The Myths of Australian Frontier Wars
When promoting their country to the world, it is common to hear Australians fabricate injustices against Aborigines. For example, author and government consultant Jennifer Isaacs wrote that Tasmanian Aborigines were "systematically annihilated" and became extinct due to a Black Line of genocide. Likewise, Rabbit-Proof Fence director Phillp Noyce wrote that "until 1967, Australian Aborigines couldn't vote." Finally, academic Lyndall Ryan cited the diary of John Oxley when revealing the deaths of 100 Aborigines at the hands of colonists in Tasmania in 1810.
In truth, the Black Line mentioned by Issacs only captured one man and one boy. Furthermore, rather than be designed to "annihilate" Aborigines, it was designed to relocate 2 of 9 tribes to a different part of Tasmania. As for Noyce's claim that Aborigines couldn't vote until 1967, in truth Aborigines in NSW, Vic, Tas, and SA attained the state vote in the 1850s, which allowed them to vote in all Federal elections. Finally, the diary cited by Ryan that claimed to have witnessed 100 deaths only made only mention of 4 deaths. When her lying was exposed, Ryan defended herself by saying,
"Historians are always making up figures."
The cultural trait to exaggerate, distort and fabricate injustices against Aborigines by deceased generations poses three important questions. Firstly, if so many injustices occurred, why has it been necessary to fabricate new ones in order to shine a light on Australia's secret shame? Surely this would make it harder to draw attention to the known injustices and learn from them.
Secondly, if the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, where did the humanitarian sensibilities of Ryan, Issacs, Noyce and others come from? The humanists obviously believed that they would be applauded for their stance and they had good reason to think that way. In 1967, 90% of Australians voted in a favour of a referendum that was sold as being in favour of Aborigines. In the 50 years since, almost every Australian prime minister (with the possible exception of John Howard), had gained great political mileage by appearing to be in favour of Aborigines. Prior to the 1960s, positive sentiments towards Aborigines were expressed with the use of Aboriginal names for most of rural Australia and the use of Aboriginal words like jumbuck, coolabah and billabong in Waltzing Matilda to build its patriotic credentials. It definitely can't be argued that Australia doesn't have a long history of people wanting to appear as either an Aboriginal champion, or use an association with Aborigines to build a respected social identity.
Thirdly, why don't the likes of Ryan, Issacs and Noyce see themselves as an acorn falling from the tree? While they use 'we' in reference to the past, it is a hollow we in label only. Their writing is full of indignation, not only to past generations, but also to the present generation that don't share the same indignation to the past and who are the acorns that have fallen from the past tree.
Different people will come up with different explanations for these questions, which demonstrates that the legacy of the relations between colonists and Aborigines were far more nuanced than many of the humanitarians would care to admit.
Below are more examples of historical distortions that potentially erode the credibility of the history profession, distract attention from injustices that need to be considered and may in fact cause more conflict.
Myth 1 - Aborigines were pushed off their land and into the desert
A common myth is that as the colonists invaded, they pushed Aborigines into the desert where they remained until today. For example, the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia (which relies on academic consultants) says,
“Aborigines were ruthlessly pushed off their tribal lands as new settlers took up land for farming or mining.” (1)
A migration organisation, the ASA group, echoes Lonely Planet Guide's views on their own website, which proposes:
“On the mainland, where the graziers sought lands for their sheep runs, the Aboriginal communities were forced to retreat into the drier interior.” (2)
In truth, most Aborigines were not pushed off their land because the colonists had no desire for most of it. Over 90% of Australia is dry, flat and arid. Almost three-quarters of the land cannot support agriculture in any form. In these areas, it was only possible to live off the land as a hunter gatherer. The land's lack of suitability for agriculture is the chief reason why Australia has almost no significant inland cities and why Australia never developed American-style pioneering stories of colonists heading west and founding new towns. It is also why Australia's farming regions have very low density populations. Finally, it is also why houses in Australia were located in isolated areas and without any evidence of precautions being made to protect the inhabitants against attack by Aboriginal people. (E.g, cross shaped slits in walls to fire a gun.)
In regards to the land that could support agriculture, the prime land for farming was not prime land for hunter gathering. For Aborigines, grasslands had little diversity of food, were relatively difficult to set alight in a way that could herd kangaroos towards spears and had few materials to make campsites. Furthermore, unlike America, the grasslands didn’t have large animals herding in the thousands. Australia’s largest grazing herbivore, the kangaroo, tends to congregate on fields near woodland and then scatters in different directions when scared. After colonisation, these kangaroos increased in numbers because the farmers' dams gave them permanent water supplies that helped them survive drought. Even though the farmers wanted to kill them as pests, kangaroos proved to be wiley creatures that were able to jump fences at night, and jump back into woodland by day.
Further evidence of the compatibility between farming and hunter gathering comes with the ability of feral livestock to survive on Aboriginal land. In 1788, 4 cows and 2 bulls wandered off into the Australian bush and were lost. Seven years later they were found to have grown into a herd of 40 and living happily on a large open plain south of Sydney. Aborigines must have seen the unprotected cows wandering along the grasslands but they never killed them. Perhaps this is because it would have been too inconvenient. If hunted, the slaughtered cow would have needed to be cut up on the grasslands and then carried to a fire site a significant distance away. It would have been much easier to hunt and gather food around the campsites, or target kangaroos that could easily be slung over the shoulders.
The story of the lost cows was repeated many times as colonists pushed into new regions. As a result, feral goats, sheep and cows can be found all over Australia and are common on Aboriginal land where farming communities never developed.
Admittedly, the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838 had been explained as a revenge attack by stockmen for Aborigines spearing cattle. The problem with this explanation is that the tribe that were massacred by stockmen had been invited onto the property to camp and the Aboriginal men were working on a neighbouring property when the massacre occurred. This would indicate that the massacre of the Aborigines had nothing to do with competition over resources and had more to do with sadistic behaviour of a gang. Furthermore, the fact that the Aboriginal men were working for a property owner indicated that there had been significant dialogue in the past aimed at developed mutually beneficial relationships.
In regards to Aborigines being pushed off land due to mining, contrary to Lonely Planet Guide book stereotypes, most of Australia isn’t a mine site. Less than 0.02 percent of the Australian land mass is mined. So little of the Australian land mass is mined, or has been mined, that most Australians have never even seen a mine. In the colonial era, mining was even less advanced. Furthermore, while America had events like Custer's Last Stand that aimed to deprive Indians of their lands of gold, Australia did not.
Even the areas that were mined didn't always result in Aborigines being pushed off the land. Panning for alluvial gold was in no way incompatible with Aborigines using the region, or neighboring regions, for food gathering. Not only did they continue to use the land for food gathering, Aborigines were attracted to mine sites in the colonial era just as they are attracted today. Mine sites offered things they desired. Today, many of Australia's mining communities have a very high Aboriginal population. These figures would indicate that instead of leaving the mining areas, the Aborigines moved towards them.
Although historians have been able to manufacture evidence of Aborigines being violently pushed off their land in guide books, there isn’t the evidence in wider culture. Firstly, 70 per cent of Australians who claim Aboriginal ancestry live in cities. This would suggest that their ancestors were not driven off the land when the colonists came in. Either they stayed as the cities were built around them, or they gravitated to the cities from regional areas in the search for axes, flour, clothing, blankets, alcohol or just excitement. Secondly, most of rural Australia uses Aboriginal place names such as Bombala, Wagga Wagga, and Joondalup. Just as it would have been hard to imagine the Nazi’s killing Jewish people and then using Hebrew names for the achievements of the Third Reich, it would be hard to imagine colonists killing Aborigines and then naming most of the country in their honour. Thirdly, the desert regions of Australia were not empty. The Aborigines in the desert today are the descendants of those who were in the desert in 1788. If Aborigines from the Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane regions tried to flee into the desert, the Aborigines in the desert would probably have killed them.
