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1788 and all that (or what have the English ever done for us?)

So, we are approaching the anniversary of Arthur Phillip’s epic voyage from England to Australia, arriving in January 1788. He chaperoned eleven ships with fifteen hundred souls onboard, roughly half of whom were manacled, half way around the world. A voyage that, in its dimensions and its impact is up there with those of Columbus and Magellan, even the Mayflower.

“I came upon the prison ship
Bowed down by iron chains
I fought the land, endured the lash
And waited for the rains
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife
On a dry and barren run
A convict, then a free man
I became Australian”

We know that in August 1770 Lieutenant James Cook had claimed the East Coast of Australia as New South Wales, on behalf of George III : that’s what you did in that era at a time when Britain had very little in the way of ‘possessions’ in the southern hemisphere and there was much competition.

It is rarely recorded that the French, in 1772 planted a flag on the Western portion of this continent in the name of Louis XV. On 28 March 1772, the Breton navigator Louis Aleno de St Aloüarn landed on Dirk Hartog Island and became the first European to claim possession of what is now Western Australia as Australie-Occidentale Française.

In both instances these competing colonial powers realized that you can’t just plant a flag and leave a jar of coins and express a few pompous sentiments to acquire a new possession or colony. You actually had to occupy the land either as the result of invasion or by peaceful settlement with or without the consent of any existing inhabitants.

“I came from the dream-time
From the dusty red-soil plains
I am the ancient heart
The keeper of the flame
I stood upon the rocky shores
I watched the tall ships come
For forty thousand years I’ve been
The first Australian”

The English had adopted the rather dodgy concept of Terra Nullius to justify their acquisition of territories on the basis that the land belonged to no-one – a legal concept used by the British government to justify the settlement of Australia.

As one of Irish heritage I tend to be somewhat ambivalent about being invaded by the English and we probably don’t need to get into whether it was an invasion or a settlement or an uninvited occupation. What is clear is that the colonial powers of the day saw it as their right to seize the land of others, frequently in the name of a monarch and enthusiastically supported by their chosen deity. This happened on every major land mass on this planet, with the Americas and Africa featuring prominently not to overlook the Indian sub-continent and many parts of Asia. At least in Australia, Christian conversion was not the primary driver for Arthur Phillip’s south seas adventure : that came later.

The race for possessions was on and in 1788 it was largely the British and the French who were out to grab their share in the Southern hemisphere : the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch had already ‘settled’ areas of South and central America, the Philippines and Indonesian archipelagoes and whilst the Dutch were very familiar with New Holland as they called Australia, they saw little commercial value in claiming the continent. Joseph Banks, however had convinced George III that Terra Australis represented an ideal location for a convict settlement particularly so now that the North American settlers had demanded independence and America was no longer a dumping ground for British miscreants.

Shortly after his arrival at Botany Bay Arthur Phillip was joined by Comte La Pérouse’s two ships which had arrived off the coast on 24 January 1788, but were unable to enter Botany Bay until 26 January, the same day that Phillip began to move the entire First Fleet to the more hospitable Sydney Cove in the harbour of Port Jackson. The French must have realized that their ambitions on the East Coast were forfeit to the English and La Peruse soon headed out to sea and was never heard from again.

As we approach Australia Day or Invasion Day 2023 and as we anticipate a referendum on an Aboriginal Voice to our parliament it is, in my view, time that we acknowledge that whatever has occurred in the past we are now one nation and in the words of what should be our national anthem :

“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian”
I am, you are, we are Australian”

Here are The Seekers with the full rendition of that anthem :




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  1. Williambtm

    Terrence, a concise letter of best-explained events that had become our Australia. Also, an extraordinary letter with its referencing links held just below, contains the struggle against penal servitude that had begun through the fops in the aristocratic government of England.

  2. Canguro

    Taking an admittedly jaundiced and one-eyed view of the topic of colonisation, and notwithstanding the readily admitted prosperity that the phenomenon has brought to countless millions over many centuries, I’d like to recommend, highly, and have mentioned this in these pages on a previous occasion, the 2021 documentary miniseries produced by film-maker Raoul Peck, entitled Exterminate All the Brutes, the title being taken from the 1992 book of the same name by the Swedish author Sven Lindqvist, and itself being taken from a phrase uttered by the murderous racist imperialist Mr Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness.

    Clearly, the intention of both authors along with the film-maker is to shine a light on the dark history of colonisation, where it was seen as appropriate & normal practice to either subjugate the indigenous people as chattel, shackled or enslaved & subjugated labour on behalf of the colonising power, or if that was not feasible, then to simply wipe them out, to actively engage in genocide as a means to maintain control of the colonised territories. All colonial powers engaged in this practice, from the Americas through to south-east Asia, India, Eurasia and beyond; the soils of this planet are soaked in the spilt blood and guts of those who had the misfortune to be the first inhabitants, and who generally lacked the degree of technology – as in weaponry – to withstand the marauders.

