1911 – Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent begins at the Ardlethan Show

Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent is perhaps the best known – and most notorious – of the various travelling outback boxing shows that once went from town to town in Australia. It put on displays of bare-knuckle boxing as well as occasional bouts where locals could try their luck against the professional boxers.

It was a brutal sport, and often exploitative – but it was also one of the few ways a black man could make a living, albeit a dangerous one that might leave you maimed. The outback boxing circuit flourished for a few decades, but it largely faded away by the time of World War Two.

Referenced in:

Yesterdays — Cold Chisel
Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers — Midnight Oil

“Bow River” by Cold Chisel

In an earlier installment of this series, I mentioned Cold Chisel’s “One Long Day”, which I find myself terribly sorry there wasn’t a place in this list. But I promised myself only one Chisel song, and as brilliant as that one is, it loses out to “Bow River”. They both have a similar subject matter, but one is a mellow bluesy piece and the other one is rock’n’roll – no contest, really.

That subject matter is something that flows on naturally from the last couple of installments of Australian Anthems: it the idea of getting away from it all. The flipside of urbanisation is the desire to get the hell out of the city, for good or for just a weekend, and feel truly free.

The Australian built environment is quite centralised and dense – it doesn’t take more than a few hours driving to get out to an area where even the farms are fairly far from each other, and you can imagine what this land was like as a wilderness.

This longing is a holdover from our frontier past, although in recent decades it also partakes of environmentalist sentiments. Either way, it’s a desire for clean, fresh air and no sounds but the wind and occasional birds.

At the same time, it acknowledges that this dream is a forlorn one without the money to pay for it (and the logical corollary, that working will be necessary to get that money together) – and that furthermore, when this holiday is over, however long it lasts, nothing will remain but the memories of it.

1945 – The Bombing of Dresden ends

One of the more pointless and vindictive acts on the part of the Allies, the bombing of the German city of Dresden from February 13 to 15 in 1945 was a massive operation consisting of four separate air raids. A total of 3600 planes took place in the raids, which dropped more than 3900 tonnes of incendiaries and high explosives on the city.

The resulting firestorm covered 15 square miles and killed thousands of people – the lowest estimate is 22,000, and the high end runs up to 250,000 – all for a target of little military value. Although Dresden did house industrial facilities, as well as communications and railway infrastructure, none of these were targetted in the raids. Instead, residential and historical landmark areas were bombed.

For these reasons and others – not least the spotlight shone on this event by author Kurt Vonnegut in his book Slaugterhouse Five – the incident remains a controversial one.

Referenced in:

Dresden — Cold Chisel
The Hero’s Return — Pink Floyd

1979 – The Star Hotel in Newcastle closes down

The Star Hotel in Newcastle wasn’t what you would have expected from a town like Newcastle in the late Seventies. The front bar might have catered to sailors and dockers like most other Newcastle pubs, but the back bar had bands playing every night of the week – and completely free. (There was also a middle bar, which hosted drag shows.)

The pun was a byword in Newcastle for the rebelliousness and rowdiness of the crowds. The crackdown was a while in coming, but it was inevitable that the authorities would respond. In Septmber of 1979, the response came with brutal swiftness. It was announced that the Star Hotel was to close – and only a single week’s notice was given. Protests and petitions were organised, but to no avail.

On the final night of trading, September 19, 1979, a crowd of 4000 people gathered to drink and dance at The Star Hotel for the last time ever. As the police showed up to quell the ‘disturbance’, the night descended into violence and chaos. The Star Hotel is best remembered today for this final riot.

Referenced in:

Star Hotel – Cold Chisel

1968 – Battle is joined at Khe Sanh

On the evening of January 2, six men were captured outside the fences of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh, in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, apparently performing reconnaissance for a planned North Vietnamese attack.

A defector carried information about the attacks to the US forces on January 20, and the attacks themselves began the following day. The US and allied forces quickly joined battle, but were surrounded and besieged. For the next two months, the siege went on, until American forces broke through and relieved the base in March.

The American forces recorded a total of 730 soldiers killed in action, with a further 2,642 wounded and
7 more missing in action. Casualties on the North Vietnamese side are estimated as between 10,000 and 15,000.

Referenced in:
Khe Sanh – Cold Chisel
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen