Tasmania: The New Jerusalem?

 Few visiting Critchley Parker Junior Reserve, a bushland park in Upper Beaconsfield, Tasmania, would ponder how got its name, but there’s a fascinating story behind it:

Critchley Parker Junior was the only son of Ernest Frank Critchley Parker a self made publishing magnate…

… born into a life of luxury, he was wealthy, romantic and intellectual. In 1940 he fell in love with an older married woman, a Jewish journalist named Caroline Isaacson.  As knowledge of the Jewish extermination during the second world war became public, he and many others rallied for the resettlement of those of Jewish faith to a new homeland state.  The plan was for a massive group settlement with infrastucture in remote Australia.  Originally a site was touted in the north of Western Australia but the idea was shelved as the Japanese threat to Darwin escalated. Critchley began pushing for the Port Davey region in the rugged south west coast of Tasmania.  In 1941 he and a party of men including Dr Isaac Steinberg (a Russian politician and leader of the Freeland League) visited Tasmania and came away with the plan for the new Jewish homeland.

In March of 1942, Critchley decided to embark upon his own survey of the Port Davey region. He enlisted the help of Charlie King (the only resident of the area) to take him up river, where he was left by himself with a tent and limited supplies. … Within days the weather turned bad … Sick with pleurisy and out of supplies Critchley died three weeks later. Four months passed before his body was discovered … still in his sleeping bag but surrounded by plans and notes for the new Jewish homeland.

Caroline Isaacson

His designs were for a socialist state in the rugged southwest.  He planned for a centre of manufacturing, producing perfume, fancy goods, jewellery and furs by the displaced people of France.  Those people coming from Holland would be employed in drainage and dykes, and there would be German style freeways taking goods to Hobart.  The utopian style development would receive it’s wealth from farming and mining.  Although his plans were far fetched and possibly misguided, he had a very real ambition to save the Jewish people during one of the most horrific times in recent history.

Critchley died when he was just 31 years old.  His father died two years later and the land in Upper Beaconsfield was donated to the shire and named Critchley Parker Junior Reserve.

http://www.oddhistory.com.au/guys-hill-ub/critchley-parker-junior/

The ABC took up this sad story in 2010: Here are some extracts:

 TRACY BOWDEN., PRESENTER: The story of the establishment of the State of Israel is one of the most hotly contested events of the 20th century…

But one chapter in this story that’s been forgotten is at the height of the Nazi slaughter of European Jews a Melbourne businessman was drawing up plans to establish a Jewish Homeland on the remote south-west coast of Tasmania.

Now the little known story of Critchley Parker Junior, and his plans for a ‘new Palestine’ at Port Davey are attracting attention with an American professor and one of Australia’s best novelist turning this extraordinary tale into a book.

CONOR DUFFY: Port Davey in Tasmania‘s far south-west lies on the lonely edge of the world.  It’s home to stunning mountains, thick untamed rainforest, wild rivers and unspoilt coastline.

… But

View from Parker’s last camp Looking towards Bathurst Harbour

this wilderness could also have been the unlikely site of a Jewish homeland. In the early 1940s … Critchley Parker Junior fell in love with a Jewish journalist Caroline Isaksson.  Struck by the plight of Jews in Europe he became a champion of their cause.

ADAM ROVNER, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER: He looked like he was kind of a man trying to find himself and at some point he met Caroline Isaksson, who was a fairly well-known journalist in Melbourne… he became enamoured of her and interested in the plight of Jewish refugees and the idea of creating a Jewish state or at least some kind of territorial homeland.

CONOR DUFFY: It’s a story that’s gone untold for decades.  But now Professor Adam Rovner is investigating, and he’s unearthed documents in the Tasmanian archives that show Critchley Parker Junior managed to attract the interest of Tasmania’s then Premier Robert Cosgrove.

Ultimately though Critchley Parker’s dream would end in tragedy.  In 1942 he returned to Port Davey on his own to survey the boundaries for the new state.  Struck down by pleurisy he was found dead four months later, the victim of exposure and hunger.

