“We are Australian …” – but which way is home?

On his way back from the trip across the Blue Mountains, Darwin records:


Accompanied by Capt. King rode to Paramatta. Close to the town, his brother in law Mr Mac Arthur lives & we went there to lunch. The house would be considered a very superior one, even in England. — There was a large party, I think about 18 in the Dining room. — It sounded strange in my ears to hear very nice looking young ladies exclaim, "Oh we are Australian, & know nothing about England". — In the afternoon I left this most English-like house & rode by myself into Sydney. — “

This at the farm of Hannibal Macarthur In is interesting to compare this with comments of his Macarthur’s Aunty Elizabeth Macarthur earlier – circa 1795 (or 1798?) – about children talking about “home”).

“Such as it is the little creatures (children –R) all speak of going home to England with rapture – my dear Edward almost quitted me without a tear. They have early imbibed an idea that England is the seat of happiness and delight, that it contains all that can be gratifying to their senses, and that of course they are there to possess all they desire. It would be difficult to undeceive young people bred up in so secluded a situation if they had not an opportunity given them of convincing themselves.”

“But hereafter I shall much wonder if some of them make not this place the object of their choice. By the date of this letter you will see that we still reside on our farm at Parramatta – a native name signifying the head of a river, which it is.” (in Tim Flannery “The Birth of Sydney” page 117)

Elizabeth Macarthur’s comments are of interest in that they not only provide a description of the situation but also of a children’s fantasy structure itself, in which ‘home’ is another place, far away. Her views for ‘some’ of them to make ‘this place the object of their choice’ prefigures the situation which Darwin finds when visiting her nephew Hannibal Macarthur’s farm/house in 1836.

The sense of empire lingered for a much longer time, with it being very much in evidence in the period when Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia.

Some commentators put this down to a need to belong to something ‘greater than’ Australia. The position of recent Prime Minister John Howard, in readily embracing a new United States of America version of empire, may be part of this same ‘need’.

One of the tragedies of Australian colonisation is that there has never been an embracing of Australia’s First Peoples – and their languages, cultures and cosmologies – which may have gone some distance to not only filling this need, but would have also brought new arrivals into better contact with their actual surroundings.

The children of the Macarthurs and the Kings do not speak indigenous Australian languages (the reference to Parramatta by Elizabeth may be part of a very early interest in these matters). Some of them do become involved in the Australian Agricultural Company which sought to invest British capital in cattle stations carved out of the living countries of First Peoples.

For more on Hannibal Macarthur see



Map of present day Parramatta area, New South Wales

Map picture

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