Breaker Morant book donated to Tenterfield Library

Mayor Peter Petty, pictured here with senior librarian Jenny Stoker, brought back a signed copy of 'Ready, Aim, Fire' from the launch to donate to the Tenterfield Library.
Mayor Peter Petty, pictured here with senior librarian Jenny Stoker, brought back a signed copy of 'Ready, Aim, Fire' from the launch to donate to the Tenterfield Library.

Mayor Peter Petty has hand-delivered to Tenterfield Library a signed copy of Ready, Aim, Fire, the new James Unkles-authored book that attempts to vindicate Tenterfield solicitor JF Thomas's role in the infamous Breaker Morant trial.

The book was officially launched at a Law Society of NSW function in Sydney last week, attended by the mayor and several of Thomas's relatives. Mr Petty said as Thomas had no children the descendants are those of his brother.

Mr Petty said Mr Unkles was keen to donate a copy of his book to the library, and will follow up with a visit to Tenterfield in the future after previous forays into the district doing research. Mr Petty also has a copy to dispatch to Governor General David Hurley, who expressed interest on the topic during his recent visit to thank firefighters and disaster recovery teams dealing with the ongoing impact of recent fires.

The mayor said he will also move that council supports Mr Unkles' efforts for Morant and his cohorts to be officially pardoned of their crimes, given the circumstances of the trial.

"There's been an apology in the past, but not a pardon," Mr Petty said.

"Thomas didn't have an opportunity to defend them properly, given one day's preparation. The opposition had months to prepare."

Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton were charged with war crimes during the Boer War in one of the first such cases in British military history. According to prosecutors the trio carried out revenge killings for the death of their commanding officer, murdering Boer prisoners-of-war and civilians.

Morant and Handcock were executed by firing squad in 1902 after Thomas lost the case. Witton received a life sentence, but was released in 1904 under public pressure.

The events have been well documented in books, a 1980 Bruce Beresford film called Breaker Morant starring Jack Thompson as Thomas, and even a stage play that has been performed at Tenterfield School of Arts.

Mr Petty supports Mr Unkles' suggestion that Tenterfield leverages its ties to the well-known case. After the war Thomas returned to Tenterfield as a practicing solicitor, somewhat damaged by the trial experience, and he was at one time the owner of the Tenterfield Star. He died at his Boonoo Boonoo property in 1942.

Mr Unkles favours the huge silo art depictions found in other towns but, lacking large silos, Mr Petty said some street art may be more fitting if grant money for the project can be secured.

In the meantime Tenterfield's senior librarian Jenny Stoker said the new book will take pride of place in a special Breaker Morant-themed display at the library. The signed book will be retained as a reference copy while another copy of Ready, Aim, Fire is available for borrowing.

Ms Stoker said books on local history and the Breaker Morant case in particular prove popular with library members, who can reserve Ready, Aim, Fire if it's already out on loan. For those preferring to view rather than read a history lesson, a DVD of the film Breaker Morant is also available at the library.

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