|With its 2,228 metres, Mount Kosciuszko creates a challenge for everybody who sets out to reach its peak. This challenge was taken up recently by two Americans: Martin Douthitt and Dale Torok who, together with a Polish film crew, managed to fight their way to the top of this mountain, choosing the same way as Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki. The climbers had to overcome many obstacles until they could put their feet, and also American and Polish flags, on the highest summit on the Australian mainland.
Asked for the reason why they decided to follow the explorer up to the summit, Dale Torok said they wanted to pay tribute to General Tadeusz Kościuszko, considered by them a national hero who played a significant role in the founding of their own country.
William Harrison, who was briefly the US President in 1841, once said in front of the Congress:
“If, one day, by common world agreement, there should be built a temple dedicated to those who gave the greatest benefits to mankind; and if the statue of our great countryman, Washington was placed in the area designed for the most dignified, just beside him should be placed the statue of Kościuszko.”
Mr W. Krzesinski with the Strzeleckis at the Strzelecki Monument in Jindabyne
Martin and Dale with their hero - Kosciuszko
Kościuszko’s contribution to the struggle for liberty and justice is known worldwide. Not only due to his involvement in battles in Poland and the USA, but also because of the universal value of the ideas he fought for.
The roof of the Australian continent was given its name in February 1840 by Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki. He towers high among those who were the first to explore, map and describe the vast Australian continent. In the words of an Australian author, John Reynolds: “Strzelecki belongs to that great band of men which made the Nineteenth Century so remarkable. With Humboldt, Franklin, Darwin, and Wallace, he must be regarded as one of the leading scientific explorers of his time.”
The time Strzelecki spent in Australia abounds in his discoveries. For example he was one of the first to find gold, he opened up Gippsland, and undertook detailed exploration of Tasmania and New South Wales, which had significant economic impacts on the development of the colony. The names given by Strzelecki, such as Gippsland, La Trobe River or Tasmania, are still used today.
Mr Krzesinski and daughter with the Oksza Strzeleckis from Poznan
The Krzesinski family and friend on the way to Mt Kosciuszko
There are similarities in the lives of the hero of freedom – Kościuszko - and the famous explorer - Strzelecki. Both of them - outraged by the slavery they witnessed - became enemies of racism and intolerance.
Kościuszko’s plea for the emancipation of the African slaves in the USA was widely documented by American historians, some of them calling him the first one to speak on behalf of the slaves. During his trip to Brazil in 1836, Strzelecki for the first time came across the slavery and noted down in his diary: “I drop my pen and I turn my face full of shame and humiliation when I think of the disasters brought about by my brothers.”
Strzelecki, while in Australia, encountered and studied indigenous Australians’ culture, delighted and moved by the abundance of its values and traditions. Chapter 7 of his best known book “Physical Description” was devoted to the First Australians, where the Count turned into a spokesman for Indigenous people.
I would dare to say that Mount Kosciuszko remains a memorial to both defenders of the splendid values that all free people like us hold dear to our hearts. It remains also a symbol of the Polish–Australian friendship that started almost 200 years ago, but still develops thanks to the great activity of many engaged people.
Mr W. Krzesinski next to Marysia Nowak on the chairlift
Marysia Nowak unfurling Polish flag on Mt Kosciuszko. All photos by Puls Polonii
In November 2008 the territory of the Australian Alps was awarded a place on the National Heritage List, which will result in greater protection of the unique beauty of this region. We heartily welcomed that decision because preserving this precious natural ecosystem is in the interests of the whole global community.
Ladies and Gentleman, it is a great pleasure to take part again in this memorable Festival of culture. I would like to thank warmly the organizers of this great event: Mrs Ernestyna Skurjat-Kozek and Ursula Lang, the Kosciuszko National Park authorities, the Mayors of Jindabyne and Cooma, and our indigenous friends for giving us another opportunity to take part in this festival of music, film, poetry, song and dance, graced with the excellent photo exhibition.
I am convinced that the Mount Kosciuszko festival will be another symbol of the friendship between our two physically distant, but culturally close nations - Poland and Australia.
Mr Witold Krzesiński
Deputy Head of Mission
The Embassy of the Republic of Poland