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89. Mind the Gap in Oceania during 1644 to 1912

APR. 18, 2024


Ryan takes Pete to Oceania to discover the topic of ‘Mind the Gap’. Hear the heartwarming tale of the train platform with a voice from beyond the grave, find out how Captain Cook narrowly avoided disaster thanks to a diplomatic local, and discover how some gaps are sacred.

This episode visits ‘Oceania’, the collective name given to all of the various islands sprinkled across the Pacific Ocean between Asia and the Americas.

For a long time it’s been considered one of six great divisions of the earth – those being: Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America and Oceania. Definitions vary but in general it includes Pacific islands like: Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu and numerous others.

Geographically, Oceania also includes Hawaii and Rapa Nui (or ‘Easter Island’ as it’s more commonly known), but because these are politically linked elsewhere, with Easter Island to Chile, and Hawaii to North America, they’re not really considered official members of Oceania.

Combined, all these land masses equate to around 8.5 million square kilometres (that’s 3.2 million miles) – which is about 15 times the size of France. That is a large area, and taken as a whole, it is widely considered to be one of the world’s best places for natural beauty, being home to rainforests, volcanic mountains, vast deserts, white sandy beaches, atolls, the Great Barrier Reef, and majestic fjords.

It’s also home to a huge variety of animals too, with kangaroos, koalas, frill-necked lizards, bats, tree-frogs, lorikeets, birds of paradise, crocodiles, sharks, and a whole bunch of snakes and spiders that will happily murder you just for existing.

Despite all that land mass, Oceania is home to just 42 million people, making it the second-least populated area on Earth, after Antarctica.

Across the region, English and French are the official languages, but many indigenous languages are spoken. Similarly, Christianity is the main religion, but hundreds of indigenous beliefs are followed too.

Sadly, there is no one flag that represents the whole of Oceania, each country or territory having its own flag instead - but if one did exist, we could imagine it having a deep blue background, with perhaps a circle of golden stars representing the main island groups.
There is no official anthem for Oceania either, but in the fictional world of the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main protagonist, Winston, is said to live in a totalitarian superstate called Oceania. In the movie adaptation, released in 1984, a national anthem was created.

Written by Dominic Muldowney, the anthem is called, Oceania ‘Tis for Thee. The anthem plays a crucial role in manipulating the population. It's used during the ‘Two Minutes Hate’, a daily public ceremony designed to channel citizens' anger towards enemies of the state. Dominic Muldowney said that ‘Oceania Tis for thee’ was inspired by Soviet Union and Nazi party anthems.

Oceania Facts!

Australia is home to the world’s longest fence, known as the Dingo Fence, designed to keep dingoes away from fertile land. Stretching over 5,614 kilometers, it’s longer than the Great Wall of China.

But it’s not the only big thing. Australia is dotted with more "Big Things" including:
o The Big Mango: A giant sculpture of a mango to signify the area's rich mango farming. Approximately 10 meters high. Bowen, Queensland.
o The Giant Koala: A massive sculpture of a koala, highlighting the native wildlife. 14 meters in height. Dadswells Bridge, Victoria.
o The Big Crocodile: A large sculpture of a crocodile, representing the local wildlife in the Northern Territory. About 18 meters long. Wanarn, Northern Territory.
o The Big Potato: A sculpture of a potato, celebrating the area's potato farming. Roughly 10 meters long. Robertson, New South Wales.
o The Big Guitar: A giant replica of a guitar, celebrating Tamworth's status as the "Country Music Capital of Australia" 12 meters tall. Tamworth, New South Wales.
o The Big Prawn: A large sculpture of a prawn, symbolizing the local seafood industry. 9 meters in height and weighs over 35 tonnes. Ballina, New South Wales.
o The Big Pineapple: A giant pineapple, acknowledging the area's production of pineapples. 16 meters tall. Woombye, Queensland.
o The Big Merino: A giant sculpture of a Merino ram, representing the wool industry. 15.2 meters tall and 18 meters long. Goulburn, New South Wales.
o The Big Lobster: Also known as "Larry," this is a huge sculpture of a lobster. 17 meters tall. Kingston SE, South Australia.
o The Big Banana: One of Australia's first "Big Things," it represents the area's banana industry. It's not just a statue but a complex that includes a café and a souvenir shop; the banana itself is over 5 meters high. Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.

