While sitting on The Homesite waiting for The Man to get back from down south while he is on a mission of his own, I have been exploring the free “on demand” telly options over the Internet. A remarkable series, which I have found free to air, is the SBS series “First Australians”.
I have long whinged about the neglect our Aussie education system has for the truths in our history. History is important, it helps build a sense of national identity and worth and while our children are kept in ignorance we can expect all manner of misinformation, ignorance and just plain pain expressed in our society by many sectors of our diverse nation.
Our colonial history is more often misrepresented or just plain lied about. We largely ignore our convict history and its abuses and you can read a few accounts of the actual experience of convicts in our formative national experience under the tab overhead “Flash Fiction”. These personal accounts are of people in my own family and have been deeply researched. The few short stories given here are also just a very small collection, there are many more yet to be told and over time I hope to bring these true tales to you. It however this intent takes time.
Our convict history is often ignored in it’s reality, even when the practices exercised and developed during this period were to become a reflection of what was to happened to our indigenous Australians decades later. This is something little recognised or even talked about.
The series on the “First Australians” presented by “Aunties” SBS arm, is a remarkable series that recounts a lot of truths in our history from the Aboriginal perspective and it is something that every Aussie should watch. We are without doubt kept in the dark in regards to our colonial history on many issues and this has led to so many uninformed opinions. We are told that it was a racial struggle between two clashing cultures however the evidence does not bear up to this opinion.
The Australian colonial struggle was a humanitarian and social struggle, not a racial one. Much of the Australian colonial society was in sympathy with the often brutalized plight of the First Australians experience in its clash with the invading world. This can be born out by the news reports and many of the legal accounts of the day where people were tried for their crimes against a native people and we can gain an insight to society by looking at these legal accounts bought before the courts. This so much so that the Government of the day made it illegal for frontier accounts to be published if they mentioned the activities of the Native Police.
The truth is most murders and massacres found within the truer and more recent history of our tribal people were conducted by Aboriginal Native Police over some 50 years of its existence in the later 1800’s, this under the often sociopathic guidance of individuals born of a brutal English colonial rule. The Government was then bent on a horrendous land grab as it struggled to establish a new society in an ancient land. It was the same rule of Government, which brutalized the convicts from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland many of who were mistreated and murdered in these colonial times. This was the same Government which made it illegal to even report in the news-sheets of the day, the activities and methods of the Native Police Force.
This force was made up of tribal warriors who had been disenfranchised, those who were seeking employment and the advantages of the colonial society. They sort out the traditional notoriety of the Aboriginal warrior and the appeal this bought within their own societies. It must be remembered that Aboriginal men were then traditionally warriors who protected their own societies or mobs in clan like communities and Aboriginal clans had traditionally warred with each other for entertainment as well as advantage. They were fighting men and this was their traditional role within their own social structures and culture. They were accustomed too, and highly skilled at fighting, tracking and survival in the bush. They saw nothing wrong in tracking and killing those who were described as tribal “Myalls” of their own race, but who were of different mobs/clans. It was not a racial conflict, but a humanitarian one.
Many have said that the “whitefella” should feel shame at their treatment of the “blackfella” and while there is no denying the brutalizing and murder than went on, and it was shameful, however it isn’t about whiteman against blackman. My ancestors were whitefella’s largely, but we too were also brutalized as convicts and many also died, or were murdered in this time of brutalization with inhuman laws and social practices that were common place and largely accepted. To neglect or forget our history, both noteworthy and brutal is a disservice to those who suffered, as much as it is to those who triumphed over adversity.
I am not only talking of convict men and women, but of babies and children. Many of these children were born of convicts as well as native women. Babies who were victimized and murdered often en-mass and in institutions as well as amongst the native people. The colonial institutions or “orphanages” were designed to supposedly protect these children, this under English colonial rule as well as those kids born into tribal lore and custom who were commonly killed. I personally cannot feel shame for something that my ancestors were also victims of, what I feel instead is empathy between the tribal Australian’s and the convicts. Our colonial history truly needs some honesty in its recount.
