The World in 1930 – New Atlas

A “new” Atlas provides a different view of the world, or at least it did prior to the advent of Online mapping. Philips Handy Volume Atlas of the World, Vol 17, 1930 contains 80 maps in a book approximately the size of a largish, thick pocket diary. The 1930 edition includes “the very latest geographical changes … such as the recent settlement regarding the boundary between Canada and Labrador, the frontiers between Iraq, Transjordan and the Nejd …”.

The distribution of population by continent was as follows (and in 2015): Europe 417 m (742 m), Asia 901 m (4,397 m), Africa 131 m (1,171 m), North America 114 m (357 m), South America 43 m (630 m), Australasia 7 m (40 m) , Total 1,613 m (7,127 m).

The authors also divided the population by racial type – White 900 m, Yellow 500 m, Black 200 m. So, what could possibly go wrong with devising a racial typology of the world’s population? Intriguingly the Jews were included in the white column while some of Hitler’s more willing European allies in the Magyars and the Finns were included in the Yellow column so even the junk science of race had fuzzy bits around the edges.

Europe in 1930 looks generally similar to the map of 2016 after the breakup of the old empires in the aftermath of WWI. The significant difference lies in the location of Poland, which looks as if it has been pushed some distance eastward, out beyond the eastern border of Lithuania. In the west, Germany occupies all but a sliver of the south Baltic coast which is divided between Poland and the League of Nations Mandated Free City of Danzig, with East Prussia separated from the rest of Germany. This curious arrangement was designed to give Poland some access to a port city, if only indirectly. Danzig (now Gdansk) was then a 95% German city with a Polish hinterland and was in a Customs Union with Poland. WWII in Europe started with a German attack on Danzig and Poland. A glance at the map suggests that an efficient Panzer Division could easily have driven through the Polish sliver and Danzig from one side of Germany to the other in an hour or so.

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Little Desert 1970

My father Alan Tangey worked for the Lands Department and the Little Desert mapping project was a nice little earner for the Stawell Survey crew camping out in their new caravans being paid off by the living away from home allowances. As a 12 year old I was taken up there with the Surveyor’s son to amuse ourselves for a week on a school holiday break while the Survey crew mapped the Desert. It is fair to say that none of the Survey crew were gourmet cooks. “Who called the cook a bastard?” “Who called the bastard a cook?”

A voice in the (suburban) wilderness
An extract from
 Defending the Little Desert

Libby Robin

In the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough, Valerie Honey read this letter and saw red. Sir William McDonald, the Victorian Minister for Lands, was proposing to put farms on the Little Desert, an isolated area of undeveloped country near her birthplace in Western Victoria. Honey had nostalgic memories of visiting the area near her uncle’s farm, where she sometimes spent school holidays:

I didn’t know it was the Little Desert . . . we used to call it ‘the scrub’ . . . It was sunset and the sun was going with rays across this little salt lake… There were birds and parrots and the salt lake had turned red . . . It was the most magnificent sight!

Geomorphologists tell us that the Wimmera’s Little Desert was last inundated by the sea some 200 million years ago. It remains a place where tides continue to turn.

Here, in 1970, we saw the end of the colonial cornucopia culture. Sir William McDonald, Minister for Lands in the Bolte Government, had been attempting to continue his predecessors’ work of carving up and handing out a seemingly endless supply of Crown land.

In addition to working for the Lands Department Alan was active in the ALP and very happy to get rid of Sir William McDonald who he pretty much despised as a nasty version of the jumped up squattocracy. Local scuttlebutt had it that the bitumen road ran all the way to Sir Bill’s front gate in the middle of nowhere.

At the Victorian State Election of 1970 the Liberal Party vote fell 0.8% statewide while Sir William McDonald lost the seat of Dundas with an 8.4% 2PP swing to the ALP. Eddie Lewis was a one term ALP member from Hamilton before normal transmission was resumed. He camped out on our couch a couple of times. Ahhh, the glory days of the unreconstructed, unelectable Victorian ALP.

Nonetheless the Little Desert campaign was a significant moment in popular environmentalism here in Victoria, and there is no way it should ever have been sold off as farmland.

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Darkness at Noon

It has been sitting there on the bookshelf forever. I always thought I’d read the four inter-war totalitarian novels: Zamyatin’s “We”, Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Orwell’s slightly late 1984 and Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” back in my Uni days. Turns out I hadn’t read Koestler but rather absorbed the gist of it by osmosis through other sources and through people talking about it.

I was inspired to get it off the shelf after reading Kisch in Australia. The novel “Darkness at noon” fully justifies its place in the totalitarian quartet even if we all know from the start that there will be no fairy godmother ending. I especially enjoyed the tale of the East European communist dumped on a train and sent to the USSR after 20 years in prison in his home country who can draw the map of the country blindfolded and is convinced the authorities in his home country put him on a train heading in the wrong direction.  Continue reading

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Myth of Melbourne’s cold July

Just like this year’s “cool summer” in Melbourne people are now bitching about a cold winter. It’s just random variation around a long term Mean, people – albeit the Mean is gradually moving up. The Mean Maximum Temperature to July 14 is 13.1 which is not much below the long term Mean of 13.5. The Decile 1 Mean is 10.9 which tell us that 10% of all years have a July Mean Maximum Temperature equal to or below 10.9 degrees. Today, Bastille Day, is the second July day with a temperature below 10.9 degrees. So we have not had that many cold days compared to a really cold year where half the days or more would be below that temperature. The Mean Minimum Temperature to date is 7.2 degrees which is actually above the long run Mean Minimum of 6.0 degrees. This is where global warming is actually turning up here in Melbourne as the overnight Minima are more often above the Mean than are the Maxima. One aspect of a cold winter that I do not expect to see again in my lifetime is a recorded temperature below Zero. The long run averages suggest that we should see one of these below zero mornings each winter. Can anyone recall the last time that happened? OK – points in if you said “urban heat island” – that will be a contributory factor. I got to Melbourne 40 years back and one of my first impressions as a boy from the inland was what a bunch of pussies Melburnians were about cold weather and how much they over heated their houses. Nothing since then has led me to change my opinion. Having pointed all this “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” out I am prepared to concede that it really ain’t great weather for brass monkeys and I definitely need to get some more warm socks. Welcome to global warming where a pretty average July is rated by some as seriously cold.

