Good people of Shukkinak,

I bid you salute from my liege, Elizabeth, Cæsar to all the Britons - the second emperor of that name to rule Britannia since the Roman general Julius brought law and laughter to our valiant little isle.

I am Sir Gilbert Gilbertus, archæologist, historian and philosopher to the House of Cæsar.

It is my honour to address you in this sumptuous repast. Here, all politics, culture - geography itself - are shaped by our words and speculations. This is very truly a story hall. Here, your landscapes are contoured out of dreams. Poetry moves your mountains. The rivers of Shukkinak flow wild with imagination.

As a historian, I am much accustomed to inventing the past. Here, then, is one such invention. It concerns the first meeting of our two great nations - a meeting in which, I will willingly concede, the forces of Britannia were bested by the might of Shukkinak, some 209 years since.

On 26 Januarius in that distant year, a fleet of 11 Britannic vessels laden with prisoners put into the Great Harbour on the eastern coast of Shukkinak. The Britannic commander, Arthur Phillip, marked the place on his map - as Sydney. But the place was already named. It was your ancient city of New Tarshish. Your forebears were valiant in battle. They damaged our ships and forced them to retreat to the high seas. One vessel, the Supply, limped eastwards towards the Maori Islands, and established there a Britannic colony - the Islands of Australia. What, you may wonder, became of the remaining vessels? They are known in the pages of Australian history as the Lost Fleet.

I have spent the greater part of my working life in search of their fate. Without success.

If I were to stand here and shout 'Ahoy!' to those lost Britons, whence might they shout 'Ahoy!' in reply? Might some call from Otahiete? Some from the Feejees? Might some cry from the far and prosperous plains in the United States of North America?

Perhaps my 'Ahoy' should receive no reply - save the crashing of the ocean, and the rattle of bones on the bottom of the sea.

Dr Gilbert Gilbertus was regally presented by Michael Cathcart, Melbourne historian Rome Rules

But what if the ancient Phoenician mariners had never crossed the Indian Ocean all those years ago? What if Britannia's Lost Fleet had made camp at the place they planned to call Sydney? What would the Roman-Britons have made of this Great South Land?

I suspect that we should have huddled on the coast. For we are a wet-country people. Water trickles through the fretwork of our imaginations. The great mass of this dry continent should have stayed Aboriginal - for they made much of it - and we, I fear, should have made so very little.

As it was, my forebears were driven off. The Harbour City of New Tarshish prospered - with its noble Bridge, a great half-circle of steel linking man & woman with God. Its grand Opera House, its Circular Quay, its vast open-air dye market - these remain glories of the world.

Your Phoenician forebears were, of course, great traders and fearless seafarers. But they were also desert people - as much at ease in the shifting sands of the wilderness as in the rolling surface of the ocean. As the centuries slid by, they settled right across this continent, making love and life with the Aborigines. Two great peoples - sharing their ideas, their wisdom, their knowledge of the spirits with each other. Until the two peoples became one. Until they became you: the people Shukkinak.

Today you are envied throughout the world for your great landships which ply the wind-currents of your deserts. But it was not ever thus.

As an archæologist, it is my belief that two thousand years ago, a great system of canals crossed this continent, linking New Tarshish on the east coast with the waters of the Indian Ocean on the west. And linking the city of Ad-ley-ide on the south coast with the waters of the Gulf of Chaldea on the north. These canals flooded the great salt pans of Southern Shukkinak, transforming them into a vast inland sea - the Sea of Tyre.

In support of this theory, I rely in part on an ancient Semitic legend which tells how a prophet-god called Jesu, the Expected One, journeyed to Shukkinak in his youth. Here he faced temptation in the deserts, and fished and meditated beside a fabled inland sea. As the poet wrote:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk beneath Shukkeena's shady tree,

And did that countenance divine

Shine forth upon the sparkling Tyrian sea?

Here - in the canals and in the inland sea they created - technology, faith and meaning flowed as one. But sadly this flow vaporised - and became a mere mirage. For the ancient sun burnt wondrous fierce, and the waters of the ancient canals evaporated faster than they were replenished, until the dream of the ancient engineers was smothered by sand and salt.

But the ripples of the sandhills held no terrors for your desert-dwelling forebears. With camels and digging sticks they moved about the continent, trading and finding water - and all the time developing the wondrous dyes which are the envy of the world.

To the greetings of Elizabeth Cæsar let me add my personal hail and thanks. The small unpleasantness you are currently enduring in the Assembly of Nations will, I am sure, pass rapidly away, once it is realised that human sacrifice among your priestly class is entirely your own affair. In North America, the state puts unwilling men and women to death as a punishment: we are told that this is justice. In Shukkinak, the priests go joyfully to their sacrifice - and this, we are told, violates their human rights. There is neither logic nor humanity in the case against you. I am authorised by great Cæsar to tell you that she looks forward to your vindication and your reinstatement in the great circle of nations.

I thank you. I salute you - people of Shukkinak. A country to dye for!