Revisiting Australian History: ‘The Colony’, ‘People of the River’, ‘A History of Aboriginal Illawarra Vols 1 & 2’ and ‘The Story of Djeebahn/Deeban’

Karskens, G.  People of the River:  Lost worlds of early Australia.  Australia, Allen & Unwin, 2020

I had carried out, what I considered to be at the time, extensive research of colonial Australian history over 20 years ago when I embarked on our family history.[1]  Last year I had reached the moment in the story when my First Fleet convict ancestors, Elizabeth Pulley and Anthony Rope, were on the verge of moving out to the Nepean-Hawkesbury rivers (Dyarubbin).

Simultaneously, through various articles, documentaries and networks, I was introduced to the work of Emeritus Professor of History Grace Karskens, who had uncovered old diaries written by Reverend McGarvie in 1829 with Dharug and Darkinyung place-names and words[2] and was working with local Dharug peoples to bring the information to the attention of the Australian public.

One of the outcomes of that research and collaboration was ‘People of the River’.[3]  Intrigued I decided it was time to update my research and bought the book. 

Karskens presentation of the history of Dyarubbin is broad and meticulously researched – covering the environmental and human pre-colonial history of the area in deep time and evidence of cultural and agricultural life, as well as the complex and uneasy story of the arrival of the British and other settlers and what eventuated. 

What differs from other Australian history records I’ve read is the way in which she attempts to view and write about these events from multiple perspectives – that of the Original Inhabitants and landholders, that of the ex-convicts and convicts who began arriving in the area from 1794, and that of the free settlers and wealthy, identifying their names where known – and how change was a constant for everyone as the Fleets continued to arrive.

In addition she does not avoid confronting and detailing the conflicts, wars and massacres that exploded along the river between the Aboriginal families, clans and nations and the new arrivals: naming players and places (giving the original Indigenous name where known), identifying where the triggers and orders originated, and unravelling where possible the intricate web of cause, effect and motivation.

So pleased I purchase the book.  So much more had been uncovered than I expected and knew.  It was enlightening.  I decided to buy ‘The Colony’ as well.

Karskens, G.  The Colony: A History of Early Sydney.  Australia, Allen & Unwin, (2009) 2010

This is the first published of the two works and sets the style for the later People of the River.  Beginning with the deep time history of the environment and the Original Peoples and their cultural expression and life around Sydney/Warrane[4] it continues, as would be expected, with the temporary arrival of Captain Cook in 1770, and then the permanent arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 – the berewalgal (people from far away or across the sea).

The pre-Dyarubbin story of colonisation/invasion is forensically examined.  As the story unfolds and the settlement begins to expand there is general overlap in the two books but not in detail.  The different ways in which the material has been thematically organised, and the amount of information gathered during the research has meant that it has been possible for similar stories to be told from different perspectives, emphases and with different minor characters in play.  Much to learn and understand.

What I especially love about The Colony is that it also names and includes the stories of a number of First Nations peoples who were known to the British and had survived the smallpox and influenza epidemics, conflicts, wars, massacres and had found ways to live around the British.  I can’t say ‘with’ the British because we were always viewed, and still are, as intruders on land that belongs to them.[5]  Perhaps ‘in spite of’ is a more appropriate phrase.  Their names keep popping up throughout the book.  So many names of First Nations peoples around Sydney Cove/Warrane and the Sydney basin/Dharug country that were known and I have never heard of.  These people have been ignored and forgotten in the white-colonial focus of Australian history previously written and taught in school when I was growing up.[6]  So much of a gap.  Unforgivable.  I hope it is changing.

Having begun this journey I decided to also follow up and learn more of the history of Dharawal country, where I spent my childhood.

Donaldson, M., Bursill, L., Jacobs, M. A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 1 – Before Colonisation. Australia, Dharawal Publications, 2016.

I loved reading this book and came away with deep regret that I had never been taught this when I did my schooling on Dharawal country, and how rich and meaningful it could have been to have been introduced to Dharawal and Dhurga culture and life.  How our dad would have also loved to have known this deep history in our backyard.

Written by Dharawal academics and educators it covers,

Dreaming and the Law 

Land, Forests






Power and Healing

People of the Sea

Crossing borders (trade and sharing ceremony across clans and nations) 

Our future

In the last chapter, Our Future, they write:

“Over 1,000 generations Dhurga and Dharawal Elders and their forbearers have maintained Illawarra, and they have good reason to be proud of their achievements. Illawarra’s Aboriginal population roughly equals its pre-invasion peak and Dhurga and Dharawal culture continues to gather strength.” (p. 27)

Bursill, L.  The Story of Djeebahn/Deeban: The Bay of Orcas and the Creation Serpent. Australia, Dharawal Publications, (2012), 2017.

I am inserting my response to this publication here as it draws the focus of A History of Aboriginal Illawarra Volume 1 to the area around Deeban/Port Hacking River.[7]  This compact book was written by Traditional Dharawal Knowledge Holder the late Les Bursill OAM and edited by Mary Jacob, lecturer in Early Childhood Development at Sydney Institute of TAFE.

The Story of Deeban is a summary of the deep history of the area. the extensive evidence of pre-colonial Dharawal life along the river – rock art, tool making, ceremony, the archaelogical discoveries of Bursill and his wife – as well as that of the first European settlers.  Original Dharawal names are given where known as well as the background to some of the people whose names are now carried in the area – Hacking (Port Hacking) and Gray (Gray’s Point).  The final chapter introduces plants traditionally used for food and medicine.

Again I would have loved to have learned this at school and the book itself is suitable as a text.  I hope all primary schools in the area have purchased and are teaching from it.

Donaldson, M., Bursill, L., Jacobs, M. A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 2 – Colonisation, Australia, Dharawal Publications, 2017

This book was not an easy read.  I wasn’t prepared for the different ways in which history can be told:  that reading well-researched events, from both colonial and state records and family histories, told by Dharawal academics and educators, could differ so much in impact to those same histories told by white historians.  I am still trying to get my head around it.

To read these stories and events and the repercussions they repeatedly had on family lives, who are named and have spoken of their experience and action, is devastating.  Underlying all was the taking of everything: land and children, and moving families on, again and again and again and…  This process continued even as Aboriginal individuals and families were working for the white man on their own land.  And then if anyone finally had enough money to set up house they had to buy their own land back from the white man and still hope that they would not be moved on again.  Of course this occurred everywhere around Australia.  I knew that.  This book brought it home for me.

This volume begins with ‘Strange Beings from Over the Sea’: the watched progress up the coast of the Endeavour carrying James Cook and company, the attempted landing at Botany Bay challenged by armed warriors of the Gweagal clan of the Dharawal nation, the musket-fire response that wounded two Gweagal men, the invader’s plundering of a nearby camp, the booty of which ended up in a Cambridge University museum, and their cutting down of trees and pollution of a spring.  Then there was the 1788 Fleet which also arrived in Botany Bay/Kamay, made a mess and then more or less left the area alone. 

It wasn’t until the arrival of the whalers and sealers in the Illawarra in 1801, who would call into the bays to refresh on the way further south, followed by the illegal loggers not long after who would decimate the forest of the sacred cedar trees[8] that things really came to a head.  Then there were the wealthy settlers who would be handed out thousands of acres of land for free by the government and function as absentee landlords while their farms were managed by convicts and ex-convicts.  No wonder the south coast ended up another war and massacre zone for decades.

I was also not aware that rampant discrimination and racism was still continuing not that far south from where I was growing up and I don’t remember ever hearing about it, or perhaps I did and let it roll over my head.[9]  I did not know that in 1960, when I was twelve, the south coast was functioning on a system of apartheid (p.60) or that when I was thirty-four the Mayor of Nowra burned the Aboriginal flag calling it a ‘rag’ (p.71).  How did I not know or put 2+2 together?

By the 1980’s I had moved and was slowly becoming aware that there was something not quite right in Australia;  not that I could really pinpoint it at that stage.

I now have a greater understanding of, and this publication has specified and detailed, the persistence of the fight by Aboriginal Peoples for their land and other rights, the repeated ignorance of and pushbacks by Councils, other government bodies and business, and how long this fight has been going on.  Also illuminating is the longterm collaboration and planning among different Aboriginal groups and organisations that this involved, the central position that Keven Cook and Tranby (as well as many others) played in coordinating, educating and actioning, as well as the role of the Labor party, Communist Party, Unions and independent religious in supporting.[10]   These were not just isolated events.  It is all beginning to make sense. 

The final chapter in this volume includes the long fight against a proposed major development at Sandon Point in 2000; an area which is of great cultural and spiritual significance.

“But in the end came victory. In 2008, Wollongong City Council was sacked for corruption on other counts after an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry. The fire ignited with embers from the 1972 Canberra Tent Embassy is still burning at Sandon Point. Artists played and children sang at SPATE in May 2007 to celebrate the declaration of 14 hectares at Sandon Point as the 55th Aboriginal Place in NSW. Non-alcoholic refreshments were provided and singer Jimmy Little, whose father is from Illawarra, gave a heartfelt performance that left no eyes dry. Community leaders spoke. South Coast Aboriginal Advancement League founder, Elder Mary Davis, said, “We got what we wanted, though not all that we wanted, land we can call our own” (p. 96)



[3] A more recent development has been the production of audio history walks, which are also available on youtbe,’11 Stories from the river Dyarubbin’.

[4] “The Aboriginal name for Sydney Cove as recorded in a number of First Fleet journals, maps and vocabularies, was Warrane, also spelt as War-ran, Warrang and Wee-rong” (

[5] There never was and never has been a Treaty or agreement made with the First Peoples of this country.

[6] Henry Reynolds also addresses this omission and bias during his schooling, including studying Australian history at University in his book, Why Weren’t we Told: A personal search for the truth about our history. Australia, Penguin, 1999.

[7] I grew up in the ‘Shire’: the Dharawal country between Botany Bay/Kamay and Port Hacking River/Deeban

[8] “By 1812 at least 10 vessels had carried away the trunks of more than 400 huge sacred cedar trees cut from Shoalhaven forests” p.8

[9] I have begun reading Henry Reynold’s, Why Weren’t we Told? which mirrors my journey over the last 25+ years.  However there is also the niggling thought that perhaps we did hear fragments and thought that it was just the way it was,  that it was isolated or that there must be something wrong with those involved and thought no further.

