History tells us in no uncertain terms that English criminals were shipped off to Australia in gay abandon; anything from stealing a loaf of bread just in order to keep your family alive to the heinous crime of murder, ships sailed from England to Australia packed to the crow’s nest with unwilling passengers. From small children to pensioners, age was no barrier and, regrettably, before reaching their destination, many of those poor souls had succumbed to disease, abuse or just plain old malnutrition.
I don’t know why, but whenever I considered Australia’s “European” history my mind seemed to start from the dispatching of these ne’er do wells from British soil and ended on the shores of Australia where they were guarded by British troops but basically had to make their own way in life. Those that were strong survived and formed the basis of the now eminently respectable people who live there today, and then there were those unable to adjust to their new environment and who fell by the wayside. And of course, way, way before the British dumped what they considered to be the dregs of humanity as far from our shores as possible, there were the indigenous Australians who had for centuries happily survived in their environment by respecting the wildlife around them and living off what nature had provided.
I had always assumed that the majority of these criminals were, in theory, Christians and presumably set about building churches and attending Sunday services upon their arrival, but, of course, even the Christians over in good old Blighty still embraced some of the old, more pagan, ways so I really shouldn’t have been surprised by what I recently read about certain artefacts discovered in Australia.
It should have been obvious to me, who professes to love history, that suddenly landing in a very strange and peculiar land which contained a wealth of unknown birds and beasties as well as plants must have been absolutely terrifying, so it’s no wonder that many of the settlers needed to hedge their bets – still say their prayers and attend their Christian churches, but also to take precautions by using one or two of the pre-Christian traditions just to ward off evil spirits if they managed to slip through God’s tightly meshed net!!
The article I have recently read states that, over the last six years, Ian Evans, an Australian historian has been carrying out a mass of research and has discovered the most amazing things about the early settlers. This has led him to uncover some unusual artefacts which had been well hidden by the “donor”, and amongst which were shoes, prison uniforms, toys and dead cats.
A child’s shoe was found around Sydney Harbour Bridge but this particular shoe it seems had a well preserved heel and sole which suggested that it had been dropped there “accidentally” around the time the bridge was built in the 1920s, but Ian Evans isn’t convinced. He says that this was a good quality shoe and it’s unlikely it would have been dropped there accidentally. He believes it was placed there by one of the builders who was, in all likelihood superstitious, and, much like we still avoid walking under ladders today, it was placed there to ward off evil spirits around the bridge area. Whether this would have been to protect the builder or the people travelling across the bridge I have no idea but, if the latter, it was a very kind thought and hopefully it’s done the trick thus far!!