Stuart is holding the wrong rifle


p2132-Stuart-detail-2p2132-Stuart-detail-1By ERWIN CHLANDA
Just as you thought the row over the Stuart statue is all over, gun enthusiast Des Nelson has discovered the weapon the explorer is holding – the subject of so much criticism – is the wrong one.
Mr Nelson says the gun in the Scottish explorer’s left hand is a Martini, patented 1868 by its Austrian inventor Frierdrich von Martini. John McDouall Stuart died on June 5, 1866.

The British army adopted the Martini in 1871, says Mr Nelson. His information comes from the book Guns, by Fredrick Wilkinson.

The Martini had a lever action similar to the American Winchester but was a single-shot weapon and had no external hammer.
When the Martini lever was pulled down the gun’s block dropped down, the bullet could be slid into the chamber, and pulling the lever back up made the weapon ready for firing.
“All the fuss about the rifle and it’s the wrong one,” says Mr Nelson.


  1. If I may quote,”the Martini-Henry carbines at the critical moment were talking English in the silent majesty of these eternal rocks”. William Henry Willshire (1852-1925). The Land of the Dawning (Adelaide, 1896). I believe that an argument can be successfully made that it is indeed the “correct” rifle.

  2. It is historical fact that the Martini rifle did not exist in 1862. To say it did is akin to saying that Ross and Keith Smith flew a jet plane. Police Officer Willshire lived in the Centre many years after McDouall Stuart’s explorations. Permanent European settlement in the Centre did not commence until 1872.

  3. Matt Day and Des Nelson, for God’s sake, give Mark Egan some praise for a great statue. Maybe we have the wrong spear on the Aileron stature but who gives a s–t – they are great for the tourists.

  4. Kelly and John Hagan – I don’t think that many people have an issue with Egan’s craftsmanship as an artist.
    Egan’s style is unique and captures a uniquely Territorian aesthetic. Personally, I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next – but hopefully the shape and form of any future commission will be left up to him.
    My general understanding is that a lot of the people who are disappointed by the presence of this statue simply believe the whole thing represents a massive missed opportunity.
    Was it really the best that Alice Springs, as an arts / cultural capital of Australia, could present of ourselves and to the world, 150 years on since Stuart’s journey?

  5. If this is a “great” statue, John Hagan, then I’m very relieved that Rex and his reptiles (and the redoubtable Terry) don’t have to look out at a bad one from their porch; that would be a dispiriting thing indeed.
    It must be tedious enough for the Neindorf menagerie, the equally talented Sa Sa Massage troupe next door, the Girl Guides and their Akeyulerre neighbours, to all come to work each morning and not only have to try to avoid looking at the ruins of the Promised Land, but also at the dismal sight of the Big Grey McDouall staring blankly back at them across Stuart Park, like some cranky Old Testament patriarch who has been lobotomised by a high voltage abattoir device – watching, always watching, for cheeky natives in the surrounding scrub, with his faithful phantom Martini ever at the ready.

  6. @ Bob Durnan
    Posted July 30, 2014 at 1:15 am
    Fair go, Bob. Some of the early explorers had a deserved name for being quick on the trigger. But Stuart?
    And I still say, well done, Mark Egan.
    Now if those who object to this effort would only cough up the readies, we might have a companion piece at the other end of Stuart Park. Namatjira? Now that really would be worth painting! Water colours only, of course.

  7. A particularly tasteless and ugly statue to an explorer who was a small minded, bigoted drunkard.
    His peers have commented on his belligerence toward them and his negative views about the “blacks”.
    At least put a bottle of whiskey in his hand instead of the gun to give a reasonable approximation of this bloke’s character. A shame job all round.

