Midday on Saturday, June 12—the Queen’s birthday holiday weekend—and Sydney’s Centennial Park bustles.
It’s a crisp, blue sky, sunny winter’s day; if faintly breezy. Junior sports leagues have taken to the park’s myriad of playing fields in colourful togs, noisily competing at children’s sports, watched eagerly by parents; while joggers chug along designated paths; cyclists ding their bells for pedestrians, and families gather for picnics. A socially satisfied air dovetails with the leisurely atmosphere, as this is Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where the optics are more pleasing than out west. It’s a fairly normal scene. So much so that only the very curious are drawn to what’s happening at Cannon Triangle, which overlooks the modern dining and refreshment facilities … and the very English copses of trees that form a drive across the line of view from the hilltop in a picturesque vista.
On that hill, a pair of historic cannons flank the ‘We Won’ statue, which is a bizarre work of neoclassical sculpture from the 1890s standing upon a granite base in which an Appollo-like footballer is affixed to a pedestal laden with relief panels bedecked with cherubs and lions. There is a method to the madness of its design and it’s all allegory.
Against the southern-facing cannon, leaning at 45-degree angles from a double flag base, are the proud flags of Australia and Russia. In front of that are a metal lectern and microphone beside a portable amp.
Nearby, a group of people are tentatively forming. A large stocky man in his thirties with gimlet eyes, cropped hair, and wearing a sharp black suit and overcoat walks back and forth busily communicating into a two-way radio. This is Simeon Boikov, the President of the Australian Cossack Society. Nearby are members of Australia’s Russian, Greek and Italian communities, who are, more than anything else, supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among this polite gathering are nationalists of various backgrounds, Australia First Party members, AFP President Jim Saleam, and even the Aboriginal member of the health services, Aunty Lola.
The Russian consul insisted on a politically correct welcome to country speech although when it comes time for Aunty Lola to give blessings on behalf of the so-called traditional owners, on principle Australian nationalists turn their backs. Almost certainly, ASIO is lurking somewhere. Nevertheless, it is a modest gathering.
Plastic chairs are brought out and arranged before the lectern, and two pretty young Russian girls are set to work at a foldout table with several magnums of champagne in an ice bucket. They don’t wait for guests to come to them but start filling the plastic flutes and politely pass them out. When empty flutes are replaced on the table an impish breeze blows them down. Otherwise, the cups are dutifully refilled as a testament to the rich hospitality of the Russian people.
The most interesting of the arrivals are dressed in khaki uniforms with Russian fur hats, some wearing medals, others with ceremonial swords. These five heroes are the dashing Cossacks; a novelty sight for park-goers to behold, and faintly anachronistic alongside the cannons. Both they and the big guns belong to a quainter place and a nobler time. They carry the Russian national flag and a blue flag the symbolism of which this journalist should’ve bothered inquiring after. Later, somebody brings out the double-headed eagle emblem of the Empire of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Flags, decals, and anthems are all sombre possessions of these meetings.
Once the interactions are over, new acquaintances made and familiar faces greeted, it’s time for the speeches. For, today is Russia Day, a newish holiday on the Russian calendar and a celebration of Russia’s recent independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
This is the prelude to the announcement of a special initiative that has been undertaken by the Cossacks and concerns the two cannons that otherwise provide a point of passing curiosity. Those guns hold deep significance for Australians of Russian heritage, offering a fascinating Australia-Russo backstory, whispered about for many a year, and inspiring the Cossacks to become goodwill ambassadors between Russia and their Australian homeland.
For, sadly, Russiaphobia persists among the intransigent Australian political-media complex, irrespective that any threat to our country from the mighty Russian bear is imaginary. Truly, the regulation paranoia concerning Russia and its indomitable leader Vladimir Putin is a measure of Western hypocrisy, especially when the West is as morally naked as the emperor in his new clothes. The West is so eager to imagine a foe that its embellishments of Putin assume cartoonish properties. The animosity is not ours, the suspicion is handed out to us as though custom kit from a US Policy supply closet. We have become so accustomed to making US enemies our own out of blind obedience that we now allow the enemies of reason to inexorably pull us down along with them.