Due to Australia's environment, most conflict between colonists and Aborigines stemmed from cultural differences and crime, rather than competition for scarce resources.
Kangaroo and buffalo - One species likes to congregate in small groups near woodland and flees in different directions when scared. One species herds in the thousands on the plains. One increased in numbers after colonisation. One was decimated.
Myth 2 – There were frontier wars
There is no doubt that there was conflict amongst individual members of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society, but until recently, no one had believed that there had been conflict between groups necessary to categorise a conflict as a war. In fact, one early account of settlement had military officer Watkin Tench writing,
" During the intervals of duty, our greatest source of entertainment now lay in cultivating the acquaintance of our new friends, the natives."
Henry Reynolds, a research professor at the University of Tasmania, is the chief historian responsible for proliferating incorrect myths of a frontier war. In 1999 Reynolds said,
"We all played cowboys and Indians and we all knew names of chiefs and tribes and yet we knew very little about what had happened in Australia, because we -- never in the 20th century were we comfortable with the idea that war was going on" (3)
Even if what Reynolds said were true, he didn't explain why Americans, Argentinians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and South Africans had been comfortable with the idea of war between colonists and natives, but "we" Australians were not. Likewise, Reynolds didn’t explain why other colonial countries were so proud of their victories over the natives that they created national holidays and movie genres to commemorate them, while "we" Australians were so ashamed that "we" had to pretend to be friends.
Ironically, Reynolds seemed unable to grasp the significance of Australians playing cowboy and Indians instead of stockmen and Aborigines. Nor did he grasp the significance of Australians failing to create holidays that celebrated the massacres of blacks as whites did in South Africa. Nor did he grasp the significance of Australians singing patriotic songs like Waltzing Matilda that used aboriginal words like jumbuck, coolabah and billabong to build its patriotic credentials. Finally, Reynolds never grasped the significance of Australian colonial paintings depicting Aborigines in a positive light. It seemed as though the only evidence of war was in Reynold’s writings. The wider culture showed almost none. Unfortunately for Reynolds, history is not only recorded in the pages of a book and therefore it can't just be fabricated by writing fiction as if it were history.
Admittedly, there has been the occasional example of a region being named to glorify a white massacre of Aborigines. In the Myrall Creek region of NSW, colonists named Vinegar Hill, Slaughterhouse Creek, and Gravesend in tribute to themselves for killing Aborigines in those locations, but such namings were very rare.
The Australian authors of Lonely Planet Guide books have also been fond of promoting the war narrative as they try to sell Australian holidays to the world. According to the 2009 edition:
"When Captain Phillip's penal settlement came to town, kidnappings and punishment became the norm, with the explicit aim of terrifying Aborigines into submission...but there was resistance in other forms: Aboriginal freedom-fighting groups began to spring up, led by storied indigenous leaders including Bennelong, Pelmuwuy and Mosquito, a warrior from the Broken Bay people. The freedom fighters were eventually crushed as the settlers resorted to more barbaric methods to achieve total domination."
Indeed there were three kidnappings (Bennelong, Colbee and Arabanoo) under Phillip's rein, but the intention of these was for Governor Phillip to open a dialogue with the locals. Once a dialogue was opened, each of the Aborigines was free to leave. There were also punishments, but these were mostly inflicted on Convicts who wronged Aborigines, not the other way around. These barbaric punishments did terrify Aborigines, not because they feared meeting the same fate, but because they were savage. As told by military officer Watkin Tench:
“At first the convicts were unanimous in affirming, that they were quietly picking sweet-tea (2), when they were without provocation assaulted by the natives, with whom they had no wish to quarrel. Some of them, however, more irresolute than the rest, at last disclosed the purpose for which the expedition had been undertaken; and the whole were ordered to be severely flogged: Arabanoo was present at the infliction of the punishment; and was made to comprehend the cause and the necessity of it; but he displayed on the occasion symptoms of disgust and terror only." (4)
As for Bennelong (who the Lonely Planet Guide defined as a freedom fighter) he took a fondness to European clothes and started lecturing other Aborigines on the need to dress in a dignified way. In response, they mocked his pompous manners. He eventually died from alcohol abuse. Pelmuwuy was shot and beheaded but it is debateable as to whether he fought a war or just tried to uphold tribal law. In 1897, Governor Hunter met several parties of Aborigines near Botany Bay. Pemulwuy was among them. According to one report, Pemulwuy,
‘spoke with one of the gentlemen of the party; enquiring of him whether the governor was angry, and seemed pleased at being told that he was not.’
Musquito made enemies amongst both Aboriginal and colonial communities. After killing and mutiliating Aboriginal women, other Aborigines captured him and passed him over to colonial authorities, who wanted him for raiding settlers' farms. Rather than execute him as they would a European Convict, the authorities transported him to Norfolk Island and then Tasmania. He then went bush and joined a gang of outlaws.
Convict William Buckley escaped from the Sorrento penal settlement in 1803. The settlement was then disbanded and with nothing heard of Buckley, it was presumed that he had died. 33 year later, a farmer came upon a strange white man speaking an aboriginal language. He had a extremely long beard and wore possum skins. Once the man learnt to speak English again, he informed the authorities that he was William Buckley and had spent 33 years living with the Aborigines. His story amazed the colonial population. He was pardoned and became a respected civil servant. Buckley’s story had some parallels with the American movies Dances with Wolves and Avatar, except Buckely was pardoned, rather than ostracised, for his relationship with Aborigines.
Myth 3 – Convicts used guns to massacre Aborigines
Although there were guns in colonial Australia, unlike America, Australia was never flooded with them. For 80 years, Australian colonies received Convicts. Had Convicts been given guns, they could have used those guns to shoot the guards. Likewise, if free settlers, or Emancipists had been given guns, they could have used those guns to initiate an American style revolution.
Despite the absence of guns, many white Australians have stated that Convicts killed Aborigines. For example, Cathy Bedsen, Robert Darlington, Alek Kwaiatkowski and Alan Wiggs, authors of High School textbooks, wrote:
"Gangs of escaped convicts raided Indigenous camps, killing men and kidnapping women." (13)
The statement was dubious as it relied on a stereotype that white people would naturally be stronger than black. An account by Watkin Tench illustrated how unarmed and malnourished Convicts fared against people who had been engaging in hand-to-hand combat for 60,000 years:
"March, 1789. Sixteen convicts left their work at the brick-kilns without leave, and marched to Botany Bay, with a design to attack the natives, and to plunder them of their fishing-tackle and spears: they had armed themselves with their working tools and large clubs. When they arrived near the bay, a body of Indians, who had probably seen them set out, and had penetrated their intention from experience, suddenly fell upon them. Our heroes were immediately routed, and separately endeavoured to effect their escape by any means which were left. In their flight one was killed, and seven were wounded, for the most part very severely: those who had the good fortune to outstrip their comrades and arrive in camp, first gave the alarm; and a detachment of marines, under an officer, was ordered to march to their relief. The officer arrived too late to repel the Indians; but he brought in the body of the man that was killed, and put an end to the pursuit. The governor was justly incensed at what had happened, and instituted the most rigorous scrutiny into the cause which had produced it. At first the convicts were unanimous in affirming, that they were quietly picking sweet-tea (2), when they were without provocation assaulted by the natives, with whom they had no wish to quarrel. Some of them, however, more irresolute than the rest, at last disclosed the purpose for which the expedition had been undertaken; and the whole were ordered to be severely flogged: Arabanoo was present at the infliction of the punishment; and was made to comprehend the cause and the necessity of it; but he displayed on the occasion symptoms of disgust and terror only." (4)
Even after Convict transportation had largely ended, the Australian colonies still lacked guns. This was seen in the Eureka rebellion of 1854. Many of the miners fought British soldiers using pikes because they couldn’t get their hands on firearms.
