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Lady Parachutists and the End of Civilisation in Queensland

  • Bill Metcalf

Extract

Brisbane was wiped off the face of the Earth and Queensland ceased to exist as a political entity under the combined military forces of Victoria and New South Wales during violent conflict at the end of the twentieth century. Brisbane was annihilated because of the un-Christian sins of its people, and the moral corruption of its leaders. The Queensland Defence Force was incapable of defending even itself, let alone defeating the invading troops. The pivotal event in this collapse concerned the alluring performances by a group of ‘lady parachutists’ who entertained the Queensland military forces, thereby distracting them and allowing the opposing forces to easily defeat them at the Battle of Fort Lytton.

That, at least, is the key to the plot of Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas's 1894 dystopian novel The Ruins of Brisbane in the Year 2000. The origin of this ‘lady parachutists’ myth, and the connections between this myth and the end of Queensland civilisation, led me to research a fascinating episode in Queensland's cultural history, and in particular Victorian notions of sexual propriety, ‘true manhood’ and the combined — albeit veiled — threats posed by unfettered female sexuality and male masturbation.

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Notes

1 Lucas, Thomas P., The Ruins of Brisbane in the Year 2000, published in The Curse and its Cure (Brisbane: J.H. Reynolds, 1894).

2 New York Times, 26 October 1930, p. 24; emails dated 17 and 19 January 2005 from Rick Van Tassel to the author; and http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/vantasselfamilyhistoryhomepage. The Van Tassel acrobatic group had arrived in Sydney on 12 December 1889 on the Mariposa. The surname was spelt as ‘Van Tassell’, ‘Van Tasel’ and ‘Van Tassel’, but the latter seems to be the preferred spelling and is used herein except when citing sources which use other versions.

3 Mines, F., A Draft of Parachuting in Australia up to the Foundation of Sport Parachuting in 1958, undated paper (http://esvc001114.wic013u.server-web.com/news/History-of-Australian-Parachuting-frorn-1958.pdf); Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1937, p. 12; and Queensland State Archives (QSA): SRS36, Inquest Files, Con. 5, Item 177, 1890.

4 The Argus, 2 February 1858, p. 5; and Melbourne Age, 2 February 1858, p. 4.

5 Melbourne Age, 15 April 1879, p. 3; and The Argus, 15 April 1879, p. 5.

6 The Bulletin, 15 December 1888, p. 7.

7 Mines, A Draft of Parachuting in Australia; Encyclopedia Britannica; various web sites; and Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 1888, p. 4.

8 QSA: SRS36, Cons. 5, Item 177, Inquest into Death of Thomas Reid; Brisbane Courier, 4 June 1890, p. 3; Northern Age, 21 June 1890, p. 2.

9 The delegation included Reverend Alexander Gauld, James Delchanty, Thomas Page, Thomas Whaley, Anthony Shanks, James Noble, James Church, E. Glagholm, William Trewin and Peter Nielson. Townsville Evening Star, 21 June 1890, p. 2; Northern Age, 21 June 1890, p. 2.

10 Northern Age, 21 June 1890, p. 2; The Queenslander, 28 June 1890, p. 1205.

11 QSA, COL/A621, # 7387 of 1890, letter 7346.

12 Townsville Evening Star, 18 June 1890, p. 2; Townsville Herald, 21 June 1890, p. 25.

13 The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13; Northern Age and North Queensland Telegraph, 23 June 1890, p. 2; Townsville Evening Star, 23 June 1890, p. 2.

14 Townsville Evening Star, 23 June 1890, p. 2.

15 Reverend Thomas Ellison and Frederick Yarrow.

16 Northern Age and North Queensland Telegraph, 23 June 1890, p. 2.

17 Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1890, p. 6; and emails from David Craddock to author dated 1 June and 12 July 2005.

18 The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13.

19 Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1890, p. 6.

20 Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1890, p. 6.

21 The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13.

22 Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1890, p. 6.

