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The Makers of Australia. No 8

Hebrews 12:1-3
22nd June 2003

The pioneers of European settlement were both heroes and villains. They were heroes as they moved into totally unknown country with only an axe and an adze, cut a clearing, made huts out of mud, boughs and bark, with no food supplies, shops or medical help, with little stock or grain, and created homes, farms and families. From nothing that could help them, they built cities and colonized a nation.

But they were also villains. Pioneering is not just victory of man over nature. The pioneers never learned to live with the land. They slaughtered the fauna for food. The trees were felled and burnt so that the grass might grow. The denuded country was eroded by wind and rain. Rainfall patterns were changed. River systems were clogged. They introduced European cats, rabbits and foxes. Historian Marjorie Barnard put it, "The land was without disease. It was pure and uncontaminated, its waters wholesome and clear. All pests from rabbits to fruit-fly, from prickly-pear to skeleton weed were brought into the country by carelessness or misjudgement."

The pioneer created and destroyed. Before he conquered it, the land was adjusted to semi-aridity, to bush fires, to wet spells. They did little harm to native vegetation and animals. To his imported crops and stock they could be disastrous. The aborigines conformed to the land. The white pioneer confronted it. The pioneers both environmentally mis-managed and creatively survived. But some pioneers did more than build the farms and increase the flocks Elizabeth Macarthur. Mrs Georgiana Molloy was a pioneer in other ways.

Georgiana Molloy, 1805-1843 was an early pioneer and botanist. Georgiana was born in 1805 in Cumberland, England. As a young girl, she was devout and active in the Presbyterian Church. With her husband, Captain John Molloy, a retired veteran of Waterloo she emigrated to Western Australia in 1829. Their land was unproductive. A week after they arrived, Georgiana gave birth to her first baby while she lay in a leaking tent in the rain, with a servant holding an umbrella over her. The child died in her arms. Later, she lost a 19-month-old boy who fell in the well and was drowned. Her life revolved around never-ending chores and family. Domestic help was hard to find, and she missed women friends. She wrote to a friend: "The Lord is good and has shown Himself to us in many wonderful instances."

Georgiana loved the strange Australian countryside. In 1836, she received a letter from a Captain John Mangles requesting that she send him specimens of native plants that he could grow in his garden as scientific research. Mrs Molloy collected, labelled and packaged seeds together with as much data as she could obtain from either her own research or from the Aborigines. With the bags of seeds, she sent annotated albums of carefully pressed flowers to England. For the next seven years, she continued in this work, which became her passion, as well as enjoyment for the whole family. Her husband and soldiers also brought her new plants from their travels, while the Aborigines gave her medicinal plants. All these she carefully documented. She became known as the "Madonna of the Bush", and the leading botanist throughout Western Australia. However, Mrs Molloy never received proper acknowledgment.

Her work was published in 1839, in a book entitled A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony, by Professor Lindley, of London University's Botany Department. The book did not mention her. Upon news of her death in 1843, following the birth of her seventh child, an eminent horticulturist, George Hailes of Newcastle, wrote: "Not one in ten thousand who go to distant lands has done what she did for the gardens of her native country". Georgiana Malloy was a true pioneer.

The other pioneer woman, Caroline Chisholm's name is remembered in retirement villages for the aged and her portrait is upon our banknotes. Born like Georgiana Malloy, at the start of the 1800's, Caroline Chisholm 1808-1877 has been called "the greatest of women pioneers in the history of Australia". Her parents reared her in the tradition of Protestant Evangelical philanthropy. Her father cared for an injured soldier, whose stories of his service in the British colonies captivated her childish mind. Her favourite childhood game was to play "emigrants". Using a washbasin of water for the "ocean", she made boats of chips of wood with little dolls for emigrants. Interestingly, she had a Wesleyan minister and a Roman Catholic priest in the same boat. Her mother took her to visit the sick and to help people in need. Their care was the result of the Wesleyan "Methodist" revival. Caroline dedicated her life to improve the social conditions of the poor and needy. Captain Archibald Chisholm asked her to marry him, when she was 22, and he fully supported her efforts to help the poor and suffering ever after. Caroline became a Roman Catholic like her husband. Because she was raised a Methodist in an intolerant age, Caroline's conversion was courageous.

In 1838 they came to Sydney, and settled at Windsor. In 1840 just before he left for overseas duty, Captain Chisholm and his wife met some very poor Scots who could not speak English. The Captain spoke Gaelic and found they had no money and no work. The Captain lent them money to buy tools to start their own business as wood-cutters. This incident alerted the Chisholms to the sad state of the immigrants, especially of the homeless girls. From 1835, emigration was free and colonists who sponsored immigrants were paid a bounty. It was a profitable source of income open to abuse. No-one helped the immigrants after they arrived. Unemployed new arrivals roamed the streets by day, and at night slept in the open. As a result of troubles in Canada, thousands of emigrants bound for Canada were diverted to Australia. In 1841 there were 20,103 new arrivals in Sydney, homeless and unemployed. Immigrant girls were exposed to all the moral dangers.

