Madiba is gone. Hardly a surprise seeing as he had been fading in front of our eyes for three years and was on the verge of death a few months ago. Yet the wave of universal grief did surprise in its depth and intensity; perhaps because increasingly unheralded in our fractious world. Tributes are coming deep from every corner. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had many enemies in life but none in death. The man was an inspiration, deeply revered and loved. Those that lived through his imprisonment, rallied around this massive injustice as a central shibboleth for the causes of their own lives. FW Klerk was the first Dutch South African who understood their time in power was unsustainable due to the international pressure that Mandela almost single-handedly put on his oppressors.
There were others equally important to the cause of defeating apartheid, and some of them like Steve Biko famous as a martyr in his own right. But it was Mandela’s quiet dignity in prison that shone through. The photographs emerging from Robben Island did not lie. Here was a man his enemies had not beaten. Mandela spent 27 years locked up from the age of 44 to over 70 and he spent the first 10 carried along in a state of perpetual anger against his captors. Mandela knew this was unsustainable and retreated into himself. He dropped the burden of martyrdom and learned the Zen of incarceration, inspiring others. Fellow prisoners would say that whenever they felt demoralised, one look at Mandela walking tall would revive them.
Mandela and the African National Congress he continued to lead from prison were dubbed communist terrorists by the regime, a charge eagerly picked up by many in Europe (which may or may not have included David Cameron) who painted South African politics over the left/right divide of their own lives. The ANC did want to redistribute the wealth, but it had to be that way when 15% of population held all of all South Africa’s vast mineral riches simply because of their skin tone.
By being the most public victim of discredited theories of racial superiority, Mandela said more with photos and silence from inside than he could ever do outside with his voice. By being quiet, he was, as Ban ki-Moon said in a eulogy, a giant for justice.
His ideas filtered out through osmosis. His strength was his nobility and a refusal to copy the ways of his enemies. To get away from confused notions of black versus white he conjured up the rainbow nation and when he was finally president in 1994, he ordered a Truth and Reconciliation Commission instead of a witch hunt.
In retirement, he was South Africa’s “security blanket” so they could sleep with good conscience. His successors Thabo Mbeki’s problems with recognising AIDS and Jacob Zuma’s corruption could almost be forgiven while the not-white knight of the ANC was still alive.
Mandela was a clever politician who knew how to reach across the aisle. His deftest touch was to wear the Springbok jersey as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 on home oil. Every leader likes to be associated with a good news sports story and there were few as good as the plucky Boks plundering the title at their first tilt from the indomitable All Blacks. Mandela presented the trophy to Francois Pienaar, both wearing green and both smiling broadly, transcending a sporting moment into a defining moment for the transformation of South Africa. For many decades earlier, the Springboks were the poster boys of the apartheid regime, and a lightning rod for protest wherever they were allowed to play abroad.
This wasn’t the only astuteness shown by Madiba. Before the election a year earlier, South Africa seemed likely to tear itself apart with conservative Boers unwilling to accept the handover of power. He visited Betsie Vorwaerd whose late husband Henrik invented apartheid in 1948 to solve the white republic’s problem of growing anti-colonialism. Mandela told Betsie the Dutch had nothing to fear from his leadership. He would go softly on the handover, but the legacy would be tough for those that followed him.
In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in what was one of Norway’s better decisions. Like Gorbachev, de Klerk took on a difficult mission to deliberately give away power when so many around him called for the status quo to be maintained and their stance harden against “the terrorists”. Through the Nixon and Reagan eras, the US was happy to cosy up to the South Africans as a bulwark against their bete noire of communism. It wasn’t until the Cold War ended that Mandela was released and the regime unravelled.
It should not be forgotten that Mandela had breeding for greatness. He was born in 1918 as a Xhosa tribal chief in Qunu in the Eastern Cape. In the shadow of the end of the Great European War, Mandela (usually called by his Xhosa clan name Madiba or given name Rolihlahla which appropriately means “troublemaker” but never the European Nelson, given to him by a teacher at college) grew up in mudwalled huts but he eventually became a Thembu chief when his father died.
Mandela was not a god, he had human frailties and it showed in his family life. He was married three times, divorced twice and he abandoned long-time second wife Winnie despite her years of standing behind him during his prison years. Mandela’s eldest son Thembi died in a car crash, another son Makgatho died of AIDS (something he was later powerless to stop the state from descending into paranoia over). He has left an extended clan of grandchildren and great-grandchildren now squabbling over his legacy.
Mandela studied arts and law at the University of Fort Hare. There he met Oliver Tambo and the pair would later set up a black legal practice in Johannesburg. The pair were also politically active and with a third man Walter Sisulu, they founded the ANC youth league.
The pre-apartheid Smuts regime had no love of the blacks but it was the even more extremist Nationalists who came to power in 1948 and institutionalised common practices of discrimination. Mandela’s first arrest came in 1952 when he served nine months for the sin of “statutory communism”. It removed any lingering doubt Mandela had about the justice of his cause. He gained his law degree in 1952 and although banned from meetings and from leaving Joburg, he continued to be a thorn in the government’s side. He was arrested again in 1956 for treason, as was the entire ANC executive and the trial dragged on without resolution for several years.
The ANC were such a threat to the regime they were eventually outlawed in 1960. It was a fatal moment for Mandela because it put him permanently outside the law.
He left the country and trained up a military wing in Algeria and Ethiopia known as Umkhonto we Sizme. Shortened as MK, it translates as Spear of the Nation, appealing to the black wars of the past against Europeans in South Africa. With Mandela in hiding, Tambo went to London and became the public face of the ANC and a flea in the hair of European governments.
Mandela was on the run leading MK military operations to sabotage the economy, it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. In 1964 he was caught sneaking back into the country and sentenced to five years for illegally leaving South Africa. While in prison, the authorities found more evidence against him about his involvement and leadership of the ANC. He was charged with treason. Expecting the death sentence, Mandela’s speech from the dock resonates through the years. The regime didn’t want to make a martyr of him and instead sentenced him to life at the republic’s toughest prison Robben Island – where he had already been moved to – off Cape Town.
