Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bennelong's Remains Too Fragile To Disturb by Eamonn Duff

SMH - September 17, 2011

The environmental scientist who found the grave of Woollarawarre Bennelong has revealed the site will remain untouched. The Herald understands that time has not been kind to the final resting place of one of the country's most prominent historical figures, located this year alongside the garden of a family home in Putney.
Following preliminary tests, the gravesite has been deemed too fragile to disturb, effectively ending the debate about the fate of any remains. The mayor of Ryde, Artin Etmekdjian, said the council had resolved to protect the area as an ''archaeological site''.

"We have asked the Aboriginal Heritage Office to prepare a 'site card' and management guidelines for the site, which when completed will be provided to the office of Environment and Heritage,'' he said. An honorary associate professor of physical geography at Macquarie University, Dr Peter Mitchell, led a secret investigation with Ryde Council to find the site. He said: ''It has been resolved that nothing else will now happen on that corner. We will leave it as it is and it will become a registered Aboriginal site so if there's any future possibility of disturbance on the site, that will flag it.''

Before urban sprawl took over the land, Bennelong's grave was positioned on the estate of James Squire, Australia's first brewer, who befriended the Aboriginal figure in the years before his death in 1813.

In the decades since, the site has been lost beneath the suburb of Putney, a small commemorative plaque marking the approximate area where it was believed to sit. Dr Mitchell said that ground-penetrating radar had since been used across the site.

''We're planning to conduct tests again in a bit more detail. My expectation … is that some remains will still be there.'' However, he added: ''I think everyone's pretty well agreed we're not going to find that out because nobody's really wanting to dig it up.''

Although there are no firm plans on how to commemorate Bennelong's bicentenary in 2013, Ryde Council has pledged $15,000 towards a ''significant'' project. It has also asked the NSW government for a $200,000 contribution which might pave the way for a monument in a park along the Parramatta River. Mr Etmekdjian said: ''Bennelong remains an important part of our history, not just for Ryde, but for the country as a whole."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bennelong's Grave

Bennelong's grave found under a front yard in Sydney's suburbs by Eamonn Duff

SMH - March 20, 2011
Bennelong’s final resting place ... an obscured detail of the front garden of the home in Putney.  
Photo: Simon Alekna; Fairfax Photos

THE grave of Bennelong - one of the most prominent figures in Australian history - has been found beneath the garden of a suburban family home in Sydney.

For almost two centuries, mystery has surrounded the final resting place of Woollarawarre Bennelong, one of the first Aborigines to live among white settlers. But now one of Australia's leading environmental scientists, Peter Mitchell, has gathered archival evidence to pinpoint the grave to a patch of grass in Putney between a family's front lawn and a council-owned nature strip. Before urban sprawl consumed the area, it was part of the estate of James Squire, Australia's first brewer, who befriended Bennelong in the years before his death in 1813. Dr Mitchell, honorary associate professor of physical geography at Macquarie University, led a covert investigation with Ryde Council to find the site. Not even the home's owners were told.

With Bennelong's bicentenary looming, the discovery now creates a dilemma. Dr Mitchell said it was ''vital'' that the exact location remained secret because ''the whole question of what to do next is likely to be controversial in the broader community … It's not a question Ryde Council, or I, can resolve. This is now a significant matter for the Aboriginal community. Consultation is essential. They must decide what they want.’’

The Sun-Herald has agreed not to publish the location. History portrays the iconic tribesman Bennelong as a crucial intermediary between colonists and Aborigines. He sailed to England alongside Governor Arthur Phillip. His later years in Sydney, however, were dogged by alcoholism.

While it is no secret Bennelong was buried on the banks of the Parramatta River, the exact spot has been the subject of speculation – until now. A council source explained: ‘‘We knew Bennelong was buried in the area but it’s always been an urban legend in terms of where. Dr Mitchell quietly chipped away on the project for some time and following some extraordinary research, he was able to add some general certainty to the grave’s location. From there, council’s surveyors advanced his findings to where it now stands today. They’ve pinpointed the grave, to within the nearest metre, in someone’s front garden.’’

