I have just read a most amazing book ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ by Timothy Bottoms, a deeply researched account of Colonial Australia and events, which are largely hidden in our history. A very difficult book to read through it is none the less one of the most important collection of colonial accounts, which has ever graced my research shelves.
It raises many issues and helps to settle many questions of a past in colonial Australia, which has been hidden in hypocrisy, deceit and shame. Australia’s colonial history is my history. It is a history that is largely if not completely ignored in the education of our kids. Our schools teach what is a English history to Aussie kids and in doing so completely ignore our social and cultural diversity and it can be argued that this gives rise to racial dissention within our society today. Our current education in history is failing to give our kids an understanding about their truly diverse heritage in pretending we are all of English descent which is simply not true. We aren’t even English by majority!
Research has always been a love of mine and discovering my own families colonial history has been one of my greatest pleasures in life. As a young woman I sort out the stories that my Grandmothers, and Great Grandmothers could tell and spent many hours sitting around the table, china teapots often at hand and plates laden with cakes and sandwiches while I listened to their childhood experiences with a hunger to understand a world that was then long passed.
Visiting an elderly Grandmother in Toowoomba was a special treat as this branch of the family had a fascinating history. As a young girl born in the 1880’s she saw much of what was the late frontier of colonial Australia and would talk of tall dusky natives who would work the farms at Gowrie Junction in the back blocks of Toowoomba, this in exchange for food or a few pennies.
This very dear old soul could recount for me the cooking fires down at the creek and the hunger of dark women who stood at the kitchen door looking for bread, flour or tea while she played as a child with the dark skinned kids in the dust of the fields.
I listened to many tales about how these tribal people faded from her life to be replaced by lighter coloured young shepherd’s and farm workers, those who had once played in the dusty fields with her. The stories were wonderful! Touched as they were by other visual memories of seeing lean warriors standing away off against the bush, those who stayed back perhaps guarding their women and children as they waited, the tall spears vivid against the backdrop of wild stands of trees. They would stand there for hours while their women did jobs around the outstation in exchange for the food they received. They were rich tales and I loved to hear them, tales that have now passed with the passing of time. I even recently published a candid colonial account of a relative which came to my hands some years ago called Nulla Nulla, this of a young man growing up in the Hunter Valley region of NSW and his stories of living with his own Grandparents.
This book I have recently read, Conspiracy of Silence speaks of an earlier time. It is of a time when the frontier moved rapidly with the squatters who blazed trails across a virgin land and the land grab that occurred in their wake. It is of the Killing times.
I also have a rich convict ancestry and my families relationship with the tribal people who first inhabited this land held no stories of murder and mayhem. I couldn’t relate to the things that I heard whispered around me, the massacres and murders said to have been committed and this left me confused. I was unable to understand or even empathise as it was an alien and a strange account outside my own personal knowledge.
I now understand why this was the case. In large, the convicts got on well with the aboriginal people, they had a common enemy in the English autocracy. The two cultures of the menial class melded to become an emerging social class which was the majority. In colonial times it was even termed as the difference between the Currency Kids and the Sterling. Even the colonial emigrants of this nation, the Prussian, German, Scottish and Irish and so many more … got on reasonably well with the Aboriginal population and those born between the cultures which are the vast majority of us in Australia.
The killing times … the atrocities committed by the landed class of largely English who looked to replicate a social structure and dynasties that ultimately failed. These killing times were also a clash between blackfella’s from other mobs, sent up against a tribal people with all the ferocity of partly civilized warriors fighting on a frontier front. The history of the Native Police Force is a history largely hidden even though they operated for some 70 years and outnumbered the English policing force in Queensland by a huge margin.
We have all heard the word ‘invasion’ in relationship to the colonization of Australia. We are told by some that this was in fact a war … one which was undeclared and insidious in its nature. I personally can’t see how a rag tag collection of ships full of largely social felons, those who struggled in the face of starvation for decades in one of the remotes places on the colonial maps can be construed as an invading army.
But what has become more obvious to me is that to say it was an invasion force, to imply that it was a war is a disservice to the many thousands of tribal people who suffered and were slaughtered on the frontier push for land by the Squattocracy in colonial Australia. You see in upholding this view that it was an invasion instead of a fiscal land grab is to dismiss or sanctify what were true atrocities in the murder of a tribal people. Acts of war hold certain sanctities in the killing of adversaries; abhorrent and inhuman acts of murder, torture, driven by blind ignorant greed do not.
The same can be said for the claims of genocide, which are often bandied about when talking of these killing times in what was the frontier of colonial Australia as it swept across the land. Is it really genocide with a blackfella takes up a gun and shoots another blackfella who is holding a spear? Or when a woman is raped and murdered by a man of her creed, an act that has a tribal history and a certain cultural acceptance. Is it genocide when a baby is slaughtered by someone of the same culture; a culture born of survival where infanticide has an ancient history in practice? Or is it just blatant murder?
To judge what we see as abhorrent acts of cruelty and inhumanity by the standards and through the goggles of another time is foolhardy, but to dismiss them as something else such as some do in protesting they are acts of war, or purely practices of culture is also equally ignorant if not downright hideous. The inhumanity of man in dealing with is own is well known and at some point we need to accept that some have a deeper propensity to violence given remote circumstances that are thankfully no longer normal.
The killing times of Australian colonial history has a need to be accounted and we need to have an understanding of just what occurred in our history, by whom and for what reason or purpose. This broad lack of knowledge and account has come about because of the failures in our education. It leads to so much misunderstanding amongst Australians and it is dangerous. It is often used to shore up a position of ignorance, fostering a certain blind arrogance. This is the same arrogance that led to these atrocities in our history in the first place.
The Conspiracy of Silence, by Timothy Bottoms should available in schools, as a lesson in what was a brutal and often secretive history, which we as a people need to come to terms with.
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To read more about the Jans works, or explore the world of the Australian Aboriginal Shaman told in a fictional tale and to discover other works on traveling around Aus. visit my web at http://janhawkins.com.au and check out the discounts available for my readers and friends on ‘Where to find Jan’s Books’.