Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dark Emu

Every Australian should read Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident? At the very least, this mind-blowing book should be on the compulsory reading list for all secondary schools. It overturns all of our ignorant assumptions about pre-colonial times in Australia.

The book has received an overwhelmingly positive response on the Goodreads website, with a very high average rating of 4.5 out of 5, far in excess of most other books on this site. Nearly everyone leaving a comment agrees that this well-written, easy-to-read and relatively short book is essential reading for all Australians.

I was privileged to hear the author, Dr Bruce Pascoe, speak at the Melbourne Writers' Festival a few months ago. His emotion was obvious when he referred to archaeologists discovering grindstones proving that the Australian aborigine was grinding seeds more than 30,000 years ago. Being the first bakers of bread is an accolade usually given to the Egyptians around 17,000 BC. But as Pascoe says in his book, it was the Australian aborigines who were ‘the bakers of antiquity. Why don’t our hearts fill with wonder and pride?’ (Read more in the article The world's first baker: Australian indigenous innovation.)

As Pascoe spoke, I wondered whether our community’s entrenched views of Aborigines could be blamed on the first European settlement being beside Sydney Harbour, a heavily-wooded area on thin soils. It was not farming country, as the incoming settlers soon discovered. With sandstone caves providing a natural shelter for the indigenous population there was little need for housing structures. Many of the First Fleet journal keepers referred to the nakedness of the natives, but we forget that the incoming Europeans arrived at the height of summer, a time of year when many of today’s citizens of Sydney would wear no clothes, if they could get away with it. The first but false impression that the Aborigines were hunter-gatherers took firm hold.

Bruce Pascoe is from Victoria but well aware that Captain John Hunter reported in 1788 that ‘the people around Sydney were dependent on their yam gardens’. The word ‘garden’ is telling, its significant implication of permanent settlement having been ignored. Yams, a highly-nutritious form of sweet potato, were cultivated by a resident tribe, not gathered by wandering tribes. And, as Pascoe pointed out, the cattle imported in 1788 had escaped to the Camden region, where they prospered on these yam gardens until 1795, when exploring parties came across the escapee cattle, in prime condition. The area was promptly named as the Cowpastures.

After 1788 it took decades before European explorers found a way across the Blue Mountains and discovered that Aborigines lived in villages and towns and, aside from their yam gardens, they cared for a grain belt across most of inland Australia. His amazing map of this grain belt is produced in the article The world's first baker: Australian indigenous innovation. Today we heard news from the Flinders Ranges that shifted back by 10,000 years our knowledge of Aboriginal occupation of arid inland Australia, to 49,000 years ago. They possessed amazing technologies much earlier than we thought.

The back cover of Bruce Pascoe's book quotes him as saying "If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love our land all the more.'

Now that I’ve read Bruce Pascoe’s book I fully accept the startling truths he espouses. The full range of his evidence is presented in chapters headed 'Agriculture', 'Aquaculture', 'Population and Housing', 'Storage and Preservation', 'Fire', 'The Heavens, Language and the Law', 'Australian Agricultural Revolution'.

But it was his closing chapter, 'Accepting History and Creating the Future', which really made me think. I’m sometimes irritated by the strident calls that we should change the day we celebrate as Australia Day because it was ‘Invasion Day’. From my perspective, Australia was always going to be invaded by someone. While the Aboriginal tribes had their own territorial boundaries they were not organised as a group to defend this large continent, whereas all other human societies fought strongly to protect territorial interests. Aborigines just weren't aggressive enough. It never occurred to me, until I read this book, that the age-old Aboriginal society might have evolved to a level of enlightened self-interest, mutual co-operation and steady-state economic welfare operating on a higher plane than existed elsewhere on this planet. In a way, the Aborigines were psychologically unprepared for people who did not play by their advanced rules.

