June 24, 2021

#ThrowbackThursday – 24 June

The 24th of June marks a day of notable firsts, memorable occasions and unforgettable happenings (and, in the case of one happening, inexplicable). Take a look at these five events that went down in history today:

1374 – The Mystery of St John’s Dance

Whether it’s ‘til you drop, the dawn, or you’re dead, dancing is something that most people can’t get enough of. Back in 14th-century Europe, though, many people had no choice but to dance.

Starting in the German village of Aachen, before spreading to other towns along the Rhine River, thousands of people began to dance and jump about without pause or explanation. Unable to control their movements, these afflicted individuals were driven to exhaustion, hunger and pain as they grimaced, twitched and writhed their way into a frenzy.

No known cause behind this strange phenomenon – which was named “St John’s Dance” for St John the Baptist – has been identified. Actions of a religious cult, hallucinations and hysteria are just some of the theories that modern-day historians have discussed, although it’s safe to say the cause will remain unknown for a long, long time.

1509 – A Coronation Fit for a King

Over 500 years ago, one of the most important – and infamous – rulers assumed the throne of England.

In a lavish ceremony attended by nobles, dignitaries and prelates, Henry VIII of the House of Tudor and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, were crowned king and queen consort at Westminster Abbey. Both were dressed in choice clothing for the occasion: Henry VIII wore a coat of gold embroidered with precious stones, and an ermine-trimmed velvet robe. Catherine opted for a white satin gown and a crownlet of precious stones.

After the coronation, the streets of London were alive with singing, dancing and feasting for several days. These were accompanied by jousting tournaments, pageants and banquets aplenty.

Joyous though the event was, it pales to the rest of Henry VIII’s rule, which was marred by tyranny, multiple marriages, and eliminating enemies (real or imagined) with extreme prejudice.

1983 – Sally Rides Heads to Space

On 24 June, an astronaut named Sally Ride returned from a space mission, where she was hailed as the first American woman to ever go to space.

Six days prior, the 32-year-old astronaut embarked on NASA’s seventh Space Shuttle mission called “STS-7”. Transported aboard the “Challenger” shuttle, Ride departed from Kennedy Space Centre, Florida and soon entered orbit.

There, she and other mission specialists deployed two communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia. Additionally, they conducted the first successful retrieval in space using the shuttle’s robotic arm – it also doubled as a first for a female astronaut to carry out this operation.

Ride would go on to fly in “Challenger” the following year, where she became the first American woman to visit space for a second time. She would have embarked on her third mission aboard the same shuttle in 1, but the fatal “Challenger” explosion – which saw seven of its passengers die – cut her training short in 1986.

1995 – Uniting a Nation … with Rugby!

The 1995 Rugby World Cup final was historic for all the right reasons. Taking place a year after South Africa’s first post-Apartheid elections, it saw the Springboks – who were largely seen as the underdogs – locking horns with the bookies’ favourites, the New Zealand All Blacks.

The final was played out in front of 63 000 spectators at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, and the score was levelled 9-9 by full-time. Extra time was introduced, and the score soon increased to 12-12. With national pride on the line, fly-half Joel Stransky received a pass from Joost van der Westhuizen and slotted the winning drop-goal.

In that moment, South Africa was truly united as the reality of their first ever cup win sank in. It was sweetened further by the iconic visual of President Nelson Mandela – wearing a Springbok shirt and cap – presenting the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar.

2010 – The First Female PM of Australia

In 2010, Julia Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s 27th prime minister. This occasion marked the first time in history that a woman held such a post in the country.

Before she was elected unopposed to the highest post in the land, Gillard was a lawyer. She had a successful legal career, becoming the youngest partner at the firm of Slater and Gordon in 1991 at the age of 30.

Gillard then entered the field of politics, becoming a member of parliament in 1998. Nine years later, she served as Deputy Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 in Kevin Rudd’s Labour government – during this period, she worked as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Minister for Education, and the Minister for Social Inclusion.

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