Last Places in Commonwealth Countries

On July 6, 2016 · 0 Comments

The series of Last Places continued. One should feel free to consult the previous articles, Last Place in England and Last Places in Asia, to understand the premise. I found it more difficult to uncover examples this time so I broadened the base, extending my search to the entire set of the Commonwealth of Nations countries. Most failed to produce any results although a few offered nuggets of goodness.


Last Place in Australia to Hunt Whales


Albany Whale World
Albany Whale World by denisbin on Flickr (cc)

This one surprised me. I knew that many nations hunted wales from the Eighteenth Century until well into the Twentieth Century, and a small handful never gave it up. It made sense to me that Australia, with all that seacoast, pursued whaling commercially too. What surprised me was the Australia didn’t stop hunting whales until 1978. I would have guessed a much earlier date given its fierce opposition to whaling today. The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company shut its doors in that fateful year, closing an Australian tradition that dated back to its earliest colonial days. That new direction marked a different tradition though, and one much better for the whales.

Cheynes got into the whaling game late from its base near Albany, Western Australia (map) in the 1950’s. Blood flowed in the waters for the next quarter century.

In 1952, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in Frenchman Bay commenced operations with advice and equipment supplied by the Norwegians. Using the whale catcher boats, the Cheynes II, III and IV, the whalers took an average of 86 humpbacks a year until a ban on hunting that species came into effect in 1963. In 1955, they had begun to take sperm whales, which now became the focus of the whale chasers, and catches steadily began to rise. When whales were plentiful, work went on at the station around the clock, seven days a week.

The old whaling station didn’t simply disappear after it closed. Just two years later it reopened as a tourist attraction, Whale World, now called the Discovery Bay Tourism Experience. The site offered an exact rendition of the station. Workers simply walked away in 1978 and left everything behind, almost as if they expected to return the next day. The site remained perfectly preserved.


Last Place in New Zealand to Cart Wool out on Packhorses


Around New Zealand
Around New Zealand by Coss and Johanna on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to find superlatives truly describing a nation’s fabric whenever possible. Sheep farming seemed sufficiently stereotypical of New Zealand. It delighted me to see Hore Hore Station mentioned as the last place in New Zealand to cart wool out on packhorses, listed in a family history. That didn’t appear to be a particularly reliable source although a 1957 photo series called Life on a Sheep-Station made similar claims.

Probably the only sheep station left in New Zealand where the wool must be carried out on horseback is the Hore Hore Station, 30 miles in from Ruatoria, in the shadow of Mount Hikurangi. The station’s only link with the road is by a tortuous track leading five miles up the Mata River through a precipitous gorge. All supplies are brought in by packhorses, and the wool is brought out in the same way.

Finding the exact spot proved more difficult. Hore Hore came from a Maori phrase meaning "nowhere place" and it described the situation perfectly. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally I turned to the New Zealand Gazetteer — I probably should have started there — and located the exact spot (map).


Last Place in Canada to Publicly Execute a Criminal


Ottawa Jail Hostel
Ottawa Jail Hostel by Bonnie Dean on Flickr (cc)

I discovered gibbeting in the England article and now I pondered public execution in Canada. I hadn’t formed a sudden fascination with death so the 12MC audience shouldn’t worry about my mental condition. As I searched for "last" things around the world, invariably the selections fell into common themes; electricity/telephones and capital punishment. Don’t blame me, blame the Intertubes.

The Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa, Ontario (map) offered only three public executions in its 150 year life span, although its final one made history for being the last time the public could watch a man hang in Canada. The condemned man, Eugène Larment killed Ottawa policeman Thomas Stoneman in 1945, the first Ottawa policeman to die in the line of duty.

Detective Stoneman was working on a special assignment attempting to locate a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been used in a daring theft of automatic weapons from the Canadian War Museum. On October 24, 1945, at 0102 hours Detective Stoneman and a fellow officer approached three youths who were suspected of having just broken into cars. Unknown to the officers, the youths were armed with handguns stolen in a previous break and enter. One of the suspects shot Detective Stoneman… Eugene Larment was charged with murder, convicted and hung for his crime.

The execution took place at the Carleton County Gaol (also known as the Nicholas Street Gaol or Ottawa Jail) in 1946. It closed in 1972. Hostelling International bought the property and converted it into the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Those staying overnight could sleep in a converted cell complete with iron doors and bars. It offered tours each day including the third floor "death row."

I’ll add one small footnote. The last public execution in Canada indeed took place at Carleton. The last execution, not held publicly, happened in 1962 at the Don Jail in Toronto.


Last Place in Kenya Stuffing Animals for Big Game Hunters


King of Beasts
King of Beasts by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

Another nation, another surprise. I didn’t realize Kenya banned big game hunting in 1977. I thought they still allowed it. An American dentist killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015 so I figured it was still a thing everywhere. Rich European and Americans used to flock to Kenya to collect all sorts of safari trophies, stuffing their victims for display. Now they don’t.

