Posts tagged ‘Aboriginal issues’
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 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.
“It was not so long in the history of the Australian nation that this terrible thing happened. It is a part of Australian history we cannot ignore, let alone forget and for the Warlpiri people it is a history of irreplaceable loss” – John Ah Kit NT parliament 2003
Around now, we should be commemorating the 85th anniversary of the Coniston massacre in the Northern Territory, the last major act in the 140 year war of occupation for Australia. I say “around now” because the killing went on for over six weeks between August and October 1928 and I say “should” because it has received almost no media exposure, with SBS the only honourable exception. While we remember overseas wars in intimate detail, there is little appetite to commemorate a massacre on Australian soil that spread out over a number of sites killing up to 100 people that happened well into the 20th century. The trigger was a black on white murder, because as native bush worker Paddy Tucker said matter-of-factly “No Aboriginal could be allowed to get away with shooting a white man on the frontier, whatever the circumstances.”
Aboriginals had lived in Central Australia for thousands of years but it had only been a frontier for last 70. The first white man in the region was John McDouall Stuart who launched several expeditions of discovery north from Adelaide in the 1850s and 60s. On his fourth journey in April 15, 1860 he described the valleys of the MacDonnell Ranges as “as fine a pastoral hill country as a man could wish to possess”. Possession was indeed the name of the game and the Overland Telegraph Line brought more whites into this difficult country in the 1870s as well as the first cattle. As they did in every other part of Australia, the native tribes resisted this invasion, but the whites kept coming. The trickle became a flood inspired by gold finds at Hall’s Creek in 1909 and the federal push to develop the Northern Territory after taking it over from South Australia in 1911.
Coniston cattle station was founded in the wake of World War I and stocked with cattle in 1923. It exists today as a working cattle station on the edge of the Tanami Desert 300km north west of Alice Springs. Its advantage in a very dry area is that it has a sustainable natural water supply fed by a huge underground basin. Founding pastoralist Randal Stafford named Coniston for his native town in the English Lake District at Cumbria. The Australian Coniston was much harsher environment. In fact it was the last frontier between British and Aboriginal law.
Today the nearest Aboriginal town to Coniston is at Yuendumu established in 1946 by the Australian Government Native Affairs Branch for Anmatyerre and Warlpiri people. Before Yuendumu, the Anmatyerre and Warlpiri people lived scattered lives through the region as did a third group known as Kaytetye. These people watched uneasily as properties like Coniston began to take access to their waterholes for their stock. To the Warlpiri people, the prospectors, pastoralists and other travellers were ruthless trespassers who damaged sacred sites and took their waterholes, and sometimes their women. Stafford himself took an Aboriginal wife.
Stafford’s neighbour was William John (“Nugget”) Morton who took up Broadmeadows. Morton held the Aborigines in disdain always sitting with his back to them in any camp. He was also ruthless and sadistic, and thought nothing of stealing the wives of hands that came to work for him. Morton ruled by fear and with the whip he dealt out to whites and blacks alike.
Native problems with difficult cattlemen were worsened by a growing drought that crippled central Australia from 1924. Aboriginals gravitated to the few remaining good waterholes such as those on Coniston and Broadmeadows, spearing cattle to supplement their meagre diet. In August 1928, Charles Young, a pastoralist on Cockatoo Creek reported that things were bad out Coniston way and “the niggers seemed to be out of control”. Young said they came to his camp and demanded food and tobacco. “They all had spears and boomerangs and were semi-civilised blacks. We were armed with Winchester rifles all the time. I fired over the heads of the blacks several times with the result that they cleared out.” With settlers and Aboriginal people competing for the same resources, central Australia was a tinderbox ready to ignite.
The spark was Fred Brooks, a veteran cattle hand at Coniston station, aged 67 in 1928. Brooks had known Stafford for many years and helped him establish Coniston. However there was no money for wages during the drought so supplemented his income by dingo trapping. He bought two camels and took two Aboriginal boys on an expedition. Brooks knew the local Aborigines and was not worried by growing tensions. The party set up camp at Yurrkuru Soakage near a number of Warlpiri families whom Fred probably knew from their seasonal work at Coniston.
Bullfrog Japanangka was one of a sizeable group of Warlpiri camped at Yurrkuru and he had three wives. At gunpoint, Brooks demanded he loan him two wives to help him gather firewood and generally act as camp assistants. Brooks promised Bullfrog payment of food and tobacco in return. A few days later, Bullfrog was still waiting for his payment and now his third wife also ended up in Brooks’ camp. Enraged he attacked Brooks’ camp with the help of other warriors. He commanded his wives to hold Fred’s hand behind his back. One warrior hit Brooks on the head with a yamstick, while Bullfrog hit him several times on the head with an axe. Other men also hit him with boomerangs and axes. Brooks was hastily buried with one foot sticking out of a shallow grave. Brooks’ two Aboriginal helpers fled to Coniston to raise the alarm. Bullfrog and his family escaped to the mountains and played no further part in the following events.
Once Stafford found out about Brooks’ murder, he rang Police Commissioner John Cawood in Alice Springs. Cawood told Stafford mounted constable George Murray was already on his way to the region to investigate cattle killings in the Pine Hill and Coniston station country. Murray was the local “Protector of Aborigines” and was driving to Stafford’s property hoping to borrow horses for patrols. Murray was a war veteran and Cawood’s formal instructions were to arrest the culprits and to avoid violence where possible. But it wasn’t protection that Cawood or Murray had in mind for the Aborigines, instead it was tacitly understood he would “teach them a lesson”. Murray arrived at Coniston on August 12 where he interviewed Brooks’ black accomplices. He was there three days later when two warriors arrived. After a scuffle Murray shot and wounded one and chained them to a tree overnight. The two men were on a list of over 20 people Murray believed were involved in the murder. The following day Murray led a patrol of seven including Stafford and his two prisoners to a Warlpiri camp 18km west of Coniston.
Though Murray told the posse there was to be no shooting unless necessary, he rushed in ahead causing consternation in the camp. When he tried to arrest a native they fought back. Murray fired two shots and several of the posse including Stafford also fired their guns. One of the posse, Jack Saxby was later to say, “You cannot arrest these bush blacks.” At least five Aborigines died in this first act of reprisal, according to the whites’ testimony at the later Board of Inquiry. Further west of Coniston, the posse picked up more Warlpiri tracks and surrounded a party of blacks. At least eight, and possibly 14, warriors were shot dead. Two more were shot dead as they tried to escape at Cockatoo Spring with Murray proud of his revolver shot at “at least 150 yards distant”. At this stage the patrol returned to Coniston station and Randal Stafford would take no further part in the remaining killing.