Two weeks ago, the council resolved to meet Aboriginal authorities  to discuss the next step – the use of non-invasive ground-penetrating equipment to explore the earth around any remains.

Dr Mitchell yesterday described the find as a  ‘‘a significant archival effort ... I started by gathering all early references in regards to both the nature and location of the grave. I then matched them up against the known landscape of the time – and of today. It was difficult because you’re searching for one critical piece of evidence that leads to the ultimate link. Using old photos, I eventually identified a ground area with a lot of common threads. I then researched, around that, various features and landmarks, some of which remain today.’’

Dr Mitchell encountered conflicting information. ‘‘For example, some early references suggest Bennelong’s grave was in James Squire’s garden while others point to an orchard. That led me to ask, was there any difference between the orchard and garden, or are [they] the same place? ‘‘Eventually we found a map that showed they were indeed two separate locations. Other things cross-correlated and suddenly, it was like wow, breakthrough! It was the orchard, after all.’’

Woollarawarre Bennelong, the Bush Politician - by Dirk C.H. van Dissel

An undated portrait thought to depict Bennelong, signed "W.W." 
now in the Dixson Galleries of the State Library of New South Wales.

The 25th of November 1789, almost two years after the landing of the First Fleet, was a remarkable day for Australia, just as it was equally remarkable for a certain individual who went by the name of Woollarawarre Bennelong. It was on this day that two Aborigines, Bennelong and Colby, were lured by some fish down to Manly Bay and, once close enough, the two men were bundled into a waiting long boat and taken to the settlement of Sydney. Governor Phillip had ordered the kidnapping of some Aborigines because he was under strict instructions from King George III to 'endeavour, by every possible mean, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them'.

However, Governor Phillip couldn't carry out these orders while there was no contact with the native inhabitants, who had kept their distance from Sydney Cove and all white people since settlement. Left with no other option, Governor Phillip felt that capturing an Aborigine and bringing him into Sydney Cove would start a relationship in which the differences of language, culture and society could be learnt. This would then allow both peoples to converse and trade, and it would gradually lead to a peaceful and prosperous society for both peoples to live in.

Although there were a few before him, Bennelong was one of the first Aborigines to learn to speak and understand English and to learn European customs and lifestyle and to enjoy their benefits. As he was one of the first Aborigines to come into the white settlement and visit it regularly, Bennelong was very instrumental in bridging the many gaps that existed between the white settlers and the indigenous people of the Sydney area, the Eora.

Kidnapping a person may seem a strange way to begin a relationship, but there is no doubt that a close relationship developed between Bennelong and Captain Arthur Phillip. Like the few Aborigines who had briefly stayed at Sydney Cove, Bennelong soon adopted European dress and ways, and learned English. He gave Governor Phillip the Aboriginal name Woollarawarre and adopted for himself the name of Governor. This was done as a mark of respect and affection for the Governor and was extremely important as the interchanging of names was 'found as a constant symbol of friendship among them', as said Captain Watkin Tench.[1]

Bennelong feasted daily with the Governor and resided in his house where he shared a room and was watched by the Governor's steward. Bennelong spent the next couple of months willingly communicating information and explaining the customs of his country and his people. He wore English attire and displayed good manners at meals and even developed a taste for wine, which was regarded as a fiery potion of some sort by the other Aborigines. It is important to note that during this period (1789-92) Bennelong is generally regarded to have not been an alcoholic as he was upon his return from England (1795), but as a person who drank socially and held his liquor well.

Five months after his capture, Bennelong escaped from the Governor's house early one morning. This was especially frustrating for Phillip as he had put a lot of effort into trying to appease and learn from Bennelong, who was easily the most intelligent and helpful of the Aborigines that had come into Sydney Cove.
The next time Governor Phillip saw Bennelong was at Manly Cove where, under a storm of confusion, Governor Phillip was speared by Willemering. There is evidence to suggest that Willemering, who was a friend of Bennelong, was carrying out orders of retribution on behalf of Bennelong to pay Governor Phillip back for kidnapping him. There could easily have been all-out war if it weren't for Bennelong's cool head, and he convinced Governor Phillip that it was a grave misunderstanding.

