They Really Did ‘Throw Spears at Each Other’

You couldn’t describe my wife, Cathy, as a monarchist, not with that Irish Catholic ancestry on her mother’s side, but she shared my sadness at the death at the age of 99 of Prince Philip, royal consort and a bloke who spoke his mind. Her interest in the Royals is usually confined to weddings and frequent scandals such Prince Andrew’s midnight misadventures and that Oprah interview with young Harry and Mrs Simpson — sorry, Megan Markle. 

But as the TV cameras zoomed in for a close-up of Queen Elizabeth recently, she was obviously impressed:

“Liz still has beautiful skin”.

“Mmmm,” I agreed, without glancing up from my car magazine.

“No, look, she hasn’t a wrinkle,” she insisted.

“Well, she’s a Pom, they don’t go out in the sun,” I responded, finally looking up at the coverage dominating a good part of the evening news.

Suddenly our thoughts collided. We were back in February 1954, the year after Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation and her first visit to Australia as Monarch with Prince Philip by her side.

The royals visited 57 towns and cities during the whirlwind 58 days they spent in Australia. They traversed the country by plane, train, ship and car from Cairns in the north, Broken Hill in the west to Hobart in the south, probably missing  little Princess Anne and Prince Charlie back at Buckingham Palace.

“I had to wait in the sun for hours to wave to her at Bundaberg,” Cathy said.

“So did I, all morning and much of the afternoon, at Townsville. It really is a small world.”

My thoughts travelled back to that  long, hot tropical day,  embedded in my mind along with other momentous events such as President Kennedy’s assassination, the moon landing and the day Elvis died.

Thousands of school children were assembled on some sports fields to spell out “Welcome to Townsville” in large letters in the hope that Elizabeth and Philip would glance out the window and be impressed as their plane approached the airport. I hope they did, it was hard work, requiring much marshalling on the part of supervisors and then hours of patient waiting under a scorching sun.

Some kids fainted, but they were probably townies, not part of the small bush contingent from Stuart, like me. We had travelled into the city earlier that morning on the railmotor, then trekked a couple of miles to the mass assembly point. 

Some soldiers waiting in line to take the royal salute also suddenly keeled over.

I suppose they supplied drinking water, but I was used to wandering off for the day, drinking out of running creeks or digging holes in the moist sand during the dry season, so I don’t remember being particularly thirsty. Just bored. Finally the Royal couple arrived, young and in their prime, riding in the back of an open Land Rover, waving to the crowd. We cheered and waved back, then the long-awaited entertainment began.

Some Islanders really turned it on and left a lasting picture in a young boy’s mind. Forget Charlie Drake’s old Sixties hit, My Boomerang Won’t Come Back – these Islanders had them whizzing high in the air or spinning towards the crowds before they turned and zoomed back to the thrower’s hand. They peeled coconuts with their bare teeth, then lit fires using a couple of sticks, but the best part was the spear throwing. Two of the participants in that mock melee are pictured as they appeared the next day in the local rag, one somewhat the worse for wear — not as a result of a wound but of the withering heat on that long-ago day.

These days the precision display would be M Rated, or at least come with the warning, “Don’t try this at home, kids.” The spear throwers weren’t mucking about and they used each other as moving targets. They didn’t carry large shields, like some African counterparts, just sticks which they deftly used to flick away the incoming spears at the last possible moment.

Philip had developed a deserved reputation over the years for a wacky sense of humour, which has often been interpreted as foot in mouth disease, but I think on one occasion at least, this was totally unwarranted.

Many years later, during a 2002 visit to a Queensland Aboriginal Cultural Centre, he casually asked an indigenous leader, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

Shock! Horror! He didn’t anticipate the media storm that remark generated, with accusations of condescending racism and bad taste.  But I think his mind was back when, as a young man in a white Naval officer’s suit, he was entertained by some skilled indigenous protagonists under a hot Townsville sun. If you’re up there reading this, Philip, I was a small part of the letter ‘T’,  the kid with no shoes.

