One of the (many) things that I find difficult is attempting to see events from the perspective of my ancestors. Historians have the benefit of hindsight. We have access to an internet full of information. We know what is going to happen. We know which natural disasters affected which location on a particular date. We know the date and time when wars started and finished. We know what places were like at any time in history. The participants had no such clarity. They lived their lives just as we live ours: one day at a time.

This particular train of thought was prompted by an experience on a recent holiday in Australia. The emphasis was on the word ‘holiday’. We tried to limit daily travel time to a maximum of four hours. One enthusiastic local told us of a spectacular view that should not be missed. Such recommendations are generally welcome. When we probed in more detail, we found that the particular location required a three-hour detour simply to reach it. And, of course, another three hours back. If you are an Australian, six-hour car journeys are not regarded as noteworthy. Their perceptions of distance are quite different to mine. Driving a long distance is relatively stress free on most roads in Australia. Many roads are arrow straight and empty. The major danger, as the road signs regularly point out, is tiredness.

Free settlers, as opposed to convicts who were transported, appeared in Australia from 1793 onwards. This was only five years after the ‘First Fleet’ landed. What were they expecting to find? What had they been told? Uprooting your family to undertake an eight-month voyage to a distant continent requires significant motivation. I expect that they had been told of the almost limitless amounts of land available for farming. They had probably heard stories of the long hours of sunshine. Ideal for ripening crops. Had they been told about the extreme heat? 40°C has been reached just once, for a single day, in the UK (in July 2022). It is relatively common in Australia. It was 40°C in Perth when we landed there (in late November 2023) and had been so for days. Did they know that the best agricultural land was some distance inland from the early settlements, and that roads were almost non-existent? What did they know about the wildlife? Deadly snakes and spiders. And the flies. Did the presence of First Nation Australians (also known as Aboriginals) comes as a surprise? I am reasonably certain that the reality on arrival was far different from their expectations. There must have been some thoughts along the lines of “what have we done?”

Picture: female Sydney Funnel Web spider. One of the world’s most venomous spiders and native to the Sydney area.







By Tirin at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,