[10] For example, the Unions would refuse deliveries to businesses where apartheid and racism was practiced.


If we could just dance together we would be friends

Remembering Margaret Walker, OAM (1920 – 1996)

for International Womens’ Day

(All photos from Margaret’s book, ‘Opening the Door to Dance’)

This International Women’s Day it seems appropriate to honour one of my teachers, Margaret Walker.  Margaret was ahead of her time.  She had a vision for peace and spent her life and any money she made on connecting peoples from all cultural backgrounds through dance.  For her dance was ‘the dance of the peoples’.

I must have first come into contact with her in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.  I can no longer remember how I heard of her.  I do remember Saturday afternoon drives to the other side of Sydney to learn dances from many cultures, followed by improvisation with ‘Uncle Barry’ on the piano.

Even before moving to Sydney Margaret’s particular vision was strong.  Although she had trained as a chemist it was not to last long.  In Melbourne, after seven years of training in Classical Ballet, she realised that the specialised form was “not accessible to all”;[1]  Instead she focussed on the Character dances that were part of ballet training and formed Unity Dance Group which took these dances to workplaces and factories as well as taught and established groups for other organisations. 

In 1951 she was an Australian delegate to the World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and later a delegate to the USSR, extending this opportunity to include several other European countries.[2]  The contacts and links she made through the USSR and Europe opened up many opportunities for Ethnologists, Folk Dance specialists and companies to visit Australia in the following years.  During her visits she also collected dances and resources from which she developed her programs.

On moving to Sydney in 1952 she wasted no time setting up the Association of Australian Dances with branches in each state, and spreading her love of cultural dance through her school, Roseville Dance Centre as well as through invitations that came her way, such as being invited to establish a Childrens’ Arts Club (dance, theatre, art, film) for the Waterside Workers’ Federation.

Her philosophy spread to her family which consisted of four children from four cultural backgrounds whom she had adopted.  As I do not know how to find them to request permission I will not include any details here.

Dance Concert, of which I became a member, was established in 1967/68 and I can’t remember whether I was already doing classes with Margaret before then.  Looking back at what she was able to accomplish, it was pretty amazing, especially on very limited funding.  We had teachers from all over the world.  I remember classes with Csaba Palfi from Budapest, workshops with the Moiseyev Dance Company (Russia) when they were on tour here, an Israeli dance specialist, traditional Philippine dance from Lucy Jumuwan and there must have been many others I no longer remember.

From one of Dance Concert’s newsletters[3]

“Dance Concert is building a unique repertoire of dances and ballets many arranged by choreographers of the world’s leading folk dance ensembles.  These include:

Yuri Mironov – Osipov Ensemble

Witold Zapala – Polish Mazowse Ensemble

Igor Moiseyev – & teachers Nelli Samsonova & Anatole Fedorov

Libertad Fajardo – Filipino Bayaniban Company

Csaba Palfi – from Budapest”

Margaret would also co-work with dancers from local cultural groups and invite them to perform with Dance Concert and we’d perform in traditional costume anywhere we were asked.  At the same time Margaret was running and teaching folk dance in schools and I taught with her and for her on many occasions.  She developed a program for schools called ‘Folk Dance is Fun’.

Eventually Dance Concert began to receive funding from the Australia Council to support her work.  That was when trouble began.  As I understand it, because it was compulsory to have a company with a Board of Directors to receive funding, and the Board, who now owned the name ‘Dance Concert’, and Margaret were not agreeing, they dismissed her in 1977.  I could not believe they would do that – take her life work and vision – so easily and supplant her with another.

At the end of that same year Margaret set up the ‘Margaret Walker Folk Dance Centre’ and continued teaching under her own name in schools and in the community, as well as organising performances for festivals and other events.  During this period, although I had my own work, I was still in contact and teaching for her in schools, some of which was festival preparation for events like the Blacktown City Games which involved 500 children from fourteen local schools.  As well we would meet up at events run by NSW branch of the Australian Association for Dance Education. 

During this period Margaret had made contact with members in the Aboriginal community in Australia and I suspect was the first person to bring a Traditional Knowledge holder and dancer from the Northern Territory to Sydney to share his culture and dance in schools.  The dances Magungun taught were performed by children as part of the program for the Blacktown City Games.  It was a brilliant experience.  She also at some stage worked with the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre in Sydney/Warrane.

In 1982 Margaret was invited to choreograph a folkloric sequence as part of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and later was officially recognised for her lifetime of work in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list with a Medal of the Order of Australia.  She continued to work almost to the end of her life and in 1992 published ‘a method for teaching International folk dance’, Opening the Door to Dance

On page viii she writes –

“Folk dance provides a bridge, an enjoyable introduction to other cultures and customs.  It can become part of a thematic approach to studying other countries.  Participants need to be made aware of the meaning or purpose of a dance and a teacher should try to teach it in a way that is respectful to that culture.  An introduction to folk dance can open doors in a person’s life leading to appreciation and tolerance for the ways of others.”

In the copy I have Margaret has written,

Her legacy for me, I think, fostered a lifelong love of the broadness of dance and yet the uniqueness of each culture’s expression, and the thought that ‘if we could just dance together we would be friends.’  Perhaps many have had similar thoughts.  I was also very fond of her and I hope she also considered we were friends.

[1] Walker, M. (in collaboration with Nicki Lo Bianco), Opening the Door to Dance, v.

[2] Some of the following information comes from Margaret’s entry in the National Library of Australia website.

[3] Dec. 16 – 69 to Mar 21 – 70.  A few characters have disappeared due to the age of this document. Apologies for any misspelling.

The Ides of May*

Recently a member of one of the family networks I am part of posted an image of a plaque which marked the departure of the First Fleet from Portsmouth on 13th May 1787.

The plaque’s heading states “THE BIRTH OF AUSTRALIA”, which of course is historically incorrect and I commented as such on the post.  As the plaque had been unveiled by the Queen in 1987, it illustrated to me that the message that Australia was NOT ‘terra nullius’ had, at that stage, still not been recognized by the British establishment. 

It reminded me of reading of a similar instance where one of my ancestors, Elizabeth Pulley, is described as one “who had helped found Australia” in the museum at Wymondham Bridewell.[1]  Again this is misleading and historically incorrect.

What the plaque above does commemorate is my convict ancestors’ departure from Britain, an event which I do celebrate as, at least in Elizabeth’s case, she was not “hung by the neck till she be dead”.

Since writing my comments on the post I’ve reflected on timing; how the month of May has special relevance for me, not the least of which is that RECONCILIATION WEEK also occurs during this month, and how that has influenced the way I react to the ignorance of ‘official’ versions of what occurred in and around 1788 and since. 

As with Australia Day, the month of May can be a conflicted time for some of us whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet:  one of wanting to honour and celebrate life events of those ancestors and at the same time one of wanting to remember and acknowledge the devastation and havoc it caused, and in some cases is still causing, for the First Nations peoples of this country and their descendants.[2]  Some of these events include,

13th May 1787 – the departure of the First Fleet from Portsmouth

19th May 1788 (one year later) – my ancestors Anthony’s and Elizabeth’s marriage

April/May 1789 (one year later) – reports begin coming in of many local First Nation people dying of smallpox, which is thought to be brought in by the First Fleet.  According to Governor Phillip “judging from the information of the native now living with us…one-half of those who inhabit this part of the country died” and those who left the area carried it further. [3]

Fast forward to 20th century

27th May 1967 – Referendum that saw more than 90 per cent of Australian voters chose ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and give the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  It is unimaginable to think that before this referendum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples did not officially exist, let alone in many instances did their original names and Countries/Nations of origin, and that the rest of Australia had to agree to this to make it happen??? [4]

3 June 1992 – Mabo decision by the High Court which recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land that existed before British arrival and still exist today; the date now marking the end of Reconciliation Week.

1993 – Inaugural Week of Prayer for Reconciliation involving Australia’s major faith communities.

27 May 1996 – Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launched Australia’s first National Reconciliation Week to be held each year from 27 May to 3 June, recognised by the Parliament of Australia; the dates chosen to include the Referendum and Mabo decision.

26 May 1997 – Bringing them Home report of the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families tabled in Federal Parliament; a practice that has not ceased.

26 May 1998 – National Sorry Day inaugurated to commemorate the anniversary of the Bringing them Home report and the grief and longterm effects forced separation has on their families and their descendants.

28 May 2000 – Reconciliation Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of meaningful reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia.

26 May 2017 – Uluru Statement from the Heart released to the Australian people at Uluru, Central Australia after a two year consultation period with over 1,200 representatives of different Indigenous Nations around Australia.  The document summary is an appeal from the hearts of First Nations people to the hearts of all Australians, requesting Voice, Treaty, and Truth(telling).[5]

The juxtaposition of our ancestors’ life events and the call for recognition and acknowledgement of important life events in the history of Aboriginal Australia, which is really the history of us all, has not been lost on me.  So how to hold the two together?  I think the answer is held in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  I think we need to take this document seriously, listen to what it is saying and requesting, and act on it. [6]

To begin with, our country needs to recognise the First Nations peoples of this country as First Nations in our Constitution. How could we not and why would the rest of us need to be asked?  It is self-evident.

Then, the rest of us need to support the call for a constitutionally recognised Indigenous Voice on all matters relating to Indigenous communities.  This is not going to affect the rest of us in any way, shape or form.  The programs that have been directed from the top-down over the last 230+ years with an Eurocentric mindframe have not worked and seem to be continually making the situation worse.  There are differences in cultural behaviour and understandings that keep being ignored.[7]  Those who have developed and run successful programs in communities from and on the ground are telling authorities there are workable alternatives.  It is time the rest of us listened, supported what is being developed and hand back control and responsibility.  The rest of us do not know better. There are increasing numbers of First Nations descendants making successful inroads in so many areas.  It is in good hands.

And we need to ensure that all schools and educational institutions teach the truth of Australia’s history.  We also personally need to know the full history of the area in which we live, and learn the traditional names and stories if still known.[8]  We need to respect that the names and stories predate the rest of our arrival by tens of thousands of years.

