Today, a prison colony becomes a modern nation. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
It's a half-foggy morning in
Sydney, Australia. I climb the hill West of Sydney
Cove. Across the Cove, the famous Opera House with
its swooping roofs glints in the misty sun. It
like a squadron of French nuns putting to sea
in a rowboat.
England sent Captain Arthur Phillip out in 1787 to
set up a penal colony in nearby Botany Bay. Botany
Bay turned out to be marshland, so Phillips moved
here -- to Sydney Cove. It's only a little dent
inside a large fjord that reaches in from the
The first convicts arrived in 1788. Most had
committed crimes against property. One had stolen a
five pound note; another not much more than a loaf
of bread. Many were old. They had not come for the
adventure of it.
So this morning I try to see the Cove stripped of
the great city that surrounds me. The convicts
lived on this side. Their keepers lived across the
way. Phillips's first order of business was water
supply. He'd picked this Cove because a stream ran
into it. He ordered huge storage cisterns to be
carved into the sandstone along its banks. So they
named the creek Tank Stream.
It was a good move in the short term. The creek
dried up in hot summers. Water would be a major
problem for years to come. But now these Odd-Couple
emigrants -- these prisoners and their keepers --
faced other troubles.
They had to reinvent agriculture. What worked in
England didn't work here. They'd brought
wood-working tools designed for the soft woods of
Europe. Australian woods, like eucalyptus, are hard
as iron. They resist damage even by fire.
Yet this artificial community flourished. By 1819
the citizens of Sydney took on a surprising
project. They began a great Cathedral -- the first
in Australia. I walked through it yesterday, and I
was moved by their audacity.
These people started out living like cave men. They
didn't even have draft animals and water wheels. In
one generation, they were able to invest their
energies in a Gothic Cathedral.
I'm here for a conference with Australian
Engineers. They're weighing their position against
other industrial nations. But this morning I leave
all that. I walk the sandstone cliffs where
convicts first carved primitive shelters. The
backdrop is one of the great cities of the world.
The view offers peculiar praise to the power of the
human spirit. It reminds us that we too can turn
our various imprisonments into freedom and
prosperity. This view tells the liberating power of
human energy and creativity.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds