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The Makers of Australia. No 5

Acts 25:1-12
1st June 2003

The Governors of Australia have been remarkable. Even the recently resigned Governor General has had an in-credible career of public service for forty years. I have known him over all that time since we were at University together. He does not deserve most of what has been said of him. If he had followed our protocols in matters of abuse he would still be Governor General.

Our State Governor, Marie Bashir, A.C., is a remarkable woman. On May 7th this year I was talking with her. It was a lovely autumn night and we were standing on the veranda at Government House with two other members of the Legislative Council. The Governor told us reluctantly and humbly, of what had happened when she was being driven home through the Mosman area late one night. Her driver was driving the Governor's car complete with its gold crown number plates and flying flag when she saw on the side of the road the body of a man. She told the driver to stop so she could investigate. The driver was reluctant to do so. His job was to make sure the Governor was driven home in safety not investigate a body on the side of the road. The Governor insisted he stop: "After all there are two of us and only one of him. And don't forget that I am a doctor," she said. She then gave the driver a further instruction: "Cover the flag on the bonnet of the car". They rolled the body of the man over. She saw that he was pink and felt a pulse. He was alive although much the worse for wear from alcohol or drugs. She sought to revive him. He stammered his name. He had been celebrating the end of examinations. The Governor encouraged him into her car and drove him home. She managed to get his phone number to ring him next day.

The following morning the Governor phoned him early to find out how he was going. Her driver also rang. The Governor said when she prayed she often asks God "Why do you bless this wonderful land of Australia so much?". She has felt the reply: "Because there are still enough people in Australia who care for each other". Our Governor demonstrates that care for others in her own private life as well as her public life.

Today many are quick to pass judgment on our convict past. They were hard times, with hard people living in harsh circumstances. Our early governors were men completing a difficult task, dealing with entrenched graft among the colony's military garrison and rampant debauchery among the convicts. Yet some Governors were godly men whose love of the Lord sustained them through extremely difficult and lonely times.


Arthur Phillip was made a captain in the British navy and appointed first Governor of New South Wales in 1778. Phillip had a vision of a new world growing in the southern seas. He encouraged the emigration of free settlers. He had the planning and administrative skill to transplant civilisation to the other side of the world. The distance and indifference of the British Parliament gave Phillip absolute power over the inhabitants. Phillip was a moderate and able governor. His discipline was firm; yet he refused to tolerate any ill treatment of the Aborigines. He was quick to punish evil with the lash (a standard punishment in the army and navy), and to re-ward industry and good conduct of the convicts by shortening their prison sentences or by giving them grants of land.

Some convicts were selected for positions of authority such as supervisors and policemen, while others were assigned to posts which carried certain privileges. Phil-lip used great care in distributing the food rations, insisting on complete equality for all, regardless of their position. Phillip sustained the morale of the colony. Governor Phillip was a nominal member of the Church of England and a humanitarian. He believed that Christianity was good for the rehabilitation of the convicts. He founded Parramatta because of its good soil and water supply, and its accessibility to Sydney. It quickly became the centre of the colony's economy. Convict labour was used for the construction of buildings and public farming. The growth of private farming was slow due to a lack of resources, tools and experience.

The military wanted grants of land, but Phillip refused them because he felt farming could interfere with their duties. But he was instructed to give grants of land to approved persons, including the military and ex-convicts (emancipists) to encourage the growth of the settlement. In December 1792, Phillip returned to Eng-land because of health problems. His work in New South Wales was highly commended. By 1796, Phillip had sufficiently recovered his health to resume his naval duties. He successfully commanded several ships, and continued to receive promotions until he became an admiral. He died in 1814.


Christian historian, Dr Graham McLennan, writes of Hunter: "The hopes of those who believed that a new Governor would make the good of the community at large his particular care ran high in September 1795.

For in that month a man of incorruptible integrity, un-ceasing zeal and sound and impartial judgment assumed the office of Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the colony of NSW." Governor John Hunter, a fifty eight year old Naval Captain, had sailed into Port Jackson with the First Fleet in 1788. He sailed the Sirius to the Cape of Good Hope to get supplies for the colony. He was in command of the same ship when it was wrecked on a reef at Norfolk Island. Professor Manning Clark says "Throughout his naval career he had showed himself to be a man who combined physical toughness with some of the gifts of an artist, a man who looked to Providence as a prop and support and who spoke of Christ as his Saviour."


