Give your newer sisters and brothers-in-WordPress one piece of advice based on your experiences blogging.
I’ve been here about four years now (Good heavens! As long as that?) and the best advice I can give you is that I’m the last person you should ask for advice, given I still drift along in happy blogging obscurity which isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
And to prove the point, I shall now post something that won’t be of much interest anyone here, but I’ll enjoy writing it and any comments will come as a delightful bonus.
It’s Jan 26 in Australia now, and that makes it Australia Day. And since I like being Australian, I thought I’d have a word or two on the subject.
We’ve been called the Lucky Country, and so we are in many ways. We may be subject to droughts, flooding rains, horrendous bushfires and a cyclone or two, but we’re spared the blizzards, tornados, tsunamis and earthquakes that devastate other countries, and we’ve been blessed with a good load of mineral resources and enough arable land to feed ourselves. We’re also far enough away from anywhere else to make the logistics of a full-scale invasion a bit daunting, and we’re not globally powerful enough to be much of a threat to anyone.
But there are no free lunches in this world, and red Porsches don’t fall from the sky: luck will only take you so far. Australia is also founded on hard work, rebellious irreverence and sheer bloody-minded determination.
When Captain Cook raised the Union Jack at Botany Bay in 1770 and named the place New South Wales, it wasn’t in the spirit of ‘Whoopee, here’s treasure trove’, but more along the lines of ‘Let’s get in first so no one else can have it’. And that might have been that had the British government not discovered the pressing need for a new penal colony. British gaols were woefully overcrowded, and the American War of Independence had put paid to any further human exports in that direction. The fact that Cook’s piece of dirt was eight months’ sail away and totally unknown was immaterial in this hour of need, and besides, those who had stolen horses or loaves of bread clearly deserved to be launched into the blue to return or not as Fate decreed.
So in May 1787, the First Fleet left Portsmouth carrying 756 convicts and 550 officers, marines and ships’ crew and their families in six convict ships, three supply ships and two naval vessels. The Fleet’s commander was Captain Arthur Phillip and their destination was Botany Bay. In the event, Phillip was unimpressed by Cook’s choice (there was no fresh water) and sailed further north to plant the flag and unload the survivors at Sydney Cove in January 1788.
The treatment of Australia’s indigenous people following European settlement is a blot on Australia’s history that will never be erased, and nor should it be. The fact that it was the result of profound ignorance and the prevailing attitude of the times – European treatment of indigenous Americans was similar – may constitute a reason, but is not an acceptable excuse.
At the same time, conditions for the first British settlers were grim beyond belief – and well beyond the imagination of a government happily uncontactable in London: 1300 people dumped in the middle of virgin bush as unlike an English forest as you could hope to get, with no shelter from the relentless heat and January rain, and a meagre supply of poor quality tools not up to the job of constructing them. They had no concept of living off the land – particularly a land full of animals they’d never seen and creepy-crawlies that might be harmless, but who knew? But very few convicts had the vaguest idea about farming, either, particularly in the alien climate and poor soil of Sydney Cove. By the time the second fleet arrived more than two years later, convicts and free settlers alike were dressed in rags and close to starvation. See ‘sheer bloody-minded determination’ above.
The early history of NSW is a mixture of mismanagement, brutality and sheer heroism. Convicts outnumbered free settlers for many decades, and while successive governors generally did their best to retain some humanity in this outpost of Empire, the military appropriated increasing power and convicts who raised their heads ran the risk of having them blown off. Each bid to expand the colony’s boundaries involved intrepid expeditions into dense and trackless bush through mountains seamed with hidden gorges and escarpments, and many explorers simply failed to return. Early settlers beyond the relative safety of Sydney Cove took with them courage and endurance and little else.
The fact that the colony survived is a tribute to the tenacity of its inhabitants, and despite the 200-odd years that have elapsed since then, these are the events that shaped us and still colour our national character, perhaps best defined in our sense of humour: dry, cynical, irreverent, and a mystery to most of the rest of the world.
So don’t be fooled. We may appear to be a lazy lot too laid-back to bother about, but we didn’t survive by giving up or allowing ourselves to be walked on, and we’re still infinitely resourceful – which has been known to come as a bit of shock to those thinking they can pull a swiftie and the dumb Aussies will be none the wiser.
And we also have an invaluable card up our sleeves: I’m pretty sure we know more about you than you know about us.