Paul Carl Zimmerman opened his taxidermy studio in Nairobi in 1929, after first arriving as part of "a zoology research team sent by a German university." His studio grew to become the largest taxidermy factory in Kenya, and one of the largest in the world. By 1973, Zimmermann Ltd. mounted trophies for 400 safaris a year, primarily lions, wildebeests and buffaloes. The business shuttered after the hunting ban. Only the name remained, adopted by the Zimmerman Estate housing complex on the site of the old taxidermy studio (map).

Last Places in Asia

On July 3, 2016 · 4 Comments

The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.

Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild


Glyptostrobus pensilis
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)

I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,

Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.

Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.


Last Place in Japan Banning Women


大峯
大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)

A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.

"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"

All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.


Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016


Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)

The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,

Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.

I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.


Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge


big_preah_vihear
big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)

The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).

Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.

Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Rotonda Elsewhere

On May 22, 2016 · 0 Comments

The Italian word rotonda meant the same as the English word rotunda, and both derived from the Latin word rotundus meaning round. I’d tugged that etymological thread in Rotonda West. However, Rotonda West wasn’t the only Rotonda. Far from it. Many more existed although usually in Italy as one would expect, or in places where Italian and Roman influences found a home.

Rotonda, Basilicata, Italy


Rotonda
Rotonda by Basilicata Turistica on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an entire town of Rotonda and it was a descent size too (map). Perhaps 3,500 people lived there. According to the Italian version of Wikipedia, the name first appeared in a document in 1083. A castle sat atop a knob hill and a town formed around it in a circular pattern. This physical appearance described the town and gave it a name. The castle fell to ruin long ago and the town grew imprecisely over generations so nothing remained of its roundness other than the name.


Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda"


Villa Capra "La Rotonda"
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" by Hilde Kari on Flickr (cc)

Outside of Vicenza in northeast Italy rose a magnificent villa from the Sixteenth Century. It came to be known as Villa Almerico Capra in its official capacity although it was more commonly called "La Rotonda" (map). The masterful architect Andrea Palladio designed this structure for bishop Paolo Almerico "who after leaving his brilliant career at the papal court, comes back to his birthplace and prefers the quiet countryside to the family palace." Being closely connected to the papal court during the Renaissance wasn’t such a bad deal, I supposed. Forty years would pass before the villa reached its final perfection, well after Palladio and Almerico both passed away. By then it was in the possession of the Capra family.

It is no coincidence that the villa stands on top of a hill, in the countryside that stretches out from the banks of the river Bacchiglione to the Colli Berici. The image is the image of a temple-villa, almost cubical, with façades bearing a pronaos with majestic Ionic colonnades and triangular tympanums, topped by a dome which at the beginning was planned like the Roman Pantheon, and should be opened by an oeil-de-boeuf, but then was squashed and closed.

The property passed to Count Valmarana in the early Twentieth Century and it still remains in the family. Maintaining a facility of that grandeur must be expensive because it’s been open to the public since 1986. People can tour its grounds and interior on a regular schedule, or they can rent it out for cultural events, corporate gatherings or even parties. It remains one of the most significant contributing structures to the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto.


The Rotonda in Thessaloniki, Greece


The Rotonda
The Rotonda by Daniel Tellman on Flickr (cc)

Located physically in Greece, this Rotonda was a Roman structure commissioned by the emperor Galerius in the early Fourth Century. It was built at the same time as, and adjoined with, another feature known as the Arch of Galerius intending to celebrate a military victory over the Persians. Both were part of a larger palace complex. Thessaloniki became an important trading center and political power during this period and it made sense to locate imposing structures like these in the city (map). The site Sacred Destinations described the evolving purpose of the Rotonda over the centuries:

The Rotunda of Galerius was converted into a Christian church in the late 4th century or mid-5th century… The Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki from 1430, and in 1591, Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque… After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a deconsecrated museum. It has been undergoing extensive restorations ever since the destructive earthquake of 1978. The Rotunda reopened in 1999.

A minaret still stands outside of the Rotonda from the period when it served as a mosque.


Spanish for Roundabout


Rotonda
Rotonda by Núria on Flickr (cc)

The Spanish word for round was redondo, yet they adopted the Italian word rotonda for roundabouts. That made it difficult to search other uses of rotonda. I kept bumping into images of roundabouts. I felt it would be appropriate for me to select one of those Spanish roundabouts at random and take a closer look. I chose the Plaça d’Ildefons Cerdà (map) in Barcelona primarily because I found a nice photograph of it with a creative commons license.

The choice came with a heavy dose of irony. Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), was "considered to be one of the fathers of ‘comprehensive city improvements through physical planning’ and, essentially, modern-day planning itself." He designed an extension beyond the original city of Barcelona called the Eixample.

Here’s how El Periódico Barcelona described the roundabout named for him (the original was in Spanish; I cleaned it up from a mangled Google Translate rendition):

He designed a grid, but the square is a perfect circle. He thought of rectangles and octagons, but they put his name to .. a roundabout. He envisioned a city of quiet, peace and pedestrians, but the place is the territory of noisy engines. He dreamed of green, with more gardens than buildings, but the beautiful meadow that lies at the center of the square is only achievable for pigeons, provided they fly to it.

In other words, city officials put his name on something he would have hated.

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