LAST month members of the Bass Coast South Gippsland Reconciliation Group stood in the Sale Entertainment Centre trying to make sense of the motto on a crest. “MISERIS SUCCURRERE DISCO”.
It’s in the detail of one of six plaques by Annemieke Mein commemorating famous Gippslanders. This plaque was the last item on our itinerary; the final monument to honour Angus McMillan.
THERE are two memorial cairns in Corinella. One reminds us of the failed attempt at British settlement in 1826. The other informs us of Count Paul Strzelecki’s 1840 journey through an area inhabited for thousands of years.
Well before the Count’s party stumbled through, Samuel Anderson had made a number of exploratory journeys to the Tarwin River and Anderson's Inlet. Why would a day in 1840 warrant such a marker?
In the mid-1920s the self-appointed Victorian Historical Memorials Committee decided to glorify Angus McMillan and Paul de Strzelecki with a chain of historical cairns across Gippsland. According to historian Tom Griffiths, “The cairns were intended to define a local geography bound to the colonial era.”
The committee believed that the landscape lacked markers of the past. Simultaneously, some of its members were stripping the country of Aboriginal stone objects They wanted to direct historical thought toward events they believed had shaped modern Australia (Griffiths: Hunters and Collectors).
The Melbourne-based committee directed the design and placement of the cairns and asked local groups for financial and organisational support. The committee also co-opted local enthusiasts: a local businessman, Mr J.T. Knox, built the Leongatha cairn with concrete blocks from his own quarry.
Enthusiasm for the cairns was not universal. Initially residents of Sale were indifferent. The Maffra Shire council supported the committee though the people of Maffra preferred to spend the money on public seating.
In some places locals took over the design process. The Mirboo North effort sprouted electric globes. The Corinella cairn, dedicated to Strzelecki, was amended to recognise an indigenous man, Tarra, who had saved Strzelecki and his men from starvation. The Tarra River, Tarraville and the Tarra Valley were all named for him.
In April 1927, the committee and the Governor, Lord Somers, toured Gippsland to unveil the cairns. This provided a platform for Somers to lecture on imperial loyalty. He called on Victorians to acknowledge a debt to explorers who had “won” the country for the present-day inhabitants. Committee member Barrett and Governor Somers argued that McMillan was not an Australian bushman but a Scot, and therefore the link between modern Australia and Britain.
A jingoistic letter to the Argus newspaper in 1927 concluded “The pioneering spirit is necessary today … they possess it who feel impelled to uproot their lives and grasp the opportunities held out by the development of Australia. They have a title to her citizenship which makes an impertinence the thought of restricting their ambitions.”