© Arthur Green

Winner, 2010 Free XpresSion Literary Competition – Traditional Section, West Hoxton Sydney NSW.

‘Land Ho’, the welcome cry rings out, while from the deck, comes ‘Where about?’
‘Two points off port,’ and as the news is spread,
excitedly all line the rail to see first-hand, this strange new jail,
and speculate on what now lay ahead.

For Hannah Smith, expecting soon, her baby by the next full moon,
conceived, she knew not even when or where.
No kin-folk near to help her through. No partner who, for all she knew,
would be concerned or even really care.

For stealing just a loaf of bread, the magistrate had said, ‘Instead
of filling British jails with dregs like you,
we’ll ship them to Australian shores; six boatloads full of thieves and whores,
and see what good, five years out there will do.’

‘Please help me, Lord. I’m not a whore I’m fearful of what lies in store.
At sixteen, and a child still, Hannah prayed.
‘That magistrate has got it wrong. I’m not a thief I don’t belong
among this lot who ply that grubby, trade.’

‘What does he know of naught to eat—no home except some dingy street;
no one to turn to in my hour of need.
What would he have me do instead of taking that small loaf of bread?
Is ‘five years’  fair for such a small misdeed?’

The dread of what now lay ahead for stealing that small loaf of bread,
was fed by whispered tales of this South Land—
of massacres by natives who would club and spear, and eat them too.
Such fears, if in her place, we’d understand.

By night the Southern Cross had set the course the fleet must sail to get
to where they could lay claim to their new world.
Port Jackson—Phillip’s second pick (his first had swiftly got the flick),
was where the British flag would be unfurled.

When Philip claimed this foreign shore as British soil forevermore.
he knew not what strange creatures roamed the land—
koala bears and cockatoos, and crocodiles and kangaroos,
and natives, whose speech none could understand.

With Hannah and her shipmates more than happy to be housed ashore
in tents— a move all felt most opportune,
and Hannah’s baby almost due (in ten days hence, if right on cue),
it seemed the fleet’s landfall was none too soon.

The local natives watched in awe these new arrivals on their shore—
bewildered and uncertain what to do.
The elders met to make a plan they felt would reassure the clan
its message was one none could misconstrue.

’Twas Hannah who would help them choose, and quite unknowingly defuse
the risk of bloodshed, all those years ago.
In labour since mid-afternoon, though still some days before full moon,
she knew naught of that planned scenario.

Her main concern, if truth be told, throughout those months down in the hold,
revolved around what childbirth would entail,
though had she known, come break of day, the role Fate planned for her to play,
would she have even cared through birth’s travail?

As dark shapes slid from tree to tree, aware of what was soon to be
the first new-born Australian in their land,
enacting the decision made, three tribal elders gently laid
their gifts that night, just as the tribe had planned.

As dawn broke over Sydney Cove, its light revealed the treasure trove
of gifts the tribe had gathered with such pride—
two wallabies, just freshly killed, three furry mammals, each duck-billed,
and ten bags filled with fresh-dug yams inside.

So when, each year, we celebrate that Fleet arrival’s special date,
consider too, that first Australian born
of British blood-stock in this land who helped two cultures understand
the need to co-exist, that Sydney morn.

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