Reflections on a day that need not be one of acrimony

Reflections on a day that need not be one of acrimony

Australia was founded at the height of the 18th century Black Lives Matter movement.

Amid the annual hand wringing over Australia Day, facts inconvenient to what has become a dominant narrative are lost.

No one should paper over the blemishes of our past but equally we should not paper over the good.

The reality is the good far outweighs the bad (that is not a justification for bad).

With the best of intent towards the Aboriginal people, King George III gave clear instructions to Governor Arthur Philip to do no harm to the native people and to seek to peacefully coexist with them.

Critics will say that was a naive and even dishonest instruction given what establishing a colony on someone else’s land meant.

But it is equally naive and dishonest to assert that the 18th or 19th centuries would have afforded the First Nations people the opportunity to be left undisturbed, as Nick Cater wrote in yesterday’s Australian.

Few Australians realise that the French were eying Botany Bay and raced to beat the British.

Their two frigates, L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, laden with guns and soldiers arrived just days after the first fleet in what can only be described in the age of sail as a photo finish.

Compared to the British, history has proven the French to have been terrible colonisers - just ask the people of the Congo or Vietnam.

Australia was settled by the British at the height of the 18th century Black Lives Matter movement as a small band of despised evangelical Christians with limited political influence sought to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Before slavery was abolished, it was decreed that the institution would have no place in the new colony at Botany Bay, thanks to the influence of these Christians.

A town in the colony was even named after one of their leaders, William Wilberforce, the great human rights campaigner and parliamentarian.

People of colour had never had such an advocate in the halls of power and his work inspired Abraham Lincoln to fight American slavery.

When Lachlan Macquarie was appointed Governor in 1809, King George repeated his instructions about doing no harm to the natives.

Macquarie and the early settlers followed this as best they could. Sadly there was violence and murders due to misunderstandings on both sides.

But on the whole the intent was of good will, despite colonialism changing Aboriginal life forever.

Macquarie even held annual beef and beer “friendly gatherings” with the Aborigines as a gesture of goodwill. They were popular and well-attended, even after one of the worst outbreaks of violence.

As Nick Cater argues, we should all be thankful the British won the race to Botany Bay.

That same goodwill (even though imperfectly executed), would not have been shown by the French, history loudly suggests.

Macquarie’s vision for a nation, not a penal colony, has been now realised.

It was built on the foundations of the English Enlightenment, which unlike the French Enlightenment, did not junk the Christian religion and its ethic of love for one’s fellow man, regardless of race or class.

We can all be thankful for that. The real issue we face as we consider Australia Day 2022, is pressure from an aggressive secular elite to fully embrace the failed ideas of the French Enlightenment and the terrible revolution of 1789 that it spawned, just one year after the seeds for today’s Australia were being planted in old Sydney town.

Ideas have consequences and our wonderful nation, despite its well-intentioned but sometimes misguided treatment of the indigenous people, is the fruit of the good ideas dominating British political discourse at the time.

Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign was piercing the consciences of British people at the time of Australia’s founding.

His promotion of the Christian idea that the black man (and in those days the generic term ‘man’ was inclusive of women) was “a man and a brother” profoundly influenced Macquarie and many of the early settlers.

We have done our best to correct the mistakes of the past and of course there is more work to do.

But we need more focus on these foundational ideas, which were radical at the time, as we seek to build a better Australia for everyone who lives here, indigenous and immigrant.

Lyle Shelton is Director of Campaigns and Communications for the Christian Democratic Party. To keep in touch with Lyle and the CDP, sign up here.