History of Oceania

90 million years a ago, the supercontinent of Gondwana starts to break apart, with tectonic plates pushing up mountain ranges, and volcanic eruptions forming islands in the Pacific.

It’s unclear when exactly Early Man reaches the region, but current thinking suggests sometimes around 60-70,000 years ago. Certainly we know that Early Man was in Southeast Asia at that time, and they were building boats which allowed them to migrate across the Pacific settling on various islands of the western Pacific, that later will become known as Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, and Australia.

Tens of thousands of years pass, and Early Man has become complex-social-structures Man, having formed cultures that have a deep connection to the land and are rich in spirituality and tradition.

About 5,500 years ago, some of the more daring seafaring folk from modern-day Taiwan migrate further across the Pacific, looking for new lands, and over the course of the next few millennia, humanity spreads as far as New Zealand.

At this point, the Pacific is now a place full of various islands inhabited by various societies of people, led by chiefs or kings, who sought to maintain order and trade or war with neighbouring tribes.

The 16th century sees the arrival of the Europeans, with the Portuguese arriving first, sometime around 1512, followed by the Spanish in 1520, with Ferdinand Magellan and his crew entering the Ocean to the west of South America, which he called the “Pacific”.

Inspired by what they’d seen, in the 1600s, the Portuguese and the Spanish return to the region in greater numbers, with explorers and navigators like de Quieros, de Torres, and Janszoon, sailing around the waters, meeting locals and generally acting European.

The Dutch make an appearance too, with Abel Tasman landing on parts of the Australian coast and “discovering” Tasmania, New Zealand and Fiji.

But it was in the 18th century when European influence is really felt, with the British and French both sending various expeditions to the Pacific to chart the islands, met aboriginal leaders, open up new trade routes, and claim possession of large territories.

In 1789, Oceania is the setting for the infamous mutiny on the Bounty, where a bunch of Royal Navy crewman led a successful mutiny against their captain, William Bligh, casting him adrift in a rowboat before going on the run and hiding out on the Pitcairn Island.

In 1812, French explorer Conrad Malte-Brun who had visited the region coined the phrase ‘Terres océaniques’ meaning ‘Ocean Lands’, which two years later got shortened by another Frenchman, Adrien-Hubert Brué, who simply called the region Oceanie – marking it on a map and giving rise to the popularity of the name Oceania.

All of this attention meant that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain, France, Germany, and Spain, each undertook a landgrab, exerting their power over the the island nations and colonising them.

As is so often the case, this resulted in significant changes to the cultures, political landscape, and ecosystems for the inhabitants – and not always positive.

The First World War hits Oceania in 1914, when New Zealand forces land on Samoa and overwhelmed the German colony, resulting in full surrender without any bloodshed. And that was it.

Sadly, the Second World War had a greater impact on Oceania, with the Imperial Japanese invading New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands in 1942. Various battles took place during this time, such as fighting that took place at Bita Paka, the Kokoda Track, and the Borneo campaign, before Japan was ultimately defeated a few years later at the end of the war in 1945.

Otherwise, the 20th century is really all about the struggle for independence, with various islands in Oceania looking to push out their respective colonizers, with Australia and New Zealand achieving this early in the 1900s, followed by many of the other islands in the latter half of the century, such as Samoa in 1962, Fiji in 1970, and Vanuatu in 1980.

And that brings us to today, where Oceania struggles to find its place in a globalised world where economic opportunities clash with the dangers of climate change, with some of the more low-lying islands like Kiribati facing disaster at the hands of rising sea-levels.

