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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2223


Senator LEWIS(12.46) —I take this opportunity on the first reading of a money Bill to raise a matter which has been receiving some substantial publicity of recent times. It was the subject of a speech by Senator Martin in the Senate yesterday afternoon. It has to do with a so-called exciting venture for the 1988 celebrations involving a re-enactment of the First Fleet voyage to Australia. I take it that most honourable senators are aware that I am a director of the Australian Bicentennial Authority which is organising the celebrations. I am the Opposition's representative on that Authority. The Government representative is in the House of Representatives.

The question of a re-enactment of the First Fleet's voyage was raised before the Authority as long ago as 1980. In fact, it has been in the pipeline for a number of years as a result of the establishment of a commitee called the First Fleet Re-enactment Committee. The person behind that project was a Mr Jonathan King who is a descendant of First Fleeter Phillip Gidley King who subsequently became a governor of this country. Mr Jonathan King has put an enormous amount of work into a study of the First Fleet's voyage to Australia. He has written a book which I am holding at present. It is in our library and is a very interesting book to read. Mr King is a most enthusiastic First Fleet supporter and has been pushing this project-perhaps rightly so, from his point of view-for some considerable time.

There was a problem right from the word go about the departure of the First Fleet. It took months of initial preparations. Eleven vessels had been acquired for the voyage and there were dockyard delays in refitting these vessels.


Senator Grimes —Strikes?


Senator LEWIS —The Minister asks if there were strikes. I am not aware of any strikes but in those days strikes would not have been given the allowance they are given these days. Vessels were acquired for the voyage but one wonders about their ability to make the trip. In fact, the departure was delayed from 19 August 1786 until 13 May 1787. Finally the fleet sailed comprising HMS Supply a brig of 170 tons, the Alexander a barque of 452 tons, the Scarborough a fully rigged ship of 430 tons, the Friendship a brig of 274 tons, HMS Sirius a fully rigged ship-I am not sure of its tonnage but it was 110 feet long-the Prince of Wales a fully rigged ship of 350 tons, the Charlotte a barque of 335 tons, the Lady Penryhn of 333 tons, the Fishburn of 378 tons, the Golden Grove of 375 tons and the Barrowdale of 375 tons.

The First Fleet Re-enactment Committee talked about having a re-enactment of the whole voyage. Of course, one has only to think of the number of ships that were purchased in those days and the cost of reconstructing them and obviously the whole thing immediately leaps out of the range of probability. The First Fleet Re-enactment Committee was not foolish and did not suggest that there be a total re-enactment but it had varied plans ranging from one, two or three ships. The plans varied in accordance with the amount of money which may have been available to expend on this project.

One must realise Mr Deputy President, and you of all people in this Parliament would realise, that given the size and condition of the vessels in the First Fleet, it reflected great skills on the crew that none of these vessels foundered. Since that date, of course, numerous vessels have foundered in the Roaring Forties or disappeared without trace and the sailing directions, in fact , warn of severe gales south of latitude 40 degrees south for 30 per cent of the winter months and 15 per cent in the best months. The danger to small vessels can perhaps be best illustrated by the fact that the 10,000 ton Australian cruiser HMAS Australia, on a mercy mission to Heard Island in the late 1940s, experienced such high seas that she was unable to turn around. Of course there are icebergs and all sorts of problems even for vessels designed to go down there. But these vessels, in fact, did not have any such design capabilities and to reconstruct them in their exact form for this purpose would be a nonsense. You yourself, Mr Deputy President, told me the other day that the Royal Navy, in 1905 abandoned sailing ships for training purposes on the grounds that they were unsafe. This Committee had proposed that we reconstruct at least two or three sailing ships of the type and take them on a re-enactment of the voyage.

