The Dreyfus Affair

Captain Alfred Dreyfus

Captain Alfred Dreyfus – an innocent man subjected to shocking injustice.

At its simplest, the Dreyfus Affair was the heart-wrenching story of an innocent man, framed by the real culprit, for selling secrets to an enemy; and an illegal cover-up by the military to hide its mistakes.

On a deeper level, it became the issue of the right to freedom of the individual being subordinated by the state, with Dreyfus as its symbol. Its incredible and far-reaching consequences tore apart the fabric of French life, including dramatic changes to the French constitution, the separation of state and clergy, and deep divisions between right and left that still reverberate today.

Depending on your point of view it was either the most shocking miscarriage of justice, or the acceptable sacrifice of an individual for the security of a nation. For many in a country that, one hundred years before, had fought a hard and bloody battle for freedom and fair treatment, this was not to be borne. Feelings ran so strongly that the whole country was polarised. The conflict, reflecting issues of anti-semitism, anti-clericism and anti-republicanism, was often violent.

Everyone living in France between the years 1894 and 1906, was forced to choose a side. There were two camps: Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards.

My characters, Angel and Elise, with their shared passion for justice, were, naturally, Dreyfusards and worked tirelessly behind the scenes with Dreyfus’ wife Lucie and family to free him.

Dreyfusards (pressing for the exoneration of Dreyfus) were mostly anti-clericals, Jews, left-wing intellectuals and radicals, their cause represented by Georges Clemenceau’s newspaper l’Aurore.

Anti-Dreyfusards( prepared to sacrifice Dreyfus for national security), mainly anti-semites, nationalists and conservatives opposed to republicanism, found a mouthpiece in the newspaper La Libre Parole, owned by Edouard Drumont, an anti-semite.

There is as much drama in this story as any fiction writer could desire; and movie makers were quick to take it up. A short summary of events include:

1894 – Captain Alfred Dreyfus convicted of treason for selling military secrets to the Germans and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

1896 – Increasing evidence that another officer, Ferdinand-Walsin Esterhazy was the culprit.

1898 – January – Esterhazy tried and acquitted of treason. In response Émile Zola wrote his famous letter J’accuse, published in l’Aurore, for which he was found guilty of libel.

1898 – August – A sensation caused by the confession of Major Hubert Henry that he fabricated important evidence against Dreyfus. Esterhazy immediately fled to England. Henry committed suicide.

1899 – September – Dreyfus retried and found guilty of treason in an infamous court-martial at Rennes. The President, Émile Loubet, pardoned him to resolve an inflammatory situation.

1906 – Dreyfus finally exonerated by a civilian court of appeal. He was given the Legion d’Honneur and a rise in rank to major. He had lost twelve years of his life, his career and his reputation. How could it be given back?

I find it touching that one innocent citizen’s ill-treatment by a corrupt military galvanised a country into action. Fair-minded people, revolted by injustice and racial/religious prejudice, took up the cudgels in defence of a principle: the right to freedom of the individual.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: I love it. Vive la France!

Strathfield Development: Environmental Disaster?

Environmental issue: flooded creek crossing in Strathfield making Crow Mountain Road impassible. This creek drains the paddocks where most of the chicken sheds will be situated.

Environmental issue: flooded creek crossing in Strathfield making Crow Mountain Road impassable. This creek drains the paddocks where most of the chicken sheds will be situated. Note debris in rising water. Photo:Geraldine Wrench

Here I am in Strathfield, once again, contemplating with horror the proposed intensive development, housing almost three million chickens! I cannot bear that this jewel of our district, formerly resplendent in amber, gold and emerald, is about to be reset in ugly, grey metal and filthy odours.

Will my daily route pass bins of dead birds awaiting collection for disposal? The putrefying remains of those whose delicate systems are unable to survive such crowded conditions, even for the short eight weeks they are given: the unbearable stench an ironic substitute for the fresh country scents of summer grasses and drying hay.

Over seventeen years of daily travel, I have seen Strathfield in many guises: A changing tapestry according to the season. At winter sunrise, glittering rainbow-bright with frost, a mundane pipe-leak transformed into a magical crystal fountain; shadowed and silvery in moonlight; literally, in rain, hail and shine. But never have I seen it ugly!

Strathfield is dry now, its great centre-pivots and lush fields nothing but longed-for memories. Strangely, in what amounts to famine, my thoughts turn to flood. I wonder if the developers have taken into account Strathfield’s unique geographical setting which makes it subject to huge cloudbursts, causing severe local flash-flooding? This phenomenon has to be seen to be believed: the sheer volumes of water mind-boggling. And the roar is deafening.

Would effluent pools or dams have the capacity to deal with amounts of this magnitude? Definitely not possible! They would overflow in minutes!

Torrents racing down the hillsides; waterfalls gushing from high gullies, gaining impetus as they spread out, flooding paddocks and roaring into creeks to carry debris into the river, a few short kilometres away. Anyone familiar with Strathfield knows of these sudden, spectacular inundations during the storm season.

I have witnessed this remarkable occurrence several times, driving through water up to the door sills as the road becomes a river(Yes, hills and all!), all the way to the creek that drains the paddock where forty-two of the proposed seventy sheds will be situated. The creek rises with terrifying speed, and then we have to wait … and wait …

Do the developers know this? Do they care? If not, we must do the ‘caring’ for them.

Since this creek dumps the water (and whatever else it gleaned on its journey across the paddocks) into the river above the Manilla water supply and directly into Harry Burrell’s platypus pool, the risk of pollution is not just too great it is inevitable!

For this reason alone the incredible volumes of water involved in a matter of minutes I believe the proposed development should not go ahead. The property is unsuitable for intensive production.

Strathfield is a historic and beautiful prime agricultural property with a unique microclimate: A bright jewel of our district. Please help us keep it in its true setting. Say ‘No!’ to this heart-breaking development.