11 May 2021

Argentina's rugby team - murdered in the Dirty War in 1976

La Plata rugby team, 1974 
For the names of these players and all the other killed men,

I remember the commotion of Argentina under the demo­cratically elected Isabel Perón, who served as President between 1974-6 before ousted by a right-wing mil­itary coup. There had been 1,500 political murders in 1975 but things got much worse after the military coup of March 1976. After 1976, when Gen Jorge Videla (1925-2013) took over as dictator-President of Argentina for 5 years, the reg­ime became ruth­less with anyone suspected of involvement with the left and its resis­tance. There was a dark and bleak sensation of power, the greed of the army’s de­sire for impunity. “As many people as necessary must die in Arg­ent­ina so that the country will again be secure,” Gen. Vid­ela pub­licly declared.

The books published recently were Kill the Rugby Player (2020) by Argentinian author Claudio Gómez and The Silenced by Italian author Claudio Fava (2021), where the horrible events were published in Eng­lish. They de­scr­ibed what happened when one of Argentina’s finest rugby teams was seen as “defying the state”.

The Rugby Club in La Plata, a coastal suburb near Buen­os Aires, was where middle-class and leftist ath­letes gat­hered to play, and to dis­cuss their political and social activism. La Plata had very talented players, in a newly booming sport, who were nonetheless never called up to the nat­ional team.

This may be a difficult concept for British country citizens to under­st­and: Rugby was con­sidered a right-wing sport in Argent­ina but La Plata was on the left. Being on the left du­r­ing the Dirty War in the 70s-early 80s was dan­g­erous; 30,000 peo­p­le suspected of opposing the Junta were killed.

Raúl Barandiarán, sole survivor of the orig­inal La Plata’s 1975 rugby squad, said every other one of his 20 teammates was murdered: gunned down, assassinated or dis­app­ear­ed, in an attempt to tear a gen­eration out by its roots. Many had the chance to seek asylum in France when coach Hugo Passarella wanted to organise a team escape while on tour there. Yes these were families who could largely af­ford to send their offspring away to Europe, but they all refused. They believed their destiny was in fighting for equality.

General Jorge Videla
named himself President of Argentina
in March 1976

The first to be murdered in 1975 was scrum-half 21 years old Her­nan Rocca who chose to stay home while the others toured Europe. A para-­mil­itary group Trip­le A-Argentine Anti-Communist Al­l­iance followed Rocca home from training one night. They stopped him en route and murdered him with 19 bul­lets right on the Pan-American Highway.

Then 3 players, Otilio Pascua, Pablo Barut & San­t­iago Sánchez Via­monte, were kidnap­ped to­gether in Mar del Plata beach. A month later, the body of ar­ch­itecture stud­ent and Communist  member Pascua was discovered float­ing in the Rio de la Plata, shot and bloated beyond recognition, arms bound tightly, hands chopped off. Like thousands of others Pascua had been thrown out of an aeroplane. A murder case was opened in the San Isidro Criminal Courts and the body was handed to his family for burial in the Pantheon of Journal­ists' Circle of the La Plata Cemetery.

Note that 15 of the 20 from La Plata Rugby Club who disappeared were never acc­ounted for. Incredibly the team continued to play on, des­pite younger reser­ves having to be drafted to fill the gaps for murdered players. For La Plata’s first match after the murders, the club held a minute’s sil­en­ce for Rocca that exp­anded to 10 minutes, a dangerously defiant act of mourning. On the grass, no­ player mov­ed. Up in the stands, ev­ery­one re­mained fixed, arms by their sides. Even during the game, whenever a try was scored, the team members jumped on each other in solid­ar­ity or perhaps bracing themselves in anticipation.

But while La Plata’s story leaked out in Argentina, in Europe and Australasia it was barely known at the time. No wonder Fava wrote that the tournament was the Jewel in the Crown of the Junta’s propaganda mach­ine. Even for journ­al­ists who opposed the Fascist Junta, the dis­app­earance of rugby play­ers among the thousands of the Disappeared could never have been publicly accounted for.

Argentina's rugby returned to normal
Here they played the UK in the Rugby World Cup

Of c220 athletes who disappeared under the regime, most (152) were rugby players. Yet these men, as talented as they were, accounted for a small proportion of the c30,000 who disappeared before the military regime was overthrown.