When that proposal came before the Bicentennial Authority, I can assure the Senate that I spoke very strongly against it. It seemed to me that it would be a great voyage to be on and I would certainly love to go for the sail and perhaps even take the risk that one of the ships might founder with all hands but I wonder what would be the reaction of the Australian community if it were discovered that one of these ships had foundered with all hands south of latitude 40 degrees south and what would be the result? Would these ships have had to have been escorted by the Royal Australian Navy in case of that possibility? The more one thought about it the more it became a nonsense because how could we possibly, in any event, re-enact the entire voyage? What would we do about the delays which happened en route? What would we do about the weather that these ships might be confronted with? Of course, the whole thing, having cost a lot of money, might have ended up as a total fizzer if the ships were unable to come into Australia on 26 January 1988.

I cannot see how the Committee could possibly have given that promise even if the ships were designed with hidden motors down below in the holds that would enable them to be driven regardless of wind conditions. So the whole project seemed to me to be airy-fairy stuff. If some business concern could have seen some means of making some money with a film or something of that nature, it may have been able to come up with something worthwhile. But it did not seem to me to be the sort of venture that the Australian Government should be asked to spend millions of dollars on. I will come to the question of money.

In February 1981 the First Fleet Re-enactment Committee made a general statement which was considered by the Bicentennial Authority. As a result of discussions which took place, finally, in February 1982, the First Fleet Re- enactment Committee Chairman, Sir Donald Trescowthick, Chairman of the Trustees, advised the Australian Bicentennial Authority, with regret, that the proposal was not economically viable and that its economic intelligence report had indicated the cost to be between $18m and $31m. I hear Senator Grimes laughing. He and I are ad idem on this matter. I wonder what value the people of Australia would have received out of the expenditure of $18m to $31m on this project. The cost would have depended on the method of acquisition of ships for re-enactment. The maximum revenue that could be anticipated would have been about $6m. Sir Donald also indicated that he was resigning as Chairman, having completed the feasibility study for which purpose the First Fleet Re-enactment Committee was formed. The Australian Bicentennial Authority had a view that there ought to be a re-enactment of the arrival in Sydney. That is a different proposition.

In the Australian of 30 May there is an article by a Mr Tim Allerton, which relates to an interview with Dr David Armstrong, the General Manager of the Authority. I do not know whether Dr Armstrong has been misquoted or quoted out of context but I am concerned about the report that, allegedly, Dr Armstrong said that the re-enactment voyage could provide a flashpoint to Aboriginal protest. I do not know what that all means and, I suspect, in due course there will be a proper explanation from Dr Armstrong. I do not propose to deal with that. The report by Mr Allerton stated:

It appears that one of the most exciting ventures for the 1988 celebrations could run aground because of the authority's decision.

That is an absolute nonsense because there is no proposal before the Bicentennial Authority. The First Fleet Re-enactment Committe has withdrawn the proposal. I understand that Mr Edgley has more or less said to the Bicentennial Authority: 'If we come up with a proposal'-which he just does not have- 'would you agree in principle to accept it'. Of course, that was rejected. If Mr Edgley has a proposal let him put it before the Bicentennial Authority.

I believe I have a much better proposal. Some people-perhaps the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or Australian Associated Press could be involved-ought to sit down with Jonathan King and his book, the logs of the vessels and the diaries of the people who travelled on them and prepare a series of news items. There ought to be a bicentennial news report for say, two, three or five minutes every day. We could start in 1776 with news reports about what happened then in regard to the proposal that there be a fleet to take people to Australia.

We could progress with a phantom news broadcast which built up from 1776 and ended up with a guarantee that, in fact, a fleet would come through on 26 January 1788. Until then it would have been reporting events as they happened on board the ships, with births and deaths, two hundred years beforehand. I think that properly organised it could be a most interesting exercise. There could then be a reasonable re-enactment of the First Fleet arrival in Australia on 26 January 1788.


Senator Grimes —It would not cost $31m.


Senator LEWIS —It would not cost $31m.

Sitting suspended from 1.02 to 2 p.m.