The next encounter was at Six Mile Soak where Saxby said they surrounded a camp. He was the marksman stationed at the back to see none escaped. “I could tell that the blacks were showing fight, by their talk and the rattle of their weapons,” Saxby said. He heard Murray telling them to put down their weapons then heard several shots. “The blacks saw me coming and threw a couple of spears at me,” he said. “I jumped off my horse and fired four or five shots with my rifle. I do not know whether I hit them or not. I certainly tried.” At least six more were dead. The killing party then spent several days following blacks towards the WA border where the spree continued. When later asked by the Board of Inquiry, “Did you shoot to kill Mr Murray?” he responded, “Every time.” When asked, “You did not want to be bothered with wounded blackfellows?” he responded, “Well, what could I do with wounded blackfellows?”
Missionary Annie Lock was one of many horrified by the tales she was hearing from natives. As she put it, it was “the story of one surprise visit after another to native camps by the police, each time resulting in the shooting and killing of natives. Some said there were eighty killed, others made the number less. At the official enquiry, some months later, the number given was seventeen, but seventy was the number generally believed in the bush.”
Whether it was 17 or 70, the killing wasn’t over. An Aboriginal war party attacked Nugget Morton on the belief he too was about to start a massacre (though this may have been based on a misunderstanding he was about to kill a beast). Morton was attacked but gave as good as he got and escaped by horse. Meanwhile Murray’s party was now sent to Pine Hill to investigate cattle thefts there. They met a sizeable group of Kaytetye warriors in three encounters and although no record of the meeting survives, it is likely there were considerable Aboriginal casualties. While there was certain acceptance in frontier society of “an eye for an eye”, there was unease growing as the extent of Murray’s bloodthirsty rampage became known. On September 11, the first account of the slaughter appeared in an Adelaide newspaper.
Commissioner Cawood was now presented with a problem. He needed to someone to investigate Morton’s attackers but Murray had gone too far. Yet because of a shortage of manpower, Murray was instructed again to prepare for a third patrol to Morton’s Broadmeadows station. The killings continued wherever Murray’s party encountered Aborigines. In one incident, Murray reported that “even after several shots were fired it did not steady them. When order was restored it was found there were eight killed.” At the end of the patrol Murray and Morton estimated they had killed 14 warriors. The killing was finally ended when Murray had to go to Darwin for the trial of two men accused of killing Brooks.
The trial of Padygar and Arkirkra was brief. http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1043.html It started on November 7, 1928, three months after Brooks’ death. Murray summarised the first patrol in which Padygar was arrested at the start and Arkirka at the end. But the one white person, Bruce Chapman, who had seen Brooks’ body, was himself dead. Murray admitted openly he shot to kill in reprisal. The jury needed just 15 minutes to acquit the pair. The Darwin correspondent for the Adelaide newspaper said “Press, pulpit, and the general public unanimously agree with the jury’s verdict in the aboriginal trial, and are shocked by the candid admissions of the police that they shot to kill natives who showed fight when overtaken.”
A key figure in raising awareness of the killing was Methodist lay minister Athol McGregor of Katherine after he heard 17 Aboriginals were shot dead in one of the punitive raids at Stuart Town. He confronted Commissioner Cawood who defended the killing. Cawood became worried when McGregor wanted a Board of Inquiry. He encouraged journalists to cover the Darwin trial and Murray’s testimony gave them their headlines. Even a League of Nations representative made negative comments. Prime Minister Stanley Bruce and Cabinet Ministers were inundated with letters and petitions demanding an enquiry though the majority of Stuart Town residents though they were “do-gooders” who did not understand conditions on the frontier.
Bruce chose the Board with a whitewash in mind. The chairman was a Cairns police magistrate, the second a SA police inspector and the third was Commissioner Cawood himself, over the considerable protests of McGregor and others. The enquiry was held from December 30, 1928 to January 16, 1929, with a summary on closure February 7. It called 30 witnesses but skimmed over the issue of settlers taking Aboriginal women apart from a few denials by bushmen. Instead they blamed the Missionaries for preaching a doctrine of equality, even though none were in the Coniston area at the time of the attacks. Cawood instructed Murray to keep quiet about the second patrol in which he admitted 14 more had died, to add to the 17 officially admitted in the first patrol. Murray never conceded the combined 31 deaths constituted a massacre. He was just a policeman doing his job. Police Paddy from Murray’s party was the only Aboriginal witness called. He blatantly lied about seeing Brooks’ body and was never cross-examined.
The findings were inevitable. Murray accepted responsibility most of the deaths. The board accepted Murray’s evidence he had always called upon Aboriginal men to put down their weapons and that he only shot in self-defence when attacked. The Board concluded the shootings were justified and they blamed “cheeky” Aborigines intent on driving whites from their country. Though the Board accepted there was a drought, it agreed with Murray’s comment: “There was no such thing as starvation in any part of the country I have travelled to.” The whitewash concluded.
So how many people died? A friend of historian Dick Kimber once had the temerity to ask Murray when he met him “Did you really kill 31 blackfellows?” Murray’s response was “that’s all they investigated.” The Central Land Council’s booklet, “Making Peace With The Past” (2003) said the toll was likely double that. Missionary Annie Luck heard from eye-witnesses it was at least 70 dead. Douglas Lockwood’s 1964 book, “Up The Track” discussed the shootings with 70-year-old Anmatjira man George Japaljari. “All of old George’s friends and relatives were shot. The only survivor was George. They were bad … bad … times”.
Mervyn Hartwig’s “The Coniston Killings” (1960) had some access to Murray as well as talking to Luck and other pastors. His view that 70 to 105 is “the more correct number”. Kimber thinks it was 70 to 80 but ahttp://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1103.html “a further 100 or more people, mostly men, were shot in the station country under consideration, and in a wider general area from Central Mount Wedge in a western arc through Mount Farewell to Tanami.” For the Warlpiri, the consequences of Coniston continue to this day, spread far and wide from their native lands. However for the majority of whites on the frontier, the frontier war was over and the bloodbath was justified to “teach the blacks a lesson”. Over the years that conviction became unease and eventually descended into the stone wall of silence. Even today Coniston is peripheral, because it does not make us “feel comfortable and relaxed about our history.”
