The WA head hunter

Frank Hann

Hero or villain?

Today we would like to introduce you to the two faces of explorer and pastoralist Frank Hann. First up is the face you get if you read the, normally reliable, Australian Dictionary of Biography. To our regret, the article was written by one of our favourite local historians.

In the ADB you will read about his amazing feats of “bushmanship and endurance” and how he traversed into one of the most difficult areas in Australia which was “peopled by unwelcoming Aboriginals”.

Un-fucking-welcoming? You’d probably not welcome someone who decided to steal 2,590 sq km of your country either. But you won’t find that in the ADB, for there is not a single criticism of this great hero in the article. To discover more you have to keep scrolling down to the ‘Additional Resources’ section.

Readers are advised that the following contains a scene which may be distressing, particularly to Aboriginal people.

In 1909 Hann boasted of his exploits in shooting at some Aborigines who were resisting the invasion of their land:

Had I shot the black with a red band I would have cut his head off and sent his skull to Mr. F. Brockman, of Perth, who asked me to send him one, as a friend of his in London wanted one. I was very sorry that I could not send him four, but later on I got him a splendid one.

WTF? Hann is proud he decapitated an Aboriginal warrior and sent his head back to Perth. And it was gratefully received by Frederick Drake-Brockman.

Such boasting might have played well with Hann’s mates in the Kimberley, but it was too much for the residents of Perth. The Aborigines Department demanded a police investigation, and the Premier announced that Hann was to no longer be paid by the Government.

The Anglican Bishop, Charles Riley, was outraged as well. He demanded a full inquiry, for which Hann vowed never to speak to the bishop again.

But then Hann tried to back down, claiming anything and everything to take the heat off. He’d been joking, he’d acted in self-defence, he loved Aborigines and would never hurt any of them.

Various friends also came to his aid, claiming he was man who really liked Aboriginal people, and it had all been just a campfire yarn really.

And what of Frederick Drake-Brockman? He rapidly wrote to the media and was forced to admit he had received a skull, which he had posted to England “for scientific purposes”. After all, it was difficult to get hold of Aboriginal body parts where the dead person’s blood hadn’t been mixed with other races.

But, he said, it didn’t look fresh to him. It was probably an “old man, dead some years.” Oh. Well that’s all okay then. And guess whether you’ll find any mention of Fred’s collecting habits in his ADB entry? Did you guess right?

From this distance it does appear probable (but not certain) that Hann did not actually murder anyone for their skull, but that is not our key point here. We want to draw attention to the whitewashing of WA ‘heroes’, whose real natures remain buried under romantic talk of bushmanship and exploration.

Albany Bell: swindler or crook?

001720dThere is a tendency in Western Australia to assume that if someone is famous, they must have done something good in their lives. So whatever else Alan Bond may have done, no matter who he screwed over, at least he painted a red dingo sign.

Only he didn’t. Just another part of the Bond self-myth-making process.

So look at the building above, which is on Guildford Road. You probably know it as the Albany Bell Castle, and might know its links with the chain of Albany Bell Tea Rooms.

And here is Mr Albany Bell (1871-1957):

80x105mmIf you read the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on him, you will find that he was an upstanding Christian gentleman ruined by misused power of the evil unions.

Even the normally ever-reliable Richard Offen tells how Bell was wonderful philanthropist to his employees, who must all have loved him.

What a saintly man.

Bollocks, was he!

Albany Bell was a crook who tried to rip off each and every employee he ever had, and when he was finally brought to book dumped his café chain in a fit of pique.

He illegally refused sick pay to waitresses working in his tea rooms who were forced to take a day off due to illness. He also declined to pay the overtime for the staff he forced to work extra hours to fill in for their absent colleagues.

120x165mmIt was only after the waitresses had finally had enough and became militant (not to mention the intervention of a union and the threat of court action), that he finally promised to make good a fraction of the money he had cheated out of them.

And this is before we get into the fact that he adulterated the milk he sold, just to increase his profits.

Just the kind of gentleman who deserves celebrating then. Especially by the Style Council, who wax lyrical in their history of the Castle about Albany Bell’s spiritual values and his “Christianising the natives”.

Thank goodness Dodgy Perth is here to put the record straight on this hypocritical cheat.