thomas m wilson

The Lines of a Tree

January 19th, 2008


White Australia was born with the sweat and blood of poor British men and women dripping off it. 736 convicts came out on the First Fleet. The ‘First Fleet’ consisted of eleven ships full of people forced into exile from their homeland by a legal system that looked after the rich. The oldest female convict was Dorothy Handland, a dealer in rags and old clothes. She was 82. She had been given seven years for perjury, and in 1789 she hanged herself, in a fit of befuddled despair, from a gum tree at Sydney Cove. She became Australia’s first recorded suicide.

For me nature is a lifeline. My sense of my self as part of the natural world buffers me against depression. But when Dorothy’s body swung from the limb of a gum tree, like the one above, she clearly had no understanding of the lines of nature as lifelines.

Did the Aboriginal people ever record a suicide? I don’t know. As Australia Day approaches this year I’ll be looking back with sympathy not only on the Aboriginal people who suffered the invasion of their homeland, but also on those thousands of men and women who were slaves of the British Empire two hundred years ago.