The actual attitudes of Convicts towards Aborigines seem to be mixed. Some, such as John Casor, William Buckley and John Wilson, escaped to live with Aboriginal tribes. One Convict, J.F Mortlock seemed to believe the two groups occupied similar positions in society:
"I sympathized with a few unfortunate aborigines, transported hither from New South Wales, for resenting the intrusion and aggression of the English, by some of whom they have been known to be shot as food for the dogs. Nothing but a mixture of prudence and quiet energy could enable me to steer a course offensive neither to the authorities nor to a class of persons among whom fate had cast me on terms of equality - or rather inferiority- for these desperadoes looked with much contempt upon new-comers, who did indeed live far more wretchedly (unless mechanics or officers,) than men accustomed to existence in the bush."
At the Myall Creek massacre, Convicts were led by a freeman in the massacre of Aborigines, but one Convict refused to join in and testified against the others. If the Convicts had guns, it seemed that they didn't use them as they behead women and children using swords.
Titled "Messrs. Fitzmaurice and Keys dancing for their lives", two colonists are symbolically shown to be at the mercy of an Aboriginal tribe.
Myth 4 – Competition for food forced colonists and Aborigines into conflict
Many historians have argued that frontier wars stemmed from competition for scarce resources. For example, Benjamin Madley from Yale University argued:
“Conflict between indigenous people and settlers often revolves around two
interlocking economic issues: access to natural resources and control of territory.
Both groups need natural resources and land to achieve their definition of
economic success. The
loss of their food supply and land threatened both Aboriginal society and their
physical survival.” (5)
Madley's explanation was based on stereotypes of conflict in other colonial countries. Because Americans slaughtered bufalloe in the thousands and deprived the Indians of food in the process, Madely just presumed the same thing must have happened in Australia. In reality, colonists and Aborigines ate different things so there was little competition for food. Among other things, the Aborigines ate kangaroos, ants, roots, moths, grubs and lizards. The early colonists were starving and would have eaten the Aboriginal food if they knew how to find it and were prepared to live a hunter gatherer lifestyle. Because most were not prepared, or able, to live a nomadic life, they farmed imported crops and animals such as cows, chickens, sheeps, and pigs.
Even the High Court recognised the compatibility of farming with hunter gathering. In the 1996 Wik v Queensland judgement, it ruled that pastoral leases and native title could go exist. Because native title could only exist with unbroken associations with the land since 1788, the High Court ruled that many of Australia’s huge farms had had Aborigines using the same land for hunting and gathering since 1788.
As well as not being conducive to high-density farming communities, the Australian environment also contained a host of native animals that increased as a result of farming. The kangaroo was one such animal. The farmer's dams gave kangaroos permanent water supplies that helped them survive drought. Even though farmers wanted to kill the kangaroos as pests, or build fences to keep them out, the kangaroos simply jumped the fences, drank the water, ate the grass, and then hopped back into the bush where they remained a valuable food source for Aborigines. Consequently, the colonists and natives never had to fight over food as they did in other colonial countries. Conflict still occured over food, sugar, flour or clothing, but it was not necessary.
Drysdale The Ruins (1965): An Aborigine stands over the failed attempts of colonists to expand inland. No war was needed because the colonists were wiped out by the environment.
Myth 5 - In Tasmania, the Aborigines were exterminated due to a “black line” of genocide
Owing to greater levels of environmental fertility, the island state of Tasmania probably saw more conflict than in other regions of Australia. Because of the fertility, the colonisation of Tasmania resulted in quite a large number of small villages that were relatively close to each other. With the support of higher density communities, colonists were more able to assert their will.
Even though Tasmania probably saw more conflict than the mainland, the extent, the motivations and the outcome have all been distorted. A great example of the distortion is the "black line" of 1830. A myth has developed that the black line was responsible for the eradication of Aborigines from the state. The black line was an 'Aboriginal hunt' that cost £30,000, involved 5,000 men, and lasted for seven weeks. White historians have seized upon the figures to portray Tasmania's colonisation as a holocaust of European savagery. One of these white historians is Jennifer Isaacs, a self-defined expert on Aboriginal culture who has set herself up as a consultant to government. In an emotional account, Ms Isaacs wrote in 1987:
"In Tasmania the white invasion and occupation was complete and the whole Aboriginal population was systematically annihilated. A few children survived to be secretly reared as stockmen on the mainland, but the survivors of the ‘Black Line’ led an isolated and heart-rending existence in forced exile in a small white supervised community on Flinders Island where they died one by one. Today a small stone church marks the spot on a cliff where the last of the Tasmanians sat in their Victorian costumes looking over the sea towards Tasmania." (6)
In reality, the black line was a complete failure and it did not result in the "systematic annihilation" of Aborigines, as Isaacs declared. Despite the cost, the time, and the manpower invested in it, the line only netted one man and one boy. In that regard, it was a bit like America spending billions of dollars on the invasion of Afghanistan, yet failing to eliminate Al Qaeda or catch Osama Bin Laden. In the context of war propaganda, America's failure was demoralising for themselves, but inspiring for their enemies. Likewise, the ability of the two tribes to outwit their adversary was potentially far more inspiring history than that of a weak race passively going into oblivion. The fact that Isaacs choose to portray Aborigines as victims of the black line instead of victors over it, revealed a great deal about her ideology and moral character. Perhaps it also indicated her desire to tell a story in an emotional way for racist or commercial reasons, instead of an honest way for educational reasons.
In addition to omitting the fact that the line failed, the historians have omitted the true purpose. It was not designed to exterminate Aborigines, rather, it was designed to relocate two of the nine tribes on the island to uninhabited country from where they would no longer be in conflict with the whites, or be "corrupted" by whites. According to Governor Arthur (the man who devised the line), if Aborigines were not relocated, they would become extinct. In his own words:
"It was evident that nothing
but capturing and forcibly detaining these unfortunate savages ... could
now arrest a long term of rapine and bloodshed, already commenced, a
great decline in the prosperity of the colony, and the extirpation of
the Aboriginal race itself."
Because it was a policy of relocation, rather than eradication, it had more in common with the partition of Palestine that led to the creation of Israel than it did with the Nazis' final solution for the Jews. Maybe the people in the United Nations who divided Palestine were selfish and facilitated the cultural loss of the Palestinians by depriving them of access to sacred sights, but that didn't change the fact that they believed division was the best way to achieve peace.
Today, around 16,000 Tasmanians define themselves as Aborigines, which is significantly more than the estimated 5,000 that existed at the time of colonisation. Admittedly, none of the present-day Aborigines are full-bloods and none live a lifestyle that even remotely resembles the Aborigines at the time of colonisation. In that regard, Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes are extinct, as Isaacs declared in 1987.
