This year, on Australia Day, the news was running wild with scenes of a protest in Canberra and the PM being hustled away by security guards, losing her shoe in the process. The opposition leader called it the greatest breach of security in 30 years. Well I’m not sure of that, but he got me thinking about major security breaches in Government in Australia and I think a little incident on the beach at Manly in 1790 still tops the list.
In September 1790, the Europeans at Sydney Cove heard the news of a great feast being enjoyed by Aboriginal people at a cove on the northern side of the harbour. The cove was known to the Sydney people as Kay-ye-my. To the Europeans it was Manly Cove, named in honour of the warrior men who had waded out into the water without fear to the longboats of the First Fleet when they sought a place to set up camp in January 1788.
By September 1790 relations between Europeans and Aboriginal people were at the cross-roads. The Europeans had kidnapped a number of Aboriginal men and children, in an attempt to learn the language and get to know the people. A man, Arabanoo, had been snatched off Manly Cove beach in December 1788 had died in 1789, and so with perfect 18th century logic, Governor Phillip sent the boats to get more. This time two were taken, Coleby a warrior and leader and the younger Bennelong, who would become one of the colonial periods most recognised Aboriginal men.
By May 1790 both men had escaped and returned to their people and there had been no more contact. In September Bennelong had sent a piece of whale meat to Phillip, inviting him to come to the feast. Phillip did not hesitate, taking a boat from South Head, where he was then, across the harbour to Manly Cove with a few officers and men. Indeed, there was Bennelong and Coleby, amongst upwards of 200 men and women.
Phillip saw this as a great opportunity to reconcile differences and bring the Europeans and Aboriginal peoples closer together. Alighting alone and unarmed on the beach, Phillip advanced and was meet by Bennelong. The two men, reacquainted, disappeared briefly into the bush, after which Phillip returned to the boat to get some gifts and wine. Here is where the story gets interesting.
Philip was a keen collector, and noticing an unusual spear on the beach, with a long shaft and a hard, sharpened wooden point. Asking Bennelong for it, Bennelong said no and moved the spear close to another warrior who Phillip did not recognise, instead giving Phillip a short spear or club.
Two officers, David Collins and Henry Waterhouse who had accompanied him, now noticed that a crescent of armed warriors had slowly formed around the Europeans, and Phillip, seeing this decided retreat to the boats was in order.
The strange warrior seemed particularly agitated. Phillip decided to approach him in a gesture of friendship. When he was perhaps 10 metres away, the warrior quickly took up the spear Phillip had coveted, notched it into his woomera and let fly at the Governor, striking him hard in the right shoulder above the collar bone.
The warrior, Bennelong and Coleby made for the trees and the rest melted away.
Phillip was speared through, the shaft coming out close to his spine and reeling backwards, it dug hard into the sand of the beach. Collins and Waterhouse rushed to his aid, snapping the shaft and getting him to the boat for the two hour row back down the harbour to the camp hospital.
Phillip survived and the incident indeed restarted the conversation, as soon after Bennelong reappeared in the settlement, along with others. The spear had never meant to kill the Governor but rather it seems was meant to teach him and the rest of the Europeans a lesson, a ritual payback.
Now that’s a breach of security.