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In the Eye of the Beholder

In the Eye of the Beholder: What Six Nineteenth-century Women Tell Us About Indigenous Authority and Identity

Barbara Dawson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    In the Eye of the Beholder
    Book Description:

    This book offers a fresh perspective in the debate on settler perceptions of Indigenous Australians. It draws together a suite of little known colonial women (apart from Eliza Fraser) and investigates their writings for what they reveal about their attitudes to, views on and beliefs about Aboriginal people, as presented in their published works. The way that reader expectations and publishers’ requirements slanted their representations forms part of this analysis.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-96-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Notice to Indigenous Readers
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    In the words of J J Healy, ‘The destruction of the Aboriginal society went hand in hand with the formation of a European society’.¹ My aim in this book is to help write the story of Indigenous Australians into the Australian legend by resurrecting pockets of insight of Aboriginal culture before, or soon after, its subjugation and reassessment after British settlement. In doing so, I look at aspects of Indigenous social and culture life at the time of first or early contact, as represented in the reports or published memoirs of six colonial women. The book probes how the perception...

  8. 1. Sowing the Seeds for Nineteenth-century and Early Twentieth-century Women’s Writing
    (pp. 1-8)

    The British, secure in the knowledge that they belonged to the world’s greatest empire, considered themselves superior to native peoples in culture and understanding. This perception was bolstered by prevailing nineteenth-century attitudes and theories. Scientific racial theories about the place of humans in nature proliferated during the nineteenth century. The polygenist view, espoused by the social philosopher David Hume in 1742, was that there were different species of humans, exhibiting different characteristics, but all inferior to the white race.² The monogenist idea was of a chain of being, linked in a one-dimensional natural progression from simplest animal to humans, originating...

  9. Part A Adventurers

    • 2. Early Perceptions of Aborigines—Eliza Fraser’s Legacy: ‘Through a Glass Darkly’
      (pp. 11-28)

      As the first white woman to meet Aborigines and to tell her tale, Eliza Fraser’s story was bound to have an impact. It has become a famous, archetypal encounter between a white woman and Australia’s Indigenous people and, from its earliest days, it was a powerful and influential tale that helped generate fear and prejudice about Aborigines and the frontier. Her tale of shipwreck on 21 May 1836, her 52 days with the Ka’bi people and her subsequent ‘rescue’ and return to white settlement on 22 August 1836 became so well known and so thoroughly worked over, that women writing...

    • 3. Literary Excesses—Eliza Davies: Imagination and Fabrication
      (pp. 29-50)

      Eliza Davies (formerly Arbuckle) was well educated, well read and well travelled. All these factors influenced the way she wrote about Indigenous Australians in her 570-page autobiography,The Story of an Earnest Life: A Woman’s Adventures in Australia and in Two Voyages Around the World.² Eliza met Aborigines briefly when, in 1839, aged 18 years, she joined the explorer Charles Sturt and the South Australian governor, George Gawler, for a five weeks’ tour of the lower reaches of the Murray River. At the time, she was employed by Sturt as a servant, or second nursemaid. Keen to promote inland settlement...

    • 4. Queensland Frontier Adventure—Emily Cowl: Excitement and Humour
      (pp. 51-70)

      Just as Eliza Davies sought to entertain her North American readers with an exaggerated depiction of Aborigines, so Emily Cowl’s aim was to evoke the excitement of living amongst Indigenous Australians on the Queensland frontier in the 1870s. Initially presenting her tale to a Pioneers Club in Brisbane, her two lectures were published asSome of My Experiences during a voyage to the Gulf of Carpentaria and three years’ residence at Normanton in the early Seventiesin about 1912.² Her publisher, Besley & Pike Ltd, printed works into the mid-twentieth century on politically conservative topics such as the Australian (later...

  10. Part B Settlers:: Changing the Racial Landscape

    • 5. An Early, Short-term Settler—Katherine Kirkland: Valuable Insights Through the Silences
      (pp. 73-98)

      Just as Indigenous authority shone through in the literary representation of Emily Cowl, so too did Wathaurong curiosity and humour, pride in country and authority over their land find their way into the work of the short-term settler Katherine Kirkland.

      Like Eliza Davies, whose five-week exploratory tour took her through Indigenous lands, Katherine Kirkland entered the country of the Wathaurong (also known as Watha wurrung or Wada warrung) in 1839. For a little over two years, she lived among the Moner balug clan at Trawalla, now in the Western District of present day Victoria. Unlike Davies, who waited for 40...

    • 6. Mary McConnel: Christianising the Aborigines?
      (pp. 99-124)

      Mary McConnel lived among the local Indigenous peoples on two properties: on her husband’s sheep and cattle property, Cressbrook, near Toogoolawah,² 25 kilometres north of Esk and 200 kilometres north-west of Brisbane and, from 1849 to 1853 at their agricultural farm, Toogoolawah, later Bulimba, on the south side of the Brisbane River, eight kilometres downstream from the settlement. Her memoir,Memories of Days long gone by. By the Wife of an Australian Pioneer,covers her life’s experiences up to 1878, set down for the sake of her children. It is the textual representation of a white colonial woman’s assumed racial...

    • 7. Australian-born Settler—Rose Scott Cowen: Acknowledging Indigenous Humanity and Integrity
      (pp. 125-150)

      Rose Scott Cowen lived in outback Queensland for most of her life and recalled her knowledge of Indigenous people candidly and directly. In 1961, the year in which she turned 82, The Wentworth Press, Sydney, published herCrossing Dry Creeks: 1879 to 1919, a 190-page autobiography of unstructured, sometimes repetitious, anecdotal prose, which fitted the publisher’s ethos of supporting Australian authors (many of them women) writing on literary, historical or biographical subjects.

      The metaphor in the title came from western Queensland imagery of the disappointment, even threat to life, when a thirsty traveller came to a dry creekbed that he...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 151-154)

    This book offers a fresh perspective in the debate on settler perceptions of Indigenous Australians. Specifically, it explores the influences of publishers’ requirements and reader expectations on the way Aborigines were represented in published works. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the study, its literary representations take the place of more ‘straightforward’ historical accounts. The writer’s need to entertain her audience, as well as to ‘educate’ them, often led her to incorporate the traits and language of popular literary trends. Two of these were English Victorian romantic fiction, and the ‘ripping yarn’ adventure narrative, popular from the late nineteenth century....

  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 155-156)
  13. Appendix A: The Works of the Women Writers
    (pp. 157-158)
  14. Appendix B: The Works of Other Australian Women Writers Referred to in this Book
    (pp. 159-160)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-190)
  16. Index
    (pp. 191-196)