Remembering Coranderrk 150 years on

A group of men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville (image: Culture Victoria)

A group of men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville (image: Culture Victoria)

A full 150 Years on from the founding of Victoria’s most famous Aboriginal settlement,  the indigenous administrators of Coranderrk want to turn the Healesville site into an attraction as famous as the nearby Sanctuary. Now a stage play showing in Sydney, Coranderrk  hopes to have a museum of its story up and running in 2014.

Coranderrk’s story is moving and shows the problems Aborigines faced at every turn as whites took over their old lands.  From the time Batman and Pascoe launched their settlements from Tasmania in 1835, Victorian black numbers plummeted from 10,000 to 2000 by 1863. The Kulin people were completely dispossessed by pastoral invasion and culture torn asunder. Pushed to fringe, they survived on small reserves like Coranderrk.

Coranderrk near Healesville, north west of Melbourne was founded in 1863 by John Green , Scot Presbyterian  lay preacher on Woiworung lands.  In 1843 Billibellary, Woiworung headman and signatory to Batman’s Treaty of 1835 approached William Thomas, assistant protector of Aborigines for Port Phillip district. “If Yarra blackfellows had a country on the Yarra…they would stop and cultivate the ground,” Billibellary told him. The Kulin made several such requests until 1849 when Thomas told Kulin tribes they might get land due to “Earl Grey’s despatch’.

In 1847 Gray was the Secretary of State for British Colonies and was considering the land question.Grey said land should be reserved “sufficient to allow of the natives being maintained upon it”. NSW Governor Fitzroy ignored the directive but Thomas didn’t give up and in 1859 he met one of Billibellary’s sons Simon Wonga. Wonga and others formed a deputation to meet Commissioner of Lands Charles Gavan Duffy where they presented Woiworong and Taungerong demands for land on Acheron River north-west of Melbourne. Duffy was sympathetic and ordered land to be surveyed.

After that success Wonga, Barak, Thomas and Green met the secretary of newly formed Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines in 1860 to request Woiworung land at Yering in the Yarra Ranges.  Sympathetic whites assumed the onward march of British civilisation was inevitable but acknowledged original possessors whose land was shamelessly stolen. To “smooth the dying pillow” missionaries wanted Aborigines on reserves segregated from whites where they could be ‘christianised and civilised’. Central Board supported several stations including Coranderrk. Kulin goals  were couched in white terms, they would work land ‘like white men’. The  Acheron River moved on by pastoralists to the Mohican Run and several similar reserves were revoked because they were improperly gazetted or revoked by settlers incursions or protests.

In 1862 Kulins secured land at junction of Yarra River and Badger Creek at a traditional site for ceremonial assemblies which was part of pastoral lease at Yering.Despite claims from whites, Green, his wife and 40 Kulins trekked to an area adjoining reserve in March 1863 and named it Coranderrk after the indigenous flowering Christmas bush in the area. The  Woiworong and Taungerong were determined to farm land in European fashion. They wanted self-government and saw the Greens as helper rather than masters.

Despite lack of capital and labour, they made considerable progress. More Kulins moved in and children were born. Rev Green was an outsider, young, idealistic and obstinate and he identified with the downtrodden. The Kulin saw him as a blackfella and a guardian to protect them from white settlers. Despite early success, Coranderrk was threatened after 10 years by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines. Protective legislation in 1869 gave the Board authority over blacks place of residence, as well as overseeing labour contracts, controlling property and assuming custody of children. It was several years before they took advantage of their sweeping powers, but the Kulin were anxious and uncertain of their tenure.

In 1870s board secretary Brough Smyth recommended hop-farming to supplement Board revenue. It led to major changes at Coranderrk with and serious governance consequences and demands of resources of land and labour. Previously men worked independently and rewarded to individual effort. Now they were forced to work on an enterprise controlled by whites and employed for little or no wages. Conflict between Smyth and Green led to Green’s resignation in 1874 much to Kulin resentment. The new board members were Melb establishment figures critical of segregated homelands. They were assisted by Smyth’s successor AWA Page, who was vain, authoritarian and vindictive. They claimed to know the blacks but were ignorant of Kulin culture.

