Greg Manning, "199 Songs" (Case Study)

Conference paper presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, October 17-18, 2014, Urban Seed. Published online November 12, 2015.

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Lest old acquaintance be forgot[1]

And never brought to mind

Lest old acquaintance be forgot

I’d like to have a drink with Dunc

I’d like to meet his friends[2]

 

Like Kipper Jackey

The Reverend Hanley and

The Duke of York

I’d like to meet the boatman

From the customs wharf

 

Sweet water with Duncan

I’d like to hear them all talk.

In 2013, some friends (Peter and Jon) and I traveled on some buses during an international music festival, Fete de la Musique, to sing a song for the passengers. The buses we boarded plied the 199 route. The name of our song, “199 Songs,” implied an abundance of songs. The memorials along this route (mostly in the form of street and place names) are bursting with so much content that they could easily inspire at least 199 songs about the creation of Brisbane city.[3]

Our song aimed to provide a soundtrack, which might give meaning to what is visible through the window to commuters through Brisbane’s central business district. It referred to street signs, statues and other visible features, which are so common that they commonly go unnoticed. It acknowledged the music of Slim Dusty, the poetry of Robbie Burns (who makes a spectacular appearance along the journey), the sound of the electronic card reader on the bus, and an Irish tradition of singing the news and social happenings to each other. It reflected on “The Progress of Civilization in the State of Queensland,” which appears in the form of a huge stone pageant at the centre of the journey.

Our journey went between Cordelia St, South Brisbane, and Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley. The route crosses the Victoria Bridge, traverses Wickham St and crosses Duncan St (which is better known, today, as the China Town Mall), Wharf St and Creek St. It is rich in memorials to the origins of Brisbane city.

This journey takes place between the names of two ships: Cordelia and Fortitude. The S.S. Fortitude was a migrant ship chartered by the Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang.[4] In 1849, it arrived in Moreton Bay without warning or arrangement, and its passengers faced a series of official rejections. [5] HMS Cordelia was a warship involved in the Taranaki War of 1860.[6] In 1859, it brought Queensland’s first Governor to Brisbane. He was greeted with great ceremony. Captain John Clements Wickham processed the contrasting arrivals of both ships.[7] He is one of the many possible links between the names at the two ends of this journey.

The organisers of both ships wanted to define the North East of Australia. The destination of Her Majesty’s Ship, Cordelia, was “Queensland.” Those on the Fortitude saw their destination as “Cooksland,” thanks to the energetic agitation of the Rev Dr Lang. Both ships carried people who were identified with a memorial explaining how they had access to the land.

Ten years before the Fortitude arrived in Moreton Bay, Lang had organised a group of missionaries to live in the Moreton Bay area. In his promotion of “Cooksland,” Lang described a situation in which one of these missionaries was explaining to the Traditional Owners that they were being displaced, and dispossessed of their land by the many soldiers of “the great white Jin”[8] (also known as Queen Victoria). In doing so, this missionary introduced the concept of Queen’s land, long before the name arrived.

Our song set the scene for a commute through 21st century Brisbane, with some stylized introductions contrasting the initial encounters between the passengers of two ships and Captain Wickham. The introductions then move to the missionary’s warning of the coming dispossession in the name of the Queen.

Wickham to Fortitude

Come in Fortitude

Fortitude to Wickham

We’re the sheep of his pasture.

 

Wickham to Fortitude

We don’t want to see you.[10]

Wickham to Cordelia.

Come in Cordelia

 

Wickham to Fortitude

We don’t want to see you

Wickham to Cordelia

We’ve been waiting for you

Wickham to Cordelia

Come in Cordelia

Cordelia to Wickham

Welcome aboard

 

Since the great white Jin

Had the river surveyed,

She’s the queen of the salt water,

The queen of the shade

Queen Victoria’s queen of the bridge[11] long before it was made


Amidst the aspirations and exasperations in these introductions, the song aimed to find a way to offer respect to the Turrbul and the Jagera, who are the Traditional Owners of the land along this route. In order to do this, the song turned to another character named along the route and who was also present in the life of John Wickham: William Duncan. We took interest in Duncan, because of a speech by a Turrbal woman, Maroochy Baramba. During a speech at the unveiling of a statue, which is related to another statue along the route, she said,

I am a direct descendant of the few Turrbal People that survived the adverse impact of European settlement in Brisbane from the 1820s onward. Whilst the Turrbal experience was rather ugly, brutal and devastating, some humanitarians emerged around that time. They include people such as William Duncan and Isaac Moore.[12]

William Duncan, sub-inspector of customs, was one of three Brisbane officials who boarded the Fortitude on its arrival in Moreton Bay. In his company, Dr Ballow recommended the passengers be denied immediate access to the mainland, for fear it would create a Typhus epidemic in the colony. Mr Richardson, the store keeper, declined Lang’s written request that he provide food to the passengers of the Fortitude on their arrival in Brisbane.

We’ve been exposed! [13]

We’ve been exposed to

So many different versions of events.

Do we believe what the papers say?

Or William Duncan’s friends?

Well, not if you’re the magistrate,

He knows who’s been defamed.[14]

I’d like to have a drink with

anyone who can’t be named.

 

Like the pilots,

And the croppies,

Slaves,

The Moreton Bay man

Wives,

Lovers

And the owners of the grang-grang

 

Take me to the water with Duncan

I’d like to learn all that slang.

Our song drew on an article in the Moreton Bay Courier[15] in which Wickham presented a series of interviews he conducted, following a police attack on an Aboriginal camp in the vicinity of (what is now known as) Fortitude Valley. These interviews highlight distinct differences between Wickham’s and Duncan’s relationships with Aboriginal people. Despite these differences, Wickham and Duncan’s agreement about the location of the Customs Wharf shaped the city of Brisbane as we see it today. Wharf St is the location for the following lyric.

We don’t always agree

On where or

What was the effect of a shot or

The spot for the town’s most lucrative dock.

 

The customs wharf put Wickham and Duncan

In the same corner.

 

But they’d come out swinging

Over the Duke of York

And York’s Hollow’s

Locals

Customs

Laws

 

Tea and sugar with Duncan

And deadly Hollow talk.

It is not always obvious what is behind the naming of a street. Near Cordelia St, the route crosses Hope St and passes Fish Lane. The words “hope” and “fish” might harbour romantic connotations, but on this journey, Messrs Hope and Fish were both merchants in Brisbane. Wharf St is, however, the road to the old Customs Wharf. Creek St roughly follows a natural water course, which the English speakers initially called “Wheat Creek.”

The crossing of Creek St provides an opportunity to reflect further on what the street signs memorialize. This verse highlights a selection of ways in which Brisbane’s street names can be scrutinised in the process of trying to identify the memorials to which they point.

Look at the terrain.

I’m looking down the drain

For the creek

The street swallowed and crossed

And followed and flushed.

Lest old acquaintance be forgot. [16]

 

Who was this creek?

Whose mother?

Whose loss?

Were you really a creek?

I’m looking down the drain.

 

Are you Captain Creek?

Or the Earl of Creek?

Are you the sound of creek?

The cold English town of Creek?

Are you the battle?

The treaty?

The defeat of Creek?

Are you King?

Queen?

Lady?

Missus?

HMS Creek?

 

Who fed the wheat fields,

And the Petries,

And the Duke of York?

The magistrate,

And anyone who’s come here before

Builders dropped the last drain

And drained the last drop?

 

I’d love to drain the last drop

with Duncan

In the course of his interview with Wickham, Duncan made a stinging accusation. He testified that the pilots and the surveyors had kidnapped Aboriginal women. Perhaps he used his interview with Wickham in the print media to try to stimulate a deeper reflection. Even if that is not what he was doing then, his testimony in the Moreton Bay Courier of 1847 is having that effect now.

I’m looking twice at

The statues in King George Square

 

Twice at the triangle, and

Twice at the square.

We get two grabs at industry,

Two candidates for mayor.[17]

Is that the cleaner with a stallion?

The Cook’s real hair?

“Some one’s missing,” says Dunc [18]

Look!

Look everywhere.

 

Twice at the triangle, and

Twice at the square.

Is that an introduced species?

Was that already there?

Twice at the street names.

It’s the same story there.

We get two Petrie bites [19] at

King George Square.

 

See the aging of the translator [20]

For the Duke of York

We get two shots

With the man who’s off to explore. [21]

Two shots with Duncan

Feels like we’ve been here before

 

I’ll have a double shot with Duncan

I’m seeing double,

Maybe more.