The conditions he faced, especially in those early years can barely be imagined. Between punishments there were many years of soul destroying work crushing rocks. Yet the movement he led grew in strength through the violence of the 1960s and 1970s spurred on by Sharpeville and other massacres. Mandela spent 20 years in the rubble at Robben. As his fame grew, the regime bartered with him. He could have his freedom if he accepted banishment to Transkei or if he renounced violence. Mandela rejected all deals.
In the UK, the band the Special AKA put the issue firmly into public consciousness in 1984 with their hit Free Nelson Mandela. He wasn’t freed but his conditions got progressively easier. In the same year, he moved back to the mainland on Pollsmoor prison and then in 1988 – now 70 years old – to Victor Verster model prison at Paarl. By then Mandela was the leader-in-waiting and he visited Premier PW Botha a year later. Botha was sick and his replacement FW de Klerk moved quickly to release all the ANC leaders including Mandela.
He emerged to the world on February 11, 1990 aged 71. There was a triumphant world tour and calls for peace with whites. De Klerk meanwhile held a whites-only referendum which supported multi-race elections by a margin of over two to one (69-31). Now re-installed as ANC president, Mandela was the obvious choice to lead the party to its first legal elections in 1994. Once in power, he was laissez-faire economically preferring to spend his political capital on truth and reconciliation. He spent one term as president and decided not to re-contest in 1999. Mandela still had plenty of energy and cachet as an elder statesman, becoming an international ambassador to resolve conflicts in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa.
He retired from public life in 2004, aged 85, and retreated to become a living saint. He was frail in his brief appearance at the 2010 World Cup and the world knew there was not much time left. Incredibly he drove his battered body on for another three years before finally dying this week.
Maybe now released from his shadow, black South Africa will reach the standards he wanted from it. However the country also needs the death of the ANC, a war-time behemoth unsuitable for peacetime needs. Its continued entrenchment of power is now the country’s biggest danger. Only when it succumbs to its own decrepitude will South Africa have a chance to meet the goals of the ANC’s greatest leader.
It’s mostly forgotten, but the first Europeans to have contact with Aboriginal Australia were the Dutch.
Between 1606 and 1756 the Dutch explored, mapped and named many parts of the Australian coast. Captain Willem Janszoon (c1570-1630) made the first landfall in 1606 on the western side of Cape York in Queensland. He and those who followed him were “dienaren” (servants) of the United East India Co, and they and their vessels part of their fleet with instructions to further company interests. In Dutch it was called the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie and the VOC was the largest and most impressive of the European trading companies in Asia, providing a model for success for the English East India Co. Between in 1602 and 1795 the VOC sent one million people to Asia on 4,785 ships to bring back 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods.
The Australian voyages were a small chapter of VOC’s story. Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand were mentioned in the founding charter as part of the trade zone which stretched from the Cape of Good Hope to the Straits of Magellan. Over time the Dutch focussed their energies on the sea route from the Cape to Japan, but Australia and New Guinea remained in the sphere of Dutch influence and several voyages to New Holland were specific responses to English voyages.
The year 1602 when the VOC was founded was a time of great change in the Netherlands. The small Dutch state of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was fighting for independence from Spain and establishing itself as a major political and economic power . The VOC was a uniquely Dutch politico-commercial institution which would have been impossible elsewhere because the United Provinces was the world’s only federal republic. It was a collectivity of town governments committed to trade, industry and navigation which also wielded great military and naval power. Its origins were in the complex relationship of towns, feudal states and bishoprics known as Nederlanden (Low Countries). Part of the Habsburg Empire, the Low Countries were divided by language and religion with Protestantism gaining support in lower classes, lesser nobility and town leaders.
When Habsburg king Charles V abdicated in 1555, Nederlanden’s 17 provinces went to Charles’s son Philip who later became king of Spain. Philip was determined to stamp out Protestantism which led to Dutch open revolt in 1568 followed by the 80-years-war. Seven Dutch speaking and Protestant northern provinces formed the United Provinces. The Dutch Calvinistic religion put a positive spin on the pursuit of economic gain and gave worldly activities spiritual and moral meaning and the Dutch Reformed Church quickly followed its sailors across the world.
In 1594 the Dutch began Asian trade. Experienced navigator Cornelis de Houtman brought back a cargo of pepper and and a treaty with the Sultan of Banten. For the next six years, eight different Dutch trading companies sailed 65 ships in 15 fleets to Asia. In 1602 they merged into a combined VOC, whose charter granted monopoly all Dutch trade to Asia, and turned it into a hybrid-state. Until 1609 supreme command wrested in the admiral of the outgoing fleet but they eventually moved to the Portuguese model of central authority. Until 1619, VOC headquarters were in Ambon then it moved to Batavia (Jakarta). Thus was the Dutch Golden Age and the VOC contributed to and benefited from scientific and technological advancements in astronomy and cartography while their dockyards were the most efficient in Europe.
For the next 150 years the VOC led European knowledge about the great south land. 19 vessels were sent to Australia on eight expeditions of discovery. They mapped the northern, western and southern coasts though they never saw the east coast or Bass Strait. It helped that the Roaring Forties was the quickest route from Africa to Asia and it brought Dutch sailors within sight of the west coast. Dutch sailors met Aborigines and their journals had the first brief descriptions of Aboriginal food, body painting, fire sticks, huts, canoes and weapons and corroborees.
In 1606 rumours of gold in New Guinea brought Willem Janszoon (or Jansz) to Australia. His ship Duyfken landed at north west Cape York Peninsula. It was a dangerous voyage. Sailor John Saris noted “nine men killed by heathens, which are man eaters” but Saris never made it clear if the deaths were in Australia or New Guinea. In 1922 the government geologist of Queensland Robert Logan Jack said the Duyfken crew members were killed at Cape Kerweer in Queensland. However there is no record of the Dutch landing at Kerweer, it was merely the southernmost point mapped by Janszoon’s men.