I believe that if the Australian people can do this as a start, the rest will follow.

One of the core requests of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a call for Makarrata, a Yolungu word which encapsulates something like ‘two parties coming together after a struggle to heal the divisions of the past to make peace…acknowledging that something was done wrong and working on making it right‘ (my interpretation).

As Jolleen Hicks[9] writes in a recent post,

“Australia is on a Reconciliation journey. Reconciliation is an aspiration. For us to reach Reconciliation, individual Australians need to personally decide to join the journey. Making that decision involves a commitment to the two steps that precede us reaching Reconciliation, Truth, and Healing. We must understand what it is we are Reconciling. We are not Responsible for the broken relationship that needs to be reconciled. But we do have the Responsibility to recognise that broken relationship, understand it, and take the action required to reconcile it. We accept this responsibility because we know better than those responsible, it’s the right thing to do, and we want better for our kids. Yours and mine.”

How could we as a country and as individuals do otherwise?

*I am using ‘ides’ here metaphorically to designate days around which the rest of the month turns; a sense of the day(s) being ‘central’ or ‘key’…and I like how it sounds.

[1] Annegret Hall’s In For the Long Haul.

[2] I can’t begin to imagine how First Nations descendants feel about these events. Journalist and leader Stan Grant (Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi), often addresses these conflicts in his writing and orations.

[3] The Indigenous Australians called it ‘devil devil’. The question ‘where did it come from?’ remains unanswered. Smallpox has a 10-14 day incubation period so it is unlikely to have come directly from the fleet’s human cargo.  Test tubes of scabs were apparently brought in for inoculation purposes and probably stored in the hospital laboratory, although there are questions about whether it would have remained active for the length of, and weather changes during, the journey. So either someone accidentally or purposefully let it loose or it came from somewhere unknown.  I doubt, from reading his letters home in the Historical Records and other journals at that time, it would have been on Governor Phillip’s orders. However, he had enemies and those officers, let alone the rest of the rabble, were out to cause trouble and did target the First Peoples.

[4] In Chapter 2 of Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement From the Heart, Megan Davis & George Williams discuss what the 1967 referendum did and did not achieve.

[5] This is simplified.  If you wish to know more about this document and its history read Everything You Need to Know About the Uluru Statement from the Heart by Megan Davis and George Williams.

[6] As Professor Megan Davis said at the end of her Henry Parkes Oration in 2018, “it is an invitation to the Australian people. It’s an important statement that will kickstart a reform so that perhaps finally after decades and decades and decades my people, our people, will find their rightful place in our own country”. Or, as Pat Anderson is reported as saying in her 2021 Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration in Adelaide recently, it seeks to “change the narrative about who we are as a nation”. 

[7] Victoria Grieves (Warraimaay), Aboriginal Spirituality: Aboriginal Philosophy, The Basis of Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Nola Turner-Jensen (Wiradjuri) on Cultural Mindsets.

[8] a number of local councils run special events led by elders and Indigenous representatives during Reconciliation Week.  Reconciliation Australia and NSW lists numerous events during this time as well as during the rest of the year.  For 2022 Reconciliation events visit, Reconciliation

[9] Jolleen Hicks is a “Cultural Education Provider – Indigenous Engagement, Director, Author, Advocate for Aboriginal People, Teacher, Mother, Living and Walking in Two Worlds, Ngarluma, Yindjibarndi, Australian”.

1791: Elizabeth Pulley and an uneven fourth year.

We left Elizabeth and Anthony last year at Parramatta with exciting news of the arrival of the Dutch snow, Waaksamheyd, with its cargo of flour, rice and salt.

Although the Waaksamheyd’s load of provisions was not quite what it should have been, it supplemented the colony’s better than expected yield of wheat and barley in January, and the colony was able to remain on full rations.  Then in mid January Edward Dodd, the superintendent of convicts at Rose Hill, died.  This was a bitter blow to Phillip who had considered Dodd to be ‘the only person in this settlement equal to that charge’ (i.e. directing the convict’s labour).  According to Judge-Advocate Collins his funeral service was attended by all the free people and convicts at Rose Hill, which would probably have included Elizabeth, Anthony and Robert.

Drought, lack of provisions and Anthony ‘buys’ some shoes

The summer was severe.  There had been no real rain since the previous June and by January the drought was causing difficulties.  In February the temperature soared to over one hundred degrees farenheight (c. 38°C).  There was a bat infestation at Sydney Cove/Warrane and at Rose Hill birds and bats were seen to drop out of trees, or in mid-flight, dying in the heat.  The scrub fires lit by the local Dharug people made the heat oppressive.  The smaller streams around Rose Hill and Sydney Cove/Warrane dried up, although the brook and spring at Rose Hill maintained enough water to supply the settlement there. 

Once again the local Indigenous people were starving and began to attack settlers for food.  The settlement retaliated and a local Indigenous man, who was well-known, was shot and later died. 

The convicts were looking tired and half-starved.  Their stealing of provisions and the ripening Indian corn and vegetables, especially at Rose Hill, became more frequent.  By March when Anthony was charged with possession of stolen shoes, the severity of punishment had increased to iron collars of seven pounds, linked together with chains.  Fortunately Anthony only received twenty-five lashes as he claimed to have bought the shoes from a friend and theft could not be proven. 

April saw a return to reduced rations and Phillip was determined to encourage as many people as he could to become self-supporting in an attempt to ease the reliance on public stores.  Already in March he had placed three more civilians on their own farms near Rose Hill, just north of the brook, and in April two ex-seamen were settled nearby. 

Land grants begin in earnest

When the first ships of the Third Fleet appeared Phillip went out to Rose Hill in person to hurry the process along.  As the Third Fleet convicts and soldiers of the NSW corps were being landed from their transports in Sydney Cove/Warrane, Phillip was granting tracks of land to convicts whose sentences had expired at Rose Hill, now renamed Parramatta[1].  He placed them in two areas west and north-east of the settlement, (re)named Prospect Hill and The Ponds.  One lot of grants were given in June/July, and a second in August/September.

The Ponds/Dundas Valley

In a way the granting of land was also a delaying tactic as most of the ex-convicts, like the marines, seamen and officers, wanted to return to England. However England did not want the ex-convicts back and pressured Phillip to discourage them.  Those who were now ‘free’ felt they were no longer compelled to work and were beginning to cause problems. 

So Phillip gave the ex-convicts a choice, either continue to labour for the government for provisions as they had been doing, or become settlers.  As settlers they were to work on their own land while receiving provisions and free medical assistance for the first twelve to eighteen months.  If they still wanted to return to England after that time they would get no assistance from the government and would have to negotiate their return passage directly with the ships masters. [2]  In addition, if they chose not to work on the land they had been given they would lose it.

Mary is born

John Summers, a friend and workmate of Anthony, was offered and accepted a grant of land at The Ponds.  Anthony, whose sentence was not yet completed, continued to labour as a bricklayer at Parramatta where Elizabeth gave birth to their second child.  Mary Rope was baptised at Parramatta on 31st July.  It was also during this month that relations between the local Dharug and other clans and the settlers began to unravel again.

Indigenous-British relations

Interaction between the Aboriginal groups and the British had, by this time, settled down into a cycle of peaceful co-existence followed by individual and small group conflict.  Most of the conflict was caused by the encroachment of settlers on Aboriginal land and food sources and by the convicts continually stealing their equipment.  Indigenous retaliation would usually involve attacking lone convicts in the woods or taking settlement food and stores.  They had also realised that by coming into the settlements and befriending those in authority it would lead to a sharing of food and provisions.  So Aboriginal people became frequent visitors to the towns, treating them as an extension of their home, which, as there had been no Treaty or formal agreement between the two cultures, it was.

At Parramatta a trade of fish for bread and salted meat had been proceeding quite peacefully for some months.  The trade was led by Ballederry, who was well-known and liked by the settlers.  Ballederry sometimes stayed over with Governor Phillip and, along with Colbee, had accompanied some officers on an expedition northwest of Parramatta in April.[3]  However during June some convicts destroyed Ballederry’s canoe.  Although three of the culprits were caught and punished, Ballederry retaliated a few days later by spearing a convict which, of course, was his cultural norm.  As this sort of payback was not acceptable to the English orders went out to arrest or kill him.[4]

Ballederry was now a wanted man and he went into hiding.  The peaceful trade between the two cultures at Parramatta ceased.  Every now and again during the rest of the year Ballederry would send word asking if the Governor was still angry with him.  Then in December he became ill with fever.  The surgeon examined him, Phillip invited him to go to the hospital for treatment, and their former friendship was resumed.[5]

In spite of singular incidents like these settler-Indigenous interaction seemed to continue as an uneasy truce.  For example, at Sydney Cove/Warrane in August a large group of First Peoples called in and stayed overnight on the way to and from a ceremony at Botany Bay/Kamay.  In the same month Bennelong’s wife arrived to birth her baby.  Others would come in and stay overnight, or for food, or to visit the hospital for assistance.  There are also records of some deciding to accompany their English friends to Norfolk Island during this period, and of English being lost in the woods and being escorted back by some of the local Indigenous people.

At Parramatta the unease was fuelled by the establishment of the satellite farms. In July a large group of the Aboriginal clans had appeared at Prospect Hill and after being fired on set fire to a hut.  Phillip responded by sending a small troop of soldiers to guard this outlying post, and another to the Ponds.  His original idea had been to establish equal blocks of crown land in between each settler, but now he could see it was a mistake.  He began to offer the crown land to other convicts, and encouraged them to clear it as quickly as possible. 

Perhaps Elizabeth and Anthony, whose term was near its end, were among those who profited by this decision for by the end of the year the family was settled at the Ponds.  Yet Anthony was still not considered ‘free’ and probably continued to work as a bricklayer in town.  If so in October he would have gathered with all the other convicts as part of the general muster to welcome Barrington, the new superintendent.  He would also have been later visited by him at the brickworks.  During leisure hours Anthony, as were others in a similar situation, was under instruction to cultivate his own land and by December they had one acre under cultivation, probably of maize or corn.


