SORRENTO - THE 200th ANNIVERSARY


Robert Barnes, Chairman of the Committee for the 200th Anniversary of the Collins Settlement at Sorrento gave an outline of the history of the settlement and events planned for its commemoration from the 4th to 12th October 2003.

David Collins has often been criticised for his handling of the settlement at Port Phillip but his choice of Sullivan Bay on the Mornington Peninsular was taken for several reasons. Its proximity to the Heads enabled him to have warning of approaching ships, which could be seen from the hill behind the Bay. It was after all the time of Napoleon and French expansionism. He knew about the Yarra River but was concerned about the numbers of aborigines known to live there. The marines under his command were unpredictable and as there were fewer aborigines at Sorrento, Collins felt it was the more secure site.

Sullivan Bay had several problems. the soil was sandy and arid, fresh water was scarce, and there was not enough timber. Collins recognised quickly that the situation would become desperate and sent word to Governor King that he wished to move to the Derwent area in Van Diemen's Land. A small settlement at Risdon Cove had already been established.

Despite the failure of the settlement in 1803, an acknowledgement of its existence seemed appropriate. The Committee wishes the involvement of all Victorians and events have been organised accordingly. All members of the committee work in an honorary capacity but people with special skills in "event" organising have been employed on a paid basis. Cost of the event is $450,000. Tattersalls has donated $150,000, the Labor Government has donated $10,000, and the Sorrento Council has donated $15,000. A very professional program has been produced and fundraisers are confident of collecting the remaining money.

There have been several aims of the Committee: to publicise the Settlement as an important aspect of our history, to involve indigenous peoples of the area and to provide opportunities for visitors.

Not everything has gone smoothly. Fifty per cent of the committee's time has been taken up negotiating with the local indigenous people. It is still hoped that they will be involved in the Street Parade and the welcoming party on the foreshore to witness the re-enactment of the landing.

Organising ministers of different religions to be involved in the Ecumenical Service at St. Mary's Catholic Church was as easy as 'herding cats'. Arranging bands for the Parade similarly was fraught with problems - unless the Navy band marches last, then no Navy band. The position of a commemorative monument to be unveiled on October 9th took considerable negotiation with local residents.

Leading up to the Anniversary will be a 3-day air race. Starting and ending at Moorabbin, stages will be at Bairnsdale, Echuca and Hamilton. There will be a 3-day golf tournament, a bowls tournament and a state-wide art show, all with prizes. A yacht race from Queenscliffe to Blairgowrie is to become an annual event. For younger people there is a 3-day school program to teach students about the Settlement. There is the opportunity to learn why Collins failed in an area where aborigines could live.

There are few large venues near Sorrento so to involve as many descendants as possible as well as the VIPs and the 'must be there' people, 2 events have been organised. On the anniversary, Thursday 9th October, there will be a Descendants' Cocktail Party and on Saturday 11th October there will be a Settlers' Dinner. One hundred descendants from Tasmania and some from New Zealand have made arrangements to come.

Sunday the 12th October 2003 promises to be an enjoyable day. A church service followed by a street parade, then the re-enactment complete with 'tall ships' and a 'fly past'. These activities should attract a good crowd.

(The Above is a Report on Robert Barnes' Address at the General Meeting on 10 May 2003)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)


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