WHAT IS AUSTRALIA and WHO ARE THE AUSTRALIANS?
On the 1st January 1901 Australia was created, not a piece of geography, but as a legal entity which had never existed before.
With Western Australia joining at the last minute five mainland and one Island Colony melded into a single indissoluble Nation. Also with Western Australia joining, at the eleventh hour, Australia also became an interesting geographic phenomena as the ONLY Nation that occupies a complete continent.
What else happened on the 1st January 1901? Five British Colonies which occupied the Australian Mainland CEASED to exist and the five Mainland Colonies and an Island Colony became STATES under the Constitution. Until that Date no Australian State had ever existed.
After Lt James Cook claimed to have discovered the East Coast of a Continent and claimed it for the British Crown by a questionable ceremony at Possession Island on the 22 August 1770 there were no further landings on the mysterious continent best referred to as the Great South Land. It was also known as Terra Australis Incognito but that title will only cause confusion.
Many mariners before Cook had landed on the West and North coasts and most probably on the South coast too. But for various reasons none had claimed the Territories officially. Most of these early landings were accidental and/or shipwrecks although Dirk Hartog’s landing seems deliberate. All these earlier landings approached the continent from the west rounding Cape of Good Hope through Portuguese (claimed) territory. Cook on the other hand approached from the east via Spanish (claimed) Territory rounding Cape Horn. Cook was possessed of charts that many other mariners were not, so I suspect he was even craftier than previously suspected.
So, let us look at Cook. Cook, a junior British Naval Officer renowned for meticulous mapping, was appointed to lead the “Transit of Venus” expedition ostensibly because the Admiralty was afraid that the previous leader was compromised by the Dutch. His observations of the transit were inconclusive so the urgency to return to Britain was absent. When he opened his secret orders and looked at the available charts he proceeded westward until reaching a coast we now call New Zealand on 6 October 1769. He spent the next six months charting the 2,400 miles of New Zealand coastline. Proving it to be islands and not the Great South Land he sailed westward reaching a new coast on 20 April 1770.
From this point it is advisable to disbelieve most of the official reports. Many reasons are set out in the book “Lying For The Admiralty” by Margaret Cameron-Ash. However, I suggest Cook kept two log books so from this point many of my opinions are conjecture. Cook was a master at reading ocean currents and he knew even before sighting land that there was a major seaway to south and that this was probably the route partly taken by Abel Tasman. He dispatched a junior crewman in a boat to the shoreline (I suspect to make a mark) recording the position as Point Hicks and giving quite inaccurate details (which were some 50 miles off the coast) and almost immediately headed North along the Coastline. His next landing was Botany Bay where he stayed about a week then proceeded northward up the coast, not charting any bays or harbours until he reached what is now Bustard Bay and the Town of 1770 in Queensland. As I spent a little time as Acting Lighthouse keeper at Bustard Point I am of the opinion he landed there and charted the location in the hope of luring enemy ships onto the rocks or finding an inhospitable location.
Cook’s next landing was not one of his choosing as he ran aground, and nearly lost the ship, near the mouth of the River he called the Endeavour River and the site of what is now Cooktown Qld. After about 6 weeks repairing his beached ship he sailed north to the tip of Cape York (where he did not land) then turned westward proving there was open water. Realising that this linked with the areas the Dutch had already mapped he put together the Ceremony of Possession Island. You may well ask why he made such a hurried voyage after landing in Botany Bay and not returning to his discovery during his other two Pacific voyages? I strongly believe that it was to keep his discoveries secret until the land could be settled. Britain was to fight two wars in the next 17 years to 1787 and they needed to keep the secret until they could secure possession by settlement..
Naming the first sighting after Lt Zachary Hicks was propitious as Hicks died on the voyage home (25 May 1771) and therefore could not be questioned. So the Great Southland turned out to be New Holland as charted by the Dutch connected to the east coast of New South Wales charted by Cook. The balance of the mythological continent was Antarctica, which was not discovered until a Russian Expedition led by Admiral Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen 27 January 1820.
There are enough publish details of the First Fleet and Settlement so I do not need to recount them here. The continent was only claimed to the 135th meridian as New South Wales on 9 February 1788 and the other Colonies (excluding various boundary changes) were proclaimed as follows:- Van Dieman’s Land 3 December 1825, Swan River 29 May 1829 proclaimed Western Australia 6 February 1832, Province of South Australia 19 February 1836, (Islands of New Zealand annexed to NSW 15June 1839, split 16 November 1840), North Australia 17 February 1846 merged back 28 December 1847, Victoria 1 July 1851, VDL became Tasmania 1 January 1856. Queensland 6 June 1859, SA 10 October 1861, NT to SA 6 July 1863, TS to Qld 21 July 1879, Australia 1 January 1901.
