26 October 2021

Republic of Ireland's best ever gift to Australia - football star Jim Stynes!

When the Irish Experiment was conceived at the Melbourne Football Club in the early 1980s, Gaelic Football was seen as more like Australian Rules than soccer, rugby or gridiron. The experiment was very positive, especially for Jim Stynes (1966-2012) who was born into a large Dublin family. Jim attended Ballyroan Boys School and as an 8-year-old start­ed competition football. He and his two brothers attended De La Salle in Church­town, a school that favoured rugby over Gaelic foot­­ball. So Jim played rugby for his school and Gaelic football for his local club.

Jim Stynes
champion ruckman in Melbourne colours, 1997
ABC News

Jim was inspired by a 1980 AFL* film, The Club. A few years later, Stynes responded to a local ad for the Melbourne Football Club that off­er­ed full scholarships to play football and study here. Stynes had to im­p­r­ess Mel­b­ourne coaches at an Irish training camp seek­ing Gae­lic foot­ballers, taller than 183cm, with the skills to be­come elite Aus­t­r­alian footballers. Stynes was an Irish Experiment success!!

Did the family approve of young Jim’s decision? He moved to Aus­t­ralia in Nov and his debut was in Melbourne’s Under 19s team, strug­gling a bit. He might have been a lonely teen having some trouble adapting, but he persevered! Debuting in the AFL* in 1987, he played a record of 244 con­secutive games between 1987-98. Young Stynes apparently changed the way that the rucking role was played, and within a couple of years, his ab­ility to run and easily win possessions was noted. One year he am­as­s­ed an average of 26 possessions per match, great for a big player!!

In 1990 Stynes was named Melbourne’s vice-captain. He also played for Ireland against Australia in the International Rules series. Even bet­­ter he won the Brownlow Medal in 1991, for being the fairest and best AFL footballer of the year across Aust­ral­ia.

How did an injured footballer not miss ANY games? In 1993 Jim should have missed 6 weeks with a com­p­ound rib fracture, yet he played on! But to keep on playing, Stynes endured a rigorous fitness test where tough Demon train­ers ran into him during a 20-minute training session; the epitome of mental toughness as well. The next year he sus­t­ained a medial ligament tear, but again played on.

Jim Stynes statue
in the Avenue of Legends, outside the MCG
2014. ABC

In fact he was Melbourne’s best pl­ayer 3 years in a row: 1995-7 so he rec­eived 3 Best and Fairest Awards. Stynes re­p­re­s­ented Victoria for the first time in State of Origin football; altogether he played in 10 State teams for Victoria. Stynes ended his career with 264 matches, second only to God/Robert Flower as Mel­b­ourne’s recordholder.

When Stynes announced his retirement in 1998, Melbourne fans every­where were grief stricken, including myself. And he also ended his play­ing career with the Australian National team, with whom he’d played 8 Int­er­nat­ional Rules matches. In 1999 he became assistant coach for the Australian Inter­national Rules team.

Stynes became Melbourne Club President in 2008, heading up a new-look board when the club was in debt. He rebuilt an experienced team, and oversaw major debt reduction.

Note Jim Stynes’ place in the Australian sports pantheon of champions, added to the Avenue of Legends outside the MCG**, largest sports stad­ium in the southern hemisphere. He stands with 14 other Australian stars, including tennis and cricket players, scul­p­ted in bronze by Lis Johnson.

Community Work
Jim was committed to phil­an­thropy, using his high profile to co-found The Reach Found­at­ion with film director Paul Currie in 1994. Their initiat­ive encouraged the hidden-abilities in youngsters to exper­ience a better life; that ev­ery young person should have whatever support was needed. Reach impacted positively on 500,000 young Australians via schools, workshops and weekends away, and worked with teachers and youth workers.

His 1995 autobiography, Whatever It Takes, reflected the importance of this community work. Furthermore Stynes co-wrote the children’s self-help book Heroes (2003) and became a member of the Fed­eral Minister for Youths Comm­it­tee. Then Stynes co-wrote anot­h­er children’s self-help book, Finding Heroes (2005) and became a member of the Federal Minister for Educations Advisory Group. He won an Order of Aust­ralia in 2007.

Happily Jim married Samantha in 2000, and had two children: Tiernan and Matisse. And he realised his own teenage dream of a university educ­at­ion: Bachelor of Social Science (RMIT Uni); Bachelor of Education (Dea­kin Uni); and honorary Doctorate (Aust­ralian Catholic Uni).

