Saturday, July 16, 2011
The unfashionable First Fleet.
The unfashionable First Fleet.
I suppose I can understand why the story of the First Fleet was unpopular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Good, honest, law abiding Australians did not want to be reminded that the prosperity they enjoyed in this great southern continent had come on the back of seventy years of convict transportation. They didn't want their children told about the shiploads of misery which were landed in Sydney and made to tame a landscape which had previously been in harmony with its human inhabitants.
Times have changed. Our convict past is a thing to be celebrated. Family historians mull over shipping lists, court records, convict movements and the like looking for ancestors. Writers like Kate Grenville have been very successful with the novels she has written for adult readers about the life and people of the convict colony of New South Wales. Jackie French has some excellent novels from then period for children. So why am I told that stories about the First Fleet are unfashionable?
Below is an excerpt of my First Fleet novel for middle readers called Dorrington’s Extraordinary Journey. Please tell me if you think it is unfashionable.
The name’s Dorrington, Jack Dorrington. And I’m here to tell you about the amazing journey I’ve just been on. You see, our King George, the one that lives in the palace in London, he gets this bit of land right down the bottom of the world, and he doesn’t know exactly what to do with it at first. Then he gets this idea. There’s too many criminals in London, he thinks. He could ship them off to the bottom of the world, and all the proper people what live in proper houses can feel safe again.
He gets some ships together and tells his people to start rounding up the criminals. Mostly they’re like me mum and me sitting about in the gaols wondering when this transportation across the seas that the magistrate sentenced us to was ever going to happen.
You see, we’d been thieving. Good at it, we were till I had a bit of an accident. I was reaching for this nice green vase I reckoned would fetch a pretty penny. Only it was too heavy and it slipped right through me hands. Crash! Down it went on the ground and me mum and me took off running. We would’ve got away too if it hadn’t been for an upturned lorry blocking the way. We were off to Newgate that very night.
That’s where I met Joe. He and his mum, Mary, were thieves too, but not very good ones judging by the rags he was wearing. He was eyeing off me velvet jacket till it got ripped off me back by a huge ugly woman called Madge. She sold it to the fellow with the gaol keys for a jug of beer.
She didn’t share any of it but none of the other women made a fuss. They didn’t dare, Joe told me. Madge was a murderer. Killed a sailor that cheated on her, chopped him up in little pieces and fed him to the fishes. I kept out of her way as much as possible while we waited in Newgate.
And we had to wait a long time. Elsie, the old crone who’d taken a bit of a shine to me mum, said we wouldn’t be going anywhere on account of the folks in America not wanting any more of England’s rubbish. But she didn’t know about King George’s bit of land then. Nor did Mary or Dolly, who had a baby that cried all the time and made Madge angry. And Mad Sarah was too mad to know anything. Then that geezer turned up and said we were all being transported to New South Wales.
“Where’s that?” Elsie asked him but he just glared at her and told her to hold her tongue. Joe’s mum Mary had a go at relieving him of his gold watch chain but he whirled around and caught her. He gave her such a wack on her skinny rump with his silver topped cane she let out a yell.
“Get your thieving hands off me woman or you’ll find yourself hanging from the gallows instead of going to New South Wales.”
When the wagon turned up to take us to New South Wales there was quite a fuss. Me mum got Mad Sarah up into it and she helped Dolly who had her baby hidden under the old blanket she’d wrapped around herself. But when she went to pull me up a man, who was counting how many there was to be squeezed into the wagon, shouted, "Can't take children."
Me mum started climbing back out of the wagon. “I’m not going then,” she told the geezer. Other women joined in pulling their children to them and crying.
The geezer shook his cane at the counting man. “They have to go. There’s nowhere else for them.”
“They can’t,” he snarled back. “No room and no provisions.”
The geezer ignored him. He grabbed me by the collar and threw me up into the wagon. The women piled in behind us till we were so packed in we could hardly move. The flaps were tied down and we were on the way to New South Wales.