That said, there is a resurgence in respect for traditional culture, and generally there is a broad desire to preserve and celebrate the region's rich heritage for future generations.

So, here’s hoping that the future for Oceania is as sun-filled and peaceful as the white-sandy beaches that they offer.

Mind the Gap!

What do we mean by this episode’s topic, ‘Mind the Gap!’?

Well, Londoners, and visitors to the city, know exactly what it is – it’s a safety warning at London Underground stations. Usually found painted on the edge of each platform and routinely announced over loudspeakers, it’s Transport for London’s way of encouraging passengers to be mindful of their safety as they step between the platform edge and the door to the train.
It’s a gap that in some cases can result in a significant space between the train and platform, particularly those platforms that curve, such as the Central line’s eastbound platform at Bank station which has a gap of 37.5cm (or about 15 inches).

In these places, passengers that aren’t aware of the gap can (and frequently do) fall down onto the tracks, or at least cause a serious injury to their feet.

There isn’t any publicly available statistics which detail how many people injure themselves, but the ‘Mind the Gap!’ announcement is repeated about 200,000 times a day, 73 million times a year, and is heard by the 1.4 billion passengers who use the network every year – so, it’s clearly considered an important safety announcement - and it has been for some time.

The first recorded use of ‘Mind the Gap’ was in 1957 when a passenger named Lilian East was attempting to board a train at London’s Charing Cross station when she fell through the 8-inch gap between the platform and the train.

Injured by her fall, Lillian took London Transport to court, seeking damages, but failed when it was proven that she had been given several warnings by the platform attendant, a 61-year old woman called Minnie Smith. The defence lawyer argued that Minnie was a long-term employee at London Underground, well known to regular travellers for loudly shouting, ‘Mind the Gap!’ at passengers, so much so, that she her employers referred to her as "the best shouting voice at Charing Cross".

Finding in favour of London Transport, the case was dismissed, and the next day, Minnie became something of a celebrity, with the Daily Mirror newspaper calling her, "Minnie with the Mighty Voice”. In an interview she said, "I just naturally happen to have a loud voice. My husband used to say he couldn't get a word in against me".

Anyway, as a result of the case of Lilian East vs London Transport, the phrase ‘Mind the Gap’ was brought to the public’s attention but it wasn’t until a decade later, when Minnie had retired, that London Transport decided to replace employees yelling with an automated announcement, commissioning sound engineer Peter Lodge to make the recording.

So, in 1969, Lodge hired an actor and set about recording the warning, only to later find that the actor was demanding royalty payments for each time the announcement was played. Given that the plans were to use the announcement across all platforms at every station, Peter decided to just re-record the announcement himself.

And so, for the next few years, when the announcement was issued, passengers on the London Underground heard Peter’s voice warning them to ‘Mind the Gap’.

But, the story doesn’t end there, because when a new section of the Underground’s ‘Northern line’ opened, Peter took the opportunity to hire another actor to re-record the message.
Step forward, Oswald Laurence, a German actor who lived in London with his wife, Dr Margaret McCollum.

Happy to not take royalties, Oswald’s voice became the official recording of the announcement and was rolled out across the whole network, playing day after day for decades.

In fact, it continued to be played after his death in 2007, which continued to prevent injuries, but also provided his widow with a place where she could hear his voice and relive happier times.

Or she did at least until one day in November 2012, when she made her regular visit to a platform at Embankment Station, only to find that her husband was no longer the voice of the announcement – having been replaced by a new digital system.

Margaret was devastated at what felt like her husband’s second death, and despite being comforted by staff, could not be consoled.

So, the employees raised the issue with upper management and a project was started to revive Oswald’s voice. They delved into their archives, found the old recordings, digitalized them, and restored them to the system.

So, now, if you ever visit the Northbound platform of the Northern line at Embankment station, you can hear the voice of Oswald Laurence warning you to ‘Mind the Gap’.

