That Unhappy race Part 5 – The Drew and Hale Commissions

Aboriginal people at Durundur reserve.
Aboriginal people at Durundur reserve.

By the 1870s those pushing for further white expansion in Queensland could see only one way it was possible: by corralling all the indigenous people into one manageable place far from white towns. The people of Maryborough were deeply offended by the large group of Aborigines camped near the town cemetery. Though the Maryborough blacks had not been troublesome since 1853, there were many massacres of indigenous people in the area. Yet there remained an existential fear among whites after Hornet Bank and Cullin-la-Ringo which had never gone away. There was also distaste at alcohol-fuelled quarrels and the tendency of the blacks to wander the streets naked. There were calls to move these “savages” away from the sensitive eyes of white women and children.

Edward Fuller was a Primitive Methodist who believed Aborigines could be shown the path to a white god. He thought the solution to the Maryborough problem was a mission on Fraser Island. Fraser had been proposed as a mission site as early as the 1840s but nothing came of it. Even in the 1860s government proposals to gazette a reserve on the island got a chilly reception from squatters wanting to develop the island. Fuller began his Fraser mission in 1870 and attracted over 30 people to his camp. But he suffered the usual problem of white encroachment with timber-getters moving on to their land, and supplying the blacks with alcohol. Fuller was literal a man on a mission and his failure to convert at Fraser Island, was mirrored by later failures across Queensland at Lake Weyba, Hinchinbrook Island and Bellenden Plains.

A man named Frank Bridgman had better luck with the first secular reserve established at Mackay in 1871. Bridgman was a grazier from down south who brought sheep north to the Isaac region. Initially Bridgman was not averse to supporting the native police’s brutal tactics to “disperse” blacks from his property at Grosvenor Downs near Fort Cooper native police barracks. Judith Wright‘s grandfather Albert wrote in his diary in 1868 that “about 60 Blacks were shot at Grosvenor Downs last week”.

Bridgman and other Mackay squatters sent a letter to then colonial secretary Arthur Palmer – himself a squatter of the Mackay hinterland – asking for more protection “against the numbers and increasing audacity of the Blacks”. Yet by 1870 Bridgman was starting to think of other ways to solve the problem. It occurred to him that a labour reserve of cheap Aboriginal workers might be useful in the sparsely populated north, or as he put it, “labour being valuable, there will be less wish to have them shot down.” He wrote a letter to Palmer in 1870 asking for separate lands for the Aborigines in country too poor for white farmers. Bridgman recommended scrubby land near a Homebush lagoon be gazetted for Aboriginal people. The land commissioner approved the request in 1871 and within two years Bridgman led a group in Mackay which established the Association for the Employment and Protection of Aborigines. The Association hopes was that low paid indigenous workers could replace the indentured South Sea labour which was then under attack in parliament. Indeed, Bridgman hoped he could use them on his own sugar plantation.

By March 1873 over 200 Aborigines moved onto Bridgman’s reserve at GooneenberryPalmer had been promoted to premier and his government established a commission under William Drew to see if the Mackay scheme could be applied across the colony. The commissioners visited the north and spoke to squatters (but not to indigenous people). Bridgman told them the Aboriginal people were reliable employees.

In their report of May 1874 the Drew Commission admitted a system of reserves and protectors would be expensive for the government. But it argued that Queensland was only profitable because of Aboriginal land. Drew admitted Queensland made most of its money from the lease and sale of crown lands “which the Aborigines originally occupied”. Sadly by then Palmer was out of power and new premier Arthur Macalister simply ignored the report.

What forced Macalister’s hand to form a second commission was the report of an attempted murder which filtered its way to all powerful London. The reports of Native Police shooting a black at Cooktown made the Sydney papers and ultimately caught the attention of Lord Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. Carnarvon requested an explanation from the Marquis of Normanby, the governor of Queensland. Normanby rejected allegations of atrocities and argued Aboriginal lives were being improved by white settlement. Yet this interest from London was embarrassing and unwanted. Normanby and Macalister agreed to re-institute the Drew Commission to implement its suggestions. The Brisbane Courier said this was warranted but defended the practices of the native police on the wild north frontier. “If the aborigines were more civilised than they are, we should either make treaties with them, or we should be at open war with them,” the Courier said.

Queensland’s Government was prepared neither for war nor treaties so it opted for another report instead to buy more time. In 1876 the new Governor William Cairns instituted another commission under Anglican Bishop of Brisbane Mathew Hale with four other commissioners. Like the Drew Commission it was stacked with squatter sympathisers or explorers like Gregory and Landsborough who also saw the destruction of Aboriginal society as an inevitable consequence of Christian civilisation.