The first point of contact was actually at Pennefather River 160km north of Kerweer. There was an incident at Wenlock River north of Pennefather where one Dutchman was killed. In 1623 Carstenszoon said his ships Pera and Aernem passed a river the Duykfen went up in 1606 and “lost a man by the throwing of the savages.” The name Cape Kerweer (cape turnaround) represents not European domination but a kind of defeat. It was more likely lack of water and provisions that caused them to end their voyage of discovery not the single death in Australia. As for the death of nine men – that more likely happened in New Guinea. Jan Carstenszoon also lost nine men in New Guinea in 1623. On that trip Carstenszoon landed at Cape York between the Holroyd and Coleman Rivers but suffered no casualties. Yet subsequent histories talked about meetings with “wild, cruel, black savages”, often combining the 1606 and 1623 incidents but placing them in Australia not New Guinea based on incorrect reading of the Logan Jack account.
The reality of the meeting between cultures was much more complex. Carstenszoon said the people he met in the south of Cape York were less hostile than those in the north. This may be due to the northerners’ familiarity with foreigners at the meeting point with Melanesia and also the likelihood they were familiar with musket fire from Janszoon’s trip.
Locals quickly learned to be cautious of firearms although their spears were a match for flintlock and matchlock firearms, especially in the rain. Muskets were also heavy and had to be fired from a rest, positioned before aim. Muzzle-loading was also time consuming while light spears could be reloaded in an instance. In 1623, Carstenszoon described how 100 blacks were on the beach with their weapons and tried to prevent the landing of his men. “These fired a shot to frighten them with a musket, upon which the blacks fled…and retired into the wood and from there they tried every means and evil practice to surprise and attack our men.”
Further south, many curious blacks (some of which were armed) came up to them “and so bold that they grasped the muskets of our men and even tried to take the same off the shoulders and they wanted to have all they saw.” Demand sharing was common between kinfolk in traditional Aboriginal society, not only a way of obtaining objects but also a way of establishing and reinforcing claims of kinship, mutual dependency and amity.
But the whites soon showed they could not be trusted. Carstenszoon enticed blacks with gifts and then seized one of the men and took him on board as a source of information, according to the instructions for his voyage. This was a commercial intent for possible discoveries of precious commodities in New Holland. He kidnapped at least two more men though one died on board. Carstenszoon said the others ‘raised an outcry and made much noise’ in grief and rage.
The Aborigines may have though they were being spirited away to the land of the dead. It was unlikely the Aborigines thought the Dutch were human. In many Cape languages like Anggamuthi, Thaynakwith, Wik, Kuuk-Thaayore, Yir Yoront and Oykangand the term that meant European originally meant ghost or devil. On western Cape York corpses were traditional smoked, carried for a year before being cremated. The ashen-faced Dutch looked eerily like their deceased relatives.
Ritual custodians maintained their power by explaining these mysterious visitors within their cosmology. Visitors were initially their own dead relatives. Metaphysical doubt was the enemy. The existence of Europeans called into question the Dreaming itself. In time however, the natives saw the visitors as all too human.
The day after the first kidnapping, the Dutch went ashore again to cut wood and had to fire twice to repel 200 surprise attackers. Many other early reports noted indifference among the natives to their presence. At the Staaten River in southern Cape York, Carstenszoon said seven or eight natives they met wouldn’t talk to them nor the people they met in following days. It was a mechanism to deal with danger by studiously ignoring it.
Whatever information the Dutch got from their captives, they never found any gold and they eventually lost interest in New Holland. The VOC was guilty of overreach when it attacked Chinese interests and the Dutch, exhausted by endless wars with the French, Spanish, Portuguese and English eventually lost their influence. The eventual colonial power of Australia, England, shared a similar heritage and trajectory towards industrial liberal democracy and similar notions of racial superiority when it came to the Aborigines. It is unlikely the course of Australian history would have changed much for the original inhabitants, had the Dutch come to stay. But we would know a lot more about them.
In 2014, Queensland’s police force turns 150 years old. One of the first of the anniversary retrospectives took place at the Queensland Police Museum yesterday. Former Special Branch detective Barry Krosch attracted a full house of over 100 people to the Museum to listen to his talk on the Queensland Special Branch which existed from 1948 to 1989. Krosch was in the Special Branch for 10 years and today presents his master’s thesis on the history of the secretive organisation. Introducing Krosch, his supervisor Dr Paul Reynolds of UQ said the timing of the inception of the Special Branch was related to the start of the Cold War with many jurisdictions across the western world initiating surveillance operations around this time.
Krosch said all the Australian states started Special Branches around 1948 and ASIO began its operations in 1949 – the same year as George Orwell, himself a former policeman published 1984. Queensland’s Special Branch started on April 7, 1948 initially called Special Bureau using detectives who were involved in a similar bureau before World War II. The bureaux were based on the British model of surveillance dating back to the 1880s and was given the responsibility of dealing with “subversive activities”, which meant at the time Communist activities. In Queensland the Communists controlled many unions and Labor Premier Ned Hanlon was rattled by the great rail strike with many large-scale demonstrations at Roma St and King George Square. Krosch said the protesters outsmarted the Government and within a day of the protests, the Special Bureau was up and running.
It was renamed the Special Branch in 1950 and had 13 detectives and five civilians. As well as Communists, they monitored numerous groups such as Socialist, Nazis, Fabians, Women’s movements “revolutionaries and saboteurs” and even Jehovah’s Witnesses. They followed a strict system of classification which for instance divided Communists into party members, “avowed” Communists, known to police as Communists, suspected Communists, and Communist sympathisers. Almost everyone who was politically active outside the main parties had a Special Branch file. Special Branch activities were paid for by ASIO and Branch operatives from across the country attended ASIO conferences so there was a great deal of synchronisation between state arms.
The Branch’s autonomous tendencies were noted in 1970 by new Police Commissioner Ray Whitrod. Whitrod reviewed their operation and was unimpressed by its unaccountability and its lack of supervision by senior officers. Whitrod had a baptism of fire in 1971 with the Springbok tour protests and the high profile injury and arrest of then student leader Peter Beattie. Krosch noted Beattie’s file number was 2E 1528 where the E series covered industrial and political figures and 2 meant he was an individual not an organisation (and also not a Communist, Jew or Jehovah’s Witness which had their own codes).
Whitrod was disliked by Premier Joh Bjelke Petersen and forced out in 1976. Under his replacement Terence Lewis, it was a torrid time of overt and covert action and many arrests. Krosch joined the Branch in 1978 around the time of the Hilton Bombing in Sydney. Krosch said the Branch had two roles one of which was neglected. The first was intelligence and the second was VIP protection. Krosch said the two were interlocked but the protection role was often overlooked despite its importance and the fact it took up much time and resources.
The Special Branch passed on a lot of information to ASIO, which would later be a godsend to researchers like Krosch. In the late 1980s, the role of Queensland Special Branch came under increasing scrutiny as the Joh regime unravelled. The Moonlight State documentary was instrumental in leading to the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in 1988. Krosch remembers being a minder for Tony Fitzgerald during the week and Joh at the weekend, and being quizzed by both camps for information about the other. Krosch said he didn’t say anything to either side. Krosch said the Inquiry looked at 20 Special Branch files out of a total of 9000 so its investigation was of necessity, light-weight. However in its July 1989 report, one of its 242 recommendations was the disbanding of the Branch.
An election was also in the offing with Labor expected to win and also promising to disband the Branch. In the meantime new commissioner Newman authorised the culling of thousands of files and index cards. In November a senior police officer blew the whistle on the Branch to Channel Nine’s Jana Wendt in Sydney. In the week before the election, what Krosch called the most turbulent week in Queensland politics, Newman oversaw days of shredding files despite huge public outrage. Labor won the election on December 2 and were due to be sworn in on December 7. In the handover week Newman took the decision to disband the Branch. On the morning of the 7th Newman met incoming police minister Terry Mackenroth who promised him that disbanding the Branch would be his first item of business. Newman told him he’d already beaten him to it. On the 8th officers held a “funeral” for the Branch.
Krosch said a further request to cull files in 1992 was denied by the Library Board of Queensland for two reasons. Firstly they documented the activity of the Special Branch and secondly they shed light on the organisations they monitored. “So few Special Branch resources have survived,” the Board said, ” all the more important these ones survive.” Krosch encouraged researchers to fully document the work of the Branch while its former members were still alive. 25 years on from its disbanding, he doubted many in the audience would be back for the 50th anniversary in 2038.
In 1968 the great anthropologist WEH Stanner wrote of the “great Australian silence” around Aboriginal history. Stanner said the fantastical British claims to be rightful possessors of Australia was based on notion of the country as “waste and desert” despite 40,000 years of unbroken occupancy. Only once, said Stanner, did Europeans temporarily abandon these notions and recognise Aboriginal title: that was for Batman’s Treaty of 1835 governing lands around Melbourne. The colonial government in Sydney quickly recognised this as a dangerous precedent and killed it stone dead. Whatever Batman’s Treaty’s faults – and they are many – the rest of the land was taken without negotiation, without compensation and without apology. Without a Waitangi Treaty, Aus Abs have difficulty advancing claims of title, compensation and sovereignty. Its failure, said Stanner began a “culture of disremembering” that would last 150 years.
New Zealand-born historian Bain Attwood tells the fascinating story of that forgotten treaty in Possession: Batman’s treaty and the matter of history. Batman’s Treaty was two deeds, one for the area that is now Melbourne, the other for Geelong. Under its terms, Batman bought 600,000 acres of Kulin (the confederate tribes of Port Phillip and Westernport Bays) land on behalf of the Port Phillip Association. The Association was a group landholders and gentlemen from Hobart and Launceston. Its members included public servant Henry Arthur (nephew of Tasmanian governor George Arthur, soldier Thomas Bannister (brother of NSW Attorney General Saxe Bannister, lawyer John Gellibrand, banker Charles Swanston, surveyor John Helder Wedge and Batman.
The Association’s members were very familiar with the humanisation ideas of Aborigines at the time. Though the treaty is now named for Batman it was Wedge’s idea. At the time, British demand for Australian wool was growing and the group look longingly at the lands across Bass Strait which seem ideal for pastoral use. At the time there was a strict 100 mile Nineteen Counties limits of location around Sydney enforced by the colonial government in Sydney but land grabbers (“squatters”) had their eyes on expansion and profit. For the Port Phillip Association, based in Van Diemen’s Land, Melbourne was far beyond the authority of the NSW Government in Sydney. The Association didn’t want to be known as squatters and lawyer Gellibrand came up with the peculiar legal form of recognition to recognise Aboriginal title. Both he and Batman had applied for land in Western Port in 1827 but were refused. This time they challenged the authority of New South Wales by entreating the governor of Van Diemen’s Land Arthur.
By way of precedent they noted that the Henty family sought permission to take land in Portland Bay in 1834 for whaling. Gellibrand and Batman’s letter to Governor Arthur contained two fictions. They stated Thomas Henty had a treaty with Portland Aborigines (he did not) and another party had took possession of Two Fold Bay (New South Wales) by negotiated purchase with Aborigines (they had not). Arthur was sympathetic but referred the letter to Solicitor General Alfred Stephen. Stephen’s advice was that both Portland and Two Fold Bay were in NSW but were not in the settled region. Arthur supported the Association’s contention that NSW authority could be contested at Port Phillip.