It led to a decade long battle to break up Coranderrk.  The Kulin still saw themselves as Aborigines despite adopting parts of British culture. They asserted Queen Victoria, highest authority in British state had granted the land to them during the opening ceremony in May 1863 when Aborigines presented gifts to the Governor for Queen and her children including possum rugs, spears, woomera, shield and waddy in a traditional ceremony of reciprocity. They recalled this in 1878 when they told parliamentarians that the land was given to them by Governor Henry Barkly ‘in the name of the Queen’. They made similar demands to pastoralists asserting they could work the land and make it pay. Green was considered worthy because he was their protector and also fulfilled obligations a relationship shattered when he left. In 1875 they petitioned to have him back.

They rebutted the paternal attitude of the Board. “We are not children for the board to do as they like with us any longer,” headman William Barak said. Barak led a highly sophisticated campaign of lobbying and keeping up to date with government news and allies with word of mouth and delegations, often walking to Melbourne to do so.  Because Coranderrk was only 70 miles to Melbourne, there were many accounts from journalists, photographers, artists, writers, anthropologists, missionaries and officials interested in the plight of the Aborigines. Coranderrk loomed large in public discussion and white allies such as journalist George Syme and humanitarians Anne Bon and Thomas Embling were important in the propaganda war.

Their opponents attributed the protests to outside influences, unable to accept the fact the Kulin could organise themselves. The Board were troubled by the Kulin’s many tactics including playing government authorities off each other. Their effective campaign led to two major inquiries, the 1877 Royal Commission into government policy on Aborigines and the 1881 investigation into management of Coranderrk. It seemed the Kulin had won the fight after it was recommended land be permanently reserved and the Board relieved of management.

However they came up against the 1880s policy of assimilating Aborigines and forcing them off their land. In 1881 the Argus wrote ‘the race is dying out’ and ‘in time the Aborigines will wholly disappear from Victoria as they have disappeared from Tasmania’. Part of this policy was distinguishing ‘full bloods’ who were deemed beyond the pale from ‘half castes’ who could be Europeanised. The push began to remove half castes from Coranderrk, who were the majority. To Kulin this was a disaster, what mattered to them was group membership, kinship was reckoned socially not biologically. But even Kulin supporters like Bon and Embling accepted the distinction over long held fears of racial minorities like Chinese, who people thought couldn’t be absorbed into settler society.

It was the best excuse yet to break up Coranderrk and give out its valuable lands to white pastoralists. The new policy did not became law in December 1886 but it was put into practice from 1882 and many left the reservation after government endorsement of Board proposals in 1884. In September 1886 those remaining protested against punitive clauses in the half-caste policy, which gave the Board power to remove Aborigines and stop rations and allowances. The Kulin petitioned the government. They attacked the racial discriminatory policy asserting the right to “feel free like the white population”.  Premier Deakin removed some illiberal clauses from the policy but the underlying principles were unquestioned as it represented the “unanimous wish of the country with regard to the half-castes”.

The following year the Board declared the Act marking the beginning of the end  for the Abs leaving only a few older purebloods at the reservation. Most moved to Maloga on NSW border, on traditional Yorta Yorta ceremonial ground on the Murray River where they kept up a strong memory of Coranderrk.

Coranderrk was eventually broken up and sold but remains the first example of sustained indigenous protest in Australia. In his Australia Day communication of 1972, the vice-chair of NSW’s Aboriginal Land Board Kevin Gilbert recapitulated historical tradition of Kulin of Coranderrk to sound a battle cry for land rights.”Where detribalisation has occurred, notably in the southern areas of Australia , we want all existing reserve and mission lands, which have a strong emotional tie for the people, to be restored and deeded to the Aboriginal people in perpetuity,” Gilbert said. “In the hearts and minds of the Aboriginal people , the reserves and missions were indeed Aboriginal land-all they had left…[after] the land..had [been] stolen…Aboriginals nevertheless identified with these pieces of land because they felt it was theirs…The greatest, most generous image in the minds of Aboriginals was Queen Victoria. The great monarch, they claim, deeded the…mission land to them.”

December 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

News Ltd and the ABC

There are good questions about why Australia needs a taxpayer funded national broadcaster in the 21st century, it’s just that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia is not asking them. Murdoch’s minions declared open season on Auntie after the election in a sustained campaign based on the boss’s self-interest and the political motivations of his editors.

One after another, we saw pompous editorials in the Australian which parodied themselves as they listed the ABC’s heinous crimes while lauding their own dubious journalistic talents.  The editorial campaign was backed up by a barrage from News “trollumnists”.

