Monday, January 05, 2009

The Convict Stain

I am teaching a Centre College class on Australian National Identity in Australia this month.

We took a tour of Melbourne today. Our able tour guide, a proud Melburnian, emphasized that Melbourne, unlike Sydney and most of the other Australian cities, was not founded by convicts but free settlers. He even allowed that other colonies, later states, in Australia thought Melbourne and Victoria, the state of which it is the capital, were a bit snooty because they did not have the "convict stain."

In fact, though, convicts were sent to Melbourne from its settlement in 1836, often as the indentured servants of free settlers or as indentured laborers in surveying parties. From 1845 to 1849 convicts were sent directly to Melbourne as "Exiles" who had the freedom on the colony, but were not permitted to return to England until their term was served.

Richard Hughes wrote his great book on the convict foundations of Australia, The Fatal Shore, because growing up in Australia the convict past was ignored. The convict stain still lived, though expressed more by silence and ignorance than by cover-up and shame.

Our guide appears to have been raised in the pre-1960s era when the convict past was simply not discussed. It was fascinating to see that the shadow of the convict stain lives on.


halifax said...

I believe that the author in question's first name is Robert, not Richard. He's an odd fellow in many ways. He's a professional art critic who, in his spare time, produced a very long and immensely successful history of his native Australia. Hughes once said that the "difference between the Australian and the American experience was that in America space liberates, while in Australia space was the ultimate prison." I don't know if this contradicts or supports Ward's point.

Have fun in Australia.

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Gruntled said...

Robert; quite right. Thank you.