Meanwhile the push to find alternative settlement sites continued, further motivated by the long drought, which meant that the identification of alternative fresh water sources was a priority[6] . Expeditions recommenced from Parramatta.  One expedition revisited northwest, confirming that the Nepean and Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin was the one river and finally breaking through to the mountains in the west. 

Another expedition moved south from Parramatta, and along the Georges River which was shared by many clans north, south, east and west along the river.  Bays to the south of Sydney Cove/Warrane, in Dharawal-Dhurga country and which were (re)named Jervis Bay and Matilda Bay, were discovered by some of ships of the Third Fleet.  These ships were whalers and as soon as their human cargo had landed they made good use of the bays as anchorage points from which to track and fish the whales.  Their hunts were not as successful as they had hoped, but Phillip saw the potential for a future industry and wrote to England with the news.

abscondments continue

At the end of March a group of convicts, some of whose terms had expired, had absconded at night in a boat well-stocked with food, provisions and tools.  It was led by the Governor’s fisherman and had been planned over many months.[7]  The Governor immediately placed size limits on the boats being built and carefully monitored all night work.

Then in November a group of twenty male Irish convicts and one female, who had arrived on the Third Fleet, absconded from Parramatta into the woods heading for China.  Gradually they were found lost and starving and were brought back, only to abscond again almost immediately.  Phillip once again gathered all the new arrivals together and warned them they would be shot in future and would suffer instant death for robbing the stores, as he had heard of their plot to do so.  Yet by December thirty-eight convict men were missing in the woods and plundering the stores at night.  There was even a report of two men assaulting another man on the newly completed Parramatta Road.  And the stealing of boats continued spasmodically.

departure of Third Fleet ships

During the last months of the year the Third Fleet began to depart with those ex-convicts, officers and marines who had elected to return to England.  The departees included Major Ross, and Lt. Clark who had both returned from their duty in Norfolk Island, and Captain Watkins Tench, whose journal is an invaluable resource.  All had arrived with the First Fleet and, like many others who still had to remain, were suffering the effects of the long absence from home and the deprivations experienced since arrival.

Not many were sorry to see Ross go.  As Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, ‘It is the Prayer of every one in this Colony, that he may not stay two Days in it, when he returns’ (ie. from Norfolk).  Nevertheless Ross still managed to engage in a duel during the week before departure.  Lt. Clark, Elizabeth’s ‘foe’ on the Friendship, had acquired a lover, Mary Branham, with whom he had a daughter, Ann Alicia, while at Norfolk Island. Mary, Ann and another of Mary’s children arrived in Sydney with him and apparently accompanied him back to England.[8]

life goes on

The Third Fleet’s departure left a gap.  The Fleet’s arrival from July to October had offered many diversions.  People living at Sydney Cove/Warrane would go to the shore to greet the ships and to inquire after friends and news from home.  Others would sort through the luxury goods the ship masters had brought with them for sale at the usual inflated prices. A few from the Aboriginal community would wander down to watch. 

Newcomers, such as Mr. and Mrs McArthur, Superintendent Barrington, Rev. James Bain, chaplain of the NSW corps, as well as officer’s wives, would be entertained at dinners, picnics and excursions along the river, or at Parramatta.  By mid December all the ships had gone, including the Supply from the First Fleet and, as Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, everything settled ‘back to a dull uniformity’.

Rations had been reduced again in December making it a lean Christmas.  So a gift of a pound of flour was given to each woman, which Elizabeth would no doubt have appreciated.  The season was also celebrated with a divine service at Parramatta, probably where a temporary shelter had been built for that purpose, and the robbing of the marine store of twenty-two gallons of spirits at night[9]

Then on the last day of the year convicts gathered in front of Government House Parramatta to protest the reduction in rationing and the daily, rather than weekly, distribution of food.[10]  The protest was led by the newly arrived convicts from Irish gaols.[11]  As Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, there was a ‘spirit of resistance and villainy lately imported by the newcomers’.

© A. Maie, 2021

[1] Phillip had renamed Rose Hill, Parramatta as part of the Kings Birthday celebrations on 4th June.  Parramatta was the name the local Aboriginal people gave to the area, thought to mean ‘the place where eels lie down’ or ‘the head of the river’.

[2] England did finally support Phillip’s requests and allowed ex-convicts to return.

[3] The expedition was an unsuccessful attempt to find the junction of the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers (originally called Dyarubbin).  As on previous occasions, Aboriginal People were not comfortable outside their own locale and could not wait to return home.  Although they openly greeted the Bu-ru-be-ton-gal people, who lived around the Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin river and seemed friendly, both groups spoke different dialects and were nervous of each other.  Privately Ballederry described them as ‘enemies’ and in one instance burnt one of their shelters.

[4] The unevenness of British attitudes towards and punishment of other British and First Peoples regarding such infringements has to be noted.  The men who retaliated and killed the local Indigenous man do not seem to have been hunted down.

[5] In spite of Phillip’s friendship with and respect for, many of the First Peoples, he was under pressure from England to procure ‘specimens’.  In a letter which accompanied the many specimens of flora and fauna he sent home in December he wrote of the difficulty of procuring Aboriginal heads as ‘the Natives burn their dead: no European has yet seen the ceremony’.  He was hopeful, however, that Bennilong, who Phillip described as very intelligent, would accompany him in person when he eventually returned home. The practice of collecting human trophies was rife at the time.  From a 21st century perspective it is, or should be, repugnant.  According Aboriginal remains repatriation the practice continued to the late 1940’s with 1990 marking the “year of the first ever repatriation from the UK”.

[6] The tank stream in Sydney Cove/Warrane had gradually silted and the water level was very low.  During 1791 effort was put into clearing, widening and deepening it.  Palings on the bank were erected to keep out the stock and in November stonemasons were ordered to cut tanks out of the rock for reservoirs.

[7] Some were actually seen by one of the officers one year later at the Cape of Good Hope from where they returned to England to face the courts for their abscondment.

[8] So much for the ‘damned whores’ and desperately missing his beloved wife, Alicia, and son.  He did, interestingly, name the baby Ann Alicia after his wife.

[9] Spirits, such as Rum and Porter, were in limited supply for everyone and had always caused problems among the convicts and marines.  A fresh supply had arrived with the Third Fleet but Phillip had stopped it being landed until guards could be put into place to secure it once on shore.

[10] Convicts had been bartering their weekly ration for spirits.  By mid-week they were starving, and began to steal.  So Phillip decided to try and reduce, or control, the problem with daily hand-outs instead.

[11] As usual the newly arrived convicts did not think they should have to work for food; preferring to abscond and/or steal.

Australia Day, Welcome to Country, Loving Country and sand talk.

Australia Day is looming on the horizon again and a feeling of unease is rising, including in someone like me whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet and who has researched and is very aware of how that arrival impacted on the First Peoples. [1] However I am not the only one who experiences this inner conflict and sense of disconnect.

I recently read Australia Day written by Stan Grant, a well-known journalist who has worked overseas and is of Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi descent.  Yet Stan Grant also has Irish heritage.  In Australia Day he explores and analyses this mix and conflict, “Those of us who identify as Indigenous, as First Peoples, we too grapple with our whiteness”, and what it means in relation to the dating of Australia’s major national celebration. He explores and debates identity politics and mixed ancestry while being confronted by real problems and results of systemic racism and the white gaze. It is a complex and interesting journey, part of which led him, almost by accident in 2015 after writing an article for The Guardian in response to the incessant booing of Adam Goodes over a number of years as well as other instances, to become a public spokesperson for Indigenous rights – The Racism Debate .

I have also recently read Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton, who is a highly respected first Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne with a lifetime of Indigenous rights activism and is a respected advocate and voice for Indigenous Australia.  The subtitle reads “An introduction to our First peoples for young Australians” yet I found it suitable for anyone.  It gives an extensive background to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, the history of colonial impact and growing activism, and some of the current leaders and icons.   It is a great introduction to the usually hidden parts of Australian history and should be in every school and community library.

Then there is Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou.  If ever you want to fall in love with Australia, this is the book to read.  It takes you on a tour around Australia from an Indigenous perspective, resting at places of significance along the way to listen to stories about the land, its First peoples, wildlife and importance.  The stories are beautifully told.  Suggestions are also made of Indigenous tours and guides if there is a desire to know more.  Of course it is impossible to avoid having to confront stories of the destruction which past and current practices are having on these sacred sites, the land itself and the sea, so there is also at times a deep sense of loss.  As Bruce says in relation to landuse since colonization, “Australians have been spending agricultural capital built by Aboriginal land care and that capital is all but gone, as if a wayward child had surrendered the family fortune to gambling and decadence”.  His challenge is that “all this beauty and soul satisfaction has a price” and there is a tax to be paid for our lifestyle. “It seems most Australians realise that the time has come to care for the planet and its history”.

I read Tyson Yunkaporta’s sand talk: How Indigenous Thanking Can Save the World in 2020 when a friend loaned me a copy.  This year I bought my own copy as I realised it was important to reference the book here, and I needed to reread to gain a deeper understanding of the content.  Although I am not yet finished the second read, here is a brief introduction.

Through yarns with ‘diverse peoples’ and his own thoughts and understanding Tyson presents Indigenous patterns of thinking, being and doing as a lens to view and critique contemporary systems.  As he is quick to point out ‘Indigenous’ is used as a catch-all phrase, as it is in the English language, for many diverse peoples all of whom may have fragments and related parts of a larger meta-story, which starts with parts of the interrelated songlines in Australia.  He begins with the challenge of the crisis of our age which is a result of humans thinking that they know better than nature.  The challenge and invitation of the book is for ‘us-two’ to walk and yarn with him and others to gain ‘understandings needed in the co-creation of sustainable systems’ (p.18) and, as I understand it, see what might emerge.

[1] I have explored the unease around and background to Australia Day in more detail in Australia Day: conflicts and alternatives.

‘Rusty’ Rups’ liberation from Kranji, September 1945

During World War II my father, who had been conscripted into the Dutch Army, was captured by the Japanese and incarcerated in Changi and Kranji prisoner-of-war camps for three years.  His parents and siblings were also imprisoned in different camps.  Dad wrote a number of short accounts of this time and emailed them to friends and contacts.[1]  I have previously uploaded another of these accounts as Rusty Rups’ Xmas in the camps.