The series “The First Australians” is an excellent, informative and entertaining series, which presents a broader view than ever seen before. There is a great deal of comparison that can be drawn between the indigenous experience and the convict experience. Both had their children routinely forcibly removed from their care however this, with the convict, was long before the Aboriginal Protectorate bodies came into being. These “free born” kids were murdered by neglect often, or indentured into the servant class if old enough, this with little or no pay, as were their parents.
Convicts, even children, mostly who had often committed menial crimes of property and social crimes related to survival, were duly condemned as criminals and institutionalized. They were transported and incarcerated along with those who had committed more serious crimes, this in remote penal communities such as Newcastle, Port Arthur, Norfolk Island and many others. The general belief is that they were “let loose” once they arrived into Australia and while in those first years this might have been the case it certainly didn’t last longer than a few years, or beyond what was the tent settlement in a vast wilderness. For the remaining 60 odd years of the convict era (a life time) it was a very different and often brutal experience.
Women and children were commonly incarcerated in settlements or institutions, some known as ‘Female Factories’. They were often prostituted out as well as used for labour and the men were commonly brutalised both socially and physically. These places of ‘convict management’ were endemic of Australian colonial society and mostly run by the Government of the day. Many convicts were children removed from their country, so much so that Point Puer, a gaol for children, was formed to deal with them. Point Puer was a boys institution. The girls or young women were commonly prostituted or forced into servitude under the different systems of management developed during the 70 odd years of convict deportation. All “convicts” were dragged from their homeland, all were trained to be servants for who were viewed in society as their “betters”. Most were brutalized, many murdered, raped and victimized by their own society, by a segregated “upper” class that prospered under colonial rule. There were some 160 thousand people exiled to the Australian colonies as convicts.
However it is time we dispensed with the common “racially” based conclusions in our history and instead looked at the real picture of our own broader colonial experience.
They Have Come to Stay – This landmark series chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia as never told before, from the perspective of its first people. It explores what unfolds when the oldest living culture in the world is overrun by the world’s greatest empire, and depicts the true stories of individuals – both black and white. The story begins in 1788 in Sydney with the friendship between an Englishmen, Governor Phillip, and a warrior, Bennelong. (Commissioned by SBS) (Documentary Series) PG CC
Her Will to Survive : Trugannini in a Tasmanian Story – When the land grab moves south to Tasmania, in an effort to protect the real estate prices, it is decided to remove the Tasmanian Aboriginal people from the island.
Freedom for Our Lifetime: The threat of extinction hovers over the first Australians of Victoria at the time Wurundjeri clan leader Simon Wonga seeks land from the authorities. This is the remarkable story of the fight for freedom of the people from the Victorian tribes and the work of a remarkable colonial emigrant.
There is No Other Law: Supported by pastoralists keen to make their fortune, the homicidal police officer Constable Willshire, brings mayhem to the Arrernte nation in Central Australia. Acknowledging the valiant work of Baldwin Spencer and F J Gillen in helping the First Australians.
An Unhealthy Government Experiment: Jandamurra is born on a cattle station in the Kimberley in the 1870s. His hybrid life takes a bloody turn when he trades in his status as a police tracker for his own people. This is the story of a member of the Native Police and his cultural struggle who becomes a Freedom Fighter for his people. Also Gladys Gilligan, a woman of mixed cultures and race who was a victim of the policy to remove light skinned children from their mothers during the 20th century.
A Fair Deal for a Black Race: South-Eastern Australia 1937-1967. Yorta Yorta man William Cooper forms the Australian Aborigines League in 1933 to continue his life-long campaign for equality.
We are No Longer Shadows: Eddie Koiki Mabo fights for Australian law to recognise that his people own Murray Island, where they have lived for generations.
For further discussion on the Ancient Aboriginal Australians check out the tab above “Australia an Ancient Land”