The two Crimean War Cannons overlooking the pleasant hill nearby Paperbark Grove in sunny Centennial Park tell a different story that is now the subject for those among our Russian community eager to address the Western power syndicate’s fallacy about Russia, as well as honouring the wish of a late Australian Prime Minister to return those cannons to their rightful home in the name of mutual respect and friendship.
So, before we recount the highlights of last Saturday’s Russia Day celebrations, we must relate the tale of the Crimean War Cannons, so that the day’s event is understood in its proper context.
Likewise, the AFP’s involvement becomes clearer, and our Russian friends’ efforts to foster smoother ties with оссия-матушка (mother Russia) can be viewed with the sincerity they intended and not the sensationalist gib of the ABC’s alarmist program Putin’s Patriots; if there isn’t also a harmlessly cynical strategy behind it all.
About the guns
The two SBML 36 Pounder smoothbore naval cannons now situated on their sublime grassy perch are war booty. The big poppers are artillery dating from the butchery of the Crimean War, in the time of Czar Nicholas I; relics from the age of empires when European civilisations clashed in the bloodiest wars for the obscurest reasons.
Over two-and-a-half years of bitter war, Russia was eventually defeated by a coalition comprising Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia. In 1855, England and France signed a treaty agreeing upon the distribution of war spoils. To that end, when the Siege of Sevastopol concluded in 1855, 1165 guns were salvaged. These guns, manufactured at the Alexandrovsky foundry, and bearing the Tsar’s insignia, intended though for naval warfare, were removed from the vessels by the Russians during the siege. The ships were scuttled in Sevastopol Harbour to disrupt the allied landing, while the guns were repurposed for the defence of the cities. Now in the hands of the victors, Britain and France divided them up.
Britain grabbed hers, and interestingly enough the cascabels from some of the guns were melted down to create the Victoria Cross (VC) medals, the highest commendation for gallantry that the Empire could bestow. However, those British colonies in Australia (the states) which had contributed to the Patriotic Fund in support of the Empire’s war effort, four in all, were also rewarded with two cannons apiece.
Two cannons were sent to Victoria, two to NSW (at the time Queensland was still a part of NSW), two to Tasmania, two to South Australia and because of Western Australia’s measly input they didn’t receive so much as a rusty cannonball.
No record exists as to the level of enthusiasm with which these gifts were acknowledged, or whether or not those contributing to the fund didn’t anticipate something more gilted in return. But the receipt of the cannons, at least in NSW in 1858, appears to have been greeted with disinterest, rating a mere mention in the Sydney Morning Herald three years later. That mention is so banal it isn’t even worthy of a mention. All in all, it appears that NSW looked the proverbial gift cannon in the mouth.
As such, the NSW Crimean Cannons spent the start of their retirement flanking the statue of Governor Sir Richard Bourke, unveiled in February 1842, near the old Bent Street entrance to the Domain. No accompanying plaques were provided for the guns, nor it would seem was much love extended to these two brave veterans of the Crimean War.
In 1927, Governor Bourke’s statue was relocated to the Mitchell Library’s west wing to make way for the construction of the new State Library of New South Wales. Meanwhile, the guns had been removed a year earlier. A Sydney Morning Herald report from 21 June 1927 recalls the sad story of how one gun lay dismantled and neglected on the grass of Centennial Park.
Neglected Guns of the Crimean
‘Two Russian cannon which formerly stood near the entrance to the Botanic Gardens were dismantled and removed to Centennial Park, where they have lain uncared for during the past twelve months.
‘It is stated that the failure to re-erect the guns is due to a dispute whether the Agricultural department or the Public Works Department should bear the cost of placing the trophies in position.’’
