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Today's quote:

Friday, January 22, 2021

Happy Australia Day!

The Founding of Australia. By Capt Arthur Phillip RN Sydney Cove, Jan 26th 1788
This preparatory oil sketch for a much larger historical recreation of the First Fleet’s first day in Sydney Cove was painted by minor British impressionist Algernon Talmage. It was commissioned by the founder of the Australasian Pioneers Club to celebrate the sesquicentenary of 1938. The finished painting was unveiled at the Royal Academy of the Arts exhibition in London in 1937. The painting depicts the moment Governor Phillip (in the centre of the painting) proposed a toast to King George III, on the evening of 26 January 1788, the day that the Fleet moved from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove.


In 1770 Captain Cook stood at a place which he named Botany Bay, after which he ran disastrously aground on the Great Barrier Reef, and finally, after making some urgent repairs, rounded the northernmost tip of the continent at Cape York.

On the evening of 21 August, almost as an afterthought, he stepped ashore at a place he called Possession Island, planted a flag and claimed the east coast for Great Britain.

Only seventeen years later, in May 1787, Captain Arthur Phillip set sail from Portsmouth at the head of a squadron of eleven ships - known reverentially ever after as the First Fleet - to start a colony in a preposterously remote, virtually unknown place that had been visited just once, briefly, and had not seen a European face since. After eight months they arrived at Botany Bay, which wasn't quite the kindly refuge they had been led to expect. Its exposed position made it a dangerous anchorage, and a foray ashore found nothing but sandflies and marsh.

To quote from Bill Bryson's highly entertaining book "Bill Bryson Down Under", "As they stood surveying their unhappy situation, there happened one of those coincidences in which Australian history abounds. On the easter horizon two ships appeared and joined them in the bay. They were in the command of an amiable Frenchman, Count Jean-François de La Pérouse, who was leading a two-year journey of exploration around the Pacific. Had La Pérouse been just a little faster, he could have claimed Australia for France amd saved the country 200 years of English cooking. Instead, he accepted his unlucky timing with the grace that marked the age. La Pérouse's expression when it was explained to him that Phillip and his crew had just sailed 15,000 miles to make a prison for people who had stolen lace and ribbons, some cucumber plants and a book on Tobago [don't ask; go to page 51 of the book], must have been one of the great looks in history, but alas there is no record of it. In any case, after an uneventful rest at Botany Bay, he departed, never to be seen again. Soon afterwards his two ships and all aboard were lost in a storm off the New Hebrides.

Meanwhile, Phillip, seeking a more amenable location, sailed up the coast to another inlet, which Cook had noted but not explored, and ventured through the sandstone heads that form its mouth. There he discovered one of the great harbours of the world. At the point where Circular Quay now stands, he anchored his ships and started a city. It was 26 January 1788. The date would live for ever as Australia Day."

I think Australians ought to be extremely proud that from the most awkwardly unpropitious beginnings, in a remote and challenging place, they created a prosperous and dynamic society. That is exceedingly good going. So what if dear old gramps was a bit of a sticky-fingered felon in his youth? Look what he left behind.

Happy Australia Day!

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P.S. As Mark Twain (who was not an Australian!) once said, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story", but 26 January became Australia Day because on that day in 1949 the Australian Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 was enacted and Australians could call temselves Australians and were allowed to travel with passports calling them Australians. Before that special day, all people living in Australia, including Aborigines born after 1921, were called 'British Subjects' and travelled on British passports. We all became Australians on the same day which is why we celebrate Australia Day on the same day! click here.