In July 2009, Jim Stynes was diagnosed with cancer and given months to live. He was 42, had been healthy, fit and intolerant of ill­ness. In July, he held a media conference to ann­ounce that he had back cancer.. which had spread to his brain. And he be­came the first pers­on in Aust­ral­ia to trial Ipilmumab, a new immune-stimulation treatment. Then he had surgery to remove his brain tumours.

Thousands of fans at Jim Stynes' funeral
2012. Herald Sun.

Stynes’ final legacy was his book My Journey (2012). Tough in de­tail, Jim wrote a mov­ing, insp­iring story of a life lived fearlessly. And he participated in the tv docum­entary about his life: Every Heart Beats True.

He passed away in 2012 at his Melbourne home, at 45, and last res­p­ects were paid at a state funeral. Thank you Ireland for our Australian hero.

Jim Stynes Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge
links North Wharf, World Trade Centre, MCG and city centre, opened 2014

*Australian Football League
** Melbourne Cricket Ground

23 October 2021

Franz Marc's precious Foxes painting (1913). Taken by the Nazis, will it be returned?

L-R: Maria & Franz Marc, Bernhard Koehler, Heinrich Campendonk, Thomas von Hartmann, 
Vasily Kandinsky (seated),  Munich1911

Franz Marc (1880–1916) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) were the main figures in the new Expressionist art group called Der Blaue Reiter (1911-4). Strong forms and colours were the external expressions of their creat­ive spirit, and they were the influence on younger men joining this Munich-centred organisation. 

Andre Derain exhibited works at Kan­dinsky’s New Art­ists Association in Munich.  He took part in the Secession­ist Der Blaue Reit­er group show in 1912 and then the Arm­ory Show in New York in 1913. Franz Marc, August Macke and Lyonel Fein­inger were thrilled. Their id­eas strongly influenced both the Cubists and the German Exp­res­sionists eg Alexej von Jaw­lensky, Paul Klee, Albert Bloch and Gab­riele Münter.

Kandinsky and Marc also influenced their Expressionist supporters’ creativity via the books they edited together: On the Spir­itual In Art 1910 and The Blue Rider Al­man­ac 1912. Marc's artistic philosophy showed that his col­ours spoke an emot­ional language, as though each colour could hit a specific note, seeking a spiritual truth.

Marc’s oeuvre was dominated by portraits of various animals, ea­ch one evoking a unique mood, and often fragmented. For Franz Marc, painting animals like Die Füchse/The Foxes (1913) represented a more innocent time. In this cub­ist paint­ing, viewers sil­ently watched the animals through a shatt­ered window. It broke down natural forms into abstract forms in bold colours.

In his many works of horses, dogs and foxes, he wanted to convey a message about the natural world & its relation to humanity. And another thing. For Marc, animals brought relief from the pain and tension of modern life. How ir­on­ic that Marc paint­ed his beloved animals until the painful end of his short life.

Why were artists, usually anti-violence, so anxious to get into WW1? And why against their beloved French artist-brothers? German artist-soldiers felt “War simply had to bring up grandeur, strength, dignity. To us it seemed a masculine act, a merry shootout on blossoming, blood-bedewed mead­ows” Ernst Junger. Franz Marc expected the war to bring a world­wide catharsis and a spiritual purging of humankind. Karl Schmidt-Rottluff looked forward to the chance to create something as power­ful as could be.  

Marc, Die Füchse, 1913
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

Otto Dix was the artist who best depicted the emotional drama and psy­ch­ological intensity of war. George Grosz volunt­eer­ed for military service in 1914, in the hope that as a volunteer and not a conscript, he would not be sent to the front. Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirch­ner, Lovis Cor­inth, Franz Marc and Conrad Felix­mül­ler became soldier-artists. These German ex­press­ionist artists, plus Emil Nol­de, Käthe Kollwitz, Egon Schiele, Erich Heckel and Max Ernst, were indeed branded as a threat to the German nation. Sadly the group came to an abrupt end when soldiers Marc and Macke were killed in WW1.

The Foxes was bought by Jewish business­man-banker Kurt Grawi in 1928. His properties were seized by the Nazi Party in 1935 and most of his art collect­ion was seized and sold in the Jew Auction at Berlin’s Leo Spik auction house in 1937. Arrested on Kristallnacht-pogrom night, Grawi was locked up in Sachsen­hausen Camp in 1938. After his release, he wrote in a letter saying he would use the funds from the art sale to flee Germany. Grawi was able to smuggle the Foxes painting out of Ger­m­any to Paris, then he fled to Chile in 1939. His wife and sons followed him to Chile later that year.

