• Monday, November 11th, 2013

An important relic of South Australia’s history is to be auctioned later this month. The long-lost Gold Watch, presented in 1859 to Australia’s greatest inland explorer, John McDouall Stuart, has finally returned Down Under.

McDouall Stuart?

If this was a Burke and Wills memento, it would be headline news. The Victorians would be all over this watch, a valuable artefact of the country’s beginnings in terms of white settlement.

But who knows the story of John McDouall Stuart compared to Burke and Wills? One wonders: would Stuart be better known and better revered if he had faced tragedy on those explorations which helped solve a major geographical riddle – what was in the centre of the Australian continent?

Perhaps his achievements would be better celebrated if he had died as he opened up inland Australia from Adelaide to what would become Darwin, paving the way for the Ghan railway and the Overland Telegraph Line – the internet of the late 1800’s which connected Australia to the rest of the world.

But no: Stuart successfully returned to Adelaide – albeit a physically broken man from his arduous journeys. And, no, no-one on any of his trips was lost or died en route.

McDouall Stuart’s tickertape welcome back into Adelaide in 1863 was somewhat overshadowed in the media of the day by the memorial service in Melbourne for Burke and Wills,……….maybe that set the tone for McDouall Stuart to be sidelined ever since. Perhaps the Burke & Wills event is the beginning of the peculiar national characteristic of celebrating failure – and was Gallipoli another of these failures which assumed the mantle of success?

It’s time South Australia stopped cringing from its colourful culture, history and heritage.

Of course we should good-humouredly laugh along with the rest of Australia, who reckon we’re up ourselves for being the only state free of convicts. Our own collective response of “It must be a joke” was almost louder than the mocking of inter-staters over the recent Lone ly Planet pat on the back for Adelaide’s status as one of the top ten cities to visit in the world.

But in our efforts to be humble and know our place: maybe we’ve been in danger of losing our place. We do have many important moments in history and people who have notched up significant achievements worth remembering. And worth celebrating.

In the meantime, the State can put its hand up now and bid for John McDouall Stuart’s gold watch, which is expected to sell for between $40-60,000. The watch was presented to Stuart by the prestigious Royal Geographical Society (RGS) of London, who also later awarded Stuart their Patron’s Medal. No other explorer has ever received both these awards. There are some minor papers associated with Stuart, also up for sale.

This year’s State budget has allocated $18.2 million over the next four years to support cultural institutions – the Art Gallery, Museum, State Library, History SA and Carrick Hill. A Museum of South Australian History has been mooted. Stuart’s gold watch could be a prize exhibit in a collection in that History Museum! The state can seize this opportunity to celebrate one of its own.

It’s important the watch comes back to SA and doesn’t go interstate – to a private collection for example. It is a once in 150 year opportunity to secure a significant artefact. It would be SA’ s for eternity. Letting this artefact go would be forever regretted.

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