Thursday, February 10, 2011

On This Day...

William Bryant and Mary Brand did not meet on a Valentine's Day cruise for young singles. In amongst 600 convicts on route to Australia in 1788, they rattled about the oceans on one of 11 ships we call the First Fleet. Bound for the colony of New South Wales, and with much of their freedom replaced by iron shackles, they sailed into a bleak and unknown future. They made it into our history books and modern movies for their ill-fated and unsuccessful escape attempt to Timor via Norfolk Island, but even before their daring grasp at freedom, their names were written into the record books.

Together with one other couple they hold the title of First To Be Married On Australian Shores, on February 10, 1788, two weeks after the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson. Perhaps theirs was an onboard courtship as they travelled together on the Charlotte. We know Mary was pregnant with another man's child and gave birth to a daughter before reaching their destination. Perhaps William saw a resilience in Mary to match his own, or perhaps they were both ambitious for a life free from the brutal rigours of convict life. Perhaps William could not imagine living without the girl he'd fallen in love with.

Painted with the broad stokes of heartache and romance we've come to expect in historical sagas like theirs, the story of Mary and William Bryant never had the chance of being written any other way. This is a love story peppered with sacrifice and loss. We will never know how much of it is true, but we can be sure of one detail.

On this day in 1788, the young Cornish lass transported for stealing a silk bonnet, jewellery and coins, married her fellow countryman, also a convicted smuggler. They may not have savoured much of a happily ever after, but they will always be remembered as Australia's first bride and groom.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

In the Shadow of your Wings

I haven't lived through a natural disaster, but in the last 2 years I've watched my countrymen and women brave firestorms and raging floods of Biblical proportions. And now, in the last few days, a tropical rain storm blasted its way into our weather system, with a tail so powerful it lashed my own city two days later with devastating results. 

When Australia was hit by record breaking floods in January, the story blew everything else off our TV screens. We watched in horror as story after story broke, and the heartache of flood victims hit home. 

Then, greedy for attention and building in momentum, Tropical Cyclone Yasi roared in from across the Pacific less then 2 weeks later, adding dread to a country already crippled by disaster. Warnings issued to the residents of Far North Queensland came fast and strong all day, as the category 5 cyclone headed our way. 

The message could not have been clearer. "Don't bother to pack. Just get out." Like sleeping faces, houses and businesses were boarded up and secured. Families bundled their treasures and tried to out-run the storm, while others bunkered down and stayed behind to face whatever the night would bring. 

By midnight the wind and rain lashed the shores of many coastal towns and those of us watching from the southern states fell into a fitful sleep of prayer and more prayer. 

Dawn news reports brought the eerie sights of a landscape decimated by wind and water, and anything it could carry for ammunition. Trees, beaten and stripped, stood like weaklings in a mess of strewn leaves and debris. Houses slumped in their own mangled mess, many without a roof. People huddled in evacuation shelters, or emerged from their homes to survey the scene. 

Unbelievably, unlike the flood news of two weeks ago, reporters marveled at the remarkable preservation of life. Yes, God was listening. Not one fatality made it to the news reports that day, although sadly that has now been revised to one.

So we watch again, as a fresh disaster mingles with another, and the clean up begins for thousands of displaced families. And once again, we are reminded of God's mercy in times of trouble for those who look to Him for shelter and call on His name.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! 

People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7