Saturday, May 20, 2006

Historic Tree of Knowledge poisoned

According to one legend, the Cross of Jesus Christ was built from the Tree of Knowledge. And in 1549 Ket's Rebellion met under the Oak of Reformation.

Well, Australia has its Tree of Knowledge, beneath which thousands of rebels met, discussed, argued and debated, and laid the foundations of a progressive social movement that created the first democratic socialist government in the world. The Tree of Knowledge marks the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party and many of the civil rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by Australians -- and others -- today.

I speak of the Shearers' Strike of 1891, and the Tree of Knowledge, a Ghost gum in Barcaldine, Queensland beneath which the striking workers sang our national poet Henry Lawson's great poem 'Freedom on the Wallaby' with its stirring final lines:

"So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O' those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!"

[From Wikipedia: The last two stanzas of the poem were read out by Frederick Brentnall MP on July 15, 1891 in the Queensland Legislative Council during a 'Vote of Thanks' to the armed police who broke up the Barcaldine strike camp. There were calls in the chamber for Lawson's arrest for sedition. Lawson wrote a bitter rejoinder to Brentnall, 'The Vote of Thanks Debate'.

The Rebel flag is the Eureka Flag that was first raised at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, above the Shearers' strike camp in 1891 and carried on the first Australian May Day march in Barcaldine on May 1, 1891.]

Well, sadly, someone has poisoned Australia's great icon, the Tree of Knowledge. It comes at a symbolic time, as the conservative Howard Government is dismantling most of the IR (industrial relations) rights for which thousands at Barcaldine in 1891 struggled against police and militia who came bearing rifles, bayonets and cannon.

"Federal Labor leader Kim Beazley said the poisoning was 'vandalism of the highest order' but would "not stop the great traditions of the Australian labour movement".

"'It is highly symbolic of these times,' Mr Beazley said.

"'In 1891, the shearers had to stand for the right for collective action and it is the same now.

"'The industrial relations system has been comprehensively poisoned by John Howard as has the tree.

"'Labor will fight to revive the IR system.'"

Historic 'Tree of knowledge' poisoned
Fears held for Tree of Knowledge's survival
Historic tree of knowledge 'poisoned'
Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge poisoned
Courier Mail :: ABC Online :: all 32 related »

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Lawson & Co: associations with Henry and Louisa Lawson

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