TODAY IS ‘HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA’ DAY’
January 26th is known throughout the Land Down Under as ‘History of Australia Day’. Here in New York, the significance of Sydney’s Botany Bay is celebrated from the shores of New York Harbor and Brooklyn’s Lower Bay. The back-story of Australia’s colonization is a central theme of the traditional folk song lyrics of ‘Botany Bay’.
The standard is forcefully yet lovingly performed by The Brooklyn Bards at their fair weather haunt at the Shore Road Gazebo in Bay Ridge Brooklyn that welcomes the breeze off the Lower Bay. But today, in the chill of the winter, the Bards chose to take their chops and harmonies into the studio to record an album containing their favorite British Isles tunes.
A MESSAGE FROM NEW YORKERS OFFER SYDNEY OUR OUTSTRETCHED HANDS
As the recording session evolved on the eve of History of Australia Day, American football fans watched two bay city teams compete in the playoffs for the upcoming Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers challenged the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Under the aura of modern day sport spectacles, these host cities should be recognized for their historical significance in the pantheon of coastal port centers. In this light, New York Harbor’s Lower Bay offers a welcome to its distant equal across the planet.
New York and Sydney share a lot in common, especially in times of climate change and the pandemic. We share the pain that has affected all countries as quarantines are mandatory for all professional sports, music, and social gatherings. In advance of the Australian Open in nearby Melbourne, the players have all arrived in Australian two weeks before the start of the Grand Slam tennis tournament. New York’s U.S. Open tournament will follow this August in our summer season. The global health protocols in large venues will obviously remain the same. Meanwhile, Climate Change has ravaged Australia recently. Flora and fauna slowly returns from the devastating fires along the Australian East Coast in 2019. Both port cities have architectural plans to battle the rising sea levels that threaten their infrastructures.
AUSTRALIA’S COLONIZATION HISTORY
Historically, both New York and Sydney have their modern origins thanks in large part to colonization of the eighteenth century. Native American Indians and Australian Aborigines alike witnessed the sudden in-habitation of strange new cultures on their native lands. Emigration from one region to another is a constant global movement. There isn’t a single continent that hasn’t experienced mass relocation. Cultural integration is planet Earth’s story. The harmony sung by the Brooklyn Bards is nothing short of a historical celebration. The song lyrics cry, ‘For to take a trip on an immigrant ship to the shores of Botany Bay’.
With the end of Britain’s colonization in North America at the hands of the American Revolution, Britain’s Colonization efforts shifted to lands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Captain James Cook’s landed on the peninsula in 1770 that eventually became known as Sydney. The HMS Endeavor carried the naturalist, Joseph Banks, who studied and catalogued flora and fauna. So respected was Bank’s scientific discoveries, the waters were called ‘Botanist Bay’. Eventually, the name changed to Botany Bay in the newly claimed colony of New South Wales.
Despite Banks’ report of poor soil and no reliable water source, more than a thousand settlers arrived on January 26th, 1788. Included were 736 ‘convicts’ who were banished from England. As criminals could no longer be shipped off to the American colonies with the victory in 1783, Australia had the distinct honor of becoming the British Isles new ‘penal colony’. It was a sixty year practice by the British government to transport convicts to Botany Bay. The six month ocean journey was marked by no less than a ten percent death rate of the passenger list, most of them chained in the cargo holds for the duration of the trip.
EMIGRATION FROM THE BRITISH ISLES
The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1855 was Britain’s most devastating natural event causing the exodus of two million people. 780 thousand emigrated to America. Many of the Irish became Longshoremen of America’s East Coast Port cities. The 1849 California Gold Rush attracted miners and farmers who brought their pick-axes and shovels. Sydney Australia welcomed a good portion of the rest. Stories abound of Irish families that worked the soil or worked the seas taking up new residence in far-away lands.
The Botany Bay folk song offers the following lines as the good ship Ragamuffin sets sail from the British Isles. The Bards harmonize, ‘When I reach Australia I’ll go and search for gold, There’s plenty there for digging up or so I have been told. Or maybe I’ll go back to me trade, 800 bricks I’ll lay for an 8 hour shift and an 8 bob pay on the shores of Botany Bay.’
THE TUNE’S THEATER ORIGIN IN LONDON
‘Botany Bay‘ became popular as a show tune first heard in a London musical burlesque in 1885. The British composer waited thirty years to honor, with great derring-do, the men and women who took the daring yet desperate journey to foreign countries as immigrants. ‘Botany Bay’ was considered the ultimate romantic notion in the theatre circuit district of Piccadilly and West End. Before the turn of the nineteenth century, it was fashionable in entertainment circles to popularize folk music and integrate it into theater spectacles. Until this time, traditional Irish Folk Music could only be found in the British Isles port-side pubs and countryside taverns.
JOIN IN AND CELEBRATE THE HARD-WORKING LYRICS OF THE SONG
In the years before Covid-19, patrons of Irish pubs and taverns would sing along to the Bards, hoisting a pint, reveling in ‘The best years of our lives we spent working on the docks building mighty wharves and quays of earth and ballast rocks.’
But recently, the Sea Shanty craze on Tik-Tok caught fire. Stephen Colbert’s nightly show occupied two consecutive monologues where he encouraged his followers to join the chorus. Brooklyn’s answer to the Wellerman’s Irish Fair performance is also found on Tik-Tok. We invite you to add your contributions at LINK.
There you’ll hear….
‘Farewell to your bricks and mortar, farewell to your dirty lime,
Farewell to your gangways and gang planks and to hell with your overtime’.
THE RECORDING SESSION
Port-side pubs and countryside taverns are exactly the atmosphere Brooklyn Bard music breathes. Listen to some choice takes from Botany Bay, one of the album tracks that will be available on social media music platforms later this month. The Brooklyn Bard band members take a few minutes to express their feelings about performing the song, origins of their instruments, as well as offering their own histories.