So we arrive at our present legal status of an Independent Nation, freed from the ultimate legal controls of the British Parliament by the Statute of Westminster 1931 and the Privy Council by the Australia Act 3 March 1986, and no longer a British dependency. A free, independent Constitutional Monarchy and proud member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
But what of the peopling of this Continent which wasn’t always this Continent? The Australia we know is less than 9,000 years old. It is actually the foothills and highlands of the Continent of Sahul which during the Big Melt of the last Ice Age became submerged to a depth of some 130 metres, forming Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait and other small islands, mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania. Sahul was never connected (during the life of humans) to the great land mass of Sundah (South East Asia) being separated by small islands and waterways. It has been suggested that these waterways were always at least 70km wide and that despite early humans inhabiting Sundah they never crossed into Sahul.
For the purposes of this paper I will use the “Out of Africa” single wave model of settlement (although I have grave doubts of its accuracy). So somewhere between 100,000 and 75,000 years ago a group of homo sapiens left Africa and proceeded along a coastal route via the Indian sub-continent and then by Island hopping reached the East Coast of Sundah. From there by means unknown they crossed the Java Trench and the Wallace line to arrive on the Sahul Continent, either by the Northern route to what will eventually become Papua New Guinea or the Southern Route to the Sahul coast which would eventually become the Kimberley. Having arrived on Sahul between 75.000 to 65,000 years ago they quickly circumnavigated the continent in about 1,500 years and settled in communities in locations approximated by the well publicised Aboriginal tribal map.
Assuming they did not interbreed with the communities (of species homo erectus) as they passed through on their way, they were Africans on the sub-continent and Africans when they arrived at Sundah so they must still have been Africans when they settled on Sahul. Assuming they were the first settlers as postulated by the “Out of Africa” theory then claiming and settling Sahul they could now be considered Sahulians. They were faced with many changes of sea level which would force them inland and then back onto the continental shelf as it rose from the waters but it was not until about 12,500 years ago that the settlers around Lake Carpenteria were threatened with inundation forcing them to the safety of north or south of the lake. Then about 8,500 years ago the sea levels had risen to about 15 metres of their current level dividing the Continents northern highlands into Papua New Guinea, the southern foothills and highlands into the mainland of Australia and the Island of Tasmania. The remnants of the northern landbridge peaks became the Torres Strait islands. So it was from about 8,500 years ago until February 1788 when the southern Sahulians living East of the 135 Meridian became the original inhabitants of New South Wales, sharing that colony with British Officials, Convicts, Marines, Seamen and a handful of Settlers.
At this point we arrive at a problem. The existing population had no apparent common language or system of government and lacked any form of writing, as a result we must resort to the English language with its terminology and meaning applicable to the times. Existing populations of new colonies were usually referred to as “natives” and in this instance the references to the Natives of NSW the term Aboriginal or Aborigine was applied. Nobody used the term Indigenous.
As the British Colony grew with Second and subsequent Fleets and inter breeding occurred the population divided into Aboriginal people, mixed race (don’t like the description), children of convicts and settlers born in the Colony and those born overseas.
Terminology of the times was Aborigines, locally born were called Currency Lads and Lassies and those born overseas were called Sterling, but all were British Subjects resident in the Colony of New South Wales. Yes it was snobbish, yes it was racist and yes it recognised the harsh reality of life.
As the other new Colonies formed the pattern and terminology was repeated up to 1 January 1901 when the former colonies became States. The Australian Constitution does not mention the word Indigenous at all but mentioned “Aboriginal” in Sect 51 (xxvi) which was amended removing the reference by 1967 referendum. It also had one reference to “Aborigines” not being counted in the Census in section 127 and this was wholly repealed in 1967. It is unfortunate that the Aboriginal community appropriated the term Indigenous unto itself and the Morrison Government created such a titled Department because it raises serious problems of classification and equity. If only people of Aboriginal heritage (without definition or limit) are indigenous then what are Australian citizens born in Australia now called, for they also fall within the actual definition of indigenous? If all non-Aboriginal people are non-indigenous how do you classify locally born, born overseas to Australian Citizens and Australian Citizens by the contract of Naturalisation? Further is it equitable to set up a Department for about 3% of the population when the overseas born Australian Citizens number 30% of the population. These are problems which will need to be addressed in the near future and the necessary discussions should not be hampered by provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act and imported activism.