Apr 082016
 

The Siege of Tobruk commenced 75 years ago.

A small town on the Libyan coast, Tobruk was central to much of the fighting that took place in the Western Desert during World War II. A key naval outpost due to its location on a sheltered, deep water harbour, Tobruk was vital for the Allies’ defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal.

More than 14,000 men from the Australian 9th Division and the 18th Brigade of the Australian 7th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, together with 12,000 British and Indian troops, held Tobruk until September 1941. Their objective was to prevent German forces from accessing the port, delaying their advance by forcing them to bring their supplies overland, and therefore buying the Allies more time to prepare a defence on the Egyptian frontier.

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Struck from 1oz of 99.9% pure silver in proof quality, this commemorative Australian coin portrays two Australian troops in the trenches during the Siege of Tobruk. No more than 5,000 75th Anniversary of WWII – The Rats of Tobruk coins will be issued.

Surrounded by German and Italian forces, the men of the Tobruk garrison withstood tank attacks, artillery barrages, and daily bombings for eight long months. At no point did they surrender or retreat. Their determination, bravery, and humour, combined with the aggressive tactics of their commanders, became a source of inspiration during some of the war’s darkest days.

As the siege ground on, Nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) broadcasting from Berlin, said the Allies were caught like “rats in a trap”. The derisive term was embraced by the Australian troops who took great pride in calling themselves the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.

In September and October, the 9th Australian Division was relieved by the British 70th Division which continued to defend Tobruk until the siege was eventually lifted in December 1941. According to the Australian War Memorial, between 8 April and 25 October 1941, Australian casualties from the 9th Division numbered 749 killed, 1,996 wounded, and 604 prisoners.

The 75th anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk will be commemorated at a national service to be held at 11.00 am on Sunday 10 April 2016, at the Rats of Tobruk Memorial on Anzac Parade  in Canberra.

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Mar 162016
 

This medallion in The Perth Mint historic collection portrays Matthew Flinders, an exceptional navigator and explorer who made remarkable contributions to the European discovery and naming of Australia.

Born on this day (16 March) in 1774, Flinders joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15. Between 1791 and 1793 he served as a midshipman on a voyage to Tahiti under Captain William Bligh, who later became Governor of New South Wales.

Flinders’ first sailed for the colony himself in 1795 where he explored Botany Bay and George’s River with his close friend, George Bass. In 1798/9, the pair famously circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land in the sloop Norfolk, proving it to be an island. The strait separating the future Tasmania from the mainland was named in honour of Bass and the largest island in Bass Strait would be named Flinders Island.

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Recognising Flinders’ outstanding abilities, the British Admiralty in 1801 gave him command of Investigator, a 334-ton sloop, in which to chart the whole Australian coastline – large parts of which remained a mystery to European explorers.

In an extraordinary incident while sailing along the unknown southern coast, he sighted the French corvette Le Géographe under Captain Nicolas Baudin. Despite deep hostility between their two nations, Flinders boarded his rival’s vessel where their meeting was reported as cordial. The location is known as Encounter Bay.

Despite Investigator’s increasing unseaworthiness during the epic voyage, Flinders became the first commander to circumnavigate the continent then comprising New South Wales and New Holland.

Subsequently he was subject to extraordinary misfortune. In 1803 he boarded HMS Porpoise under the command of Lieutenant Fowler, bound for England. But the ship grounded and sank on the Great Barrier Reef. With superb skill, Flinders navigated the ship’s cutter 800 miles back to Sydney and arranged for the rescue of the marooned crew.

His second attempt to return home was even more fraught. Once again he found himself in command of a ship in poor condition, making it necessary for the Cumberland to put into the French controlled Isle de France (Mauritius) for repairs. With Britain back at war with her European neighbour, the suspicious French governor thought he was a spy and detained Flinders indefinitely – delaying his journey by more than six years!

Flinders eventually arrived home in 1810 and set to finalising his journal A Voyage to Terra Australis for publication. Ignoring the terms New South Wales and New Holland, he declared a preference for ‘Australia’ so that the whole of the Southern Land could be known by one name in a manner similar to “the names of other the great portions of the earth.”

On 19 July 1814, the day after the book was published, Matthew Flinders died of kidney failure, aged 40. He never knew his recommendation of ‘Australia’ was formally adopted by the Admiralty a decade later after having consistently been used by no less a figure than Governor Macquarie.

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Dec 182015
 

As the winter of 1915 approached in the Dardanelles, it was clear that Allied troops had set out to achieve the impossible.

Battle-hardened Ottoman troops, desperate to defend their homeland, had fought fiercely from the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign. Under the effective command of Colonel Mustafa Kemal, who later became the first president of Turkey, Ottoman forces defeated all Allied attempts to conquer the peninsula’s high ground.

Dogged determination on both sides resulted in horrific casualties. By the time all Allied forces had withdrawn from Gallipoli in January 1916, 120,000 British, 27,000 French, and 28,000 Australians had died, were wounded, evacuated sick and taken prisoner of war. The New Zealanders lost over 7,000, the Indians 4,000, and the small Newfoundland contingent 142. The Ottomans suffered over 174,000 casualties in just eight months of fighting.