European diseases and interbreeding explain the reasons for the Aborigines' extinction. Because the Aborigines had been cut off from the mainland for 10,000 years, they had become inbred with little genetic diversity. This lack of diversity was disastrous when exposed to new diseases. Tribes also suffered breakdowns due to women being traded to white men in exchange for sugar, flour and axes, or choosing to live with white men. In a very short period of time, the loss of members to disease and loss of women to whites resulted in the tribes losing the ability to reproduce themselves in both the cultural and physical sense.
In 1833, George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary, persuaded around 300 Aborigines to move to Flinders Island, with the promise of food, housing, and clothing. Over the following 14 years, 250 died of the flu or other diseases. The last one, Truganini, died in 1876.
Posters erected in Tasmania in the early 19th century. The posters aimed to communicate that blacks and whites would be treated equally by the British justice system.
Tasmanian Aborigines - The Tasmanian Aborigines looked like Africans. The African appearance is an interesting fact that provides food for thought on the history of human migration as well as the unique characteristics of the Tasmanian Aboriginal tribes. Unfortunately, most Australians today are not aware of this uniqueness because contemporary historians have focussed more on alleged crimes against the Tasmanians rather than studied the type of people they actually were. Victimising a people is a very easy way to avoid learning anything about them.
Myth 6 – The Australian government forcibly removed Aboriginal children in order to destroy the black race
Colonists and Aboriginal tribes were quite active in procreating with each other. Sexual liaisons soon produced hundreds of thousands of mixed raced children. From 1900 to 1970, many of these mixed raced children ended up in orphanages and catholic missions. No one disputes that mixed race children ended up in orphanages or missions; however, there is some dispute about the motivations of people who put them there.
In 1981, the children were called the “stolen generations” by Professor Peter Reid; a white historian from the University of Sydney. Reid argued that 100,000 "Aboriginal" children had been stolen from their culture. In Reid's opinion, the social workers who removed the children wanted to destroy the black race.
The stories of the Stolen Generations was told in the official 1997 report : "Bringing Them Home - Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families." The report stated one in three children had been removed. In total, this amounted to 100,000 children.
Academic Robert Manne later revised the figure to one in ten. Journalist Andrew Bolt then challenged Manne to produce the names of 10 people who were removed because of the colour of their skin alone. Manne was unable to provide the names.
In 2000, the courts heard test cases which were designed to prove that at least two children were removed unfairly. The court found that the two claimants had been removed from situations of danger and that no crime had been committed by the individual public servants who had made the decisions to remove them.
In 2008, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations, but refused to pay compensation.
In short, there was a government report stating that there were 100,000 victims, an academic saying that there were 30,000 and a court saying two of the most likely had not been stolen. The wide discrepancies between figures, and between the courts and the government report, suggested that there had been some extremely sloppy or deliberately biased research occurring. Furthermore, there was a great deal of politics occuring.
As a result of the bias or politics, there have been a number of silly myths proliferated in the community. One silly myth was that the social workers were governed by similar ideology to Nazi Germany. For example, when promoting his film Australia, which deals with the subject, actor Hugh Jackman said:
"The stolen generation was a policy that was born out of eugenics. Eugenics in Europe, as we saw with Nazi Germany, was sort of popular at the time. This idea that if you mixed races or mixed breeds you lessened the blood or something and that you had an inferior human being, right?
So many well-intentioned people thought this was a good idea and in Australia if you had an Aboriginal parent and a white parent or a European parent, the government would take you away from your family, they would tell you your family had died or been killed in an accident, they would put you in an institution. "
If the Stolen Generations were indeed motivated by eugenics, then the whites who were removing the children wanted to weaken their own race by infusing Aboriginal genetics into mainstream Australian genetics. Meanwhile, they wanted to keep the Aboriginal race strong by keeping it pure. So in effect, they were doing the opposite to Nazi Germany. Jackman's difficulty in seeing the the irrationality of what he was saying showed that perhaps actors should stick to putting on make-up and avoiding discussion of any topics that have not first been explained to them with the aid of finger puppets.
Admittedly, child protection officers used subjective judgements of "disadvantage" and "danger" when removing the children from Aboriginal communities. Just as it is today, what is "disadvantaged" in the eyes of one person may be "advantaged" in the eyes of someone else. In the era, any unmarried woman (of any race) was deemed to be incapable of providing a good home for her child and was pressure to give up their children for adoption. Furthermore, culture, be it Australian or an indigenous sub-culture, was not considered to be necessary for children. Even though welfare workers may have been foolish to think a child can survive without culture, or that a single parent can't provide a good environment for a child, having a poor definition of "disadvantage" is very different from a calculated policy of genocide sanctioned by a democratic government.
Although a race-based policy to remove mixed-race children never existed, it needs to be conceded that many of the broken families in Aboriginal communities can be traced to state government policy. Had laws not been created to criminalise and stigmatise white men who formed relationships with Aboriginal women, many white men would have stayed with Aboriginal women and formed happy families. Likewise, if Aboriginal women had not been abandoned by white men, they and their communities would have been less likely to abandon the children of those men. Unfortunately, fabricating myths that disguise the true wrongs of the government decreases the chances of errors being learnt from history.
Myth 8 - Escaped Convicts and sealers abducted Aboriginal women
It is a common myth that colonists frequently raped Aboriginal women and this led to an increase in hostilities. According to Madley:
"Settlers also raped, kidnapped and murdered indigenous women, thus intensifying
black–white conflict." (5)
Likewise, Cathy Bedsen, Robert Darlington, Alek Kwaiatkowski and Alan Wiggs, authors of High School textbooks, wrote:
"Today's surviving Indigenous Tasmanians are mostly descendants of Indigenous women who were kidnapped and enslaved by white sealers."
In defence of the historians, many primary source accounts do in fact mention sealers and escaped Convicts kidnapping Aboriginal women to be their forced wives. In fact, whenever there was a sealing community living with Aboriginal women, the accounts specified that the women had been abducted and raped.
These accounts need to be treated sceptically for two reasons. Firstly, there is no way of knowing how Aboriginal women ended up with sealers. The trade of women was custom in Aboriginal societies and the women may have been traded. Alternatively, they may have chosen to live with the sealers of their own free will. (It seems neither the sealers nor Aboriginal women were ever interviewed to hear their story.) Secondly, the authorities had a vested interested in breaking up any social relationships that formed between sealers and Aborigines. On the whole, escaped Convicts and sealers were hostile to British rule. If allowed to form relations with Aborigines, they could have taught Aborigines military techniques, pressured Aborigines to assert land claims as British citizens, or generally just made Aborigines as hostile as they were.
The removal of sealers and Aboriginal women from Kangaroo Island in 1819 to make way for white settlers gives an insight into these alternative motivations. The reasons for the removal were explained by Commander George Sutherland in The New British Province of South Australia :
"They are complete savages, living in bark huts like the natives, not cultivating any thing, but living entirely on kangaroos, emus, and small porcupines, and getting spirits and tobacco in barter for the skins which they lay up during the sealing season. They dress in kangaroo skins without linen, and wear sandals made of seal skins. They smell like foxes...They have carried their daring acts to an extreme venturing on the main land in their boats and seizing on the natives particularly the women and keeping them in a state of slavery cruelly beating them on every trifling occasion and when at last some of these marauders were taken off the Island by an expedition from New South Wales these women were landed on the main with their children and dogs to procure a subsistence not knowing how their own people might treat them after a long absence. There are a few even still on the Island whom it would be desirable to have removed if a permanent settlement were established in the neighbourhood."
