1861 – Burke and Wills die in the Australian outback

Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills led an expedition of 18 men with the intention of crossing Australia from Melbourne in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, a distance of around 2,800 kilometres across largely unsettled lands. The expedition set off from Royal Park, Melbourne at about 4pm on August 20, 1860, watched by a crowd about 15,000 strong.

The 19 men of the expedition included five Englishmen, six Irishmen, four Indian sepoys, three Germans and an American. They took twenty-three horses, six wagons and twenty-seven camels.

The party arrived at what would become known as the “Dig Tree” on December 6, 1860. Some of the party stayed behind, while Burke, Wills and another man named King pushed on. Those who stayed behind planned to wait for 13 weeks. In the event, they stayed for 18 weeks, finally departing on Sunday 21 April 1861.

The three men returned only 9 hours later. Over the next few weeks, the two parties missed each other several more times. Although King found a tribe of Yandruwandha willing to give him food and shelter and in return he shot birds to contribute to their supplies, Burke and Wills both died at the Dig Tree. The exact date of their death is unknown and different dates are given on various memorials in Victoria. The Exploration Committee fixed June 28, 1861 as the date both explorers died. .

Referenced in:
Reckless (Don’t Be So) – Australian Crawl

1880 – Ned Kelly is captured at Glenrowan

By the time Ned Kelly was finally brought down by the police, not long after dawn on the 28th of June, the bushranger had to know it was all over for him. The other three members of his gang lay dead inside the hotel at Glenrowan where they had holed up, and he himself was bleeding from several injuries and running low on ammunition. He was cut off from any possible support or escape – but there’s a reason why we Australians have the expression ‘as game as Ned Kelly’.

Kelly made the police fight to the very last – whether he was trying to get himself killed or simply incapable of giving up we will never know, but what is certain is that Kelly surrendered only when physically overpowered. Police accounts say that he was surprisingly good-humoured after his capture, and that jokes were exchanged between men who had, an hour earlier, been trying to kill each other in a foggy Glenrowan morning. Such is life, I suppose.

Referenced in:

Ned Kelly — Rolf Harris
The Helm of Ned Kelly — Blackbird Raum

1914 – Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated

It’s one of those things: the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was that man, Sarajevo was that place and July 28, 1914, was definitely the wrong time. While on a motorcade with his wife, Sophie Hollenburg, the Archduke narrowly dodged an assassination attempt by bomber Muhamed Mehmedbaši.

Muhamed’s failure led to the man who had placed him there, Danilo Ili, to send another of his team, Gavrilo Princip, to complete the job. Princip fired two shots, fatally wounding the Archduke and his wife with one shot each.

And in doing so, he set in motion a chain of events that would lead, inexorably, to the outbreak of World War One.

Referenced in:

Manuscript – Al Stewart
All For You, Sophia – Franz Ferdinand

1919 – The Treaty of Versailles is signed

Nearly a year after the guns fell silent – and five years to the day since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the Treaty of Versailles marked the formal ending of hostilities between Germany and the Allies, Germany’s allies having been dealt with in separate treaties. The Treaty of Versailles was hailed as a great triumph almost everywhere except in Germany, which had been forced to take the blame for the war, forced to disarm and saddled with ruinous war reparations to pay – in addition to surrendering territory to Poland in the east and France in the west, and being stripped of all its colonial possessions.

As such, the treaty imposed a burden upon Germany that was certain to foster resentment and to cripple the German economy. When the Depression hit, a decade later, Germany was one of the places it hit hardest, since the government had to pay reparations ahead of any attempt to alleviate the economic effects. Come the hour, come the man – unfortunately for everyone, the man for that hour would be an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.

Referenced in:
I’ll Meet You in Poland Baby — Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel

1942 – The German push to Stalingrad commences

The big German push on Stalingrad and points east was originally intended to begin earlier, but finally got underway on June 28, 1942. Ironically, the push towards Stalingrad was primarily a flanking maneuver, intended to provide cover for the main objective of Case Blue (the official name for the offensive), which was the oil fields of the Baku region (in what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan).

The offensive initially proceeded well for the Germans, but unexpectedly strong resistance at Stalingrad (combined with tactical withdrawals by the Soviet Army which allowed in to resupply and find better defensive positions) led to the drive on Baku stalling as Stalingrad consumed the attention and resources of Case Blue’s commanders. In the end, Stalingrad would be the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, lasting nearly six months altogether, and the site of the first major German defeat on the Eastern front.

Combined with the near simultaneous defeat of the German North African army at El Alamein, the German forces had precious few victories and were steadily pushed back on all fronts.

Referenced in:

Broken Heroes — Saxon