The respect this song intends is to acknowledge that we have heard the words of a living Turrbul woman. Her words have affected what we see. The sources informing this song contain a lot of distressing content, which add some detail to her summary comments. They also provide enough information to show why she might have affirmed one of the characters named in the streets along the route. It intends to be a song about listening and learning, more than a song about knowing and telling.

 

[1] A large statue of Robert Burns stands amongst the trees in Centenary Place. Burns is often credited with today’s popular versions of “Auld Lang Syne,” a tribute to relationships in times gone by.

[2] The streets are references to people in relationship with multitudes of people who are not mentioned in place names. This song focuses on William Duncan’s relationships, which are identified in the following article in the Moreton Bay Courier from 1847. Available at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3709940 (accessed March 17, 2015).

[3] An example of other lyrical content from this route is Samuel Wagan Watson’s poem, “Last Exit to Brisbane.”

[4] Joyce and Neville Bryant, “SS ‘Fortitude’,” personal homepage, http://www.halenet.com.au/~jvbryant/fortlet1.html#anchor488326 (accessed March 17, 2015).

[5] Elaine Brown, “The Voyage of the Fortitude,” in Schemes and Dreams: Nineteenth Century Arrivals, ed. Jennifer Harrison and Barry Shaw, BHG Papers no.23 (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 2014), 54–73.

[6] “World Naval Ships Forums,” Jelsoft Enterprises, http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13363 (accessed March 17, 2015).

[7] Mervyn Royle, “John Clements Wickham: A Man of Many Parts,” in Schemes and Dreams: Nineteenth Century Arrivals, ed. Jennifer Harrison and Barry Shaw, BHG Papers no.23 (Brisbane: Brisbane History Group, 2014), 74–90.

[8] John Dunmore Lang, Cooksland in North-eastern Australia, The Future Cottonfield of Great Britain: Its Characteristics and Capabilities for European Colonization. With a Disquisition on the Origin, Manners, and Customs of the Aborigines (London: Longmans, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1847).

[9] The passengers of the Fortitude sang Ps 100 on their departure from England. The psalm centres on the phrase, “We are the sheep of his pasture.”

[10] These are not Wickham’s words, but they express the rejection Wickham embodied as the senior colonial official in Brisbane when the passengers of the Fortitude were officially denied access to the people, the land and the food of Brisbane.

[11] I.e., Victoria Bridge.

[12] “Speech by Maroochy Baramba at the Unveiling of the Tom Petrie Memorial” (speech, Petrie, 21 September 21, 2010); http://dakibudtcha.com.au/Turrbal/ (accessed March 17, 2015).

[13] “Shall we drag their real names into daylight?” asks the Editorial on Saturday, February 13, 1847. The Moreton Bay Courier considers exposing personalities who seemed to want to expose other events.

[14] “There was no dependence to be placed on what he said, as he was so great a liar.” This is how Wickham, the magistrate, is reported to have resisted hearing the complaint of the Duke of York.

[15] “Local Intelligence—The Aboriginals Inquiry,” Moreton Bay Courier, February 13, 1847, 17.

[16] Two men called Walter Petrie drowned in the waters of this creek.

[17] The triangle refers to the sculpture, “The Progress of Civilisation in the State of Queensland” (framed in the triangular feature over the main entrance to City Hall). The “square” refers to the memorial to the Petrie family in King George Square. The “triangle” presents primary industries, whilst the “square” presents the construction industry. The triangle presents a generic mayor in the form of “the state,” while the square presents us with a specific mayor in John Petrie.

[18] William Duncan suggested that the kidnapping of Aboriginal women may have been related to the conflict which was in full public view. There do not appear to be any Aboriginal women in either statue.

[19] Petrie Bight was a name used for the river bank near the Customs Wharf, as it was where the Petrie family lived.

[20] Thomas Petrie served as a translator in the “Aborigines Inquiry,” as well as during “field” encounters between Turrbul-speaking and English-speaking people. He is portrayed as a child in one statue. An older, yet still son-like, character appears at the interface between the two races in another statue.

[21] The “explorer” in each statue is the man with the gun.

Image: stk20, Flickr (Creative Commons)