The problem is the record is patchy, written by whites and with the most awkward bits left out. It doesn’t help that a sense of Bussamarai the man does not emerge from Collin’s book. What does emerge is that early Europeans were tolerated as adventurers but not as a permanent and disruptive presence. When explorers Mitchell and Leichhardt drifted into what Collins calls East Maranoa in the colony of NSW (the current Queensland local government region of Maranoa plus all of the Balonne shire north of St George), they were followed by a handful of whites determined to take advantage of the fertile lands suggested by Mitchell’s descriptions of “mount abundance” and a “champagne region”.
Mitchell and Leichhardt also described their meetings with “the blacks” so the settlers knew the land weren’t empty. But they were not occupied in a way the new settlers understood. So with a sense of entitlement allied to superior firepower, it gave carte blanche to mass murder as the competition for territory expanded. The white had brought with them “too many dreams and two many cows”.
After NSW surveyor-general Thomas Mitchell came to East Maranoa in 1846, he recounted his adventures in Sydney to William MacPherson, secretary to the NSW parliament and his son the grazier Allan. Mitchell gave Allan maps and encouraged him to set up a land claim there. Macpherson Junior would be the first farmer in the Roma region setting off with men and livestock from his headstation in the Gwydir in 1847.
Without an inspection of the land, MacPherson was taking a large leap of faith with Mount Abundance near Muckadilla some 200km from the nearest white settlement at Moonie. Mitchell and MacPherson weren’t the first whites in the area. Clarence River area squatter Finney Eldershaw described his search in 1842 for suitable land after he heard of “luxurious downs” in the region. But it wasn’t the Aboriginals that stopped Eldershaw, it was economic conditions. Australia was in depression and East Maranoa’s remoteness from white settlement made it a difficult financial prospect.
Five years later, conditions were improving. While MacPherson was setting off, another friend of Mitchell, Edmund Kennedy was back in the region to do more exploration. He was joined by Archer, Blyth and Chauvel who explored the region from the north. MacPherson started his run in October 1847 with 20 men working the property. While we know a lot about the early whites, the Aborigines are more inscrutable. The character of the warrior “Bussamarai” who gives his name to the book is particularly problematic.
Collins claims that a tribal leader called variously by different whites as old Billy, Eaglehawk, Possum Murray and Bussamarai was the one and the same person but the evidence is not always convincing. Collins said the elder who helped Mitchell find Muckadilla Creek and the Maranoa River was “probably” Bussamarai but offers no proof. All Mitchell said is that they were not covetous and asked for nothing. But by the time Kennedy got to the region, relations had gone downhill and he had to use “one or two shots in the air” to frighten 200 Aborigines away from his camp. As the decade went by the Mandandanji lands became untenable as more whites entered the East Maranoa motivated less by fame and discovery then by land acquisition.
MacPherson recorded the first cattle killing at Warroo station near Surat in late 1847. By December 1848 there was all out war between the blacks and the settlers affecting every station the area between the present day towns of Roma and Chinchilla. Station hands working for absentee landholders dispensed rough justice in retaliation for attacks on their livestock while authorities in faraway Sydney and even further London turned a blind eye.
Finally a new force gradually restored “order” by 1851. This was NSW’s northern division of the Native Police, who served the economic ends of the pastoralists. Pastoral superintendent Frederick Walker led a team of 20 Aborigines up from the Macintyre River district dispensing rough justice wherever they went. Walker was renowned for his good relations with Aborigines but he showed no mercy in East Maranoa.
Scanty evidence exists of the genocide that followed. Pastoralist Gideon Lang testified to an 1854 parliamentary select committee on the select police that he wanted them to protect his Darling River runs. But Lang also knew of the “wholesale and indiscriminate killing” and “cold blooded cruelty on the part of the whites quite unparalleled in the history of these colonies”. Walker’s men used “fair means or foul” to bring about a lopsided peace in East Maranoa. There were significant massacres at Yuleba Creek in March 1850 and Yamboucal station near Surat in May 1852.
In retaliation, Collins said Bussamarai united the Bigambul people and two or three other groups with the Mandandanji to try to to drive out the whites. They engaged in battles with the Native Police with inevitable conclusions. On November 1852 a Sergeant Skelton noted a skirmish at Ukabulla between the Aboriginals led by Bussamarai and armed troops in daylight. Two Aboriginals were “shot in the attempt to apprehend them,” Skelton said. “Likewise four more of the Blacks were shot before I could drive them to the station.” The East Maranoa front was “tamed” and the war and the atrocities moved on to other areas of Queensland.
The surviving Mandandanji settled into a life of fringe dwellers in their own territory. Many were forcibly removed to settlements at Taroom and later at Woorabinda and Cherbourg, scattering the memory of their sacred link to the land. The Goodbye to Bussamarai is not only to a warrior but to a way of life that had no chance against European civilisation.
It was a joyous day in Mitchell today. The Gunggari people, traditional owners of the land south and west of town celebrated a native victory yesterday with a march down the main street. “Who are we?” they chanted. “GUNGGARI” was the response. Loud and proud, they were celebrating the first native title determination on mainland Southern Queensland.
The marchers were happy a day after the Federal Court of Australia came all the way to Mitchell Shire Hall to make a consent determination. Justice John Reeves announced the decision immediately shaking hands with Gunggari elder Wayne Saunders as many people cheered and wept. The determination recognises native title rights and interests over 13,600 sq km of land and waters in central southern Queensland. The area is broken up into parcels, the two biggest of which are in the middle of a triangle between Mitchell (east) Charleville (west) and Bollon (south).
In these areas, the Gunggari People negotiated IndigenousLand Use Arrangements (ILUA) with three local councils (Maranoa, Balonne and Murweh) , electricity supplier Ergon, telecommunications provider Telstra and five pastoral properties. Once the ILUAs are formalised, the Gunggari Native Title Aboriginal Corporation will be the prescribed body corporate to manage the native title rights. Their rights are non-exclusive but allow Gunggari people access to, travel, camp, hunt, teach, light fires and use water in the areas affected. They can also hold religious ceremonies and spiritual activities on the land.
