By all accounts Bennelong was a decent sort of person. He became a link between black and white Australia in the early days of settlement. A recently discovered secret journal sheds new light on his early days and some issues he had with the first fleet under Governor Phillip.
It seems in those days the Aboriginal community had a border policy not unlike today in Australia. Bark canoes patrolled the coastline looking for illegal immigrants. It was highly successful. Only a handful had penetrated the border over several centuries. The exercise was called operation ‘Sovereign Borders’. Give us a gold sovereign and we will tell you where the border is.
In 1788, canoes identified a number of oversized fishing boats entering the sovereign waters of Sydney Harbour. Bennelong immediately surrounded the ships and demanded they turn around.
He said. “Bugger off, or we will take you to the border of our waters. You can see it just past the big rock over there. You will be put in orange coloured bark canoes and point you in the direction of your home country.”
Phillip replied that they were fleeing England where the passengers had been persecuted.
“This fine bag of skin and bones masquerading as a human being, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for stealing a bird cage. Unfortunately they could not find the bird, but he did spit out a lot of feathers during questioning.”
“Over here is a man who stole an apple and is condemned to 7 years imprisonment.”
“But computers have not been invented yet.” said Bennelong.
“See. I told you we were persecuted.” said Phillip.
“You will have to go into a concentration camp – sorry detention centre.” said Bennelong. “Your visa applications will need to be processed and maybe we will give you a TPV.”
“What is a TPV?” said Phillip.
“Traffic Parking Voucher. That allows your boats to park for a while.”
“So where is this detention centre?”
“We don’t have one, but this looks like a good place. Put all your boats over there near the stream, and start building. Watch out for the ferries when you park.”
“What will we eat?”
“There is a burger joint up the creek. They serve McRoos and Emu Buckets. That should keep you going while we sort out your visa request.”
“We need to send word back to England that we have arrived safely.”
“Sorry mate. This is an on water matter and no information can be released.”
“We demand the right to speak with someone. If not we will go on a hunger strike.” said Phillip.
“Knock yourself out.” said Bennalong. “You will probably lose a few kilos anyway. There is no roast beef and yorkshire pudding in this town. You just have to wait until you are processed.”
“Who will do the processing.”
“But they will not be established for another 150 years!” shouted Phillip.
“Not my fault. You will just have to wait while we follow due process.” said Bennalong.
So Phillip and his boats settled down to wait for processing.
Bennelong was a decent man and after a few years, finally relented and decided to give them residency. That is when the fan took on a brownish hue. No sooner had they received residency, than they started to take over the joint. Before long, Bennalong was working for Phillip.
Now you might think this is an irrelevant piece of history but it does provide a lesson for today – at least the Abbott government seems to think so. If Bennelong had rejected their application for asylum, white settlement would not have occurred. We would not have the government we do today. The original residents would still be running the country. If Bennelong had stuck to his guns, Australia should never have accepted those asylum seekers. The current government – who would not be the current government – would not have the opportunity to reject today’s asylum seekers, although their ancestors were not rejected, and who are persecuted just like Phillip’s group claimed to be and …..
Hang on. I think I am losing the plot. What was the point I was trying to make? Oh yes. Why we should be rejecting asylum seekers. Is all that clear? Scot Morrison and Peter Dutton seem to think so.