Macquarie's twelve-year term as governor transferred the struggling penal colony into a thriving, prosperous community. He arrived in 1810 after the Rum Rebellion. The officers of the NSW Corp. were making huge profits through their monopoly of the rum trade. They had re-belled against Governor Bligh who had tried to regulate it. In 1810 the colony was under threat of famine, but by the time of his departure the population had grown from 11,000 to over 40,000 people and agriculture and commerce were thriving. One of Macquarie's first goals was to bring stability to families of the colony. He believed the main purpose of education was, as Professor Manning Clark puts it, "to educate the young in the principles of the Bible.. To instruct the rising generation in those principles which, he believed, could alone ren-der them dutiful and obedient to their parents and superiors: honest, faithful and useful members of society; and good Christians."

Manning Clark comments," His beliefs proved correct as the morals of the colony began to dramatically improve." Macquarie ordered all convicts to attend divine worship every Sunday. The Governor attended himself. He built many churches in association with the convict architect Howard Francis Greenway including St James just near Wesley Centre. He ruled that farmers could get seed or supplies from government stores only if they had a marriage certificate. He reduced the number of licensed taverns from 75 to 20 and clamped down on illegal stills. He built schools for the whites and also the Aborigines. He established schools for the numerous illegitimate children. He realised the importance of the education in biblical principles of the colony's youth.

Macquarie launched two Christian organizations. Manning Clark states: "The first was the British and Foreign Bible Society, which had been founded in London in 1804. The founders believed that every man should be capable of reading the Bible, because its sacred truths produced a unity of sentiment and a correction of the most ferocious manners. The second movement was the Sunday School movement. Its supporters believed in the benefits to be derived by mankind from religious education, and proposed to promote this great object among the children." The Governor's ideas had a huge impact on the colony. "Macquarie remained a champion of the rights of the reformed convict and the humbler settler. It was a commitment which was to make powerful opponents and destined to prove his undoing. From that day until his departure he toured the settlements and was received with praise and affection by officials and settlers wherever he went."

God used this godly governor to create a dynamic, young Christian nation. Macquarie built roads, bridges, churches, schools, courthouses and a hospital. He planned and established five new towns: Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce. He encouraged the building of quality brick or wood-frame housing. Later came Liverpool, the South head Light-house, the Hyde Park Barracks, Port Macquarie, Bathurst, Government House at Parramatta, and the road over the Blue Mountains. His surviving buildings include St James' Church, the Hyde Park Barracks, the Government House stables now known as the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Sydney Hospital, and Parliament House. Macquarie also established the Bank of New South Wales, and silver sterling as the currency of the colony instead of rum. Macquarie built 200 public buildings and 480 kilometres of good roads including the crossing of the Blue Mountains - a remarkable achievement for the governor of a remote, new colony.

The British Government was concerned with the cost. Free settlers like John Macarthur and Rev Samuel Marsden opposed granting of pardons and land grants to convicts who had served their time. Their own farm-ing and wool business was threatened. A Royal Com-mission was established to investigate this and Commissionaire Bigge found Macquarie had been extravagant and too lenient towards the convicts. But today we see Macquarie left the lasting benefit, and turned a penal settlement into a young nation. Today, a grateful nation remembers his name everywhere. The British Government never knighted him although citizens refer to the Botanic Garden's point overlooking the Harbour as Lady Macquarie's Chair, not Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

Macquarie retired to the island of Mull in Scotland's north. A member of the Rotary Club of Sydney, the club of which I was President, visited his family vault in 1994 and found it overgrown and in poor repair. President Mike Hodgetts set about raising $32,000 to restore it. Rotarians from Sydney visited Scotland and the Macquarie Bank ensured the funds were raised. The Rotary Club restored the family vault completely as a tribute to a Christian man who was truly the father of Australia.

Governor Marie Bashir often asks God "Why do you bless this wonderful land of Australia so much?". The reply has come "Because there are still enough people in Australia who care for each other". That Christian care, shown by these great governors, has become an example for the rest of us. There are thirty two references to governors in the Bible. The Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul were brought before their Governors. The Apostle Peter wrote: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by God to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." 1 Peter 2:13-15 We are called to be good citizens who obey the laws and show care for others. That behaviour follows our belief. Christian belief is foundational to all we do. Macquarie summed it up when he wrote his purpose in establishing Christian schools for youth was to be teach them to be "dutiful and obedient to their parents and superiors, honest and faithful;, and useful members of society and good Christians." We honour our Governors who were the makers of Australia and seek to shown the same Christian belief and care.


  • "Southland of the Holy Spirit" Elizabeth R Kotlowski J. Bell 1994
  • "Discovering Australia's Christian Heritage." Col Stringer. Col Stringer Ministries 2001. "The History of Australia." Manning Clark Volume 1
Wesley Mission, Sydney.