AUSTRALIA DAY AND 1803 FIRST EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT
26 January 2018
Cr Fraser: Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us here at the Sorrento Bowls Club to celebrate our National Day – Australia Day on 26 January. I shall mention a little later the special significance of that date in our own historic Sorrento.
May I first thank the Sorrento Bowls Club and its members for hosting this special event here. I think this is the fourth occasion I have had the pleasure of representing Council at the Sorrento Bowls Club on Australia Day.
I should also like to acknowledge and thank –
- Brian McGrath – Sorrento Bowls Club President
- Roger Hopkinson – Sorrento Bowls Club Vice President
- Sue Gilbert – Sorrento Bowls Club Secretary
- our Australia Day Ambassador for 2018 – Rachel Porter – she is an iconic figure in Australian charitable circles – I look forward to hearing from her a little later on,
- And very special thank all those who have prepared the perfect morning tea in the Club room.
Before saying a few words, I would like to acknowledge that this event is being held on the traditional lands of the Boonwurrung/Bunurong tribe, who were the custodians of this land for many centuries. We acknowledge that the land on which we meet here today was the place of age old ceremonies, of celebrations, initiation and renewal; and that the Kulin peoples living culture had, and continues to have, a unique role in the life of this region.
This longer form of “Acknowledgement of traditional owners” provides me with the opportunity to say a little about custodianship, for we are all custodians or trustees of this land and this society. This carries with it our duty to the past, to the present and to the future – to look after this unique place and its people – a fabulous green wedge hinterland surrounded by two bays and Bass Strait.
To each of us, Australia Day has a very special place on the Nepean Peninsula. We may have been born here, chosen to live here, or chosen to become Australian citizens on Australia Day.
Here at Sorrento and at Sullivan Bay between the Eastern and Western Sisters lies a very special historic place as the site of the first European Settlement in Victoria in 1803. On 10th and 11th October the ships “Calcutta” and “Ocean” carrying Lt Governor David Collins, a bold band of officers, marines, convicts, free settlers and a public service – sailed through the Heads arriving at what he called the “New Settlement”.
Collins had strict orders to establish a settlement at Port Phillip or Basses Strait – pre-empting French interest and exploration.
However, Collins lasted but 15 weeks before abandoning Sullivan Bay in favour of the Derwent and the establishment of modern Hobart – in all likelihood sailing out of Port Phillip Bay through the heads yesterday 25 February 1804 – 214 years ago.
So, with your indulgence, here is a snapshot of that tottering settlement in that January – our January – 1804 – 214 years ago.
In the early days of that January, Collins made haste to get away from what he called this “unpromising and unproductive land” – although he knew of accessible plentiful water and a productive hinterland behind Arthurs seat. Much against his religious convictions, he ordered the convicts to work through Sundays reloading the “Ocean”.
Throughout that January, discipline amongst the convicts and his marines was dissembling. Convicts were escaping what Collins now called the “Encampment” – William Buckley had famously done so and survived. Others perished. Others returned famished and were flogged. He ordered a “night watch” or armed search party to patrol the night. Collins issued strict “Port Orders” for the prevention of convict stowaways.
The prisoners Rea and Andrews were punished for “unsoldierlike behaviour” and the non-commissioned officers were admonished for their “extreme inattentiveness” in their duty in bringing the men to Parade in a “slovenly and unsoldierlike state”. Shoes were wearing out and provisions were inspected daily and rationed.
He was fearful of the Boonwurrung/Bunurong and danger of nearby fires – probably their fires – ordering the settlement fires out by 9pm. Firearms were to be in constant readiness for service.
Finally, the “Ocean” was loaded and Collins sailed with it, passing through the Rip and leaving Port Phillip Bay for ever. The remaining convicts and marines lingered on in the Encampment a few more months but Lt Governor Collins and the British government had gone – probably by 25 or 26 January at the latest.
So when we think about the 26 January Australia Day date, for us here in historic Sorrento, this date cuts both ways. Collins failure here at Sorrento was his success at Hobart – and the Boonwurrung/Bunurong resumed the Collins “Encampment” land for another generation.
So on Australia Day we celebrate and think about our diversity of people and lives, our common history with all its tensions and complexity, the remarkable achievements and failures of our society and government and how we can make our nation a better place – for our past, our present and our future.
On behalf of the Mornington Peninsula Shire, I would like to thank the local community and the Australia Day Committee for their valued contribution to our celebration of Australia Day. And as we raise our Flag and sing our National Anthem – may I wish you all a very happy, and thoughtful, Australia Day!