The Birthplace Wrangle - Holmesby pp 13-15
Almost from the inception of the Association a hot topic has been the claim of Glenelg that it is the "Birthplace of South Australia" and touted throughout the land whenever there was an opportunity, with its natal date 28th December 1836. This was in opposition to our contention that Kingscote should have that honour being settled five months earlier on 27th July 1836.
The argument gained momentum in February 1991 when Vice-President Dene Cordes wrote to the Mayor of Glenelg suggesting that the Glenelg Council's claim should be amended as the facts could not support it. The claim had been based on two main facts (1) that the first Governor and his immediate staff had landed at Glenelg on 28th December 1836 and (2) that he had read a "Proclamation", which supposedly founded the new Colony on that date.
Reliable history supports claim (1) with which we have no argument but claim (2) is seen to be dubious as it was (according to reliable sources) Robert Gouger, the Colony's Colonial Secretary who, from his tent, read a statement establishing the official Government. This statement (see Appendix A) which has been known as, and indeed entitled "Proclamation" (by definition proclamation is a statement made publicly) had been prepared six weeks earlier by the clerk of the new Council, George Stevenson. It has also been suggested that in any case it was Stevenson, who was also the Governor's Private Secretary, who read the statement under the Old Gum Tree, if in fact such an occurrence did take place!
Armed with these facts and other relevant information Dene Cordes and President Bruce Williams embarked on a campaign intending to convince all interested parties that the "Birthplace" claim be placed in its proper perspective. This involved some intense lobbying and a great deal of correspondence with the various parties such as the Glenelg Council which replied through the Mayor that "it (the Council) has determined to take no further action in this matter".
The local Kangaroo Island Member for Alexandria was also luke-warm in his response stating "that it seems far too parochial (whatever that means) and subject to controversy" (he got that right!)
Other organisations from whom we sought support but without much practical assistance were the Kingscote District Council, the SA Genealogy Society, the SA Education Department, the SA Historical Society and the Advance Kingscote Association. But our two officebearers were undeterred and pressed on involving the electronic media in radio interviews with Station 5AA and later with 5AN on 25th July which gave them a very good hearing, especially as it was only two days away from the Annual Kingscote ceremony.
Although these interviews and offers of support from various organisations including the History Trust of SA (which could be classed as an authority) were very encouraging it was evident that only acceptance from the highest authority could convince our opponents. Therefore it was decided that the co-operation and intervention be sought of one of our Patrons, the Hon Ian Gilfillan, the Democrats Leader in the SA legislative Council, to plead our cause in that area. We had been told by the Premier of the time,the Hon. John Bannon, that he could see no value in pursuing the matter.
Bruce and Dene set out to prepare a most comprehensive campaign for Mr Gilfillan to enable him to present a sound and intelligent proposition to the Parliament and it was agreed that the following motion be proposed by him as soon as possible :-
1. That this Council officially recognises: (a) Kangaroo Island as the birthplace of South Australia. (b) Glenelg as the site for the inauguration of Government.
2. That the Government recognises the above in all official documentation.
Mr Gilfillan was unable to introduce the matter to the Council until 27th August, 1991, when he was given permission to "make an explanation before asking the Minister for the Arts and Cultural Heritage a question about the proper birthplace of South Australia". He then delivered a short lesson on the events leading up to "Erection of a province to be known as South Australia," described in what came to be known as the South Australian Act of 15th August 1834, and the landing of the first Governor on 28th December, 1836, at Glenelg. Following this address he asked the Minister (The Hon Anne Levy):
1. In the light of this information does the Minister agree that Reeves Point on Kangaroo Island, not Glenelg, is the Birthplace of South Australia.
2. Will the Minister approach the Governor, Her Excellency Dame Roma Mitchell, to have a formal Vice-Regal announcement giving recognition of Reeves Point, Kangaroo Island as South Australia's Birthplace?
In her reply the Minister seems to have dodged giving a direct answer by suggesting that perhaps London where the Act was assented to would be more appropriate and finished by saying that:
"I do not wish to impose my views above those of the State Historian" and that "analogies regarding births deaths and marriages are probably inappropriate in these matters". (Mr Gilfillan had used terms such as "conceived" and "born").
