On the 13th of May, 1787, about 1500 people (mostly “criminals”) and 11 ships under the command of Arthur Phillip set sail from Plymouth, England, to establish a penal colony in Botany Bay, Terra Australis, the Great Southern Land.
The human beings involved in this were mostly people who wished to be back home in England. As is clear the words of the song, “Botany Bay“.:
“The captain that is our commander
He sails by the stars and the sun
If e’er well I live I’ll return again
To me darling sweet kisses I’d run.
If I had the wings of a turtle dove
I’d soar on me pinions and fly
I’d fly to the arms of me Polly love
And in her sweet bosom I’d lie.”
This song was born in burlesque at the Gaiety Theatre, London, in 1885, but quickly found its way to Melbourne, Australia, in 1886.
It lives as a folk classic in the hearts of very many Australians.
I remember how much I loved singing the chorus, as best I could, perhaps from the back seat of the car, with my dad in the driver’s seat in front, when I was a little kid.
Australia, a nation born as a penal colony, is now the home to massive human rights abuses and to police forces which trash the rights of some citizens but not others.
The nation of my birth.
Where I could try to sing with my father.
I dont know it anymore.
With sadness almost beyond belief.
Just like those transported here.
So many years ago.
Geoff Fox, 13th May, 2023, Down Under