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Lemnos, December 1915: Members of the 1st Australian Divisional Signal Company opening Christmas billies and reading letters from home soon after the evacuation from Gallipoli.

The British War Secretary, Field Marshall Lord Horatio Kitchener, visited the Gallipoli battlefield in mid-November where he witnessed first-hand the wretched conditions. Adding misery upon misery, open trenches left soldiers unprotected from the soaking, freezing weather. One hellish storm resulted in the deaths of some 300 hundred British troops who succumbed to illness and more than 16,000 were said to have suffered frostbite and exposure.

Kitchener endorsed a recommendation that the Allies evacuate the Gallipoli peninsula – a complex operation which would require the evacuation of more than 93,000 troops and 5,000 animals along with vast quantities of artillery, ammunition and stores. Despite these challenges, the evacuation was one of the very few Allied successes of the entire campaign.

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At Anzac Cove, 40,000 men were evacuated under the cover of darkness over a series of consecutive nights, with the final group departing for their transport ships on the 19/20 December. They did everything possible to deceive the enemy that the front line was still being manned.

Miraculously, not a single soldier was killed. Brigadier General Cyril Brudenell White oversaw the evacuation at Anzac Cove – his brilliant plan ran without incident, thankfully aided by a lull in the weather and relatively calm seas.

Instead of facing the immeasurable menace of rifle and machine-gun fire, a rain of grenades and artillery bombardments, some Australian and New Zealand troops celebrated Christmas on the nearby Aegean island of Lemnos, while others spent Christmas in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

Tempered by the sadness of leaving the dead in ground occupied by the enemy, Christmas billies full of gifts and ‘comforts’ from a number of civilian patriotic organisations in Australia went some way to improve their sorrow. “Luxuries” to cheer the men included tobacco, razor blades, socks, writing paper and a pencil, as well as cake, sauces, pickles, tinned fruit, cocoa, coffee and biscuits. These were all fond reminders of home.

The festive respite was short-lived. Many that survived the terrors of Gallipoli spent the following months reorganising and training in Egypt in preparation for their eventual transfer to the Western Front. Having lost 28,000 men in eight months of fighting on Gallipoli, they came close to losing that number in just eight weeks in France.

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Nov 302015
 

The Perth Mint has released its annual Australian Citizenship $1 Coin for 2016. More than 30,000 of these coins are purchased annually by individuals and also by local governments which offer them as mementos to participants at Australian Citizenship Ceremonies.

As well as taking the pledge of commitment to Australia, people formalizing their Australian Citizenship at these ceremonies also sing Advance Australia Fair, which was first performed on this day, 30 November, in 1878 at the St Andrew’s Day concert of the Highland Society, NSW.

Patriotic song to national anthem

It took an extraordinary 106 years for the patriotic song Advance Australia Fair to be officially proclaimed Australia’s national anthem. The original composition was written by Scotsman Peter Dodds McCormack, who migrated to Sydney in 1855. A teacher and prominent church elder who was passionate about music, he organised many church and school choirs while also writing and publishing his own songs.

McCormack was inspired to compose Advance Australia Fair after attending a concert where national anthems were sung. Irritated that there was “not one note for Australia”, he began devising words for the new work on the bus home! After its initial public performance, the Sydney Morning Herald described the music as “bold and stirring”, while its words were “decidedly patriotic”.

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Advance Australia Fair is an important component of Australian Citizenship ceremonies where this coin is often presented as a memorable gift.

Sporadic attempts to have Advance Australia Fair proclaimed as Australia’s national anthem were made during ensuing decades. Despite being sung by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and on many other public occasions, God Save The Queen (King) continued to fulfil the role.

But in 1973, the Government backed the quest for a uniquely Australian anthem. Competitions were held for both lyrics and music. Despite a large number of entries, the judges could not be persuaded that any of them were better than the existing three traditional songs: Banjo Paterson’s famous bush ballad Waltzing Matilda; Song of Australia, which won the Gawler Institute competition for a patriotic song in 1859; or Advance Australia Fair.

The following year, a public opinion poll was organised to determine the relative popularity of the three ‘unofficial’ anthems. Of the 60,000 people sampled, 51.4% favoured Advance Australia Fair, followed by Waltzing Matilda on 19.6 per cent.

The decisive result, however, was still not enough to cement McCormack’s song as the official national anthem. In fact the Government decided that Waltzing Matilda should represent Australia at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal! (As it happened, Australia failed to win a single gold medal, leaving the decision somewhat pointless.)

Debate over the anthem continued and in the following year a direct national poll included a question on the topic. Over 7 million of the 8.4 million people on the electoral roll chose to vote. Again, Advance Australia Fair was the preferred song, followed by Waltzing Matilda, God Save the Queen and Song of Australia. Even so, it took another seven years for the decision to finally be proclaimed!

Since 1984, Advance Australia Fair has been an unequivocally important national symbol and a public expression of joy and pride in being Australian – guaranteed to make all new Australians choke with emotion at their Citizenship Ceremony!