The Japanese officially signed the terms for reoccupation on 4th September 1945, and the surrender was complete on 12th September.  The filmed church service at Kranji celebrating liberation is dated 7th September 1945.  This is my father’s story.[2]

“I decided to…tell you a funny story about the camps.  The Kranji camp I was in when we were liberated was situated in an old rubber plantation.  There were a number of bamboo huts with thatched leaves (as) roofs; home to centipedes, (and) when they had a fight up there one would fall down and give you a hell of a fright.  The camps (were) surrounded with a double barbed wire fence” and “the Jap soldiers used to patrol in between those fences.

At a distance from the huts were deep boreholes used as latrines.  Some had seats but others had slats to squat on.  It was a complete open space, no divisions, so there (were) always happy conversations going on.  From that came the word borehole(‘s double-) meaning: ‘rumour’.  Someone from the camp would come up to you and say, ‘did you hear the borehole, they are going to move the camp?’”

“Also there were some smart guys who would trade with the Jap guard (and sell) over the fence.”

“In the centre of the camp was an open area where four blocks of concrete were laid well apart, and on each…were six showers.  All (were) in the open, of course.  Why would you worry to put up partitions?”

“The advancing troops arrived a few days after the Japs surrendered, (and) in that convoy were also amenity people: a concert party and women to look after ‘these poor buggers’.  They were so eager to be kind to us that they arrived at the gate with their vans and walked straight into the camp…  There was pandemonium.

The war was over (and) there were no working parties, so everyone went (their) own way. (They were) coming out of the barracks with a towel over (their) shoulder…a piece of soap in (their) hand, and starting to have a good shower.  When all (the) women came in there was no escape.  The barracks were a distance away and one had to rinse the soap off before one could put a towel around one’s body.

Well, the next day the day’s orders stated the times one was allowed to shower and use the toilet.  In haste, bamboo partitions were obtained and a few days later all was civilized again.”

“Love to you all, Frank Rups (in the camps my name was Rusty;  Rusty Rups)”

in Singapore on release from POW

in Singapore upon release from the camps

[1] This account was emailed 28th March, 2000.

[2] My edits for continuity are in brackets.

A longer story of Frank’s more than three years in POW can be found at Remembering Rusty’s time as WWII prisoner-of-war

c. A. Maie, 2019

Elizabeth and Anthony Rope’s life at The Ponds, 1791- ?

Elizabeth and Anthony Rope’s life at The Ponds, 1791- ?[i]

The Ponds Dundas Valley DSCN14990001 cropped 2

The Ponds Creek was originally a series of swamps, soaks and tributaries along Dundas Valley. The name Dundas came into use in the late 1790’s but not officially until the late 1800’s.  Originally the home of the Darug speaking Wallumedda clan.

Captain Watkins Tench lists the Ropes among the settlers at the Ponds during his last visit to the area on 6th December, 1791. Bonwick’s ‘Return of Land in Cultivation…as of 16th October, 1792’, dates Anthony as being settled at the Ponds on 10 January, 1792.  Perhaps January was when Anthony’s sentence expired and he ‘officially’ received the grant.  If that was the case, by mid-January Anthony could have been farming full-time,[ii] and the family would only have needed to visit Parramatta for their weekly ration, as well as for replacement tools, seeds, clothing, medical assistance, and divine services.  

Whatever the case, by the beginning of 1792 Elizabeth and Anthony would have been well settled into their new environment.  The Ponds, so named because of the large ponds of good water in the area, was located in the gently rolling hills and creeks around Dundas Valley.  Elizabeth would have noticed the quiet and the sense of isolation in contrast to the bustle of Parramatta, especially while Anthony was at work in town.

Because of their two children they had the largest allotment: seventy acres reaching over the hill between two creeks or ponds.  The other 14 or so allotments were settled by couples, or, as in the case of Anthony’s friend John Summers, were share-farmed by two men.[iii]  In the centre of the small community was a military detachment of one officer and 3 privates, who were to protect the new settlers until the clearing of the land was complete.[iv]

my sketch of The Ponds grant

Upon settlement they would have received the same provisions and equipment, and would have been under the same conditions, as the other ex-convict settlers. The family would have been given enough grain for the first year and tools.  Tools were given to both men and women;  each receiving a hatchet, a tomahawk, two hoes, a spade, and a shovel.  A number of cross-cut saws were shared among the community, and muskets were given to each family for their protection.  Also, at some settlements, a convict was given to a family as an assistant.

As well as tending to the vegetable garden and assisting Anthony with the bulk crops, Elizabeth would have been making clothes, cooking, and caring for the needs of their children: Robert, now almost three and a half years old, and Mary, just over six months.  At the time the home gardens included vegetables, such as cabbages, greens, peas, kidney-beans, turnips, carrots. leeks, parsley, all of which did well in the Australian climate.  The larger crops were wheat and other grain.

They had obviously immediately set to work clearing the land and planting.  Records show that by February 1792 the Ropes had 8 1/2 acres cleared from trees, and another 8 1/2 acres were under wheat and maize;  a major improvement since the previous December. They would have built their own hut, to which a brick chimney would have been added mid year.[v]  By February they had acquired one horse and eight hogs.  So they were doing well.  When Atkins visited the Ponds in March he was generally impressed, remarking that the settlers ‘are for the most part…very comfortably lodged…  In short they are in every particular much better situated than they could possibly be in England.’

It was a fulltime job as there were inevitable problems with scavenging hawks, crows and bugs, which meant replanting, as well as marauding absconders and local aborigines who were after anything edible or barterable.  Elizabeth and Anthony were also lucky to get the animals, for although two sow pigs were promised to each ex-convict settler, they were not always received.

In spite of their progress, however, it was too soon for the family to self support, and in February three of them are listed as still being on government stores.  Elizabeth was probably breastfeeding Mary, the fourth member of the family.  The stores were essential for the new settler’s survival, as it was becoming obvious that it would be some time before they would be self-sufficient.  The government had given them eighteen months to establish themselves, after which they would be taken off stores and would need to pay for the hire of their convict labour themselves.[vi]  After five years of continuous farming the land was theirs at one shilling per annum rent.

The previous year had seen some major changes in the settlement of New South Wales.  The focus of cultivation of crops and animal husbandry, which had moved from Sydney Cove to Parramatta and Norfolk Island, was now extending further north, east, and west of Parramatta.  Sydney Cove was now considered an administrative centre and a depot for stores, with the Governor’s main residence there.  Parramatta was the agricultural centre where the Governor had a second residence.  Commuting was the norm, and a pathway now connected the two towns.

As well, Sydney Cove was turning into a busy port.  One month after the last of the Third Fleet had departed in January, 1792, the first ship of the Fourth Fleet pulled into the harbour.[vii]  The bi-annual arrival of Fleets had begun.  By the end of 1792 this traffic was augmented by trading and Whaling ships, which had heard about the new colony in other ports, and were hoping to trade goods, as well as to carry out repairs and replenish supplies of wood and water.

The movement of ships and people between the Cove and Norfolk Island increased in frequency as convicts, supervisors, soldiers and provisions were ferried back and forth.  Often ships from the Fleets would be commissioned in this way before returning home.  Phillip also regularly diverted the returning ships to Batavia or Calcutta to purchase extra provisions, clothing, and stores.

The colony was still much in need, and there was the constant fear that the storeships from England would be delayed or shipwrecked.  So the weeks between one ship departing and another arriving were spent in anxious anticipation.  In addition, the stores, clothing and provisions, when they were landed and checked, were often damaged, underweight, or unsuitable for the climate and harsh conditions of the country.  In the end extra provisions were purchased from the trading ships as well, to make up for any losses or omissions.

The Fleets themselves were now commissioned from private firms by the English Government.  So the ships masters would view the exercise as a trading opportunity and not just the transport of personnel and government goods.  Shops were set up in huts on shore, and people would flock to purchase the wares.  Some newly settled convicts took the short-term option of selling their stock and leaving their land so that they could purchase the alluring ‘unnecessaries’ or a return passage home.[viii]  Disputes regarding money exchange and the price of goods began to form part of the Court’s agenda.  And, of course, convicts would regularly stowaway, and sailors abscond.

At the other end of the river, Parramatta continued to expand.  Many of the convicts and soldiers were now based in the area:  the convict men in agriculture or other trades, and the women making clothes from material they collected from the stores, acting as ‘minders’ for the men’s huts while the men were at work, or themselves working in the fields and, of course, getting married and having children.[ix]  Reverend Johnson calculated that by October 1792 he had performed 220 marriages and 226 baptisms since arrival.

Increasing numbers of First Fleet ex-convicts and ex-marines, who had decided to settle were, like Elizabeth and Anthony, on their way to becoming self-supporting.  New settlers were given land around Parramatta, in areas called Prospect Hill (west), the Ponds (northeast), the Field of Mars (along the creek) the Eastern Farms, the Northern Farms, and south of the creek.  As the crops from these outlying farms were harvested the excess was brought into town for barter or sale.

The area northwest of Parramatta, initially called ‘new farms’ and later named Toongabbie, was selected as the site for the new public farm.  In January 1792 the clearing began.  By June the convicts employed there were planting seed, and in September they had harvested the first crop of wheat and Indian corn.  The produce, if not stolen, was taken to the government stores where it was augmented by imported provisions, or stored as seed for the following season’s planting.[x]

Expectations for the future were high, and in April the foundations for a town hall, to include a market place for grain, fish, poultry, livestock and clothes, and a hospital were laid at Parramatta.  A ‘clerk of the market’ was appointed to register sales and barters, in an attempt to deter the sale and exchange of stolen goods.  Goods on sale at Parramatta market during May included:  hens, cocks, chickens, eggs, fresh pork, vegetables, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, soap and cheese.  New arrivals commented on how well the colony seemed to be doing, and how much the convicts had compared to labouring people in England.  The reality was that the colony was still struggling to feed itself.

Everyone was still on reduced ration, a situation that had continued almost unchanged since November 1789.  Many of the convicts were starving and a number of newcomers commented on their appearance.  Atkins described them as ‘mere walking shadows’.  By March 1792 work was restricted to the hours between 5 and 9 in the morning, and 4 and 5.30 in the afternoon, as the convicts were too weak to do more.  Then in April, as in the previous year, rations were reduced further.