The rights are a long time coming. Queensland South Native Title Services principal legal officer Tim Wishart handed up the list of documents to Justice Reeves on which the claim was based. Wishart made powerful speech documenting the history of the Gunggari “from time beyond memory”. Wishart said the Gunggari land ran west from the Maranoa River and included the headwaters of the Nebine Creek, Mungallala Creek, Wallam Creek and Neabul Creek which together feed into the greater Murray-Darling basin. They fought to protect those lands “probably before English developed as a language,” Wishart said.
They were uninclined to let the European invaders have free run of the place after Sir Thomas Mitchell first explored the area in 1840. In 1855 an exasperated Crown Land Commissioner Wiseman wrote “No tribe will allow of the peaceable occupation of their country,” The whites fought back and with superior weaponry killed at least 75 Aboriginals along the Maranoa River up to 1862. In 1880, George Thorn (who served as Queensland premier two years earlier) boasted the inland Queensland Aboriginals were “pretty well shot down and got rid of”.
Thorn was wrong. The Gunggari and other tribes hung on tenaciously even after losing the war to the colonials. Monitored by the border and native police, They were tolerated as joint owners of the land until the twentieth century when the patriarchal attitudes of the new Commonwealth brought about the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Acts 1901. Under this act the camps that existed across the Maranoa were dismantled and hundreds of people were moved east and north into alien lands at government reserves and missions at Taroom, Purga, Barambah/Cherbourg, Palm Island and Woorabinda.
Most Gunggari ended up at Taroom settlement established in 1911. They stayed there until 1927 when the site was abandoned for a dam on the Dawson River. Though the dam never went ahead, they were marched north to a site near Rockhampton called Woorabinda. Here they were among 17 different language groups under the control of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, an Orwellian title who was supposed to “protect them from acts of cruelty, oppression and injustice.” Instead they turned a blind eye at best, or ran at worst, schemes to rob Aboriginals of what little they had.
The few Gunggari that remained behind on country didn’t have it easy either. They mostly gravitated to Mitchell town and were housed on the Yumba (“camp”) on the eastern edge of town near the Maranoa River. At the Yumba, Gunggari elders spoke their language but repressive white attitudes discouraged them from passing on their knowledge to the next generation. They did pass on the cultural laws and customs and hunting traditions. Yumbas were often shantytowns and many towns such as Mitchell and Surat demolished theirs in the 1960s. The people moved into town and started meeting the whites in school when previously they would only ever meet on the rugby league or netball field.
The 1967 referendum, the Keating Redfern speech and Mabo and Wik decisions slowly changed attitudes both of the white and black communities. Robert Munns for the Gunggari People first filed a native title application in March 1996 and followed it through despite no legal representation for 11 years. The application was modified in 1998 to reduce the covered areas and the application was split into two parts in 2001. In 2007 Queensland South Native Title Services became the legal representative and they registered an ILUA with the Queensland Government in 2008 for the first part which saw parcels of land change hands in the Dunkeld area south of Mitchell. Friday’s decision was for the second half. Applicant Munns did not live to see it. He died in July 2009 and five others continued the application in their name.
In December 2010, the State of Queensland began substantive mediation. The applicant and respondents submitted their material to the Federal Court who announced their decision on Friday. As well as the many Gunggari who celebrated in Mitchell, others celebrated from afar such as Queensland State of Origin star Johnathan Thurston and Opera Australia baritone Don Bemrose. “I am very proud to say I am a member of the Gunggari community,” Thurston said.
“It is important that our history with this land, and our customs, have been observed in this way and I congratulate everyone who has fought for this recognition over the past 17 years – almost as long as I’ve been playing rugby league.” Bemrose, the first Aboriginal member of Opera Australia, said he was always proud and honoured to represent the Gunggari. “This moment is acknowledgement of our people’s continued bond with the Maranoa and the persistence, dedication and strength of a few to do all possible to again connect our land to all Gunggari past, present and future is amazing,” he said. As Wishart concluded in Court on Friday, the determination has confirmed what the Gunggari already knew: the land was theirs.
The camp proclaimed itself as a dry area and in the middle of the garden lay a giant fire circle with an Aboriginal flag and a sculpture of the word “sovereignty” all looking out across the lake. More than the tent, it was this “sacred fire” of sovereignty that gave the embassy an imposing air of permanence. The use of the word embassy gives it a stateliness that is contested by the Australian Government, but not to the point of seeking its removal. There was no sign of any cops about to shut down a long-standing “occupy movement”. Nor was there seemingly any movement there to disoccupy. There was no sign of life that morning though presumably there were people asleep inside the tents. It was all peaceful and remarkably normal.
The tent began in 1972 in frustration at the McMahon Coalition Government’s refusal to recognise land rights. Hopes were high for Aboriginal land rights after winning the 1967 referendum to be counted at the ballot box. But five years later it was clear the Coalition was not about to disturb powerful interests. All McMahon would agree to was “general purpose leases” which would not affect existing land or mining titles. Most of the land titles were granted under common law “terra nullius” which assumed nobody lived on the land before the British granted title. The mining titles took precedence because, as McMahon said, they were “in the national interest”.
One of the embassy founders, Gary Foley, said McMahon’s laws made Aborigines “aliens in their own land”. Like other aliens they needed an embassy which meant it had to be in Canberra. The notion of the ramshackle embassy as an “eyesore” has been central to its validity since the start. As John Newfong said in 1972: “If people think this is an eyesore, well it is the way it is on Government settlements.” Aboriginal policy was an eyesore that needed to stay in the public eye. Governments tried to remove the embassy by use of police force, invoking territory ordinances and planning guidelines, direct negotiation and simply turning a blind eye with the hope that the embassy would fizzle out. None worked. In tandem with another symbol invented the same year – the black, red and yellow flag – the black power activists’ tent reminded white Australia it was built on shaky foundations.
Ever since 1972, the embassy has only occasional impinged on wider conscience. Paul Kelly’s monumental The March of Patriots covered the Keating and Howard eras in great detail but made no mention of the embassy, even though the embassy became permanent just after the elevation of Keating as PM. Aboriginal affairs were a telling difference between Keating and Howard and deeply affected their tenure as prime ministers. Yet there were similarities too. Both men were affronted by the notion there was “another Australia” outside their jurisdiction though neither was foolish enough to raise in public the notion the “ambassadors” should be removed.
