‘Old Palmer Song’ sea shanty: The wind is fair and free my boys, the wind is fair and free…
It was wind powered vessels which brought the first European explorers to our shores. Depending on who you believe it was either the Portuguese or the Dutch. But there is little doubt about who the first settlers were, the convicts and soldiers of Great Britain who sailed into Botany Bay in 1788 and started life in a new, and very alien, land.
They didn’t realise it at the time, but they had unwittingly straggled up the beach into a war zone.
Not against the original first peoples, that would come soon enough, but against the almost malicious nature of the new continent.
Hardly anything they knew about life, farming and survival the islands of Great Britain, or Europe, would apply here. Their only stroke of luck was to have arrived at a time when the weather was kind and started life in an area which received a regular supply of rainfall.
Other settlers, once they began to fan out from the Sydney district, were not as fortunate. Australia is littered with the relics, abandoned farm houses and lonely graves of those who tried to tame the country and failed.
Only those with a regular supply of water in this drought ravaged land prospered. And for many, it was not access to a spring, creek, river or lake which saved them from disaster, but artesian bore water. The great underground aquifer which they greedily tapped in order to water their stock, crops and themselves.
And it was usually pumped to the surface by tin windmills. In the space of a generation, the countryside was dotted with the now iconic tin bladed windmills, pumping life giving water to the parched surface.
When farmers, and politicians, gazed out over the plains and saw a windmill they knew its’ true value.
Fast forward to 2014 and the then treasurer of our nation, the Hon. Joe Hockey, surprised the nation when he announced the newly constructed wind turbines gracing the hills around Canberra were an eyesore.
No doubt they would be to anyone valuing coal powered electricity over power provided by the wind.
But to many Australians the bright, white wind turbines were preferable to living with toxic fumes or nuclear waste from a centralised power generation system.
Windmills saved our nation in the past and they will do so again in the future as more Australians turn to this reliable resource. Just as the sailors of old did.
The wind is fair and free my friends, and anyone saying otherwise is simply spouting hot air.
First published in Regrow Queensland newsletter December 2