Thus, a bureaucratic squabble over who should bear the expenses for repositioning the guns led to them laying fallow in the grass of Centennial Park. Eventually, however, they were erected at their present site flanking the ‘We Won’ statue. In 1988, they underwent a restoration process.
Curiously, the arrival of those two hefty guns presaged irrational fears of a possible Russian invasion of Australia that led to gun emplacements around Sydney Harbour and the Pinchgut Island becoming the fortified Fort Denison in the 1850s.
This anxiety was earlier fomented by the unexpected night-time arrival of two American warships in 1839, which sailed into Sydney Harbour and circled Pinchgut Island.
The brazenness of the American warships’ appearance in Sydney Harbour had the government worried about a surprise naval attack. Work began in 1841 to militarise the island but slacked off until fears were renewed in 1855 during the Crimean War over nervousness about Russian naval vessels sailing into Sydney Harbour to conquer NSW in the Tsar’s name. On completion in 1857, the island was renamed Fort Denison after NSW Governor Sir William Thomas Denison.
That historical anecdote is ironic given the continuance of Russiaphobia to this day. However, our political elite’s current concerns about Russia’s geopolitical motives are the circumstance of allegiances and not any ill-disposed attitude towards us on the part of Russia.
The unfulfilled wishes of an Aussie Prime Minister
William Morris “Billy” Hughes was Australia’s seventh Prime Minister, serving from 1915 to 1923. Hughes was in office throughout the tumultuous period of World War 1.
During that fateful year of conflict in 1917, Billy Hughes was aware of the enormous pressures that Russia was under. He conceived the idea of an entente and proposed returning the Crimean War trophies to the Tsar as an expression of Australia’s solidarity with our ally.
Just what led Billy Hughes to think of the cannons we don’t know, but he workshopped the plan with his War Cabinet and consulted the Russian ambassador. He would have been aware that at least 1000 migrants from the Russian Empire had joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) which must have had some bearing on his decision.
Likewise, the reasons those migrants chose to enlist must’ve been various. The Russian consul may have applied pressure to some of those individuals, while a need to show patriotism to their adopted country doubtless inspired others. Regardless, the Russian-born contribution to Australia’s war effort was the largest after those from Britain, New Zealand and Canada.
That’s not to imply all those who served were ethnically Russian but were comprised of those born in the Russian Empire from a diversity of backgrounds. While that might complicate the notion of a Russian-Anzac legacy perse, as more than half were Baltics, it’s not incorrect to argue that Russians share in our Anzac tradition.
Of those who served, one in five were killed, while many were decorated. There is no question of them not being accepted on equal terms with their fellow diggers either; an anecdote is recorded by the Australian National University (ANU) of how, following the Russian Revolution and Russia’s subsequent withdrawal from the war, Favst Leoshkevitch, who served in the trenches later told his son, “What wonderful people our army people were, just soldiers, general soldiers. When the revolution erupted in Russia, nobody spoke to me about it and I thought that was wonderful.”
Sadly, archival research returns only morsels of this story, but it nevertheless establishes that Prime Minister Hughes sought to relocate the cannons back to Russia.
A letter from the Prime Minister’s Department dated January 14, 1917, was directed to the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia. It read:
“Representations have been made that Russia would very highly appreciate the return of cannon captured during Crimean War and now held by Commonwealth or State governments throughout Australia. It is thought that this would be regarded as an outward and visible sign of the inward spirit of the entente with Russia which the Australian governments and people value very greatly. Shall be glad to learn if there is any objection to the proposed action.”
As per the protocol of the times, the Governor-General forwarded the correspondence to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London via coded cablegram.
London responded a month later that His Majesty’s Government had no objections in principle, but questioned the logistics of transporting the cannons back to Russia. The Prime Minster’s Department replied that the question of tonnage was no object as a Japanese vessel was available and capable of shipping the guns. However, after that, the matter fades from history due to the Russian Revolution in March, and with the abdication of the Tsar, it became a moot point.
