John Batman was a Tasmanian who organised a syndicate of investors to fund him and some other settlers to build a new village on the banks of the Yarra River. Of course, this land was already occupied by the tribes of the Kulin nation, primarily the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung, each of which greatly outnumbered the small group of settlers Batman led. Thus, Batman made a deal with the chiefs of the Wurundjeri, purchasing a small stretch of land. In time, the village would become Melbourne (today a metropolis of more than four million people, very few of them members of the Wurundjeri or other Kulin peoples).
However, there are many grounds on which to dispute Batman’s treaty. It is a matter of some dispute whether the tribesmen Batman dealt with understood the deal they were making in the same way Batman did – among the Kulin people, as among most Australian Aboriginal peoples, land was not owned by individuals in the same way it was by Europeans. Legally, even by the standards of colonial empires, Batman was also on shaky ground, as he had no authority from the Crown to make such a deal. And while it does appear that, at least to start with, the colonists made efforts to deal in good faith with the various Kulin peoples, misunderstandings were inevitable between two such disparate peoples, leading to bloodshed on several occasions. Later colonists, who were not party to the original deal, treated the Kulin (and in time, the other native peoples of Victoria) much worse. Batman, like so many of the natives, was dead by then.
It was on his first voyage of discovery that Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour, sighted the eastern coast of Australia. A man aloft in the crows nest, one Lieutenant Zachary Hickes, made the first sighting, which Cook repaid by naming Point Hicks (spelling was not, apparently, one of Cook’s many talents). But although they saw evidence of the natives of this new land – the smoke of numerous campfires, mostly – it was not until four days later that first contact was made between the Englishmen and Australian Natives. (Specifically, members of the Gweagal people, who dwelt on the shores of Botany Bay around modern Kurnell.)
Perhaps setting a template for future interactions between blacks and whites in Australia, the contact was hostile, although no one was killed. Cook and his crew continued on their way after spending a week or so in Botany Bay, taking home news that would eventually spell the doom of the Gweagal and a great many of their relatives.
On this day in 1788, British soldiers, citizens and convicts landed at Port Jackson in what is now Sydney. They raised a Union Jack, drank a toast, said some prayers and then set about their mission. The ongoing dispossession of the native peoples, the rampant deforestation, the extinction of native species of plant and animal, the destruction of a way of life that had endured for forty thousand years and more, the abolition of ancient languages and stories, and the general dehumanisation of the poor bastards whose only crime was to get in the way of Britain’s ego continues even to this day.
If the citizens of Australia continue to vote for parties which are not members of the Coalition, it may well never be finished…
It had already been a long voyage – the Endeavour had been at sea since August 1768 – when the eastern coast of Australia was first sighted. Lieutenant Hicks made the sighting, and Cook named the point he had discovered in Hicks’ honour. Point Hicks is located near the eastern extremity of the state of Victoria, between Orbost and Mallacoota. Although he had been aiming for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Cook quickly realised that he had found a separate landmass to the north of it, based on the the south-westerly trend of the coastline away from Point Hicks.
From here, Cook and his crew proceeded northward along the coast of Australia. Ten days later, he made his famous landing at Botany Bay and encountered the Australian natives for the first time (members of the Gweagal tribe) – although from observations of their many campfires, Cook had been aware of them (and presumably, they of him) for several days by that ppint.
There’s a lot of songs about the coming of the Europeans to these shores, and most of them take the point of view that it has been an unmitigated disaster for the prior inhabitants. So what makes this one special?
It was one of the first songs to take that stance; it took it at least as strongly as any other song ever has and more than most (I’ve no easy way of checking, but I’d be surprised to learn that any Australian song used the word ‘genocide’ before it); it was a good-sized hit among the white population; and, last but by no means least, it completely rocks. “Solid Rock” is also the first and pretty much only hit from Goanna, a very talented band – they deserved much better from the public than they got.
It’s a cry of rage, of anger against injustice. Just listening to it conveys a sense of all that has been lost, a traditional way of life that had lasted for thousands of years, gone forever in a little over a century – and all the reasons why it happened (which basically amounts to: white people didn’t see black people as real people). As a true reflection of our nation’s history – as opposed to the increasingly bullshit words of our actual national anthem – it’s hard to beat.
In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.