First fleeters re-enact landing at Wallabadah

A band of local descendants of the first migrants to arrive in Australia by boat will commemorate that historic 225th anniversary on January 26 in the waters of Wallabadah Creek as part of regional Australia Day celebrations.

The Tamworth chapter of the Fellowship of First Fleeters will re-enact the landing in Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip and his 11 ships on January 26, 1788, with a small but special ceremony in the local creek slap bang in the middle of the village of Wallabadah.

There's only about 31 in the club but true to their colonial roots they're a hardy bunch intent on promoting fellowship and friendship and the heritage of their family histories and the early story of Australia.

Their research capabilities are impressive and so the story of those beginnings include extensive detail and descriptions.

Today's little re-enactment with president Graham Tydd playing Captain Arthur Phillip and Col Worrad as Philip Gidley King. Graham Harband gets to play the snare drum. Wallabadah local Harold McLean and Maurie Miller from Tamworth are a couple of convicts, and Ron Ayton is armed and not dangerous with a musket in his hands.

Gidley King was a lieutenant in that First Fleet and later a governor of Norfolk Island. Locally, he's much better known as the father of Philip Parker King, who was a commissioner with the AA Company, which brought the first white settlers to the Peel Valley and Tamworth, and even more famously, was the father of the first mayor of Tamworth, another Philip Gidley King.

The First Fleet anchored in Port Jackson near the Tank Stream on January 26, 1788 with those 11 ships, carrying 1400 people - 780 of them convicts.

The local chapter has only ever once before attempted a re-enactment of that historic landing. They did a simple little ceremony three years ago at the same site in Wallabadah. 

This time around, they've got a little flat-bottomed tinny that someone can stand up in, a couple of old timers who will dress up as the captain, the convicts, a town crier, a drummer and a governor, and some kids from the Wallabadah school who will recite some of the stories of the first arrivals on Oz shores.

The little production, according to director and long time school scripture teacher Pat Worrad, is bigger and better than the original; they're added some more color and spirit, a few more bodies, a better sound system, and more professional props, including the tinny which they hope won't overturn during duty.

The re-enactment will be near the First Fleet Memorial Gardens in Wallabadah, 40km south of Tamworth, from about 2.30pm.

The gardens are a credit to the village and to the local council who have directed most operations there over the years. But the man with his hands deepest into the soul of this place is Ray Collins, who has been instrumental in the building of them. He's been site foreman, chief engineer and artist for the gardens, which now commemorate both First and Second Fleet arrivals.

Ray's a descendant too of one of the earliest, John Cross. Graham Tydd traces his lineage from Ann Forbes and William Dring. When Ann died in 1851 she left behind 100 great grandchildren. She married three times before then, and she had 10 children to her third husband. Ann was 14 years old when sentenced - she had stolen a roll of printed cotton material woth about 20shillings. She didn't escape being transported on a convict ship across the other side of the world but she did avoid being hanged.

Since deciding they'd recreate the reenactment for such an historic milestone this year, Mrs Worrad and other First Fleeter members have added some intricate and factual detail to the production. Jo Crossing, another direct FF descendant, will do the commentary. Others have helped sew some outfits, including Janet McLean, and they've tried to stay true to the real material depictions.

The convicts wore their own clothes, and most fell off their backs over time, says Mrs Worrad. Calico, canvas, cotton and some flannel are used, along with string ties. Sybil Small, another FF researcher, discovered the women convicts didn't wear knickers much either but they won't stay true to form for that one at the reenactment.

The dressier bits for the executive players have been gleaned from places like the music society.

Mayor of Liverpool Plains Ian Lobsey should be one of the audience today too. He's been a great supporter and can trace his ancestry back to that fleet too. A Kamilaroi elder will give a welcome to country, some indigenous players will play other parts as they stand in the wings watching proceedings, Captain Phillip will get rowed ashore on the banks of the creek, and the motley crew will march up the rise and the flag will be raised on a sapling tree.

Mrs Worrad has encouraged the school to play a part too and four students will recite the stories of some of those who went before, like Margaret Dowling, the ancestor of Harold McLean. She was a Dublin girl, she stole 12 knives and forks in London. She met an able seaman on the Sirius, Owen Cavanough, a Frenchman. They lived on Norfolk Island first but then were granted land at Ebenezer. Their six children gave them 69 grandchildren, and at last count they had over 8000 known descendants.

Those who go today to Wallabadah will learn a little more of those long ago lives. The headstones in the garden provide even more entrancing tales of years gone by and a heritage remembered

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