Basically, Sutherland said that the whites were immoral because they acted like Aboriginal people, and the Aboriginal women needed the British military to protect them from the immorality of these British underclasses. According to the soldiers, the women's protection could be achieved by removing the men and ideally, by relocating the women to the mainland as well. The soldiers recognised that the women didn’t seem to be happy on the mainland and their future was bleak, but they blamed the sealers for that.
Sutherland had his way. With Aboriginal women and sealers removed, settlers moved onto Kangaroo Island in the plan it would become the new capital of a free South Australia.
The story of Tarerenore, alias Walyer, gives another good example of historians citing rape and abduction when there really isn't evidence for it. Walyer was born around 1800 to the Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue people of Tasmania. As a teenager, she ended up living with sealers. Historian Ian Coates wrote that she was abducted by a rival tribe and sold to sealers in exchange for flour and dogs. Another historian, Ian Mcfarlan, wrote that she had a falling out with her tribe and freely chose to live with the sealers. Later, two of her brothers and two of her sisters joined her with the sealers. Still another historian, Vicki maikutena Matson-Green argued that Walyer hated whites and wanted revenge for the whites enslaving, raping, massacring and torturing her and her people. According to Matson-Green, in between raping her, the sealers taught her how to use firearms. Rather than use the firearms on the sealers, Walyer:
" gathered an army of other disenchanted Aborigines in warfare. She 'hated the luta tawin [white man] as much as she did a black snake', for the injuries perpetrated against her people through massacre, torture, enslavement, incarceration, disease and the stealing of Aboriginal women by sealers. The women stolen were enslaved and tortured in attempts to make them submissive, raped, and traded for goods, services and animals. Tarenorerer refused to bend and nurtured her anger and hatred. The sealers increasingly became frustrated at her refusal to be victimised. " (15)
Walyer ended up leading a gang that had undefined intentions. The chief protector of Aborigines, GA Robinson, wrote to Colonel George Arthur stating :
"From several aborigines, I received information respecting an amazon named Tarerenore, alias, "Walyer", who was at the head of an aboriginal banditti. This woman speaks English, and issues her orders in a most determined manner. Several cattle belonging to the company have been speared, and several petty thefts have been committed, which I have traced to this woman. The Amazon is at war with several nations of aborigines, and many aborigines have been slain by her party. The Amazon is an athletic woman, middle aged, and is a native of the East Coast._ She has collected together the disaffected of several nations, and roams over a vastylent of country committing dire outrages."
Walyer's tribe eventually broke down. She fled to the Bass Straight Islands. According to Matson-Green, she was once again abducted and enslaved by the sealers. Apparently, she
"was taken by sealers to the Hunter Islands and then placed on Bird Island to catch seals and mutton birds. Known as 'Mary Anne', she was given to John Williams ('Norfolk Island Jack') and lived with him and other men and Aboriginal women on Forsyth Island, in the Furneaux group." (16)
According to Matson-Green, it seems that despite being tortured and raped by sealers throughout her teenage years and late into her 20s, and despite having the charisma to lead a gang of outlaws that fought a battle against the "luta tawin" that she hated more than a 'black snake', she was not smart enough to avoid capture by sealers once more, nor determined enough to refuse working as the luta tawin's slave. The two images really don't fit.
Matson-Green's explanations for Walyer's life were odd because she was trying to selectively use facts to create a sense of whites and blacks being unified against each other, when the reality was far more nuanced. Aside from doing this with odd explanations for why Walyer was living with sealers, Matson-Green did it by selectively quoting Robinson. In her articles, Matson-Green omitted Robinson saying that Walyer was at war with other Aboriginal nations, but she did quote Robinson saying Walyer needed to be detained. In the context of her articles, the inference was that Robinson was concerned about her attacks on whites, when his words suggest he was more concerned by her attacks on blacks. This was intentional deception on Matson-Green's part.
Bad Dreaming (2007)- In a taboo breaking book, Louis Nowra explores the role of women in hunter gatherer societies. He notes that in hunter gatherer societies, women were exchanged to settle disputes, that women of other tribes were kidnapped and gang raped, and that young girls were promised to older men. Nowra doesn’t judge Aborigines negatively for such customs. He merely points out that hunter gatherer societies had to function in such a way in order to survive. While it was necessary in the past, Nowra doesn't feel such customs are necessary today. He advises Indigenous communities to recognise that they are part of Australian society and to integrate into their cultural sensibility the idea of personal and individual responsibility for their actions. He advises them to accept that certain aspects of their traditional culture and customs – such as promised marriages, polygamy, violence towards women and male aggression – are best forgotten.
Myth 9 - Colonists ignored the existence of Aborigines in order to steal their land
In the 1992 Mabo vs Queensland judgement, the High Court of Australia was asked to consider whether Queensland's annexation of the Torres Strait in 1879 had extinguished the land rights of the people already living there. The High Court said the annexation had not and that the same principles would apply to Britain's annexation of mainland Australia in 1772.
When justifying his verdict, one of the High Court judges, William Deane, said that Aborigines had been treated as a
"different and lower form of life whose very existence could be ignored for the purpose of determining the legal right to occupy and use their traditional lands."
The conclusions of Mr Deane demonstrated the problems of hearing evidence for one event (the annexation of the Torres Strait in 1879 by Queensland) and using that evidence to pass judgement on a completly different event (the annexation of Australia in 1772 by the British.) Contrary to what Mr Deane tried to make people believe, the British never suffered some kind of moral crisis that forced them to ignore the locals when stealing the land. In Asia, Ireland, Scotland, the Americas, and Africa, the British simply planted their flag and claimed the land for themselves. They then killed anyone who argued with the new masters and rewarded anyone who accepted them.
In addition, British law didn’t require that people who lost their land be compensated on "just" terms. As a result, the British didn’t compensate the Irish when they invaded and took Irish land. They just sent Irish dissidents to the colonies. Likewise, when common land was enclosed in England and given to wealthy individuals, no compensation was paid to English communities plunged into poverty. Dissidents and the newly made poor were just exported to colonies.
Terra nullius (unclaimed land) was only significant in that it influenced whether local laws would be extinguished or allowed to continue to exist. As Mr Deane should have known, when colonising, the British were governed by two basic doctrines depending upon whether a land was being settled or being conquered. In 1865, these doctrines were spelt out by Sir William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England. According to Blackstone,
"Plantations or colonies, in distant countries, are either such where the lands are claimed by right of occupancy only by finding them desert and uncultivated and peopling them from the mother country; or where, when already cultivated, they have been gained by conquest, or ceded to us in treaties. And both these rights are founded upon the law of nature, or at least upon that of nations."
In regards to countries gained by conquest, Blackstone wrote
"But in conquered or ceded countries, that have already laws of their own, the King may indeed alter and change those laws but, till he does actually change them, the ancient laws of the country remain, unless such as are against the law of God as is the case of an infidel country."
In regards to terra nullius (unclaimed) lands, Blackstone wrote:
"But there is a difference between these two species of colonies with respect to laws by which they are bound. For it hath been held, that if an uninhabited country be discovered, and planted by English subjects, all the English laws then in being, which are the birth-right of every subject, are immediately in force."
Disregarding William Deane's proselytising, the High Court basically said that the British had treated Australia as unclaimed land when they should have treated it as a conquested land. Therefore, Aboriginal land laws could still have been in existence at the time of the Mabo versus Queensland judgement. Although past governments had extinguished some Aboriginal land laws by granting title to colonists, and the present government of Australia could extinguish the rest if it wanted to, any Aboriginal laws extinguished after 1975 would need to consider the Racial Discrimination Act introduced by the Whitlam Labor government.