Gen Videla handed over power in Mar 1981 and the military regime con­tinued until it failed after 1982 Falklands War. Even af­ter the dictator was tried and gaoled for human rights violations, the only Arg­entinian mem­orial to the massacre is in La Plata Rugby Club: a modest plaque with the players’ names. 

Even in rugby-mad NSW and Qld, The Australian Newspaper seemed to have waited until 2020 before telling the story! The decimation of a lead­ing rugby club by state torture and murder could hardly fail to create fear. In fact during Argentina’s Dirty War, the La Plata rugby players’ stance cost them appallingly.

The Silenced
by Claudio Fava

The 24th March date of the mil­itary coup is still marked in Argentina as a day of Remembrance for Truth and Just­ice with mass gatherings and ceremonies led by the fam­ilies whose sons were murdered by the Junta. Yet surely rugby could do more. Perhaps read The rugby team whose political stance cost them their lives.


08 May 2021

living the Old Rectory dream - classical proportions, symmetry and natural light

The C18th was the best age for the English vicarage as the educated Anglican clergy was now living in comfort, in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). Firstly Queen Anne's Bounty was a fund established in 1704 to augment the incomes of the poorer Church of England clergy. The bounty was funded by the tax on the incomes of all Church of England clergy. Secondly her Tory ministers supported the Church of England by using the Coal Tax to build magnificent new churches in London designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, James Gibbs and others. And they introduced tithes to support parish churches and clerics throughout the country.

Old Rectory at Wingfield in Wiltshire 
first built in 1539 and substantially renovated in c1790.  
Sold by the Church in 1974

During King George III's reign (1760- )an Act of Parliament was passed to “promote Residence of the Parochial Clergy by making provisions for the more speedy and effectual building, repairing or purchasing Houses and other necessary buildings and Tenements for the use of their benefices”.

Clearly the C18th led to a great burst of parsonage building or refurbishing, so I went through Country Life magazine for the last five years, and analysed every single C18th ex-rectory that had been published. It was a labour of love since, as anyone who read my blog posts on ex-rectories would know, this is my favourite form of housing. And none more so than the handsome Old Rectory at Wingfield, near Bradford on Avon, in Wiltshire.

Old vicarages, and all the Church of England's defrocked plant, were in hot demand. While it was very sad that the Church had to lose its clerics' homes, I do understand these substantial homes suggested permanence and stability to historically minded buyers, and an evocative past.

A detailed history of the parish in the County of Wilshire was fascinating. The church of St Mary lay at the south-east end of Wingfield Village, consisting of a chancel, nave, west tower, south porch and a vestry. With the exception of the 15th century tower and chancel arch, the building dated from the C17th, and all the windows except one were from then. The later vestry, built on the north side, housed an organ that was installed by the 5th Earl Temple of Stowe. There was a private school at Wingfield from 1800, kept by the rector, Rev Edward Spencer. In 1833 there was a (second?) school at Wingfield, supported by voluntary contributions and attended by 25 children.

Now let me quote Country Life (5/3/2014). Built of Bath stone under a distinctive slate-and-stone mansard roof, the handsome Georgian rectory, listed Grade II, was originally owned by Keynsham Abbey until the Dissol­ution in 1539, and eventually bought in a ruinous condition by Rector Edward Spencer in the late 1700s. According to parish records, Spencer rebuilt the house at considerable expense in a plain substantial manner for his own residence. His smart new rectory, which sat near the church of St Mary, was soon the focal point of life in the village.

The Old Rectory was at the end of Church Lane in Wingfield village, in an area of particular natural beauty in the Avon green belt. It lay to the south of the picturesque Saxon town of Bradford-on-Avon, through which the Kennet & Avon Canal passed, and to the west of Trowbridge. The historic world heritage city of Bath provided all the services that the vicar could have needed.

Even after its sale by the Church in 1974, the Old Rectory took up a lot of land. It had six acres of gardens, hedges, mature trees, copses and pasture, and views across open countryside to the famous White Horse at Westbury.

The house was spacious and well-proportioned, with the main reception rooms, country kitchen and orangery-breakfast room on the ground floor. The first floor housed bedrooms, a bathroom and a study; the second floor had more bedrooms. The vicar had either a very large family or a lot of church visitors who needed to stay in his home.