Today, the phrase ‘Mind the Gap’ is part of pop culture, with tourists having their photos taken with the signs, and t-shirts, mugs and key rings sold by Transport for London in the tens of thousands.

"Mind the Gap" has become famous throughout the world as a catchphrase, and because it is not subject to copyright, it has become used as a meme on joke t-shirts and posters, with things like, ‘Keep Calm and Mind the Gap’, ‘Mind the Social Distancing Gap’, and ‘Mind the Gender Equality Gap’.

Underground and Metro systems around the world have even adopted versions of it for their own announcements.

In Hamburg, for example, the S-Bahn station, Beliner Tor, warns passengers, "Bitte beachten sie die Lücke zwischen zug und Bahnsteigkante!" which means "Please mind the gap between train and platform".

In Australia, Sydney Trains warn passengers to ‘mind the gap’ but also includes statistics of how many people have fallen down the gap each year.

In Shanghai, the metro system says, "Note the level of gap".

The point is, ‘Mind the Gap!’ is a familiar saying.
But given that there were no underground transport systems in Oceania during 1644-1912, I’ve had to be a bit more creative in my research.

And so, with that in mind, I’ll start our adventure by looking at someone whose job it was to ‘Mind the Gap’ – not prevent someone from falling down a hole, but by instead being the bridge between a cultural divide.

Tupaia and Cook

Born on the 7th November 1728, Englishman James Cook, joined the British merchant navy as a teenager, and then the Royal Navy in 1755.

Within two years he was posted in North America, where he took part in an assault on the Fortress of Louisburg in Nova Scotia, and a siege on Quebec City.

On his non-fighting days however, Cook started to demonstrate an exceptional capacity for mapping uncharted territory. Within a year of putting pen to paper, he had successfully made the first large-scale maps of the northwest coastline, and so accurate were they that were used by sailors for the next 200 years – well into the 20th century.

This talent brought him to the attention of the Admiralty, and the scientific academy known as the Royal Society, both of whom were very eager for Britain to start making more overseas discoveries.

Being the right man at the right time, Cook found himself commissioned to undertake an exploratory mission to the Pacific Ocean.

Excitedly, he wrote in his journal that he intended to go not only "farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go". And so, Cook and the crew of the HMS Endeavour left England on the 26th August, 1768, and within a year were sailing through the Pacific - landing at the island of Taihiti on the 13 April, 1769.

Primarily there for scientific reasons, Cook and his crew set to work observing the local flora and fauna, observing the transit of Venus, mapping the island, and generally learning more about the Tahitian people, including their language and ways of life.

With this done, Cook settled into his Captain’s chair and opened a sealed envelope which contained instructions from the Admiralty about his next mission, which was to continue on into the South Pacific and look for signs of a possible southern continent known only as ‘Terra Australis’.

Cook gathered the crew, told them their orders, and gave instructions to ready the ship for departure.

But while the team ran around gathering supplies, Cook was approached by the ship’s botanist, a guy called Joseph Banks, who suggested that Cook consider bringing a new member of crew aboard with them.

Asked who Banks had in mind, he pointed out an islander called Tupaia. Tupaia was born around 1725 on a small island near Tahiti, called Ra’iatea.

Now aged 44 years old, he lived on Tahiti as a high priest, considered by many as their wisest of their people.

He was their source of knowledge on the origin of the cosmos, their ancient history, the calendar – as well as being an extremely accomplished navigator.

It was said that Tupaia had an incredible memory, with knowledge that included a list of all the local islands, including their size, locations of their reefs and harbours, whether they were inhabited or not, the names of the tribal chief who lived there, and what types of foods were available there.

What’s more, Tupaia knew the directions to get to each island, the star-path to follow, and the amount of time it would take to get there.

So given all this, it was perhaps no surprise that Joseph Banks, during his time on Tahiti, had struck up a good relationship with him and now facing travelling through the unknown waters of the South Pacific, he reasoned that Tupaia’s remarkable skills could be an asset.