The cannons remained by Governor Sir Richard Bourke’s side standing sentry at the entrance to the Domain until the expansion of the Botanical Gardens caused them to be removed. Once more, except for that small period where they piqued the Prime Minister’s interest, they were forgotten.
This brings us to Simeon Boikov’s project. As an Australian proud of his Russian heritage, and given his keenness to learn the history of his countrymen’s contribution to our nation, he is inspired by this Australian-Russian story. He has now begun a campaign to fulfil Billy Hughes’s wishes and restore the cannons to Russia, in the original spirit of entente that the Prime Minister intended.
As Boikov scans the crowd with his eagle gaze, the breeze flapping the flags, he delivers an oratory recounting the history that we’ve outlined. He covers the period of the Crimean War, as we have done, the guns, and Prime Minister Hughes’s plan to return them. He proudly mentions the efforts of the Russian-born Aussies in the great war.
He explains his organisation’s efforts in petitioning the government and setting about promoting awareness of the project. Flanked by Cossack comrades with ceremonial swords he holds out documents from the Prime Minister’s Office obtained from the National Archive, and says, “I know many of you here generally support the idea … of returning the cannons to Russia. It’s very un-Australian to possess stolen goods [lighthearted snicker from the journalist] … and, of course, it’s very important to have support from other communities.
“Although the Russian government is officially watching with interest, this is a community initiative. This is an initiative of everyday Australians … to return the cannons to Russia.
“And we’re not asking for something extraordinary, all we’re asking for is for today’s Australian government to fulfil the wishes of the Australian people and the Australian government … who viewed Russia as an ally.
“Unfortunately today, a very hard political situation presents a challenge … but we have the documents … This was a decision made by the Australian Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes.
“I am sure the honourable Scott Morrison wouldn’t want to overturn a decision of his predecessor … We urge the Australian government to take into account the petition which we have started with the House of Representatives to revisit this decision that’s in the National Archives and for the first time in 104 years we can release it.”
Australia First Party President Jim Salem is invited to speak. He wastes neither time nor minces words as he says, “It is an amazing thing to see an Australian Prime Minister during the Great War make this decision.
“Billy Hughes, as some people here know, is a very controversial figure in Australian history for certain policies he had during the First World War. But one certain thing that can be said about William Morris Hughes is that he always sought to advance the idea of Australian independence in world affairs.
“Come forward a hundred years and there are many issues between Australia and Russia that are not driven at all from the Australian people, they’re driven from the top down.
“There is much demonisation and vilification of Russia. I believe the return of the Russian guns would be a great symbol amongst the Australian community that we do not want that contention between and Russia.
“If anything I believe there is a rising number of Australians who believe in Australia being a neutral country. But these guns must be returned, it is a decision of the Australian government, it is lawful, it was correct, I believe these guns should now be returned to Russia.”
After the playing of national anthems, the speeches, the photo opportunities finishes all are invited along to the picnic section of Paperbark Grove just across from the Cannon Triangle where the tables and chairs had been removed to. There, as the Cossacks set to work on the barbecue with a Tsar’s bounty of pork and lamb, and as the young girls now serve both wine and salads at the picnic tables, this journalist takes Simeon Boikov aside to ask him a couple of unexpected questions.
The journalist questions him as to whether he understands the appeal of Vladimir Putin to Australian nationalists in these trying times. We’re not courting authoritarianism or by saying so implying Putin is any more or less authoritative than those in the West. Societies are predicated on a basis of order to function and order is subject to a system. In the West, that system, which it touts as the best and invades and interferes with other countries to impose, is now chaotic. While those Western leaders maintain that Putin (along with Xi Jinping) represent a dark threat to democracy, it is they who have ripped the rug out from under the very democratic ideology underpinning Western Society.