Old Rectory at near Cradley, near Malvern in Worcestershire
Photo credit: Wolsey Lodges

The Wingfield property was entranced through wrought iron gates hinged on two substantial stone pillars flanked by a stone boundary wall. The Old Rectory was a delightful Grade II Listed Georgian family house constructed of Bath stone elevations under slate and stone mansard roofs. The front of the building dated from the 1780s although the rear parts were older. Flagstone terraces were laid out in front.

Large sash windows and a garden door with an attractive fan light characterised the front facade which faces the south. Stunning far-reaching views extended across farmland to the Westbury White Horse. The archit­ecture was typical C18th, with fireplaces surrounded by stone, cornicing, panelled doors and large sash windows.

A key feature of The Old Rectory was a purpose-built oak barn with slate roof incorporating exposed beam and plaster elevations, and a first floor with floor-to-ceiling windows in the gable ends. I am in love... and am already discussing with the moving people where my book and painting collections will go. The library in my Old Rectory will have to be spacious, filled with natural light and comfortable.

An  1835 survey found c2,000 rectories across Britain were unfit for humans. Newly installed vicars often reported flooding, squatters, wood rot, rising damp or poison from the grave yards. So was that the end of the Anglican rectory, its resident family and perhaps the entire Church of England? 

Georgian rectory in the Oxfordshire countryside
and adjoining chapel.

Social History of the Victorian Parson (Amberley, 2015) discussed the Victorian parson in a rapidly changing world. The Church battled on to remain in the centre of UK’s affairs and took on new responsibilities. After a series of reforms, the nature of the Anglican parson's appointment and tenure changed and the typical parson was now resident, well educated, public-spirited. Campaigning for new schools, healthier living conditions and humanitarian values, the vicar very often championed the lower classes. This was despite remote, hostile communities, churches that were unfit for purpose and uncooperative local landowners.

light, spacious entry of The Vale, Berks
photo credit: Curbed

The impressive cultural and literary history of rectories has been examined separately.

04 May 2021

Min­is­ter for Ab­original Affairs Robert Tickner: his adoption experience

My late father Les was legally adopted in 1939, when he was 17.5 years old. The 5th of 6 children born to a working class family, each of the young­est 4 children was fostered out to an aunt or uncle while their mother was hospitalised (TB?) in the country for years. My father lived with a much loved aunt who had no children of her own, very close to his old family home. But when the other brothers were returned, Les remained with his aunt. Les understood that adoption could often work out very well for all three parties, but wept in sadness for his birth mother when he was handed his own first baby in 1948. He finally understood his mother's loss. I tell this story to indicate my vested interest in the Tickner story. 

 Robert Tickner met his birth mother in 1993

Robert Tickner (born 1951) was born to a single mother in Sydney’s old Crown St Hospital, was adopted by Bertie and Gwendoline Tickner and grew up in rural NSW. He became an Abor­ig­inal Legal Service lawyer and joined the Sydney City Council. In 1984 he won a seat in the Fed­eral Parliament, married Jody and adopted her daughter, and in 1990 he became the Min­is­ter for Ab­original and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. This era saw great reforms during Australia’s most progres­s­ive Labour gov­ern­ments. As the news of involuntary adoptions swept Australia in 2012-13, he called for an inquiry into the Stolen Generations.

Tickner’s book Ten Doors Down (Scribe, 2020) is a sensitive, personal an­alysis of a tough sys­tem that pushed gen­erations of single mothers and their children into the adoption process. Tough church and governmental policies.
Robert Tickner had always known he was adopted, but rarely felt much curiosity about his origins. He'd been raised by his loving adoptive parents in a small seaside town. He grew up to be a confident young man with a fierce sense of soc­ial justice, and the desire & stamina to make pol­it­ical change. Serving in the Hawke & Keating governments, he held the portfolio of Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. As a minister, he was resp­on­sible for initiating the reconciliation process with Indigenous Australians, and he was a core part of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Fam­il­ies/Stolen Generations. 

