Thu, 17 Jun 2021

Townsville's Tree of Knowledge claims first place

Independent Australia
07 May 2021, 16:52 GMT+10

The birthplace of the Australian Labor Party has traditionally been claimed to be under the "Tree of Knowledge" at Barcaldine in 1891. History editor Dr Glenn Davies investigates other "Trees of Knowledge" around Australia and considers which has the claim as the original.

QUEENSLAND UNIONISTS and community members broke out their hats and placards this week for the annual Labour Day marches across the state. The first weekend in May has been of major cultural and historical significance for the union movement in Queensland ever since the state's first Labour Day procession took place in Barcaldine on 1 May 1891.

The Labour Day public holiday has been celebrated by workers in Queensland on the first Monday in May since 1901 (apart from a few years during the Newman Government). It is deeply ingrained in Queensland's history as a day to recognise workers' rights.

Labour Day, like ANZAC Day, is a day when we remember the sacrifices our forebears made: the mateship, the loyalty and the determination to build and protect the freedom and rights we now enjoy. Both are also occasions when we recognise the ongoing struggles of today and thank those standing beside us in the fray.

The Labour Day date was moved from May to the second Monday in March in some parts of Australia after World War II. For a large section of the Brisbane labour movement, it remained important that the Labour Day celebrations be changed to enable participation by all Queensland workers and that the date of the procession moved from the traditional one on 1 March to 1 May.

The main arguments for changing the date of the celebrations was to make them part of the international campaign, begun by the International Labour Congress in 1889, to make 1 May an official workers holiday around the world. This campaign was given a major boost when, on 1 May 1891, more than 1,000 striking shearers participated in Australia's first May Day march through the streets of Barcaldine, where their leaders wore blue sashes and they carried banners and the Eureka flag. It was reported that cheers were given for "the eight-hour day". Henry Lawson wrote Freedom on the Wallaby to mark the day.

Labour Day is here to stay

The Queensland Government is trying to kill off Labour Day by moving the public holiday from its traditional May date to October, however it will be business as usual for the Queensland union movement today - Sunday, 5 May - writes Dr Glenn Davies.

THE FIRST WEEKEND in May has been of major cultural and historical significance for the union movement in Queensland ever since the state's

ul lithe 150-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree in Randwick, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, known by locals as the Tree of Knowledge, a href=">was removed in July 2016 to make way for a light rail line;

  • Goondiwindi;
  • the Galamarrma, or Tree of Knowledge, is located in the courtyard of the Darwin Civic Centre and has been used as meeting place, postal address and community notice board;
  • the Perth Tree of Knowledge was craned into the children's section of the City of Perth library;
  • Kidman's Tree of Knowledge is a mature coolibah tree at Glengyle Station, Bedourie under which Sir Sidney Kidman reputedly camped when contemplating the development of his pastoral empire. For this reason, it has been heritage-listed; and
  • the Tree of Knowledge at Camooweal is a mature coolibah tree on the eastern side of the Georgina River where drovers, teamsters and others would camp, rest and yarn.
  • Trees are significant in many of the world's mythologies and have deep and sacred meanings throughout history. They are powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth, with evergreens sometimes considered symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility.

    The source of knowledge in many ancient myths is a tree that symbolises how knowledge represents the connection between ideas from different worlds - for example, the world of humans and the divine world. The Tree of knowledge (World Tree) is found in many religions and mystic traditions such as the Tree of Eden, the Norse Yggdrasil and the Kabalistic Sephiroth Tree, to name but a few.

    No doubt the Barcaldine Oak Street ghost gum tree bore silent witness to those events of 1891 that saw riots and 2,000 police and army personnel in the town to protect the strikebreakers, however, there is no evidence that the strikers met there. Also, the ghost gum was never called the "Tree of Knowledge" at the time. In fact, it wasn't until at the least the 1930s that the tree began to receive this moniker.

    The tree was first known as the "Alleluia Tree", so-called because local members of the Salvation Army congregated to worship under its branches. Bullock drivers who were constantly on the move throughout Western Queensland also used the tree as a place to gather and swap yarns and news from along the trails.

    The ghost gum continued to be referred to as the "Hallelujah Tree" in 1914 and in 1919 when Labor senate candidate Myles Ferricks addressed the crowd, it was reported to have occurred at the Hallelujah Tree. In 1921, Barcaldine newspaper The Western Champion reported the Hallelujah Tree was declining in health. In 1923, there is again reference to the Hallelujah Tree in the local media in Barcaldine, continuing still in 1927. It's not until 1931 there is evidence in The Western Champion referring to the old ghost gum as the "Tree of Knowledge" rather than the "Hallelujah Tree".

    The argument to support the position that Barcaldine never referred to a Tree of Knowledge in its community until the 1930s is the reference in The Western Champion, 29 March 1919, to the regular unemployed meetings in Townsville

    There is no reflection in the newspaper column on the name being originally a Barcaldine term from the 1891 strike, almost 30 years before. As an article that was critical of the success of the Townsville unemployment meetings, reference to the unoriginality of the name of the meeting place would have been mandatory. It was not mentioned.

    In 2006, the Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine was poisoned. The culprit/s were never found and the ALP (Queensland) has a $10,000 reward for identifying who poisoned the tree.

    The dead gum tree was removed and a sapling, propagated from the original, now grows at the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. Ironically, the Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge also achieved National Heritage listing in 2006. A memorial has been erected to commemorate the tree's history in Barcaldine and its significance to the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine and Queensland.

    The Shearers Strike and the 1891 'Bread or Blood?' editorial

    Today is the 120th anniversary of F.C.B. Vosper's 'Bread or Blood?' editorial in the Charters Towers Australian Republican, where he called for the establishment of an Australian republic at any cost. Written in support of the striking shearers, the editorial was to land Vosper with a charge of seditious libel. As the editor of the Australasian Republican Association's (ARA) weekly journal he strongly advocated a revolutionary approach - as opposed to the ARA's evolutionary approach - to the creation of an Australian republic. It is within this tension that the nature of nineteenth-century radical republicanism can be seen, writes Glenn Davies.

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