A final thought: There is unlikely to be any concerted campaign to dump traditional ties with the Royals or the Motherland while the Queen yet rules, but that will probably change dramatically if woke son Charles succeeds her. As a friend recently told me, “ If Charles outlives his mother, I’ll become a republican, no matter how bad the nominee for president is.”

I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, not if the candidates include either of a pair of former prime ministers who continue to haunt the political scene like miserable ghosts, but time will tell. 

But King Charles ? I won’t be out in the sun, waving.

John Mikkelsen was the editor of the Gladstone Observer and is now a freelance writer and blogger

25 thoughts on “They Really Did ‘Throw Spears at Each Other’

  • en passant says:

    I became a Republican at the age of eight when my school was herded on to a railway embankment to watch the Royal Train scream by at 100km/hour – a 10-second experience after a 2-hour wait in the freezing cold.
    However, I voted against the Oz Republic referendum as I feared President-for-Life {fill in any of 20 candidates} more than I feared that Ninny, Charlie.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Two obvious points:
    1. It appears that only a small proportion of Aborigines are able to engage with the reality of their current environment and to forge a flourishing life within that environment.
    (Many Whites and persons of other colours and creeds also fail to construct positive lives, but the high proportion of such failure among Aborigines is notable. Aboriginal leaders and their non-Aboriginal advisors should look into this matter if they are serious about the Aboriginal lives. This, instead of the “Voice” and “We wuz massacred” fantasies.
    2. The governance of Australia has weaknesses/challenges/negatives that far exceed the matter of becoming a Republic.
    Too many Australians think it comes down to the unappealing personalities of the British Royals and/or how to elect the Head of State.
    The greater weaknesses reside in the Australian Constitution, including the utter failure of the design of the Senate -its purpose, roles, duties, powers, human composition.
    Cannot have a successful republic without a Proper Upper House.
    And there’s more about the Constitution that’s bad.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Townsville,1954, yes I was here too and can confirm the skill in using a stick or woomera to to flick away those fast incoming spreads. Geoff S

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The spear-throwing competition is a highlight of the Barunga Festival, normally held every year south of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Admittedly, while this does showcase considerable skill, it doesn’t involve human targets.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    Prince Phillip’s question could also have been posed to Olympic javelin competitors ever since an umpire failed to match the skill of those Townsville entertainers and “caught” the javelin rather than observed its flight from a safe distance.

  • NFriar says:

    Yes – Your Royal Highness – they do throw spears at each other in 2021.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    I’ve been a loyal subject and royalist all my life and come from a little cane farm up river from Home Hill where we had a little bush school at Osborne, first opened in a tent in 1913 with one of my Aunties as a first pupil. We went by train down to Mackay to see the visit in 1954, and as a boy of 10 I can still vividly remember her and Prince Phillip driving past in their open car. When I left home on my 7 years travel to see the world 10 years later, my Australian passport said an Australian Citizen and a British Subject, which was a good feeling then, and while I’ve matured, read and experienced much since those days I’m still a loyal supporter of the Monarchy, including Prince Charles. He may be a bit wooly headed and plain wrong in my view on a number of things, but strikes me as man who knows where his duty lies and will make a good King. Needless to say I like our parliamentary democracy with our Australian head of state , with our English Sovereign and do not support any sort of Republic for Australia while things remain as they are.

  • gardner.peter.d says:

    Charles is most likely to succeed Queen Elizabeth II, it is true. However the greatest possible horror is the man who would then become No 5, Harry, with Markle directing. What would Australia do? Wokists who would otherwise support Australia becoming a republic would find the King and Queen of Woke irresistible. Perhaps their solution would be to award H & M honorary Australian citizenship and elect them as President and Leading Lady for life. As absolutely ghastly as King Harry and Queen Consort Meghan.
    I sincerely hope the Queen is right now working to ensure that woman can never become Queen Consort even if Nos 1-5 all die in a single plane crash.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Along with other censored multiculturalist matters, the following is the case:
    Aborigines kill one another and inflict other kinds of violence on one another -including massively on children and women- at far, far greater rates than Whites inflict violence on Aborigines.
    Or that Whites inflict on Whites or on any other colours.
    The “deaths in custody” Fantasy Thing is a diversion from the actual causes of Aboriginal misery in general, and deaths in particular.
    (And the extremely high incidence of violence and other criminality among black Africans now resident in Australia was always going to happen, because of Black propensity to violence and other criminality. And the left-wing politicians and naive, virtue-seeking do-gooders who brought this violence into Australia will of course pay no price for it.)

