4 4 6 (27) & 2 to Wendell-Bill.

It was very kind of Bradman to let his batting partner, Oscar Wendell-Bill, score some runs during the blitz. It’s also surprising that he recorded two singles during the century, and that he was not on strike for the first or fifth ball of the third over.

The world-record innings was not scored while playing in the baggy green. It was reached while representing a Blackheath XI against a Lithgow XI to commemorate the opening of the Blackheath wicket. In total, Bradman made 256 including 14 sixes and 29 fours, despite renowned bowler Bill Black being introduced into the attack.

Not only was the century the fastest in history, it was also witnessed by a crowd so large it is unlikely to have been matched since. The young boys among that crowd had come to see the great man play and were also employed to retrieve the ball from the road, people’s backyards and the pine trees after Bradman had dispatched yet another boundary. The collection of the ball is included in the 18 minutes that it reportedly took for Sir Don to reach his ton.

After the game, Bradman wrote about the innings with the humility that was as famous as his sporting talent, saying,

‘It is important I think to emphasise that the thing was not planned. It happened purely by accident and everyone was surprised at the outcome, none more so than I.’

Obviously Blackheath Oval is relatively small and the boundary fence may not measure the same diameter as the MCG or Lords. Bradman was not facing a rampaging Harold Larwood, nor Dennis Lillee or Sir Richard Hadlee. He was instead battling the bowling attack of the Lithgow XI.

Furthermore, he had a little assistance not available to modern day cricketers. He faced overs of eight balls, so over the space of three overs he had an extra six balls in which to compile the ton. That said, he still reached a hundred within the modern-day 3 overs.

Could it be repeated?

Perhaps it has been, somewhere. Perhaps in a game of grade cricket somewhere in the world.

In first-class cricket, the fastest century belongs to David Hookes. The Australian hit 102 runs off 34 balls while playing for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match against Victoria back in 1982. Even in T20 cricket, which was created solely for big hitting and boundaries, the fastest hundred is still slower than Bradman’s Blackheath best. Indian batsman Rohit Sharma scored 100 from 35 balls against Sri Lanka in 2017.

Technically it is possible.

A batter could score 102 runs within 17 balls, then hit a six off the 18th ball just to rub it in to the bowler. It would be a remarkable feat, requiring skill, audacity, timing, power, technique and perfect footwork, all of the traits which distinguished Sir Don Bradman.

This feat, and many other which accompanied Sir Don, does make one ponder…do today’s cricket coaches give kids a golf ball and a cricket stump, and instructions to hit the ball against a water tank for hours on end?

Image: Alessandro Bogliari

Shot by His Own Camel.

John Ainsworth Horrocks died from a gun wound caused by his camel, and despite other notable deeds during his life, this is how he shall always be remembered.

The pastoralist and explorer hadn’t offended the camel in any particular way, apart from loading it with supplies on the long and arduous trek into the unforgiving landscape of northern South Australia in 1846. It was in fact the first camel to be introduced to Australia and is often cited a proof that Horrocks pioneered the use of animals for the exploration of the country.

Horrocks had long regarded the camel as temperamental and obstinate, as it was said to be constantly biting people and other animals, but he had never considered it murderous or vindictive.

The cantankerous camel joined six horses and twelve goats, as well as Horrocks’ travel companions, on a journey from the pastoralist’s property of Penwortham into the northern expanse of South Australia. The journey began on 29 July, 1846 and would take the party through the Flinders Ranges.

Six men set off on the trek which Horrocks initiated and funded because he simply felt the need for adventure. He had already amassed considerable wealth as a sheep farmer and is credited with establishing the first vineyard in the Clare district near Adelaide, which is now one of Australia’s most famous wine districts.

It was his sense of adventure and independence which led to his pastoral success. Horrocks did not wait in Adelaide for the completion of official land surveys, but followed the advice of explorer Edward John Eyre and, at just 21 years of age, explored land near Hutt River north of Adelaide. Finding it to his liking, he established a village in 1839 and named it Penwortham after the village of his birth in England.

Records indicate that when Horrocks arrived in Adelaide, on his 21st birthday, he bought with him a family servant, a blacksmith, a shepherd, four merino rams, sheepdogs, tools, sufficient clothing for five years…and a church bell.

The farming supplies and the personnel were put to good use, and even though he was only granted title to some of the fertile land that he was farming, he persisted and grew his flock to 9000 sheep.

The same restless spirit had prompted Horrocks to run away from school in Paris in 1833 and rejoin his family in Vienna. Thus, it was not entirely surprising that the young man announced his intention to take the camel and a groups of explorers into the outback, claiming,

‘I want a more stirring life’

The specific purpose of the journey was to search for new agricultural lands near Lake Torrens for the ambitious young Englishman, who was described as being 6 ft 2 ins (189 cm) tall, dark haired with blue eyes and possessed of a ‘rugged constitution’.

Despite Horrock’s rugged constitution and the camel’s inherent ability to survie in the harsh expanse of the Australian desert, the travelling party ran into trouble. The horses had been without water for two days when they reached Depot Creek, an old campsite of Eyre’s, on August 21.

The campsite provided an ideal base and the group remained there while making several exploratory trips into the surrounding region. One of the locations they visited was Lake Dutton, and this is where the camel became more than a nuisance and caused Horrocks’ demise.

On September 1, Horrocks loaded his rifle and took aim at a bird. The kneeling camel moved while Horrocks was attempting to reload his gun and the cock caught. This caused the gun to discharge and the round tore off the middle finger of his right hand and removed a row of teeth. Suffering from his injuries and stuck out in the middle of nowhere, Horrocks was rushed back to Penwortham as quickly as possible. He arrived on September 19 but doctors were unable to save him, and he died on September 23.

Horrocks remains buried at Penwortham and his former home is now an interpretive centre. John Horrocks Cottage is also is the oldest stone building north of Gawler, SA.

What happened to the camel?

While on his death bed, Horrocks ordered it to be shot.

Image: http://www.trove.nla.gov.au, Mads Severinsen