|Australia's zenith is named after a famous Polish general, writes Keith Suter
A NEW toilet has now been installed on the roof of Australia. At more than 2000m above sea level, the facility near the summit of Mt Kosciuszko is the highest bathroom in the nation. It is the ultimate loo with a view.
The summit of the mountain itself is at 2228m. It is not too hard to climb, with a trip usually being completed in a day. It is suitable for most ages and fitness levels. The mountain is in one of the country's largest parks.
Local Aborigines called the mountain Tar-Gan-Gil. They visited the area for ceremonies, socialising and trading. In the 19th century, European explorers were assisted by local indigenous trackers.
The name Kosciuszko is known in Australia mainly for the mountain. But in countries such as Poland, the US and France, the individual after whom the mountain is named looms far larger in their history.
The mountain's current European name was given in 1840 by ``Polish count'' Paul Edmund de Strzelecki, a geologist and explorer. The title of count was suspect but impressed in colonial Australia -- and Strzelecki was the kind of man who liked to impress the ladies.
He decided, rightly as it turned out, that this was Australia's highest mountain -- and thought it therefore deserved to be named after a prominent political and military figure.
That man was general Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1817), Polish patriot and military engineer. He was born in Poland and educated in military matters, partly in France. He was a bright student with a wide range of education who taught drawing and mathematics to the girls in the wealthy Polish Sosnowski family.
Unfortunately, he fell in love with Ludwika Sosnowska, one of the daughters. But her father wanted his daughter to marry into money rather than wed a poor military officer.
To escape her father, he dashed back to France, where he heard about the American Revolution. He decided to help general George Washington fight the British. But Kosciuszko arrived in North America with no Polish references, as he had to flee the country so swiftly. However he soon showed he was an innovative military engineer, impressing Washington and eventually becoming head of the army's engineering corps. One of his achievements after the War of Independence was to help found and design West Point Military Academy in New York state.
After the American colonies were liberated from Britain in 1783, a grateful US Congress offered him US citizenship and the rank of brigadier-general in the army. But he opted to return to his homeland to command Poland in its war against Russia. Kosciuszko was later captured and held as a prisoner for two years.
An early opponent of slavery, when the fighting stopped, Kosciuszko went back to his family's property and freed the slaves there.
By the time of his death in 1817, he was a hero in both Poland and the US. He had also been made an honorary citizen of France.
Kosciuszko's colourful, courageous and innovative life made him one of the most renowned people of his era.
Washington DC and cities in Poland have statues commemorating him -- and Australia has its highest mountain.
Strzelecki had private wealth that enabled him to travel around the world as an explorer. He arrived in Australia in 1839, after travelling through the Americas and the South Pacific for almost five years.
While he is best known in Australia for his Snowy Mountains expedition, he also helped explore the Hunter Valley, Victoria and Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania).
After ascending and naming the great mountain, Strzelecki sent a flower from its slopes to Aleksandryna Turno, his childhood sweetheart in Poland. He wrote: ``Let it remind you ever of freedom, patriotism, love''.
But the ``Count'' then went to Tasmania, where he made a indiscreet pass at the niece of lieutenant-governor John Franklin, which caused a scandal.
Strzelecki returned to Europe in 1843 and he wrote about, among other things, the geography and geology of southeast Australia. He became a British citizen in 1845 and in 1853 was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He also received a British knighthood and an Oxford doctorate. He died in 1873.
He remains an enigma. In his last will and testament he asked that his papers be burned and his body buried in an unmarked grave. As for Turno, he never saw her again until he was 70 and she 62. They agreed then that the time for their romance had passed.
For a long time the mountain he had named was misspelt Kosciusko, until 1997 when the Geographical Names Board of NSW voted unanimously to add a ``z'' to the name.
The Daily Telegraph
25 November 2008
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Dr Keith Suter is the foreign affairs expert on Sunrise, the number one Australian breakfast show, presenting his own segment, 'Global Notebook'. A social commentator, strategic planner, conference speaker, writer and broadcaster, Keith is also a foreign affairs analyst for Sky TV Australia and Radio 4BC, Brisbane, and can be heard on Australian radio on an average of once a day. Keith writes the history page for The Daily Telegraph
You can email Keith on www.keithsuter.com/contact/