Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day 1: 1788 and all that

Today is Australia Day. It's the 222nd anniversary of the First Fleet arriving in what was to become Australia on 26 January 1788, starting the European settlement of Australia that has continued to this day. The Sydney Museum has an excellent model of the First Fleet ships on show (below) and I wonder how many of those aboard realised they were arriving in mid-summer?

Understandably, there is a view that the Aboriginal peoples who were already living here may have a rather less positive perception of the arrival of these convicts, sailors and marines. Although it has no effect on the tragic history of Aboriginal rights and life since that day, it's often forgotten that Australia really is entirely a land of immigrants as all the humans arrived from overseas - the earliest remains found in Australia are Mungo Man from 40,000 years ago. Estimates often giving a remarkably recent figure (in pre-history terms) of between 40,000 to 50,000 years for the first colonisation of the continent, although some believe it to be much earlier.

Of course the First Fleet was a direct result of the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook in His Majesty's Barque Endeavour on one of the world's great voyages of exploration. (The introductory image at the top shows the replica of HMB Endeavour sailing up the Yarra in Melbourne.) Again, an aspect of Cook's exploration of the Eastern coast of Australia and the arrival of the First Fleet is that it could so easily have been a French story, as the French Navy were literally on the spot - or in the natural harbours - at both events. While there are a scattering of French names (particularly in Tasmania - itself based on a Dutch navigator's name) it's a monolingual Anglophone culture in law. Yet it could have been like Canada, with a foot in both French and British culture and language, or a member of the Francophone world like -er- Monaco.

Often overlooked near the Circular Quay in Sydney is this mosaic map (above) showing the very first developments of what was much later to become the city of Sydney, Australia's eternal second best conurbation.

Of course, the First Fleet was the beginning of a social experiment that failed at its origin - to export 'the criminal class' from Britain, and to develop colonies with these prisoners. No one has yet managed to export their 'criminal class', so that part was a failure, but we seem to have managed to build quite a habitable country on this unprepossessing foundation. The convicts would try to escape from the marines and soldiers (obviously to get to what would become Victoria and Melbourne from the rather inferior Sydney and New South Wales) as seen above at Sovereign Hill historical re-enactment. But to get away they would have to get through the Blue Mountains (below) one of Australia's natural wonders which is essentially untouched except for the viewing platforms and coach parking (not included in the picture).
And when it's been another great Australia Day here, and we are rolling home with a beaut sunset to the West, it's the start of another cold, winter's day in Britain. We've just celebrated five years and one day here, and it's bonzer, mate.

James (a Melburnian)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all four of those posts about Australia. Terrific stuff.

Congratulations on your five years.