  • PT says:

    I think I need to remind people that Charles likely won’t be King for long anyway and would be succeeded by William.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Sorry Harry Lee but I cannot agree with you about “Black propensity to violence and other criminality”. I think violence is much more a function of family instability and in particular the absence of fathers in many families both black and white. It would, in my opinion, certainly be a major factor in aboriginal violence.

    This is a quote I have just found in the conclusion of a study; “The professional literature of criminology is surprisingly consistent on the real root causes of violent crime: the breakdown of the family and community stability. The sequence has its deepest roots in the absence of stable marriage”.

    I have to also say that I really enjoyed this article; took me back too to that day standing waiting for the royal wave.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Brian Boru -the stats from the USA and most places where Black Africans reside, including Black Africa, clearly show high relative incidence of Black violence.
    Blacks kill other Blacks at rates five to ten times that Whites kill Whites, or Whites kill Blacks.
    And Blacks kill Whites and other non-Whites at rates 5 to 10 times the rates that non-Black non-Whites kill one another, or kill Blacks.
    Similar numbers for other kinds of violence.
    The principles applied in evolutionary anthropology suggest that this black propensity to violence is an effect of selection, over the many tens of thousands of years, in dealing with the natural environment.
    (And Blacks did not get very far in creating human-constructed environments.)
    Brian, the studies you cite do account for substantive variance within racial/colour groups.
    But the massive disproportion in violence between Black and most other colours is a very different matter.

  • Harry Lee says:

    And Brian Boru -the point about Australian Aborigines is that they do indeed inflict far more violence upon one another than is inflicted upon them by Whites.
    And the “death in custody” thing is very, very rare -and in all cases occurs when the Aborigine acts violently and things get out of hand.
    That young Aboriginal people do not know these facts is a matter of anti-humanity by Aboriginal leaders and the non-Aboriginal advisors.

  • lbloveday says:

    I note the author used the NSW State Library’s wording “The royals visited 57 towns and cities during the (whirlwind) 58 days they spent in Australia. They traversed the country by plane, train, ship and car from Cairns in the north, Broken Hill in the west to Hobart in the south”.
    During their 8 days in SA, with 100,000(?) other school kids, I was bussed to Wayville Showgrounds where some spelled out “LOYALTY” and formed the shape of the crown. I was not yet 7 so don’t remember all details, but do remember standing waving a flag, presumably the Australian Flag.
    By the way, Adelaide is well west of Broken Hill, while Perth, where they also visited, is around a further 2,000km to the west. But maybe to the NSW government, Australia ends at the NSW western border.

  • lbloveday says:

    Brian Boru wrote: ” I think violence is much more a function of family instability and in particular the absence of fathers in many families both black and white”
    As are other social outcomes such as education achievement, drug use, unemployment, income levels, early and unplanned pregnancy, incarceration rates…. In the USA, around 65% of Black or African American children live in single-parent families, compared to around 25% of Non-Hispanic White and 15% of Asians, and while that continues, how can there be equal outcomes for Blacks? And it is a cop-out to blame “White Privilege” for that.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    At Yuendemu, a few hundred km’s outside Alice Springs, I travelled with a patrol officer to deliver some paperwork to this settlement, one which brought together tribes from different areas. Hello, it’s on, he said as we drew up past the football field, where two aboriginal men were pacing around each other waving spears. They were still throwing spears at each other in Central Australia then.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Forgot to mention – that was in early 1969.