It was not politicians but judges who changed the law during Keating and Howard’s time. The Mabo and Wik judgements ended the fiction of terra nullius and helped forge a proper agreement over native title. 200 years of wrong could not be righted but some compensation was needed. Keating offered an apology in his 1994 Redfern speech but was hamstrung by his own side (corrupt WA Labor Premier Brian Burke had killed Bob Hawke’s Land Rights proposal in the 1980s). Keating was voted out in 1996, but not before getting a Mabo agreement through parliament over the objection of the Coalition.
Howard inherited Keating’s Stolen Generation Report that documented the extent of Australian 20th century interference in Aboriginal affairs. Ever conscious of the power of symbols, Howard could not bring himself to apologise. His later NT intervention was paternalism writ large masked under a pretence of preventing sexual violence. Despite the scale of the response (which the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments have been unable to undo), there was never a sense they were dealing with equal partners. The prospect of a treaty similar to Canada and New Zealand seems as remote as ever.
The embassy supporting that Treaty celebrated two notable anniversaries Day last week. The embassy has intermittently existed on the lawns since Australia Day 1972 and permanently since Australia Day 1992, so it either 40 or 20 years old according to taste. These anniversaries are appropriate moments to examine its worthiness. My view is that the overwhelming evidence suggests the “other Australia” still exists and therefore the indigenous protesters that live on the site are right to seek diplomatic relations. In all key life indicators, indigenous people lag behind the rest of the population thanks to two centuries of massacres, paternalism and benign neglect. As a defeated people since colonial times, they are under no obligation to accept white Australian rule as a fait accompli.
The howls of protest that accompanied Tony Abbott’s claim the embassy’s time may be over, reflect a deeper concern that as Prime Minister he would not advance Aboriginal interests. He might also, despite the denials, be prepared to use his power to shut it down “occupy-style” using the media-generated confected rage against the “riot” that apparently caused the prime minister to lose to trip over and lose a shoe. The Courier-Mail front page called it a “day of shame” without saying who should be ashamed. “Australia Day 2012 will be remembered for scenes of a terrified looking Ms Gillard being dragged away to safety,” the paper thundered. Whose fault was it? They didn’t say.
Instead they hinted at it. They said police clashed with protesters from the nearby aboriginal tent embassy and the two leaders were shoved into Ms Gillard’s bulletproof car and taken to “a safe place”. Police seemed to have overreacted in the way they escorted the politicians from the premises. Gillard and Abbott were at the Lobby restaurant presenting emergency services medals when “100 protesters surrounded the building”. Alerted by Labor apparatchiks (who presumably knew Gillard was there also), they came to protest against an answer Abbott gave in a press conference earlier that day. Marxist march participant John Passant said witnesses reported that during a speech a woman interrupted to say Abbott had said the Tent Embassy should be moved on. “He was 50 metres away with his twin in racism, Julia Gillard,” Passant said. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. When protesters made the 50m journey to the Lobby, they banged on the glass walls. The chants started as “Shame, shame!” and “Racists, racists” and then became a steady “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.”
They were protesting an answer Abbott gave in a doorstep earlier that day. Some journalist (unnamed in the press transcript) asked him: “Is the Tent Embassy still relevant or should it move?”. Abbott responded by saying he could understand why the embassy was established but a lot had changed for the better. “We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister,” Abbott said. “We had the proposal which is currently for national consideration to recognise indigenous people in the Constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”
No one asked the obvious follow-up question: Did he mean moving the tent on? We don’t know because the media circus moved on to Albanese’s Hollywood faux pas and the embassy answer hung out there to dry. Gillard’s people were on to the political implications quickly. The implied answer, Abbott might act as PM to “move on” the embassy, took little time to filter out.
Gillard’s media adviser Tony Hodges told Unions ACT secretary Kim Sattler and Sattler told the demonstrators. When they got to the restaurant, there were unedifying scenes of Aborigines clashing with police but no evidence to suggest violence was intended on Abbott or Gillard. It was the mob violence that wasn’t. All they wanted was for both leaders to talk to them. The prime minister’s security detail took a different view. In this risk averse culture they took the view she should leave quickly. On camera Gillard accepts their advice and asked them whether they should also inform Abbott. She is then shown on camera letting Abbott know they were “in it together”.
Instead of confronting the protesters, the prime minister was dragged unceremoniously away. The footage of these shots showed the politicians, their security detail and news cameras. The protesters were well back. World media were entranced by the footage particularly the fairytale angle of the “lost shoe”. Behind her, Abbott was also ushered away quickly without any wardrobe malfunctions. Abbott walked away without injury but Gillard lost not only her shoe, but her dignity, her press officer, her backroom probity and the political high ground. Abbott was able to say, “At the very least the Prime Minister should be offering an apology to everyone who was in that awards ceremony.” But he did not clarify what Gillard had to apologise for except perhaps for incompetent staff who did not think through the consequences of their actions. Hodges paid the penalty and Abbott should stop playing put upon. He would have known fully what mischief his statement could cause on the Australia Day anniversary.
Meanwhile the 40 year sovereignty battle associated with the embassy has been damned by association. Since the so-called “riot”, influential voices like Bob Carr, Warren Mundine and David Penberthy have called for its abolition. None have attracted the opprobrium of Abbott but perhaps they should have. The time has not yet come to fold up the tent. The eyesore has not been treated. Sorry day has come and gone but the justice of sovereignty is no nearer for this continent’s oldest and most misunderstood inhabitants. Until it happens, they will remain aliens in their own land.
Behrendt is a NSW law professor and author who lives in New South Wales. Her father and paternal grandmother were Aboriginal. Her paternal grandmother lived in an Aboriginal camp before she was taken away from her family by the Aborigines Protection Board. Her paternal grandfather was English and her mother and maternal grandmother were Australian. Bolt made a schoolboy error when he said Behrendt looked “almost as German as her father” based only on the sound of the surname. Her father was a prominent, well-respected member of the Aboriginal community was an expert on oral histories. He was always part of her family and her mother was always strongly supportive of her Aboriginal identity. Behrendt was 11 when her father reconnected with his Aboriginal family and told her about his languages, dreamtime stories and Aboriginal traditions. Behrendt said she “identified as Aboriginal since before I can remember”.