The Foxes somehow left Paris and was displayed at US art gal­l­ery Karl Nierendorf in 1939. Extensive prov­enance research by Düs­s­el­dorf couldn’t find when and where the paint­ing was sold, and by whom. But somehow Die Füchse was smuggled out of Germany and sold at auc­t­ion in New York in 1940, for an unknown price, to German-American film dir­ector William Dieterle. Owner of a German depart­ment store chain, Helmut Horten, bought it in 1961 and later donated it to the Kun­s­tpalast Museum Düsseldorf.

Marc, Dreaming Horse 1913, 
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum NY
In Apr 2021, the Cultural Commission unanimously voted to return the Marc painting (value $18–$36 mill). The Kun­s­tpalast Museum Düsseldorf, which held The Foxes sin­ce 1962, quickly agreed to re­st­it­ute the painting to Grawi’s heirs. But the 6-years-long case hadn't clos­ed. The deb­ate was close­ly foll­ow­ed by ex­perts because of the work’s proven­ance. Where­as most works sub­ject to restitution claims post-WW2 were “sold under dur­ess” in Nazi Europe, this one was purchased at auc­t­ion in New York in 1940. This deb­ate could potentially redefine what it means for a work to have been sold under duress.

German art magazine Mono­pol’s experts advised the restit­ution of the work because they believed it had been sold under duress, even though its auction occurred outside the Nazi sphere of influence. The sale was so closely conn­ect­ed with Nazi persecution that the sale site be­came secondary. The heirs also believed that the exact sale site had no bear­ing on whether it should be returned. Grawi’s daughter-in-law Ing­e­burg Breit showed her in-laws had to sell every­thing of value in Nazi Germany to pay for the confiscat­ory charges on Jews and for the family to flee to Chile.

Answer: yes, the painting that has been the subject of a years-long restitution case will be returned by the City of Düsseldorf to the real owner's (Kurt Grawi) heirs. The City upheld the Cultural Commission's decision in April 2021. 

The Franz Marc Museum in Munich opened in 1986 and is well worth visiting.

19 October 2021

Anti-vaxxers believed God sent smallpox to punish people. Mary Montagu 1717 changed that!

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) was born in London, oldest child of the Duke and Duchess of Kingston-upon-Hull. Given access to her fam­il­y’s huge home library, this clever child taught herself Lat­in, cor­r­es­ponded with bishops, charmed her social circle, and quickly decided to become a writer. And she was independ­ent enough to reject her fat­h­er’s ch­oice of husb­and, eloping instead with a new Whig pol­it­ic­ian, Edward Wortley Montagu (1678-1761). She threw herself into London society and began writ­ing.

In 1715, this aristocratic young woman was struggling to breathe as her skin sprayed with deep, festering pustules. She was in an in­fl­amed and even violent delirium. Her husband prepare for her death because small­pox, the most deadly disease in the early C18th, had wip­­ed out more people than the Black Plague.

Mary Montagu with her son Edward (born 1713),
painted by Jean-Baptiste van Mour in c1717
National Portrait Gallery

Jo Willett's book, published 2021
Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, 1715

Smallpox, as distinct from the great pox or syph­ilis, was very in­fec­tious and killed one in four of the people who were infected. Sur­vivors were most often marked for life with deep, pitted scars. Mary threw off her infection but her once-flawless skin was scarred, her eyelashes were gone and the skin around her eyes remained forever red and irritated In fact ac­ross the centuries, smallpox has killed hundreds of millions and disfigured many more.

After she recovered from smallpox, husband Edward Montagu was made ambas­sador to the Ottoman empire. Mary in­sisted on travelling with her hus­band and bringing their toddler abroad! She tur­ned the long trip into a series of let­ters home, collected into a volume of fine trav­el writing. She noted that the Turks had almost no scarring from the pox!

It was during her family’s 15 months in Constantinople that Lady Mary was introduced to a radical medical treatment, and in a 1717 letter home, she explained the process. It had long been recognised that people could only get small-pox once. If they surviv­ed, they were immune for life. Rather than take their chances with a natural infection and high fatality rate, older Turkish women in­d­uced a slight case in children by ingrafting. Smallpox caused blisters on the skin of pat­ients so the women took the pus from one patient’s blister and scrat­ched it into a cut made on a healthy person’s arm. This would lead to mild symptoms, followed by lifelong protection. Mary saw inoculations.

