“In this land there’s a race that time forgot,
And for the land – in this time the race was shot,
Under-estimation, no conciliation,
Got to be blatant, speaking to the nation”
Lyrics from Neva Mend by NoKTuRNL
I have just finished reading James Boyce’s 1835 – The Founding of Melbourne & the Conquest of Australia.
History seems to invariably paint humans as pretty bad, and 1835 is not happy reading. Within five years basically, Victorian Aboriginals were pretty much wiped out, and through it all the official policy was one of protection and acknowledgement of the aboriginal peoples’ rights to continue using their land, in tandem with the settlers’ rights to graze stock.
Law and policy makers claimed that they couldn’t stop the expansion of squatters into new areas, even if they wished to. Therefore they were better accepting it was going to happen and controlling it as best they could. Aboriginal people would fare better this way than if nothing else was done, so therefore this was in the ‘best interests’ of Aboriginal people. The consequence, that in five years effectively what was in the ‘best interests’ of Aboriginal people led to their annihilation!
Boyce concludes however that there was a choice. Whilst law and policy makers claimed that the reality precluded them from acting differently, in effect they acquiesced to those who had the most to gain, whilst continuing rhetorically to pretend that wasn’t the case. They ignored this incongruity because politically it was in their own best interests to do so.
Not much different to how things are now really in the sense of the rhetoric versus the reality.
Boyce poses the question – “Could there be a connection between the ingrained assumption that the squatter conquest of Australia could not have been slowed down and properly regulated, and the national difficulty in imagining that governments might do the same to coalminers today?”
“Governments continue to be seen as powerless to regulate effectively the invasion of the continent. Enterprise remains imbued with a quasi – divine energy beyond the means of flesh – and – blood people to control. The land rush (post 1835) is still presented as a natural wonder in which the human agency never stood a chance. Principle continues to be described as an irrelevant irritant in the ‘real world’ of the frontier.”
The history of Australia’s settlement, and the black story, is part of the Australian story, and should be part of the joint narrative of who we are. Many family stories include dark chapters, whether as perpetrators or as victims, and no doubt some families share both.
Ultimately there is not a black history and a white history, but our history, and it should inform us all. Unfortunately some people, including some black people, play with it loosely and don’t really want to be informed. Those that seek to emphasise division, or to claim that history, or for that matter ‘culture’, provide a mandate for discriminatory behaviour in the present, do so mostly because it backs their self interest.
We continue to pretend there is no solution to the ‘aboriginal problem’, for want of a better descriptor – that it is beyond fixing. But there are so many people profiting from the way it is, that irrespective of how the deckchairs are arranged, business is likely to continue as usual, despite the inevitable rhetoric to the contrary.
Regrettably, until all Australian’s come to share a common history, we will continue living as if alienated from the environment and a significant number of Australian’s are likely to continue living miserable lives.
Or as Bob Marley sang, “Until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, there will be war.”