The British Government were familiar with treaties. They had granted numerous territorial charters and grants to proprietary companies in the 17th century in Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Georgia . These grants were to commercial rather than national authorities. The most famous treaty was Quaker William Penn’s treaty of 1683 with the Delaware Indians immortalised in a painting by Benjamin West in 1772. West’s painting re-told the story as the symbol of peaceful colonisation with a possibly mythical meeting under elm at Shackamaxon (Tasmanians drew on that legend to name Batman’s Treaty after a person rather than after a place as is more usual and paintings of Batman, whose face was unknown, were drawn in 17th century Quaker dress).
There had been no treaties in Australia – Sydney was taken by force and the Limits of Location were held by a 500-strong army of marines. However the imaginary borders of NSW set by Cook and confirmed by Phillip were altered in 1828 when the Joint Stock Co Colonisation Committee took control of South Australia. In Tasmania the natives fought colonisation and in 1829 Batman offered to help reconcile Aborigines and whites. His efforts failed – instead he was responsible for the massacre of 15 lives. Following the failure of Black Line Arthur pursued peaceful reconciliation which attempted to follow the official advice from the Colonial Office in 1830 was that colonisation should be done with “cooperation and consent of indigenous people”.
That same year former NSW Attorney-General Saxe Bannister wrote Humane Policy or Justice for the Aborigines at Cape Colony and NSW which became hugely influential. In 1835 Bannister gave evidence to the House of Commons select committee inquiry on Aboriginal people. Bannister believed in superiority of British culture but he said they had duty to uplift indigenous people and he regarded treaties as greatest effect of peace on the frontiers. Brother Tom Bannister was even more enthusiastic and copies passages from Saxe’s book. He regarded Van Diemenlander history as an indelible stain on the character of the British Government. The Port Phillip Association would follow the footsteps of Penn and drive to Christianise the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip.
The Association saw the treaty as a deed of purchase in writing rather than speaking or ritual. Its terms were all about possession of property whereas for Aborigines the idea of land tenure was a prerogative to use the resources of the land for a particular purpose. The Association’s aims were reflected in the peculiar language of the treaty. The deeds “doth grant enfeoff” of tracts of country at Port Phillip. Feoffment was an ancient method of feudal conveyances which barred “diseisin” (recovery of land by party wrongfully dispossessed). It was a simpler form of conveyance rather than the more common ‘lease and release’. Feoffment was a ritual of possession “livery of seisin” handing over a lump of soil as symbol of whole property and the boundary was enforced by perambulation – how far a person could walk in a given time. (In the US this form was sarcastically called “ye hurry walk” as whites scrambled to gain as much property as they could). The terms of the treaty were for a yearly rent or tribute of 100 pairs of blankets, 100 knives, 100 tomahawks, 50 suits of clothing, 50 looking glasses, 50 pairs of scissors and five tons of flour. It was a “fee simple estate” which meant perpetual full-scale succession not a lease.
Batman went to Port Phillip in May 1836 with three whites and seven blacks. They landed at Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula and walked inland to Port Phillip Bay where he supposedly met the local chieftains. The Association’s later letter to Arthur said Batman walked the boundary and gave the soil to the chiefs who supposedly understood what he was doing and signed the treaty. Batman attached a map of the land which was mostly a fantasy. The signatures may have been a forgery and even if not, had the Kulins understood what Batman was doing, they would never had accepted it. For the Kulins, the treaty would have been a political document between sovereign peoples rather than set of rights for whites. Forgery or not, Batman went back to Launceston two weeks later with the signed treaty leaving his men to claim the territory. The Port Phillip Association wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies Spring Rice and told him the country was 100 miles beyond jurisdiction of NSW although it was within the imaginary line from Bass Strait to Carpentaria which defined Australia in June 1835. They reckoned the treaty was “quietly taken possession”. However Rice’s Under Secretary Sir George Grey said Port Phillip was part of NSW and therefore there could be no other title to the land.
Acting on Grey’s instructions Governor Bourke directed to put the land up for public auction, rejecting the case they had improved the land via capital and labour. After the Treaty John Helder Wedge started the settlement in August 1835. Also in late August 1835 another Van Diemen’s Land expedition sponsored by John Pascoe Fawkner landed on the Yarra and moved on to Port Phillip Association land. Wedge was worried and believed both expeditions could be dispossessed. The Association agreed to show Fawkner the treaty and they appointed former convict and Aboriginal wanderer William Buckley as superintendent of Aborigines. Buckley was discovered by an astonished Wedge at Indented Head after escaping the first Port Phillip settlement in 1803 and living with the Aborigines for 32 years. Buckley acted as a go-between but he couldn’t stop the violence as the settlement quickly grew beyond Melbourne, with two settlers killed at Werribee. In September 1835 Bourke told the Association that Port Phillip would be opened up for sale and held meetings with them to discuss terms to keep a small part of the settlement. It was the Port Phillip Association that acted as the dispossessed party not the Aborigines.
Bourke saw the treaty as a threat to authority. The earlier perception of Aboriginal defacto ownership of the land had changed in mid 1820s as conflict escalated. Pre 1823, British justice abstained from jurisdiction over Aborigines. However from 1824 they began asserting authority over space rather than subjects. In the 1823 case R v Lowe, the defence argued a white soldier who murdered an Aborigine should get away with it because the Aborigines did not have the rights of British subjects and the incident happened outside the limits of location. Chief Justice Francis Forbes rejected both arguments. The 1834 R v Steele case re-asserted the Lowe position with Justice Forbes said the King owned all unpossessed lands in the kingdom. All of NSW’s soil was vested immediately on settlement in his Majesty as representative of British nation, creating what Attwood called a “foundational history”. In 1833 Macdonald v Levy Justice Burton said Aboriginal land could be regarded as uninhabited because Aborigines were “wandering tribes” who lived without “certain habitation and without laws”. The law had established that “the savages” lacked government and property rights and their rights to the land was repudiated. This was why Batman’s Treaty was such a threat to the new concept of sovereignty. It raised fundamental questions about the Crown’s jurisdiction given its claim of Aboriginal sovereign polity suggested Crown was not legal possessor of the land. Therefore it had to be rejected.