When her husband had heard that they were being recalled home, Mary made a secret decision. Her son, the first Englishman to undergo smallpox inoculation, never got the disease! And she determined to bring the technique home, but back in London, her enthusiasm for smallpox inoculation was ridiculed by the medical community.

The reasons were:
1. religious (Mus­lims cannot teach Christians);
2. medical (an untrained aristocrat lecturing physicians?);
3. sexist (a female changing the thinking of men?) or
4. economic (physicians profiting from useless treatments).
Mary believed the medical establishment opposed her for economic reasons!

Five years later, in 1721, Lady Mary was again in a lockdown as a small­pox pandemic raged, with her two children for company. She sent out servants daily to gather the names of those who died from the dis­ease. After Lady Mary inoculated her daughter Mary (1718-94), a proper experiment was carried out on 6 pris­on­ers at Newgate gaol, in the presence of the King’s own physician. Prisoners were inoculated and pr­omised their freedom, if they survived. Yet when the proc­ess proved safe, newspapers opposed inoculation. And clerics preach­ed against what they saw as Meddling with the Will of God. Of course the entire pro­cess soon became politic­is­ed, with the Whigs in favour, and the Tories against.

Mary’s daughter recov­er­­ed eas­ily, thrived and later married the Earl of Bute, a British Prime Minist­er. Faced with this public proof of medical success, friends wanted to have their own children treated.

Edward Jenner administering a smallpox vaccine. 
He'd been inoculated as a child by doctors following Lady Mary’s ideas.

Even Caroline Princess of Wales lobbied her father-in-law George I re inoculating the Royal heirs. He said no grand­children of his would be end­angered until more was kn­own about this strange Eastern cure. The king wanted proper tests! The first test were 6 New­gate pris­oners who were inocul­ated, before keen scient­ists & phys­icians. When they all did well, a second test was run on Lon­don orphans, Eur­ope’s best clinical trials to test safety and eff­ectiveness. The roy­al grand­daug­hters were inoculated & the pract­ice spread. Mary won; her work in­vited others to make advances.

Mary lived into her early 70s, writing, travel­ling and mixing with intellectual colleagues. Only when her marriage to Edward failed in 1736 did Mary fall in love with a brilliant a 24-year-old Ve­n­etian Count, Francesco Algarotti. Al­g­arotti was the lov­er of her friend Lord John Hervey, so the rel­at­ionship soon ended. Mary never saw her hus­band again.

Jenner’s 1801 book that summarised his cowpox inoculation cases
Des Moines Uni Library

Being a woman meant Mary was barred from the Royal Society, England’s famous academy of sciences, fur­th­er dashing her efforts to gain official support for in­oculation. In­stead she spread the word among her friends and spent years trav­elling between aristocratic house­holds over the coun­try, in­oculating whoever consented. Decad­es later, Edward Jenner (1749–1823) showed that cowpox could be substituted for the more dang­er­ous smallpox. (Vacca, Latin for cow, gave the word vacc­in­ation). Jenner achieved all the fame; Lady Mary’s efforts, which laid the groundwork for the disease’s eradication in the 1970s, faded.

16 October 2021

Tsar Peter the Great single-handedly modernised Russia!

Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) ruled alone from 1694. Although Rus­sia was huge, its navy was weak at a time when European powers like Britain and the Dutch were exploring and colonising the globe, and ex­p­and­ing their bor­­ders. So to learn from European nations’ suc­cess­es, Peter spent 1697-8 travel­l­ing in Europe in a Grand Embassy.

Peter The Great 

by Jean-Marc Nattier, c1717 


This am­b­itious young man travelled to Western Europe sev­er­al times on his grand tour. Peter chose to travel incog­nito, calling himself Sg­t Pyotr Mikhaylov. None­the­less excited rumours of his visit spread from town to town: 6’6 tall, brilliant and half civilised.

His Grand Embassy consisted of 250 high-ranking am­b­ass­ad­ors and their staff, and he was able to blend in and spend time learn­ing about Europe first­ hand. He spent four months working at a ship yard for the Dutch East India Co., where he studied Netherland’s modern ship-building in­novations. Then he went to Brit­ain to further study ship­building, work­ing in the Royal Navy’s dock yard at Deptford, visiting factories, ars­enals, schools and mus­eums. The trip took 2 years altog­ether, vis­iting heads of state, coll­ect­ions of natural cur­iosities and theatres, and throwing wild parties.

