Nature of the Boer War
Relief of Mafeking
Aftermath at Mafeking
News of Mafeking's relief
Mafeking Hill Park
List of servicemen
Page modified 29/01/2012
Mafeking (South Africa), the Boer War
(1899-1902) and Maffra's connection
[Note: this is not a history of the Boer War but an
explanation of Maffra's association with it]
News of the relief in Maffra
An item in the Maffra Spectator
is revealing. By co-incidence the paper is dated Thursday 17th May,
1900, so given the time differential, the Spec hit the Maffra streets at
almost the exact moment the relieving troopers clattered into Mafeking’s
streets! It shows the way in which the relief was
being anticipated already as a propaganda asset. "The Government have
decided to grant a public holiday on the relief of Mafeking. If the Commercial world agrees, the
Government will also proclaim a public holiday."
Similar proclamations throughout the Empire
established the basis for Mafeking Night - the commonest form of celebration
apparently was to light huge bonfires. According to popular tradition at the
time, for some years afterwards the question "What did you do on Mafeking
night?" had much the same currency as our more recent "Where were you when JFK
was shot?"; the arrival of WWI put an end to that.
The Maffra community’s reaction was no different
from others; nor was there any reason to imagine that it wouldn’t be. The
editorial in Maffra Spectator published on Monday 21st May,
1900, stated "Without doubt the English nation went mad on receipt of the
official confirmation of the relief of Mafeking. In the colonies the whole
celebration of the event was one of delirious joy."
News of the
relief reached Maffra late on the Saturday afternoon. The actual telegram was
displayed outside the Post Office and a large poster was placed outside the Spectator office. There
followed "a wild burst of enthusiasm [which] welled from the breasts of young
and old"; this might have been encouraged by the fact that the proprietor of
Knox’s Hotel "at once proceeded to treat those assembled". The
following reports showed what happened in Maffra.
19th & 20th May
the anticipated news spread through the town there was an extraordinary flurry of
activity. Church bells pealed out, guns were fired off, the
town’s businesses temporarily shut while the shops were festooned with bunting,
the brass band quickly assembled and marched up and down the main street
playing "patriotic airs".
By 9 o’clock that night, with the shops wide open
again and blazing with light, the main street was packed with an excited,
cheering crowd. A group of school boys managed to find scarlet uniforms and
marched about singing military songs. Doctor Boake and Councillor Hardie made
speeches, which were loudly cheered. "The climax of excitement was reached when
about 40 of the members of the Maffra Rifle Club took their stand in
Johnson-street and salvoes of shot [were] fired."
This photograph was
taken at a concert during the Boer War. The group is called "The Maffra
Boys Band" though text with the photo states "thought they were vocalists".
That seems to make sense as only two are carrying instruments.
These are almost
certainly the boys mentioned in the paragraph above.
[Maffra Sugar Beet Museum photograph]
On Sunday a hurriedly called committee of Maffra
residents convened in the Guild Hall to plan the activities to take place during
the anticipated public holiday on the following day. On this day it was to be
the town’s children who were to be the centre of celebrations.
A full report,
paraphrased here, in the Spectator (Thursday 24th
May 1900) shows how successful this planning was.
Though the morning was quiet, the main street
burst into life early in the afternoon as some 250 State School students marched
in procession with banners flying down Thomson Street from the school. They
stopped in front of the Shire Hall to sing "God save the Queen" and to give a
series of three cheers for anyone remotely involved.
The procession then marched to Victoria Park
"where sports, games and races were indulged in, prizes being distributed out of
the fund provided by the committee of ladies and gentlemen appointed at the
meeting on Monday morning..."
At four in the afternoon the children were
marched down to the Mechanics Hall where they were treated to a huge tea,
enthusiastically downed to the strains of the band, which again played patriotic
tunes and then accompanied the children as they were marched back to the Shire
Hall where the series of three cheers was repeated. Then it was back to the
Mechanics Hall again to receive medallions and mementos of the "glorious
occasion". This photo depicts one of these marches, though
there is no indication as to which one it is.
One final march saw the whole town assemble on
the Gravel Hill, where "a monster bonfire was already crackling amongst the 25
tons of wood heaped up." There they "made merry, fireworks of all description
adding to the general display." Yet more patriotic songs were sung before
everyone went home, presumably exhausted.
The Maffra Spectator of June 7th
1900 indicates that although the euphoria might have finally died down, the
plaudits were still flowing in.
"Baden Powell has admirers in the Maffra Shire
Councillors. At yesterday’s meeting each councillor and officer contributed his
mite towards the fund for presentation of a "sword of honour" to that gallant
officer. It was decided that outside subscriptions would also be taken from
people who wished to contribute the nimble shilling." [that’s no misquote!]
Mafeking Hill Park
early part of the Twentieth Century the town seems to have concentrated on
Victoria Park for its British reminder. Even in 1900 residents commented
on the poor state of the reserve, which had been declared only a few years
previously to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. According to the paper, many
were embarrassed by the lack of development since and successful representations
were to be made to the Council to fence and plant the area. Maffra Bowls
Club re-located to one end in 1960. Even at the start of the 21st century
Victoria Park is still undergoing a facelift.
the Boer War, the area used for the great bonfire was called "Gravel Hill"
because that's where much of the town's road making gravel was sourced.
There are claims that the hill used to be some two metres higher when Europeans
first arrived. It seems that once the huge bonfire to celebrate the relief
of the South African town of Mafeking in 1900 had implanted itself into popular memory,
common usage started to change the name to "Mafeking Hill".
Yet no-one seemed to know just when the new name became official. It
certainly wasn't as a result of local government enthusiasm at the time.
There are older Maffra residents today who refer to the park themselves as
"Mafeking Hill" but who remember that their parents were still calling it
"Gravel Hill" in the 1930s. Those parents were likely to have been among
the children who used the hill to light their Guy Fawkes Night bonfires and set
off their fireworks. A celebratory bonfire was also held there after the
end of WW2 to coincide with the distribution by the Commonwealth Government of
Victory Medals to all school children.
"Mafeking Hill Park" was finally made official by the Maffra Shire Council when it
was registered as late as May 1966. Here was a case of popular usage
eventually being accepted on a more formal basis. Paradoxically by the
time the use of the name became common, its actual reference was forgotten or
mistaken. It was not unusual for school children, for example, to think
that the name should be pronounced "Maffra King". Efforts by Maffra
Secondary College to revive interest in and knowledge of the origin of the name
will hopefully prove successful.