The Hale Commission was authorised to “inquire into and investigate the condition of Aboriginal inhabitants of Queensland and to report on the best means to legislate or otherwise improve their condition”. But rather than report, they immediate set about establishing a reserve under Tom Petrie at Bribie Island. Petrie would use his knowledge of Aboriginal languages to get them to work. Initial reports were favourable. Petrie suggested blacks at Brisbane should be compelled to live at the reserve. But Petrie didn’t stay long and his replacement was a zealot with little understanding.

Father Duncan McNab had roving commission of his own from the Catholic Church. His mission was to convert the aborigines as long as the job did not cost the church any money. McNab had to fend for himself and applied to take over the Bribie mission when Petrie left. But unlike Petrie, McNab could not get the Aboriginal people to work. Meanwhile Hale wrote to the police commissioner complaining blacks were still being allowed to enter Brisbane, which was a deterrent to keeping them on Bribie.

McNab suggested it was the place that was the problem not him. He recommended a new reserve at Durundur on the Stanley River in the upper Brisbane Valley. With the support of new premier John Douglas it was opened in 1877 and a small amount of blacks moved it. Local squatters were pleased thinking it would supply a ready source of cheap labour. The Commission also approved another settlement at Mackay near Cape Hilsborough but this idea lapsed due to lack of government funds. The commission appointed Bridgman to be its agent for northern coastal districts and he suggested new reserves including one at Palm Island. Though just an idea at that stage, Palms would eventually become Queensland’s most infamous gulag in the 20th century.

The early efforts of building concentration camps at Mackay, Fraser and Durundur all failed. McNab proved to be impatient, wanting to immediately cure the Aboriginal people of their pagan ways while the funding dried up from Brisbane. But the Drew and Hale Commissions had asked an important question that would not go away: did the Aboriginal people have rights to the land as prior occupants?

That Unhappy Race Part 4: Gideon Lang

Cullin-la-Ringo station, Qld c 1875.
Cullin-la-Ringo station, Qld c 1875.

In 1865 a new figure enters the story of Queensland’s unhappy history of Aboriginal affairs. On July 12 that year, a Victorian squatter named Gideon Lang stood up in St George’s Hall in Melbourne and delivered a lecture on a pamphlet he wrote called The Aborigines of Australia. Lang’s account was the most detailed yet by a settler on Aboriginal people in eastern Australia.

Gideon Scott Lang was born in Scotland and moved to Melbourne as a young man to follow his two older brothers. At Buninyong he joined his brothers in a farming venture where they faced the usual problem of how to pacify a large group of Aboriginal people on their run. The Langs succeeded in finding a peaceful solution by making an agreement to feed some of them if no attacks were made on their stock. The Langs were successful and Gideon gradually branched northwards to the Riverina before visited the Darling Downs looking for selections. He was elected MP for Liverpool Plains and Gwydir in 1856 and served on the 1856 NSW Inquiry into Aboriginal conditions. By 1865 he was a director of a Melbourne bank and extremely influential in Victorian circles.

In his pamphlet Lang admitted he wasn’t a “blind partisan” for Aboriginal people having taken part in at least one attack against them during his squatting days. But Lang had come to the conclusion that had anyone died he would have considered himself a murderer. The first half of his pamphlet deals with his own experiences in the south and the solutions they came up with to co-exist with Aboriginal people.

However the second half was looked on with alarm in Brisbane: it was a direct attack on the Queensland squatters, their government and their native police.  It was especially timely in the wake of revenge massacres following the deaths of white settlers at Cullin-la-Ringo four years earlier. Lang said the issues on the frontier were caused by a lack of recognition of Aboriginal society, deprivation of hunting grounds and the lack of government oversight. Lang said it led to atrocious cruelties on both sides, particularly in Queensland where it was the “rule and custom to arrange the black question by killing them off.”

Lang said he held these beliefs for 10 years but had delayed publication of his pamphlet until he found proof of massacres. That proof, he said, had now emerged. In May that year Aboriginal people had killed Native Police lieutenant Cecil Hill on the lower Dawson. His death caused a hardening of attitudes against the blacks best expressed by a letter writer to the Brisbane Courier: “These incorrigible rogues are becoming unbearable, and required a regular dressing down. Ordinary morality can only be driven into their obtuse skulls by leaden lessons.”

