Attitude to convicts (1937)
Another historic newspaper report, this time in response to the Celebration Committee’s plans for the 150-year anniversary celebrations of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. The Committee decided that for the re-enactment of the landing, and the subsequent parade of floats, there would be no convicts!
THEY PLAYED THEIR PART.
The Celebrations Committee has …decided to ban the birthstain, so far as next year’s pageantry is concerned. No convicts will disembark at Farm Cove, nor in the subsequent procession will there be the slightest reminder that there would have been no Landing except for the need to find a new home for Britain’s surplus prison population. This impressive feat in the bowdlerisation of history has been greeted with varying degrees of derision by correspondent s of the “Herald” and others. Mr. H. J Rumsey, who has boldly called his roll-call of the First Fleet “The Pioneers of Sydney Cove,” suggests that the representation of the settlement without mention of the two thirds who involuntarily participated in it is comparable to the story of Hamlet without the Prince.
…”Conspicuous by their absence,” indeed, will be the “true patriots” who, if they left their country for their country’s good, did a vast amount of good work in the land of their enforced adoption. By discreetly leaving this family skeleton in the cupboard the committee has ensured its attendance at the feast.
…The morals of some of the convicts were in as poor case as their garments. No amount of sentimental whitewashing, by way of reaction to the excessive fastidiousness of the Celebrations Committee can disguise the fact that the convict pioneers included a number of “complete villains,” as even Phillip, who was a humane man for his times and wished to befriend his charges, was forced to admit.
…He [Phillip] pronounced the great body of them “quiet and contented,” and Hunter was able to say in 1812 that “there are many men who have been convicts, and are now settlers, who are as respectable as any people who have gone from this country.” It is a curious commentary on the present ban that convicts were permitted to join in public celebrations from the earliest times, and themselves staged a dramatic performance as early as 1789;
…The truth is that, not merely was Australia founded on account of the convicts, but that it would have made scant progress in its first 50 years without them. We have, perhaps, more to be ashamed of in our treatment of the aborigines, some of whose pathetic remnants, will stage a corroboree at Farm Cove, than of the penal origins of our country. The brutal transportation system reflected at least as much discredit upon its authors and some of its operators as upon the majority of its victims. It belongs to the old unhappy, far-off things of another age. Yet, as Dr. John Dunmore Lang, whose words are recalled by a correspondent today, wrote in 1875, it is a great historical fact which cannot be ignored. The effort to do so is likely to provoke more ridicule than a candid recognition of circumstances, which, so far from being discreditable to Australia, emphasise the magnitude of our achievement in building up a vigorous, independent, and freedom-loving nation from such unlikely beginnings at Sydney Cove. It would be the poorest sort of snobbery to deny that many men and women who were brought to this country under degrading conditions rose superior to their misdoings and misfortunes, and played their part in laying the foundations of the Commonwealth.
THEY PLAYED THEIR PART. (1937, December 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17435749