When the Sky Fell Down
Our tale begins at opposite ends of the Earth and tells of encounters between two vastly different cultures. These events shaped the history of Australia as we know it.
1788 was a time of dispossession and change. Aboriginal and European people were forced together in the midst of cruelty and destruction never known in this land.
We will journey from the very first encounters, through desperate times of disease and starvation, to the important first communication and an undeclared war. We explore decisions which resulted in long periods of injustice.
The struggle to survive these times of immense change for our ancestors is expressed here. As we share their hopes and fears, we face the challenges of our own times and our new beginnings in this, our Great South Land.
Aboriginal spirituality had ways to explain everything. In the years following Captain Cook’s visit, stories spread along the east coast of Australia. This song is based on a story that the sky was collapsing from the east. The story came from the Yarra region around Melbourne.
Reflects the harmonious land management and lifestyle of Aboriginal people living around the waterways of the ‘Sydney’ area. These people were quite different from their friends and enemies who lived in the western area now known as the outer metropolitan area.
Joseph Banks and the ministers in England discuss a solution to the convict problem. They show their attitude to Australia and its peoples. Derived from actual transcripts of the Select Committee on the Transportation of Felons 1787. Makes reference to ‘Terra Nullius’ and ‘Terra Australis’.
Based on Arthur Phillip’s own ‘views on the conduct of the expedition’. It reflects his intention to carry out the King’s orders to enter into discussion with ‘the natives’ and win their affections, but Aboriginal people avoided the settlement. Eventually Phillip used force to begin his “discussions”.
Two verses and choruses of the old favourite – with three verses added, bringing the story up to the landing at Botany Bay in 1788.
Arthur Phillip and the officers look for a better place than Botany Bay. The crew and marines stay behind and sample the rum stores.
It is decided that the new location will be Port Jackson.
Soldiers, sailors and convicts reboard the First Fleet ships to move to Port Jackson.
Kameraygal people, whose land is on the northern shore of Port Jackson, sing of themselves, their world and their spirituality. They are a waterway community and neighbours to the Cadigal on the other side of the harbour. While the peoples were quite distinct, they all shared a common respect for the Land, and the Law – including each other’s land boundaries. A Kameraygal man named Arabanoo later became the first Australian to be kidnapped by the Europeans.
The Europeans begin the task of building but in their building, they are changing the land and destroying sacred places without permission. They have no idea of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs or boundaries and they don’t care, as their own troubles are so great. Convicts labour to chop down trees and break up rocks. Untrained and unwilling soldiers oversee their work, drink and complain.
The Bidjigal people sing of the coming of the Europeans. The song introduces Pemulwuy, who later became the first to lead organised war against the European invasion. Pemulwuy was a Clever Man known to all Eora (people) of the region. Mystery still surrounds Pemulwuy. It was believed that he could not be killed by white people’s weapons. Until recently he was written out of history.
Arthur Phillip uses force to try to learn the language of Aboriginal people. Under his orders Arabanoo, a Kameraygal man, is kidnapped and taken to ‘Sydney’, the land of his enemies, the Cadigal. The Europeans try to show him British justice – to his disgust. He is held in high regard and admired by his captors.
The words of a Jack Davis poem are used here to portray Arabanoo’s sadness after being removed from his home and losing his identity. It was at this time that smallpox killed most of the local Aboriginal population.
The colony’s food resources dwindle. Crops fail. Rations are cut and food is rancid, as they await the lost Second Fleet. Arthur Phillip decides to kidnap two more Aboriginal people in the hopes of learning how to find food.
The kidnapping of Bennelong and his popularity in the colony. Concludes with his escape after six months.
Kameraygal, Cadigal, and Bidjigal people were present at the very special occasion of a beached whale at the bay of Kayumay – now called Manly. The song expresses the celebration of plenty. The Governor and his party turn up. Negotiations follow but Phillip is speared.
After the spearing Bennelong wonders about his role in the two worlds. How does he deal with the strangers? The British officers gave Bennelong the message that Phillip was not angry with him.
Phillip and Bennelong reconcile and become friends. Phillip sends gifts to Bennelong and even builds him a house on request, at ‘Bennelong Point’ (now the site of the Sydney Opera House). The Kameraygal and Bidjigal are more suspicious and sing of what is happening – how strange it is.
Trading between Aboriginal and European people happens for the first time by supplying each other’s needs. These terms of trade are short lived.
McEntire, Phillip’s gamekeeper in charge of trade, is punished by Pemulwuy for his cruelty and his trading of rum for meat. Phillip decides to punish Pemulwuy’s whole community. Two punitive expeditions are sent out with orders to cut off heads or take prisoners and bring them back to be hanged. Nobody is captured.
Aboriginal people question the law of the British who they see as invaders and lawbreakers. They know and keep their ancient Law which is vastly different to the laws of the British. Their sentiment in the final verse can be shared by the convicts, to express the injustice of the time, or simply for all who experience or know injustice today.
The poem ‘This Is Our Land’ by Jack Davis, is used for the verses of this song. It is a statement of identity with the land and the resistance which began with Pemulwuy and has continued for over 200 years through those who have fought for justice in this land. This dream continues. The Dreaming will never disappear.