Officials were more circumspect and described revenge attacks for the death of Hill as “collisions” in the official record. These collisions, as Lang found out, were group punishment on a large number of blacks. Lang suggested the need for a “chief curator” of Aborigines, with the power of a police commissioner, who would punish outrages by white and black alike on the frontier. The curators would have the power to negotiate the use of waterholes with local groups before issuing new pastoral land licences, and stations could hire local blacks who would receive an allowance of food, blankets, tomahawks and tobacco.

Lang was optimistic to believe that within two years of this plan black and white would live amicably together. The view of the blacks to his plan was unknown, but the white Queensland squatters were apoplectic at being told how to run their lives by an uppity southerner. The attack was led by Queensland MP and squatter Gordon Sandeman who spoke on behalf of his caste. Sandeman rejected claims of atrocities as “sensational” and said Lang had no experience of Queensland. He described the native police as a “defensive force” and asked why didn’t Lang make his opposition to them known in the 1856 NSW inquiry when he was still in parliament. Sandeman said the most humane solution was to not permit Aboriginal people on squatters’ runs at all, though he did not offer any solution as to where they might otherwise go.

Archibald Meston would later take some of his ideas for his Proposed System in 1895.  From Lang’s plan, Meston adapted the idea of chief curator, which Meston called “protector”.  One major difference was that Lang offered Aboriginal people a choice to take part whereas Meston’s plan was coercive. In the short term Lang’s plan came to nothing. There was some relief from colonisation due to an economic crisis in 1866 and the frontier temporarily stalled.

In the late 1860s, the new threat was from mining not land grabs. Payable gold on the Mary River near Gympie, the Cape River near Bowen, and Ravenswood near Townsville brought miners by the thousands to Queensland. There were more finds at Etheridge River near Georgetown and Charters Towers and the rush continued to the Cape at Palmer River, invading rugged lands that were too forbidding for pastoralists.

The blacks, as one settler said, no longer knew where to go out of the way of white people. “No localities they might keep to themselves had been pointed out to them and no system of treatment of them had been laid down,” wrote another. The government looked on helplessly as blacks drifted to makeshift camps outside the new white towns where they were not welcome.

In 1872 the London-based Aboriginal Protection Society asked Queensland’s third governor the Marquis of Normanby to appoint an unpaid board to look into the Aboriginal problem. The new premier Arthur Palmer was unenthusiastic thinking the inquiry’s expenses would cripple the treasury. However Normanby got his Inquiry up, anxious to avoid embarrassing inquiries from London about “blackbirding” which had started in Queensland’s sugar industry. The government’s lack of support meant that inquiry was also doomed to fail but it had lasting implications we will look at next.

That Unhappy Race Part 3: The Squatters’ Inquiry

20140221_120659[1]In 1861 the new Queensland Government held its first Inquiry into Aboriginal affairs. It would not be its last. Among the white “indiscretions” it examined was the killing of five Aboriginal people at Fassifern by Native Police lieutenant Frederick Wheeler. Wheeler was one of several white young men who saw their role was to eliminate all black people. In Fassifern there had been reports of Indigenous people killing settlers’ stock. Without bothering to establish who was responsible Lt Wheeler shot and killed four men and one woman. He would have got away with murder but for the fact one of the dead worked for a local squatter, the Ipswich magistrate and MP, Henry Challinor.

The 1861 Queensland Legislative Assembly Select Committee issued a slap on Wheeler’s wrists despite reports of other killings in the Logan district. They said he acted with “indiscretion” and because he was a “most valuable and zealous officer” his punishment should merely be removal to another area. Wheeler moved to Central Queensland and continued his reign of terror on blacks. It was not until 1876 he was charged in Rockhampton with the death of a black youth. Wheeler fled Australia rather than face justice.

The 1861 Inquiry that whitewashed Wheeler followed a similar trajectory to inquiries in NSW in 1856 and 1858. All of them looked at the problem with white eyes, none addressed the causes of the violence on the frontier. The squatters’ parliament in Brisbane thought it was an inevitable consequence of colonisation and believed only a military-style native police force could solve the problem.

The 1861 recommendations were a master-class of administrative action that addressed processes rather than causes. It ordered the native police appoint cadets, troopers should be stationed away from towns to avoid the temptation of alcohol, they should be recruited from areas far from where they would serve, officers would provide monthly reports, and a new and simpler means of keeping accounts was required. The fact local blacks could not be trusted to kill their own was glossed over.

