The Australian Standing Stones at Glen Innes were erected in 1991, without consultation of the Celtic-Australian population at large, in order to honour the people of Celtic descent that have contributed to the nation of Australia over the two centuries or so since European settlement. These stones are based on ancient constructs that dot the British Isles and parts of Western Europe. Archaeological evidence, however, firmly places the constructions of these circles several centuries before the arrival of the Celts in these areas. As such, this brings into question the validity of such a monument in Australia to commemorate the efforts of a people that had no historical or cultural relationship with these structures.
The first archaeological evidence of the Celts in Europe can be found at Hallstatt, in modern day Austria. This early culture was distinctive in its largely geometric-based art (Ellis, 1998, p11), and is dated from c1200BC. The Celtic culture further migrated westward across Europe creating the tribes of Gaul, Britain and Ireland. The first archaeological evidence for the construction of the megalithic stone monuments in this region begins in the neolithic, with famous and sophisticated structures developed at sites such as New Grange in Ireland, at c3200BC, and somewhat later at Stonehenge in Britain (Stonehenge, 1996). A summary of the insular cultural development, with Celtic culture arriving at the Iron Age c700BC, is available at the Irelandbyways website. This clearly puts the Celts outside of the time frame for construction of such monuments.
What little that has survived of actual Celtic life comes from historians at a time of military expansion of which commenced with Julius Caesar's invasion of Gaul circa 58BC (Gardner, 1982), and the subsequent annexure of Britain in the first century AD, to the invasion of the Saxons in the fifth century AD (Blake & Lloyd, 2002, pp11-12). As such, very little of the actual lives of the Celtic people survive in written form, as the Celts did not "write native books of philosophy, history and such" (Ellis, pp17-18), meaning modern scholars rely on collated information from ancient Roman and Greek sources, while fringe special interest groups make spurious claims connecting Celtic people with monuments and traditions that pre-date them1 , one of the most prominent groups being Wicca2,3 with a Gravesian outlook, from reports in the local press4,5.
In the intervening years of domination and being conquered, the Celts have achieved a great deal even without their culture "intact", so to speak. Modern Celtic-Australians who have contributed to Australian society not only include the miners, farmers and general labourers (bbc.co.uk/wales history: Australia, n.d.), but also well known figures including Banjo Patterson, Lachlan Macquarie, several Prime Ministers (New World Celts, 2006), including John Curtin (John Joseph Curtin, 2001) and Ian Clunies Ross (Australian Academy of Science: Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows, 1995). Few, if any, of these Modern Celtic-Australians would associate themselves with the remnants of a pre-Celtic culture halfway across the world, and indeed many everyday Modern Celtic-Australian do not relate with these monuments unless somehow involved with one of the aforementioned fringe groups.
Given that the Australian Standing Stones were erected for the purpose of honouring people of Celtic descent that have made contributions to the development of Australia as a Nation6, the monument at Glen Innes makes no real sense. As they stand, they represent nineteenth century-based notions of spurious Celtic connections with ancient monuments displaced in both space and time to Celtic-Australians. Following on from the organisational establishment of this monument, each year at the beginning of May the Australian Celtic Festival is held, which is essentially a gathering of Australian Celtic societies and contemporary musicians7, and awards given in an Australian reflection of the Gorsedd in Wales (for which a stone circle is required)8, perhaps pointing to the motivation for the monument as an emulation of 'Iolo Williams'. However, beyond these occasions, other groups have adopted the monument for festivities9 purporting to be 'Celtic' but in fact Gravesian (and pure thus fantasy), indicating a cultural insensitivity and underscoring the problems associated with this monument as described.
Modern Celtic-Australians from Cymru (Wales), Kernow (Cornwall), Eire (Ireland) and Alba (Scotland) have made real contributions through hard work, political leadership and development of distinctively "Australian" notions of culture and image, it therefore would have been more appropriate for a monument to be erected that incorporated these achievements. Does this, then, leave the way open for the creation of a monument that reflects these achievements in the future?
1 Many of these groups that associate these monuments with Celtic people ignore the fact that these circles' prime function seems to be to mark the winter and summer solstices, the exemplars being New Grange and Stonehenge. However, the discovery of the "Celtic" calendar at Coligny clearly shows that Celtic people not did mark these occasions with anything approaching the importance of the major Celtic events, namely beginning of summer in modern May, or its counterpoint, the beginning of winter in modern November. See http://caeraustralis.com.au/celtcalmain.htm, and references therein.
2"Celtic history on the weekend" in:Glen Innes Examiner 26/08/2005.
3However, see "Why Wicca is not Celtic"
4"Solstice events full of energy" in:Glen Innes Examiner 24/06/2008.
5However, see"The Fabrication of 'Celtic' Astrology" by Peter Berresford Ellis.
6Excerpt from Parliament of NSW Hansard:Private Members Statement by Mr Raymond Chapell to the NSW Legislative Assembly of 4 December 1991, announcing the opening of the Australian Standing stones: "As an act of commemoration of the role played by people of Celtic descent in the development of Australia, the Australian Standing Stones will be dedicated by His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, AO, in the northern New South Wales town of Glen Innes on 1st February, 1992.
This array follows the ancient Celtic custom of erecting such arrays of stones, though the origin of the custom is shrouded in the mist of history.
Many such arrays dot the British Isles. The stones at Stonehenge, at Callanish on the Isle of Lewis and in many other places draw many thousands of tourists.
This massive project carried out by the people of Glen Innes and bearing the imprimatur of the Australian Celtic Council will say to all who visit them for generations to come that many people of Celtic origin - Scots, Welsh, Irish, Cornish, Manx and Bretons - played a significant part indeed in the white settlement and development of Australia. All of these people are, of course, proud Australian citizens.
The array of stones will consist of the four cardinal points of the compass and represent the Southern Cross. The Guide Stones will be focused on sunrise and sunset at both the winter and summer solstices. The 'Gaelic Stone' will represent the Scots, Irish and Manx, and the 'Brythonic Stone' will represent the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons. Of course there will be also an 'Australis Stone' recognising those who were here before we came.
8see: 'The Gorsedd Stone Circle' article by Amgueddfa Cymru, the National Museum Wales.
9see for example:http://www.celticwintersolstice.com.au/Glen_Innes_Winter_Solstice
Australian Academy of Science: Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows (1995). Retrieved February 15 2006 from http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/aasmemoirs/ross.htm
bbc.co.uk/wales history: Australia ( n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2006 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/cag/pages/cag-oz.shtml
Blake, S., & Lloyd, S. (2002). The Lost Legend of Arthur, London: Rider
Ellis, P. B. (1998). The Celts. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
Gardner, J. F. (Revised 1982). The Conquest of Gaul, London: Penguin Group.
Hansard & Papers, NSW Legislative Assembly of 4 December 1991, at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/PARLMENT/hansArt.nsf/V3Key/LA19911204026
Irelandbyways.com Irish History Overview: Pre-historic Ireland.
John Joseph Curtin (2001). Retrieved February 15, 2006 from http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/5557/curtin.html
New World Celts (2006). Retrieved February 14, 2006 from http://www.newworldcelts.org/australia.html
Stonehenge (1996). Retrieved November 26, 2005 from http://www.stonepages.com/england/england
© Caer Australis 2011: From Coogee in Sydney's eastern beaches NSW Australia
Owein,' said Arthur,
'call off thy ravens.'
'Lord,' said Owein,
'Play this game.'
- The Dream of Rhonabwy