In February of 1830 Sarah Theodosia Hall, my great, great, great grandmother, arrived in Fremantle on a ship called The Protector. She and her husband had filled most of the 380 ton ship with their livestock and servants. Sarah was 27 years old.
In the middle of the 1840s Sarah planted an oak tree on her families 420 acre farm near Perth. Perhaps she couldn’t truly enjoy the aesthetics of the Australian flora. Perhaps she felt that an oak tree was part of her ethnicity as an English woman, and wanted to plant the tree as metaphor for her own attempt at abiding and enduring on this apparently inclement southern land.
160 years later, in the year 2000, I stand beside Sarah Theodosia’s oak tree, and I see history unfolding its leaves before me. Blood of my blood, she has passed down to me not just a bit of my genetic inheritence, but a beautiful living oak tree for me to look at. Twin strands of continuity standing side by side under the sun.
One of Sarah’s children was my great, great grandfather, William Shakespeare Hall. He was a five year old boy when he arrived at the beach at Fremantle in 1830 aboard a ship whose timbers creaked with his mother and father, five sibilings, eight servants, plenty of tools, seeds, plants, 37 sheep, 13 goats, brandy, gin, rum, and much else (I know this detail thanks to my grandmother Helen Maragaret Wilson’s book Sarah Theodosia and the Hall Family, 1994). These were English men and women whose whole civilisation was based on the pastoralism of the British Isles, in turn founded on deep topsoil and heavy rainfall. Their sheep ate Zamia palms and died. They had arrived at the other end of the earth from everything they knew. They stood on the beach at Fremantle facing endless dry and infertile wilderness, alien plants and animals, and the faces of black men and women whose ancestors had been Australian for the past forty eight thousand years. There they were, clinging to their linen and ‘wearing apparel’ as fragile symbols of the dinner tables of home.
Young William grew into a man and spent much of his life in the 1870s and 1880s in the saddle of a horse in the north-west of Australia. He would have made first contact with the original humans to live in this part of Australia. I can only imagine what these eyes saw.