That bastion of fairness Andrew Bolt suggested the timing of the leak was deliberate to embarrass Tony Abbott, while we had the shrill demands from Janet Albrechtsen, herself a former Howard-appointed board member, for the ABC managing director to step down. Greg Sheridan weighed in with his usual confused ideological claptrap, while Fairfax-convert Gerard Henderson toed the new party line with unflagging earnestness. The gold medal for propaganda went to News warhorse Piers Akerman for his suggestion that the British children’s program Peppa Pig was a feminist fanzine.

Piers’ Peppa problems stemmed from the fact that News Ltd confused two aspects of the problem, namely ABC’s role in public culture and the journalism practiced by its news division.  Murdoch wants ABC out of the way so he can make profits from the vast space in television/radio/internet the broadcaster currently inhabits. His minion rail about the fact the Auntie had fallen into the hands of “40-something announcers obsessed with their inner-city leftie lifestyles”.

The public broadcast funding model is an accident of its history. The growth of radio after world war one and then television after the second, convinced government they needed control of these new media. This was unthinkable for newspapers as in many case they pre-dated the parliaments that would prescribe them.

The conundrum in public broadcasting that the only way to keep institutions genuinely independent is to fund them from the public purse. But the politicians that fund them detest the unfettered reporting and analysis of their activities while the columnists that denounce the ABC for being elitist never mention that even a modest rating ABC program is seen by three or four times as many people as those who buy a newspaper, let alone those that bother to read the anti-ABC rant.

Media commentator David Salter wrote in Crikey a few weeks ago critical of the ABC conversational news style and lack of studio debates but defending it against News’s charges. Salter was the executive producer of Media Watch during its early years and as such saw the worst excesses of the Australian media at close quarters. His 2007 book The Media We Deserve still relevant seven years on from its publication.

The ABC comes in for a fair deal of criticism in his book for complacency,  poor governance, occasional cowardice and self-backslapping. But he admits they need defending too. No other group of public servants is so regularly defamed in parliament by the people who allocate their funding.

The real decision makers at the ABC are its cadre of managers and executives, who are much like the ABC’s audience: upper-middle class, suburban, political inactive and family-oriented.

ABC is governed by act of parliament and a charter and it has obligations to standards in areas of quality and community service. Where its opponents do have a point is in the ABC’s monoculture. Its factual programming says Salter all has a common stance of “assumed progressivism.” There is a core of passionate people at the ABC dedicated to its continuing success, The real question  whether the program makers can put that aside when producing content.

The ABC can only continue as a credible public broadcaster, says Salter if it is prepared to “allow, and even encourage, the odd angry passages of self-inflicted damage at the hands of its own staff.”

The self-inflicted damage of the News Ltd hacks can only be wondered at.

December 23, 2013 at 8:50 am 2 comments

Queensland’s Three Crooked Kings

kingsI’m a latecomer to the work of author Matthew Condon but I was converted after reading his personal and personable brief portrait of Brisbane recently. I was aware of his latest book Three Crooked Kings from the time it was released earlier this year and it gradually filtered to the top of my conscience with repeated mentions wherever my investigations of modern Queensland took me. Three Crooked Kings is the first of two Condon books on the sordid history of Queensland’s Police (now softened as a Service rather than a Force). It is a tale of a cabal of crooked cops in cahoots with corrupt politicians from 1940 to 1990 that ended with the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Condon’s monumental investigation takes its spine from the voluminous interviews he did with disgraced former police commissioner Terry Lewis as well as access to his copious diaries.

Lewis’s story weaves in and out of a cast of coppers, politicians, prostitutes, club owners and gangland murderers that often got away with murder usually with the explicit approval of the powers that be, because they were the real powers that were. Lewis himself joined the force in 1949 aged 20. The former US army messenger boy during the war was looking for direction in his life since leaving school at 12 and he thought the structured administration of the police would suit him. Lewis started on the beat and moved to traffic duty and then as a police motorcyclist. He made the papers after three months in the job when he was almost run off the road by three youths in a utility who threw milk bottles at him. After a citation, his attention was drawn to a vacancy at the CIB, Brisbane’s glamour squad. He got the job and was paired with the up-and-coming Tony Murphy. Lewis was a hard worker who put in long hours and he learned fast from senior detectives such as Francis Bischof.

One night he heard a woman’s scream while on patrol in South Brisbane. He followed a man fleeing the area on foot who eventually raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot. I just kill my girl.” The man was Josef Dvorac but his girlfriend survived thanks to Lewis’s quick thinking of hailing a taxi to take her to hospital.