  • Harry Lee says:

    What came first in Black African and Australian Aboriginal communities:
    Bad parenting?
    Or, bigger picture:
    Failure of the village/wider culture to adapt to the challenges of reality?
    And the question applies to tens of thousands of years of experience from which some important things might have been learned.
    (Extreme violence and absence of useful social order within Black African groups and Australian Aboriginal groups was noted by the earliest of non-Black observers of these groups. Fact, the Chinese retreated back into their shell after what their mariners observed in East Africa in the 1300/1400s. Too violent and generally appalling for the Chinese to bear.)

  • cbattle1 says:

    My observation is that so-called “violence” is culturaly embeded in black people. White people use to be no different, but underwent massive cultural and societal changes.

  • Rebekah Meredith says:

    lbloveday–Thank you for the clarification. Didn’t you know that Australia IS NSW and Vic.? At the very least, it ends at the Nullarbor. (The pigheadedness of our would-be emperor damages WA’s complaints about being treated like a foreign country, but doesn’t nullify them).

  • simonbenson65 says:

    It appears as though Mr Markle – well, he seems to allow Meghan to ‘wear the pants’ – has rather blotted his copybook, but, then again, having his mother’s blood coursing through his veins, we should allow the lad some leeway. Clearly, he doesn’t mean to be a complete pain in the neck, who covets all the benefits of being a Royal, without the attendant burdens; it just comes naturally.

  • David Hanna says:

    Thanks to John Mikkelsen for this welcome and distinctly Australian article on Prince Phillip. I am certain the Prince meant no disrespect with regard to Aborigines throwing spears at each other. I am equally certain that in order to skewer HRH, the propagandist Left, the sensationalist media, and a perpetually mobilised brigade of ‘useful idiots’ disregarded any and all explanations of princely context and humour. John Mikkelsen also and rightly refers to the transitional anxiety and warning implicit in the passing of Prince Phillip. We are nearing the end of a second Elizabethan era, and with the passing of Elizabeth II the values of the world in which I invested my faith and hopes will never be the quite the same again.

    On the not-unrelated subject of spear-throwing and ‘black violence’, it is refreshing to note that the comments of Harry Lee (re a ‘Black propensity to violence and other criminality’) has not been met with Twitter-like attempts to expunge Mr Lee’s observations (and, if possible, his very existence) from the contested realm of cyberspace. As conservatives, we value freedom of speech and rightly so. As a conservative by necessity rather than choice, I am also and deeply concerned about the ongoing agitation and propaganda campaign by the Left to make white people and especially young white people ashamed of their history and skin-colour. As this is particularly relevant to linkages of violence to race, it is not without irony that I find myself obliged to register my disagreement with Mr Lee’s opinion regarding violence and black people.

    I believe that senior white criminologists and conservative black commentators and police officers are quite correct when they observe that contrary to Marxist BLM-style denials, the breakdown of traditional family values and parenting (and particularly the absence of that supposedly patriarchal villain, the Father) account for most of the violence and deaths experienced in troubled black communities in the United States. Just as Mr Lee’s and others’ comments apply to ‘black’ people in general, I have no reason to suppose in general that the troubles in some Aboriginal communities are any less affected by the impact of a dysfunctional family life than those which affect some black communities in the United States.

    I agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that being offended is not an argument, but as someone of Scots-Irish tribal ancestry, I emphatically reject (albeit tongue-in-cheek) Mr Lee’s assertion that whites are somehow less inclined towards violence than blacks. How fortunate it is that Aboriginal people are not as violence prone as Mr Lee believes, otherwise we might now be nearing the close of a seemingly endless campaign of arson, bombing, and politically motivated murder as perpetrated by extremist whites on both sides of the Troubles in the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars’.

    Indeed when it comes to supremacy in acts of violence and criminality in general and on the grand scale, I am confident that whites have nothing to fear historically from an occasional bottle of Emu bitter being hurled across the dusty field of battle on an Aboriginal reserve! While, for example, Australian government research indicates a disproportionate number of women suffer family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to attribute this to race rather than the effects of historical and cultural disruption is, in my view, unconvincing as it implicitly disparages the victim along with the perpetrator and takes no account of black individuals and black families who function so successfully in Australian and American societies that the live their lives unseen beneath the radar of debate and controversy.