Although high in emotion, the High Court's judgement didn't consider history as thoroughly as it should have. Even if Arthur Phillip, Australia's first governor, didn't extinguish Aboriginal land laws, an event in 1835 did in fact indicate that the native laws relating to land ownership had been extinguished by a subsequent governor. A colonist, John Batman, negotiated to buy 240,000 hectares of land from the Kulin people (the Aborigines living around Melbourne). 8 Aboriginal chiefs made a mark on a contract to indicate their acceptance. The contract was immediately declared invalid by a proclamation of Governor Bourke, who declared that the British Crown owned the entire land of Australia, and that only it could sell or distribute land.
If Deane found British colonial laws to be morally objectionable, then he should have said that he found them to be morally objectionable. Fabricating myths about colonists incorrectly applying British laws, or dehumanising Aborigines because applying British laws would result in a crisis of morality, served neither the study of history nor the evolution of the Australian legal system. The myths did; however, serve William Deane. A Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, subsequently appointed Deane to the position of Australian Governor General. In his position as Governor General, Deane gave speeches that promoted his judgement.
The speeches also served Keating. Before the judgment was delivered, Keating was being pressured to implement the Labor Party’s five principles approach to land rights that proposed 1) Aboriginal land be held under freehold title 2) full legal protection of Aboriginal sites 3) Aboriginal control in relation to mining on Aboriginal land 4) access to mining royalty payments and 5) negotiated compensation for lost land.
While the principles was noble in theory, implementing the principles was politically difficult. Some groups didn't want Aborigines to claim land that they had their eyes on and some groups didn’t want Aborigines to sell or economically develop wilderness if their title was recognised over it. After Mabo, Keating was able to say that all the land rights issues would be resolved by committees and that anyone who didn't like this idea was racist. Problem solved!
In 1835, John Batman made a contract with the Kulin people to buy land. There were numerous justifications for colonial authorities not to recognise the contract. One justification could have been to define the contract as unconscionable because Batman’s offerings of axes and food did not reflect the true value of the land. A second justification could have been that the Aborigines were not able to fully comprehend what they were doing. They were being asked to sign a British contract relating to land ownership when they had little familiarity with British contracts or European conceptions of land ownership.
Neither justification was used to invalid the contract. Governor Bourke invalidated it because he deemed that all land belonged to the crown and not Aborigines. This would suggest that Aboriginal land laws had been invalidated by the British prior to the annexation of the Torres Strait by Queensland in 1879, which the High Court passed judgement on. Whether Queensland ever invalidated the laws of the agricultural Torress Strait Islanders was a different issue.
Myth 10 -Aborigines were not allowed to vote until 1967
There is a widespread myth that until a referendum in 1967, Aborigines were not allowed to vote in Australia and were not Australian citizens. This myth has been promoted by many white Australians, including Phillip Noyce, the director of the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence. According to Noyce,
“Until 1967, Australian Aborigines couldn’t vote and were not counted as citizens.” (8)
Ironically, Noyce said his movie was about giving a history lesson:
"For me, Rabbit-Proof Fence the movie will be as much about stolen history. History that we Australians needed to reclaim."
Something similar was said by historan Itiel Bereson, whose books are set in Australian schools. In Bereson's words:
" the refendum...gave Aboriginals the right to vote in Federal elections. But Aboriginal people still had a long struggle ahead of them." (10)
Despite their interest in making historical movies and writing history books, it seems neither Noyce or Bereson were interested in the basic facts of history. In reality, when the colonies of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and NSW framed their constitutions in the 1850s, they gave the vote to all male subjects over the age of 21, Aborigines included. Admittedly, most Aborigines didn’t know about their voting rights and perhaps didn’t care. It wasn’t until the 1890s that any Aborigines actually commenced voting.
When the various colonies federated into one nation in 1901, Aborigines were not given the federal vote. However, they did retain their state voting rights and these state voting rights gave them federal voting rights. Under section 41 of the federal constitution, any person who held a state vote also held a federal vote. Legally, Aborigines in NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, and South Australia have been allowed to vote in all federal elections. Admittedly, most Aborigines didn't know about their federal voting rights and perhaps didn't care. For people living in the bush, there are more interesting issues to think about than Question Time in Canberra. This lack of interest in politics was seen when Aborigines were given their own representative body in the form of ATSIC. In 1990, only around 10% of Aborigines actually voted in ATSIC elections.
The Menzies Liberal and Country Party government officially gave the Commonwealth vote to all Aborigines in 1962. The states of Queensland and WA gave Aborigines the state vote around the same time.
Contrary to what Noyce and Bereson told people, the 1967 referendum had nothing to do with voting rights. The referendum asked whether Aborigines should be included in the federal census and whether the federal government should be given the power to make race-specific laws for Aborigines. Previously all Aboriginal issues had been left to the states because they were deemed to have more specialised knowledge regarding the needs of the individual tribes of their respective states.
In regards to citizenship, Aborigines attained British citizenship in 1772 when Captain Cook claimed Australia for Britain. Australian citizenship did not exist until 1948 and Aborigines attained it at the same time as every other Australian.
It was difficult to explain how Noyce could be ignorant about such a basic fact of Aboriginal history, yet still get government funding to direct an Aboriginal history movie. Perhaps Noyce lied because he wanted to exploit Aborigines to further his own political agendas. Alternatively, perhaps he wanted to make his movie appear more emotive by trying to provoke outrage at human rights violations. Either way, it was morally dubious for such a man to make an Australian history movie like Rabbit-proof Fence.
The reasons for not counting Aborigines in the federal census has also been debated. Some have argued that it was intended to reduce the influence of Queensland and Western Australia by not counting their significant Aboriginal populations. Historian Keith Windschuttle took a different view and argued that it was intended to pressure Queensland and Western Australia into giving Aborigines the vote. Windschuttle explained that Section 25 of the Constitution stated:
"For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State, all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of the race resident in that state shall not be counted."
According to Windschuttle, because NSW, Vic, SA and Tas gave people of Aboriginal descent the state vote, the states gained greater representation in parliament. They wanted to use this power to pressure Queensland and WA to give Aborigines the vote in the hope that there would be universal franchise laws.
While a cynic may still argue that the politicians in NSW, Vic, Tas, and SA were more concerned about their own power than Aboriginal welfare, it can't be denied that they supported a system that would have given WA and Queensland more power if they chose to give their Aboriginal members the vote.
As for the merits of the referendum itself, in accordance with the doctrine of egalitarianism, 90% of Australians voted in favour of it. Even some dissenters had pro-Aboriginal ideas for voting no. Some argued that a yes vote would be a form of forced assimilation of Aborigines and destroy their free lifestyle. Some dissenters were also uncomfortable with the idea of making policies specifically for one racial group. They were happy for Aborigines to be counted in the census, but they liked the idea of the government not being able to make laws targeted at them.
Ironically, the referedum basically exended a law that had originally been created to give the federal government the power to discriminate against Chinese and Pacific Islanders during the era of the white Australia policy. Arguably, a more progressive question would have been to strip the power of the federal government to make race-specific laws, not extend it.
Not all Aborigines were happy with the result of the referendum either. The chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu said:
- The historic 1967 referendum
- where Australians voted overwhelmingly to make Aborigines citizens and for federal
government powers to legislate on their behalf - had been forced upon the Aboriginal
- Aboriginal people have
never wanted to be equal with the white people of Australia.
referendum had been inspired by guilt and had never considered the rights we Aboriginal
people really had, or who we really were.