Lewis’s diaries also showed a great interest in brothels which he visited on a regular basis. The unwritten rule for the sex trade was containment and control. Prostitutes paid protection to Bischof, though he would occasionally order his detectives to raid the brothels and arrest them all. Lewis and Murphy were among the favoured detectives who carried out Bischof’s dirty work.

When Labor’s long regime in Queensland came to an end in 1957, Bischof was sworn in as police commissioner. Lewis and Murphy continued to rise under him as did the third crooked king: Glen Hallahan. Together they were known as the Rat Pack. Hallahan started his police career in the tough mining town of Mt Isa and was transferred to the CIB after cracking a murder case. The trio were regularly partnered together. Their HQ was the National Hotel at the corner of Queen and Adelaide St near the Custom House. The National was a hugely busy bar which ran a call girl service.

Lewis and Hallahan won commendations when they faced down a crazed gunman who Hallahan knew from Mt Isa and whose wife was a prostitute. Hallahan wrested the gun from the man and they were nominated for a medal.

However the pair soon got into trouble when Bischof was on holidays and a prostitute complained to his temporary replacement about the detectives demanding a rise in protection money. Lewis and Hallahan were placed under investigation and narrowly avoided being booted out of the CIB, thanks to their patron Bischof who tried to undo the damage when he returned from holidays.

Bischof was a compulsive gambler who hid his SP bets under false names. Another bent copper, Jack Herbert was the bagman for officers in the Licencing Branch who offered protection to SP bookmakers in a scheme the coppers called the Joke. In Brisbane the annual fee was $80,000 and less for smaller towns. In return the police left the bookmakers alone. No one in the force could be sure who was on the take and Herbert ran the Joke with quiet efficiency. When politician Tom Hiley found out about Bischof’s betting, he confronted the commissioner who temporarily ordered a crackdown. But he was never charged and it was soon business as usual.

Lewis’s career took a different turn in 1963 when he became the founding officer of the Juvenile Aid Bureau located in a room next to the commissioner’s office. The JAB was Bischof’s baby and part of his public image as ‘father’ of the state’s children (Bischof was named Queensland’s father of the year in 1959 despite being childless).  However the new bureau meant that Lewis went off the radar for ten years. Another politician Colin Bennett accused Bischof and his acolytes in parliament of encouraging the call-girl service at the National.  Premier Frank Nicklin ordered a royal commission with very narrow terms of inquiry. Bischof’s forces easily defeated the charges by undermining the witnesses to the Inquiry. Murphy, Hallahan and Bischof all gave testimony and Justice Gibbs found no evidence of a call-girl service at the hotel, nor any suggestion the officers drank there after hours. Bischof held a victory party for his men that night, appropriately at the National.

Hallahan was emboldened by the victory and forged relationships with equally corrupt detectives in NSW. Sydney criminals coming to Queensland had to pay ‘rent’ to Hallahan of a thousand dollars a week while the reverse applied to Queensland criminals in Sydney.

Bischof’s health finally collapsed in 1968 and he retired just as a new politician was coming to the fore: Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Petersen was the accidental leader after premier Jack Pizzey died of a heart attack. Bischof’s replacement Norm Bauer was 65 and a stop-gap commissioner till Bjelke-Petersen could find a long term replacement. He eventually chose career cop Ray Whitrod, an intellectual who was pivot in founding the Federal Police and had served in Adelaide, Victoria and PNG. But to Lewis and the others, Whitrod was an outsider with radical notions like education qualifications and promotion on merit which went down like lead balloons.

Bischof’s open door policy which saw Lewis, Murphy and Hallahan visiting twice a week, was swiftly ended and the Rat Pack were on the outer. Mattered worsened when Lewis publicly insulted his boss at a barbecue and Whitrod stormed off. When they next bumped into each other in a lift Lewis called the new commissioner a ‘fat pig’.

In 1970 former Brisbane-based (and now Sydney) prostitute Shirley Brifman went on television to make allegations against NSW detectives. She was also close to the Rat Pack (she had an affair with Hallahan) who had good reason to be worried. She admitted she perjured herself in the National Hotel Inquiry in fear of her life and her children. After her public revelations, Murphy somehow convinced Brifman to come back to Brisbane where Whitrod ordered her to be questioned.

