A Draft written by Viv Forbes for John Singleton For an address of welcome to Endeavour II, Sydney Cove, 2000.
Note from Viv Forbes: I have no idea whether John Singleton ever used these words.
We are here today, like so many Australians before us, to gawk at yet another load of strangers arriving in wondrous vessels from distant lands.
While Europeans were still living in caves, dressed in animal furs, the first boat people arrived here in log canoes at least 40,000 years ago. They found a land of plenty, populated by mobs of giant birds and marsupials, trusting and tasty, which they proceeded to slap on their barbeque fires. A few of these fires got away, and this proved such a useful hunting aid that the firestick became one of their main tools. Without bothering to get Environmental Approvals from anyone, these first boat people remade Australia ‑ they ate the slowest marsupials and changed the landscape into one that could survive the annual bushfires.
But the first Aussies did not get it easy. More waves of boaties arrived, some friendly some not. Bands became tribes and, like men everywhere, started to fight over territory. Winners left their marks on cave walls and losers disappeared quietly, or fled south to cold unattractive places like Melbourne and Tasmania.
About 3,500 years ago, one lot of boat people brought a stowaway destined to make his mark on Australia. The dingo had arrived. He proceeded to dispose of any slow marsupials that had survived the spears, boomerangs and bushfires.
Then these shores started to see the first tall sails on the horizon. Nosey mariners from Portugal, Spain, Holland and Britain saw the smoke haze over Australia. Some landed and decided that the place was barren and the natives were backward. Others saw a wondrous land with endless plains of grass, strange animals, trees full of parrots and relaxed contented nomads who paid no taxes and spent their lives hunting, eating, sleeping and chasing women ‑ undoubtedly with a higher standard of living than those back in their cold hungry homelands.
Then came the greatest mariner and navigator of them all, James Cook, an ex collier captain from the North Sea. He was sent to find the great southern continent. Instead he found New Zealand and Hawaii, and eventually stumbled on the Great Barrier Reef as it poked through the keel of The Endeavour into his cabin.
From this moment on, the big island became part of the known world and the destiny of the boat people depended on events overseas.
For example, the defeat of the Red Coats by a bunch of undisciplined American coon shooters forced Britain to find another penal colony. An invasion fleet of soldiers in funny red clothes and convicts in rags arrived here in 1788. They were watched with mixed feelings by the locals. Like the observers of all previous invasions of boaties, had they known what was in store, they would have met the newcomers in the breakers with a wave of spears and boomerangs.
The local hunters were happy with some of the newcomers and quickly developed a taste for the slow and stupid woolly jumbucks. The dingos also loved the bunnies that arrived on another boat. But the rabbit invaders multiplied and pushed aside both the sheep and the marsupials. So another boat brought foxes which, instead of cleaning up the bunnies, developed a liking for lambs, chooks and bilbies. More boats came and more local people, animals and plants were displaced.
None of us here today is responsible for the sins of our ancestors. Our differences are skin deep. Black, white or yellow, we are all descended from boatie invaders. We all started as timid strangers in a strange land, but soon became possessive landlords determined to control “our land”. We must bury past hatreds, erase all legal distinctions between all the boaties of Australia, get rid of all racially based legislation, hand over freehold title to all current landholders, black and white, and get on with life. Not “sometime” ‑ tomorrow, cold turkey.
The alternative is to squabble among ourselves, trying to freeze or rewind the video of history. In this case it will be our destiny to be replaced by some future boat load of more cohesive and competitive invaders.
Most generations fail to learn from history. Australia’s history is one of continuous invasions by aggressive boat people with new weapons, animals and germs.
I have learned from history, so my message to this latest load of boaties in Endeavour II is: “Push off mateys, we were here first”.
28 May 2000