Sadly it was too late for Robert Tickner’s adoptive mother; she had died, taking whatever information she had with her. It wasn’t until he was 41, hav­ing fathered a baby, that he decided to trace his birth mother. The birth of  Robert’s son Jack in 1991 was the event that gave him a deep sense of connection to family. 

Having previously been hostile to the idea of investigating his origins, the new father now wondered. He wrote that his son's birth was "the catalyst for my change of heart and my increasing resolve that perhaps the time had come to lift the veil and see if my birth family were still alive - and if so, if they were remotely interested in meeting me".

Perhaps Tickner hadn't seen the tv series Find My Family; he had little under­standing of the tricky road ahead. The woman who had brought him into the world might have been a fall-down drunk for all he knew. Or a woman embittered by her life experiences.  He received a file from the adoption people and was advised to write a letter to his birth mother that would be passed on to her. She could then make up her own mind. In the letter, he assured her that he’d had a wond­er­ful childhood. Tickner also enclosed a photograph of himself starting primary school, taken at his grandma’s place in Merrylands in Sydney’s west, where he had spent most weekends. By chance, for almost a decade, his birth mother and adoptive grandmother lived only a few houses apart. Thus the title of the book.
Ten Doors Down, the book written but Robert Tickner in 2002

In Jan 1993, Robert Tickner was standing on the Sydney Opera House steps, waiting for his biological mother. He saw a wom­an coming from Circular Quay, a tiny blurred speck in the distance. But he knew. He just knew. He ran down the stairs shouting: “It’s me! It’s me! It’s me!” The woman hadn’t seen him since she kissed her baby goodbye in 1951, but she too was beyond excitement.  

He wrote beautifully about the relationship he built with his birth mother, from 1993 until her death. The book was mainly about the two of them, but Tickner was also honest about the difficulties he faced towards the end of his political life. He lost the seat of Hughes when John Howard came to power in 1996, and then lost his marriage. He drove around the country, depressed about being unemployed, but was too embarrassed to seek professional help.

Opening of the Ngunnawal Centre,  1990 
Fed Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Hon Robert Tickner.

In time Tickner became chief executive of the Australian Red Cross, a job he held for a decade (2005-15), a period of great growth and peace. Under his leadership, Australian Red Cross trained in­dig­enous people throughout the country to work with communities and to deal with issues of Aboriginal violence, health and diet. Then he founded the Justice Reform Initiative and is its current chair.

Tickner’s story led to a reunion with his birth father and siblings, but now you will have to read the book!

01 May 2021

Gold rush and spa towns: Daylesford and Hepburn Springs

Villa Parma, Daylesford, 1864 

Indigenous Australians were the first to settle in Hepburn Springs and Daylesford (pop c3600) area of Victoria, particularly the Dja Dja Wur­rung tribes. Pastoralists didn’t occupied the area, 110km from cen­tral Melbour­ne, until white settlement arrived in 1838. The biggest change came when alluvial gold was discovered in Dec 1851 and pros­p­ec­tors arrived. The alluvial gold had run out by the late 1850s so a new camp, with many Chinese diggers, was established at Breakneck Gorge.

Hepburn Springs was named after Captain John Hepburn who travelled from Sydney to Port Phillip in 1836-37. He was so impressed with the countryside that he took up land in Smeaton, in 1838. Although the towns are 3 ks apart, I will deal with the two together.

Daylesford & District Historical Society’s Museum 

in the old School of Mines building, 1890

With gold, Daylesford and Hepburn Springs were quickly established. Fortune seekers from around the world converged upon the golden triangle of Victoria, including many Italian-speaking Swiss from the Ticino region. As a result, today many of the region’s historic buildings were influenced by Swiss-Italian architecture and garden design.

In the goldrushes, men found rich supplies of effervescent mineral water, 80% of all Victoria's springs. The area thus became a fashionable spa resort during the post-gold era. In 1859 Daylesford became a municipality.

The court­house was built in the 1860s. The post office was built in c1860 with an Italianate design and majestic clock tower. The Convent was built in the 1860s for a private residence, then purchased by the Catholic Church and more recently has been transformed into the Convent Gallery. The primary school was built in 1874.

