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Sutherland Shire:
"God's Country"? Or 'Paradise Lost'?

"I call it God's Country," says Sutherland Shire Mayor Kevin Schreiber.Paris? New York? London? Why bother with them when you can live in Sutherland Shire?

Commendable local patriotism. We'd all like to agree. But I've since consulted a score of Shire residents, all loyal to the Shire, and none are prepared to go as far as the Mayor. Instead their comments add up to - "Paradise Lost".

"Look," said one, a history teacher, "it was God's Country - before European occupation! Captain Cook's botanist Joseph Banks went wild over the flora he found around Botany Bay. And Governor Phillip's sailors were boggled by the abundance of fish in the Bay - every time they lowered a net it filled with a swarming load of fish.

"Idyllic! And all accounts of the Aborigines portray them living in harmony with the natural environment. Here's what Captain Cook himself wrote of what he termed 'the Natives of New Holland' (i.e. of Australia)
.they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing them. They live in a Tranquility which is not disturb'd by the Inequality of Condition. The Earth and Sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life, they covet not Magnificent House, Household-stuff &c, they live in a warm and fine Climate and enjoy a very wholesome Air, so that they have very little need of Clothing and this they seem to be very sencible [sic] of, for many of whom we gave Cloth &c to, left it carelessly upon the Sea beach and in the Woods as a thing they had no manner of use for. In short they seem'd to set no Value upon any thing we gave them, nor would they ever part with any of their own for any one article we could offer them; this in my opinion argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of life and that they have no superfluities.” *
Now, that's a snapshot of 'God's Country' alright!

Whatever happened to it?

Answer: the First Fleet, the Convict Era, the Gold Rush, the extermination of most Aborigines, and 200 years of the Growth of Sydney. Today that means nearly four million people are heavily superimposed on God's Country. With incidental desecration!

The desecration really began in 1788 and it began right here in what is now Sutherland Shire.

Governor Phillip, with the Fleet at anchor off Kurnell, ordered a party of sailors to go ashore and cut down trees to make a space for settlement and to replenish the ships' stocks of firewood.

It didn't occur to Phillip or the sailors to ask permission of the then Kurnell residents.

A diarist records that as the tree-felling proceeded, a group of Aborigines assembled, muttering angrily at what they must have viewed as mindless - or sacrilegious - destruction.

Picture that scene! It's an historical first for what became our Shire. The first environmental protest in modern Australian history!. We can be proud, along with the Shire's Aborigines.

As every schoolchild knows, Phillip didn't start the settlement on the land he began to clear at Kurnell's Sutherland Point - named by Cook after one of his sailors, Forby Sutherland, who died while the Endeavour was in Botany Bay. The First Fleet moved round to Sydney Cove (Harbour).

Kurnell Peninsula and what became in 1906 the Shire of Sutherland (not named after Forby Sutherland) saw little 'development' in the 19th Century. But development has certainly boomed in the 20th.

By 1950 the Shire had 50 000 residents. And 50 years later it has 206 000!

What has all this settlement done to God's Country?

Everyone knows the answer. The Shire residents I consulted mostly spoke of 'overdevelopment', 'high-rise', 'traffic congestion'. They expressed concern at the population continuing to rise rapidly (currently by about 1.5% a year).

'Where will it end?' they asked. 'Does anyone have a plan to limit or control further development?'

Good question. If we are ever to struggle back from Paradise Lost to God's Country as observed by that first European intruder, Captain James Cook, we had better begin to take the question very seriously.

*Quoted in Ray Parkin's HM Bark Endeavour: Her Place in Australian History (M.U.P)