Old Botany Bay – Mary Gilmore

Today is Australia Day, the 26th of January, the day that the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Botany Bay was the designated settlement for the first fleet when it arrived in 1788. It was a settlement intended for the transport of convicts but Govenor Phillip deemed it unsuitable and moved to Port Jackson, Sydney Cove. James Cook had previously landed on the southern banks of Botany Bay, on Sunday 29 April 1770.

Old Botany Bay

“I’m old
Botany Bay;
stiff in the joints,
little to say.

I am he
who paved the way,
that you might walk
at your ease to-day;

I was the conscript
sent to hell
to make in the desert
the living well;

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track-
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.

I split the rock;
I felled the tree:
The nation was-
Because of me!

Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
from day to day…
shame on the mouth
that would deny
the knotted hands
that set us high!

Mary Gilmore (1865 – 1962)

And this poem clearly celebrates the convicts that made Australia through their hard work. And if it had not been for convicts there would not have been a developed Australia in the first place; at least not by the British.

The key words in this poem are ‘knotted hands’ – their hands made to work but hands that were not free. A day to remember the convict heritage that began the journey in the development of Australia.

Botany Bay became associated in England as the place where convicts were destined even though it was not used as a penal settlement. And that well known song ‘Botany Bay’ was oftten sung in relation to those unfortunates bound for Australia …

Farewell to old England for ever,
Farewell to my rum coes as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey

Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, ay,
Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity,
And we’re bound for Botany Bay.

See … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botany_Bay_(song)

And some more words from Mary Gilmore (from ‘The Passionate Heart’ 15 February 1919) celebrating those that developed Australia who are now at rest with God … or working with God under more favourable conditions!

Even the old, long roads will remember and say,
“Hither came they!”
And the rain shall run in the ruts like tears;
And the sun shine on them all the years,
Saying, “These are the roads they trod” —
They who are away with God.

Mary Gilmore had a long and very interesting life … a great thinker far beyond her times. She remains current when you use an Australian $10 note.

A link to Mary Gilmore on Wikipedia.

The history behind Botany Bay.

 

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