Australians are an inventive lot. The nation's past is punctuated
with major innovations and scientific achievements from expatriates
and native born Australians, few of whom are well known, and
some of whom are frequently identified with other nations.
But before applauding the inventiveness of European settlers
in Terra Australis, it is fitting to recognise and give due
respect to the ingenuity of the original inhabitants of the
island continent, who for many thousands of years, lived in
harmony with nature in their land. Their acute understanding
of natural bush medicines and an inherent ability to survive
in harsh conditions with seemingly simple tools, was a major
achievement in itself.
At the time of their settlement, some 50,000 years ago, Aborigines
were the most technologically advanced people in the world.
Their best known tool, the boomerang, is not however unique
to Australia. Similar curved throwing sticks were later developed
quite independently by Egyptians, Hopi Indians of Arizona
and by some tribes in Africa. This versatile old hunting tool
was used to bring down fleeing game or adversaries in battle.
Most were sharp and heavy, weighing between 1 and 2 kilograms,
and were not designed to come back. Returning boomerangs were
used for recreation and to scare birds into the open where
they could be struck down with hunting boomerangs.
The woomera is another ingenious ancient implement used by
Aborigines, primarily as a spear thrower. Woomeras were sometimes
fitted with a stone cutting tool and also used as an axe.
The multi-purpose pitchi - a long flat basket-like container
carved from wood - could be used for carrying food, water
and sometimes children.
With more than 200 languages, 600 dialects, and no written
language, Aborigines devised a method of communicating using
message sticks. Rather than carry an entire message, the carved
sticks were used by the carrier to remember the message and
sometimes used merely to show that the message was genuine.
Simple in their design and construction, these were highly
functional tools for a society of nomad peoples with a deep
spiritual link with their land, living in harmony and as an
integral part of their environment.
With its unique fauna and flora, this was a wonderful place
to discover, and inspired some very famous European explorers.
One of the first visitors to make a name for himself was botanist
Sir Joseph Banks, who arrived on board the Endeavour in April
1770, when Captain James Cook took possession of Terra Australis
at Botany Bay for King George III and called it New South
Wales. Banks became famous with his unusual specimens on his
return to London.
For early settlers however, this was a harsh and unconquered
land that required taming. A land where everything was new
and nothing resembled anything from home. Coming from a green
and pleasant land with permanently flowing rivers without
major variations between summer and winter flows, the first
settlers were unaccustomed to droughts, arid regions and salinity
of streams. Not realising at first that this was a very different
land, their values and expectations were at odds with their
environment. By European standards, rivers were small, and
the country was vast. There were large areas of desert and
many salt lakes, and some promising soils turned out to be
saline, or impervious to water. The unbearable high summer
temperatures caused water reserves in ponds and dams to evaporate
faster than they had ever experienced.
The settlers learned about their strange and often hostile
environment by painful experience. Within a few years of the
first settlement, floods and droughts caused major problems
for the new inhabitants. Through improvisation, toil and sheer
determination, they overcame their hardships and carved a
living out of their uncompromising new land.
Inevitably, much of the colony's first achievements are attributable
to expatriate settlers from other lands. Many of the first
achievers were convicts, often referred to as 'government
men' who laboured for the government or were assigned to work
for a free settler. Of the 1,485 people of the First Fleet
that sailed into Botany Bay in January 1788, 770 were convicts.
Among them was a man called Bloodsworth, an English brickmaker
who made use of the brickmaking equipment brought on the voyage
and became the colony's first brick maker.
James Squire, who also arrived with the First Fleet, saw
the need to quench the colonial thirst, and became the colony's
first brewer in 1790. Another convict, James Wilkinson, produced
a 5 metre wide mill wheel, propelled by two other convicts
walking inside it, and became one of the colony's earliest
millwrights. Among the officers of the First Fleet was Lieutenant
William Dawes, who set up an observatory and became the colony's
first weatherman. Later, Captain Theodore Henry Alt of the
Royal Engineers became the new settlement's first engineer
and surveyor, and set about the task of laying out the town
of Sydney under the direction of the colony's first Governor,
Captain Arthur Phillip.
Some visitors and expatriate settlers, made long lasting
changes to the new found land, without even realising it.
The name 'Australia' was first officially used by Governor
Lachlan Macquarie in December 1817. It was suggested by English
explorer Matthew Flinders three years earlier in his book,
Account of a Voyage to Terra Australis, because he
thought it was 'more agreeable to the ear and an assimilation
to the name of other great portions of the earth.' Flinders
died on the day his book was published and never saw the name
'Australia' in print.
The Australian national anthem, Advance Australia Fair,
was composed by Scottish songwriter Peter Dodds McCormick.
It was first performed in Sydney on St Andrew's Day on 30
November 1878. But it was not until 19 April 1984 that it
replaced God Save the Queen as the national anthem.
From the moment of their arrival, the new Australians were
at a technological disadvantage to their relatives in the
northern hemisphere. Travel and therefore exposure to new
ideas and developments was difficult and time consuming. Isolated
from the rest of the world, particularly before the turn of
the century, Australians were dependent on their own resources
and showed extraordinary ingenuity and inventiveness, both
in adapting and improving imported technologies. Although
early technology was largely derived from Europe, it was often
skilfully adapted to local needs. The spirit of adaptation
and improvisation that ensured the survival of the first settlement,
has persisted to this day.
The establishment of sustainable agriculture and an effective
transport system, were the two most important objectives for
the settlers from Britain.
Due to an unresolved dispute
with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade),
who copied and adopted as their own certain material from
Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published
the material in their Australia Open for Business website,
without remorse or recompense, access
by Australian Government servers to this online edition
has been blocked indefinitely.