She began to experience racism at school where she was teased for being “black”. She was motivated to become a lawyer because her grandmother was forcibly removed from her family. She became a Doctor in law at Harvard Law School and was not the beneficiary of any special admission program for Aboriginal people. She has won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous writing. Bolt called her “professional Aborigine” who is “chairman of our biggest taxpayer-funded Aboriginal television service”, a reference to the National Indigenous Television Service established in about 2006 for which she received $20,000 a year. Behrendt said she took the position because Aboriginal people needed to have their own voice in contemporary Australia. She said Bolt’s reference to her as “mein liebchen” was particularly offensive, patronising and denigrating. Her take-out message from the articles was they sent a message to young people that if you are light-skinned and identify as Aboriginal you will be publically attacked and criticised. She regards that message as very intimidating.
Leanne Enoch is the Red Cross Queensland director for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Her father is Aboriginal and her mother is Australian. Her and her siblings’ cultural upbringing was dominated by her father’s side of the family and she has always identified as Aboriginal. She grew up on North Stradbroke Island where her mother (whom she resembles) was always accepted as part of the extended family and her mother fully supported her Aboriginal identity and her education in Aboriginal culture. As the eldest grandchild of the eldest son (her father), she was groomed for cultural responsibilities from a young age Enoch has always been recognised as being an Aboriginal person and first faced challenges about her identity at school after her family left Stradbroke. Many thought she was adopted and she witnessed racism from people who didn’t realise she was Aboriginal and likely to be deeply offended. Enoch trained and then worked as a teacher for 10 years where she assisted with Aboriginal cultural awareness programs.
She then worked Aboriginal social policy and stood for election in the ALP. While first dismissive of Bolt’s article, she became more alarmed when she realised that everyone in her family and community would see it. Her father and many of her relatives saw it and were upset and she too was distressed by the effect on her children, particularly her oldest son who is fair, unlike her younger son who is darker, and who is going through identity issues of his own. Enoch said it was highly offensive Bolt said she was “not really Aboriginal” because of skin and hair colour. Because Bolt suggested she chose to identify as Aboriginal to further her political career he was saying her hard work, skill and talent were of no significance.
Mark McMillan is a lawyer and an Arizona Appeals Court judge for American Indians. He has an English father and a mother of Aboriginal descent. He was raised by his mother until he was eight and then moved to his maternal grandmother in Trangie, near Gilgandra, NSW. In Trangie McMillan and his siblings all knew they were Aboriginal. They were told stories about their Aboriginal relatives, including about their maternal great grandmother who was the last Aboriginal local language speaker.
His family were all involved in the Trangie Aboriginal Land Council and two years ago McMillan was elected to the Board of the Council. Like the other eight plaintiffs, he experienced racism and was called an “Albino Boong”. In 1996 he worked at ATSIC as a clerk. Three years later he was awarded an Aboriginal undergraduate award and studied law at the Australian National University.
He was selected to participate in further study through an exchange program in Canada. He was admitted to the bar in 2001 and found a research position with Larissa Behrendt at Sydney UTS.
In 2003, he was accepted to the University of Arizona’s Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program. McMillan found Bolt’s suggestion he was “not Aboriginal enough” offensive and said he inferred he only identified with his Aboriginal heritage for political gain. He was also infuriated by Bolt’s insinuation he was a “a gay white man with a law degree” and “just the kind of Aboriginal who needs a special handout” which was offensive and humiliating. McMillan was humiliated when subsequently forced to assure his American employers he was indeed Aboriginal.
Pat Eatock was born in Brisbane in 1937 and is now retired in NSW. Her mother is Scottish and her father had Aboriginal parents. Her father was ashamed of his background and it was never discussed at home. They were also afraid the authorities would take away the children if they ever found out about their black heritage. Eatock identified as Aboriginal since she was a teenager and she told the court much of her Aboriginal identity was formed by negative experiences.
At Primary School in Ingham, the playground at the school was divided by a fence. “White kids” played on one side of the fence and “black kids” on the other. Eatock and her sisters were put to play with the “white kids”. When the school teachers saw the father the childen were taken out of the “white” children’s playground and put in the “black” one. Some parents then complained about “white” children on the wrong side of the fence. They were then put back in the “white” playground and this was Pat Eatock first identity crisis.
She left school aged 14 and began to identify herself as Aboriginal so she would not be accused of hiding her background. She worked in factories until marrying in 1957. She cared for her children until 1973 when she went to university where she encountered a different kind of racism. People would make racist remarks about Aboriginal people in her presence which she found stressful. She would tell people at the outset she was Aboriginal or wear clothing associated with Aboriginal issues. Encounters with Faith Bandler inspired to get involved with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972 and 1973. She has stood for election in the Australian Capital Territory as an independent Aboriginal candidate.
Eatock graduated with an arts degree in 1978 and worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. She became a lecturer in Aboriginal Community Development in late 1991 and got a disability support pension in 1996. She still volunteers for Aboriginal issues and lives modestly in a one bedroom Department of Housing flat in Sydney.
Eatock told the court was horrified, disgusted, angry and sick in the stomach when she saw Mr Bolt’s Articles. She said Bolt disconnected her from her Aboriginality and denied her life’s work and ethics. She has been more disadvantaged than advantaged by identifying as Aboriginal and has had only six to six-and-a-half years of employment since 1977. She said Bolt’s articles were racist and she remains deeply offended.
These stories of Eatock and the others show racism was casual and endemic in Australian society. They, more than most, suffered for their background by not neatly fitting the stereotype of being black skinned. Judge Bromberg quoted the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2003 Report on the Protection of Human Genetic Information which said ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs, rather than matters of scientific ‘fact’.
Bromberg noted the ‘blood quantum’ classification for determining Aboriginality common in Australian law until recent times. “It is a notorious and regrettable fact of Australian history that the flawed biological characterisations of many Aboriginal people was the basis for mistreatment, including for policies of assimilation involving the removal of many Aboriginal children from their families until the 1970s,” Bromberg said. “It will be of no surprise that a race of people subjected to oppression by reason of oppressive racial categorisation will be sensitive to being racially categorised by others.”
