John Menadue. What does it mean to be an Australian? Are we still the land of the second chance?

The Macquarie legacy is still with us. It underpins our best instincts to give all residents in this country, whether Australian born, migrants or refugees an equal opportunity in life, a second chance. That ethos of redemption is a core part of our history.  

This is a repost of a blog that I posted on January 28, 2013.

On Australia Day in the press and in the pulpit, many have been asking this question. What is different about being an Australian? We will all have different answers. The word that comes to my mind is an old fashioned one ‘redemption’, giving people another chance, another opportunity.

Governor Macquarie was no political radical or hot gospeller. He was a tough military veteran from the British army in India, a loyal member of the Anglican church and a Tory in politics. Tickets of leave and the policy of emancipation turned Australia from being a dead end penal colony to a land of a second chance. Some didn’t seize that new opportunity. But most did. Australia built a new society by giving the outcasts and the underprivileged in this land of ours a chance to get on their own feet. It set the future pattern of Australian society.

Governor King introduced tickets of leave in 1801  for convicts who had served a period of probation. Influenced by Phillip  our first governor, and the anti-slavery reformer, William Wilberforce, Macquarie from 1811 to 1821 greatly expanded these tickets of leave which enabled former convicts to marry, bring family from Britain and acquire property. Macquarie appointed emancipists to government positions – Francis Greenway as Colonial Architect and William Redfern as Colonial Surgeon. He scandalised the establishment by appointing emancipist Andrew Thompson as a magistrate.

The Macquarie legacy is still with us. It underpins our best instincts to give all residents in this country, whether Australian born, migrants or refugees an equal opportunity in life, a second chance. That ethos of redemption is a core part of our history.

Redemption is not risk and trouble free as Macquarie found. The Sydney establishment conspired successfully to get rid of him. But we remember Macquarie more than any other of our governors. His tombstone in Scotland  carries the inscription ‘The Father of Australia’. It was an apt description. His wife Elizabeth was also  a great companion in helping to shape Australian society.

A friend of mine, Ian McAuley, said that whilst the British sent the puritans to America, they sent convicts to Australia and that we got the better of the deal. The underprivileged and the outcasts in Australia got a second chance. Macquarie gave us a legacy of which we can be proud.

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