The old ways of Aboriginal society tantalise us with a vision for a different more sustainable future for the world. Thus one of Pascoe’s closing remarks resonated with me: ‘It seems improbable that a country can continue to hide from the actuality of its history in order to validate that fact that having said sorry we refuse to say thanks’.

I tried to see both sides of the settlement story when writing Robert Forrester, First Fleeter but the need to revise the book in the light of Pascoe’s insights has taken on a new urgency. A Second Edition will also include other research which has come to light in the eight years since the Forrester book first went to print. For example, it will consider another interpretation of the 1783 scam; it will correct reference to the non-existent orgy in February 1788; it will show the true position of Robert's 1794 land grant; and it will review new research into his involvement in the Frontier War with the Aborigines pre-1800.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Legacy of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro

Books about Australia’s earliest days of European settlement are becoming thick on the shelves, so it’s rewarding to find one containing a new angle on the accepted version of events.

The Legacy of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro by Patricia Kennedy corrected my understanding of the supposed foundation 'orgy story' of 6 February 1788 and, after meeting the author at an event in Melbourne in May 2016, I wrote a blog post about it. On pages 22-25 of Patricia’s book, the conventional views about Lydia Munro and her rape charge against William Boggis in September 1788 are also challenged, if briefly.

Writing family history is perhaps the most difficult genre for any writer to tackle. In part this is because its story line usually does not begin with a coherent overview but emerges in bits and pieces, as research progresses. Then comes the challenge of deciding on a meaningful structure. Patricia has settled on the structure I used in 2008 when writing about my Dennis forebears from Cornwall, this being to start with the founding couple, move to a chapter on all of their children and then select the child of personal interest to the author and repeat this process down through the generations.  This approach somewhat limits the eventual ‘market’ for the book, but works if the opening chapters appeal to all descendants of the founding couple.

This book should please all Goodwin descendants, as a lengthy chapter covers the Goodwins’ nine children, the first born in Sydney in 1789 and the others born on Norfolk Island. With only two sons and seven daughters, the Goodwin surname, with any number of spelling variations, struggles to survive in subsequent generations. Patricia, researching her husband John’s family, chose to follow the Goodwins’ second child Sarah, born on Norfolk Island in 1791, and then the line Sarah and her husband Benjamin Briscoe created through their son William Briscoe.

The book interested me because my own forebear Robert Forrester came with Andrew Goodwin on the First Fleet vessel Scarborough, and also went to Norfolk Island, but returned to Sydney after 18 months. This meant that my knowledge of the settlers’ enforced move after 1807, from Norfolk Island to the newly-established settlement around Hobart in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), was rather sketchy.  It was helpful for me to read Patricia’s summary of Collins’ attempt to settle Port Phillip Bay at Sorrento in 1803 and the change of plans dictated by the lack of its supply of fresh water, with Collins moving south to ‘create’ Hobart.

The Goodwin family’s adventures in Tasmania then become a series of ‘Days of Our Lives’ cameos, with multiple marriages, name changes, some divorces, children born to different or unknown fathers, most of whom were fresh convicts arriving from England, activities on the wrong side of the law, drinking problems and stories of gritty, often long-lived women making their choices and enduring everything that life could throw at them. Tracking all of these events through the various name changes was clearly challenging and quite an undertaking.

Should there ever be a Second Edition, some of the detail in the Family Charts, so valuable to readers in following any family history, needs to be slightly amended. While the correct names are there, dates and places do not always match the written text.

Patricia describes her genealogical credentials on the inside back cover of her book, which fulfils all of the requirements for the Alexander Henderson Award offered by the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies. It contains a ‘pre-Australia’ chapter on Andrew’s and Lydia’s lives in England, a clear table of contents, family charts, some interesting illustrations,  eight pages of appendices, a five page bibliography, twelve pages of endnotes and a seven page index. 