The Northern Territory Emergency Response was a Howard Government initiative announced in June 2007 in response to reports of abuse and neglect of children outlined in the “Little Children are Sacred” report and supported by the Rudd Government when it took office five months later. The legislation period of NTER is five years and it commits the Government to actions to “close the gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal key health indicators. The key objectives of NTER are ensuring the protection of women and children, reducing family violence, improving education, improving health, and promoting positive behaviours and personal responsibility.
In 2009, the Rudd Government attempted to remove some of the more odious elements of the NTER with legislation that is now before the Senate to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act. This was done after many in the 73 NTER communities felt they had been hurt, humiliated and confused by the often discriminatory way in which the original legislation was pushed through. However the same people admitted children, women and the elderly were were all feeling safer, better fed and clothed, and that there was less humbugging for alcohol, drugs and gambling.
There have been some good recorded improvements. The Government has built eight of nine promised new crèches and upgraded 11 out of another promised 13. Average school attendance has increased from 60.1 percent to 62.2 percent in 12 months. However this is still down on the 62.7 percent figure recorded in 2007. A school nutrition program is up and running staffed mainly by Indigenous people while over 140 new teaching positions have been funded in the NT. Another 173 health professionals are on the books covering nursing, GP, dental and allied health. Outreach teams have made 110 visits to 66 remote communities.
88 community stores were licensed to sell alcohol and out of 190 monitoring visits just one store had its licence revoked. Alcohol Management Plans are in place in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Palmerston and Katherine and on their way in Borroloola, Maningrida, Gunbalanya, Elliot, Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt. The Government created 2,200 new jobs still leaving almost 17,000 on welfare quarantine known as “income management”. 96 percent of these spent $133 million on food and clothing using BasicCards.
The instance of child abuse cases increased over the 2009 reporting period giving the ABC its gloomy headline when discussing the report. The numbers of child abuses cases from 72 in 2007 to 142 two years later. However with 62 additional police deployed to communities, there is an obvious increase in reported crime, while the actual incidence of crime may have remained unchanged or have fallen. The numbers of alcohol related incidents went up 31 percent while the number of drug related incidents went up 23 percent while reported incidents of domestic abuse went up a staggering 75 percent between 2007 and 2009.
But undoubtedly problems still remain in the communities. Last year NT Indigenous children were six times as likely as other children to be the subject of a substantiation of a notification of abuse and neglect. Neglect remains the main crime (43 percent) followed by physical abuse (26 percent) and emotional abuse (24 percent). Sexual abuse accounted for less than 10 percent of cases and since July 2007 27 people (including 4 non-Indigenous people) have been convicted for child sexual assault.
Response to the report has so far been limited in the media and virtually non-existent in the blogosphere. Apart from the ABC article noted above, the NT News also picked up on the increased stats angle, The Australian published an article by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, while ANU’s Jon Altman in Crikey called the state of progress “disturbing”.
However what is truly disturbing is the mainstream lack of interest in the report and its contents other than for its political conflict value. Altman makes good points about some of the ways we have gone backwards since 2007. However, until there is a concerted hue and cry on behalf of white Australia to really follow through on the initiatives, nothing will change. Our media is failing us with this task. For those interested, Part 2 of the report provides detailed information and analysis by sub measure.
Mitchell is 550km west of Brisbane and named for Sir Thomas Mitchell who was the first white person to trudge this country. Mitchell called it “Champagne Country” but many of those that followed him found life less bubbly and prosperous. The Kenniff brothers Patrick (b 1863) and James (b 1869) were among those to find out just how barren a beverage Champagne Country really was.
The pair were sons of Irish-born James Kenniff and his wife Mary. The Kenniffs lived near Dungog in NSW but both father and his two sons were convicted for stealing stock in northern NSW and they scampered away north to escape justice. They established a property at Ralph near Augathella and were determined to live a straight life. They lived by bush work; they also raced horses and opened books on the local race meetings.
But conditions were tough on the land and the depression of the 1890s left them penniless. It was all too easy to return to old ways. With convicted cattle duffers Thomas Stapleton, John and Richard Riley and others, they launched what the Australian Dictionary of Biography called a reign of ‘mild terror’ stealing cleanskin and poorly branded cattle from Carnarvon and other neighbouring stations.
In 1895 the brothers were charged in Roma court with stealing or receiving stolen horses. Pat got a three year sentence and Jim got two years. Both served time in St Helena Prison off the coast of Brisbane. When Jim was released he went back to the Ralph property which was empty. A year later Pat was released and also went back to Ralph. Pat quickly returned to his thieving ways attracting the attention of Police Commissioner Parry-Ogden who sent a sergeant to investigate their activities. A warrant was issued for their arrest after a daring raid on a police camp and Jim was captured at Ralph after a shootout.
Jim beat the charge in court which encouraged his brother to turn himself in. But Pat was found guilty of another charge and was sent back to St Helena for another three years. While he was away, local landholders agitated the Lands Department to terminate the lease at Ralph Block when it expired in 1899. In the meantime, a neighbour bought the property directly from the Kenniffs and employed one Albert Christian Dahlke to manage the properties. He and Jim Kenniff had a personal animosity that ran deep.
Around the same time a new constable, George Doyle arrived in the area looking to set up a moveable police station. He chose Kenniff’s camp site on Ralph Block as the preferred site. Doyle and his Aboriginal tracker Sam Johnson moved into what was called the Upper Warrego Police Station.
In November 1901, Pat returned again from St Helena and was stunned to find a police station at his home. With the country in the middle of a massive drought, the brothers plotted to steal horses and sell them in Roma. In January 1902 they rounded up 36 horses and took them to Mt Moffatt in the Carnarvon Ranges.
Doyle and Johnson were patrolling in the area and intercepted Pat Kenniff. They took him to Mitchell where he was fined £20 and then released to find the money. He caught up with his brothers and launched a spree of retaliation burning down an outstation, driving off horses and robbing workers.
On 25 March, Doyle received another arrest warrant for the Kenniffs. Dahlke was there when it arrived and volunteered to help carry out the arrests. On Good Friday 28 March, Doyle, Dahlke and Sam Johnson set off to find the horse thieves; only Constable Doyle was armed.
On Easter Sunday the trio had arrived in Lethbridge Pocket 10kms from Mt Moffat Homestead where they spotted Jim, Pat and a third brother Tom. Dalhke and Doyle followed Jim while Johnson set off in elusive pursuit of the other two brothers.