Forbes told Governor Bourke repudiation of the Treaty was a good peg upon which to suspend a proclamation defining true limits of colonisation. Bourke declared all treaties with Aborigines void and of no effect against right of the Crown and treaty holders (and Aborigines) were liable to be dealt as “intruders” on Crown land. This gave Bourke the excuse to extend the limits of location and actualise the newly minted conception of Crown’s sovereignty.
Batman’s Treaty proved a critical moment for Aborigines. The Colonial Office didn’t quite endorse Bourke approach repudiating Aboriginal right to land. They set the matter of government aside using temporal qualifiers like “present proprietors” assuming the Aboriginals wouldn’t be owners in the future. Aborigines were confirmed as British subjects.
The Port Phillip Association retreated into history and Batman died in 1839, almost forgotten by the 1850s. His reputation was rescued by schoolteacher James Bonwick who recast his a bushman colonial hero a la Daniel Boone. It was Bonwick who came up with Batman’s phrase “this will be a good place for a village” as the defining moment for Melbourne. Bonwick was an evangelist troubled by British dispossession of Aborigines. However he was more concerned with redeeming sins of British than upholding Aboriginal rights. He, like many of his era, believed the Aborigines were doomed to pass away. Now it is Batman who has faded once more into history, while the Kulin nations including the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people are finding their voice once more.
Former Canadian general Romeo Dallaire is calling on the world to use the Remembrance month of November to honour child soldiers lost in battle. The UN estimates that 250,000 children, boys and girls, are currently being used as child soldiers and Dallaire has long drawn on his own experience to build a campaigning case against the use of child soldiers. Dallaire was the Force Commander for the UNAMIR mission in Rwanda that tried in vain to stop a genocide of 800,000 people in 1994.
Child soldiers, says Dallaire in his book They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (now a movie) are the most “available cost-effective and renewable weapon system in existence today.” Children are vulnerable and easy to catch, plentiful in Africa and easily able to carry light weapons and ammunition. They are excellent combatants, good ambush bait and easy cannon fodder. Girls are an even bigger prize than boys, able to everything they do and also set up camp, prepare the food, control younger children and act as sex objects. This was well known as far back as Mozambique’s Graca Machel’s 1996 report to the UN The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. Machel would also later be instrumental in developing the 2007 Paris Principles which tried in vain to galvanise countries into enforcing existing laws against the use of children under 18 in armed combat. After Dallaire had finished exorcising his Rwandan experience in Shake Hands with the Devil, he threw himself full time into the issue, particularly military tactical responses to the problem and doctrines to deal with child soldiers in the field.
Child soldiers played a significant role in the Interahamwe paramilitary Rwandan slaughter and were also recruited into the Tutsi resistance, some of whom were “cocky, gun happy and arrogant” and causing mayhem with the UN. The defeated young militia members of the Interahamwe fled to DRC where they continued to cause chaos in the refugee camps. As the years progressed the number of conflicts escalated, each one needing an ever-increasing number of children. These wars are intractable and self-sustaining with little ideology or clear goals. Non-state actors such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, Coalition des patriotes resistants congolais (PARECO), Mai-Mai, CNDP and FDLR all extensively use children. Psychologically vulnerable and easily manipulated, children were also easy and cheap to maintain, eating and drinking less, unpaid, and not well clothed, sheltered, armed or logistically sustained. Adults also make the mistake of underestimating child soldiers, failing to see them as a threat.
Dallaire sees the need to prosecute leaders who use child soldiers but what should happen to the child soldiers themselves? Picking up the pieces of broken children is hugely difficult and rarely a top priority in conflict resolution. It requires a process Dallaire called DDR disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. Each step is difficult. He quotes the 2008 Global Report of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers which estimated half of child soldiers in Uganda registered for demobilisation fearing the army or rejection by their communities if they were identified as ex-LRA. Girls particularly were worried by stigmatisation. Disarmament was also difficult with many peace agreements not requiring child soldiers to surrender weapons after a ceasefire. Dallaire argues for a campaign to reduce illegal small arms trade by stressing the link to child soldiers.
Reintegration also requires long-term funding of child protection agencies and programs to ensure continuous support for education and training plus follow-up and monitoring once they returned to civilian life. Dallaire says DDR is under-funded and cannot be isolated from the larger economic and social issues that plague embattled and impoverished states. Donors are drawn away by the next crisis. Dallaire’s Child Soldiers Initiative research project has been in existence for eight years looking at the problem and admits it needs to change minds and many old ways of doing things to fix the problem. Dallaire understood child soldiers as ‘weapons systems’, both victims of horrible abuse and agents of conflict.
Dallaire’s message to the public is to get involved. “Become an activist,” he concludes in They Fight Like Soldiers. “Inform others, influence public policy and public opinion, join an NGO’s efforts, and get engaged in advancing humanity beyond the evil that it does.”
In the opening sentences of the Ludwig Leichhardt biography “Into the Unknown“, author John Bailey tells his version of the last known days of the German explorer. It is April 1848 and Leichhardt is setting off from European settlement 500km west of Brisbane towards the Swan Colony (now Perth) on the west coast of Australia. The journey would take two to three years of travel through rugged and hostile desert country. Leichhardt writes one last letter to Sydney which Bailey says he pressed into the hands of his host Allan Macpherson as he off into the unknown. A couple of days later, Bailey suggest there was another meeting between Leichhardt and Macpherson. According to Bailey, Macpherson and his friend William Hill trace Leichhardt’s party’s track to deliver one last parting gift of a fat cow. They caught up with Leichhardt at nightfall but the German declined their gift saying he didn’t want a wild cow mixing with his docile herd as she might lead it astray. Macpherson and Hill left the following morning. As they left Hill asked Leichhardt where he was heading. “To the setting sun,” the explorer responded and they left, never to be heard of again.