As the gate did not appear to be closed, Mr Gilfillan agreed to again present the matter to the Council and armed with a well-prepared case of historically accurate information put together by Bruce and Dene, and assisted by Nell Williams, he fronted the Chamber on 9th October 1991 with the motion which had been agreed to earlier. There was nothing left to chance and all facts were able to be defended with authority. As could be expected under the circumstances there was a deal of opposition and questioning resulting in amendments to the motion moved mainly by the Minister who dekvered a diatribe invoking aboriginal influences and original settlement on the Island. Her amendment was:
That this Council recognises:
(a) Human occupation of South Australia for many thousands of years.
(b) European habitation in South Australia from early in the 19th Century.
(c) Settlement of individuals from the South Australian Company from July 1836 and
(d) A Proclamation establishing Government on 28th December 1836 (Seems more like a separate motion rather than an amendment).
The Minister's amendment was supported by another member of the Council but then the Hon J. G Irwin spoke to the question generally supporting Mr Gilfillan but ended by moving a further amendment. This was to the effect that the proposals (c) and (d) be replaced by (c) The first South Australian Company Settlement on Kangaroo Island from 27th July 1836 and (d) The inauguration of Government at Glenelg on 28th December 1836. The Hon M. J. ElUott apparently seeking some of the limelight, then moved a rather pedantic amendment to the amendment by rearranging Mr Irwin's words without changing the sense.
Finally after Mr Gilfillan's closing address the matter was put to the vote when Mr Irwin's amendment was lost, that of Mr Elliott was accepted, and when the Minister's amendment as amended by Mr Elliott was put to the vote and was successful, Mr Gilfillan's original motion was lost. (Seemingly my idea of the conduct of debate and that of the Parliament are at odds!)
However after the smoke cleared this was the final result: That the Council (the Legislative Council) officially recognises:
(a) Human occupation of South Australia for many thousands of years
(b) European habitation in South Australia from early in the 19th Century,
(c) Kangaroo Island as the first South Australian Company Settlement on 27th July 1836 and
(d) The inauguration of Government at Glenelg on 28th December 1836.
From which it can be inferred that we can now refer to 27th July as Settlement Day and 28th December as Inauguration Day and although the decision delighted many citizens of Kangaroo Island it maybe a long time before those uninformed souls previously basking in the "Birthplace" tag attached to their City become accustomed to the change.
To celebrate the success of the exercise (perhaps "partial" may be a better description as the original idea was to have Kangaroo Island or Kingscote as the Birthplace of South Australia) a happy group of members led by Patron Ian Gilfillan and President Bruce Williams, representing the Association, met at the Stephens Vault in the West Terrace Cemetery (one of our successful projects) on 30th November 1991. The successful campaign was toasted with champagne.
The first tangible and significant memento of the campaign was the placing of a plaque at Reeves Point, Kangaroo Island which was unveiled by Her Excellency Dame Roma Mitchell Governor of South Australia, on 27th July 1992. The following is the text:
THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES THE FORMAL RECOGNITION BY THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT IN 1991 OF REEVES POINT, KINGSCOTE AS THE FIRST OFFICIAL EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA ON 27 JULY 1836.
IT ALSO RECORDS THE INITIATIVE OF THE KANGAROO ISLAND PIONEERS ASSOCIATION IN ACHIEVING THIS RECOGNITION.
HER EXCELLENCY THE HON DAME ROMA MITCHELL AC DBE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA 27 JULY 1992
It is interesting to note that although the Premier of the time did not wish to be involved in the argument, nevertheless he did publicly recognise Reeves Point in the 1986 Sesqui-Centenary celebrations at Kingscote. A permanent record was placed there in the form of a bronze plaque with the following inscription.
REEVES POINT HISTORIC SITE THE FIRST PERMANENT SETTLEMENT IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA WAS ESTABLISHED HERE AT REEVES POINT IN JULY 1836 BY THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COMPANY.
THE REMAINING EVIDENCE OF THAT SETTLEMENT IS IDENTIFIED AND PRESERVED IN THIS HISTORIC SITE.
THE PREMIER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA THE HON JOHN BANNON MP 27 JULY 1986