The peaceful coming-in of the Eora to Sydney in October 1790 was both skilfully and equally devised by two men, Arthur Phillip and Woollarawarre Bennelong and is testament to Governor Phillip's and Bennelong's great diplomatic skills. Here it was agreed that the Eora would put an end to active resistance and live on friendly terms, and in return they wouldn't be forcibly captured, manacled or held against their will and could come and go from Sydney Cove as they pleased. Bennelong demonstrated throughout these talks his talent as a skilful negotiator and a master of adaptation and improvisation in the face of a more powerful, alien culture.

In a brainwave in February 1791, Lieutenant David Collins realised that the settlers had been cleverly influenced by Bennelong and his people, who had 'shielded the market' by preventing other tribes from trading with the white settlement. This basically created a monopoly for the Eora and significantly strengthened the clan, as well as strengthening Bennelong's position within the hierarchy of the clan. It is not improbable that the English would have been represented in a quite unfavourable light by the Eora so as to scare and deter the other clans from making contact with them at Sydney Cove. Unfortunately, this retarded Governor Phillip's effort to appease and set up trade with all the clans inhabiting the area around Sydney, not just Bennelong's clan. However, it displays great insight and intelligence on the part of Bennelong and the Eora who used the gift exchange system with the English completely to their advantage.

Another example of Bennelong's foresight was his insistence that his wife Barangaroo give birth in Governor Phillip's house, even though Governor Phillip tried at length to persuade Bennelong to go to the hospital. This illustrates Bennelong's initiative and can be seen as an attempt to bring Phillip into his family kinship circle and also to reconcile Phillip as his 'beanga', or father, which he often used to call him. Furthermore, in Aboriginal society one's birthplace is of great importance and the act of giving birth in Governor Phillip's house, which lay in Cadigal territory (a neighbouring clan to the Eora), demonstrates that Bennelong's clan was forging new land associations. This once again highlights Bennelong's quick wit and his ability to take advantage of a given situation.

In December 1792, Governor Phillip, who had been governor for nearly five years, decided to return to England. Bennelong had expressed interest in long sea voyages, so Governor Phillip invited him and another Aborigine named Yemmerrawanne to join the governor on his return trip and visit England, which they both gladly accepted. Unfortunately, Yemmerrawanne died in England two years later due to a lung disease, but Bennelong enjoyed his stay in London and was soon accustomed to wearing a ruffled lace shirt and a fancy waistcoat typical of the times. He also learned to box, skate, smoke and drink. Such was his eagerness and ability to learn that people have said the he 'ate as elegantly as the Englishmen, bowed, toasted, paid the ladies compliments and loved wine.' He even met King George III and heard debates in parliament and was delighted with everything he saw. Bennelong was long applauded as a success of both cultures because of his dynamic ability to blend into English high society or the traditional Aboriginal way of living, both very different settings. However, things in England took a turn for the worse for Bennelong as he found his fondness for wine greatly increasing. In September 1795, Bennelong, fast becoming ill and longing to come home, returned to Sydney with the colony's new governor, Governor Hunter. This second stage of Bennelong's life would prove to be disastrous for him as he took to the bottle with great resolve. He was often in drunken scuffles or payback battles and soon his own people began to shun him. Woollarawarre Bennelong died on the 3rd of January 1813 at James Squire's orchard at Kissing Point (Meadowbank) on the Parramatta River at the approximate age of 50.

Time and time again, Bennelong exhibited skills of determination, diplomacy and resolve that could be likened to that of an astute and seasoned politician. He was considered a vital link between the white settlers and the Aborigines because of his ability to speak both languages and behave accordingly in both cultures. His closeness to Governor Phillip and influential Aborigines such as Colby guaranteed his position within both societies as he was the intermediary between the two different peoples. Through his own actions, Bennelong cemented his image and position as an important and influential part of the establishment of Sydney Cove during the 1790s.

