Helensvale trams were stopped today at ‘Australia Fair’, in part, to draw attention to the rapacious history of the British Empire, which could be represented by so many of the visiting Commonwealth Games teams. Here is my attempt to see, simultaneously, experiences of Australia and India during the 19th century in relation to a relevant place name, Helensvale.
Helensvale is named after Helena White, who married an officer who fought in India in 1857.
Just a couple of years after the public execution of Aboriginal resistance leader, Dundalli, the British Empire crushed a well-armed resistance movement in India. Some call it India’s First War of Independence. Others call it the Mutiny, or the rebellion.
The great rebellion of 1857 created what historian Francis Hutchins described as ‘an illusion of permanence’, an idea that British power in India could withstand a challenge on any scale. For many Indians, it killed off the idea that this strange, aloof regime was a temporary anomaly. It forced serious thinking about how practically to cooperate, accommodate or resist it. But one of its most important effects was on the psychology of the British practitioners of empire in India. Eighteen fifty-seven was followed by new efforts to justify the exercise of British power in the Indian sub-continent, by the first serious efforts to seek legitimacy through ‘improvement’. … for the cadre of imperial bureaucrats themselves, many of whom came from families whose Indian careers stretched back three or four generations, 1857 removed the need for any kind of justification at all. For official families, the ‘mutiny’ was simply the most extreme moments in the continual cycle of resistance and conquest, of humiliation and then vindication, which governed Britain’s empire in India.
(From John Wilson, ‘India Conquered’ p. 265)
Helena White married Graham Douglas Mylne in 1861.
According to his son, Graham Ernest Mylne:
My father, who was very young, after he had fought in the Indian Mutiny, been wounded, and had sunstroke, and had also been to the Crimea, came out to Australia to investigate. He decided to sell his commission and carry on Eatonswill.
He married my mother, when she was about 17 or 18 – only daughter of William Duckett White of Beaudesert Station, on the Logan, and at Lota.
My father bought Amby Downs sheep station in partnership with Sir John Bramston, and I was born there in 1866. He worked Amby for about 6 years with Kanaka and Chinese shepherds, during which time he represented Maranoa as its first member of Parliament. He then went to live at Eatonswill which had been managed in his absence by a man who sold his best racing stud without his permission, to his great discontent.
(by MWD White, ‘An Early Settler:the Duckett White Family in Australia’, p.213)
Many of us live with the ‘illusion of permanence’ in Australia. The people who blocked the trams today want us to re-think that. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.