Friday, January 26, 2007

Australia Day

The Australia Day website at says:

On January 26, 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession
of the colony of New South Wales and became its first Governor.

This is an excessively brief résumé of primordial events behind 26 January 1788. A young Australian, visiting this website today, might imagine that Phillip's arrival resembled the royal yacht Britannia drawing up at Circular Quay. There is no mention of the basic fact that Phillip's eleven vessels carried 548 male and 188 female convicts, and that the British governor was founding explicitly, not a colony in the etymological sense,

but rather a harsh antipodean prison where convicts, out of sight of British gentry, would be left to rot.

My own modest contribution to Australia Day 2007, of a highly personal nature, will consist of displaying this image of a country singer named Buddy Williams. If I understand correctly (which I don't, and probably never will), my cyclist uncles John and Charles Walker succeeded in contacting this celebrated singer when he was visiting South Grafton, at about the time I was born, in September 1940. And there has always been a family legend according to which the baby (me) was once held in the arms of this mythical man. Be that as it may, my childhood at Waterview was bathed musically in Buddy Williams laments, played on an old clockwork gramophone. I would love to find copies of these old cowboy songs, but they may have disappeared forever.

I often feel that we spend a good part of our adult lives trying vainly to recover fragments of a certain childhood melody or aroma. For me, that nostalgic melody is Buddy Williams singing the Orphan's Lament, and the magic aroma is that of freshly-laid bitumen on the cycling track at McKittrick Park in South Grafton.

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