Many of the activists decrying the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January seem to be historically illiterate. They vilify Captain James Cook, implying that Cook was somehow responsible for the British settlement of Australia. They seem to confuse Cook’s discovery of Australia in 1770 when he mapped Australia’s east coast with the later settlement of Australia which was initiated by the landing of the First Fleet in 1788.
In fact Cook never advocated for the settlement of Australia. It was probably the gentleman scientist Sir Joseph Banks who travelled with Cook on the Endeavour on his 1770 expedition that encouraged the British Government to consider colonising this newly discovered (at least to the British) land. He gave evidence to a House of Commons Committee suggesting that New South Wales might serve as a penal colony. This was in 1779, three years after the Americans had declared independence putting an end to convict transportation to those colonies.
Cook in his journals had been rather unflattering in his descriptions of Australia. Yet in the subsequent plan submitted to the government it was now imagined as a place with potential. The report found that of all the recently discovered lands “which know no sovereign there was none more inviting than New South Wales”.
It was argued that New South Wales “would be a very proper region for the reception of criminals”. Convicts would not be sold in servitude, or left to languish, but given an opportunity to reform through hard work and the possession of land.
Royal agreement was subsequently obtained for vessels to be fitted and supplied to convey 750 convicts to Botany Bay. On 25 April 1787, Arthur Philip received his instructions as Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales. The fleet sailed on 13 May 1787 and arrived in Botany Bay some eight months later. But despite Banks’s flattering description of that place it was soon determined to be unsuitable for permanent settlement. Philip decided to explore the harbour to the north and found it to his liking.
On 26 January 1788 the First Fleet dropped anchor at what would soon be called Sydney Cove. It is the anniversary of this event that we now celebrate as Australia Day.
Now as Australia Day approaches for another year we are hearing the usual complaints from indigenous activists and their fellow travellers of how offended they are by this initial settlement by the British and how their sensibilities seem to be violated by this horrendous affront to indigenous people. I believe their protestations are laughable.
To begin with it was inevitable that Australia would be colonised. Many European countries were searching the world seeking to set up colonies in the late eighteenth century. The Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Germans among others were all seeking opportunities for colonial expansion. It might rationally be argued that Australia was fortunate to be colonised by Britain with its commitment to democracy, the rule of law and support of the notion of individual freedom.
Secondly the contention that Britain “invaded” Australia has no real merit.
The First Fleet was a fleet of 11 British ships that took the first British colonists and convicts to Australia. It comprised two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships and six convict transports. The fleet carried some 750 convicts, 550 crew, soldiers and family members. That hardly warrants the title of an invasion force. Their role was to establish a self-supporting penal colony. It would be a stretch of the imagination to say this constituted an invasion.
The fledgling colony had to endure many trials and tribulations including the real threat of starvation before the citizens learnt how to raise crops and livestock in an environment vastly different from what they were used to.
But the critics of Australia Day are not at all interested in how the colonising population fared, but what the impact on the indigenous population was.
Colonisation was the precursor to the modernisation of Australia. It gave us access to the benefits of modern technology and to the creation of wealth by participating in liberal capitalism.
Despite the fancies of Bruce Pascoe, the indigenous population prior to British settlement had little technology to speak of. Their technology peaked with the construction of boomerangs, woomeras, didgeridoos and bark canoes.
Perhaps initially British settlement at Sydney Cove brought few benefits to indigenous people. But it is undeniable that today, all Australians, including indigenous Australians, are beneficiaries of the British settlement of Australia and its ensuing influence on our economy, our health services, our education and the rule of law.
Each year we see more people with indigenous inheritance graduating from our universities, taking up responsible roles in industry and government and distinguishing themselves as responsible citizens.
The indigenous population of Australia is growing faster than the population generally (even allowing for the fact that more people are seeking to identify as indigenous). Moreover those indigenous people who have chosen to integrate into the Australian society at large have similar health and education outcomes to the rest of us.
But there remains at the margin a significant group of indigenous people with poor economic, social, health and educational outcomes. These are largely indigenous people who have disengaged with European society, pay scant respect for its laws, social mores and conventions. They want the benefits of modern western society without actively participating in that society.
In some respect it is a misnomer to call these people indigenous Australians because whilst they might be indigenous they haven’t joined the rest of us in the “Australia” project. They are Australian only in the sense that they live in the same country as the rest of us.
Now whilst it is somewhat tragic that these people don’t seem to want to be a part of what might be generally regarded as a successful society that brings considerable benefits to its participants they are aided and abetted by another group that seemingly has more sinister motives.
There is an influential coterie of people on the left side of politics that maintain Australia is an irredeemably racist country. They would have us believe that non-indigenous Australians constitute a permanent oppressor class and the only way the country can be saved is by the performance of elaborate guilt rituals and the wholesale overturning of traditional values.
This movement has successfully infiltrated our schools and universities and government departments. In their determination to make us feel guilty they have reinterpreted our history to encourage us to feel shame for our heritage rather than pride. Whereas in my youth we learnt that our history was one of discovery, development and progress, our children are now taught that it is instead one of dispossession, subjugation and blatant racism.
It is not surprising that these anti-Western activists, disciples of the socialist Herbert Marcuse and the purveyors of such polemical tripe as critical race theory, have seized upon the denigration of the celebration of Australia Day as a vehicle to promote their miserable cause.
Unfortunately these leftist cultural warriors are allowed to dominate. The majority of us stay silent as they make their demands and voice their opinions. The Voice referendum showed us that they are not a majority. Yet it is their voices that are influential in determining our social and political responses to many of the issues of the day.
It is time ordinary Australians stood up to their bullying and false morality and reaffirmed our support of traditional values. We don’t need to be ashamed of our history. Whilst we should acknowledge we have made some mistakes along the way, we live in a great country and it is more than appropriate we celebrate Australia Day.