Celebrating Australian National Day, 2019: Putting History Into Perspective


By Robbin Laird

The slideshow contained in this article shows the formal celebration of Australian National Day held on the 26thof January.

The day marks the arrival of the first fleet to Australia.

The day honors the arrival of the British first fleet in Botany Bay on January 24, 1788.

The trip was an amazing one for the times, and the voyagers traversed the world’s oceans in a trip of the sort 21stcentury man cannot really fathom.

The seamanship and the courage of the captain, the crew and the voyagers was unprecedented for the age.

In his magisterial look at the first fleet, the noted Australian maritime historian Rob Mundle has provided a sense of the epic adventure, its risks and its accomplishments.

And in today’s atmosphere of the denigration of historical achievements or the effort to create politically correct history, the tale of the First Fleet can be clearly minimized or degraded as an “invasion” force.

“Eleven vessels carrying some 1400 people had crossed more than 17,000 nautical miles of ocean, much of that distance through hostile and little-known waters.

“The duration of the passage was 252 days, and while there had been loss of life, the death toll (which was never recorded with great accuracy) could be considered extraordinarily low for the era – around 3 per cent of the total number.”

Mundle later added about the landing at Botany Bay:

“By midday, the felling of trees and the clearing of undergrowth were sufficiently advanced for Arthur Phillip to undertake his first formal event as governor on this foreign shore. The Union Jack had been flying since early morning, probably from the branch of a tree; now, for what would have to pass as the inauguration of New South Wales as an occupied territory of Great Britain, the marines assembled around the flag, while the governor and his officers stood to one side of it and the convicts on the other.

“King wrote of an event that was conducted with all possible pomp and ceremony: ‘His Majesty whose health, with the Queens, Prince of Wales & Success to the Colony was drank, a feu de joie [rifle salute] was fired by the party of Marines & ye whole gave 3 Cheers which was returned by the Supply …’

“The true historical significance of this ceremony could never have been appreciated by those present. It was the founding moment for Australia.

“No nation before then or since has been so informally born from a settlement that had been established to hold convicts in exile.”

I attended an exhibit at the British Library last year which highlighted the Captain Cook voyages and contained a wealth of material highlighting the voyages, the challenges, the achievement and the exploration of unknown worlds to Europeans and to many of the inhabitants of the Pacific region as well.

But as one went through the exhibit, there were a number of videos ensuring that the visitor understood that the Cook team should really not have showed up because of the “invasion” they were undertaking in the world of the native peoples.

And on Australia’s National Day there were protestors to be found who certainly resonated with this belief that Cook and the British should simply have not shown up.

Protestor puts up her sign in protest. Credit Photo: ABC News. Gemma Hall

Of course, this misses the whole point of human history, which is travel, invention, conflict, destruction, and domination and deliverance.

There are stubborn historical realities and facts, which nations and peoples need to address, the good, the bad and the ugly.

When celebrating historical events, there are no moments of pure progress.

And rejecting one’s history is even more damaging that accepting it and moving forward always remembering that human history is not a continuous march towards progress but always a struggle.

An American writer recently focused on what he sees as the impact of the destruction of history in the United States to serve contemporary advocates of whatever position they might hold.

“It is no coincidence that those most driven to disparage their country’s history are also those most hostile to liberty.

“Progressive thinking is reflexively autocratic, seeking to broaden and deepen government and bureaucratic control over daily life.  That is why it is hostile to history, which undermines its.

“Every authoritarian system has to rewrite the past.”

And in remembrance on Australia day of the unique and valued relationship between Aussies and Americans, see the following Australian TV clip shot during the Iraq War.