  8. @ Jackaranda. Posted July 30, 2014 at 6:22 pm.
    May I suggest you read “Stuart’s Track” by John Bailey, published in the past couple of years and research Stuart’s life a little more before besmirching his character.
    You will find Bailey, who has written of other explorers, e.g., Leichardt, has a fair bit to say about those who benefited from Stuart’s surveying of the highway that bears his name.
    Historicity is often overlooked in such commentary as you have sketched and there is much more to Stuart, whose canny bushcraft allegedly saved Sturt’s expedition due to lack of water on one of their return journeys.

  9. @ Bob and Jack.
    Finally some good points raised. I wonder if we can spend $75,000 each on statues of all the Aboriginal people who showed Stuart through country, navigated for him and his party and lead them to important water sources, without whom Stuart would never have made it into the arid centre and beyond?
    Also, what exactly did Stuart “discover” first, or do? Was he really the first person to transverse the country North to South? I call BS on that!
    @ earlier comment: The fact that we still have a street named after William Willshire is equally disgusting and needs addressing – as does this senseless monument.

  10. @ Russell Guy:
    Q: what time of year did Stuart leave Chambers Creek on the last two expeditions? A: January.
    Very “canny bushcraft” indeed … Stop taking popularist accounts by authors trying to maximise their book sales as gospel and do some of your own critical research.
    Stuart’s exaggerated reports of the inland’s potential for grazing led many people to try their luck in “settling” the interior with tragic results.
    It was fortunate he had some good people with him because his nasty attitude toward the natives would have likely got him killed if he had his own way on several occasions. Ernest Giles has far more relevance to Central Australia and actually was a great explorer with a much cleaner record in his dealings with Aboriginal people.

  11. @ Jackaranda. Posted July 31, 2014 at 2:24 pm.
    My reference to Stuart’s canny bushcraft was related to a much earlier expedition when he was under Captain Sturt (not Stuart – an easy confusion to make) and the incident, which I’ve researched from several sources because of my interest in Australian inland history, was one of keen observation – a bit like spotting Jupiter when you thought something had to be there, but didn’t know where to look.
    I don’t discredit anyone, black or white, but I also stick up for those, black or white, who I feel are being maligned and unable to defend themselves, bearing in mind the old adage that history is usually written by the victors.
    John Bailey has a meticulous methodology (he’s a former Barrister) and I respect his research.
    Like yourself, I admire Giles for his many journeys, some of which involved armed resistance, but as in my historicity comment, I wasn’t there to count the relevant empty cartridges.
    Giles made it back east to the Overland Telegraph Line, by hopping “under October’s moon” during the night and conserving himself during the heat of the day. Bear Grylls does the same thing.
    As I intimated with my comment about Stuart’s bushcraft, outward waterholes sometimes dried up by the time an expedition returned and it was a seasoned explorer who made the difference between perishing or not.
    Sure Aboriginal guides made a difference, but I’m not taking issue with Aboriginal guides, or the politics of land settlement, simply sticking up for a bloke who has wandered out of history and found himself being called a drunkard as a “reasonable approximation of his character,” gun or no gun.
    He died penniless in England at his sister’s house – what he dreamt about is not recorded and it can only be imagined – but if you’ll pardon my opinion, I don’t think he’s the absolute rotter you make him out to be.

  12. @Russell Guy
    Thanks For your considered response Russell. I don’t like Stuart and I’d tell him so to his face if I had the chance.
    The reasons I gave are but a few of the criticisms I could make of this chap. He was tough and he did survive unlike the fool Burke whose complete incompetence on the rival expedition cost the lives of numerous expedition members.
    Wills should not have died and he is a tragic example of how poor leadership by others can cost dearly.
    Stuart was a much better bushman and leader than Burke ever was. Giles outshone them all and should be celebrated as someone in a different class altogether. So tragic was his final resting place in an unmarked grave in Coolgardie.

  13. For the record, I learnt today that the decision to depict Stuart in his present form was made by the commissioned, not the commissioners. I stand corrected. It is a good thing as far as freedom of expression in art goes but I reserve the right to be disappointed by the final decision to proceed with gun in hand, given the broader context.
    I’m not sure if this is helpful information to anyone else who has followed / contributed to the community debate on this matter. For me it has reinforced the importance that some basic protocols and processes are followed around large public art installations of this nature.

