Book 1 in Australia: a personal story series
‘The worst country in the world‘ was how
Australia was described by its first European colonists.
For Europeans, used to a mild climate, an established infrastructure with traditions and class systems, not to mention towns and cities, with houses in them, roads, factories and mature farms, arriving in this wild continent with its extreme weather and seemingly infertile soil – not to mention its existing inhabitants – was a nightmare. The new colony nearly starved to death in its first two years.
It was barely thirteen years later that my four times great grandmother Mary Pitt arrived in New South Wales with her five children. She was lucky in that she had connections – her cousin, who had arranged her migration, was married to Admiral Nelson’s sister. So she and her son were given land grants on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. Nonetheless it wasn’t an easy life for someone used to the safety and predictability of the small village she had lived in in Dorset, England.
So this book is my investigation into the earliest years of colonial Australia as seen through the eyes of one of its early settlers. It’s a tale of astonishing bravery and bloody-mindedness, in-fighting and near rebellion, and of a woman who left England as a yeoman’s widow ‘down on her uppers’ and reinvented herself as a gentlewoman. It throws light on generations of Pitts, why my own Australian/English mother was the person she was and how what was once regarded as the worst country in the world became one of the ‘luckiest’
It is also a story of appropriation. The earliest settlers, my ancestors included, ‘took’ the land from its original owners on the assumption of western superiority, and because in their eyes the Aboriginal people did not own property in the European sense. This in turn has led to the ‘history wars’, where succeeding generations of Australians look back at their past from differing viewpoints. Were their ancestors settlers or invaders?
I lived in Australia in the late sixties/seventies, so the book also chronicles my own perceptions of this fascinating, contradictory, complex, changing country over the decades from then until now.