The Inquiry decided that despite “misguided” officers like Wheeler the native police had to stay. The Queensland “myalls” (wild blacks) could not adjust to civilisation. The Inquiry noted “all attempts to Christianise or educate the Aborigines of Australia have hitherto proved abortive”. They said Aboriginal people were cannibals beyond redemption who had “no idea of a future state”, and were “sunk in the lowest depths of barbarism”. The Inquiry offered no suggestions how to improve their situation.

The policy of Aboriginal expulsion from their lands received a green light to continue. Challinor, the man who exposed Wheeler, told the Inquiry Aborigines should be entitled to hunt game in the own country. He also supported the Christian mission of William Ridley who recommended co-existence. But Aboriginal people roaming wild among the cattle did not suit squatter interests.

Back in 1837 Colonial Secretary Glenelg told the Australian colonies the Aborigines were to be treated as British subjects. But in 1861 Queensland decided this rule did not apply beyond the frontier. Rare voices like Challinor continued to advocate for Aboriginal protectors in each district to arbitrate issues between black and white. But with Aboriginal testimony not allowed in Queensland courts until 1884 their side of the argument was not heard.

They weren’t heard from in the 1861 Inquiry either and white voices were not supportive. Queensland’s first Surveyor-General Augustus Gregory praised the native police as necessary to the safety of the colony and said it was popular on the frontier. Aboriginal sympathiser Tom Petrie, who spoke Indigenous languages, said the native police had a beneficial role and a white-only force would be “inefficient”. Even the two missionaries from Zion’s Hill, Johann Zillman and Augustus Rode, admitted they had made no conversions and agreed the native police kept the black population in a state of fear.

The overwhelming view of Queensland’s parliament was either that there was no problem, or if there was, it would solve itself. With this sanguine view the government withdrew itself from Aboriginal affairs to weightier matters: how to make more money for the squatters.

Those like Challinor that saw the problem, were mostly driven by Christian concerns. The squatters contemptuously called them the Church Party and considered them well-meaning fools with no idea of life on the frontier. Ridley was now a journalist in Sydney using newspapers to get across his ideas. He said the missions in Wellington Valley (NSW) and Poonindie (SA) showed Aboriginal people were capable of “social and spiritual improvement”. He believed for missions to be successful, they must attract Aboriginal people in large numbers. They could not be drilled in European ways and should instead learn bushcraft with time off for hunting and other traditional pursuits. School should be taught in English but hours needed to be short and the missions needed to be far from the temptations of towns and their “vile passions”.

Another man with similar advice, station manager JC White, wrote a letter to the government about the “pressing” need to find new lands for Aboriginal people. White said station owners forbade them from crossing their runs to hunt kangaroos in case they set fire to the grass. Some resorted to killing cattle, increasing the likelihood of conflict. White said that in their natural state Aboriginal people were not bloodthirsty or cruel but “kindly disposed, hospitable and social, intelligent and improvable”. White suggested protectorates were needed as well as depots where they could receive food rations, and negotiate for employment on stations. He also suggested the native police should be abolished except on “extreme frontiers”. Governor Bowen was impressed by White’s letter and authorised land grants to persons or institutions that might establish Indigenous missions and industrial schools.

When a Catholic priest WJ Larkin offered his services of educating Aborigines in the Roma district, he too got some support from the government keen to keep London’s Exeter Hall liberals onside. But a change of government brought a change of attitude and Queensland poured money into the expansion of the railways rather than improving the lives of Aboriginal people. However the ideas that germinated in the work of Ridley, Challinor, Petrie, White and Larkin would eventually coalesce in Archibald Meston’s 1895 “Proposed System”.

See Part 1 and Part 2

A trip to Coochiemudlo Island

20150609_093145To the Quandamooka people, the islands of Moreton Bay were rich hunting grounds. They could roast water lily bulbs and the roots of ferns, pick pandanus fruit and hunt birds, reptiles, bats, bandicoots and koalas. They could hunt or net dugong, dolphin and turtle and harvest a wide range of fish and shellfish. One small island in particular lay tantalisingly close to the mainland and they named it for its distinctive iron-coloured cliffs: “kutchi mudlo” (red stone).

20150609_100632Stones on the island showed they traded with people as far inland as Rosewood, west of Ipswich.  The Quandamooka used the ochre obtained from the soft red rock to decorate their bodies and shields and told Dreamtime legends that the red is the blood of a dolphin speared by a sparrow-hawk.