The research effort involved, its cost and the time expended is not for everyone, and descendants of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro should be very grateful for Patricia’s hard work and the clear presentation in her book, available here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bullocks, not Bollocks

Sometimes it takes a while before a 'brilliant idea' for a post becomes a reality. But, as the cliché goes, 'better late than never'. And another cliché tells us that 'a picture tells a thousand words'. It's true. I want you to know there's now a 'moving picture' version of the word picture I struggled to convey back in 2012 in my book Southwark Luck, although I tried my best in the 'Sawyer' chapter.  It involved bullocks.


Last summer, on ABC TV, a wonderful modern-day depiction allowed me to step back in time to Charlie Martin's strenuous life as a timber-getter, bullock-wagon driver and bush sawyer in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s of New South Wales. It's hard to conceive of a man raised in the heart of London at Southwark, conscious of fashion, with the bright lights of the Royal Circus round the corner, becoming such an isolated worker during his long years of exile in Australia.

He worked with a few mates (usually his brothers-in-law) in the forests of the lower Blue Mountains, in the area extending behind Wilberforce towards Kurrajong. Via claims made in the Court of Requests (pp 80-82 of Southwark Luck), there are hints that he was contracted at one point to help clear the track up the steep escarpment to Kurrajong Heights, prior to the construction of the Bell's Line of Road. 

My time travel came courtesy of a repeat showing of that wonderful ABC program, Landline. The scenes showed, more than my words could manage, the whole process of Charlie's bullocky (muscle-bound) occupation and the skill involved in training and managing a team of bullocks. Watch it here. It's well worth it. Definitely not bollocks.

Note: If you're a descendant of the Charles Martin who arrived in Sydney Cove on the General Stuart on 31 December 1818, and you don't yet have a copy of my award-winning book Southwark Luck: the story of Charles Homer Martin, Ann Forrester and their children, then you should have a copy. Of course you should! Get it here.

As a descendant of Charlie's you're also the descendant of a First Fleeter, Ann's father Robert Forrester of Scarborough fame, and you'll need his story too, available here. Postage costs are cheaper overall if you order both at the same time.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Revisiting Robert Forrester's 1794 Grant

It’s seven years since Robert Forrester, First Fleeter was published. In that time technology has overtaken our lives and Google Earth has become a godsend to many, including family historians. I love Google Earth even if it has proved me wrong in my understanding of Robert Forrester’s first land grant of 1794

I have to fess up. Robert’s first land grant was not where I thought it was. It did not lie alongside Deerubbin Park but was further along Cornwallis Road. 

I was alerted to this fact by that excellent researcher Michael Flynn, as he compared the old parish map with today’s view from space. Here’s the original parish map: 
And here’s much that same view today, courtesy of Google Earth. The view is slightly extended at the bottom edge to show the location of St Matthew's Church, just to the left of the word Google. It's hard to get your bearings when you drive along Cornwallis Road, but close examination of the Google Earth map of Robert’s original land grant reveals a shed complex close to its northern boundary. Michael Doyle’s old grant has a shed complex with a shiny roof relatively close to its southern boundary. My objective was to find this combination of features at ground level.
Recently I spent a fascinating hour of detective work, simulating a drive down Cornwallis Road, Windsor, NSW while sitting at my desk in Melbourne. It was fun. I could turn my imaginary car around and drive back the other way, and turn sideways to look at individual properties.  Amazing stuff.

What was I looking for? As explained above, I wanted to locate adjoining properties with the correct building configurations as viewed from space. Eventually I worked out that the address of Robert’s property today is 104 Cornwallis Road.