Captain Chisholm was ordered to serve in China. Mrs Chisholm took nine girls into her home in Windsor. She found jobs for many. She needed the help of the government, the press and the public. But what could she do? The public opposed women in public affairs and were aggressive against Roman Catholics. She felt responsible for the girls. The struggle ended on Easter Sunday, 1841. Mrs Chisholm told it in her own words: "On Easter Sunday, I was enabled at the altar of our Lord, to make an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to know neither country nor creed, but to serve them all justly and impartially". She had committed herself as a Christian to serve the emigrants but how could she achieve her ends?

In Sydney, she forced interviews with a newspaper editor and Governor Gipps. He let her use an old building for her proposed home, provided there was no expense to the Government. Soon she was caring for 94 women. Then an epidemic broke out among the immigrants, and she realized she had have her three children cared for in Windsor. That "was the last sacrifice it was God's will to demand". Every night Mrs Chisholm ventured alone into the streets in the notorious "Rocks" area to gather homeless women. She met every immigrant ship. Boldly believing that the Lord would provide, she opened a free job registry at the home.

Mrs Chisholm found work for some of the immigrants in Sydney, but her main objective was to get the girls to the country where there was still a demand for labour. She sent out hundreds of circulars to prospective employers, landowners, clergymen, and police magistrates, asking for help in placing the immigrants. Mrs Chisholm journeyed inland with the girls in drays to Parramatta, Liverpool, Campbelltown, Maitland, Port Macquarie and further to Goulburn, Bathurst, Yass and Gundagai for weeks at a time. She relied entirely on the kindness of the settlers along the route to given them bread, meat, vegetables and fruit. She rode from farm to farm, looking for suitable places for her women and families. She also inspected the homes, to see the arrangements were fair and in writing. In each town where she stopped, Mrs Chisholm held a public meeting, explaining the objectives of the Female Immigrants' Home, giving an account of her work, and seeking persons to form employment committees. She established 12 such agencies and settled 11,000 people in six years.

When Captain Chisholm returned to Australia in 1845 they travelled throughout the colony of New South Wales and collected 600 statements from immigrants about life in Australia. This was to be used as a guide to those in England who wished to emigrate. In 1846, they sailed for England to promote colonisation. Mrs Chisholm had strong views on the importance of keeping the family group together in emigration. She gave evidence before the House of Lords committees, on the execution of the criminal law, and on colonisation from Ireland, a rare tribute for a woman. The Chisholm's house in London became an Australian Information Centre, and for several years, they received 140 letters a day. She formed the Family Colonization Loan Society, with branches in Britain and agents in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. In its first four years, the Society sponsored 3000 immigrants, mostly skilled workers.

In the 1850s, the gold rushes assured the success of the scheme. Mrs Chisholm's work was over. The lure of gold stimulated emigration more effectively than philanthropy. In 1866, Captain and Mrs Chisholm returned to England, where they lived on a government pension. Mrs Chisholm died in 1877 and inscribed over her grave are the words: "The Emigrants' Friend." The historian Sir Keith Hancock wrote: "It is scarcely an exaggeration to assert that Mrs Chisholm established the dignity of womanhood and of the family in New South Wales". But Mrs Chisholm did not only act as a protector; she was also a radical reformer. She protested the abuses of the immigration system. She was not successful in changing government policy because of the vested interests.

But she awakened the public conscience, and some of her changes later became government policy. She insisted on the importance of the family as the foundation of society, and the significance of land ownership to the settlement and prosperity of the immigrant family. Mrs Chisholm's strong Christian faith was the motivation of her courageous life. Two remarkable Christian women pioneers who cared!

When the early Christians thought about what Jesus had done for them and how He had cared, they used a term: "Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." The word is only used of Jesus Christ and it is used in these sentences saying Jesus is "the author of life" Acts 3:15 "the author of salvation" Hebrews 2:10 "the author of our faith" Hebrews 12:2 But is also translated as "pioneer." The one who pioneers the way to life, to salvation, to faith. All of them refer only to Jesus Christ. He is the pioneer, who, by way of the cross and resurrection, leads His followers to life, salvation, and faith.

How essential to know Him, The Pioneer, who is able to lead you to life in all of its fullness, to salvation from sin, and to faith that enables you to overcome the world. When you accept Jesus as the Lord of your life and the Saviour of your soul, you are joining with the One who pioneered for us: life, salvation and faith. The greatest decision you can ever make is to walk in His footprints, keeping close to Him. The Pioneer will open the unknown for you, but you must follow in the path He has trod. For that path leads you safely to your God.


  • DISCOVERING AUSTRALIA'S CHRISTIAN HERITAGE C Stringer; 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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