The story is fascinating however I’m not convinced it is true. Macpherson’s station at what Bailey called “Cogoon” is near Muckadilla, 40km west of where Roma now lies and I learned a lot of what Leichhardt got up to in the region from Roma’s historian Peter Keegan. Allan Macpherson was an intriguing character, and was the first white settler in the area and his story is told as part of the astonishing story of five generations of the Scottish Macpherson family in the service of the British Empire across the globe in Stephen Foster’s epic A Private Empire. Peter Keegan supplied much of the research to Foster about Macpherson’s tumultuous years in the district from 1847 to 1849, a time he spread between Mt Abundance, as Macpherson called his Cogoon Station and Keera, his property in New England. Leichhardt’s last letter was written a sheep outstation on the western edge of Mt Abundance.
I recall asking Keegan if he thought Macpherson crossed paths with Leichhardt. His view, as was fellow Leichhardt scholar Darryl Lewis was that they never met. Macpherson was likely in Keera or Sydney or on the road when the German came through the district. So I was fascinated by the detail in Bailey’s meeting – not just once but twice. The end notes were unhelpful – there was no source offered for where he got the information. I immediately emailed Keegan, who confirmed his view that neither meeting happened. “There were many people trying to get onto the Leichhardt bandwagon after he went missing,” he told me. I’ve emailed John Bailey to ask him where he got his information but am yet to hear back.
It may be one of the more intriguing mysteries of Australian historiography in what Bailey described as one of the most intriguing mysteries of Australian history. Bailey tells Leichhardt’s story in straight forward style. The story of his youth is revealed through letters to family and close friends. Leichhardt was clearly very intelligent and studied widely across many disciplines but he never emerged with a university degree. His disordered approach to course selection owed a lot to the influence of Wilhelm von Humboldt who saw education as a process of self-emancipation. Leichhardt’s family wasn’t wealthy and the student desperately sought a patron to subsidise his education.
Enter John Nicholson, the son of a retired Bristol vicar, who came to Gottingen University to finish his studies. Leichhardt was there from Berlin University as part of his Wanderjahr. The pair hit it off and for four months they were inseparable. Nicholson’s departure back to England left Leichhardt grief-stricken. At his lowest ebb, a saviour appeared. It John Nicholson’s younger brother William, also sent to Germany to complete his education. Leichhardt became mentor to the younger Nicholson and they moved in together with the Englishman footing their bills. Leichhardt stopped attending lectures instead devoting himself to books and spending time in clinics learning the rudiments of medicine.
When William finished his degree in 1837 he planned to go home to England with Leichhardt to follow. The problem was Leichhardt was obliged to serve a year in the military but he obtained a deferment to 1840. Leichhardt loved London and later Paris when the pair moved there. Leichhardt attended lectures at the Jardins des Plantes and natural history museum. He spent two months at La Charite hospital where the nurses asked him to translate for German patients. Nicholson and Leichardt’s relationship gradually soured when they travelled through France and Italy. When Leichhardt heard the elder Nicholson was emigrating to Australia, it awoke in him the possibilities of exploration in that land. In 1841 he booked a passage on the Sir Edward Paget and passed the long journey offering lectures to disinterested passengers. He also got the captain to teach him celestial navigation. The ship arrived in Sydney on February 14, 1842.
Leichhardt quickly established himself as a man of considerable learning and found a patron in Lt Robert Lynd, a barrack-master who enjoying reading Goethe and collecting shells. Leichhardt began his education of Australia with a trip to the Hunter Valley to study the botany and geology. He became convinced the area was suitable for good winemaking and he almost died of thirst when he got lost in Port Stephens. He later headed north to Moreton Bay and called in on his countrymen at Lutheran Aboriginal Mission at Zion Hill near Eagle Farm, an experience which depressed him. “There is no hope of converting this generation to Christianity and this generation will likely be the last,” he wrote. Onwards he went to the Darling Downs and finally back to Sydney with a bold expedition idea.
His destination was the short-lived military outpost of Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula 3000km north-west of Sydney. Though he had no Government support, Sydney newspapers got behind them and he signed up eight companions. They left Sydney August 13, 1844 and sailed to Brisbane before setting out for the Darling Downs. There he was joined by ornithologist John Gilbert and they – a German, four Englishmen, an American, a convict, a Welsh boy, two Aborigines, 17 horses and 16 cattle – spent their last night in European Australia at Jimbour Station on September 30.
Progress was slow and they followed the Condamine River rest until around modern Chinchilla (Charley’s Creek is named for Leichhardt’s Aboriginal traveller). Gradually they moved north following the Dawson River where Leichhardt named geographical features after members of his expedition. They were well behind schedule and Leichhardt cut their rations amid grumblings from his crew. Gradually their resentment of Leichhardt grew as did the arguments. Leichhardt cut loose two members as rations were further tightened. By the start of 1845 they were following the Comet Rover north but an argument with Charley ended up with the Aborigine whacking the German in the face. Leichhardt banished both blacks but quickly realised they were the two most useful members of the expedition knowing how to hunt and communicate with local blacks. They were soon forgiven.
In April 1845 they found a huge river Leichhardt called the Burdekin after a female patron of his expedition. In May he named a new river the Lynd for his Sydney friend and inched their way towards the Cape. Back in Sydney Lynd himself led the eulogy for the now-presumed dead traveller. Leichhardt was still alive and close to the Gulf of Carpentaria on the Mitchell River. Not long afterwards tragedy struck on the Nassau River. In the dead of night an Aboriginal war party attacked them and killed Gilbert and wounded two others. They pressed on and came to a river Leichhardt named the Gilbert “for my unfortunate companion”. On August 20, he named the Nicholson River for his friend William and then the Roper River for another member of his expedition. They descended Arnhem Land scrambling down rocks before emerging on the floodplain of the South Alligator River. They knew they were closing in on Port Essington as the blacks had European goods and a smattering of English. Just before Christmas they astonished the English garrison with their bedraggled presence and were lucky enough to find a ship leaving for Sydney after just three weeks.