23 The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13.

24 According to Australian balloon researcher, David Craddock: ‘The parachute was fixed by an ingenious arrangement to the bottom of the balloon (the open mouth part of the balloon for inflation), and by simply pulling a string (that went up to where the parachute was attached), the parachute could be disengaged. So, picture this: the inflated gas bag at the top, then attached to some simple structure across the bottom of the balloon is the apex of the parachute. Now, the parachute and a light cord (or string) hang down, under the weight of the aeronaut who is holding on to the bar at the bottom of the parachute cords. When she released the parachute, by pulling on the string, the balloon would just float or turn over and eventually land. The balloon would have no cords attached at that time. The parachute drops after release and soon fully inflates and descends to the ground with its passenger holding on to the trapeze bar.’ Email dated 1 June 2005, from David Craddock to author.

25 Brisbane Courier, 2 June 1890, p. 6.

26 Brisbane Courier, 23 May 1890, p. 6; Northern Age, 21 June 1890, p. 2; Northern Age, 23 June 1890, p. 2; The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13.

27 According to Townsville Evening Star, 23 June 1890, p. 2, this disputed bouquet had actually been handed to Miss Van Tassel by Steve Byrne.

28 Northern Age and North Queensland Telegraph, 23 June 1890, p. 2.

29 The Queenslander, 5 July 1890, p. 33.

30 Townsville Bulletin, 23 June 1890 (quoted in Brisbane Courier, 27 June 1890, p. 3; repeated in The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 13).

31 This quaint term means ‘wowser’ according to the Macquarie Dictionary, and ‘puritanical’ according to Hughes, J. (ed.), Australian Words and their Origins (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989).

32 Charters Towers Times, 26 June 1890, pp. 1 and 2.

33 Brisbane Courier, 26 June 1890, p. 4.

34 Queensland Legislative Assembly, Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 3, 1890, p. 48.

35 Queensland Legislative Assembly, Votes and Proceedings, Vol. 1, 1890, p. 18.

36 Brisbane Courier, 30 June 1890, p. 6; and Lilley, W. Osborne, Reminiscences of Life in Brisbane and Reflections and Sayings (Brisbane: W.R. Smith, 1913): 162.

37 Brisbane Courier, 30 June 1890, p. 6.

38 Lilley, Reminiscences: 162.

39 Brisbane Courier, 7 July 1890, p. 6.

40 Lilley, Reminiscences: 162–63.

41 Brisbane Courier, 12 July 1890, p. 5.

42 Brisbane Courier, 14 July 1890, p. 6; Lilley, Reminiscences, pp. 161–63.

43 QSA COL/A620, # 7089 of 1890, letter 7089.

44 Brisbane Courier, 12 July 1890, p. 5.

45 QSA, COL/A621, # 7387 of 1890, letter 3903.

46 QSA, COL/A621, # 7387 of 1890, letter 7346.

47 QSA, COL/A621, # 7387 of 1890, Minute by the Chief Secretary.

48 QSA COL/A621, # 7387 of 1890, letter 7387; The Queenslander, 12 July 1890, pp. 5455.

49 Svenson, Stuart, The Shearer's War: The Story of the 1891 Shearer's Strike (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989): 146.

50 See, for example: Allen, J., Rose Scott: Vision and Revision in Feminism (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994); and M. Lake, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1999).

51 Laquer, W., Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (New York: Zone Books, 2003), p. 231.

52 For example: Professor Stineway, Carl, in The Bulletin, 12 July 1890, p. 1; and Dr Richards in The Townsville Herald, 28 June 1890, p. 32.

53 Brisbane Courier, 14 July 1890, p. 6.

54 Brisbane Courier, 12 July 1890, p. 5.

55 Lucas, Thomas Pennington, Do Thyself No Harm: A Lecture to Men (Melbourne: Mason, Firth and McCutcheon, 1885).

Lady Parachutists and the End of Civilisation in Queensland

  • Bill Metcalf

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