End of July Update

Monthly means were 13.3 Max, a touch below the LR Mean of 13.5 and 6.8 Min which is a bit above the LR Mean of 6. Averages suggest we get 3 days below 2 degrees in the morning and we actually got 2. A very very average July.

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Goyder’s Line: C19 responses to “climate change”

On the Margins of the Good Earth: The South Australian Wheat Frontier 1869 – 1884

D W Meinig         1962

It was regarded as a classic in the 1960’s, I read it in the 70’s, and it seems to stand up well on a re-reading 40 years later.

This is a very impressive work of historical geography examining the decisive expansion of settlement in South Australia in the 1870s. It also looks at the influence of transport on settlement patterns and the way in which politics influenced the outcomes.

The book starts by explaining the unique geography of South Australia – the horst and graben pattern of the Gulfs and Yorke Peninsula, and highlights the “shatter zone” geology of the region. When driving through South Australia you are constantly struck by the frequent use of stone as a building material which derives from this fundamental geological fact.

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Happy 200th birthday to Sir William Foster Stawell

June 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta – the Great Charter – signed by King John in the presence of the major Barons of England. Magna Carta has been celebrated as a first significant step in the limitation of arbitrary royal power and the growth of democracy. In particular it reputedly enshrined the right of trial by a jury of one’s peers (providing one’s peers were in fact peers) and it also paved the way to “no taxation without representation” and the establishment of regular Parliaments as mechanisms to oversee government expenditure.

This makes June 2015 a big month for lovers of constitutional history, particularly here in Victoria.

June 27 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir William Jonas Foster Stawell, the Anglo-Irish lawyer who was the most significant drafter of colonial Victoria’s constitution. After drafting the constitution Sir William was appointed Chief Justice where he was responsible for interpreting the constitution he had helped devise for almost 30 years. He also served as Acting Governor on several occasions.

All of this and much more is discussed in Giles Parkinson’s 2004 book Sir William Stawell and the Victorian Constitution. It is a scholarly, well footnoted book derived from a University thesis. It is not a book to read with the television on in the background.

Sir William gave his name to the mining settlement at Pleasant Creek, although he pronounced it S-towel. Apparently his descendants conceded defeat and went with the western Victorian pronunciation in the middle of last century.

It is ironic that Pleasant Creek should have been named after a man whose constitutional ideas were centred on the need to keep the landed interest in power at the expense of democratic rights for miners. Prior to drafting the constitution Sir William had achieved some notoriety as the unsuccessful prosecutor of the Eureka rebels. So while he gave his name to a mining town he did not have much sympathy for the miners.

Victoria’s property qualified Legislative Council which survived for 100 years and succeeded in keeping the ALP riff raff off the government benches was a monument to Sir William’s constitution making skills. In the 1890’s the framers of Australia’s constitution obviously included a number of men who had worked within the Victorian Constitution and developed their ideas for the national constitution from their experiences with that document.

Shortly after his death in 1889 there was a Letter to the Editor of the Argus suggesting that Sir William should be honoured with a statue.  This did not happen. There is the Stawell Chambers at 493 Little Bourke named for him. And a town.

Happy 200th, Sir William!


Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australasian Sketcher 1886

Argus Letter 1889

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Egon Kisch: 1930s queue jumper

Egon Kisch was a Czechoslovak journalist the Australian government unsuccessfully tried to prevent entering Australia in 1934. His original plan was to disembark in Perth and catch a train to Melbourne in time to give a speech at an anti-war congress in Melbourne. He was prevented from landing in Fremantle, Adelaide and Melbourne prior to jumping from the ship onto the pier at Port Melbourne and breaking his leg. The ship was recalled and he was put back on board to travel to Sydney where he was engaged in all sorts of legal fights with the Australian Government led by Attorney General Robert Menzies.

The Kisch story really is a great Australian story and has been told on a number of occasions, perhaps most notably by Nicholas Hasluck in Our Man K which I recall fondly from 15 or so years back. I also read with interest some of Kisch’s Australian Landfall which remained unpublished until 1969, a victim of spiteful censorship by Menzies.

Heidi Zogbaum has written a fine account of the Kisch visit and has managed to highlight once again, as if it were still necessary to do so (Obviously – Yes), that great Australian solipsism. It is all about us! The late Sir Terry Pratchett had the continent of Fourecks actively repelling visitors. There may be a grain of truth in that and someone at DIBP is probably scouring Sir Terry’s book for a few clues.

Certainly the Kisch story in most tellings starts from the moment the undesirable European communist tries to enter Australia, either on two feet at Fremantle or by the five metre leap to the pier at Port Melbourne. From here we get some Keystone Lawyer antics and a bit of lese majeste against Bob Menzies who, judging from comments made by Enid Lyons, was already well on his way to that pompous Laird of the Cinque Ports manner he affected later in life. Jolly good fun, and apparently some of the legal issues are still noteworthy today according to Nicholas Hasluck.

Heidi Zogbaum seeks to position Kisch’s Australian visit more generally within the larger Kisch biography and within the main currents of European history in the 1930’s. The picture that emerges is more complex than anyone in Australia understood at the time, and even up to 2004 when Kisch in Australia was published.  Continue reading

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