Coastal Aboriginal people lived in blissful ignorance of a dangerous world beyond for thousands of years. Captain Cook named Moreton Bay on his trip north in 1770 but did not explore it. Matthew Finders explored the bay in great detail aboard the Norfolk in July 1799. He landed on Coochiemudlo on what is now known as Norfolk Beach on July 19. Next month on Sunday, July 19 there will the annual recreation of that landing. Flinders assumed the Pumicestone Passage was a river and failed to spot the opening of the Brisbane River.

20150609_095533In 1823 cedar-lumberers Thomas Pamphlett, Richard Parsons, John Finnegan and John Thompson were wrecked on Moreton Island and survived with the help of friendly Aborigines. Pamphlett and Finnegan were rescued in November 1823 by Surveyor-General John Oxley, on a voyage from Sydney to find a site for a new northern colony. The two men were able to show Oxley the mouth of the Brisbane River, almost a quarter of a century after Flinders missed it. In 1824 Oxley’s recommendation that a convict settlement be established at Moreton Bay was implemented.

20150609_100235When the colony of Queensland was declared in 1859, bullock teams swum over from the mainland to Coochiemudlo to drag felled trees to the sea. Coochiemudlo was also used for oyster farming in the 1880s by the Moreton Bay Oyster Company until ravaged by a marine mud worm at the turn of that century. The islands were also becoming popular as a recreation resort for wealthy Brisbanites, and tourist steamers plied the Bay.

20150609_110929In 1887, the western half of Coochiemudlo was subdivided one acre lots which owners turned into market gardens producing bananas, passion fruit, grapes, paw paw, pineapples, tomatoes, vegetables and flowers. Despite an auction of 90 lots of crown land in early 1888 there was initially little interest from anyone settling on the island. The earliest residents were father and son Henry and Norman Wright who camped there for four years amid the sandflies and mosquitoes before leaving “this god forsaken place” about 1900.

The unoccupied land was exploited for timber and cattle grazing. It wasn’t until after the First World War that two injured veterans Doug Morton and Eric Gordon started to share-farm on the island. Gordon did not stay long but Morton, who survived Gallipoli and the Somme, found he could survive Coochiemudlo too, and lived there for 40 years.

20150609_102144In 1921 he married Mary Colburn from a farming family at Victoria Point and she was the only woman on the island for the next 12 years. Doug and Mary grew commercial crops and flowers, and cultivating a custard apple they named Island Gem. Doug built jetties and developed the tourist industry. Morton’s Steps on the west of the island are named for him. The Mortons left Coochiemudlo in 1966, when they felt it had become too crowded.

By then the farming era was over after Alfred Grant developed the eastern half of the island in the 1950s. Richard Marsh and Company also subdivided the north and west of the Island into tiny allotments for small holiday cottages. Sales stagnated in the 1960s and only 20 people lived permanently on Coochiemudlo by 1970.

20150609_085829A regular ferry service in the 1970s and then a vehicular barge in 1987 made the island more attractive to commuters and retirees and permanent residency increased. The foreshore was kept as a reserve keeping the pristine look from the sea.

Despite living in Brisbane for 17 years, I’d never been to the island until this week. A return 10-minute trip on the ferry from Victoria Point cost just $8 and the island felt like it was a million miles from anywhere despite being less than 40km from the centre of Brisbane.

20150609_091041The walk around the foreshore (a mixture of beach front and mangrove) took me around 90 minutes to two hours. There are only a handful of stores and cafes and they congregate around the jetty. There is supposed to be bicycle hire on the island but I did not see any evidence of that when I was there, Perhaps they only advertise on weekends. In any case, the island is ideal for walkers and nowhere is far from anyplace else on Coochie. It’s a beautiful and relaxing part of south-east Queensland, and I’ll be back – though I’m not sure I’ll be there on July 17 for the pageantry of Matthew Flinders day. What the Quandamooka make of that day I do not know, but I suspect that like Australia Day, they don’t look on it with fondness.

That Unhappy Race Part 2 – Queensland’s new and violent frontier

Bora ring, Banyo, Qld (an initiation site for young men)
Bora ring, Banyo, Qld (an initiation site for young men)

When the economic depression of the early 1840s ended, there was a rush to expand into known parts of Australia. New South Wales was settled as far west as the climate would allow and many followed the Darling River tributaries north into Queensland. Explorer Ludwig Leichhardt set off into unknown lands from the Darling Downs in 1844 and settlers were quick to follow him up the Dawson River and along the coast to Rockhampton. Newly wealthy gold profiteers from the south arrived to acquire land in the north.