Next I asked myself - by what landmark can this property be identified when driving along Cornwallis Road from Windsor?  Here's an easy guide. Drive past the avenue of palm trees and the ‘Windsor Turf’ sign on your left, and stop when you reach the large spreading tree seen in the background of the following picture.
Opposite the tree is the sign commemorating members of the Eather family drowned in the 1867 floods.  The sign fronts their old block (originally the Lachlin Ross grant). Next door, beyond the Eather farm gates, was Robert’s land, the property with the green grass in the middle distance of the next photo.
Drive on a short distance down Cornwallis Road, either in reality or via Google Earth, across the land which was once Robert’s original grant. His northerly boundary is marked by the fence post between two driveways leading towards the Hawkesbury River. The property on the right hand side of the fence post belonged to Robert in 1794.
Robert’s original grant was always bisected by Cornwallis Road. Turning 180 degrees from the fence post and looking across the road, the remaining section of his property faces the lower Blue Mountains. The whole property is now as level as a bowling green and apparently used for growing turf.
Beyond the large green shed on his former block, another section of the paddock is screened from the river by a high levee bank. Oh for that degree of flood protection in his day! 

The view of the river when standing on this levee bank is today obscured by trees and tall shrubs, but it’s still possible to see the tower of St Matthew’s through the foliage. Robert spent the last few years of his life living back on his original grant, in the abode beside the river, enjoying this same view of the church tower. Don't forget that his son-in-law Charles Homer Martin was punished for his part in the building scam involving St Matthew’s Church. (More details are in my book Southwark Luck.)
Steep river banks, lush foliage and rampant weeds make life difficult for photographers, but here’s another view of the Hawkesbury River taken while standing on Robert’s old land. The river flows from left to right.
Should I ever get to revise the Forrester book, pages 114-117 will need to be amended in line with this 'virtual tour'. Meanwhile, copies of Robert Forrester, First Fleeter can be purchased through BookPOD.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Robert Forrester, First Fleeter - Descendants of Phoebe Caroline Lovell?


How many descendants does Robert Forrester have? This ninth and final post in the series explained earlier asks the question- are you a descendant of Robert's granddaughter Phoebe Caroline Lovell, who married William Schmidt at Geelong in 1853? Can you help put some solid branches on this stunted fragment of the Forrester family tree? Or even a few leaves and twigs?



Please send your info to me via email or contact me via Facebook. As explained in my previous posts, your information will remain confidential (to me) and will not be published online or elsewhere. The simple aim is to collect statistics. Our starting point (from my own database) is 2,534 descendants. Some progress reports on numbers will appear here from time to time.

Robert Forrester, First Fleeter - Descendants of Susannah Lovell?


How many descendants does Robert Forrester have? Continuing the search explained in an earlier post - are you a descendant of his granddaughter Susannah Lovell, who first married John Byrnes Marshall in Sydney in 1860 and then married William Weaver at Araluen in 1868?

If so, can you help put some branches on this part of the tree? Or even a few leaves and twigs? Sometimes we are a bit vague about the full names and dates for our relatives, so I don’t need to have every i dotted and every t crossed. If you know family members as cousin Mary or nephew Jack, that will do for the purposes of this exercise.

Please send your info to me via email or contact me via Facebook. As explained in my earlier post, your information will remain confidential (to me) and will not be published online or elsewhere. The simple aim is to collect statistics. Our starting point (from my own database) is 2,534 descendants. Some progress reports on numbers will appear here from time to time.

Many thanks if you can help. I'll post up another grandchild's 'call for details' tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Robert Forrester, First Fleeter - Descendants of Martha Lovell?


How many descendants does Robert Forrester have? Continuing the search explained in an earlier post - are you a descendant of his granddaughter Martha Lovell, who married David Bell in Sydney in 1855 and moved to Melbourne about ten years later?

If so, can you help put some branches on this part of the tree? Or even a few leaves and twigs? Sometimes we are a bit vague about the full names and dates for our relatives, so I don’t need to have every i dotted and every t crossed. If you know family members as cousin Jack or niece Amy, that will do for the purposes of this exercise.

Please send your info to me via email or contact me via Facebook. As explained in my earlier post, your information will remain confidential (to me) and will not be published online or elsewhere. The simple aim is to collect statistics. Our starting point (from my own database) is 2,534 descendants. Some progress reports on numbers will appear here from time to time.

Many thanks if you can help. I'll post up another grandchild's 'call for details' tomorrow.