RICHARD FLANAGAN: When they found that terrible vision of his corpse in his sleeping bag…he’s surrounded by all these notes of his diaries, with…detailed plans for the economy, for the buildings – the buildings to be designed he writes “by LeCorbusier (who else)”…. this mad, crazed, cracked dream of this city state.

CONOR DUFFY: Despite the harshness of the terrain and the many doubters who said this plan was a pipe-dream, Adam Rovner has developed sympathy for the hapless Critchley Parker.

Map of Tasmania with area of proposed Jewish settlement

ADAM ROVNER: That terrain is mountainous but there’s some smooth valleys, there’s lots of water channels. I think that it would have been no less improbable a setting for a Jewish Homeland than what became Israel. You have to understand Israel is in a desert region, for the most part. It is…was infested with mosquitoes in the beginning.

… World renowned Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan has spent a year working on a novel after stumbling across the story.

RICHARD FLANAGAN: I was having a drink in a pub in Salamanca and I met a stranger who told me that he’d read Isaac Steinberg’s book, ‘The Unpromised Land’ and then he told me this whole quite extraordinary story of how the ‘new Palestine’ nearly ended up at Port Davey in Tasmania. 

What I find most moving about it is that in the summer of the great slaughter of 1942, as they’re dropping the first cyclone B canisters down the shoots at Auschwitz, and as…European Jewry is assembled to die, you have this languid at the end of the world being rode across this most beautiful desolate harbour with an ambition of trying to save world Jewry.

ADAM ROVNER: I think it’s important that Jews remember and maybe in particular Israelis remember that there were people who were trying to help them in the dark days of the mid-20th century.

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2010/s2795292.htm

When Rovner remarked

“I think that it would have been no less improbable a setting for a Jewish Homeland than what became Israel”,

he was presumably thinking about the terrain. This misses the point that Judaism and the entire history of the Jews was born in Israel. There is no cultural or religious link with Tasmania.

As for Rovner’s admonition that Jews – and Israel – remember there were people trying to help us during the Nazi era, this sounds accusatory, as if we should be more grateful, and is frankly unfair.  Jews have always been incredibly grateful to righteous gentiles (among whose number must be included Critchley Parker), as evidenced by Yad Vashem and the tribute they pay to gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.

Maybe Rovner might also care to remember that many countries shut their doors to Jews desperately trying to flee Nazi Europe. Some managed to get to Israel, despite the British – in order to appease the Arabs – dishonouring the Balfour Declaration which promised a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, and reneging on their legal obligations under the Mandate, instead adopting a policy blocking Jewish immigration.

As for America, they didn’t implement a specific rescue policy for Jewish victims of Nazi Germany until early 1944. It was reported:

… serious obstacles to any relaxation of US immigration quotas included public opposition to immigration during a time of economic depression, xenophobia, and antisemitic feelings in both the general public and among some key government officials.  Once the United States entered World War II, the State Department practiced stricter immigration policies out of fear that refugees could be blackmailed into working as agents for Germany.

It was not until January 1944 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt…took action to rescue European Jews… establishing the War Refugee Board (WRB) to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees. With the assistance of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress, as well as resistance organizations in German-occupied Europe, the WRB helped to rescue many thousands of Jews in Hungary, Romania, and elsewhere in Europe.

In April 1944, Roosevelt also directed that Fort Ontario, New York, become a free port for refugees. However, only a few thousand refugees were allowed there and they were from liberated areas, not from Nazi-occupied areas.

Ultimately, Allied victory brought an end to Nazi terror in Europe.. However, liberated Jews, suffering from illness and exhaustion, emerged from concentration camps and hiding places to discover a world which had no place for them…

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007094

In 2004, the Critchley Parker story was mentioned in The Age Review, under the title ‘A grand Australian failure’

Parker’s Diary Note inscription from “Lynka” Isaacson

On 28 March 1942, a young man walked alone into the remote wilderness of south-west Tasmania, seeking a promised land for the Jewish refugees of Nazi Europe. But rather than save a generation from the death camps, Critchley Parker succeeded only in continuing the grand Australian tradition of misadventure, following the footsteps of Burke, Leichhardt, Lasseter & co. Yet this tale of deluded glory has a special relevance that is particular to our time

Tasmania‘s wild south-west resists settlement… It would be hard to imagine anywhere on earth further from the civilisation of Europe. But at that time in history, with the Final Solution gearing into action, such distance was more an aspiration than a tyranny.

