Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Go Us!

We're at it again and we've been doing it for years!

Australia Day has come around again and Aussies are all out backslapping, barbequeing, drinking, having citizenships ceremonies and generally celebrating.

Two hundred and twenty-three years ago, Captain Arthur Phillip and 11 ships with 1332 souls aboard sailed into Port Jackson to establish the first European settlement on Australian soil.

While the First Fleet first landed at Botany Bay, between 18-20 January 1788, it was decided the bay wasn't suitable for the establishment of the colony. There was no protection as it was an open bay, the trees (probably ironbark) proved too tough for the tools brought and there was no fresh water nearby. On the whole, not the best spot for a colony and little like the perfect place Captain Cook described.

Captain Phillip took a small party in boats and sailed up the coast. There, he found Port Jackson - named, but not explored by Cook. Phillip spent three days at Port Jackson and decided to move the colony.

He wasn't the only European looking around. On a scientific expedition, Jean-Francois de La Perouse had expected to find a settlement where he could repair his ships and re-provision. Instead, he found the convict fleet worse off than his ships. Although La Perouse and Phillip never met, some of the officers of both nations did have cordial conversations.

Captain Phillip moved the fleet to Port Jackson on 26 January 1788 and began construction on the colony at Sydney Cove, inside the harbour. The French hung about until early March before moving on.

Captain Phillip did not lose one ship on the 15,000 mile journey. Given the lack of proper medical care, the threat of scurvy, small ships, crammed conditions and rough oceans, the First Fleet's journey to Australia has to be one of the greatest sea voyages in maritime history. Yes, 48 people died along the way, but for the time, this was considered a win.

It must have been terrifying for the voyagers, travelling halfway around the world and not knowing what to expect once they arrived. Australia would be totally alien to them, with different trees, astonishingly weird animals - Botanist Joseph Banks compared the kangaroo to a giant mouse - bright, hot sunlight and wary indigenous people who knew more about the land than they ever would.

Today, we celebrate the sheer tenacity and courage of the First Fleet colonists and convicts. Today, we welcome new citizens from around the world, all of whom, throughout our history, have made Australia what it has become and what it will be.

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