Back home in 1698, Peter wanted to modernise Russian society based on Western European models, so Rus­sia could compete with the European superpowers. He played a cruc­ial role in chang­ing its economy, government, culture and religious aff­airs. He revised Russia’s cal­en­d­ar, introd­uc­ed changes to Russian writing, and comp­l­etely mod­ern­ised the military. And he wanted to westernise the next gen­­erat­ion of Rus­sians by marry­ing his family into other European roy­al­ty. 

Russia’s Europeanised city started when St Pet­ersburg became an el­egant and modernised capital. Building the NW sector of Amsterdam’s canals started in 1613 and finished in 1625. Decades later, Peter used Amster­d­am’s canal ring as inspiration for St Petersburg’s own system. Thus the canal system was a visible mark of the special relationship between the Netherlands and Russia.

Peter also reinvented Russian culture. He was an infl­uent­ial patron of the arts who founded the country’s first public museum. Fine paint­ings, jew­ellery and armour from the tsar’s collect­ions are still on display. Tsar Peter I certainly did change Russia forever. 

Pectoral Cross
commissioned and displayed by Peter the Great

The clearest implementation of social modernis­ation was via in­t­roducing western dress to court. The Tsar ordered his subj­ec­ts to re­place their long Russian overcoats with French jackets. Mannequins, set outside the Moscow city gates and in St Petersburg streets, pub­lic­ly dis­played the new fash­ions. Tail­ors who con­tinued to sell Russian styles risked steep fines, and pedestrians in an old-fashioned robe could have it shortened by the Tsar’s fashion police!

The Tsar also req­uired courtiers, state officials and the military to shave their beards, like the modern Western Europ­eans he’d met on his tour. Peter dram­atically begun the shaving practice at a New Year’s Eve reception, held in his honour. In attend­ance were his Army Com­mander and 2nd-in-command, and many aides and diplom­ats. Sudd­enly the crowd’s mood went from happy boozing to horror as Peter personally waved a huge bar­ber’s razor!

Peter the Great gaily cutting a Boyar's beard

The Tsar empowered pol­ice to forc­ibly and publicly shave those who re­fused to shave their faces. English visitor to Russia Capt John Perry said the Russians submitted only upon the Terror of having their beards forcibly pulled. Some men kept the torn out facial hair to put it in their coffin, so that they could give an excuse to St Nicholas in Heaven!! Note the teach­ings of the Russian Orth­odox Church, which consid­ered uncut facial hair a show of piety. To shave a beard was an anti-Christian sin.

In 1698, the Tsar established a beard tax, as Britain’s King Henry VII did. So what was the reason behind the tax? To back up his shav­ing command! Al­though his new tax wasn’t specifically to raise mon­ey, the state would indeed collect more taxes IF any person opted to keep his beard. The State Dept ordered that for nobility, military off­icers & merchants, the beard tax was 100 rubles per year. Those who paid the tax were given a tok­en of proof, silver for nobility.

A beard token, proof of paying the Russian beard tax

To the religious, the beard tax was a shocking scandal. Rumours circ­ulated that Peter was not the real Tsar but a sacrilegious fake, in­stalled by Russ­ia’s enemies. Fin­al­ly the Russian streltsy/fire­arm infantry initiated an open revolt in Astrakhan in 1705, honouring Ch­rist­ian­ity. The revolt was crushed and hundreds of rebels were killed

The Tsar also brawled with the Church by organising a Club for his drinking mates. They “played” at being cardinals and bish­ops, and performed mock cere­m­onies, com­p­lete with drunkenness and endless feasts! This blas­phemous entertain­ment posed another relig­ious dilemma for Orthodox society.

Historian VM Zhivov said by challenging the Church’s power, Peter presented him­self as a semi-divine figure, above soc­iety. The emperor commanded divine pow­er, and society had the choice of either accepting his sup­eriority, or reject­ing it as a satanic en­t­erprise. The Tsar did indeed wield the power of life and death. The punishments for rebels’ in­ability to assimilate European practices, were nasty.

Map of Russia under Peter the Great
Note the expansion of Russian lands along the Baltic 

 Most importantly Russia was able to expand, drawing on the newly in­d­ependent Nether­lands for his inspir­at­ion, and become one of the most pow­erful coun­tries in the eastern hemis­phere. To improve his nation’s position, Peter the Great sought to gain more ocean outlets, the goal being to make Russia a great maritime power. The map showed the vital Baltic Sea region taken by Russia by 1721.