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Nov 272015
 

Bruce Jun Fan Lee was born in the hour and the year of the Dragon, on 27 November 1940 in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Bruce was the fourth child born to Lee Hoi Chuen and his wife Grace Ho. Lee Hoi Chuen was a comedian in the Chinese opera, and an actor in Cantonese films. At the time Bruce was born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were on tour with the opera company in the United States.

At the age of three months, Lee Hoi Chuen, his wife Grace, and baby Bruce returned to Hong Kong where Bruce would be raised until the age of 18. Bruce was not a strong child, something that would change when he took up the study of gung fu at the age of 13. It was at this time that Bruce was introduced to Master Yip Man, a teacher of the Wing Chun style of gung fu, with whom Bruce trained for the next five years.

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A natural showman, Bruce was always quick and agile on his feet, also proving to be a talented dancer, winning the Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship in 1958.

In addition to his studies, gung fu, and dancing, Bruce was a child actor under the tutelage of his father who recognized at an early age that Bruce had a streak of showmanship. By the time he was 18, he had appeared in 20 films.

At the age of 18, with $100 in his pocket, Bruce boarded a steamship and began his voyage to San Francisco, and then Seattle, where he enrolled at the University of Washington.

During the three years that Bruce studied at the university, he supported himself by teaching gung fu in parking lots, garages, and any other open space he could find. In 1963, Bruce opened his first gung fu school in Seattle, the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.

One of his students in 1963 was a freshman at the University of Washington, Linda Emery. Bruce and Linda soon fell in love and married in 1964, before moving to Oakland where Bruce opened his second school.

Having now been in the United States for five years, Bruce had left behind any thought 
of acting as a career, and devoted himself completely to martial arts as a profession.

In 1964, just as Bruce was cementing his plans to expand his martial arts schools, he made a guest appearance at the inaugural Long Beach International Karate Championship in Long Beach, California. This exhibition resulted in Bruce meeting Hollywood producer William Dozier, who subsequently cast him as ‘Kato’ in The Green Hornet, a television series produced in 1966. Later that same year, Bruce and his family moved to Los Angeles, where he opened his third gung fu school. However, soon after, Bruce realised his love for martial arts was not something he wanted to turn into a business, leading him to turn his attention to acting full time.

In 1970, Bruce travelled to Hong Kong and was surprised to find he was widely recognized for his role in The Green Hornet. His popularity in Hong Kong led producer Raymond Chow to ask Bruce to join the cast of two upcoming film projects. The first of these two projects, The Big Boss, was released in 1971 and was a smash hit at the box office.


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This taste of success prompted Bruce to move his family, which then included a son, Brandon, and a daughter, Shannon, to Hong Kong to focus on his acting career. His second film, Fist of Fury, released in 1972, was an even bigger hit than the first.

Following the tidal wave of success created by these first two films, Bruce was able to write, produce, direct, and star in Way of the Dragon, released in 1972. Once again, the film broke records, earning Bruce recognition and fame not only in Hong Kong, but also in Hollywood.

Bruce’s growing popularity and success resulted in the first ever Hong Kong-American co-production which came about from Bruce’s relationship with Warner Bros. president Ted Ashley. Filming of Enter the Dragon commenced in 1972 and the film premiered in August 1973.

Unfortunately, Bruce would not live to see the opening of his film. On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee passed away at the age of 32. His legacy as a martial arts actor enabled broader depictions of Asian Americans in cinema and created a whole new breed of action hero. His talents as a martial artist and instructor continue to be revered, and his spirit remains an inspiration to untold numbers of people around the world.

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Nov 262015
 

Today marks 150 years since Lewis Carroll wrote the enchanting story of a girl named Alice and her marvellous adventures in Wonderland. With a unique bunch of characters such as the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, this revolutionary tale changed the landscape of children’s literature forever, leaving a long lasting cultural impact on the world!

Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole has inspired countless theatrical performances, film adaptions, television shows and even video games, adding to its ground-breaking appeal.

Here is a list of five interesting things you may not know about the beloved children’s classic….

  1. The story was based on a real girl called Alice Liddell. She was the daughter of Henry Liddell, the dean of the Christ Church College at Oxford where Carroll taught mathematics.
  2. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson chose the pen name Lewis Carroll by using a play on the Latin translation of his real first and middle names.
  3. Dodgson modelled the Dodo character in the book after himself. Legend has it that the author had a tendency to stammer and that he would often introduce himself as ‘Do-do-dogson’.
  4. Queen Victoria was a fan of the book and suggested that Carroll dedicate his next work to her.
  5. The book has never been out of print since it was published in 1865 and has been translated into over 170 languages.

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The Perth Mint has paid homage to this classic by releasing a beautiful 150th Anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 2015 1oz Silver Proof Coin. The coin’s reverse design portrays Aleysha Howarth’s interpretation of John Tenniel’s original illustrations of Alice, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. Issued as legal tender of Tuvalu, no more than 5,000 of these coins will be released in individual presentation packaging.

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