The 1967 was more about symbolism than substance. It was sold as a gesture of goodwill towards Aborigines. In hindsight, it seems symbolism and gestures of goodwill were not sufficient to stop Aborigines being defined by statistics of disadvantage. The goodwill existed. The logical plan did not.
Most Australians believed the 1967 referendum was about equality of rights, not extending the Federal government’s power to make race-specific laws.
Myth 11 - Disadvantage in Aboriginal communities today stems from cultural loss
What constitutes disadvantage is a subjective judgement. What is advantaged in the eyes of one person, is disadvantaged in the eyes of someone else. For example, since the central government of China has regained control of Tibet, the life expectancy of Tibetans has almost doubled from around 32 years to 65 years. Nevertheless, the massive increase in economic opportunities and life expectancy has not stopped many Tibetans feeling that something has been lost and things should be done differently. Likewise, the wealthy puritan that lives to 90 but dies alone is more likely to be defined as advantaged by researchers than is the smoking boozing fornicating larrikin that dies at 50 surrounded by friends. Despite living the statistically disadvantaged life, it is the larrikin that has the life that popular culture would suggest holds the greater admiration.
The value-laden nature of the word “disadvantage” has been recognised by Posselt (2000 p 6), who wrote:
“Measuring socio-economic disadvantage is not a straightforward exercise because
disadvantage is a relative concept which involves value.”
Labelling Aborigines with the word 'disadvantage' has some prejudicial elements because it implies that non-Aborigines are the model that Aborigines should aspire to be like. Most non-Aborigines blame themselves for Aborigines being unable to achieve the benchmark that they set. They argue that Aborigines are victims whose lowly position stems from two centuries of land dispossession, racism, and cultural loss.
While the self-blame position is in the majority, a few individuals have argued that the statistics of disadvantage are in fact related to the prevalence of traditional culture. Indeed, statistics back up the claim. Broadly speaking, the more urbanised the Aborigine, the less likely they are to be defined by statistics of disadvantage. Likewise, most disadvantage occurs in the northern part of Australia where Aborigines have had land title recognised and where they still maintain traditional ways. Disadvantage is lowest in the heavily populated south-east regions where the cultural loss and land dispossession has been the most severe. In other words, in areas where their lifestyle is most like non-indigenous Australians, their socioeconomic statistics are most like non-indigenous Australians.
It should be noted; however, that despite rural Aborigines being more prone to be defined as 'disadvantaged,' research by the ABS (quoted by Robinson 2010) (11) has found that Aborigines in rural areas are more happy with their own lives than are Aborigines in the cities.
The politics of suffering: Indigenous policy in Australia since
the 1970s - Peter Sutton
"Eminent epidemiologist Stephen Kunitz (1994:187) has said that:
failure to at least acknowledge the possibility that it is not simply poverty
and oppression -real as these may be - but one’s own culture that may
contribute to some of the problems that confront so many communities
may limit the likelihood of growth and positive change."
Activity 1 - Media Advocacy - How to empower government but disempower the victim?
For hundreds of years, Aborigines have been subjected to laws, restrictions and policies that that have regulated who they could marry, associate with, jobs they could do, how they could spend their money, where they could travel and even the type of aspirations they should have. In 2013, the federal government was spending $3,500,000,000 on programs targeted at Aborigines that tried to continue the regulation in some way.
In order to justify the laws, restrictions and polices, campaigners use a strategy known as Media Advocacy. This is a strategy that seeks to raise the volume of voices wanting government action in order to pressure opinion leaders or policy makers. For example, a concerned citizen may decide that Big Macs are unhealthy and the community would be better off without them. Rather than try to educate the public to make healthy choices, the concerned citizen might try to have Big Macs banned. First a survey is commissioned saying that 80% of the public wants Big Macs banned. Next, a journalist is enlisted to write a story about the survey in the hope that a politician will read the story and give the public what it wants, which is for Big Macs to be banned.
Media Advocacy places an emphasis on:
- Linking the problem to inequalities in society rather than flaws in the individual
- Changing public policy rather than personal behaviour
- Focussing on policy makers rather than those who have a problem
- Working with groups to increase participation and amplifying their voices
- Having a goal of reducing the power gap rather than filling the information gap
- Inequality – How could the use of words like ‘disadvantage’ in the media strengthen support for government policy? How could proliferating a history of Aborigines being victimised help strengthen support for government regulation of Aborigines?
- Personal behaviour – Search the media and try to find examples of individual behaviour in Aboriginal communities that needs to change in order for the individual to cease being ‘disadvantaged.’ If you have trouble finding any examples, why do you think the media has ignored them?
- Targeting policy makers - Media Advocacy focuses on policy makers rather than those that have a problem. How could this breed a sense of disempowerment in Aborigines?
- Amplifying voices - Look at articles on Aborigines in the mainstream media. Whose voices are the most amplified? Whose voices are not being heard?
The following quotes come from some high profile Aboriginal leaders. Explain how someone designing a Media Advocacy campaign targeted at regulating Aboriginal lives would feel about the quotes:
George Campbell, Yarralin elder:
"FED up with accusations that they are dysfunctional places riddled with child sex abuse and domestic violence, some remote indigenous communities are fighting back. ‘I'm proud of what we are doing here. Look around — my people are happy and they are doing things that give them pride as well’”
Warren Mundine – Head of NSW Native Title Services
"Freedom to do the things we want to do; freedom to make the choices that will enrich our lives. Aboriginals are capable of making up their own minds, you know. They don't need the guiding hand of the white fella at every turn."
3) Noel Pearson - Indigenous leader
"the introduction of passive welfare into Aboriginal communities was a disaster”
4) Galarrwuy Yunupingu - The chairman of the Northern Land Council -
"ONLY when we are empowered to take full responsibility at a local level will change occur."
5)Alf Lacey - Indigenous Mayor of Palm Island
"The prime minister needs to get a hold of herself... The current closing of the gap strategy at the moment is not closing anybody's gap, let alone the blackfellas in this country. All it does is create a big Aboriginal industry, a big gravy train that everyone else rides on, and wastes taxpayers' money on Aboriginal people with no results to it."
Activity 2 – Why corrupt history?
Activity purpose: Understanding the role that history plays in building cultural and social capital
Historian Henry Reynolds was one of the chief proponents of the Black War narrative, and he justified his selective approach to history by saying his intention was to foster reconciliation. In his own words:
"Well, my political ends are to bring about much more satisfactory relationships between white and black Australians."