The rationing took its toll.  During the first half of the year at Parramatta, there were daily burials of convicts.  Small children were also vulnerable.[xi]  Quite a number of the convicts had never recovered fully from the lack of care during their journey out the previous year and were weak and malnourished.[xii]  In addition, the hand-mills, which England had sent out, were not strong enough grind the Indian corn, and the grain was being eaten raw.  In an attempt to bring relief, the Governor established a fishery on South Head, and sent gamesmen to Parramatta to procure fresh meat for the hospital.  The fresh protein, added to the large numbers of vegetables the gardens produced, and a little rum, gradually slowed the death-rate during the rest of the year.

Governor Phillip had been concerned and in June, a few weeks after the King’s Birthday, he visited the new settlement (Toongabbie) where most of the convicts were labouring.  He apologised to them for the small ration, and asked them to be patient, orderly and to do their duty.  He promised that storeships were expected, and that when the ships arrived the convicts rations would be increased if they behaved well.  He then released all those in irons, a gesture which usually coincided with the King’s Birthday.  Yet it was some months before rationing approached an adequate quantity.

By this time relations with the aboriginal inhabitants seems to have settled down once more.  Reverend Johnson mentions their daily presence in camp.  Five aboriginal people seemed to have been living permanently in the towns and are listed as being on government stores.  These were probably working for, or living with, some of the English.[xiii] There is mention of groups of aborigines stealing the ripening corn and other items from the outlying farms, but there is only one incident recorded of a ‘payback’ nature.  In May a convict was found dead, having been speared and cut as payback for firing on, and, it was assumed, killing, one of a group caught stealing goods from a hut.  Otherwise there is very little comment on relations between the two cultures.

Each new boatload of convicts, on the other hand, continued to cause as much trouble as they could.[xiv]  Whereas many of the convicts who came out in 1788 were now settling down and becoming ‘model’ citizens, the new arrivals went through the whole rebellious cycle of absconding, stealing, running scams, [xv]and mutiny, including attacking people for their provisions on the roads from Parramatta to Toongabbie or to Sydney. [xvi]

The court record for Parramatta on 9th January, 1792 is an example of the types of crimes committed by the convicts at this time.  The court heard seventeen charges of stealing chickens, corn, greens, vegetables, including from the Governor’s garden, clothing, money, of disorderly behaviour, and of going to Sydney without permission.  The severity of punishment, such as stocks, iron collars, lashes, executions, or transportation to Norfolk Island for life, did not seem to have deterred them.

As well as the community’s growth in size, a much more complex society was emerging.  The new colony was no longer just an extended ‘low security’ prison, but an agricultural and trading centre with two major towns and a number of satellite communities.  Reverend Johnson and Judge-Advocate Collins were both writing of their increased workload.

The Reverend was conducting divine services in three places: Sydney, Parramatta, and ‘a new settlement 3 miles west of Parramatta’ (Toongabbie).  Attendance, however, was still irregular and although four hundred acres of land had been given over for church use, no building to house the congregations had yet been erected.[xvii]  As well Johnson now had competition.  A number of the more recent convict arrivals were Irish and Catholic.  In November four males and one female signed a letter at Parramatta alerting the Governor to the inconvenience in not having ‘a pastor of our religion’, that is, a Catholic priest.

The need for administrators, supervisors and skilled workers was increasing, a point that Phillip continued to make in his letters to England.  He was also alerting England of the need to pay skilled workers, as the ships masters were offering passage home in return for work, and draining the colony of experienced tradesmen.[xviii]  The skill pool was further reduced by accidents, sickness and by some who had been here long term requesting retirement.[xix]

Some of Phillip’s needs were addressed during the year.  Atkins, a magistrate, arrived in February, and was posted to Parramatta to deal with criminal matters there, as well as assist Judge-Advocate Collins in Sydney.  In October a replacement surgeon, a master carpenter, a master miller and a settler experienced in cultivation arrived.  The gaps were also filled by ex-convicts who had proved themselves trustworthy and were granted remission and jobs.[xx]

Money was now a commodity, partly due to the trade instigated by the arriving ships, but also due to skilled workers needing to be paid, and the increasing numbers of ex-convicts having to support themselves.  By October shops for private trade had opened in Sydney and Parramatta.[xxi]  In response to Phillip’s requests ‘three thousand-eight hundred and seventy ounces of silver in dollars’ arrived in November on the transport Kitty.  One thousand were immediately dispatched to Norfolk Island, the rest was held in Sydney as ‘public money’.

Education appeared on the agenda.  By March 1792 three schools had been established for the children of civil and military families, and some convict children: one at Parramatta, another in Sydney, and the third at Norfolk Island.  Those in Sydney were run by schoolmistresses;  the one in Norfolk by a convict ex-teacher.[xxii]  Reverend Johnson was writing to England for financial support and resources, such as books.  He stressed the need for educating convict and aboriginal adults and children.  He also canvassed for additional teachers, ‘as I fear that a school mistress wd not do so well neither be proper to instruct the men Convicts’, and missionaries for ‘the ignorant and benighted heathens’.

The arrival of Major Grose in February, as Lieutenant Governor in charge of the NSW corps, began well.   He was agreeably surprised by the colony.  But this was not to last.  He was soon unwilling to abide by Phillip’s more democratic philosophy.  By October he was complaining to Phillip and England that he and his soldiers had been placed on the same ‘unwholesome’ ration as everyone else, and of the limits placed on the availability of liquor.[xxiii]  In spite of Phillip’s opposition, he and his Officers privately hired the Britannia to go to the Cape of Good Hope and bring back provisions they considered essential for men of their rank.  It seemed as though the battles that Phillip had fought with the First Fleet officers were about to recur.

However Phillip by this time had had enough.  His decision to resign, publicly announced at the end of October, caused a flurry of activity as long-termers, like Judge-Advocate Collins and Surgeon-General White, also submitted requests for leave in the hope of accompanying him home.  Phillip had slowly been working towards consolidating his administration throughout the year, and October and November were spent finalising all accounts, writing detailed reports to England, restating his mandate for the colony, updating records of provisions, stores and personnel, and granting absolute and provisional pardons to those he considered deserving.

On Friday 7th December Phillip conducted his last item of business and officially closed his government.  Then on Monday 10th at 6pm, he ‘quit his charge’ and embarked on the Atlantic.  He was received near the wharf on the east-side, where his boat was lying, by Major Grose at the head of the NSW corps.  There the NSW corps ‘paid him all the marks of honour’.  The officers of the civil department, and the three marine officers who were to accompany him to England, were in attendance.

On board were the last of the marines, two convicts whose period of transportations had expired, and two aboriginal men, Bennillong and Yem-mer-ra-wan-nie, who were friends of Phillip.  They had decided to travel with him, much to the distress of their wives and friends.  The following day those officers who were to remain behind sailed with Phillip down the harbour.  At 9am they disembarked, and gave three cheers as the ship prepared to move between the heads and depart the colony.

It was not without regret on both sides.  In Phillip’s view, the colony was now approaching ‘that state in which I have so long and anxiously wished to see’.  From the standpoint of those who had worked alongside him since the beginning, it was a great loss and ‘no small degree of concern in the settlement’.

Major Grose was sworn in by Judge-Advocate Collins, and immediately began to institute military, rather than civil rule.  Nothing in future was to be done, including court proceedings and punishment, without Grose’s and his officers’ approval and direction.  A few days later a distinction in rations was ordered, with all civil and military personnel placed on full ration while the convicts’ allowance remained restricted.[xxiv]  Some of the convict-settlers responded by selling off their stock in order to buy spirits.  As Atkins commented, ‘times are changed’.

It is difficult to imagine how Elizabeth and Anthony would have felt during this time.  Change is always unsettling, and they, like everyone else, were probably biding their time to see how advantageous or not, the new government was to be.  The inequalities in rationing would not have affected them greatly, as their allowance was supplemented by the produce of their farm, and their community was well enough away to function on its own.  As they do not seem to be mentioned in any records until 1794, they probably were not causing any trouble worth noting.

During the year they would have received the extra ration of spirits for the King’s birthday celebration in June.  They may also have benefited from the clothes which arrived, and were handed out to convicts, at the end of October.  They probably did receive one of the ewes, for the purpose of breeding, which Phillip gave to each married settler just before he left the colony.

But over the long-term, it seems that the changes brought in by military rule had their effect on Elizabeth and Anthony as well.  Not only was government provisions now unequally rationed, the military began to monopolise both the marketplace and the giving of land grants.  Military insistence on easy access to liquor meant that spirits became the preferred currency, the illegal distillation of liquor a preferred source of income, and farming being a lot of hard work for virtually nothing.

In addition Elizabeth and Anthony lost their third child, Elizabeth, who died in 1794 soon after birth, and could possibly be buried at The Ponds.  Although they were still there during 1795 for the birth and baptism of John, by the end of the following year the family is recorded as having settled at Mulgrave Place, near Windsor.  Perhaps they had had enough and walked off their farm to squat around the Hawkesbury like so many other people at the time, or perhaps they had received a settler’s permit there.[xxv]  Whatever the case their land at The Ponds was left unresolved for a number of years while the family focussed their efforts in the area bounded by the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers, South Creek, and Rope’s Creek.

c. Annette Maie, 2018

[i] The information for this story springs from the research my mother, Madge Rups, undertook in the 1970’s and 1980’s which I extended from late 1990’s onwards to include the social context and indigenous presence.  It is a compilation drawn from the Journals of the First Fleet, the Historical Records, the Picman Catalogue, the Colonial Secretary’s Papers, as well as articles from the Royal Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, and other writing.

[ii] Toby Ryan places Anthony working at Toongabbie, which is a government farm, around this time.  As the Ropes already have their own farm at the Ponds, I cannot see them living at both places, unless Anthony travelled to Toongabbie to work as a labourer from time to time.  Anthony’s trade is still listed as a bricklayer, so this could be what he still did in addition to working his own farm.

