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The Makers of Australia. No 6

Hebrews 10:19-25
8th June 2003

Billy O'Shannessy, once a prominent barrister is now on the street where he sleeps on a bench outside the State Library. He is a homeless alcoholic. Above him on the window sill rests a bronze statue of Matthew Flinders' cat, Trim. Ryan is a ten-year-old, street kid heading for all the usual trouble. The two meet and form an unlikely friendship. Appealing to the boy's imagination by telling him the story of the circumnavigation of Australia as seen through Trim's eyes, Billy is drawn deeply into Ryan's life into the Sydney underworld. Over several months the two begin the mutual process of rehabilitation. Matthew Flinders' Cat, the new novel by Bryce Courtney, is a modern day story of a city, it's crime, the plight of the homeless and the politics of greed and perversion. It is a story of the human heart, with an enchanting glimpse into our past from the viewpoint of a famous cat which once traveled with Matthew Flinders mapping for the first time the coastline of Australia.

Matthew Flinders (1774 - 1814) was one of the world's most accomplished navigators and hydrographers and at the age of 24 was the youngest captain in the Royal Navy. He was the first man to circumnavigate Australia from 1798-1803, taking Trim. He used the name "Australia", which was adopted in 1824. He wrote: "I pursued and, with the blessing of God, nothing of importance would be left for future discoverers." Prof Sir E. Scott. Flinders drew charts so accurate that they were used for many years after his death. He will be fondly remembered as a man of integrity, determination, courage and faithfulness in marriage. He was a great explorer and a good Christian and tomorrow marks exactly, the two hundredth anniversary of his safe return into Sydney Harbour.

As a teenager, I remember being enthralled with his biography, written by Ernestine Hill, "My Love Must Wait" and feeling the anguish as the young Captain, who had only spent six months with his bride, having circumnavigated Australia, was returning to England with his charts when he was imprisoned in Mauritius by the French for seven years. He was eventually rescued by the British and returned to England where his book was published. He saw it the day he died aged only 40 years. Matthew Flinders was a Christian explorer.

So was William Lawson. I was driving to a funeral in the Blue Mountains last Friday and I thought again of that trio, Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth who eventually pioneered a path through the impassable mountain ranges. But William Lawson is also remembered for his Christian commitment, being a foundation member of the Bible Society: "a generous supporter of the Church, Lawson took an active part in the establishment of both Scots Church, Sydney and Parramatta." Prof Manning Clark

I recently read again the account of that tough Scot who was the first to reach the centre of Australia, and to explore a practical route across Australia, south to north. John McDouall Stuart was a fully committed Christian who trusted and thanked God at every turn. At the end of his greatest and most dangerous trek, he said, "I sincerely thank the Almighty, that He, in His infinite goodness and mercy, gave me strength and courage and has kindly permitted me to live yet a little longer." He, undoubtedly, was a maker of Australia. But the Christian explorer I had most in mind was the remarkable Captain Charles Sturt, who led three great expeditions which opened up NSW and South Australia to settlement.

In this week, on the fiftieth anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay conquering Mt Everest, I thought of the great personal toughness required of all such explorers. Some explorers like Burke and Wills set off in huge expeditions with large contingents of men, camels, horses, boats and baggage and suffered losses of almost everything including many lives. The horses could not survive the waterless desert. The camels had their feet cut to pieces on the sharp gibber or else bogged in the wet country and were left to die. Men's shoes were cut to pieces. Sometimes they went for months without finding any water. Sometimes, like Charles Sturt, they had to battle upstream against floods. Others like John McDouall Stuart travelled light with only one assistant and a blacktracker. Some went months without sighting one living creature for food. They starved. They thirsted. Stuart and Sturt went blind.

Sturt was a man of great courage, faith and prayer. He wrote constantly of his faith and how he regularly prayed. One early historian J. Waterhouse, wrote: "Sturt, like most Australian explorers faced with a hostile environment, leaned hourly on God's mercy. At night he slept with a Bible that had belonged to his father-in-law under his pillow. When he had to jettison almost all of his possessions in the remote outback, he refused to get rid of his Bible." Sturt records the story about his Bible in a letter to his wife: "As I should have to return to this place again, I was determined on burying or hiding everything superfluous to relieve the horses. I put aside for this purpose my own box containing many valuable things, taking out of it your Father's Bible only, which has been my companion and has rested under my pillow during the whole journey."

Manning Clark had this to say about the man: "The person who opened up the southern portion of Australia for free settlement was Captain Charles Sturt, one of Australia's greatest and most heroic inland explorers. He was a man of courage and prayer, for in many a scene of danger, of difficulty, and of sorrow he had risen from his knees calm and confident. A simple faith sustained him through all the changing scenes of life: by one way only was peace to be found, and that was through prayer…Prayer was his comforter… A man who believed did not need any human mediator between himself and the Almighty. His was a faith for a man to whom much had been given…God spared his life on numerous occasions. He endured tremendous hardship when facing the harshness of the Australian inland, and, as Sturt completed his exploration with his men, who had complete confidence in and admiration for him, he 'went down on his knees and with tears of joy offered his thanks to Almighty God.'" Professor M Clark, Volume 2 page 97

Sturt urged the colonists to convince the aborigine that "the white man was coming as a brother, not to give the aborigine trifling presents but to protect him against violence and aggression, until that day when as children of the same heavenly father, they all learned to look at each other with love and charity."Vol. 3 p.46 In1928 Sturt traced the courses of the Macquarie, Bogan, Castlereagh and Darling Rivers thus opening up all of NSW and reporting on the good pasture. In 1829 Sturt made a second expedition to locate the mouth of the Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers. He committed the safety of his party to the protection of Almighty God as they left. They certainly would need God's protection!

