If this version of history is true it appears current federal Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is not quite the "detail man" that PM John Howard would all like us to believe. Read on!
It is interesting talking to diverse folks at Addison Rd Community Centre. I am a humble gardener one day a week there and chat to tenants and neighbours alike. I like to think of myself as honouring alternatively Eddie Mabo gardener in solidarity with Black Radio Skidrow folks, or Che Guevara agricultural worker vis a vis the Casa Latin American Spanish speakers club. But mostly I just do bins gutters and weeding.
This inspiring conversation is well worth recording: A talk with one retired gent Alf Rankin last Friday 12th January neighbour to the ARC (just near the north west composter actually) which still has army buildings from when it was a Vietnam War barracks.
(It’s a bloody good parallel to a radio talk by author Peter Fitzsimons on literary luncheons on ABC radio a day or two before about the revered Rats of Tobruk who stopped Rommel for the first time ever. The talk is a little hard to locate on the web but notice this promo: http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/product.asp?productid=521445 )
There I was weeding in front of YogaTrack and Alf pauses, as he does:
Me: This is the music I like [playing on my van stereo], it’s the soundtrack to the movie Thin Red Line, do you know it? The film’s on the Pope’s top 20 list apparently.
Alf: no can’t say I have.
Me: There are two versions but the recent one is the best. It’s about the very violent campaign in WW2 in Guadalcanal but it’s actually about democracy, how a middle ranking officer defies an order higher up so his men aren’t cannon fodder. Great actors. Nolte, Penn, Clooney, Travolta. They all wanted to be in it. The director only makes one every 15 years so they wanted in. Great stuff.
Alf: funny you should talk about defiance.
Me: Yeah Australian soldiers are said to be casual and rebellious aren’t they.
Alf: Australians like to think they are.
Me: Yeah. Actually we are a very docile submissive lot compared to say the French.
Alf: I met a Scottish fellow who was in WW1 who came here. Said if he survived this he wanted to live in Australia. But when he got here he didn’t find it.
Me: Reality didn’t live up to the ideal, eh?
Alf: What he saw in the happy go lucky Australians abroad wasn’t what he saw here. I’ll tell you a story about Kirkpatrick. You might know him as Simpson. He was from a village called [Shields End?]. They were seafaring people. So was my grandfather. They were seafaring people when they came out here too. Ships carpenters and various other jobs. They knew Kirkpatrick and he was always visiting their place. They believed in the same things. There was a lot of support at that time for something called the IWW, international [or did he say “industrial”] workers of the world. They were part of that. Seafarers used to carry the message to ports across the world.
Me: Strong mateship eh? What was your grandfather’s name?
Alf: Whalton. W-H-A-L-T-O-N.
Me: That’s an unusual spelling. [I’m thinking ‘John Boy’ in the Waltons tv series.]
Alf: I have his death certificate at home. So anyway Kirkpatrick hated guns, didn’t want anything to do with them. He thought he would join up here and get a trip back to the UK and disappear as Simpson and start living as Kirkpatrick again. But the ship never got that far, it stopped in a place called Gallipoli.
Me: He was the famous Simpson with the donkey? He did that for about a month or two didn’t he?
Alf: Yeah. He wouldn’t fight you see. Refused to work for the Australian army. He got involved with the Indians. They loved him for helping their wounded. It went to an Australian General they reckon who said just let him be.
Me: He probably knew what would happen to him soon enough.
Alf: Maybe. Some say he was killed by the enemy, some even say it was an Australian bullet. No one knows really.
Me: Where would that latter story come from? The Indians?
Alf: Not sure.
Me: You know this is a pretty embarrassing version of history for Defence Minister Nelson. He holds Simpson up as a model of Australian values. He’s put it in an education pack to all Australian schools. Can I quote you on this? I do a bit of web publishing.
Me: What’s your name?
Alf: Alf Rankin.
Me: What a stupid war WW1 was. Such a waste.
Postscript #1: I don’t know how accurate this is or possible to corroborate regarding the history of Simpson’s demise as a martyr on the Gallipoli battle field. Here are some references that provide a comparison
and yes it does look very close to the official Australia War Memorial version of reality, but no mention of Industrial Workers of the World:
Also no mention of the highly inflammatory suggestion he was shot by an Australian bullet seeking revenge for his desertion at Gallipoli.
But the reference to working with the Indian soldiers, and the merchant navy history are all there. Whacko. I think Alf has got a nugget of information for Australian history here.
Postscript #2: This is what Howard's "detail man" said to the media of record ABC PM show [direct quote]:
"Teach Australian values or 'clear off', says Nelson
PM - Wednesday, 24 August , 2005 18:18:00
Reporter: Samantha Hawley
MARK COLVIN: Teach Australian values or "clear off". That's the message to Islamic schools in Australia from the Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson.
Dr Nelson gives the World War One story of Simpson and his donkey as an example of the values he means. It's the story of the unarmed soldier with a donkey who rescued wounded men on Gallipoli.
Dr Nelson says if we lose sight of what Simpson and his donkey represented, Australia as a nation will lose its direction. ...."
and on and on it goes.
Not Simpson, Kirkpatrick. Not Australian, British. Not a military patriot but a peacenik deserter saintly martyr. Not a righteous soldier but anti war.
And these people are in charge of the blood and life of our citizenry, of vouchsafing the best interest of our allies, and global security.
'Don't take the low road' indeed to quote a soliliquy by the prodigy in West Wing tv series Josh Lyman character. Take the high road.
Seems The Age editorialist has been here before me in any case. They cover most of this shallow 'wrap me in a uniform' prompous right wing fantasy at the time August 2005:
Nelson was seeing Liberal Party blue tinted fairies at the bottom of the garden it seems. Next to the glow of non existent Iraqi WMD I suppose. Meanwhile Libya really did have nuke/nuke technology via AQ Khan working from Pakistan. Incredulous really.