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Wet, not so cuddly Koala

What can’t a Koala bear?  Not being able to be up a gum tree because it’s too wet.  We’ve had the wettest winter in 100 years here in the south of Australia.

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Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine

We’ve just come back from the Apple Isle, Tasmania.  Tasmania has been inhabited by indigenous people for 50,000 years.  At one time part of Tasmania was attached to the Australian mainland and part of it was attached to a Antarctica (Gondwana) .  Whilst walking in the temperate rain forests of South East Tasmania we were shown trees and other plants that have their closest relatives in South America.

In recent times the first European to visit and map part of Tasmania was Abel Tasman.  He named the island Van Diemen’s Land, after his sponsor the Governor of Batavia (Modern Indonesia), Anthony Van Diemen.  He didn’t explore the island too much as his sailors believed that the land was inhabited by giants.

Van Diemen’s Land was used as a place of exile by the British Empire.  It was particularly a favourite dumping ground for those ‘pesky’ Irish political agitators who wanted independence for their land, Eire.  The prison settlement near Hobart town was called Port Arthur, named after the imbecilic governor, George Arthur. It may seem unkind of me to refer Arthur as an imbecile but he actively encouraged the settlers to shoot every aborigine they encountered.

The island of Van Diemen’s Land was renamed ‘Tasmania’ after the Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman in 1856.

Tasmanian Tiger, or Thylacine, became extinct in the 1930’s.  Despite many people claiming having seen it or evidence of its movements, no one really knows.  Having spent some time in the Tasmanian woods, it is conceivable that you could lose white elephants and never see them again.  Who knows.  The animals of Tasmania are certainly unique. The Tasmanian Devil is experiencing cancers that threaten to wipe the island’s populations out, so devils are being bred in safe zoos on the mainland where they once roamed but had become extinct.

The theory for why Tasmanian Devils are now experiencing such terrible diseases is that they were dependent on the thylacines to kill animals whilst they were content to feed off the remains (in effect they were scavengers).  Devils are able to extract their nutrition from the marrow in animals’ bones.  To achieve this feat nature has endowed them with the strongest biting strength of any mammal.  Without an Apex animal predator like a thylacine, the devils have to turn predator instead of scavenger and maybe the diseases that has been attacking them as a species is a consequence of this.

Mary, by Frederick McCubbin


An example of Australian ‘En plein air’, impressionism. Frederick McCubbin, along with his collaborators, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, preferred to capture the natural light, and Australian landscapes and subjects in all their moods and colourings. These artists of the Heidelberg School of Art were reacting to the gloomy gothic romanticism of 19th Century British art.

What can we say about the woman in the painting above?

What do we know of the child? Is it a boy or a girl?

This woman is the subject of the work, and her name is Mary Jane Moriaty, sister of his wife. The artists would often use members of their family’s or members of their friends’ families as models for their portraits.


Portrait of a Man

What can you tell about the men in these portraits?

photoGeorge W. Lambert, Self Portrait 1906

born Russia 1873, died  1930












Federal Parliament of Australia

The colonies of Australia came together on 1 January 1901, to form a federation called the Commonwealth of Australia.

Our form of government is a hybrid system.  We kept the British model for the House of Commons for our lower house, but called it by its American name, The House of Representatives.

Many Australians in the 19th Century didn’t like the notion of a class system, as was prevalent in Britain.  The British Upper House, The House of Lords, represented this notion that some are born to rule, and members of this House of Parliament were given a seat as a birth right.  Australians tended to be more ‘egalitarian’ (all men are equal), a view shared by Americans.  It therefore seemed natural to our founding fathers to look to the United Sates for some inspiration.  From the Americans we borrowed their concept of the Upper House, which is the Senate, and we also chose to write a Constitution.

The Senate, our Upper House, is supposed to uphold State Rights. Our constitution, whilst not as detailed as the American Constitution, outlines our rights and responsibilities as citizens of this nation, called Australia.