[1]. Keith Vincent Smith, Bennelong, 2001, page 42.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

El Dorado

Here is a video outlining recent developments in the search for the fabled city of gold, El Dorado.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Aztec Stone of the Sun

The Aztec sun calender is a circular stone with pictures representing how the Aztecs measured days, months, and cosmic cycles.

The calendar is evidence of the Aztec's knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. The calendar contained the pictographs for their days, months and suns (cosmic cycles). The stone is 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighs about 24 metric tons. It took 52 years to complete, from 1427-1479, it is believed due to the use of only stone tools. This calendar is 103 years older than the Gregorian calendar which is used worldwide today.

Originally the Calendar Stone was placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. Today, Mexico City's cathedral stands on the site. The Aztec calendar faced south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white. The stone was buried by the Spaniards when they conquered Tenochtitlan. The stone was lost for over 250 years until December of 1790 when it was found by accident during repair work on the cathedral. Today it is located in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

The face of Tonatiuh is in the center circle of the stone. Around the face are four squares called Nahui- Ollin, or Four Movement. According to Aztec legend, these squares represented the different ways that the four previous suns (or worlds) had come to an end: first by wild animals, then by wind, by fire, and by floods. The Aztecs believed they were living in the fifth and last world.

Continuing outward, the next concentric circle shows twenty squares, each naming one of the twenty different days of the Aztec month. Clockwise these days are as follows:

Twenty Days of the Aztec Month

Snake - Coatl

Lizard - Cuetzpallin

House - Calli

Wind - Ehecatl

Crocodile - Cipactli

Flower - Xochitl

Rain - Quiahuitl

Flint - Tecpatl

Movement - Ollin

Vulture - Cozcacuauhtli

Eagle - Cuauhtle

Jaguar - Ocelotl

Cane - Acatl

Herb - Malinalli

Monkey - Ozomatli

Hairless Dog - Itzquintli

Water - Atl

Rabbit - Tochtli

Deer - Mazatl

Skull - Miquiztli

The Aztec year consisted of eighteen months, each having 20 days. Each month was given a specific name. This arrangement took care of 360 days (18x20), to which five dots were added inside the circle. These dots, known as Nemontemi, were sacrificial days.

The next concentric circle is composed of square sections with five dots in each section, probably representing weeks of five days. Next are eight angles dividing the stone in eight parts. These represent the suns rays placed according to the cardinal points.

On the lower portion of the stone, two enormous snakes encircle the stone and face each other. Their bodies are divided into sections containing the symbols for flames, elephant-like trunks, and jaguar-like forelegs. It is believed that these sections are also records of fifty-two year cycles. A square is carved at the top of the calendar between the tails fo the snakes. Inside the square the date 13 Acatl is carved. This corresponds to 1479, the year the calendar was finished.

Eight equally spaced holes appear on the very edge of the calendar. The Aztec placed horizontal sticks here and the shadows of the sticks would fall on the figures of the calendar; thus the stone also served as a sundial.

 An artist's representation of how the Stone of the Sun may have looked when painted.

A very detailed synopsis of the meaning of the carvings on the Stone of the Sun.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Rise of the Aztec Empire

Aztec Punishments for Children in the Codex Mendoza

Aztec Sacrifice by the Anonymous Conqueror

Aztec Social Hierarchy

Aztec Social Hierarchy
This is a pdf file of the Aztec Social Pyramid. It's only one page but view it like a slideshow.

Aztec Emperors

Aztec Social Structure

Aztec society was composed of 20 groups called calpullis, which were something like clans or extended families. Land was owned by the calpullis rather than by individuals. Calpulli representatives formed a council that selected two men as rulers. The emperor, the "chief of men," was responsible for external affairs, such as wars and alliances. The vice-emperor, who was called Snake Woman after a goddess, supervised internal affairs. Both also had religious duties.

