Friday, January 26

Women at the birth of a nation

Sometimes, when I'm feeling mischievous, I suggest European settlement of Australia really began with a drunken orgy on February 6. Perhaps we should observe that date as Australia Day.

After all, it's the day women joined the settlement.

On that day in 1788, after the male convicts had laboured for more than a week setting up rudimentary buildings at Sydney Cove, it was time to land the women convicts. The disembarkation took all day.

Then the sailors asked for rum “to make merry with upon the women quitting the ships.” From contemporary accounts, all that night there were scenes of debauchery and riot which beggared description. Even a sudden Sydney thunderstorm could not drown the revelry.

Nobody putting their hands up for February 6? What a lot of wowsers we've become!

More seriously, how about January 1? In 1901, that was the day on which Australia became a nation, rather than an assortment of British colonies. It would be a day for all Australians – it's not for nothing that many Aboriginal activists refer to January 26 as Invasion Day.