Thursday, March 5, 2009

An Austrian flag incident, Ruakaka, March 1900

Image from Wikipedia.

Apologies to my Northland historian colleague (hi, Liz) for straying into her turf, but -- on finding this article in the Weekly News of 11 May 1900, I was intrigued.

"Waipu, Monday.
An inquiry instituted by the Government, at the instigation of the Austrian Consul in Auckland, was held here to-day, in connection with the incident of hauling down the Austrian flag at Ruakaka, where it had been hoisted by some Austrian gumdiggers. Mr. Hutchinson, S.M., who is holding the inquiry will take further evidence at Whangarei before reporting to the Government.

"Our Waipu correspondent writes: -- The pulling down of the Austrian Crown flag at Ruakaka on March 19 last, by Mr. N. J. Campbell, has been taken up as a serious offence by the entire Austrian community throughout Auckland, as one of the witnesses at the inquiry stated that he made the complaint to the Austrian Consul in the name of over two thousand Austrians. The principal witness, named George Vlich, seemed to be impressed with the idea that the flag was ordered down by public authority, and in his statement to the Consul averred that the flag was pulled down by Constable Abrams, and trampled on. This statement was made on oath, I am informed, before the Consul, but at the inquiry here, before Mr. Hutchinson, S.M., he admitted that he knew there were only three men left in the camp at the time of the incident, and these three men all stated that it was Mr. Campbell who took the flag down. The investigation, so far as it proceeded here, entirely exculpated Constable Abrams from any indiscretion in connection with the flag.

"The simple facts are as follows: --

"Mr. N. J. Campbell, a storekeeper here, is lessee of a block of flat gum land, on which diggers go every summer to search for gum in dry weather, and Mr. Campbell has a small store on the ground to receive gum and supply necessaries to the diggers. The majority of men digging there every summer have been Austrians, and some years ago a party of Austrians erected a flagpole, on which it was customary for them to hoist a variety of different flags. And many different parties of Austrians have been coming and going to the field, forming camp there, and the flagpole, which is standing in close contiguity to Mr. Campbell's store, and which is undoubtedly Mr. Campbell's property, was used by the different parties to display their emblems on without objection till this particular occasion.

"The Austrians were celebrating the anniversary of the Emperor Francis Joseph, of Austria, the Rev. Father Smeers holding Mass in Mr. Campbell's store, and a long line of bunting was hoisted on Mr. Campbell's flagpole, the Crown flag of Austria waving proudly at the top. Mr. Campbell was on his way from Waipu when he met a man on the road, who advised him not to let the Austrians fly such a flag as that at his place, as it was a fighting flag, and was put up as a defiance. When Mr. Campbell reached his store, the Mass was over, and he asked the Austrians who put up the Crown flag, but he got no reply, so he told them it would have to be taken down.

"George Vlich, the principal complainer to the Consul, rushed forward, and violently declared that he would kill any man who dared to pull the flag down, and also declared that Austria would yet rule this country, and he would see the b------ British flag trampled in the dust. Mr. Campbell thereupon sent for Constable Abrams, and in the meantime the whole of the Austrians, excepting three who were left in camp, proceeded to the races, which were being held on the Belleveau Road.

"When Constable Abrams arrived, he went to the three men left in the camp, and at Mr. Campbell's request asked them to pull down the Crown flag, but they declined, saying they did not want to get into trouble with their mates. Mr. Campbell then lowered the flag himself, taking off the one he considered objectionable, and hoisting up the rest of them again. These are the simple facts, which the aggrieved parties admit to be true, and over which it is hoped a risk of international complications may be averted."

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