Aztec society was divided into a number of classes. Although people could advance to a higher level, most often by distinguishing themselves in battle, the usual pattern was for individuals to live out their lives in the class into which they had been born. At the top of the social order were government officials and priests. Next came traders and craftsmen. A special group of traders called pochteca brought luxuries such as gold, gems, and exotic feathers from distant areas and served as military spies. Below these groups were the farmers, who composed most of the population. Lowest in society were the slaves. Some slaves were captives or criminals, but most of the slaves were poor people who gave up their freedom in exchange for food, shelter, and clothing. They usually served as slaves for only a short period of time and were well treated.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Founding of Tenochtitlan

 A pictograph from the Codex Mendoza showing the founding of Tenochtitlan.

Tenochtitlan, the populous lake city of the Mexicas in the 14th and 15th centuries, has always fascinated me. And much of that fascination has to do with the story of the city's founding, memorialized in the dramatic, aggressive image of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, and a serpent wriggling in the grip of its talons and beak.

In his book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, which reexamines Native American societies light of new scientific and archeological evidence, Charles Mann writes of this founding myth:
"The Mexicas [one of the three groups that formed the Triple Alliance in the 14th century, in the region around what is Mexico City today] fled to a swampy, uninhabited island" on Lake Texcoco. "According to an account by Hernando Alvaro Tezozomoc, grandson of the last Mexica ruler, the refugees stumbled about the island for days, looking for food and a place to settle, until one of the priests had a vision in a dream. In the dream, the Mexica's patron deity instructed his people to look in the swamp for a cactus. Standing on the cactus [the prickly pear cactus, called the tenochtli, which inspired the name of the town], the god promised, 'you shall see an eagle, warming itself in the sun.'"
A slightly different version of this is in Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Ostler. And since Ostler is an expert on languages, it is worth looking at his translation of the story from Nahuatl, the language of the Mexicas:
"It was prophesied that they [the Mexicas] must settle 'where the eagle screeches, where he spreads his wings, where the eagle feeds, where the fish fly, where the serpent is torn apart.' In the distance, on a prickly pear cactus, they saw this vision, of an eagle eating a snake. A voice cried out: 'O Mexicas, it shall be here!' But no one knew who spoke. They knew that the reedy but defensible islands in the middle of the lake should be their home, Tenochtitlan, 'place of the prickly pear'. It was the year ome calli, '2 House', 1325."
Inspired by this vision, the Mexicas went on to build an astonishing city on the islands of Lake Texcoco: Tenochtitlan was a sight to behold. One can only imagine what might have survived to the present day if disease had not wiped out the Mexicas and other Mesoamerican societies in the wake of the Spanish conquest. In 1491, Mann describes the Spaniards' reaction upon entering Tenochtitlan in 1519:
"Tenochtitlan dazzled its invaders - it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gaped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright from goods from hundreds of miles away. Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochtitlan to the mainland. Long aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city. Even more astounding than the great temples and the immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens - none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate."
The Mexico City of today is built over the ruins of the lake city (the lake is now drained) of Tenochtitlan. And the image that guided the Mexicas to build the city now occupies a central place in the flag of Mexico.
Painting of the founding of Tenochtitlan, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Images of Tenochtitlan

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aztec Powerpoints & Websites

Here are a couple of Aztec Powerpoint Presentations. I found them on the internet.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The European Discovery of Australia

 There is some excellent information about  the European Discovery of Australia at the site listed below.

The Geelong Keys

A Rare 16th Century Hand Forged Key

The Geelong Keys were a set of keys discovered in 1845 or 1846 in the time of Governor Charles La Trobe at Corio Bay in Victoria, Australia. They were embedded in the stone of the beach in such a way as to make him believe that they had been there for 100-150 years (~1700 AD). Since the earliest proven English exploration of the area was by Matthew Flinders in 1802, writer Kenneth McIntyre suggested the keys may have originated with some earlier European explorers of the region, possibly Portuguese explorations.

The study of these keys was the subject of two pamphlets published by the Royal Society of Victoria in the 1870s. The first of these pamphlets suggested that the depth at which the keys lay indicated an age closer to 200-300 years. The second pamphlet repudiated this claim and was based on an interview with a limeburner who said that the keys may have been dropped down a hole to that depth. The Geelong Keys are often connected to the Mahogany Ship further west on Victoria's Shipwreck Coast also claimed to be a relic of early European exploration of the area. However, research by Geologists Edmund Gill and P.F.B. Alsop showed the age of the deposit in which the keys were found to be 2330-2800 years and this made La Trobe's dating highly implausible.