At first, Cook refused to allow Tupaia to join the expedition, saying that they were on a budget and couldn’t afford another crew member, so Banks, determined to bring him, agreed to be financially responsible for Tupaia’s welfare - even offering to share a cabin with him.

Still unconvinced, Cook set Tupaia a test, asking him to map the local area around Tahiti – and within days, Tupaia hand-delivered a chart that showed not only Tahiti, but all 130 islands within a 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius, naming 74 of them.

Questioned about the chart, Tupaia told Cook that he (or his ancestors) had travelled to most of the islands shown, with the small exceptions of two locations, Rotuma (which is north of Fiji) and Oahu, which is in Hawai'i.
Finally impressed, Cook welcomed Tupaia aboard the Endeavour, and in August of 1769, they all set off to ‘discover’ more of Polynesia.

Now, you might be wondering why Tupaia would be so interested in joining Cook’s crew - and the answer seems to be that his people had recently been defeated in war by a neighbouring people called the Bora Bora, a conflict which had resulted in Tupaia losing all of his land – by helping the British, he saw this as a quid-pro-quo way of assuring their help in winning back his home from the Bora Bora.

Now, whether Cook knew this and gave Tupaia the impression he would help in exchange for his help, we don’t know, but we do know that both Cook and Banks had definitely discussed bringing Tupaia back to England with them as a present for the Royal Society, as a form of wild anthropological curiosity.

Regardless, before heading south, Cook, Banks, Tupaia and the crew of the Endeavour spent the next several weeks travelling through the various islands around Tahiti, during which time Tupaia navigated them safely through various dangerous reefs, and acted as an interpreter / mediator with tribal chiefs that they met.

He introduced the officers, walked them through complicated ceremonies, and basically assured their safety wherever they landed.

Clearly impressed with his new crewman, within a month, Cook had Tupaia working on a much larger chart – one that would ultimately map the wider Pacific Ocean.

Tupaia’s influence was immediate and felt by all, with Banks revealing in his journal that, “We wake to see where Tupaia will bring us to next”.

Eventually though, when Tupaia suggested that the ship head east towards Tonga, Cook regained control of the direction of the ship and ordered that they waste no more time and start to head south in search of Terra Australis.

Now in unknown territory, Tupaia stood on deck at night looking to the stars for the right path, he collected signs from migrating birds, and he studied the ocean currents.

And with this information, he helped the Endeavour navigate 1,854 nautical miles (3,433 kilometers) from Tahiti to New Zealand, a land which Cook presumed was Terra Australis, and so, eager to be the first to get there, he left Tupaia aboard and rowed to shore with his crew.

This was a mistake, because almost immediately Cook found himself in hot water with the local Maori people, as he was unable to interpret their language or protocols.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, a fight broke out between the two groups and in the resulting melee, one of Cook’s men shot and killed a young Maori chief.

After this total disaster, Cook returned the next day with Tupaia who met with the local Maori and did his best to talk with them and smooth things over, but it was a case of too little too late, and the hostilities continued, heating up to the point where the British shot even more of the Maori before leaving.

With their tails between their legs, Cook and The Endeavour moved off along the coast with a growing realisation that their need to resupply food and water was going to be a problem.

Because, faster than they travelled, word of their violent arrival spread amongst the Maori, and locals continued to refuse them safe harbour.

Facing doom, Cook’s one saving grace was Tupaia, who had gained a reputation among the Maori as a high priest of respect and honour.

As such, as they moved along the coast, inquisitive locals would come out to meet him, and soon, with Tupaia’s help, The Endeavour was again fully laden with supplies – something that Cook knew would have been impossible without him, and would certainly have spelled the end of his mission.

Banks, again writing in his journal, said: "We never expected him to have so much influence"

Eventually, in March of 1770, Cook left New Zealand, and following Tupaia’s directions sailed west for one month and eventually, finally, arrived at the coast of Australia.

Celebrations were had by all – Cook had found the unknown Southern Continent!