The cattle and sheep they brought fouled Aboriginal waterways and there was inevitable conflict. As tit-for-tat killing escalated, whites saw it as a life or death struggle and formed punitive parties aimed at group punishment “to show the blacks a lesson”. The government ignored the growing violence on the frontier while the missionaries were discredited as being unsuccessful. Undaunted, former Moreton Bay missionary William Ridley went on a 450-mile mission of southern Queensland to understand the similarity of Aboriginal languages and he was accepted wherever he went.

Ridley could see how cattle were crowding Aboriginal people out of their country, “cut off from four-fifths of their usual supply of food”. Ridley thought the only way the pastoralists’ needs could co-exist with the Aboriginals’ needs was if the government cordoned off some portion of land to the native people. He would provide key testimony at the 1861 Select Committee on Aborigines at the Queensland Parliament.

Matters deteriorated after 1857 when eight members of the Fraser family were killed by Aboriginal people at Hornet Bank Station on the Dawson. Frontier newspapers called for an overwhelming response and they got it: At least 300 Aborigines were killed in response in the 18 months that followed. One of the first actions of the new Queensland Parliament established in 1860 was to sort out the problem – with disastrous consequences for Indigenous people.

The new Queensland Government started life broke with just seven-and-a-half pennies in the Treasury which were stolen after a few days. The Sydney government, unhappy with Queensland’s new status, billed it for ₤20,000 of work carried out before separation in 1859. New governor George Bowen needed to raise money quickly by borrowing against future earnings in land sales. Bowen rushed through the 1860 Land Act offering attractive terms on one-year leases of 100-square-mile runs. The terms insisted the runs be stocked to one-quarter capacity ahead of a second 14-year lease.

The terms suited the Pure Merinos, the squatters who settled in the Darling Downs. They dominated Queensland’s first parliament (the universal male suffrage offered in NSW was not extended north of the border). By 1861 there was a rush of gold-financed land-hungry speculators rushing north into the Kennedy, Maranoa, Warrego, Comet and Barcoo districts. Aboriginal people resisted as best they could but were overwhelmed by the native police.

One of the few voices of objection was a former officer of native police, Frederick Walker. Walker was a British emigrant who worked on central NSW properties before forming a semi-official troop to protect properties in Port Phillip. His successful work took him into the Riverina, and then north into the Macintyre and Condamine districts. Walker was developing a conscience saying squatters and Aboriginal had reciprocal rights. Yet he continued to crush Aboriginal resistance moving to the Wide Bay in 1852. Squatters didn’t like his plain-talking nor the levy they had to pay to support his troop and used his heavy drinking as an excuse to have him removed in 1854. When the native police force was halved, Aboriginal attacks increased while Walker continue to mount a private force until ordered to disband by the government in 1859.

The Hornet Brook massacre had destroyed trust between black and white and the native police had orders to “disperse any large assemblages of Blacks”. Walker wrote to the government complaining of harsh treatment by troopers and in some cases, murder. He hoped to stop this “infernal system” which had “cast a deep stain on the honour of this Colony”. While Walker saw Aboriginal people as less civilised than the British, he still saw them as human and deserving of human justice. He encouraged the use of Aboriginal labour at his Bauhinia property and those of his neighbours. Unhappy with the lack of concern shown in Queensland’s parliament, Walker sent letters to The Times in London speaking of “deliberate murder” on the frontier. However Walker unwittingly facilitated the further invasion of Aboriginal lands during his search for the missing explorers Burke and Wills opening up the Plains of Promise in the Carpentaria and the rich Burdekin River valleys.

Any hope his harsh words might be taken seriously disappeared after another massacre of whites in 1861 at Cullin-la-Ringo near the modern town of Emerald. Added to Hornet Bank, this second massacre seemed to prove Aboriginal treachery in white eyes and confirmed the Queensland Government in its policy to continue with the native police. The “live and let live” policy promoted by William Ridley and Frederick Walker was completely discredited.