Daylesford, from Cornish Hill Reserve

Lake Daylesford
paddle boats outside Lakehouse Cafe

In 1880 a railway line and station arrived. The railway meant that visitor-accommodation had to grow rapidly: guest houses, luxury hotels with orchestras and formal dinners, ballrooms and pavilions went up. Both towns had fine old guest houses which were of late Victorian archit­ectural quality. Their heyday lasted until the early 1960s, the era when my grandparents stayed every winter (at Peppers Min­eral Springs Hotel).

The Daylesford Town Hall was built in 1882 by George Johnson, an architect who emigrated to Australia in the mid 1860s. His designs were classical and majestic, and many are still standing today including the Town Halls at Kilmore and Maryborough.

The search for gold largely ended by the 1870s, just as people started loving the therapeutic properties of natural mineral springs. It was the start of the region’s reputation as a centre for rest and health care. City people caught the steam train to town, staying in the guesthouses dotted amongst the hills.

Hepburn Bathhouse was first built in 1895, although it has been improved since, including a $13 million upgrade in 2008. There is also a boutique Mineral Spa at Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel, and six other massage-and-spa services in the town. Outside the Hepburn Bathhouse there is a sculp­ture called Memory of Place by Petrus Spronk, 2005.

Mineral water was groundwater which naturally contained carbon dioxide and other soluble matters in sufficient concentration to cause effervescence. When the water-table was pushed to the surface due to the natural faults of the aquifer, naturally bubbly springs appeared. The water was on a quality par with that found in Europe’s most venerated mineral spas.

The Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve was established in 1865. It is a delightful 30 ha reserve which included the Soda, Locarno, Sulphur and other hand pumps. Continuous-flow pipes allowed visitors to bottle or drink the water freely. Each pump had a detailed sign with information about the spec­ific spring. After the closure of the North French­man's Reef Mines, spring water appeared at a new low­er eye in the creek.

The Bathhouse & Spa was located in the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve. Built in 1895 it offered the traditional shared experience of a communal bath house. And it had a mineral Relax­ation Pool and Spa Pool which provided waters that rehydrated the body, and other therapies.

Daylesford Town Hall, 1882

The Convent Gallery, Daylesford, built originally in the 1860s
then became a boarding school
renovated in 1989 as an art gallery

Daylesford & Hepburn Mineral Springs Co. crafted a range of drinks with pure flavours & ingredients: top waters, organics, naturals and mixers. In the late C19th, the mineral water in the region was the main source of refreshment. Many small towns created their own cordial factories with bottling plants at the spring site. All of the early glass bottles were blown by hand, and then became more sophisticated with the addition of cork or marble stoppers.

The Old Macaroni Factory in Main St was a large hand-made brick structure, erected in 1859 by Italian immigrants Pietro and Giacomo Lucini. It too ref­lected the architectural traditions of Northern Italy. The facade was plastered and undecorated, although the ceilings of the wings featured hand-painted decorations added by the Lucinis. The factory is now a cafe-restaurant run by the Lucinis’ descendants.

Fabrizzio Crippa emigrated in 1855 from Lombardy. He moved to Hepburn Springs, worked as a butcher and a wine producer, and became part of the district's Swiss Italian popul­at­ion. In 1864 he built the Villa Parma, a two-storey brick and bluestone building with a distinctive dark stone trim, on the Castlemaine coach road. The gardens comprised vines, fruit trees and tobacco plants. It was from his vine-yard of 15,000 vines and the cellar with a deep well at Parma House that Fabrizzo Crippa prod­uced his award-winning wine, Parma House Red.

Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve

Bellinzona Hepburn 
destroyed by fire and rebuilt

In 1906 a bushfire did enormous damage to Hepburn and destroyed many build­ings. Greatest damage was done to Bellinzona Grange Country Retreat, originally built in the 1860s over a sprawling colonial design, which was burned to the ground. It had to be re-built at the height of the mineral springs boom, this time more Edwardian.

The first cinema was built in 1914 in Alpha Hall Galleria, now Clayfire Gallery. Hepburn Springs’ heritage-listed Palais Venue was built in 1926. It didn’t help. People stopped coming during and after the Great Depression and in WW2.

In the 1970s a new push for a more healthy, alternative lifestyle again created interest in the region. The School of Mines building, built in 1890, became the Daylesford & District Historical Society’s Museum in 1971. It houses local memorabilia, arte­facts and extensive archival resources.