Ducking

Tim Flannery

  • Dancing with Strangers: The True History of the Meeting of the British First Fleet and the Aboriginal Australians 1788 by Inga Clendinnen
    Canongate, 322 pp, £16.99, August 2005, ISBN 1 84195 616 3

On 25 January 1788, HMS Supply eased her way between the imposing sandstone cliffs that mark the entrance to Port Jackson and into a waterway that John White, the First Fleet’s surgeon, proclaimed as ‘the finest and most extensive harbour in the universe’. The hyperbole was perhaps understandable, for the Britons were seeing Sydney Harbour through eyes wearied by months at sea, and this was to be their new home. The Aborigines must have watched in amazement as, the following day, the remaining ten vessels of Australia’s First Fleet glided between the heads and dropped anchor. From what we can gather, their first impression was that the white-skinned visitors were the dead returned to life. The misconception was forgivable, for there had been no contact between these human lineages for 60,000 years, when the first great migrations carried their ancestors out of Africa.

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