Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Fleets

Before I shut things down here for the long retreat, thought I might tell you a little bit more about one of the "foundings" of Australia.

On May 13, 1787, Arthur Phillip of the British Royal Navy (right, from a plaque near our house in Pymble) set out with a fleet of eleven ships from England to Australia. The fleet, known today as “the First Fleet”, consisted of 160 marines and 729 convicts who together would form the first British colony in Australia. The trip took 7 months, and not a single ship was lost. Between the time it took and the vast distance they had to go, that fact alone is an astonishment.

On January 18th, 1788, the fleet landed just south of present day Sydney at Botany Bay (Star Trek fans take note: here's where Roddenberry et al. got the name and idea for the desert planet where Khan and his buddies were exiled).

That's not Seti Alpha Six!

After finding Botany Bay too sandy and shallow, the fleet moved slightly to the north, and settled there, at what is today the spectacular Sydney Harbor.

Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The Pacific is in the distance. (Click for bigger view.)

The city of Sydney was named after Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary (which meant at the time that he was in charge of domestic affairs). After the American colonies were lost, Townshend had been responsible for figuring out what to do with British convicts. He had chosen Phillip to begin a new colony in Australia for this purpose. It appears he also believed that sending the convicts away was not simply a sentence of lifelong exile, but an opportunity for them to rule themselves and redeem themselves – a philosophy Phillip would also espouse.

(Let's not forget, however, when we speak of convicts, usually we're not talking about hardened criminals. We're talking about petty thieves and hungry children arrested for stealing a crust of bread.)

Today the city’s denizens call themselves Sydneysiders.

And if you think traveling halfway around the world in boats – and making it – sounds incredible, consider the indigenous people of Australia. They, too, are not native to the continent. And there never was a time when Australia was connected to the rest of the land masses, so there never was any time when people could have walked into this world. No, when aboriginal people came here somewhere between 45000 and 60000 years ago, they, too, came by sea, probably from what today we call the Indonesian archipelago about 60 miles from Australia.

But here’s the thing – if they came by sea, even if it was just by accident, a raft blown 60 miles off course – still, they were traveling in boats of some kind, which puts them (says Bill Bryson) about 30000 years ahead of anybody else in the whole world.

And if it all happened just by accident, there had to be a whole bunch of accidents, not just one, because otherwise you wouldn't get sufficient people to begin and sustain a whole new civilization.

It's all sort of staggering, isn't it?

Sydney Harbor, filled with sailboats. Click for bigger view.


Tomorrow: So You Want to Know About the Spiritual Exercises