The tradition of noticing 26 January began early in the nineteenth century with Sydney almanacs referring to First Landing Day or Foundation Day. That was the day in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships from Great Britain and the first governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove. The raising of the Union Jack there symbolised British occupation of the eastern half of the continent claimed by Captain James Cook on 22 August in 1770.
Some immigrants who prospered in Sydney, especially those who had been convicts or the sons of convicts, began marking the colony’s beginnings with an anniversary dinner – ‘an emancipist festival’ to celebrate their love of the land they lived in. Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the emancipists’ friend, made the thirtieth anniversary of the day in 1818 a public holiday, thirty guns counting out the years of British civilization, a tradition Macquarie’s successors continued. Beginnings, Australia Day.
But what of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples? They were already here. They already had a history. They already had an economic, trade and land care system operating. They recycled, they practised sustainability and they lived within their means. They already had a life that we promptly destroyed….including taking their children away once they had any non Indigenous blood in them.
I am sorry. I am deeply sorry. I recognise that Phillip and his first fleet conquered and pillaged. I recognise that Australia Day is not a day of celebration for Aboriginal Australia. I recognise that Australia Day is a white story.
In my recent wanderings around Cape York Peninsula, I had the privilege of sharing story telling with a group of Aboriginal children. They were fantastic story tellers and enthralled me with their spirit tales and understanding of culture and dream time.
Here’s an Australian story I made up (2010). It is NOT a dream time story. It is a white woman’s practice in creative fiction with a dream-time theme: The Painted Men.
A long time ago before the mountains had been properly grown up, the painted men and the Quinkins would fight over the women. The Quinkins wanted the women back in the spirit world but the women were the wives and sisters of the Painted Men, the Yadingi, the people, of the Nagemgingga world. The Yadingi wanted the keep the women because the women collected the rocks, ground them up and made paint for the men to record the stories in the stone libraries.
The Yadinji came up with a clever plan. They would compete with the Quinkin. They would have a painting contest. The Nagemgingga were good painters. They painted the world and what the world meant so that those after them could learn from the ways of the elders.
Messadonga, King of the Nagemgingga, met with the spirit Quinkin. They made up a rule that Messadonga could pick the rules of the competition. The Quinkin thought they were smart because they were of the spirit world. The Quinkin forgot that the Painted Men had the cave paintings of the Painted Men before them to learn what the Quinkin feared.
Messadonga spoke with the Quinkins. “You fella leave our women in our world. You fella gotta paint to win our women before they go long time your world. You fella gotta paint that ocean. You fella got to paint the ocean with all them colour of the land.”
The Quinkin accepted the duel because they too had a cunning plan. The Quinkin were terrified of the Ocean World. The crocodiles and the sharks were from Quinkin’s exiled from the spirit world and them Quinkin fish were still big time mad at Quinkin. Them crocodile and shark snapped Quinkin spirit in half like they were nothing.
The Quinkin planned to build a sand fish trap on the beach. When the tide came in and captured the fish, the Quinkin would paint the fish and send them back out to spread their paint over the entire ocean world.
The Messadonga got their canoes and went out, far out on the water. Their women, confident that their men would return, waded out into the water, up to their waists and sang and waved the men to victory. The Quinkin looked on, jealous that they couldn’t go out and rape the women in the water in front of the now far away Yadingi.
As the Yadingi reached a spot of spiritual calling, they dropped six different paint sacks into the water. The fish nibbled at the sacks and set the paint free, free to settle into the pores of the growing coral.
The coral welcomed the paint and listened to the story about the Quinkin wanting to steal away the women of Nagemgingga. The coral, who loved the sound of the women’s song, made a barrier, a barrier of protection to tell the Quinkin that all women inside that Barrier, belonged to the painted men.
As the coral grew itself, the paint blended and took on new colours, new textures and new blooms. It was a beautiful sight to behold as the paint covered the barrier and made it look like the opal rocks that dessert Yadingi traded. The paint and the coral made the most fantastic picture that went for miles and miles and could be seen from the moon and the stars. It was a great barrier, a Great Barrier Reef of protection.
Concerned about the fish and the bad magic of the Quinkin, Messadonga worked with the reef to tell all the sharks and crocodiles about the Quinkin plan. The Great Barrier Reef called every living sea creature to itself and offered them new colour if they would stay and help create a magical under water picture of beauty. The sea creatures accepted.
In the mean time, the crocodile and sharks swam to shore. They swam into the fish traps made by the Quinkin and ate the Quinkin as soon as Quinkin checked their catch.
That is how the painted men told the story of why they no longer fight over women.
Megan Bayliss Copyright 2010.