Few Canberrans have heard of him but without James McColl (1844-1929) and something principled he did in November 1908 there might be no Canberra. Meanwhile our unsung hero's daughter Sadie Myfanwy Hogg (nee McColl) is 96 and has her next birthday on Canberra's birthday, March 12. This columnist has just been privileged talk to her, from her home in Melbourne, about her father.
Who was James McColl and what did he do that we should thank him for in 2013?
In 1908 he was a senator in the Federal Parliament when in October and November first the House of Representatives and then the Senate voted on where the federal capital city should be built. In the House Yass/Canberra won by a wombat's whisker from Dalgety. Then this decision went to the Senate for ratification or for ambush.
There were several days of hyperbole-packed debate. Colourful things were said for and against Canberra and Dalgety.
In his speech Senator McColl, as a Victorian senator expected to be robotically pro-Dalgety, scoffed at it. He thought the best possible site was Tumut but that Canberra, too, would be terrific.
"I took a trip last week and had an opportunity of seeing the Dalgety and Canberra sites. At Dalgety I learnt that winter there lasts more than six months … But we want an Australian, not a Siberian capital. I believe that the selection of Dalgety for the federal capital of Australia would be a blunder that would be worse than a crime … I say this with regret, because, as a Victorian, I should like to vote for Dalgety. It would be in my political interest to do so. But I cannot conscientiously do so and consider myself an honest man.
''Only last week I visited the Canberra site … It is of a rolling character, and there is nothing there that's the swampy land described by [fanatically pro-Dalgety] Senator Pearce yesterday … If we are to have a federal capital let us have one which we can be proud of, where people will care to live and delight in bringing up their children. Public servants are shivering with fear that they may be sent to Dalgety. Let us have a capital, which will be typical of Australia, and not of Siberia. In selecting either Tumut or Yass/Canberra we shall have a site, which can be made into one of the finest places in the world."
The ballot in the Senate took place on November6, 1908. The six nominations were whittled down by exhaustive ballot until only Tumut and Yass/Canberra were left. The first ballot for these two resulted in a thrilling 18/18 tie. But at the second ballot and because Senator McColl voted this time for the Yass-Canberra site he so admired the result was Tumut 17 Yass/Canberra 19. McColl had undone the deadlock by voting for Canberra.
We simply don't know what would have happened if the Senate's site choice had contradicted that of the House. The choosing of a site might have been shelved and might still be on that shelf.
Sadie Hogg remembers her father as ''quite a quiet man, but pretty strict''. She remembers his ''soft voice'', with which he loved to sing. He was a cricket fanatic and used to take her Test matches (to all five days!) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with Sadie's mum showing up every day with their lunch. He was a Presbyterian and taught Sunday school at St Andrew's in Bendigo for 55 years. He'd been a strong federationist and a member of Federal Parliament from the very start until his defeat at the federal election of 1914 and it's Sadie Hogg's belief that his defeat was because he wasn't forgiven in Victoria for voting for Canberra.
Miola's heroism was simply capital
One hundred years ago today, we were fast approaching the day (March 12, 1913) when Gertrude Lady Denman would announce the name of our federal capital. There were strong suspicions (some newspapers were forecasting it) that Lady Denman would trill the the name ''Myola''.
As well as being ''euphonious'' (having a nice sound), if it really was Aboriginal for ''break of day'' that was an appropriately optimistic name for a new nation's new capital.
Last Thursday, we reported a letter written 100 years ago to Melbourne's Argus by someone with the pen name ''Anti-Myola'' who was alarmed because Myola was the name of a female Aboriginal character in the popular novel Paving the Way: A Romance of the Australian Bush by Simpson Newland. Your columnist has found copies of Paving the Way (first published in 1895) in the National Library.
Anti-Myola seems to have thought it unthinkable that the city be named after an Aboriginal woman, but we might have done much worse because in the novel she, Miola (the author's spelling) is a feisty and resourceful black heroine. She saves the life of Roland. She skilfully follows the tracks of his abductors, foul bushrangers, finds Roland (her ''master'' in the politically incorrect novel in which, alas, the N-word abounds) and unties him from the tree where the brigands have left him dangling to die of thirst. This incident is the exciting subject of the cover of the National Library's 1905 edition.
Roland is grateful and Miola basks in his gratitude. '''I am not going to forget that it was she who got me down from that cursed tree and saved me,' he said; and with a few warm words he praised and thanked her, until the white teeth glistened and the great eyes glowed with pride.''