ArticleThe Making of a Nation, Part 2: Oil and Water
Francis Greenway was an exceptional individual, whose story begs to be turned into a Hollywood script. His more conventional fellow convicts might have led less eventful lives, but they still managed to create some stories, the most amusing of them born on the border between myth and reality. That story deals with twin street names.
In reality, there were two makeshift hospitals built right after the arrival of the First Fleet – and a number of female convicts recruited to work as nurses. The nurses were not paid but their basic needs were provided for. Their hands were always full, and their work was crucial for the survival of the colony. Unsurprisingly, those nurses would spend long hours in the hospital and go straight home when they were finally done for the day – both since they were too tired to go anywhere else, and because there was hardly any entertainment, in any case. They did not have to go too far, either, as their equally makeshift homes were right next to the hospitals. As well, in reality, there was a 1979 provincial government’s decision to honour the nurses by creating a street and naming it after them. However, the resulting Nurses Walk, snaking through a number of quaint lanes and passages dotted with all sorts of boutiques and souvenir shops, turned out to be a significantly embellished version of the historical site it was meant to represent. The local folklore added further embellishment by willing into existence an imaginary street named Doctors Walk. The Walks are said to have run parallel, and quite close, to each other. It is only natural that both doctors and nurses – quite tired and rather distracted after a long workday – would occasionally take a wrong turn in the dark and go astray… At least, they were fortunate not to go missing – unlike a number of unlucky sailors who would get drugged in a port bar and smuggled through a trapdoor in the cellar into a hold of a slave ship (or so another local legend says).
Stories, be they funny or horror, are the lifeblood of many a good tour but occasionally a picture is indeed worth a thousand words – and so is an authentic object. The Settlers Tour features quite a few of such objects, most of them being 230-or so-years-old rudimentary contraptions used by the original settlers. The Indigenous Tour also has some practical objects on display but the nature of their connection to their owners is altogether different.
The tour guide – an indigenous woman – rummaged in her purse and took out a small light brown box. When she opened the box, we saw that it contained a coloured ointment. The guide asked for a volunteer to step forward and carefully smeared some ointment on the back of the man’s hand. “Welcome to the tribe”, she smiled. It turned out that the same ceremony would apply to newborn babies. According to the guide, the ceremony’s simplicity only emphasized its spiritual significance. Spirituality permeates tribespeople’s lives – no wonder that any such life should start with a symbolic act connecting the new person to the values of the world he or she has just entered. The first formative weeks and months of the child’s life would follow suit. A name would be chosen, based on the exact time and place of birth. Several personal totems – such as a plant, an animal or even a particular stone – would in some intricate way match the name, and that is where symbolism begins to bear on practical matters because the child would from very early on be made personally responsible for feeding the totem animals, watering the totem plants, gathering and polishing the totem stones. In other words, the child’s connection with hir personal totems would be carefully fostered to ensure it lasts as long as the person lives. Tribespeople’s attachment to each other and to their land is equally strong. Every tribe has its own collective totems like, for instance, a river flowing through the tribe’s territory or the biggest tree growing on it – and all tribe members would take as much, if not more, care of the common totems as of their personal ones.
The above stories, like nothing else, emphasize just how different the two cultures are. It's arguable if one or both of them, taken on its own, might be considered a wonder - yet, the fact that such two opposites have somehow been reconciled to give a rise to a distinct nation (and a new type of society), is probably one of the most striking social wonders humankind ever produced.