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Passionate Histories

Passionate Histories: Myth, memory and Indigenous Australia

Frances Peters-Little
Ann Curthoys
John Docker
Volume: 21
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Passionate Histories
    Book Description:

    This book examines the emotional engagements of both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people with Indigenous history. The contributors are a mix of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous scholars, who in different ways examine how the past lives on in the present, as myth, memory, and history. Each chapter throws fresh light on an aspect of history-making by or about Indigenous people, such as the extent of massacres on the frontier, the myth of Aboriginal male idleness, the controversy over Flynn of the Inland, the meaning of the Referendum of 1967, and the policy and practice of Indigenous child removal.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-65-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Dedication
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxiv)

    In 2009, I gave a speech at the ‘Beyond Sport Summit’ in London on July 9. It was a speech that came directly from the heart expressing my passion for justice for the first Australians.

    When I had written the speech, I had many things to consider, for example, it was a speech that was a collaboration of my understanding of issues being faced by Indigenous Australians from the leaders in this area who I respect and admire. I had read and heard too often about the injustice that Indigenous people face everyday and as importantly I had witnessed first...

  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book was inspired initially by a conference, as many collections of essays are. The conference in our case was an Australian Studies conference held at the University of Barcelona in July 2008, organised by Sue Ballyn of the Australian Studies Centre there. The theme of the conference was Myth, Memory, and History. The papers delivered under this heading varied considerably, but a strong strand was Indigenous Australian history. John Docker, Ann Curthoys and I agreed afterwards that we would like to edit a collection of essays from the conference based on that theme. As we drew the papers together,...

  8. Part one: massacres

    • 1. The country has another past: Queensland and the History Wars
      (pp. 9-38)

      As poet/performer Leonard Cohen would have it, ‘Everybody knows the war is over/ Everybody knows the good guys lost’:² but when it comes to such consideration of the so-called ‘History Wars’ in Australia, the outcome is arguably not so cut and dried. It is possible to suggest that although an academic orthodoxy, emphasising a predominant tale of conquest migration and the multiple consequences of dispossession, comprehensively won that war intellectually, it failed to do so culturally. The neoconservative challenge that posits a benign Australian exceptionalism in the global saga of colonisation, and which comes more from outside the history profession...

    • 2. ‘Hard evidence’: the debate about massacre in the Black War in Tasmania
      (pp. 39-50)

      The Black War in Tasmania 1823–1834, is widely perceived by historians as one of the best documented of all Australia’s colonial frontier wars. Yet debate still rages about whether massacres were a defining feature and whether they accounted for the deaths of many Aborigines. As Keith Windschuttle has pointed out, this is an important debate because it reflects on the character of the Australian nation and the behaviour of its colonial forbears in seizing control of Aboriginal land.

      This paper reviews the debate from its origins in 1835 to where it stands today. It largely concerns the issue of...

    • 3. Epistemological vertigo and allegory: thoughts on massacres, actual, surrogate, and averted – Beersheba, Wake in Fright, Australia
      (pp. 51-72)

      Massacres of Indigenous people are both remembered and not remembered, creating in white Australian consciousness a confused energy around the ways Indigenous history is understood.¹ Massacres occurred from the 1790s, early in British settlement of the continent, through the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth. Yet because this feature of Indigenous history is rarely faced directly or frankly, it emerges in popular culture indirectly, as in Freud’s image of psychic unease, where that which is repressed will always find ways to disturb the surface of consciousness. What is feared is that one’s society, if accused of having committed extreme...

  9. Part two: myths

    • 4. Remembering the referendum with compassion
      (pp. 75-98)

      In May 1967, Australian voters were asked to vote in a referendum to determine whether two references in the Australian Constitution, which discriminated against Aboriginal people, should be removed.² The first reference was section 51, which stated that:

      The Parliament shall, have the power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to, clause xxvi, that the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.

      The second was section 127, which stated that:

      In reckoning the numbers of the people...

    • 5. Idle men: the eighteenth-century roots of the Indigenous indolence myth
      (pp. 99-122)

      One of the most devastating and enduring myths about Indigenous people is that they are ‘“lazy”, “indolent”, “slothful”, “erratic” and “roving”’ and simply ‘don’t want to work’.¹ In their historiographic study of Indigenous labour history Ann Curthoys and Clive Moore urged historians to ‘come to terms with the popular racist assumption that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders did not work’.² Many have challenged this myth by examining diverse aspects of Australia’s colonial history. Some have claimed that Indigenous people were given little incentive to work, sometimes receiving pitiful rations or brutal treatment, while others have uncovered little-known histories of Indigenous...

    • 6. ‘These unoffending people’: myth, history and the idea of Aboriginal resistance in David Collins’ Account of the English Colony in New South Wales
      (pp. 123-140)

      Until the development of the discipline of Aboriginal history in the 1970s, the accepted conclusion of most Australian historians in the twentieth century was that the country was settled peacefully with little resistance from Aboriginal people. The scholarship of Aboriginal history has analysed and complicated this notion of peaceful settlement right across the country and throughout the history of colonisation. In the recent historiography of the very beginning of white settlement, however, the first five years of British settlement around Port Jackson are largely depicted as ‘peaceful’, in contrast to later periods of settler violence on the frontier. Alan Atkinson...

    • 7. Demythologising Flynn, with Love: contesting missionaries in Central Australia in the twentieth century
      (pp. 141-160)

      Central Australia was (and is) both a mythical and a contested landscape. The historical contest there was not always confined to whites and Indigenous people, or to land-hungry settlers and distant administrators. Nor were its myths only ancient, indigenous ones. One of the better known Australian ‘myths’ is that of John Flynn (1880–1951), the founder of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) and the man who through the innovative Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) brought medical assistance to people isolated in the Australian outback. The canonisation of Flynn commenced in 1932 with Ion Idriess’s book, Flynn of the Inland, which...