But this success was shortlived though, because having successfully minded the gap across Oceania, Tupaia now found himself entirely redundant. After all, Australia was new territory, and he had no knowledge of the place or its people.

He tried several times to speak with the local indigenous people, but the differences between them were just too great – with the local people considering him no more strange than his European shipmates.

As such, his role of mediator, translator, and diplomat disappeared, and Cook, Banks and others on the ship marginalised him.

As they travelled up Australia's coastline, he fell ill with scurvy, and by mid-November Tupaia was dead.

Eventually, Cook and Banks returned back to England and were welcomed as heroes, his successes plauded as British bravery and ingeninuity, with next to no mention of Tupaia, despite his contribution being written about extensively in the Captains log and various crew journals
Basically - he was conveniently forgotten about for at least 200 years until Cook’s journals were re-examined and his contribution in the remarkable achievements acknowledged.

Today, some say that Tupaia’s contribution has been overblown, and that Cook and his crew do deserve a lot of the praise they’ve received for world exploration, but whatever the case, it’s absolutely certain that without Tupaia’s expertise, knowledge and wisdom helping to mind the gap across the cultural divide of the Pacific Ocean, we might be telling a different story about the discovery of the lost southern continent of Australia.

Heavitree Gap

Today, Australia is largely known by its cities like Canberra, Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne. All places that have evolved into sprawling metropolises around the coast of the country.

The reason for this is that taken as a whole, the coast is the most temperate and liveable areas for humans to live comfortably. The rest of Australia – around 81% of it – is considered Rangeland (or more commonly as ‘the Outback’), it covers the interior of the island where the temperatures are hot and summers are long, resulting in vast lands of arid and semi-arid desert.

But that doesn’t mean that people don’t live there.

Estimates vary, but today, somewhere between 400 and 600,000 people call the Rangelands home and central Australia has been home to humanity for a long long time, with the earliest humans living there over 40,000 years ago.

These indigenous people are known as the Arrernte and they are still living there today, in an area that covers around 120,000 square kilometres (one-fifth the size of France).

They call the land Mparntwe, and it’s an area which oral history describes as having been created by primordial caterpillar-beings. Originally a semi-nomadic people, the Arrandah spent their time crossing the desert landscape following the natural flow of food and water.

They knew all of their lands intimately… the best watering holes, the best hunting grounds for kangaroo and emu, the best areas for picking fruits, nuts and seeds, but they also knew all the places which held a special significance in their spiritual customs and beliefs – places where life event ceremonies were held and locations where knowledge should be passed onto the next generation.

The Arrandah were, and in some cases, still are, a people that were deeply linked with their land as central to their understanding of the world, their place within it, and the laws that governed them.
For them, the land is alive and sentient, filled with the presence and power of their ancestors, and as you might expect, the landscape is therefore filled with sacred sites imbued with the power of ancestral beings.

And one of the most sacred sites is a long series of mountains called Tjoritje that range across the landscape in parallel for about 644 km (400 mi).

Famous for their burnt orange colour, the result of red quartzite in the rock, the mountain range, known today as the MacDonnell Ranges was created around 300-400 million years ago, since which they’ve eroded to form a series of peaks that reach heights of up to 1,531 metres (5,023 ft) tall.

In an otherwise flat landscape, the mountains can be seen from far and wide, a natural wall of rock that separates the lands to the north from those in the south.

Amid the peaks are gorges, chasms and watering holes, each eroded away thanks to a continual flow of running water over hundreds of thousands of years.

And it’s these areas which provide the Arrandah with some of their most important spiritual sites, many of which have been marked with rock art, painted by ancient ancestors who used Ochre sourced from the mountain to paint the walls.

One of these sites, and perhaps the most significant sacred site, in the mountain range is Anthwerrke, a small flat piece of ground between two cliff walls that is considered by the Arrandah to be the origin place of their god-like Caterpillar beings – the legend written large on the walls of the cliffs in the form of a painted Ochre Caterpillar being wriggling across the ground.

