Today is Australia Day and I’ve been pondering the idea of building a nation, starting from scratch.
On 26 January 1788 the built environment did not exist anywhere in the vast continent on Australia, save for the flimsy shelters of the Aborigines. It’s a stunning thought … every structure we see around us today has been built in the last 228 years, with us able to pinpoint the exact day when Australia’s gigantic construction project got underway. It stirs my imagination because my forebears were here at the start.
The building of Australia began with not-so-simple tasks –
the felling of the trees around Sydney Cove was the first indication of the unexpected
challenges facing the incoming settlers, whose axes were no match for Australian hardwood. Their tent encampment slowly gave way to bark huts and brick buildings.
|Aborigines, Julia Woodhouse|
|Sydney Cove, 1788, State Library of NSW Collection|
|Ebenezer Church & Schoolhouse|
|St James, Sydney|
|St Matthew's, Windsor NSW|
|Port Arthur, 1843, State Library of NSW Collection|
|Melbourne in 1888, from Fitzroy Gardens, State Libary of Victoria|
|Walter Burley Griffin's Plan for Canberra|
|Sydney Harbour Bridge under Construction, c 1930, State Library of NSW Collection|
|Sydney Opera House, 2015|
|Pozières Village, c 1914|
|Pozières Village, 1916|
In keeping with the grand scale of our country, we’ve created big things, including the world’s leading long-distance airline, Qantas which began humbly in 1920. The dams and tunnels of the transformational Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme were constructed after WW2 using the labour of another influx of migrants, this time voluntary and mostly refugees from Europe. By contrast, the massive mining sites, railway lines and bulk handling ports in Queensland and Western Australia now depend largely on ‘fly in, fly out’ workers.
We boast several of the great train journeys of the world, the ‘Indian Pacific’ connecting Sydney and Perth (4,352km), ‘The Ghan’, connecting Adelaide and Darwin (2,979km) and the Spirit of Queensland, connecting Brisbane and Cairns (1,681km). Making endless changes then, because of the different railway gauges in each state, my adventurous grandmother travelled by train from Sydney to Perth when it first became possible in 1917, before the new rails across the Nullarbor had bedded down.
As I think about my forebear on the First Fleet, it gives me
a thrill to compare then and now, to see what we’ve all created.
|Indian Pacific Route|