On Remembering: Cook and Flinders (and Trim), Bungaree and Yemmerrawanne

The location of the grave of Matthew Finders (1774–1814) has been identified in Euston, England. Flinders was the first British person to circumnavigate the continent of Terra Australis, in the early 1800s, and he was the one who suggested the name Australia. His cat, Trim, is well-known for accompanying Flinders on this trip.

Trim even had a novel, written by Bryce Courtenay, named after him (Matthew Flinder’s Cat, 2002)—and there is a statue of Trim outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney, with an epitaph from Flinders himself, extolling: TRIM. The best and most illustrious of his race. The most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants,and best of creatures. So Matthew Flinders, and his cat, have significant places in contemporary Australian history.

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“Resembling the park lands [of a] gentleman’s residence in England”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Remembering 26 January as our national day embeds at the heart of our national identity, a story of dispossession, violence, marginalisation and oppression, perpetrated against the people who were already inhabiting, and caring for, the land we know as Australia.

Early explorers looked at the land, and the people, and decided that they saw uncultivated land and primitive, uncivilised peoples.

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“We never saw one inch of cultivated land in the whole country”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Early encounters between the inhabitants of the continent we know as Australia, and seafaring explorers sent by imperial European powers, set the scene for what took place when the British colonised the continent.

These early encounters failed to develop a deepened understanding of each group by the other. Journal records show instances of failed encounter, misunderstood communication, and skewed interpretation (on the part of the journaling explorers) of “the Natives”.

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“Endeavour by every possible means … to conciliate their affections”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

On 26 January 1788, the commander of the First Fleet, Arthur Philip (pictures), placed the British flag into the soil of Sydney Cove. Journals of the time record that the British had already set foot on the land a week or so earlier, at Botany Bay. However, because Philip couldn’t find fresh water there, he sailed further north. In Sydney Cove, he found fresh water in the Tank Stream, and this determined the site of the first British settlement.

At the time, this settlement was an expression of colonial expansion, claiming a new colony as “Britannia ruled the waves”. Today, we can see that it was an act of colonial imperialism, with inherent violence at its heart and aggressive marginalisation of the inhabitants of the land.

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The profound effect of invasion and colonisation

This Sunday, 20 January, Uniting Churches around Australia will be holding services which focus on a Day of Mourning, ahead of a day later in the week (26 January) marked in many calendars as Australia Day.

These churches will be doing this in accord with the decision of the 15th Assembly of the UCA, held last year, “to request members to support a Day of Mourning to occur on the Sunday prior to 26th January each year, and to engage during worship services in activities such as reflection and discussion of the profound effect of invasion and colonisation on First Peoples” (see https://uniting.church/28-day-of-mourning/)

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Learning of the land (2): Ngunnawal, Namadgi and Ngarigo

So, now we are here in the Australian Capital Territory, to take up new opportunities in ministry. We live in a suburb named after an early Australian poet (Adam Lindsay Gordon), on a street named after an obscure Victorian racehorse trainer (Michael Holt). That strikes me as a curious juxtaposition, indeed.

In fact, all the streets in this suburb are named after Australian sports people. Some are well-known people from Australian sports history, like tennis player Harry Hopman, yachtsman Jock Sturrock, athletics coach Percy Cerutty, jockey Darby Munro, horse trainer Tommy Woodcock, footballer Jersey Flegg, and cricketers Jack Fingleton, Sid Barnes, Clem Hill and Bill Woodfull (captain in the Bodyline series).

A number, however, are obscure figures like Lewis Luxton (born in Australia—but he rowed for Great Britain in the 1932 Olympics), Clare Dennis (a swimmer who won gold at those same 1932 Olympics), Noel Ryan (another 1930s swimmer) and Fred Lane, whose name graces the intriguingly-named Fred Lane Crescent. (Fred was a swimmer in the early 1900s.)

But the region in which we live is named Tuggeranong—a word derived from one of the indigenous groups who lived in the area, the Toogoranoongh. And we live in a city named Canberra, quite possibly drawing on an indigenous word (Koyanberra, or Kanberri, or perhaps Gamberri) which means “meeting place”. Which is what it is today. It is the place where, in contemporary Australia, lawmakers from across the country gather on a regular basis to meet in parliament.

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Learning of the land (1): Eora, Biripi, Whadjuk Noongar

Earlier this year, I attended a national Uniting Church meeting where all of the participants were asked to introduce themselves by stating their name and their nominating body, and then by identifying the First People of the land on which they lived and/or worked.

I took a few liberties with the required formula, and introduced myself as “John Squires, from the Synod of Western Australia. I was born on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation; I rejoiced, for some years, to live and work amongst the Biripi people, on their lands, beside their waters; and currently live on the lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation.”

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