The Woke revolution (sic) is so unabashed about its hypocrisies that it’s gaslighting us in its entirety. One of those areas of its hidden agenda most apparent is how in the name of racial equality and democratic transparency that system that undemocratically ousted President Donald Trump is pursuing a course that has resulted in what certain American Professors have dubbed a ‘Cold Civil War.’
Critical Race Theory and a host of other regimes are being promoted by crooked media. In the drollest Orwellian type, we are told that science, nature, logic and reason are all wrong and what overarches any Platonic order of human learning is the feelings … of the few.
He [the journalist] mentions that Putin will not tolerate those ‘issues’ being used as a riot shield to subdue dissent, and that makes him admired among us. He has banned the absurd conflation of identity-based issue groups fostering an agenda used to police Western thought, and to punish ‘wrongthink.’
At the G7 meeting in Cornwall Putin illustrated the hypocrisy of the West denouncing him as a tyrant for locking up political opponents when the American deep-state has used the so-called Capitol Hill riots as an excuse to persecute and jail its political enemies, which grow in greater number day by day. This while the communists, Marxists and black bloc anarchists declare ‘autonomous zones’, battle the police, and burn down whole blocks.
As poverty and homelessness blight entire cities leading to rampant crime, the Left petition for the dismantling of the police. As the West falls apart and looks abroad once again to foreign foes to demonise as a distraction, Putin holds his country together as he has done for over 20 years. That must be genuinely admired aside from any illusionary utopian ‘system.’
The journalist raises the delicate subject of race — which CRT and BLM and all the others are using in an ill-disguised plan to replace the White populations of Western countries — a point made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who warned that the US is seeking to spread its cultural revolution around the world. “The common agenda of these enemies of European civilisation can be summed up in three words: decolonize, emasculate, de-Europeanize, straight white males — that’s the culprit to condemn and the enemy to eliminate,” he said.
Simeon, perhaps nervous of where the journalist’s questions are taking him, and keen to safeguard protocols, shies away and refers him instead to another Russian personage. The journalist is disappointed that he’s failed to communicate the essence of Australian nationalist support and that by involving ourselves in the project, we’re also working to counter the demonising of Putin’s Russia, where the President’s resolve is deliberately misrepresented as understated despotism. In doing so, we embark on a noble mission. After all, who are the despots? In the age of Covid-19, when the virus is being used as a means of mass control, just who is free and democratic in the Western societies?
This disconnect is also evident in the inclusion of Aunty Lola in the bogus welcoming ceremony. Perhaps Russians are unaware that such ‘conventions’ are ideological constructions with no truth in Aboriginal culture — are devices encouraged by white ideologues — that they’re an extension of all that Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke of. Nevertheless, these are all points to overcome if a proper understanding is to be achieved between Russia and Australia.
Is it the beastly system that invalidates them they should reach out to, or the Australian people? And, given that question, can they differentiate who is Australian by birth and who is Australian by definition of this system that abhors both ourselves and the Russian leadership?
However, the journalist decides it doesn’t matter, that all of this is a vigorous discussion for another time. Today is Russia day, and we’re here with all these charming people. The matter at hand is those cannons and given that if you asked random Australians in the street how they feel about the cannons an almost guaranteed 100 per cent response would be they aren’t even aware of their existence.
Australia has never truly felt comfortable with the cannons which were looted as war spoils by a colonial master we’ve long since shed. Today, let’s drink to those cannons, to the Australian Cossack Society, and all the wonderful guests. Let’s raise a toast to this excellent idea and hope that our leaders honour the wishes of Billy Hughes, nasdarovya!
This scene in the park is an idyllic representation of how thing should be between our peoples. Australia First Party candidate Lili Orrock has three small yapping dogs that belong to her family. She’s brought them along although they’re more interested in what’s on the picnic table. Cheery babooshkas offer the mutts scraps of their dinner. Friendship flows, and optimism abounds. It’s all very civilised.