“That unhappy race”: A history of Queensland’s Indigenous relations (part 1)

raceOf all the pre-Federation colonies, Queensland produced the most comprehensive legislation to deal with Aboriginal affairs. The 1897 Queensland Act was deeply flawed and would have disastrous consequences for the state’s indigenous
population in the 20th century, despite well-meaning beginnings. The Act was the brainchild of Archibald Meston who wrote to Colonial Secretary Horace Tozer in 1895 about his “carefully submitted plan for the improvement and preservation from extinction of that unhappy race.” As Gordon Reid wrote in his book “That Unhappy Race” it was the first proposal for the preservation (as opposed to protection) of Aboriginal people since white colonisation began. Reid’s book is an important examination of race relations in Queensland. As he says, it is not a study of Aboriginal people, but is concerned with colonial perceptions of a social problem involving Aborigines. Given the usual attitude was to brush “that unhappy race” under the carpet in the hope of speedy extinction, his book is an important addition to understanding 19th century Australian history, in the colony of Queensland where Aboriginal people were the most numerous.

The bill passed by Queensland’s Parliament on December 10, 1897 was called the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. Its objectives were to ensure better treatment of Aboriginal people in white employment, to
remove the unemployed to exclusive reserves, and restrict the supply of alcohol and opium. The Act applied to all Queensland Indigenous people and those who lived with them. A white “protector” was the only authorised non-Indigenous
person allowed on the reserve. Authorities issued permits lasting 12 months to white employers who wanted to use Indigenous or “half-caste” labour. Indigenous people could not move, or be moved, from one district to another
without the protector’s permission. The protector had full rights over Indigenous people at the reserve, including imprisonment for a wide range of offences. Aboriginal rites and customs were also banned.

The law was the most comprehensive response to the problem of white and Indigenous co-existence yet in Australia. The British Government optimistically obliged settlers to avoid bloodshed with native people, which proved impossible – or was at least conveniently ignored – on the ever expanding frontier. Southern colonies attempted to set up protectorates in the mid 19th century but they proved ineffective against ever-encroaching pastoralism. Towards the end of the century, most administrations had given up pretence of an Indigenous policy – the assumption was Aboriginal people were becoming extinct or at least “out of sight and out of mind”. Yet despite large scale killings by pastoralists and native police, Indigenous people remained in large numbers in Queensland and the fear of miscegenation and opium addiction convinced the government to act. It helped that Queensland’s squatter-dominated parliament saw advantages in legislation to establish a cheap labour pool of Aboriginal workers with few rights.

European meddling in Queensland Indigenous affairs began around the time of the Moreton Bay penal colony (1824-1838) when Lutheran missionaries and the colony’s chaplain tried to Christianise native people in the region. In his “Proposed System” of 1895 Meston concluded the early missionaries had no success. “It is hardly likely that Moreton Bay wild blacks of that period would have had any reverence for white men whose physique would bear no comparison with their own,” Meston wrote. By 1828 the colony housed 800 prisoners and 200 soldiers, surrounded by four distinct tribal groups, some hostile. Pioneering churchman John Dunmore Lang hired a group of 10 German evangelical Lutherans to form a mission north of the penal settlement at Zion Hill, Nundah where they had access to government rations and grew crops. Aboriginal people visited the mission to obtain food in good times but stayed away when the crops failed as they did in 1840. Life remained difficult at Zion Hill and there were no conversions, despite missions to Toorbul and other outposts.

Settlers were banned from Moreton Bay until the 1840s but that began to change when Patrick Leslie moved up from New England to establish a sheep run on the Condamine. Others followed, mounting pressure on the government to open up the colony for settlement. The penal settlement was closed down in 1842 and the government ended support for the mission as the economy slumped due to a fall in wool prices. Having failed to introduce God to the Aborigines through their bellies, the first missionaries moved on but there were others willing to take their place.

Zion Hill was abandoned by 1850 but a new mission sprung up at Caboolture. The anti-Irish Lang, convinced by his vision of a new Protestant-only colony, sent another missionary north named William Ridley but the Catholic Church also had designs on Moreton Bay sending four priests to establish a short-lived mission on Stradbroke Island in 1843. Neither Protestant nor Catholic had much success in the early days. Relations between black and white deteriorated with a flour-laced strychnine poisoning of Aboriginal people at a Kilcoy station the most prominent massacre of the early 1840s. The settlers believed the Aboriginal people were irredeemable and behaved accordingly. By the end of the 1840s, the problem was increasingly being solved by force.

Irish Lives and Australian Treaties

John Redmond plaque, Wexford.
John Redmond plaque, Wexford.

I’m over half way through a 6-week online course Trinity College Dublin is offering in Irish history called “Irish Lives:1912-1923″. Not part of any degree and no real certificate at the end but being free and having 17,000 participants it sounded intriguing. I learned about it a week after it started so I’m still wading through Week 4 as this week 5 ends.

