Thursday, January 26, 2006
An Australia Day post
This map of Sydney Cove, from the National Library of Australia, was drawn by one of the transported convicts in April 1788.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Jane Langley, a wild girl and no mistake, is on one of those little boats, pregnant to someone other than five-greats grandpa Thomas Chipp, a Marine on one of the other little boats, whom she was yet to meet.
And this is a bit from The Timeless Land by Australian novelist Eleanor Dark, written in the early days of the Second World War and published in 1941 as borders and sovereignties were shifting all around the world. The novel is a landmark in Australian literature; the quotation is dedicated to Dr Sigmund Freud, who escaped from Vienna just in time to die of cancer instead of in the gas chambers. He died while Dark was writing this novel. She was a fan.
It's 1788 and a 'winged boat' full of strange-looking people has arrived on the beach at Port Jackson; the Aboriginal people are watching from the cliffs, including Bennilong, who's only six:
'Bennilong was particularly interested in the doings of a small group of men who were carrying a tall, slender sapling down to the eastern shore of the cove. Here they set it upright in the ground, embedding it firmly in a deep hole in the ground, which had been made ready to receive it, packing stones and earth about it so that it stood at last as if rooted. Could there, By-gone demanded, be wisdom in the minds of people who felled a tree for the express purpose of setting it up in a different place? But suddenly there fluttered out from its top an object so bright and beautiful that Bennilong, who dearly loved splendour and gay colours, felt his heart lift and turn in an anguish of admiration and covetousness. A rapt silence fell upon the watchers. They had never seen anything half so beautiful as this thing which was red as blood, and white as a cloud, and blue as the sky above it; they could not tear their eyes away from its brilliance, the lovely way shadows ran and coiled along it as it flapped in the afternoon sunlight, the gaiety and cheerfulness of its fluttering corners.
They were not at all surprised when they saw that it was to be worshipped. All the people assembled beneath it ... and then suddenly a noise shattered the silence.
Bennilong and his friends never knew how it happened, but they, who a moment ago had been lying or sitting on the ground, were now on their feet, strung to a desperate tension ... Far down in the harbour, curling round the distant headlands and away into the hills, went the echo of that appalling sound, and above the strange weapons of the invaders a little smoke hung, and then vanished.'