Inane Historical Rantings

Yes, yes, it’s been ages I know. This is down to two main causes, the immense amount of effort required to keep the business running while Dale’s in the UK, and illness. I won’t carry on about work because it’s all too disheartening (Dale’s finally struck upon an advertising policy that works meaning that we’re totally flooded), but I will talk about the illness a bit, because I’m sure you all want to hear about my suffering at the fickle hands of contagion.

Overblown metaphors aside, basically I had the flu. That is to say that I reckon it was the flu, Ali is more sceptical. Working from the basis that all guys are pathetic wimps who horribly exaggerate even the slightest illness or injury she’s decided (from the vantage point of the other side of the planet *g*) that I merely had a cold. A “death cold” perhaps, but definitely not the flu. Well, I could prove her wrong with a brilliantly stated series of counter arguments, but I’m not going to dignify her scepticism with the effort. So there. Nyaaaaa! 😉

(I could provide counter arguments. Lots of them. Honestly! 🙂

So what else has been happening between being horribly overworked and deathly ill? Well there was the transit of Venus a few weeks back, and a bit of a thought provoking co-incidence regarding said transit that I shall now elaborate on for the education and general edification of all 🙂

The transit occurred on June 8, which here in Western Australia is Foundation Day. I’ve often made humorous comments along the line that this is a holiday celebrating a woman cutting down a tree, which is entirely accurate if slightly duplicitous because it’s not the actual tree felling that we’re meant to be celebrating, it’s why the tree was cut down. Said innocent plant – bothering no-one by going about it’s daily tasks of transpiration and photosynthesis – was hacked down as an impromptu symbol of something-or-other at the official founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829 – the Swan River Colony of course becoming the State of Western Australia 72 years later at Federation. So June 8 is the official holiday celebrating just how wonderful this great state of ours is – or is at least supposed to be.

(For the sake of accuracy I should state that the Swan River Colony wasn’t the first British settlement in WA, people had been living at Albany for two years previously. They just didn’t have the sense to cut down a tree and make it official.)

Now, anyone with a particularly agile mathematical mind will have noticed that 2004 is 175 years since the auspicious tree-lopping, making this particular Foundation Day the centre of a whole lot of extra Government hooey on just how wonderful we are. There’s was a specially designed logo, some TV adds attempting to show just how far we’ve come since the 150th anniversary (judging by the footage we have actually come a fair way – skin tight white t-shirts, horrible pseudo-afro-hair, and weedy singing by children’s choirs are no longer thought a good idea for a start), and probably an official website if I can be bothered to track it down. But what interested me is the fact that a transit of Venus (a very rare celestial phenomenon) should occur on not just the anniversary of the founding of our State, but on such a significant anniversary too.

Why? Let’s follow the links…

Why was the Swan River Colony founded? Well, technically because a bunch of British people had got fed up with Britain, wanted to make a fresh start elsewhere and happened to read a report (by a certain Captain Stirling) saying that the Swan River on the west coast of Australia would be a good place to do so, having a pleasant temperate climate, abundant fresh water and fertile soils (excuse me for a second HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! Sorry, but Stirling must have been suffering some kind of brain fever). But the real reason (i.e. why the British Government decided to allow them to do it) was to claim the land for the Crown and keep it out of the hands of the dastardly French.

The French had been sniffing around the west and south coasts of the continent for quite some time and the British were terrified that if they established a colony somewhere there’d be no way to get rid of them. The east coast was safe, there were British colonies all over there, but the west was completely un-settled (apart from 60,000 or so aboriginies – but they didn’t count having neglected to ceremoniously chop down any trees). So setting up some kind of British colony on the west coast was imperative, otherwise the British would have to share the continent with the French (and it was bad enough having to share Europe with them).

So, it’s entirely reasonable to say that the Swan River Colony was established on the west coast because British colonies already existed on the east coast and the British attitude to unsettled coastlines was “gotta catch ’em all”. In that case we must ask why were there British colonies on the east coast?

Two main reasons. One: To get rid of all those pesky criminals (i.e.: poor people) and uppity Fenians who were clogging up the Thames and causing a danger to navigation in their prison barques. Two: To stop the French getting a base in the South Pacific (do I detect a pattern here?). When the decision was made to set up new penal colonies in the South Pacific the best place for them was judged to be New South Wales (which at that point meant the whole east side of the Australian continent – the west generally being known as New Holland) it being in the right part of the world, fertile, well watered and abundant (excuse me for a second HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! must have been that brain fever again). And probably most importantly it was a possession of the British Crown.

So, why was New South Wales a possession of the British Crown? One word. Cook.

Captain James Cook that is of course. In 1770 he’d sailed up the east coast and claimed the whole damn thing for Britain. He’d also just done the same thing for New Zealand, being (brain fevers and tendencies to name newly discovered lands after places they in no way resembled – South Wales for instance – aside) a fantastically skilled navigator and explorer. He’d just been to Tahiti and was taking the long way home on the back of some secret orders from the Admiralty to see if there really was any kind of gigantic southern continent down that way. It turned out that there wasn’t (or at least it was a lot further south and much smaller and ice-bound than everyone had hoped) but he did manage to run into Australia (literally in the case of the Great Barrier Reef).

So, the British decided to establish their colonies on the east coast because Cook had been there and claimed it for them on his way back from Tahiti. So, what was he doing in Tahiti? Well (and here’s the clever bit…)

OBSERVING A TRANSIT OF VENUS!

Yup! Cook had led an expedition to Tahiti for the purpose of observing a transit of Venus as part of an elaborate plan by the Royal Society to figure out just how far away the sun was (possibly to see if they could get a ship there to colonise it). Without that transit of Venus Cook wouldn’t have been in the neighborhood, Australia wouldn’t have been claimed for Britain, the penal colonies on the east coast wouldn’t have been established, there would have been no need to grab the west coast as well and Western Australians wouldn’t have been celebrating the 175th anniversary of Foundation Day under the slightly attenuated light of the 2004 transit. Ain’t history wonderful? 🙂

So, did I see the transit? Sort of. The 8th was a Tuesday so as is tradition (the tradition being to grab as many long weekends as is humanly possible) we had the Monday off. So on the day of the transit I was stuck in the office. I did manage to leave early by being deathly ill and managed to make it home about midway through. Any plans to drag out my telescope though (to project the sun onto a screen – I’m not an idiot) were stymied by a massive bank of rainclouds that completely blotted out the sun just as I made it across the road to the building. Bah!

So, I watched the transit via an Austrian webcam.

I did however get to see the transit with my own eyes. While I was waiting for a train at Subiaco I noticed that there were rainclouds coming in, so I made a point of looking right at the sun. Only for a fraction of a second (again, I’m not an idiot – or at least not a complete idiot 🙂 and of course I couldn’t actually see anything, but if my eyes had been able to focus and if such focusing wouldn’t have burned out my retinas then I would have been able to see the transit. So I reckon that counts 🙂

I was going to write more, but my inane historical rantings have worn me out. And Treks in a Wild World is about to start and last week the traveler was Megan McCormick – so obviously I’m hoping for a repeat (even if the chopped down half-hour format means more time is spent on the destinations and less on the travelers, boo! 🙂

To quote the KLF, over and out!

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