  14. Fact is in the bush nearly everyone has a gun nearby. Back in the early explorer years they were part of everyone’s kit. So please enlighten us to why the gun is so confronting.

  15. Facts are facts Edan, women have to have the last say! Imagine being poor old Steve? Ha, ha, ha.

  16. Hi Janet. If you are asking me that question, you could have referred to my earlier comments for my position. To repeat for the third time, the word I have been using is “disappointing”.
    (Others, for better or worse, will use terms that suit them. Some may find it “confronting”.)
    Yes of course guns were part of every explorer’s kit back in the day. Yes they were very valuable for living off the land and ensured that Stuart and Co made it through Northern Australia alive (i.e. by “defending” themselves against the natives – who clearly considered Stuart an interloper). What is your point?
    My point all along has been that this continent has come a long way since that time. Sure, Alice Springs has made a mark with this piece of art, but what type of mark was made?
    Anyway, art could be debated into eternity. Perhaps someone else could step forward and debate the merits of gun art with Janet into eternity?
    The year is 2014, 154 years on since the meeting of two cultures.

  17. @ Edna: There you go again, making aspersions against early explorers assuming that guns were required to use against Aboriginals. Guns were and are for protection. You just cannot get past your prejudice.
    Your accusations that people have guns to kill other human beings is wrong. Protection and food is correct.
    You have stated you are not associated with that fanatic group calling Stuart a murder and yet you clearly make this definition in your last comment again.
    Do you also believe police carry weapons to shoot people and do you believe they should not carry weapons?
    Well, I personally support police carrying guns. Some idiot running at you with a knife or machete or a group of people I would hope they use a gun to protect innocent people and themselves.

  18. Take a deep breath and have a good lie down now, Janet. By the way, opinions are going for 5 for a dollar at your local … hurry, don’t miss out, send Steve.

  19. @ Nothing but the facts and Big Peanut,
    Give Janet a fair go. And your comments are sexist.

  20. Anachronisms: The rifle may be from the wrong era, but the striking clock in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” is also wrong by several hundred years. It seems we’re not all perfect.
    The statue itself is neither good nor bad, it’s just part of history. Rifles were and are (in some places) still used to hunt food.
    I personally neither like or dislike the statue anymore than I like or dislike the new part of the Mall. What I do dislike is the “outrage” perpetrated by some non-Aboriginal people – it’s just too 1980ish.
    Australia is now a multiracial country and we all just have to rub along together. The past is a dead thing and no amount of outrage will resurrect it.

  21. No offense to Mark Egan, who I’m sure has fulfilled the freemasons’ brief admirably. However, the council accepting this statue is a shame job.
    Stuart didn’t discover anything, he didn’t open up Central Australia, he wasn’t a noble hero setting off across trackless wastes, exploring unknown lands. He probably did have a gun though.
    The whole classical style, the stance, the plinth, the cultural background of this monument come from a time when the concept of Terra Nullius was acceptable.
    People were already living here, their descendants still do, they knew every gap and gully, all the waterholes. They had their borders and trading routes.
    Stuart didn’t discover anything, didn’t explore anywhere that wasn’t already well known. He did carry a gun though, and I guess that was useful in discussions about the concept of terra nullius with the local people.
    This sculpture seems to be celebrating a concept that is so outdated it belongs in the century before last.
    It’s a shame job for the council to accept this anachronism without also demonstrating that we have progressed beyond this outdated view, without perhaps commissioning a companion artwork that would represent a broader view of history.
    A view that made sense to more of the longer term residents of Alice Springs and Central Australia.

  22. I think the statue is good. Can any one else do better? I think it would be better facing Flying Doctors for tourists to see and should be on other side where there is better parking. It needs seats around it. I say well done. This town needs to be more proactive and have less negativity.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here