Back in Sydney, Leichhardt was an overnight sensation and the most celebrated man in Australia. Not content to rest on his laurels he immediately began planning for an even longer east-west trip to Swan Colony. He set off with his new party of seven from the Darling Downs in November 1846. This trip was a disaster with disputes between the travellers, especially Leichhardt and the upper-class Hovenden Hely who took exception at being assigned goat herder. They headed towards Peak Range in miserable weather, constant rain and flooding creeks. Almost all the party fell ill and they were forced to stay put for months waiting for rivers to recede and travellers to get better. Neither happened and they abandoned the expedition on June 7, 1847. On the way back, Leichhardt heard Sir Thomas Mitchell had supposedly discovered “a River to India” (the Barcoo which went nowhere near India but instead drained into Lake Eyre) and he mapped the Balonne and Condamine Rivers as they went west.
It was these discoveries that led to Leichhardt starting his third expedition from Mt Abundance where he went “Into the Unknown”, which begins this post. For theories on what might have happened Leichhardt, you should read Darrrell Lewis’s meticulously researched “Where is Dr Leichhardt“.
This is the second part of my post about Rachel Buchanan and Tim Dunlop’s new books about the media. See Part 1 here.
If Buchanan’s book Stop Press is apolitical, Dunlop’s The New Front Page is a polemic. Dunlop was one of the earliest Australian bloggers, deeply impacted by living in the US in the wake of 9/11. Dunlop’s attitude to journalists and the media is grounded in other life experiences. As a youngster working in his father’s garage and later as an adult running record and video stores, it was all about customer service. Dunlop admits media has more complex relationships and needs to relate to its audience as citizens as well as customers. The problem the media never faced up to, says Dunlop, was that customers alone didn’t make them money but selling those customers to others did.
This attitude of audience as product, affected the way the media dealt with them and led to significant failures which has deeply eroded audience trust. Newspapers have been in a slow decline since the 1920s as other media like radio and then television took away advertisers. But classified ads were still profitable until the Internet destroyed that business model. Dunlop sheds few tears for these developments. Journalists were complicit in their own demise, believing too much in their own invincibility and relying too much on reputation that reality rarely lived up to. Dunlop was one of the earliest to understand the new technology allowed to audience not only to talk back but create their own media narratives.
Dunlop was one of many writers across the world who found their muse in 9/11. The day and its many consequences galvanised opposing views of history. The “mainstream media” as Dunlop and other bloggers called them, lined up almost to a masthead on one side of the argument. Too captive to their sources and too addicted to the drip of insider information, they were unable to connect the dots of the wider picture. Its failure to talk truth to power was epitomised, argued Dunlop, by the groupthink that supported the US President GW Bush case for war in Iraq. The casus belli presented by Bush supporters was swallowed almost whole by the MSM. They were shown up by a variety of amateurs enabled by newly invented blogging technologies, who pointed out the faulty reporting. Dunlop and others were a rare counterpoint to what was otherwise painted as a national consensus for war.
The result were a lack of trust between media and audiences, hostility between the professional and amateur producers, and paranoia and barely concealed contempt from the professionals who saw the newbies as leeching on their work. They were interlopers that had to be resisted rather than challengers to be embraced. The later News of the World scandal confirmed for many the perfidy of the press who treat their audience solely as a commodity.
Dunlop’s own blog The Road to Surfdom, inspired many in Australia to follow his path. He charts his own inspiration to journalist Margo Kingston. Kingston was one of Fairfax’s best journalists but her always slightly outsider status was tested to breaking point when she covered Pauline Hanson’s failed 1998 election campaign. Kingston and Hanson seem unlikely bedfellows but they were both maverick women who refused to play the usual media games. Kingston’s disillusionment with the politico-media alliance at the expense of their audience/voters led to her setting up Media Diary as an online portal for news and discussion. Media Diary became all-embracing and ultimately died when it wore out Kingston but it led the way for many in the audience to find their own voice, Dunlop included.
Dunlop had just done a PhD on democracy, citizenship and public debate. A blog like Surfdom allowed him to eloquently put those ideas into practice. Its success eventually led to a surprise job offer from News Ltd. Despite being an ardent critic of Murdoch’s Empire, Dunlop jumped at the chance to talk to the large audiences News Ltd portals offered. Dunlop quickly learned news.com.au was treated as a second-class citizen in the News Ltd power structure but it still attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Some said he was selling out, but Dunlop accepted on the condition he would not have any editorial interference. He was a poaching blogger who was now a gamekeeper in the nation’s largest estate. Dunlop became obsessed with issues of moderating comments and curating the unruly conversation that swirled around him. It led to 18 hour days that were both exhilarating and exhausting. Eventually it was undone. His insistence on complete independence proved untenable when sooner or later he criticised the Empire itself. The relationship was terminally damaged after a post criticising the Australian’s editor was deleted. You shouldn’t be surprised, fellow blogging trailblazer Tim Blair advised him, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you.
Now fully independent again, Dunlop’s main concern remains democracy’s ability to allow a variety of voices to be heard. Social media has further muddied the waters, empowering audiences and yet offering new ways for media to show leadership. Newspapers are among the most-connected places in a city or town but their employees can no longer take their audience for granted. Nor can they just troll them for clicks. Dunlop says media practitioners must accept power relations have changed. They must engage audiences or as Dunlop says, according the “respect of talking to them, not down to them.” Otherwise journalism will have little role to play in the continuing evolution of democracy.