He later wrote: "Something more powerful than human foresight or prudence, appeared to avert the calamities and dangers with which I and my companions were so frequently threatened: and had it not been for the guidance and protection we received from the Providence of that good and all-wise Being to whose care we committed ourselves, we should, ere this, have ceased to rank among the numbers of His earthly creatures". Charles Sturt

Professor Manning Clark frequently refers to Sturt's faith and prayer life, and how his men absolutely trusted and had confidence in him. Sturt records in his journal the famous incident of a confrontation with Aborigines, an incident which once again proved his faith in his Lord. As they sailed down the Murray River, hundreds of hostile Aborigines - painted white and brandishing spears - appeared on the river banks. The explorers tried desperately to appear non-threatening but only succeeded into stirring the natives even further, to the place where they raised their spears and appeared determined to attack: "Notwithstanding these outward signs of hostility, I continued to steer for the bank on which they were collected. An attempt to land would only be attended with loss of life. The natives seemed determined to resist it. We approached so near that they held their spears quivering in their grasp ready to hurl. They were painted in various ways. Some who marked their ribs, and thighs, and faces with a white pigment, looked like skeletons, others were daubed over with red and yellow ochre. A dead silence prevailed amongst the first ranks, but those in the background, as well as the women, who carried supplies of darts, and who appeared to have had a bucket of white-wash capsized over their heads, were extremely clamorous.

As I did not wish a conflict with these people, I lowered my sail. Disappointed in their anticipations, the natives ran along the banks of the river, endeavouring to secure an aim at us; but, unable to throw with certainty, in consequence of the onward motions of the boat, they flung themselves into the most extravagant attitudes, and worked themselves into a state of frenzy by loud and vehement shouting… With an extreme reluctance to take away life, I foresaw that it would be impossible any longer to avoid and engagement, yet with such fearful numbers against us, I stood up and made signs to the natives to desist; but without success. I took up my gun. A few seconds more would have closed the life of the nearest of the savages… for I was determined to take deadly aim, in hopes that the fall of one man might save the lives of many. But at the very moment another party of blacks made their appearance." So his journal continues. Never in his three major expeditions he or any of his party kill or injure any aborigine, even though they many times had their lives threatened.

On the trip back, he and his men had to row their 27 foot whale boat back against the mighty River Murray in full flood, without food, their hands blistered raw, their clothes rags, their backs breaking, they arrived at civilization in the nick of time. That return journey is one of this nation's greatest stories of achievement. His expeditions and journals led Edward Wakefield develop his scheme which resulted in the settlement of South Australia. His third journey into Central Australia proved there was no inland sea as most believed. In fact the desert, the hot sun and the lack of water could nearly have claimed the lives of all in the expedition but for the prayers and skill of a Christian leader.

"...week after week the sun arose and set, and every cloud that arose on the horizon was beat back by a moon as bright and I almost said as hot as the sun itself. After six months we had nothing to engage the attention… Nothing could exceed the desolation around us. Not a herb or flower was seen but the land was perfectly bare and scorched. The water we were drinking became putrid and diseased itself." He wrote to his wife in his journal: "I intend the writing of the journal to be my Sunday's occupation and I have determined to add something to you every succeeding Sabbath. You will then know that I have ever thought of you on that day, and it may be that our united prayers will yet be heard. Prosperity, Dearest, was the blessing of the Old Testament, Adversity is the blessing of the New, and the knowledge of this should be a useful lesson to us, if it please GOD to permit my return to you." Sturt p15

God did permit their return. This great Christian explorer is one of God's "History Makers". He had travelled over 3000 miles through some of the harshest, unknown and hostile territory and survived. "Sturt might be called the beloved explorer, he was revered by all his fellow explorers." K. Fitzpatrick Remember him when you see the Sturt Desert Pea, travel the Sturt Highway, read of the Sturt Stony Desert, and hear of Charles Sturt University. Sturt's journals and writings leave us documented evidence of his great discoveries as well as his devout faith in Jesus Christ his Lord. Everyone has to make his or her own discoveries in life. Like these great explorers, the greatest discovery is that Jesus is God's son, and our personal Saviour and living Lord. Have you made that greatest of all discoveries yet?


  • South Land Of The Holy Spirit: E R Kotlowski 1994 J. Bell Pty Ltd
  • Discovering Australia's Christian C Stringer; Col Stringer Ministries Inc 2001
  • Australian Encyclopaedia; Australian Geographic Pty Ltd 1996
  • The Oxford Companion to Australian History. Eds Davison, Hirst, Macintyre. 1998
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