Airdate: Arthur Phillip: Governor, Sailor, Spy.

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Tonight BBC First will see David Wenham portray a fictional version of Governor Arthur Phillip in its miniseries, Banished.

Next Tuesday ABC will screen a documentary, Arthur Phillip: Governor, Sailor, Spy presented by Scott Bevan.

As I noted in my review of Banished, timing is everything….

Arthur Phillip is arguably the most important person in Australia’s history. The commander of the First Fleet and the founding Governor of what would grow into Australia, Phillip is – according to prominent historian Jonathan King – this nation’s equivalent to George Washington.

And yet for such an influential person, so little is widely known about Arthur Phillip. Who was this man, what did he do before the First Fleet, and why did he accept the enormous challenge of sailing half way around the globe to found a new colony largely populated by Britain’s cast-offs and criminals?

From his childhood on the banks of the Thames to his service in the Royal Navy during some key battles against other European powers, his time as a ‘captain for hire’ in the Portuguese Navy to his work as a spy in France and South America, Arthur Phillip had already done so much before arriving in Botany Bay in 1788.

And he did so much once he was here; creating a settlement amid the bush, staving off starvation and demanding convicts weren’t treated as slaves. And, while Australia Day is now seen by some as a date not to be celebrated but a reminder this was an invasion for the original inhabitants, Phillip was determined that the Indigenous people be treated with respect. Perhaps more than any other, Arthur Phillip saw a future for what he was creating; he believed this was to be much more than a giant open prison.

Yet despite what he achieved, Arthur Phillip, in the eyes of many, has not received his due. Prominent barrister and author Geoffrey Robertson even argues Phillip’s remains have been lost in a small churchyard in Britain, when they should be ‘repatriated’ to the site of his greatest achievement – on the shores of Sydney Harbour.

Filmed in Britain, Portugal and Australia, presenter Scott Bevan meets those exploring the life of Arthur Phillip and fighting to ensure that he is not the forgotten hero of the First Fleet.

8:30pm Tuesday on ABC.

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