[iii] There is little mention of other friends of theirs.  Betty Mason, who lived with Elizabeth and Anthony for a while, and married Richard Hawkes in 1790 gave evidence at a trial in April 1792  But it looks as if she and Richard separated around this time.  By May Richard was established on a farm by himself, and at the end of the month she gave birth to a daughter under her maiden name.  At the daughter’s christening later that year, Phillip Morris was named as the father.  Isabella Richardson (nee Rawson) whose marriage to William in 1789 had been witnesses by Anthony, became a schoolmistress.  Both these women were probably based at or around Parramatta, and Elizabeth & Anthony may have remained in contact with them, but they may just as much have gone their separate ways.

[iv] The military presence was to deter poaching and violence.  All the food and water sources for the local aborigines were being increasingly taken over by the expanding settlement and understandably they would take from the farmer’s crops and animals for their own survival.

[v] In July Phillip organised builders to come in to add the chimneys to the huts ‘at the Ponds’, and to carry out other repairs.

[vi] By December Phillip was writing that more time would be needed.

[vii] This one with Lt. Governor Francis Grose, who was in charge of the NSW corps, soldiers, more convicts, and, as usual, limited provisions of salted beef and pork.

[viii] Not all convict-settlers worked the land they were given.  Some just worked for their neighbours and forfeited their grant.  The result was they ended up back where they started:  homeless, off stores, and causing mischief.  Part of the reason was that many ex-convicts still wanted to return home and saw no purpose in making their home here.

[ix] Rather than supply convicts with ready-made clothes Phillip decided to keep everyone busy, and the women had to return the clothes to the stores once completed.  He had found that the convicts, generally, became more ‘socialised’ when they worked in some sort of trade, gradually leaving their convict language and behaviour behind.

[x] In October Phillip was writing of the 1,500 bushels stolen from the grounds, in spite of precautions taken to protect it.

[xi] The death tally for the year included 418 male convicts, 18 female convicts and 29 children.

[xii] In England the trial against the master of the Neptune, for ill treatment of convicts, was underway.  Later transports carried a naval agent to supervise convict’s treatment and a ‘medical gentleman’ to treat them if they fell ill.

[xiii] Rev. Johnston still had two aboriginal girls living with his family.

[xiv] Upon disembarkation in Sydney a number would immediately abscond into huts, and would have to be found, detained, and transferred to Parramatta by force.  By October Phillip had decided to curb this practice, sending them directly to Parramatta and Toongabbie instead.

[xv] One of the scams was that convicts were selling their supplied clothes to soldiers.  Phillip wrote of the need to distinguish them, and all other convict items, in some way, like with a special strip, so that they could not be sold or bartered.

[xvi] The path turned out to be a problem as thieves used it to move their stolen goods between Parramatta and Sydney, or abscond, without anyone noticing.  Phillip responded by stopping its use.

[xvii] The previous year the foundations of a church building had been laid at Parramatta, but the building was quickly converted into a prison, and by 1792 it had become a granary.

[xviii] Phillip, whose health was deteriorating, also continued to ask for leave: ‘the complaint seldom leaves me lately for more than a few days’.  His ailing condition was also remarked upon by a number of new arrivals.

[xix] In April Burton, a Botanist and Supervisor who had examined and reported on the soil in the settlements and cultivation areas around Parramatta, died from a shooting accident.  Phillip wrote: ‘I lost one whom I cannot replace and whom I could ill spare’.  In July, Arndell, the assistant surgeon based at Parramatta retired due to age, and settled on his farm at East Creek.  In October, Phillip commented that of the four superintendents sent out from England, only one was left who was effective.

[xx] Such as Stephenson, who began work at the provisions store in October, Kelly, who was employed as assistant surgeon at Toongabbie, Barrington, head constable of the Night Watch at Parramatta, and Robinson, who was employed at the Public Barn and Granaries at Parramatta.

[xxi] These shops had a licence to sell porter, but also traded other spirits, which led to some ex-convict-settlers setting up drinking houses on their farms and selling to others at inflated prices.  The result was ‘much intoxication.’

[xxii] One of the schoolmistresses was Isabella Richardson (nee Rawson) whose marriage to William in 1789 had been witnesses by Anthony Rope.

[xxiii] Even Phillip was eating the same rations as everyone else, although it was probably supplemented with game and wine.

[xxiv] Everyone’s rations had increased in June with the arrival of rice, dahl and soujee from Calcutta.  But as not many knew how to cook these foods it was of little help.  In July, salted beef and pork finally arrived and brought some relief.

[xxv] As later there were problems with the sale of The Ponds grant and arrears in rent, this could well have been the case.  It is really unclear what occurred.  Hawkesbury was viewed as the next promising area for farming, and ‘permits to settle’, not actual land grants, were given by Gov.s Grose and Paterson.  According to Paterson, by June 15, 1795 there were 400 people settled nearly 30 miles along the banks on both sides of the river (Mulgrave Place).  Anthony is not mentioned on this list.  (in Campbell, 1925, pp. 106, 107).  I also have in my notes, with a note to check with Colby, that mid 1797 Anthony sells the Pond grant to John Larkham for £50 with crops and  that Larkham then sues Anthony for not including the crops, and wins the crops.

Remembering Elizabeth Pulley on ‘Australia Day’


I’ve had difficulty selecting a title for this blog as I remain conflicted with the title of ‘Australia Day’ continuing to be used for 26th January, when that day also signifies the beginning of the colonisation, slavery and murder of the First Nations in this country.  Promotional images of Aboriginal people in traditional costume dancing, singing and playing didgeridoos, does not ‘whitewash’ the historical reality for me. The enactments of the past of British arrival and Aboriginal opposition were at least more honest.   Public emphasis on it being a day for ALL Australians to celebrate also grates as it continues to ignore First Peoples’ stories. These days we are aware of, and can no longer ignore, the anomaly.[i]

The arrival of the British First Fleet into Sydney Cove on 26th January, 1788 is historical reality.  The union jack was raised, the cove (re)named and the land claimed for Britain.  My ancestors Anthony Rope and Elizabeth Pulley were convicts on that fleet, and it is their story that I wish to honour here.  The following are adapted excerpts from a longer study, Elizabeth Pulley: The First Five Years which I researched as part of background for thesis from 1998-2008 and later serialised in Elizabeth Pulley Sets Sail.  I am presenting it as a story based on facts on hand at the time, but a story none-the-less, and I apologise if some of the ‘facts’ prove to be inaccurate.

 BEGINNINGS (note that this is an earlier version to the ones I have serialised on Elizabeth Pulley Sets Sail)

At midnight on Christmas Eve in 1782 Elizabeth Pulley broke in and stole 10 lbs cheese, 3 lbs bacon, 24 oz butter, 3 lbs raisins, 7 lbs flour and 2 rolls of worsted material from the shop of Elizabeth Mimms at Hethersett in the South-East of England.

As far as I know Elizabeth was a single woman, an orphan, poor and had no known trade.  Little else is known about her background at this time, except that she was orphaned at the age of six, so it can only be imagined how she lived and survived.  According to Portia Robinson[ii] “it was the very poor, especially the single women, the washerwomen, the charwomen, the street-sellers, the silk-winders, streetwalkers and those of “no trade” who lived in…cellars and garrets…” in “…all the major cities and towns of Britain”.  Their lives “were characterised by squalor, poverty, dirt and disease…”.  The poverty had grown with the spread of the industrial towns and cities which were unable to deal with the increased population.

When Elizabeth stole from Mrs Mimms it was the middle of Winter and, after all, Christmas, the time of celebration and the giving of gifts.  Some of the more privileged made a habit of giving gifts to the poor as well.  Perhaps Elizabeth had nothing and wanted what everyone else had – a good meal, a Christmas pudding and a new dress for herself and family or friends.

Whatever the case Elizabeth was arrested, tried, confessed and sentenced to death.  She had done this before.  During the previous four years at least she had been arrested annually and convicted of stealing.  She had been gaoled, publicly whipped and sentenced to twelve months hard labour in the house of correction at Aylsham.  It had made no difference.  She still stole.  Perhaps there was no alternative for someone like her.

The courts had tried everything.  There was no improvement.  The gaols and prison hulks were overflowing already.  Transportation to America was no longer possible after 1781 when America won its independence from Britain.  So in 1783 the judgement was made that Elizabeth “should be hanged by the neck till she be dead”. She was about 22 years old.

Meanwhile in 1770 Captain James Cook had found “New Holland”.  Since then the British government had been examining the possibility of reviving transportation and New Holland was suggested as a potential site.  By 1786, three years after Elizabeth’s conviction, the plan to send convicts to NSW was put into operation by the government and preparations began.

At some stage during this period Elizabeth’s death sentence was reprieved and instead she was to be transported for seven years.  She spent the time waiting, imprisoned in Norwich Castle.

It was 1787.  The seed was planted.  The seed of hope and new beginnings for the 778[iii] convicts who were to travel from England on the First Fleet, and the seed of despair and death for the indigenous people of this ‘new’ land.

Two years later in another Winter, the Winter of 1789, thousands of the original inhabitants of the Sydney basin (country of the Gadigal, Eora and Darug) died from the effects of smallpox considered to be brought in by the new arrivals.  That was another beginning.  Over the next ten to fifteen years the original population of Australia was decimated by 50% – 90% as the smallpox epidemic was quickly followed by measles and influenza.

For Elizabeth, this was her only chance.


Winter had ended and spring festivities, including Lent, were in full swing when on 11th March 1787 Elizabeth Pulley, and Susannah Holmes, with whom she had spent the last 3 years in custody, were received on board the transport ship, Friendship, at Plymouth, England.  Elizabeth’s future husband Anthony Rope was on the Alexander.

The Friendship was captained by Lt. Ralph Clark and during the eight months and one week[iv]  journey Elizabeth was mentioned a number of times in Clark’s journal[v].  She was one of a group of women who continued to cause trouble throughout the passage, and was eventually moved to another ship, the Prince of Wales.   I need to add that when the women were moved it did not stop Lt. Clark’s complaints.


On Saturday 19th January, 1788 the Prince of Wales and the rest of the Fleet arrived at the entrance to Botany Bay (Kamay).  There was great excitement and relief at having arrived safely.

In spite of their explorations Captain Phillip and the officers were unable to find a suitable settlement site so Phillip ‘judged it advisable to examine Port Jackson’.  While he was away the officers continued their explorations around Botany Bay as well as clearing the land in preparation for settlement in case Port Jackson did not prove to be suitable.  The indigenous Australians were not happy, ‘The Natives were well pleas’d with our People until they began clearing the ground at which they were displeased & wanted them to be gone’.

The Aboriginal people were also astonished by the amount of fish the new arrivals could catch in their sein – ‘when they saw the quantity of Fish brought on shore at once were much astonished which they expressed by a loud & long shout, They took some of the Fish (which the Officer permitted) & ran away directly’.   The encroachment of the British on indigenous land and food sources had begun.

Underneath the surface friendliness of the British, who attempted to engage peacefully, there was quite a different attitude,  ‘The Governor’s plan with respect to the Natives, was, if possible to cultivate an acquaintance with them without their having an idea of our great superiority over them’…hmmm!

Phillip and his party returned to Botany Bay on 23rd January with good news about Port Jackson.  The fleet raised anchor and headed north.


On 26th January 1988, after an almost disastrous exit from Botany Bay, the fleet ‘Came to an Ankor at. 1/2 p, 6 OClock in Port Jackson Close to the New town Which Was Crisned this Day’.  The ships scattered through the bay, anchored, and were secured by ropes tied to the trees on shore.

The next day some of the convicts and troops began to clear ground and set up tents.  Collins, the Judge Advocate for the colony, was poignantly aware of the impact their arrival would have,

The spot chosen for this purpose was at the head of the cove, near the run of fresh water, which stole silently along through a very thick wood, the stillness of which had then, for the first time since the creation, been interrupted by the rude sound of the labourer’s axe, and the downfall of its ancient inhabitants;  a stillness and tranquillity which from that day were to give place to the voice of labour, the confusion of camps and towns, and ‘the busy hum of its new possessors’

Then on 28th the rest of the marines, their wives and children and the male convicts disembarked, and some stock was landed[vi].  At this stage Anthony Rope would have been put to work on shore, assisting in the preparation.  As the women convicts were not yet allowed to disembark, Elizabeth Pulley probably would have watched the activity from the deck of the Prince of Wales.

Immediately, some of the convicts began to run away as there were no longer any constraints.  A number ended up back at Botany Bay, and tried to obtain a passage on French ships which had arrived there, but they were dismissed with threats and were given ‘a days provisions to carry them back to ye settlement.’

Then on 5th February ‘slops of every kind’ were issued ‘to all the women & Childn. on board previous to their landing tomorrow…5 of the women, who supported the best Characters on board were this day landed on the Governor’s side of the Encampment, & had Tents pitch’d for them not far from the Governor’s house’.  The other women, who would have included Elizabeth Pulley, were directed to the west side of the Encampment.  The sailors were to remain on board the ships.

Finally at 5 a.m. on 6th February 1788 Elizabeth and the rest of the convict women prepared to disembark. ‘They were dress’d in general very clean & some few amongst them might be sd. to be well dress’d’[vii].  The peace did not last long as the women faced the waiting men on shore. It was a riot. ‘The Men Convicts got to them very soon after they landed, & it is beyond my abilities to give a just discription of the Scene of Debauchery & Riot that ensued during the night’.  One hour later there was also a ‘violent storm of thunder, lighteng. & rain’.

Elizabeth Pulley had arrived, carrying her bed with her.  The messy scene that was enacted on that first day was an apt introduction to the ensuing uneasy early years of settlement.

Three months after stepping onto Australian soil, Elizabeth Pulley married Anthony Rope.  She was about 25 years of age, and Anthony about 29.  Frances Williams loaned Elizabeth special clothes for the occasion, and Elizabeth Mason and John Summers acted as witnesses.  Elizabeth Mason had been one of ‘Pulley’s crowd’ on the Friendship, transferring with her to the Prince of Wales where they must have met up with Frances Williams.  John Summers had travelled out on the Alexander with Anthony.

It took a while but eventually Elizabeth and Anthony did make a life.  As the colony expanded they and their growing family moved to the newly opened areas west of Sydney until they were able, more or less, to support themselves off the land.  Elizabeth had eight known children.  One died young, some had children, some made a success of their lives, others had difficulty as in most families, but they survived.

The indigenous population, however, did not survive as well. Their land and food sources were increasingly overtaken, foreign diseases caused multiple deaths, and their fightbacks[viii] against British encroachment were squashed.[ix]

Whereas for me the 26th January will remain a symbol of my own British ancestors’ arrival and survival in Australia, part of our family tradition to be honoured and celebrated, stories such as these are complex and conflicted.  The other side of Elizabeth’s story challenges the current dating of our national day and has still to be accommodated.  It is important that we find a way to honour the whole, not just part.  That is yet to come. [x]

c. Annette Maie, 2017


[i] As the concept of ‘Australia Day for All’ is tied up with our understanding of ‘nationhood’ the date probably will not undergo a change until we cut our ties with Britain and become a truly independent nation.

[ii] Robinson, P.  The Women of Botany Bay.

[iii] Numbers seem to differ as some sources say only 759 actually sailed, some convict names did not appear on the Registers, and others had aliases.

[iv] according to Judge-Advocate David Collins, Fletcher, B. H. (ed.) An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Volume 1, by David Collins.

[v] Fidlon, P. G. & Ryan, R. J.  The Journal and Letters of Lt. Ralph Clark 1787-1792.

[vi] including mares, stallions, cows, a bull and a calf, ewes, poultry, goats and hogs.

[vii] Fidlon, P. G. & Ryan, R. J. The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth:  Surgeon, Lady Penrhyn, 1787-1789

[viii] The first Australian armies to fight for their homeland;  also not yet officially recognised.

[ix] Grassby, A. & Hill, M.  Six Australian Battlefields.

[x] Addendum.  This year Freemantle, Western Australia has taken the lead and rescheduled their celebration and fireworks to 28th January, calling it ‘Unity Day’.  Let’s hope this is the trigger for further changes across Australia.

‘Rusty’ Rups’ Xmas in the camps, 1942-1944

While clearing the last of my fathers’ papers recently I came across an email he wrote on 1 January 2000 which I thought I’d share.  Dad was a POW (in Selarang, Changi and Kranji) during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, where he had grown up, and was conscripted into the Dutch army during the war.  At one stage in the camps he functioned as an orderly-come-nurse in the hospital.  This is more-or-less verbatim.  I have added comments in the brackets and some punctuation.

‘I am trying to remember what it was like in the Camps.  I don’t think it (New Year) was a big deal, perhaps an extra Dover (a rice ball mixed with a whiff of dried fish fried in oil).  But Xmas was an occasion to do something special.  I cooked a special meal for the Xmas 1942 and Xmas 1944.  I don’t remember what happened in 1943…perhaps that was the time that the poor guys that survived the (Burmese) railway trauma came back.  That was a business, everyone had Scabious.  As they arrived at the hospital we undressed them and plopped them in a warm bath.  After a good scrub we dried them and rubbed them…with a sulphur ointment, dressed them and sat them in bed with a cup of hot tea.  Of course some of them were too sick to get that treatment….some were so far gone with Berri Berri that they lasted only a few days.  The profile of diseases was first dysentery, weakened by that some were unfortunate to get malaria, and that was sometimes enough for the Berri Berri to take hold and the hope of survival diminished.  Anyway I cannot remember 1943 Xmas.

Also at that time we were moved out of what was called The Southern area, to make room for the Japanese airforce…We were made to clear a whole area of land occupied by bush, Coconut palms and Mangroves.  The growth centre of a coconut palm is very, very nice to eat and with my Indonesian country background I was into them straight away.  The English and Australians were soon aware of the nice taste, so after a while it was only the palm you helped to fell that you got a bit of.  …Well this field became an airstrip and is now part of Singapore airport.  (We were) moved to Changi jail.  There was not enough room there, huts were built to house the surplus and the hospital was moved to Kranji.  In Changi (there) was a hospital also and periodically patients that were chronically ill were moved to Kranji and the improved patients were returned to Changi….There were more camps.

For the 1942 ‘dinner’ it was still possible to get nice food.  The canteen sold spices and palm oil and one could also order meat.  I had a deal with the kitchen that…gave me fillet steak in exchange for the same weight of the meat…which was as tough as leather.  It did not make much difference to them because the camp’s meat ration was two carcasses and all they could do with that was cut it up in dice and make a stew with the vegetables.  This was still in the hospital in Tjimai, with a lot of ground around.  I was lucky enough to find two huge mushrooms.  So with all that we had fried eggs on our ration bread for breakfast and fillet steak with mushroom sauce for dinner.  You know these two occasions still give me a warm feeling because I could do nothing wrong.  There were about ten people in on it.

The 1944 ‘dinner’ was another matter.  I had rice, sweet potato, palm oil, blatchang, that smelly shrimp paste, and shallot tails.  These I managed to acquire from the waste tip of the Japanese kitchen.  They used a lot of shallot and cut the root part so generously that by carefully cutting off the root bits there was plenty of shallot left to fry with the fish paste in the oil…and when about right the vegetables went in.  We boiled the sweet potato we pinched from the garden and as a special we had a sweet;  one you would never in your life had tasted.  For breakfast the supply was two ladles of porridge made from boiled rice mixed with crushed corn and one level spoon of brown sugar.  I forget now, but I think that for a few days one spoon of sugar and one breakfast was saved, and two spoonfulls of sugar and two breakfasts were shared by three of us.  I really think now that we had saved sugar for longer.  On the day of the feast I asked the cook for some rice flour and I found some mint leaves.  I mixed the sugar, porridge, mint leaves crushed together, and thickened it with the flour mixed with rasped sweet potato…placed it in a baking dish and asked the cook to please bake it for us.  I forgot to tell you that for all this cooking I had an army steel helmet with a handle on it.  A staff sergeant of the Airforce made a menu all in French.  This is the memory that came back yesterday.  Again I wish you all a good, fortunate and happy new year.  It is a long hall to come.  Frank (‘Rusty’) Rups.’  24/9/1918 – 29/11/2008


c. Annette Maie, 2016

Frank’s story of liberation can be found at, Rusty Rup’s Liberation from Kranji and for a more detailed account of the more than three years of internment, Remembering Rusty’s time as WWII prisoner-of-war