Whitrod himself was under the glare in mid-1971 when the Springboks came to town. The new Premier Bjelke-Petersen ordered a state of emergency and gave police wide powers of control and arrest. Whitrod was uneasy at being used as an arm of government but the powerful police union gave its enthusiastic support. Bjelke-Petersen made a secret deal with the union allowing them to go hard on the protesters in return for a massive pay rise. Two nights before the game, there was a protest outside the team’s motel in which Whitrod lost control of his forces when they deliberately attacked the protesters.

Meanwhile Hallahan was sailing close to the wind. Whitrod put him under surveillance and eventually had him charged with corruption. Murphy meanwhile was charged with perjury over the 1964 Inquiry. But the case against him collapsed when the prostitute Brifman committed suicide. Murphy however was banished to Toowoomba. Eventually Hallahan too had his charges dropped but at a big cost – he resigned from the force.

Whitrod also had Lewis in his sights but he was harder to dislodge. Lewis too was banished – to Charleville – but he patiently withstood his boss’s white-anting before finding a powerful friend of his own. Whitrod was also turning his attention to the Joke in the Licencing Branch and the Bagman Herbert. But despite an epic Southport Betting Case, Whitrod couldn’t lay a hand on him.

His failures were being noticed by Bjelke-Petersen. The Premier went to Charleville in 1976 where he met Lewis. Bjelke-Petersen was on a grand tour of Queensland and wherever he went, he found senior police complaining about Whitrod. One inspector told the Premier Whitrod had set arrest quotas recorded on ‘kill sheets’. Whitrod denied the charge and it was this lie that sealed his fate. While on his tour, Bjelke-Petersen asked senior officers who they would want to replace Whitrod.  Lewis’s name kept coming up. Bjelke-Petersen met Lewis again in Cunnamulla where he was accepted into the Premier’s inner circle of trusted advisers. Within two months two scandals would give Bjelke-Petersen the chance to move against Whitrod.

The story of Three Crooked Kings ends at this point in mid-1976. Condon takes up the story in All Fall Down due ‘late 2013′ which would make the release any day now. It promises to be a gripping read and important history for the state of Queensland.

December 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm 4 comments

Bye Bye madiba: Legacy of a troublemaker

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 imandelan 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.

December 8, 2013 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Contact: When the Dutch met the First Australians

Willem Janszoon's 1606 voyage to Australia and New Guinea (from Mutch, T.D.,  (1942) “The First Discovery of Australia - With an account of the Voyage of the Duyfken and the Career of Captain Willem Jansz")

Willem Janszoon’s 1606 voyage to Australia and New Guinea (from Mutch, T.D., (1942) “The First Discovery of Australia – With an account of the Voyage of the Duyfken and the Career of Captain Willem Jansz”)

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.

December 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

The history of Queensland’s Special Branch remembered

Barry Kroch speaks at the Queensland Police Museum

Barry Krosch speaks at the Queensland Police Museum

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.

November 25, 2013 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Revisiting Batman’s Treaty

Members of the Kulin Nations, Port Phillip Bay, negotiating a "treaty" with John Batman, 1886. Original woodblock print, hand colored, published in the Garran Picturesque Atlas (1886). S.C. Heckwell, artist. Courtesy of the Koorie Heritage Trust (o110).

Members of the Kulin Nations negotiating a “treaty” with John Batman in 1835 (1886)
Original woodblock print, hand colored, published in the Garran Picturesque Atlas (1886). S.C. Heckwell, artist. Courtesy of the Koorie Heritage Trust.

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, Australian Indigenous people 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.

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 limit 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 the Henty family sought permission to take land for whaling at Portland Bay in 1834.  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 (near Eden in NSW) 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 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, drew him 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 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 that colonisation should be done with the “cooperation and consent of indigenous people”.

That same year former NSW Attorney-General Saxe Bannister wrote the hugely influential “Humane Policy or Justice for the Aborigines at Cape Colony and NSW”. In 1835 he 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 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 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 archaic language of the treaty whose 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, Native Americans sarcastically called it “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 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 showed Fawkner their treaty and 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 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 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.  From 1788 there was a perception of Aboriginal defacto ownership of the land, but that changed in the 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’s approach repudiating Aboriginal right to land. They set the matter of government aside using temporal qualifiers like “present proprietors” which assumed the Aboriginals wouldn’t be around to 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 him as a bushman colonial hero like 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 the 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.

November 23, 2013 at 11:27 pm 2 comments

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