The error by La Trobe is quite understandable, according to Gill and Alsop, given that in 1847 most people thought the world was only 6000 years old.

The keys themselves, and all original drawings of them, have been lost.

(Information from the Wikipedia article on the Geelong Keys)
In 1871 Charles La Trobe wrote to the Australasian newspaper regarding a mysterious set of keys that had been found in Geelong some 20 years earlier when he was Superintendent of the Port Phillip District. He had been examining a newly excavated quarry in Geelong near the beach and was struck by a strata of shells a fair way above water level. Obviously either the water level of Port Phillip Bay had dropped over time or the land had risen. Upon remarking on this a workman commented that a set of keys had been dug out from this layer just the other day. The keys were fetched and examined. La Trobe and many since him speculated that they may have been dropped on the beach at an earlier period by previous European visitors. The earliest known English exploration was by Flinders in 1802 but the level of the shell strata suggested to La Trobe a period of several hundred years – a period when it was thought that Spanish and Portuguese ships may have been in the South Seas.

Now La Trobe was an amateur naturalist, a keen observer and “a sketcher of no mean pretensions”. He even made a sketch of the keys and there is no reason to believe that such a man would invent the story of the keys. Maybe the Geelong Keys indicate that Spanish or Portuguese sailors had landed on Australia long before Captain Cook.
With advances in scientific analysis we should now be in a position to determine the origins of the Geelong Keys. All we have to do is subject them to forensic analysis. So where are the keys kept. Aha, like any good mystery the evidence has disappeared. When the five keys were found they were given to some children. to play with. They lost one and gave one to a passing stranger before La Trobe was able to examine them. Now all keys are lost together with La Trobe’s sketch of them.

Well, what about the quarry? It has since crumbled and formed part of the cliff face at Limeburners Point.
That returns us to the oral and written records. William Buckley had lived with the local Aborigines and perhaps they might have stories of white men landing long before the English. However I am reliably informed that the only story they had about white men was an ancient legend that one day a great white god would appear in the area and kick nine goals in a losing grand final. La Trobe quotes the shell layer as being about 3 metres above high water level and under about 4 and a half metres of overburden. From today’s knowledge of deposits in the area, that would put it at over two thousand years old – long before modern metal keys. James Harrison noted in the same edition of the paper where La Trobe published his observations that metal objects where often embedded in new diggings to detect the leeching of certain metals. If for instance you came back and found a copper oxide coating on the keys you knew the soil was probably rich in copper. Perhaps they had been secreted there by a wily prospector.

But probably the most useful evidence comes from the archives of the Royal Society. In September 1849 Mr R.C.Gunn noted that La Trobe had shown him the two keys (the numbers keep decreasing) and he went to Geelong to investigate the discovery. On questioning the limeburner he found that the keys had not been dug out of the shell layer but found with shells at the bottom of the pit and assumed to have fallen from that layer. In practice they could have fallen from any layer including the top where a Geelong resident of the time may have dropped them. He said that he reported his findings to La Trobe. Perhaps 20 years later La Trobes recollections were rustier than the keys. However papers like Gunn's tend to destroy a good yarn and are thus rarely mentioned. And of course that does do not rule out the possibility that Spanish or Portuguese had landed on this coast or that even a ship may have been wrecked in Victoria - but that's another mystery for another day.

Meanwhile the people of Geelong go about their daily lives. Every so often a Geelong wife or girlfriend, during a routine search of their partner’s suit pockets, will come across a set of unfamiliar keys (sometimes with a heart pendant attached). “And where did these come from?” she asks. “I just picked them up off the shells while walking near the beach” he says. “I have no idea who they belong to”.

Thus the mystery of the Geelong Keys continues.

(Information from -

Columbus Cartoon (1960)

Here's the video we watched about Christopher Columbus. Remember that this was made in 1960 and reflects some of the ideas about race and civilization from that time.