ArticleThe Making of a Nation, Part 1: A Remarkable Convict
Unlike humans (or any living beings, for that matter), nations aren't born on a specific day - yet, on many occasions, they are assigned a symbolic birthday. Usually, it's a day when some formal document indicating unification or parting ways was signed, or some important building, such as French Bastille, or piece of land changed hands. Some such days have an individual name (like American “Independence Day”), but most are known simply as “Such-and-such Country Day”.
“History is written by the victors” - so, it's hardly surprising that Australia Day happens to fall on January 26, the very date when the First Fleet under Sir Arthur Philip hoisted the Union Jack at Sydney Cove. It's probably even less surprising that January 26 is known as “The Invasion Day” among the Aboriginal population of Australia.
Phillip’s policy did not result in eternal peace between British settlers and indigenous Eora - that would've been a full-fledged fairy-tale rather than just a wonder - but his efforts did reduce the tension between the two groups and enable them to co-exist. As a result, both remained in or around the area that came to be known as “the Rocks”. More than 200 years later this neighbourship resulted in a fascinating guided tour offered to the guests of the city. Strictly speaking, there are two separate tours, and the more traditional one covers the story of the immigrants. Any collective story consists of many individual ones, and - when it comes to Australian immigration - the most remarkable individual story features one Francis Greenway who broke about every stereotype imaginable by going astray as a free man but reaching the pinnacle of his professional career as a convict.
A talented architect, Greenway falsified a contract to avoid bankruptcy, was caught and sentenced to death – only to have his sentence reduced to exile. While waiting for his deportation to Australia, he was passing his time painting scenes of prison life. On board a convict ship, Greenway managed to impress the ship surgeon who offered him a private commission upon their arrival at Sydney. Within half-a-year the new convict was introduced to Governor Lachlan Macquarie. In 1816, mere two years later, Greenway – still a convict! – was appointed the Government Architect, and in 1818 he was officially emancipated by Macquarie. In the next few years, the new free colonist accomplished a number of stunning architectural projects that earned him recognition and lasting fame throughout the colony – so much so that several suburbs, a home and a school were named in his honour. He became the only criminal in human history whose portrait appeared on a banknote…
All that did not prevent him from falling out with Macquarie over some minor issue, then getting fired by the next Governor, Thomas Brisbane, struggling for the rest of his life and dying in poverty 15 years later.