    When the collective behaviour of multiple colonising powers is acknowledged, the cruelty, the dispossession, the rapes, murders, tortures, thefts, the imposition of disease & destruction upon millenial cultures, we’ve very little to celebrate or to be proud of. To be truthful, we’re a bunch of thieves, murderers, enablers of genocide, and our celebration, as such, of any historical dates of occupation, whether here, or in America north or south, or elsewhere, ought to be reassessed in the light of a truthful appraisal of past actions.

    In a way not dissimilar to the continual repression and discrimination and racial bias exhibited against African Americans from the initial era of slavery until the present day, the underdog status of Australian Aboriginals is a perverted projection of the unacknowledged shame & guilt borne by colonising peoples whose benefit is a function of the punitive approach to those who came before, or in America’s case, the slaves whose labour provided the foundation material for that colony’s economic growth. A deep shame, a deep pity. Will we ever learn to come to an equitable relationship with this country’s original inhabitants?

  3. Roswell

    I overheard someone in town say that; “To piss the lefties off I’m flying the Aussie flag on Australia Day and having a barbie.”

    I’m a leftie and I wasn’t pissed off. Just disappointed that I was in the same shop as an idiot.

  4. Keitha Granville

    We ARE one, we come from many lands, and we live on the land of the original inhabitants. It is what it is.

    Time has come to take the DATE out of it, as that brings sadness to those original owners. We can ALL celebrate being Australian on the third Monday in January. Not date need be referenced as there have been many over the years. Celebrate being an Australian, not a coloniser. We can’t change THAT, so let’s change THIS.

    Let us be ONE.

  5. New England Cocky

    Terence, perhaps you could consult Manning Clark, ”History of Australia” Volume 1 for a more accurate account of the history of decision making leading to the decision to ship convicts to Australia and the details of the Terra Nullius myth.

    The French also established a settlement south of Hobart that was subsequently abandoned. The stone ruins were recently threatened with further demolition but greenies intervened on behalf of the historical ruins.

  6. Terence Mills


    I think you are referring to the Bruni d’Entrecasteaux expedition of 1792 – 1793 which left rock wall remnants over approximately 72 square metre area marking where vegetable gardens were planted by members of expedition.

    From what I’ve read, I don’t think that this expedition was ever intending a permanent settlement in Tasmania.

  7. Slip

    England was not going to colonise Australia at all, it was only the spy report that said that the French were sending a colonising fleet to the mainland that got the parliament to send the colony ships.

    The reason for this action is that England had just finished a war with the French and had smashed a bunch of french colonies, they didn’t want France getting a landmass between Europe & America.

    Even then the only reason the English landed first was because the French were sidetracked to investigate a bunch of islands that did not exist (the mapping having had paper-islands to mislead any other countries), they spent 2 weeks looking for these islands then continued on to Australia, arriving only 3 days after Phillip’s ships. so it really came down to the wire as to which country arrived first.

    One might also reference the first person to mention treaty with the inhabitants, Cook’s journal makes mention of the ‘claiming’ of the country with the flag on behalf of the king for exclusive right to make a treaty with the native inhabitants to allow English settlements. This also had the purpose of making any action against the inhabitants an act of war against England, so the Dutch (who were still in full-blown slaving mode) would pause before capturing any of the peoples.

    So AFAIK the first proponents of treaty with Aboriginals were the King and Cook. ‘Bout time to do it?

  8. New England Cocky

    @ Terence Mills: Agreed. However, the French were getting occupied in Paris with a small civil discontent in Paris at the time, so the apparent lack of interest may be understandable.

    This French ”settlement” pre-dates the ”possession” of Tasmania with the settlement of Hobart commencing in 1804.

    Then the Sydney based English claimed northern Tasdmania in 1806 when Johnson of the later Bligh Mutiny infamy landed at Georgetown at the Tamar River mouth in north Tasmania.

  9. Clakka

    Regardless of the calendar of events, we now know (and in reality, they at the time knew), that, say in the first 100 years after Oz was only occupied by the First Nations folk, almost every important act and deed implemented or undertaken by or on behalf of “the Crown” was unlawful. Not only the lies surrounding “Terra Nullius”, but also the arrant absurdity and connivance in its application to Oz, along with the principles of the “Doctrine of Reception.” By way of example, there was an attempt to cover-off (in retrospect) many of the earliest lies and transgressions via Queen Victoria’s “Validity of Colonial Law Act (UK) 1865.”

