I love a good Pobjie, be it a recap, a column or a rant. Now I can enjoy them at length and with appropriate historical context, because Ben has penned a rather spiffing history of Australia which is much much better than all those boring histories I had to read at school.
On 20 January 1788, the Fleet arrived at Botany Bay, where the British immediately came into contact with the Indigenous inhabitants of New South Wales. Many of the Aboriginal community saw their arrival as evidence of their governmentís lax border protection policies. "If had the ticker to introduce off-shore processing, these boats would have stopped coming," they declared, to which their opponents pointed out that the boats had only just started coming, making it difficult to foresee. "Besides," they added, "these poor white idiots need our help, so let us extend the hand of friendship."
But a sentiment grew strongly in the community that the First Fleet had behaved appallingly by attempting to sneak in through the back door rather than going through the proper channels. By coming on unauthorised boats, it was pointed out, the Englishmen had taken places away from those in genuine need. What's more, the journey from England to Australia was long and dangerous, and many Aboriginal people stressed the need to discourage desperate Englishmen from getting on boats and risking their lives. Also, there was a fear that the new arrivals would introduce a criminal element to the continent, which, to be fair, was pretty accurate.
Of the meeting between Europeans and Aboriginal people at Botany Bay, Tench poignantly wrote, "I had at this time a little boy, of not more than seven years of age, in my hand", which is pretty unsettling. He showed the little boy to the natives so they could see his white skin. "Yes, we get it. You're all white," the natives replied. "Leave the little boy alone." But Tench wouldn't listen. "I advanced with him towards them, at the same time baring his bosom and, shewing the whiteness of the skin," he wrote. "It's spelt 'showing', you idiot," the natives replied, and the misunderstandings only got more problematic from there.
The First Fleeters did not have time to ponder the intricacies of modern race relations just at that moment, however: they were too busy noticing that Botany Bay sucked. Captain Cook had reported that the bay was a rich and fertile spot, but when the settlers arrived, they discovered it was actually a scruffy patch of sand and grass with poor soil, little fresh water and a smell that contemporary accounts report as being "like your grandma's wardrobe". Captain Cook had lied to them, and Captain Phillip wondered whether he could ever trust a sailor again. Looking forlornly at the ugly shore, he famously announced, "This is crap", and gave orders to explore other locations to determine their suitability for his hoodlum-zoo.
The answer lay in Port Jackson, to the north of Botany Bay. Cook had discovered this pleasant harbour in 1770 and named it after all the Port Jackson sharks he saw there. In contrast to Botany, Port Jackson had plentiful fresh water in the form of Tank Stream – so named for its ability to manoeuvre over rugged terrain on tracks of fertile soil, and a pleasant lemony fragrance. Phillip, overjoyed with the new site, called it Sydney Cove, in honour of Lord Sydney, with whom Phillip had spent many happy days in England planning voyages and Spaniard-massacres. On 26 January, the First Fleet sailed to Sydney Cove, and Phillip declared that from that day on, this date would be celebrated every year by angry and bitter arguments over whether it should be celebrated or not.
Phillip, now governor of the new colony, set to work with all possible speed, issuing directives to all convicts, marines and officials to immediately begin failing to adapt to the new country, then move on to starving to death as soon as they could. Food was a constant issue in the early days, and many of the colonists suffered from eating disorders, inasmuch as they had nothing to eat, which in the 18th century was often fatal. With The Biggest Loser still more than two centuries away, the colonists had no way of knowing how to make malnutrition work for them, and many of them found their own slow deaths were lowering their morale.
The first problem was that the British had no idea how to farm in Australian conditions. The second problem was that most of them had no idea how to farm in any conditions, a result of their government's farsighted "populate the settlement exclusively with those who have no useful life skills" policy. And so, much of the early activity in the colony consisted of hungry men standing around staring at the corncobs they'd stuck in the ground, waiting for them to flower. Governor Phillip's correspondence during this time indicates the scale of the problem:
From the desk of Governor Arthur Phillip,
Sydney Cove, New South Wales 0001
Dear Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger,
How are you, sir? I am fine. I do not wish to trouble you, as I am sure you are extremely busy being Great Britain's youngest ever prime minister and forming the Triple Alliance with Prussia and Holland in order to restrict French influence in Europe, but right now we're having a bit of trouble 'Down Under', to use a term that I just made up. Basically we're all a tad peckish, and we'd love it if you could send us some food and also, if possible, some sunscreen.
Arthur Phillip (Governor)
Dear Governor Phillip,
The Prime Minister received your letter of August 5th and has authorised me to tell you that he cannot at this moment send you any of the supplies you have requested as he is extremely preoccupied with the preparations for the French Revolution which will break out next year and be very troublesome for us all. He suggests you try going fishing or something.
Elderfield Humberry-Deccleston the Fourth
Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Dear King George III,
I hope this missive finds you in good health and that you have not yet gone insane. I write to request some assistance with my little colony here in New South Wales, which is a lovely spot ideal for weekends away and longer summer stays, but suffers the drawback of being hell on earth. I was wondering if you could send us some food rather urgently, as we're having a bit of trouble growing our own. So far the best idea any of us have had is burying a cow and hoping it grows into a cow tree, which may give you some idea of our predicament.
Thank you for your time, sir. Give my regards to your son George IV, and my condolences on the extravagant profligacy and dissolute lifestyle which he will demonstrate in a couple of decades' time. I imagine that will be a real nuisance.
Arthur Phillip (Governor)
Dear Mr Phillip,
Thank you for your letter, which was passed on to me by my chief of staff, a small she-oak. I am afraid I must confess that I have never heard of this 'New South Wales' of which you speak, but I take it that it is some kind of marvellous kingdom in the sky, and so I have taken immediate action, ordering my courtiers to stand in the gardens hurling beef and toast skywards until you are fully provisioned.
King George III of Great Britain and Ireland (Mrs)
Dear Lord Sydney,
WTF have you got me into, you bastard?
Arthur Phillip (Depressed)