In 1901, the former independent colonies of Australia, became States.  Each state has its own parliament and it’s own sets of laws and judiciary.  This can lead to problems with the Commonwealth, and also disputes between states.  When this happens, the different governments try to sort it out, but sometimes arguments between Australian governments have to be sorted out by Australia’s highest court, The High Court.  This court also decides on matters relating to the Constitution and its interpretation.

The Australian Commonwealth Government, is now commonly referred to as the Federal Government.

The Head of State is the British Monarch

The Governor General is the monarch’s representative.

The head of the government is called the Prime minister.  The prime minister is the parliamentary leader of the ruling party, that is, the party with the most number of seats in the parliament.  A seat is a chair, which is occupied by a member of parliament, and each member of parliament has been elected by citizens of Australia who live in the electorate.  The Lower House, or the House of Representatives, is also called The People’s House.  This is the House that makes laws, and this is the House that the Prime minister is part of.

The Senate, or Upper House, is the State’s House.  Each state has 12 senators representing its interests.  The Territories only elect two senators.  In reality, however, the senate is run on party lines, just as in the House of Representatives.  Ministers can come from the Senate, but a senator can not be a Prime minister or Deputy Prime minister.  The leader of the Senate is called the Senate President.  A party can be in the majority in the House of Representatives and control the Government, but another party can dominate and control the Senate. This can sometimes lead to problems for the government, as happened in 1975, when the Senate forced the sacking of the government by the Governor General.

Coming South

Coming South

In the days before photography artists had to convey what everyday life was like.  Late 19th Century painters of the Heidelberg School of Melbourne and Sydney embraced Australia and represented it in all its brightness and presented a more realistic portrayal of Australian life.  This painting by Tom Roberts shows passengers coming south to Australia.  What is amazing about this painting are the expressions on each passenger’s face.  Have look at the following close ups of the various travellers’ faces.



IMG_0352 Tom had to paint fast to capture the image he wished to convey.


IMG_0356 (1)

IMG_0359The detail in this painting is remarkable.  Have a look at the young seaman straddling the ropes.


We can see from this painting the various lower and middle classes who emigrated to Australia in the second half of the 19th Century.  You might be able to work out which part of the century it was.  The 19th Century was a remarkable time in the World’s history.  We can see from the painting that the passengers are mostly European, most probably British (English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish) because Australia was a British controlled continent.  We can see a smoke stack and rigging for sails.  This shows that the Industrial Revolution of Britain was also having an effect on Australia.  The use of steam technology combined with sail meant that ships could travel from the Old World to the New in a shorter amount of time.  This reduced the need to be at sea by months, and made the prospect of a voyage to Australia from Europe more feasible, affordable and appealing.  This helped to increase the inflow of Europeans to Australia, which increased the population.  It needs to be remembered, that although most of the free migrants came from Britain, many came from Europe to escape political, economic and religious turmoil that was prevalent in many parts of Europe at that time.

This painting can also be used to discuss dress and fashion.  Notice the Scotsman with his distinctive hat.  Some of the men sport moustaches, huge side burns, and the women have long dresses.  Notice that this was a characteristic of 19th Century dress, called the Victorian Era, because of the long reign of Queen Victoria and her influence on the fashion of the time.  When Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, died in 1861, the Queen went into mourning and showed her grief by wearing black.  This became a fashion to other British women who wear black if they became widowed.  The second last image of the old lady with the child might speak of something.  What can tell from the woman’s face and her dress?

Australian Late 19th Century Art

In the early 19th Century it was common for English artists to do the ‘grand tour of Italy’ to study Ancient Roman classicism, Renaissance art of the 15th and 16th Century as well as the popular Italian styles of the day called, ‘Romanticism’.  John Glover came to Australia after his tour of Italy and applied his techniques to the Australian landscape.  These paintings are of Tasmania and are ‘idealized’ through Glover’s romantic interpretation of the scenes.  Australian eucalyptus trees do not look like Glover’s europeanised willowy trees.  IMG20170118192033.jpgIMG20170118192052.jpg

These landscapes do, however, offer the earliest glimpses into European settlement of Australia.

These paintings are in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Australia