Saturday, April 11, 2009

VIC Greats 1 - Alfred Deakin and John Monash

This post has come about after some discussion on Trip Advisor about Aussie top 10 destinations. Having a tendency to wander off on tangents I started to muse about great Australians and determined to come up with 10 notable personages from each State. Obviously given their longer history and larger population, and also that I am born and bred Sydneysider it has been a lot easier to come up with lists of truly greats from Victoria and NSW. Clearly I am not an expert on such matters and would welcome suggestions for others that readers might admire.

Let us start our State and National lists with Victoria. If I had to pick a State from which my heros have eminated, it would be Victoria. So lets start with a couple whom I sincerely admire....

Alfred Deakin (Politician).Deakins' is a name you trip over without necessarily having much of an idea who he was. Well I suppose the easy answer is that he was Australia’s second Prime Minister, and also the 5th and the 7th and all this in the first 10 years after Federation.
Importantly he was an important person in achieving federation at all. There are others whose names are bandied about in regard to federation (not least of which is Henry Parkes) but Deakin’s biography says that he was one who moved behind the scenes oiling the wheels of consensus without which federation may not have succeeded when it did. Deakin was so well regarded that he was appointed as Minister in governments from both sides of politics. He was what we would dream of having in Parliament today. A man of conscience, intelligence and honour, coupled with great capacity.
The story of the early Federation period is a very interesting one. If Deakin could be Prime Minister 3 times in 10 years, just consider how unstable the balance of power was in the house. If memory serves there were several camps, the protectionists, the free traders and Labor. Protectionism wasn't just about coming into the nation but trade between the various States. Colonies had in the past taken extreme measures to hinder trade between colonies. The break in gauge around the nations railroads was a considered decision believe it or not... but I digress............. During the early federation period the Government was usually a minority government and so each knew they were liable to be toppled at any time and this proved absolutely the case. Over time they came to realise that something had to be done about it, people compromised in the interests of the new nation and the “two party system" was established. If memory serves, Deakin was a key player in this too (or at least his biographer claims it for him) and the two party system provided much greater stability.
Deakin was also a legendary public speaker. The website on Prime Ministers suggests that he was perhaps the finest speaker in the first 100 years of the parliament. He was intelligent, intellectual, and immensely honourable, hence his ability to win the confidence of colleagues of all political persuasions.
Deakin was instrumental in improving the conditions for workers in factories, and the establishment of compensation for injured workers, and limitations on hours of work for women and children.
He was also responsible for setting up the irrigation schemes along the Murray after a 3 month study tour on the subject following a severe drought. Irrigation which transformed the place, though some might say the whole irrigation thing really did get out of hand in the end.
Deakin University is named for him. From the Deakin University website..
As Prime Minister, Deakin was largely responsible for building the basic national government structure by recognising the need for, and fighting to establish, institutions such as the High Court, the Public Service and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Legislation relating to immigration, trade protection, defence and labour were framed by his Government, which gained an international reputation for experiments in welfare policies and reforms in working conditions.
Deakin was highly respected and regarded throughout his public life by both sides of the political spectrum. His stature and renown led to him being offered many honours and awards, including a knighthood; however his modesty led him to refuse all these.

Yes, Alfred Deakin was a very great Australian and his achievements should be better known by us all. His tireless work for his country took a large toll on his health and he died quite young at the age of 63.

Sir John Monash (Great General - but way more than that)
John Monash. A citizen soldier and an engineer in civilian life. He was also a Jew. Anti-Semitism was of course pretty much institutionalised, and yet, John Monash overcame. Perhaps it says something that it is Monash that adorns the Australian $100 bill. Our highest currency note.
Now the term citizen soldier perhaps needs some explaining. Australia did not maintain a large standing army. Instead, the ordinary citizens around the traps joined units and trained in a sort of reserve capacity. John Monash was one such and was already an officer in this capacity before the outbreak of the Great War.
Monash landed on Gallipolli as the commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade. Positioned in what became known as Monash Gully. To cut a long story short, Monash was a very able commander. The King was known to be a firm admirer of his ability. Monash progressed through the ranks. Throughout the war the Australian and New Zealand troops were elements distributed in larger formations under British commanders. Everything I’ve read suggests that the Australians were very frustrated by this situation. We’d come a step forward from the Boer War, the British did not have disciplinary power over the Australians – (thankyou Breaker Morant and others) however we still had some maturing to do. Finally the Australians were brought together into the Australian Corps under Australian leadership. Despite some active lobbying against his appointment by certain influential persons, Monash was appointed to command.
Monash is credited with being the first to really show how to successfully coordinate the modern technologies of war and win battles decisively without the massive losses that had hitherto been suffered. The first such battle was at Le Hamel which ran to time, achieved it’s objectives and suffered few casualties. Though this was a small battle (and by the way the first action of the Americans in the Great War where they took a subsidiary role to the Aussies to show them the ropes… though Pershing was apparently none too impressed about that, and the US seems to keep quite dark about it now).
Monash went on to have some stunning victories, and was knighted in the field by the King. The King travelled to France to Monash’s headquarters to do the deed. He was also honoured by the leaders of other Allied Nations who had been at the point of despair of finding a way out of the savage blood bath of the western front. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau came to address the Australian troops in the field: "When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent".  Our battlefields guide told us that the battle of le Hamel is still taught as today as the example of "how it's done". Just have a look at the honours heaped upon Monash on the war memorial website.
Needless to say Monash was supremely popular among the troops and the Australian people at large, who were heartily sick of the wastage of lives in a war of attrition. It appears that the politicians were afraid of Monash for that reason. He was appointed to manage the repatriation of Australians, which kept him away from Australia during an election period.
What is not terribly well known among the current generations, is that there were movements afoot in the early days of the new nation where elements of the far right, including veteran commanders from the war, formed associations that seemed to have a mind to perhaps overthrow the government if they didn’t like the look of how things were going. Monash steered clear of these elements. There was more than one of these associations, but the fellow who charged in on his horse and slashed the ribbon before the Premier could at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, was a member of one such group.
Monash was very much involved in the building of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
When Monash died his funeral in Melbourne was a huge event. The biggest ever to that time with 250,000 mourners turning out.
Monash University is named for him. This stirring tribute is paid to him on the Monash University website
'Adopt as your fundamental creed that you will equip yourself for life, not solely for your own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community' -- Sir John Monash.
Sir John Monash was a famous Australian who made a contribution to almost every level of Australian life. The University is named after him, not because of his fame but because of the many and important ways in which he contributed to the community.
The motto of Monash University, Ancora Imparo ('I am still learning'), captures the essence of the achievements of Sir John the man as well as the spirit of our university.

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