Before the establishment of Israel, the Freeland League considered Australia as the preferred site for a Jewish homeland. In 1941, Dr Isaac Steinberg came to explore the feasibility of a settlement in the Kimberleys.

Parker met Steinberg at the home of Caroline Isaacson, a progressive Zionist…and eventually convinced him to visit Tasmania and explore its potential as an alternative to the Kimberleys. It was, one senses, also an opportunity for Critchley to show his feelings towards Caroline.

During his tour of Tasmania in1941, Steinberg received a warm reception. There was much talk of Tasmania‘s prospects for development. Meanwhile, time passed and the situation in Europe looked no better. Parker decided to take fate into his own hands.

In March 1942…Parker set off to imagine a promised land out of this bleak landscape. ..exploring possible sites for towns and industry. But on the third day, the weather turned bad. Parker was forced to return to his base…

On the 8 April, Critchley wrote to Caroline explaining his predicament and advising the best path for the venture to succeed. He concluded, ‘ if this joint existence cannot be in the flesh let it be in the spirit & I would ask you to live on… to reach that perfection which we had dreamed of for us both.’ He then wrote to Steinberg, ‘To die in the service of so noble a cause is to me a great satisfaction & if, as I hope, the settlement brings happiness to many refugees & in so doing serves the state of Tasmania, I die happy.’

… It was during his dying days that Parker inscribed in his journal a remarkable vision.

Aerial View of Melaleuca Strait Where the Jewish city-state was to rise

Port Davey promised an opportunity to graft onto the new world the best qualities of the old. The ‘genius of the race’ lends the region the same enterprise as had been found by Jews thus far in Palestine. This includes the manufacture of ‘small things’, such as perfumes, leather goods and fashion accessories. Dutch Jews assist with drainage. Wealth flows from a mix of mining, flax and fur farming. Coastal highways modelled on German autobahns open the area for tourists. Games combining European arts with Australian sports are developed including athletics, tapestry weaving and oratorical contests.

Underpinning this flourishing society is the solid base of a Soviet-style planned economy. Farms are collectivised. University scholarships are given to peoples of the world, including Burmese, Aztecs and ‘African negroes’.

This antipodean Israel reached its zenith in Parker’s imagination. As wealth accumulates, the community begins to acquire art treasures as well as ‘entire buildings castles etc. that can be reconstituted in identical surroundings.’ Port Davey seems destined to contain the world in microcosm. ‘There seems no reason why Port Davey should not become the Paris of Australasia.’

In Tasmania, Parker is being recovered as a local hero …in a state whose popular support for refugees puts it at odds with the ‘white fortress’ of the mainland, Parker symbolises the role of Tasmania as a haven for the world.

…it seems in retrospect that Parker’s failure was the best result for the area. His dream would have destroyed a rare pocket of the world hitherto safe from human development.

Parker’s legacy is a field of ironies, foibles and mysteries, surrounded by a horizon of dark tragedy with the faint aurora of a posthumous halo. Poynduk, named after a people swept from the land by the Black Line, remains part of Australia‘s rich speculative tradition…

http://www.kitezh.com/texts/parker.htm

More details about Poynduk appear here:

Credit: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Poynduk was the brainchild of Critchley Parker. During the Second World War, as news spread of the Nazis slaughtering the Jews, Critchley and many others rallied for a Jewish resettlement. Poynduk was to be this settlement…

… in March 1942 Critchley returned to the Port Davey area to conduct a survey on his own. The trip was advised against, but Critchley was a keen bushwalker and went anyway… Unfortunately the weather turned bad, Critchley fell sick with pleurisy and tragically died three weeks later having run out of supplies. He was found four months later in his sleeping bag surrounded by notes and plans for Poynduk.

