Tom arrives on Saturday 25th of October 1794. Life is primitive and squalid, but he’s allowed to buy land and given other benefits. Tom survives the near famine that overtakes everyone in that first January and gets his farming together the following year but starts to think of rescue. His parting shot to Sydney is rowing out through the heads with Jane Lambert and just managing to effect his escape after a cold night rowing about trying to make contact with the American trader that agreed to have him as a passenger for a price. He’s been 16 months in the colony.
Relationship with Place
I first visited Sydney in 1996. I’d been packed off by my family to help my brother who’d recently immigrated to Melbourne with his family. I washed cars for a month in an underground car park as part of a short-lived car valet business. As a thank you present he bought me a trip on a tour bus that took me on a roundabout road from Melbourne to Sydney. We arrived late into the Bondi neighbourhood of the city and a group of us booked a big room in a grubby guesthouse. My memories of this visit are largely associated with the stress of trying to find somewhere cheap to stay and of failing to budget my money accurately to keep me in food for the full length of my visit.
In 2000 I visited again, this time taking part in an exhibition called ‘Sporting Life’ at the MCA. Later I visited the city with my whole family. During these trips I explored the city and got a feel for the place. In 2010 I applied for and received money through Glasgow’s visual artists grant scheme and set off with my camera to compile a suite of 20 photographs that would communicate something of my aim with this project.
Tom arrived in Port Jackson and Sydney Cove, during the Australian Spring of 1794. His group of special category prisoners had argued, fought and intrigued their way out here and therefore must have been grateful to escape the confines of the ship when they finally arrived. However on that first day walking up the jetty they must have been unsure how they would be received. Fortunately with the money they’d been allowed to carry along with them they found they could buy themselves advantages over the rest of the prison population. Some freedom to choose where they lived. Freedom to work the land for themselves and labour for sale to help raise crops and maintain their property. It was a frontier lifestyle surrounded by a landscape unmapped by Europeans, tense relations with an increasingly weary indigenous population, high levels of alcohol consumption among soldiers and prisoners, thousands of poor hungry people who didn’t want to be there and an armed soldiery. It must have been a dangerous place for someone like Tom with his record of confrontations with authority.
I’d been researching Thomas’s story since 2001 and had a number of research questions that could only be answered through visiting Sydney. I approached Glasgow’s Visual Arts Grant Scheme with the proposal to launch 2 new squares of this project ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Sydney’ and received their support. The timing of the journey was dictated by the collective efforts of my family to be in Melbourne for my brothers 50th birthday in May 2010.