Known today as ‘Emily Gap’, it is one of many stopping points for hikers to rest and take photos.

But I want to talk about another area of importance to the Arrandah, a place that was revered as spiritually significant.

Called ‘Heavitree Gap’ today, but known to the Arrandah as Ntaripe, it is similar to Emily Gap in that it is a small level space between the mountains, this time created by the flow of a river which has over millenia carved a path through the rock, leaving steep cliffs on either side.

It is more than just a landmark, featuring prominently in the Arrandah stories and spiritual practices, in fact, it's considered a spiritual pathway that embodies the deep connections they have with the land.

But in the case of Ntaripe, the place is unique in that tradition states it must only be visited and crossed by men.

That’s right… women of the Arrandah people are specifically told to ‘Mind the Gap’.
And that’s because their culture states that men and women have clear distinctions in roles and responsibilities when it comes to spirituality – a means to ensuring that there is a balance and harmony within the community and the land.

As such, each gender has their own ceremonies and their own sacred sites - with Ntaripe restricting the passage of people to just men.

Well, this was all the case until the 18th century, when from across the arid central lands came a wandering some Europeans. Having arrived in Australia and settled on the coasts, the Europeans were now turning their attention inland, sending out explorers to chart the country.

In the 1860s, one of the more notable explorers, a Scottish guy called, John McDouall Stuart, made several attempts to cross the continent from south to north, and lured by the mountain range, passed near Ntaripe during these expeditions.

Finally succeeding in his cross continent walk in 1862, Stuart’s charts and maps were taken by William Whitfield Mills, an English surveyor, who in 1870 was busy building a Telegraph Line that would connect Adelaide to Darwin by passing directly through central Australia.

A path that meant crossing the McDonnell Mountain range.

Mills and his companion, Gilbert McMinn, arrived at the mountains in March of 1871, and following the Todd River, found a gap through the rock. Realising that it would be the perfect location to feed his telegraph line over land without having to go over the peaks of the mountains, Mills marked the location for construction, and called it ‘Heavitree Gap’ - a tribute to his childhood school in Devon, England.

Side note, while he was there, he also named a nearby watering hole, Alice Springs, identifing it as a place of great opportunity for those seeking to settle – today, Alice Springs is an important town with a reported population of around 30,000 people.

Anyway, during this time of exploration, the Arrandah met with the Europeans and warned them about the cultural significance of Heavitree Gap, but construction continued anyway and the gap soon had several telegraph lines swinging through them on their enormous route across country.

Unfortunately, the telegraph lines were just the start, because Mills’ recommendation for settlers to come to Alice Springs meant that Europeans started to flood the area, with the Gap being used on a daily basis as settlers moved their cattle around to feed and drink from the river.

And it didn’t stop there, in 1912, plans were underway for a railway line to pass through the gap – something which eventually happened in 1929. And rail was then joined by road too, with the construction of the Stuart Highway also passing through Heavitree Gap.

And a footpath – which has no gender restrictions.

Fortunately, today, there is much more recognition of the cultural significance of sacred sites like Heavitree Gap, and there is legal protection in place with acts like the Native Title and Land Rights, and Heritage Legislation, all of which are designed to prevent the development of protected sites.

But with that in mind, in 2016, the Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics undertook research to predict future traffic conditions for the Stuart Highway, and realised that as the primary route connecting the north and south of Australia, it needed to be upgraded by duplicating the size of the road, including the part that passes through Heavitree Gap.

One of the proposals is to have a flyover pass through the middle of the gap, and another more sensible option (in my opinion) is to dig a tunnel directly through the mountain, which would leave the gap to return to nature.

I’m told that no decisions have yet been made on the proposed developments, and that extensive consultations are underway with the Arrandah people.

So, I’m sure their wishes to mind the gap will be taken into consideration

So that’s it. Mind the Gap in Oceania.

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