Top-shelf pioneering spirit

While we were in Perth, we made a visit to Kings Park, specifically to see the Lotterywest Federation Walkway, which the girls had not been to before. The walkway goes for 620 metres through one part of the park, with a third of it elevated 16 metres above the ground, so that you walk through the canopy of the eucalypts. Lookouts along the way offer fabulous views over the city and the river.

Kings Park plays such an integral part in my memories of growing up in Perth: playing in the adventure playground with its wobbly tree trunk stepping-stone across a lake to an island (the stepping stones are long-since gone), picnics with my family when I was on day-release from boarding school, ‘jogging’ on the tracks for fitness while I was at Uni (ha! the only reason I run is if I’m being chased by a bear), climbing the steps of the DNA tower, champagne and chicken breakfasts overlooking the city, New Year’s Eve for the millennium at the restaurant in the park, trying to walk home from that evening and realising the park was bigger than we thought it was…

Perth’s early settlers showed great foresight in setting aside 1000-odd acres of bushland on the edge of the city for public open space. If it hadn’t been designated as such, this area would definitely be Perth’s prime residential real estate and would probably be covered with multi-story apartment buildings, each competing for what are truly outstanding views over the Swan River, the city and east to the hills which form the Darling Escarpment.

Anyway, as we walked back to the car from the walkway, we passed the Pioneer Women’s Memorial fountains.

This particular area of the park has hosted many of the picnics I remember. And yes, the lawn is always that green and flawless. I have no idea how they manage to do that?

I have a feeling this pond is also site of one of my younger brother’s unauthorised swims as a toddler.

I’ve always known the history of this fountain but this time, as I wandered by it I had a renewed admiration for what it stood for.

Over the past few weeks I’ve started researching the lives of the women who settled our nation voluntarily, as background for a vague idea of a writing project. I’ve been trying to understand what would it have been like to leave the comforts of your home and extended family in Britain to board a ship for a long voyage around the world, not knowing what waited for you at the other end.

One of the sources I’ve been reading is a collection of the letters of Eliza Brown*, an early settler to the Swan River Colony. Most of the letters were written to her father at home in England and they convey in detail the trials and tribulations of her new life all written in a formal and considered manner.

Of course, the timeliness of correspondence was at the mercy of shipping schedules. One line from a letter to her father which affected me in reading it was:

We have now been four months in the Colony and not received a line from home, the only letter that has come to hand from a relative is one from Mr. Brown’s Brother Wm. which communicated the tidings of poor William’s death, the circumstance was touched upon more in the way of a passing remark that with any idea that it would be the source from which we should first hear the melancholy intelligence.

And thus, she learnt of her brother’s death.

I realised as I read that particular line, that no matter where we choose to go in the world today, we will never have to endure such isolation. The Internet, mobile phones, satellite phones, helicopters, and aircraft are all at our disposal.
Even if we chose to make a new life forming an alternative colony on the edge of the Arctic Circle, we could probably watch our favourite TV shows via our laptop computers and a satellite phone connection. Just the other day on Oprah (…I was having a day off work sick…alright?) people were Skyping into her show from places such as a submarine 180 metres below the sea, an Antarctic research station, an aircraft flying 35,000 ft above California and one of the Inuit communities in the far-North of Canada.
If you can Skype Oprah, I reckon you could find out a family member had died without having to hear it months later via an offhand reference from a third party.
The early pioneers showed an amazing fortitude of spirit in tackling the challenges of their new worlds and I think it’s an experience that would be difficult to replicate today.
Their spirit was awesome in the true meaning of the word.
* A Faithful Picture: the letters of Eliza and Thomas Brown at York in the Swan River Colony 1841-1852 edited by Peter Cowan, with an introduction by Alexandra Hasluck. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1977.

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