When Henry Reynolds said that he was using history to achieve a good outcome, he received support from many in the profession. Below are some suggestions about the way that history could be be used to bring about a more satisfactory relationship between two groups of people who have a unsatisfactory relationship with each other. Assess which ones would be the most effective:
a) Use history to help define the underdog group as putting up a strong resistance so that they can be respected
Applied to Australia: Portray the Aborigines as strong warriors who used ingenuity, knowledge of the land, and fighting prowess to make life difficult for the colonists. This interpretation could be aided by studying the stories of Pelmuwuy and Yagan.
b) Use history to showcase the ancestors of the two groups showing each other respect
Applied to Australia: Portray Australian history as one in which colonists and the indigenous population got on much better than they did in other countries around the world. This angle could be served by focussing on colonists using Aboriginal words for place names (Canberra, Woomera, Illawarra, Joondalup, Wagga Wagga), using Aboriginal words in songs of rebellion such as Waltzing Matilda (coolibah, jumbuck, billabong)
c) Ignore war and use history to define the underdogs as having characteristics that would help them succeed n the modern world
Applied to Australia: Portray Aborigines as very adaptable people. This angle could be served by focussing on their knowledge of the land, hunting skills, early reports of adapting to colonial customs, the extremely impressive performance of the Aboriginal cricket team that toured England in the 19th century, and David Unipon's concept plans for a helicopter using aerodynamic principles of the boomerang.
d) Use history to create a belief that one group was wronged by the other
Applied to Australia: Portray Aborigines as victims who suffered at the hands of the whites. This angle could be served by focussing on racist policies implemented by the white authorities and being massacred at undefined places by undefined whites at undefined times.
e) Encourage the people who are descendants of both groups to identify with only one group and define them as victims of the other
Applied to Australia: Define descendants of both Aborigines and colonists as Aborigines who suffered cultural genocide as a result of the policies of Stolen Generation devised by state governments.
f) Use history to create a belief that both groups were wronged by a mutual enemy
Applied to Australia: Recognise that white fathers of children born to Aboriginal mothers were prosecuted and stigmatised for their relationships by colonial governments that wanted to protect Aboriginal women from “immoral” white men.
Activity 3 – Analysis of the limitations of the written record
Activity purpose: Understanding how fingerprints of the past can be found in popular culture and which can be cross-referenced to ascertain the validity of the written record
Contemporary history writing has typically relied on written accounts to justify the war narrative. Some of these accounts were based on primary sources and others were based on the secondary accounts written by other contemporary historians. Most of the contemporary accounts were relegated to the fiction shelves in 2002 when Keith Windschuttle released The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. In his book, Windschuttle checked the primary sources and found that they were inconsistent with what historians said the primary sources recorded. The outed historians responded that just because the massacres weren't written down didn’t mean that they didn’t occur.
Consider how the following may affect the accuracy of a written account and give examples of how it may have affected the writing of the Aboriginal colonial narrative:
- Literacy levels in various sections of the population of 19th century Australia
- Cultural division between Convicts and free settlers in 19th century Australia
- Political, ego, monetary, religious and moral intentions of the author
- How common it is for authors to be objective
- The intended aims of any piece of writing
- The intended reader of a piece of writing
- Knowledge gaps in an author
Activity 4 – Environmental determinism
Activity purpose – Understand how human cultures are often influenced by the natural environment and access to resources
Benjamin Madley, from Yale University argued:
“Conflict between indigenous people and settlers often revolves around two interlocking economic issues: access to natural resources and control of territory. Both groups need natural resources and land to achieve their definition of economic success. The loss of their food supply and land threatened both Aboriginal society and their physical survival.” Madely, Benjamin, (2004) Journal of Genocide Research, 6(2), June, 167–192 - Patterns of frontier genocide 1803–1910: the Aboriginal Tasmanians, the Yuki of California, and the Herero of Namibia
Consider the following facts about the Australian environment to speculate the extent of competition for food resources in the colonisation of Australia:
- Over 90% of Australia is dry, flat and arid. Almost three-quarters of the land cannot support agriculture in any form. In many of these areas, it is only possible to live off the land as a hunter gatherer
- After colonisation, numbers of kangaroos increased as a result of farmers cutting down eucalypt forests and the building of dams
- Most of Australia is over-run with domestic animals that escaped in the 18th century, but were not hunted by Aboriginal tribes
Consider how the following facts may indicate something about the nature of the relationship:
- Australian colonial housing was rarely built with fortifications for defence against a marauding population
- When naming Australia, it was extremely common for colonists to use the pre-existing indigenous name
- Waltzing Matilda, a patriotic song penned in the 19th century, used Aboriginal words like coolabah, billabong and jumbuck to build its patriotic credentials
- Australia never developed Aboriginal and Stockmen children games the way America developed Cowboys and Indians games
- Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on earth, with the majority of the population living in coastal cities
- 70 per cent of the Aboriginal population today lives in cities
Activity 5 – The affect of a Convict population on Indigenous relations
Activity purpose – Understand how authority figures can maintain power by keeping oppressed groups divided
Read this account by military officer Watkin Tench about what happened to the Convicts who tried to steal Aboriginal hunting and fishing tools:
"March, 1789. Sixteen convicts left their work at the brick-kilns without leave, and marched to Botany Bay, with a design to attack the natives, and to plunder them of their fishing-tackle and spears: they had armed themselves with their working tools and large clubs. When they arrived near the bay, a body of Indians, who had probably seen them set out, and had penetrated their intention from experience, suddenly fell upon them. Our heroes were immediately routed, and separately endeavoured to effect their escape by any means which were left. In their flight one was killed, and seven were wounded, for the most part very severely: those who had the good fortune to outstrip their comrades and arrive in camp, first gave the alarm; and a detachment of marines, under an officer, was ordered to march to their relief. The officer arrived too late to repel the Indians; but he brought in the body of the man that was killed, and put an end to the pursuit. The governor was justly incensed at what had happened, and instituted the most rigorous scrutiny into the cause which had produced it. At first the convicts were unanimous in affirming, that they were quietly picking sweet-tea (2), when they were without provocation assaulted by the natives, with whom they had no wish to quarrel. Some of them, however, more irresolute than the rest, at last disclosed the purpose for which the expedition had been undertaken; and the whole were ordered to be severely flogged: Arabanoo was present at the infliction of the punishment; and was made to comprehend the cause and the necessity of it; but he displayed on the occasion symptoms of disgust and terror only." (A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson by Watkin Tench)
- 16 Convicts set out to fight Aborigines. How did they fare in hand-to-hand combat? Why were the Aborigines so superior?
- Can you think of any reasons why the Convicts didn’t use guns to fight Aborigines? Do you think guns were freely available in the colony?
- Why do you think Arthur Phillip wanted to flog the Convicts in the presence of an Aborigine? Do you think the flogging would have aided reconciliation?
- What do you think the attitude of both Convicts and Aborigines may have been to British rule?
A culture of flogging Australians commenced in the colonial era and has never really gone away.
3)Race wars written out of Australian history: historian - http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/s28233.htm
4)A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson by Watkin Tench
5)BENJAMIN MADLEY Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(2),
June, 167–192 - Patterns of frontier genocide
1803–1910: the Aboriginal
Tasmanians, the Yuki of California,
and the Herero of Namibia
6)ISAACS, Jennifer, Australian Dreaming. 40000 years of Aboriginal history. Sydney: Lansdowne Press, 1987
7)Keith Windschuttle, The fabrication of Aboriginal history
8)Rabbit-Proof Fence: Phillip Noyce's Diary http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Stories/rabbit_frame.html
10) Bereson, Itiel, (2000) Australia in the 1960s, Echidna Books
Robinson, N (2010, September 30). Indigenous urban dwellers better off but not happier The Australian http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/indigenous-urban-dwellers-better-off-but-not-happier/story-e6frg6nf-1225931996865 Accessed 2010
12) Posselt, H (2000) Socio-economic disadvantage across urban, rural and remote areas. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.apa.org.au/upload/2000-2B_Posselt.pdf
13) Cathy Bedsen, Robert Darlington, Alek Kwaiatkowski and Alan Wiggs, Humanities Alive Second Edition (2010)
14)Martelle, Scott (June 28, 2006). "A Different Read on 'Mockingbird'; Long a classroom starting point for lessons about intolerance, the Harper Lee classic is being reexamined by some who find its perspective limited", The Los Angeles Times, p. 6.
15)http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/W/Walyer.htm - January 2009
16)http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10455b.htm - January 2009