Tag Archives: history

History is happening now: Manus Island vs Gary Ablett

A report was handed down in Australia yesterday. Another report wasn’t.

The report looked at the death of a man who wanted to be Australian and the people who killed him, acting on behalf of all Australians.

The report that didn’t happen involved our best Aussie Rules footballer, Gary Ablett Jnr, not being cited for elbowing his Western Bulldogs opponent.

The Cornall report, prompted by a fatal bashing and other violence on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, will attract minimal public interest. The action occurred offshore, out of sight, out of mind, rather than during a televised sporting event.

The Ablett non-report will generate much discussion and many column centimetres. It will trigger allegations of bias in favour of the AFL’s reigning best and fairest player. Morons will boo the little champ each time he takes the field.

There’ll be little or no cat-calling about the asylum seekers being hit with much more than a stray elbow.

Fairfax journalist Tony Wright says it will take historians to appreciate the true significance of the Cornall report.

God help us if we have to wait for history to turn the spotlight to where it should be shining.

Family stories

It’s 160 years since my maternal great great grandfather Isaac Thompson and his wife Elizabeth sailed from the UK to Port Adelaide. They initially settled land at Huntley, north of Bendigo, and started producing what would be a substantial family.

Last weekend, Isaac and Elizabeth’s descendants gathered for a reunion. Printed out, the family tree spread its branches across two entire walls of the Huntley hall. I’d known Isaac and Elizabeth had a big brood but hadn’t ever considered just how many relatives that could mean in Australia. Apparently the answer is around 6000 people!

I’m yet to properly explore the stories of this family line but I did notice one of my great uncles died in the Kew Asylum in Melbourne. He was a single man, a farmer, and was pictured wearing some sort of ceremonial sash. So how did he end up in an asylum?

Mandi, one of the lead researchers behind this epic family history project, told me this great uncle had severe epilepsy. In the absence of medication, he was probably placed in the asylum so staff could restrain him and reduce the risk of injury when he was fitting. I wonder what life in the asylum would have been like for someone with no other known mental or physical illness.

And I also wonder at the coincidence that saw me campaigning for better conditions at what used to be the Kew Asylum, during my time in newspaper journalism. Sometimes the world is smaller than we realise.