When Johnson arrived back he found Jim Kenniff in their custody. Doyle told Johnson to ride the 200 metres to their pack horse to get handcuffs. While Johnson was away he heard gunfire that sounded different from Doyle’s revolver. Johnson rushed back only to see Pat and Jim riding towards him. Johnson took to the scrub and made his escape. He raised the alarm and another man, Jim Burke agreed to accompany Johnson back to the scene. They found two horses with blood stains but no sign of Doyle or Dalhke. They rode back to Mt Moffatt late on Easter Sunday to tell people of the news.
Johnson rode through the night and all the following day to get to Mitchell and the nearest telegraph station. Others returned to the scene where they found more blood stains and belongings of the two missing men. On the Wednesday they found a third horse which was Doyle’s mount. Inside its police pack bags were charcoal and burnt bones.
Police found the location where the bodies were burnt and a doctor confirmed the remains were of one or possibly two humans, recently deceased. Mt Moffatt was now a murder scene and a large manhunt began for the Kenniffs. On 12 May a reward of £1000 was offered for Pat and Jim’s capture. Early on Monday 23 June, the pair were found at Back Creek (later renamed Arrest Creek) a few kms south of Mitchell. They were captured unharmed and taken to Brisbane for trial.
The trial took place in the Supreme Court in November 1902. Sam Johnson’s evidence was crucial for the prosecution. The defence was simple: neither Kenniff was there at the time of the murder. It was a landmark case. No white man had ever been convicted of murder on black testimony. The defence lawyer tried to discredit Johnson’s evidence. But Johnson answered the derogatory questions in dignified fashion reinforcing the credibility of his evidence.
Both the Kenniffs were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. A Full Court later commuted Jim Kenniff’s sentence to life imprisonment. Pat Kenniff was hanged on 12 January 1903. Jim was released in 1912. After working on cattle-stations in the north-west he fossicked in the ranges north of Charters Towers and died there of cancer on 8 October 1940, aged around 71.
Back in Mitchell, those sympathetic to the Kenniffs blamed Johnson for the conviction and threatened retribution. Even those who did not much admire the Kenniffs did not like it was the word of a blackfella that convicted them. Johnson eventually requested a transfer for his own safety. He moved to Longreach where he died in 1919 of influenza. Sam Johnson was buried in a forgotten, unmarked grave and to this day has no monument or memorial in his name.
Whites made every effort to put Aboriginals out of a society they had lived in for 60,000 years. Just prior to occupation in 1820 there were around 262,000 blacks in Queensland. By a hundred years later, extermination and disease had reduced that number to just 15,700. The 1884 “Queenslander” newspaper told its readers “if a blackfellow is seen, he is brutally shot down the same as a dingo and with about the same feeling of remorse”. Keeping “racial purity” was a higher priority of colonial society than preserving Aboriginal lives. Officials lived in terror of sexual “contamination” that might lead to a “half-caste menace”.Those that survived became government property. A massive system of reserves, missions and police bureaucracy controlled every aspect of Aboriginal lives. The system ran cheaply on the intercepted wages of black workers. The workers themselves were quarantined on semi-penitential reserves with no health facilities. Older Aboriginals still recall with horror sadistic Institutions such as Palm Island, Barambah (Cherbourg) and Woorabinda which were no better than concentration camps.Governments of every stripe blatantly stole from Aboriginals. Evans noted how the 1930s William Forgan Smith Labor Government “perfected the art of robbery with a fountain pen” and stole £72,000 ($3.5m in today’s money) from Aboriginal trust accounts claiming it to be a depression-era emergency measure. Such theft continued through the years and administrations that followed.The attitude to Aboriginals of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government of 1968-1987 veered between neglect and outright hostility. Bjelke-Petersen insisted Queensland Aboriginal people lived “on clover”. They were “as wealthy as Arab oil sheiks”, he said. But the statistics proved the lie to this absurd claim. In 1980 Indigenous people were 89 times more likely to die of an infectious disease than other Queenslanders. Half of all Aboriginals were unemployed. Half of all Aboriginal homes had no sewers, a quarter had no electricity and a fifth had no water. In 1987, Aboriginal men died on average 27 years younger than other men and for Aboriginal women it was even worse. They died 34 years earlier than other women. Aboriginals were four times more likely to be involved in violence or accidents and seven times more likely to be imprisoned.
By 1974 trachoma of the eye was a disease eradicated across the western world. But it was still rampant in Queensland’s Aboriginal children with 80 percent infection rates. When Fred Hollows and his team attempted to travel around the communities to address the problem, Bjelke-Petersen expelled them on the spurious grounds the team contained two “well-known radicals” who had “contrived an upsurge in voter registrations.”
Around the same time a federal health team described the high rates of childhood malnutrition, gastro-enteritis and threadworm as resembling conditions in Biafra. Queensland Health officials played the report down laying the blame on parental neglect. Similar criticisms from the World Council of Churches and Amnesty International were dismissed by Bjelke-Petersen as a sinister, subversive “arm of Communist propaganda”.
In 1989, the Nationals were finally turfed out in disgrace and the Labor Goss Government came to power on a wave of new promises. But their Lands Rights Act of 1991 attracted the ire of the Land Councils who said it deprived 95 percent of Queensland blacks from any claims on the land. Black protests on the issue were met with a vigorous police reaction and matters did not improve after talented dancer and activist Daniel Yock died suspiciously in custody in 1993.
Well meaning efforts by the subsequent Beattie-Bligh Governments have done little to arrest the long slide in Aboriginal health. The adult black death rate remains 10 to 12 times greater than non-Indigenous rates, incarceration rates are 15 times higher and life expectancy is 20 years below the national average. In 2004, the Fred Hollows Foundation compared Queensland Aboriginal health unfavourably with experiences in Sudan, Sierra Leone and Nepal. Police issues remain a thorn. The Government-sanctioned police response to the 2004 Palm Island riot following the Mulrunji death was particularly brutal. 80 Tactical Response Group commandos conducted dawn raids armed with riot shields, balaclavas, helmets with face masks and automatic weapons. They declared war on local residents while Beattie disgracefully described the entire community of Palm Islanders as “lazy, disruptive and dysfunctional.”
As Evans’ book methodically shows, it is Governments from William Bligh’s day to Anna Bligh’s that are responsible for the real laziness, disruption and dysfunction of Aboriginal lives.