    If there be any area wherein history suggests a dubious white superiority, it must surely be in the noble science of applied violence. While In 1860 even the most civilised (and well trained) white could load but three rounds per minute to kill his fellow man, by 1960 we had advanced to a very creditable fifteen rounds per second. Even by the primitive standards of 1914-1918, whites managed to disintegrate, gas and machine-gun several millions of their own skin colouration with commendable and ruthless efficiency. When it comes to an innate propensity for violence, therefore, we have no need to play second fiddle to blacks or feel in any way inferior to them in that regard.

    While whites (most notably radical socialists and fascists of the ‘national’ socialist variety) have, quite literally at times, led the charge when it comes to mass slaughter, it would be racially churlish to ignore Chairman Mao’s lads who managed through political violence alone to rack up a body count of several millions of their fellow citizens. As for the defenders of Western civilisation, whether the pilot of a sophisticated jet fighter is white or, in the case of a dear acquaintance of mine, decidedly and proudly black makes little difference to the aircraft or its intended target if the pilot knows his or her job. Similarly, I doubt that the Japanese troops who were bombed and strafed by Aboriginal fighter pilot Len Waters, the Chinese communist troops opposed in company strength by Reg Saunders in Korea, and the mainforce Viet Cong resisted by Buddy Lea and Victor Simon in the Battle of Long Tan would have wasted (had they known) any time in discussion of these black warriors as indicative of a ‘Black propensity to violence’.

    Crucially, in today’s political climate, the representation of human characteristics as essentially ‘black’ or ‘white’ (and particularly when cited for the purposes of racial denigration) is now and ironically the hallmark of a neo-Marxist agenda wherein racial hate replaces class hate as a means to foment societal division. When it comes to the infliction of violence, the propensity for savagery is and will remain a ‘privilege’ which is neither black nor white but universally and tragically human. If opponents of radical socialism wish to reverse the revolutionary deployment of identity politics as practiced with agenda-driven malice by the Left, then it is incumbent upon conservatives not to practice it themselves and to seek instead a genuinely united front which transcends the politics of race in the interests of the freedoms of us all.

    When Prince Phillip may have inquired if Aboriginal people still threw spears at one another, he apparently refrained from pejorative assertions that black people in general were inherently violent merely because the were black. Perhaps as a decorated Royal Navy veteran of battles in which white people threw high explosive shells at one another, he knew from hard-won professional experience the difference between a politically incorrect joke and a demonstrable absurdity.

  • lbloveday says:

    RE: David Hanna’s comment.
    I did not read “the comments of Harry Lee” and his “assertion that whites are somehow less inclined towards violence than blacks” as I stopped reading them after the second time he wrote of China not posing a military threat. However I will comment on inclination towards violence.
    I think it is important to differentiate between an innate inclination and acting upon that inclination. My innate inclination was demonstrated in Karate classes when the Sensei said to me “We teach to advance when attacking, block when feeling out the opponent and retreat to recoup when the opponent is on top, but you just keep advancing no matter how often you get hit”.
    But away from the ring and football fields, because of my social education and fear of consequences (legal and employment, before “dropping out” of the workforce), it was a very different matter, acting against my inclination other than on a few occasions when protecting others.
    The American Blacks receive, on average and by my reading, less anti-violence social education than Whites, and the consequences in terms of, at least, employment and income of being violent are on average less.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thank you to David Hanna for so eloquently addressing the matter of the propensity to violence of the races. I had been mulling over my answer to Harry Lee and my jumbled but inarticulate thoughts were along much the same lines as David’s comment.

    I was however going to start with references to the Glencoe massacre and to the practice of hanging, drawing and quartering. I was also going to refer to the holocaust and to democide (including the Holodomor) by governments.

    I particularly want to endorse David’s penultimate paragraph.

  • DG says:

    I’m a provisional monarchist, but a doctrinaire republican. However, the USA (and Rome) shows what happens to republics. They get an emperor. So let’s stick with the emperor we’ve got instead of taking the republican route to the same end game.
    And the advantages: our emperor is completely funded by the British, rarely sets foot here, doesn’t interfere and barely knows we exist. Just what we want.

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