I wasn’t sure I needed a third history project to go my study into an Australian Treaty with its Indigenous People, and a biography of Irish-Australian James Dalton. The Treaty is something I’ve come to believe in while Dalton had an amazing life surviving orphanhood in the Irish famine to being in a gold rush in Australia and ending up one of the wealthiest and most influential Catholics in the country. I thought the Trinity course might offer perspectives on Dalton because his son-in-law John Redmond was so important in Ireland from 1912 to his death in 1918. A Wexford man, he represented New Ross in parliament before moving to Waterford. Brother Willy later became MP for Wexford and he was the only MP to be killed in action in the First World War.

John and Willy’s 1883 visit to Australia brought the Dalton and Redmond families together. Dalton was one of Redmond’s biggest supporters in Australia and he paid a heavy price, losing a magistrate position on claims of treason. The Redmonds repaid their support in kind. John married Dalton’s half sister Johanna, Willy married Dalton’s daughter Eleanor. I wondered if Redmond’s Australian family influenced his thinking as he took thousands of Irish to war in 1914.

I am enjoying Irish Lives immensely, despite playing catch up. The video lectures make us think about individual motivation and there is plenty of digitised primary material to study. The Bureau of Military History is full of great stories from the era. I’ve really enjoyed Muriel MacSwiney (Terence’s widow on how she got into politics through nationalist newspapers and the conviviality of a Cork bookshop), Ned Broy (on the organisation of the DMP and the looting during the 1916 Rising) and some Waterford ones John Riordan and Paddy Paul who both fought continuously in wars from 1914 to 1923 (both ending up as Free Staters).

Paddy Paul followed the wishes of his local MP. When John Redmond said they should go to England’s war for Ireland he went to that war. Paul was in an Irish regiment in Macedonia during Easter 1916 and Ireland’s Rising was never far from their minds. All the men openly cheered for good news from the rebels, who fought against the army they were serving in. Most of the Irish soldiers abroad joined the Volunteers in 1919. By then Redmond was dead and his dream of Home Rule dashed. Paul came back to fight the British in Waterford.

There was a second semi-related reason I took on Irish Lives. I hoped the 1912-1923 period in Ireland might also inform my thinking about treaties in Australia. Most people in Ireland accepted the Treaty process was legitimate even though they were split by the outcome. The most interesting thing I’ve found is the full text of Robert Brennan’s book “Allegiance”. Brennan was an important Sinn Feiner and undersecretary for foreign affairs 1921-1922 as well as being the fledgling regime’s publicity officer.

Brennan reminded me of another Irish Treaty, The 1691 Treaty of Limerick, that confirmed Protestant rule in Ireland. Brennan quotes Erskine Childers saying the Irish underestimated the British who always found ways “to repudiate their signatures”.

Brennan also speaks of a meeting he had with Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins in 1921 as both Ireland and Britain looked for a way out of the war. Brennan said a man wanted to meet them, believed to be a British spy named Tom Jones (it’s not unusual). Brennan told Dev and Collins that Jones said he knew people in London who could bring a settlement. Collins replied eagerly that they should meet him and find out his game. De Valera said no, he didn’t want to meet a spy. Instead he told Brennan to give Jones a message.”(M)y opinion is that the British should offer to negotiate a Treaty with Ireland as a separate state. We can meet on this ground”.

“Meet on this ground”. So Dev, so devious, so delicious. De Valera wanted to meet as equals, a respect the British rarely accorded the Irish. Nor could British acolytes in Australia offer that respect either. John Redmond had suffered great abuse from the press when he visited Australia back in 1883. Redmond told Australia, he simply wanted what the Australian colonies already had: a home parliament within the empire. The newspapers would have none of it. Australia was too far away and rule from London was impractical. Ireland on the other hand, the Brisbane Courier said, “was an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain”. It was preposterous, the paper said “to suppose any Englishman loyal to his country can sanction the disintegration involved in any national Home Rule for Ireland.”

Britain was at the height of her imperial powers in the 1880s and Australia wanted its reflected glory as a Little Britain of the South Seas, and its humble beginnings as a prison colony among a native of “savages” was deliberately forgotten in this new narrative. White colonists ruled by the gun and never had to treat with the Indigenous people it encountered in Australia. By the time of the events of Irish Lives, the colonies had come together in a white federation. The Aboriginal people were written out of the young nation’s constitution, forgotten and expected to die off.

Though things have improved, Australia has never offered to treat Indigenous people for its thefts. They need to do as the English did with De Valera, negotiate as a state and “meet on this ground”.