    From Cook and Banks, through to and beyond the establishment of the Oz Constitution, 1901, all the inhabitants of Oz have been lied to and brutalised by the drunken also-rans sent here by “the Crown” to administer and uphold the law, and in many cases to create new laws that have as their base, previous lies, misdirections and connivances.

    Through this haze of regal and institutionalised drunkenness and criminality, the citizens of today are supposed to divine the goodness of our nation. Yet in reality, since 1770 the early citizenry (and First Nations folk) and their descendants really only know a memory of their efforts made for survival and their strivings for prosperity against institutional brutality and the tyranny of the land now occupied. The majority, beneath their essential social enthusiasm, maintain a well founded and often cynical mistrust of the government and its institutions, and an underlying embarrassment and fear of reprisal for their defensive actions within the sphere of British (English) manufactured brutality.

    The lack of truth and concealment in mainstream 20th century education has seen various waves of migrants whitewashed as to the nature of the nation, and left them with scant idea of the realities of the ongoing effects of the events and circumstances of the early years; the arrogance and usury by the elite and recklessness and hostility of those predated upon.

    Despite these things, it may be relevant to celebrate the achievements of the nation, yet it remains a blight on us all that there remains an insidious manufactured division in rights, representations and provisions between post 1770 newcomers, and the First Nations Australians.

    It would be great to sing with hand on heart, “I am, you are, we are Australian.”

    The First Nations folks’ makarata, and the Voice and subsequent processes (Truth and Treaty) represent the greatest opportunity thus far to provide everyone with an understanding and the passion necessary to put hand on heart and sing those words.

    Yet, given the above, it is understandable that there is apprehension in many quarters due to matters such as trust, fear, embarrassment, inequity, hostility, and lack of education and understanding. There is much to do (starting this year apparently), and the govt needs to help us more to open up and lift our game.

  10. paul walter

    Roswell, if idiots could fly the skies would be black.

    It is not the Australia day we once knew, has been misppropriated by the Right as surely the once inspirational Eureka flag.

  11. wam

    Dear waltz of the cuckoo. The song is as important, to an invasion day bloke, as jan 26 and every bit as exclusionary. I shudder, at hearing the first note, and, reacting faster than to ‘god save the king’, switch channels. Who, here, thinks we are one? We have 9 education ministers and 9 education departments for a start?
    How many of your friends are frightened of the consequences of adding a reference to the indigenous’ population to the constitution and providing a voice to the decision making process?
    I am a buffalo and this is an extract of Bill Dempsey’s speech to the hall of fame. It highlights the wish of the members of a footie club whom were not considered as Australians, by white Australia nor by overseas people who became Australians??.
    “The Buffaloes, they were just ordinary people who just wanted to be an Australian person and good people. They had nothing, absolutely nothing, to this day they don’t even have clubrooms, but guess what? They’ve got heart. They’re lovely people.”

  12. leefe

    ” … it is, in my view, time that we acknowledge that whatever has occurred in the past we are now one nation … ”

    Easy to say when you belong more to the dispossessors than the dispossessed.

  13. wam

    The buffaloes agree with you, Leefe, because, as Billy says, ‘…they are lovely people.’
    Irascible old bastards, like me, cannot forgive the dividing millions of ‘lying rodent clones who bear no responsibility for past decisions and who deny the history so readable in herbert, blainey and so visible in the sportsmen who denied their Aboriginal hertitage or, if suspiciously dark skinned, had to adopt identities as kiwis, filipinos or as Xavier’s Malaysian princess. Rueben Cooper, a PAC old scholar, like you Cangaru, wrote of the racist insults he endured from spectators between the wars. After the war the McGinnis and the Darwin ‘coloured’ mob denied their Aboriginality so they could have a beer in the pub after footie. It didn’t stop systemic racism but gave the ‘coloured kids’ some idea of citizenship. ps I taught the grand children of Rueben Cooper and the youngest of the Mcginnis family and children whose parents were gaoled for ‘co-habiting’. If only they were Australian as they were all lovely forgiving people. Another set of stories began after the referendum.

  14. Arnd


    Easy to say when you belong more to the dispossessors than the dispossessed.

    My take precisely!

    Maybe we should ask John Cleese to think up a sketch on “Don’t mention the dispossession!”

    I’ve taken to celebrating “BabaKiueria Day” on the 26th of January. What could be more Aussie than that?

  15. leefe

    Michael Taylor:

    Sorry, but I think I broke AIMN. Both wam and Arnd are agreeing with something I said …

  16. Michael Taylor

    leefe, I’d better disagree with you then. We don’t want to upset the equilibrium of the universe. 😁

  17. leefe



  18. leefe

    Now you’re just being difficult.

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