He had grand plans for a utopian socialist state that would generate its wealth from mining, farming, and manufacture. Jews from France would produce perfume, jewellery, fancy goods and furs. Jews from Holland would create drainage and dykes and German style highways would connect the settlement with the rest of Tasmania. Critchley’s plans died with him. However far-fetched and potentially misguided Critchley’s ideas were, he remains an extraordinary character in Tasmania’s history.

http://www.poynduk.com/poynduk/

I’m glad that Critchley never realized his grand vision, as this settlement for the Jews would have been precisely that – a settlement in someone else’s land. Jews, unlike the Tasmanian Aborigines, have no ancient connection to this land, it has no spiritual or cultural significance, and however benign the settlement, it could be perceived as an encroachment on the land and sacred sites of an indigenous people.

Many times throughout their tragic history, Jews have experienced the trauma of having their sacred sites desecrated, and would never want to inflict this on others, albeit inadvertently. The most egregious modern example of the desecration of a Jewish sacred site is the Arabs building a mosque on the Temple Mount, the place holiest to Jews, and site of the destroyed Temples. Arabs claim it as their third holiest site, but their holy places are in Saudi Arabia, from where they originated; they are not indigenous to Israel, arriving in the 7th century, when Islamic armies invaded and colonized a large part of the Middle East and North Africa, subjugating the indigenous population, including the Jews.

In 1948, the Jews finally reclaimed their ancient homeland, with roots going back more than 3,000 years and where Judaism was born. Israel’s rebirth restored a displaced indigenous people to their ancestral lands, after they have been captured by different colonial powers over the ages.

Jews have returned to Israel, not as settlers, but as the rightful owners.

Whilst we owe a debt of gratitude to Critchley for his desperate quest to save beleaguered Jews during the Nazi horror, it’s only right that Jews be restored to their homeland, rather than being settled in someone else’s land, where tragically history has shown the welcome mat can arbitrarily be withdrawn.

Tasmania’s pristine wilderness should be left under the guardianship of her rightful owners, and not be reinvented as a New Jerusalem.

 

 

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One comment

  1. Rovner did not rescue this story from obscurity after many decades of total neglect of it as stated by Duffy:

    “CONOR DUFFY: It’s a story that’s gone untold for decades. But now Professor Adam Rovner is investigating, and he’s unearthed documents in the Tasmanian archives that show Critchley Parker Junior managed to attract the interest of Tasmania’s then Premier Robert Cosgrove.”

    As Anna Rosenbaum commented on the ABC hype re Rovner’s supposed pioneering “discovery” of Parker’s scheme, “The story of Critchley Parker Jr. had already been made known by the Australian historian Hilary L. Rubinstein in her article ‘Critchley Parker (1911-1942): Australian Martyr for Jewish Refugees’ published in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, Vol. XI, Part l, Sydney, 1990….”
    I had presented the article as a paper to the Australian Association for Jewish Studies Conference in 1989, and there was wide interest from the audience, who knew nothing of it and were also enthralled by the fact that the 25-year-old Parker was motivated into doing what he did through his love for a much older woman, the charmingly seductive (married) Melbourne journalist Caroline Isaacson, who of course was Jewish.
    I also published, in the same journal, (vol. XV, Part 1, 1999) ‘The three state manifestos in support of the Kimberley Scheme, 1930-40: texts and signatories’.
    Only through a perusal of those two articles can the nature, purpose, proposed time-frame, and pathos of the scheme be fully understood, and the fact that it was supported by prominent Australian non-Jews in all walks of life and all political complexions (not just the great and the good of the political left) be appreciated.
    Unfortunately, the fact that a young Anglo Australian was involved in this extraordinary venture on behalf of Jewish refugees has failed to capture the imagination of the present Australian Jewish community in the way the letter protesting Kristallnacht by the aboriginal leader William Cooper has. Without wishing to detract in any way from Mr Cooper’s noble and touching gesture, I ask, as I have previously asked in the Australian Jewish News – where is the plaque in the Jewish Holocaust Centre honouring Mr Parker?
    It is telling, too, that, around the time I was researching my first article re Parker and his scheme, film maker Mr Alan Jacobs and an associate (whose name I don’t recall), who had read Critchley Parker’s diary regarding the events in question, were enthusiastically attempting to raise funds to make a documentary about the subject – but had to abandon the attempt through lack of the necessary support.