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Dr Christopher Reynolds with a fresh view of Australian history 1770-1901

Dr Christopher Reynolds with a fresh view of Australian history 1770-1901

The Discussion.

In his new book, Dr Reynolds examines what has shaped Australia’s identity culture and politics from 1788 through to 1900. He explains his book as an attempt to “search for our soul” to “search for our identity” to “reclaim our pride” to “reclaim our dream”.  He asserted that the history he had been reading was not always the truth.  He contends that even esteemed historians have been guilty of writing material into books that could not have possibly been known, adopting a novelistic approach to writing. He believes that we do not really know our history, and that the true story of our origin has not been told to us.

Far from Australia being established solely as a penal colony much evidence shows that a primary reason was to protect British interests in the Asia-Pacific, most particularly from the French. This was confirmed by a hitherto less well known meeting between Prime Minister Pitt, Lord Sydney and Baron James Harris who concocted an ingenious plan to stop Dutch money from flowing into France.  

In his words one should always “chase the money”.  He contends that the high cost of establishing this colony gave lie to the fact that it was established solely  as a prison. The colony was far more important to Britain. Allied with this, Australia was not simply a colony of felons but could be looked on as a social experiment. Dr Reynolds believes that history should be looked at in the context of its time. Hence the social issues and beliefs of the time are important, the industrial revolution and its consequences for poverty, the overcrowding of the hulks, the fact that 98% of British people at the time were Christian, the prison reforms instituted through the work of John Wesley, the transportation legislation based on the Ephesians 4 28 – let him be given work so he may improve his ways. 

The King’s Letters Patent made all of the above clear. This was the context for the settlement of Australia, a colony with no prisons, whose convicts were settled in barracks under the care of someone to whom  they had been assigned, where after only three years 85% of the convicts were set free, and who, together with the free settlers, provided the wealth of the nation.

 The achievements of the colony resulted in a colony where people were  “charging to be here” where the economic success was such that a large amount of wealth was returned to Britain, three times more than Canada, more than India, where land was given away, where even ex-convicts could become enormously wealthy and, amongst other firsts, was the first place in the world to ban slavery. He contends that history should not refer to the landing of the First Fleet as an invasion. For the most part relationships between the colonists and the Aboriginal people were amicable.  

He discovered a ship’s captain’s report which recorded Aboriginal children playing in the streets, Aboriginal people at dinner with white people, officers going to corroborees, Aboriginal people working on farms and in trade, as well as being given their own farms. The King’s Letters Patent decreed that the colonists should live in “amity and kindness” with the Aboriginal people and Phillip’s own generous attitude to the Aboriginal people has been well recorded. 

Dr Reynolds mentioned the numerous benefits that accrued to the Aboriginal people from the settling of the colony. He says that the evidence shows the Indigenous people ‘could not wait to get out of the stone age’. When referring to the much reported violence between the settlers and the Aboriginal people he states that there was far more black on black violence than settler violence, contending that one third of Aboriginal women killed were murdered by their spouse.  

On the question of land rights, Dr Reynolds pointed out that Aboriginal people did not own land, they instead considered themselves as part of the land, a pantheistic religion, they had no concept of value and further that it was clear from the Mabo judgment that Britain had sovereignty over the continent of Australia. 

Possibly responding to the suggestion that we should be ashamed of our British colonisation, Dr Reynolds supported the importance of our British heritage and referred to an eminent historian as saying if we deny our British heritage we will become a people without a soul. He concluded with reference to several of  the “larrikins” of the colony many of whom became enormously wealthy and were Australia’s early entrepreneurs, but space here does not allow further discussion.   

The enlightened social construction of the colony, the enormous wealth generated by those transported here and those who emigrated here, the achievements which developed a prosperous and enlightened country so far from its origin, the enlightened approach to dealing with the Indigenous people in those early years, all of this allows a sense of pride in the beginnings of this colony, of this country. 

There was a vigorous dialogue with attendees which included the following questions:

  1. Is the British heritage of this country suffocating the contribution of immigrants and the Indigenous peoples?  Do they feel “Australian”? Or alternately is it the opposite and we do not take enough account of the “Pax Britannica”?

  2. Does the overwhelming categorisation of the origins of Australia as a penal colony reduce our sense of pride and identity?

  3. Does Australia currently have an identity crisis such that we are no longer an enterprising nation but content with a moderate success? Do the “larrikins” of our history exist any longer? Does it help to step back and see where we come from?

  4. To what extent and in what way was Phillip’s attitude towards the Indigenous peoples departed from after he left the colony?  

  5. Does the increase of First Nations history in the School Curriculum come at the expense of other early history of Australia?  If so, is this a problem or a welcome means of rectification of a previous imbalance? 

  6. How can the opposing views of (a) dispossession and subjugation of the Indigenous peoples and (b) colonisation provided a better life for the Indigenous peoples, be explored in their complexity to result in a more inclusive and reconciled society?  Is this a skeleton in the closet that needs to be addressed before Australia can have pride in itself as a nation.

  7. Are objective facts less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion?


The Speaker.

Christopher Reynolds

Is a true Australian polymath.  His new book: What a Capital Idea – Australia 1770-1901 is a controversial, enlightening and exciting new publication.

Chris's career has spanned high school teaching, a Bachelor of Divinity at Melbourne University (studying philosophy, theology, ancient history, biblical studies, Greek and Hebrewa PhD at Claremont College, (political science, political philosophy, constitutional law and ethics). He went on to hold positions with the U.S. Congress and Senate, working in the senior position of Senior Professional Stall for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

He wrote Mitch McConnell’s first legislation. Returning to Australia, Dr. Reynolds took up the position of Executive Officer for the New South Wales Minister of Roads, Ports, Public Works and Darling Harbour. Moving to the private sector, he wrote the Grim Reaper AIDS Campaign and then, working for Network Communications, had contracts with five of the divisions of BHP. He then became the Executive Director for the World Trade Centre, Sydney. 

In addition to his current book he has written a book of poetry for children, on globalisation in SE Asia and on learning.  He has published widely in academic literature and in the press and magazines.

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