An author, soldier and politician who imagined in 1895 a Chinese invasion to underline Australia’s vulnerability to an attack in the colonies will be commemorated this Saturday, a week after fresh calls were raised to rebalance military deployments in the face of China’s rising strength in the Indo-Pacific.
More than a century ago Kenneth Mackay wrote The Yellow Wave as a warning that Australia could not defend the colonies, nor rely on the British navy but must look to its own resources for security. His fictitious novel featured mounted Australian troops which became a blueprint for the Australian Light Horse, whose first unit he raised in Murrumburrah. A statue of Mackay will be unveiled in the town at 11 am on Saturday (August 31).
Member for Cootamundra Stephanie Cook will unveil the statue, Uncle Roy Levett will give a Welcome to Country and Australian Defence, War Memorial and Local Government dignitaries will attend, along with two bands and descendants of Mackay’s family.
Two literary historians who tracked down Mackay’s original manuscript of The Yellow Wave from records at the Australian War Memorial to a farm north west of Murrumburrah, at Wallendbeen, have recalled opening an old sea chest where his documents had been stowed for more than 70 years.
Prolific writers of award-winning books, and internationally recognised for their work, they had almost completed their research on Mackay when they left their phone number at the War Memorial in case more documents came to light.
A year elapsed before Mackay’s grandson Alex Baldry contacted them. Then Alex’s son Michael suggested opening the sea chest as the writers prepared to leave the Baldry farm one afternoon in 2005, and return to Victoria.
When Michael opened the chest in a machinery shed its contents stunned the two academics and authors. At that point Drs Andrew Enstice and Janeen Webb knew from extensive research for their books, Aliens & Savages and a revision of The Yellow Wave, that more documents existed somewhere surrounding Mackay.
“It was one of those incredible moments, where, if you are a researcher, you cannot believe your luck,” Webb says. “(The sea chest) was absolutely covered in dust,” Enstice says. “Inside it was just stuffed with papers, it was just extraordinary. We had less than an hour to go, we were heading off to catch the train home.
“Michael was wonderful, like the dog that had found the bone, cheerfully saying to us as we left, ‘I’ll let you know if there is anything interesting’ which had to be the understatement of the century. You just do not find archives like that hanging around,” Enstice says.
“We found the scrap book of cuttings from The Yellow Wave, which we knew had to exist, and underneath that the manuscript of the original book, corrections and everything else. Just finding one of those items would have been extraordinary, then letters, diaries, photographs, incredible,” Enstice says.
Correspondence from Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Indian royalty and a visitors’ book signed by numerous eminent people, and maps, illustrations and letters were crammed into the chest.
Some materials related to another famous Australian – Mackay’s younger brother Donald. Donald found fame breaking a record for riding a bike around Australia, exploring Papua and Arnhem Land, drawing more detailed maps from aerial surveys of central Australia, and discovering a large salt lake that now has his name.
The Mackay archives are now stowed and catalogued in the National Library of Australia. Enstice and Webb are planning Kenneth’s biography, beginning with his father Alexander arriving in Australia from China and following the brothers through to 1953.
The storyline will cover the development of Australia as a trading nation back in the 1840s to the 1950s, a century of all the major development of Australia, and the family story intimately bound up with it. In recent years the Mackay Association has been established to remember Major General Kenneth Mackay as one of the founders of federation, who set out to form a cavalry to earn the support of all Australians.
All are welcome when the Mackay statue is unveiled on Saturday at 11 am. Further information can be found here.