  10. Part three: memory and oral history

    • 8. Paul Robeson’s visit to Australia and Aboriginal activism, 1960
      (pp. 163-184)

      Paul Robeson, a famous African American singer with a deep bass voice who brought a dramatic opera singing style to popular songs and was best known for his rendition of the timeless ‘Ol’ Man River’, visited Australia in October and November 1960. The Australian Peace Council had invited him in 1950; soon afterwards, the United States government had confiscated his passport because of his communist sympathies and loyalty to the Soviet Union.¹ When his passport was returned in 1958, Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda went on many singing tours, in an effort to earn some of the money lost...

    • 9. Using poetry to capture the Aboriginal voice in oral history transcripts
      (pp. 185-202)

      This paper is a part of an ongoing research project I have been involved with since commencing my PhD at the University of New England. My interest in the documentation of oral histories, in particular my own community of Weilmoringle,¹ has been the main focus of my concerns since becoming an early career academic in 2004. Although I left my community several years ago, I continue to hold a strong (and in some ways complex) connection to my traditional country and the people who come from there. Most of the participants I refer to in this paper are Aboriginal members...

  11. Part four: identity, myth and memory

    • 10. Making a debut: myths, memories and mimesis
      (pp. 205-218)

      The ‘first’ Aboriginal debutante ball, held in 1968 in Sydney’s Town Hall, like a lot of other ‘firsts’ in history, had a number of historical precedents. Since the early 1960s, smaller-scale local Aboriginal debutante balls had been held in country towns and on Aboriginal reserves around Australia, from Dubbo in New South Wales to Cherbourg in Queensland.¹ While significant locally and to those who participated these events were largely ignored outside the communities in which they took place. But in 1968, a year after the ‘landslide’ referendum when 90.77 per cent of Australians voted ‘Yes to Aboriginal Rights’, a Sydney-based...

    • 11. Identity and identification: Aboriginality from the Spanish Civil War to the French Ghettos
      (pp. 219-228)

      Postcolonial studies, Indigenous politics, Aboriginal self-determination, Aboriginal claims in the United Nations, the image of Aboriginal people in France: these are the topics I have studied in the last 12 years. I have come to realise that I have also been researching my own history. I am not saying my story is part of Indigenous history – I am very far from indigenous: I am a product of exile. I am from nowhere, my parents even had Nansen passports for apatrids and refugees (they have always said they had apatrid passports only, as if their country had completely disappeared for them)....

    • 12. Urban Aboriginal ceremony: when seeing is not believing
      (pp. 229-246)

      I am an anthropologist. Like all anthropologists my research methodology is entrenched in participant observation fieldwork and like many anthropologists, my writing practice is primarily ethnographic. Following Ortner, ethnography encompasses many things, but minimally means ‘the attempt to understand another life world using the self – as much of it as possible – as the instrument of knowing’.¹ That is, through long-term embodied engagement in relationships with research participants and their life worlds the researcher learns. By analysing one’s own experience of learning about an ‘other’ life world the classical ethnographer is committed to writing what Geertz called a ‘thick description’.² Ortner...

    • 13. Island Home Country: working with Aboriginal protocols in a documentary film about colonisation and growing up white in Tasmania
      (pp. 247-278)

      ‘We have been very happy here in the territory of the Nuenone people. Has any one of us paused to do a reckoning?’³ In the midst of the ‘History Wars’ of the early 2000s, these words by historian Cassandra Pybus spoke to me. Born in the late 1940s into an Irish Celtic family, I grew up white in 1950s Tasmania, and knew no Tasmanian Aboriginal people and little of their culture.⁴ Now, more than five decades later, it was time to do my own reckoning. I wanted to penetrate the ‘silence’ around my childhood imaginary of this island, and then...

  12. Part five: the Stolen Generations

    • 14. Reconciliation without history: state crime and state punishment in Chile and Australia
      (pp. 281-298)

      Chile in the 1990s struggled to confront the brutal oppression of the left during the Pinochet years (1973–1990). In the same period, Australia struggled to confront the brutal persecution of its Indigenous minority, especially the Stolen Generations (1788–1970s). My paper asks: did the enquiries into state repression by the two nations encourage or impede national understandings of their pasts? Did they lead to national reconciliation? Do we expect too much of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions?

      The psychologist Elizabeth Lira and the political scientist Brian Loveman examined a number of formal and informal strategies developed in Chile over two...

    • 15. Overheard – conversations of a museum curator
      (pp. 299-308)

      I am a curator at the National Museum of Australia, a social history museum that opened in 2001. I work in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program. One of my tasks in 2007 was to re-vamp an older exhibit on one of the key threads in Indigenous history, the removal of Aboriginal children from their communities. The exhibit includes the story of Link-Up, the organisation that reunites Aboriginal families dismembered by the policies of child removal. In this chapter, I track this task from a curatorial perspective, outlining some of the questions I have faced over the past three...

    • 16. On the significance of saying ‘sorry’: Apology and reconciliation in Australia
      (pp. 309-324)

      As an observer of Aboriginal politics over the past ten years, I have followed closely the outcome of three federal elections wondering if a change of leadership in Australia would really result in an apology. Last year, I was privileged to witness a significant moment in Australian history. On 13 February 2008, I was on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra, with some Aboriginal people and some other Australians, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said ‘sorry’ to the Indigenous peoples of the country.

      The Australian Apology has already paved the way for other important gestures worldwide. On 6 June...