The Passing of the Aborigines, Daisy Bates

From the time she arrived in Western Australia in 1899, Daisy Bates wrote and lectured about the Aboriginal peoples she lived amongst and whose languages and customs it became her life’s work to record. The Passing of the Aborigines came about when in the 1930s Ernestine Hill persuaded Bates, and spent some time working with her, to get her papers into a form acceptable to a publisher. If I have my facts right, this work was initially serialised in newspapers as My Natives and I in 1936.

Hill’s work was completely unacknowledged, and the edition I have, a 2009 reprint, continues that tradition by failing to list any earlier edition or publishing history, or even the sources of the individual stories. I can only imagine that Bates’ work is now out of copyright. Trove (the website of the National Library of Australia) has the initial publisher as Murray, London, 1938 (up till now I had thought 1944) followed a year later by Putnam, New York.

Trove also shows there is another work by Bates, not published until 1985 (Bates died in 1951) The Native Tribes of Western Australia edited by Isobel White*. Bates early on adopted the name Kabbarli, meaning grandmother, which name was apparently recognised by the Aborigines of all the many language groups with which she worked. Using ‘Kabbarli’ as a search term on Trove brings up 2,920 Australian newspaper articles, giving some idea of how widely her journalism was syndicated. She was also well known overseas, but I don’t know how to demonstrate that.

The Passing of the Aborigines is a collection of stories written by a dedicated, adventurous, literate and thoroughly old-fashioned woman, describing her life with Aboriginal people, from Broome in 1899 where she lived and worked in a Trappist monastery, to nearby Roebuck Plains where Jack Bates managed a cattle station; droving cattle south to the head of the Ashburton R. (near present-day Newman) where she had her own property; touring the Pilbara by buggy; living in a tent on the reservation for the remnants of the local Noongar (she says Bibbulmun); touring the Murchison goldfields north of Perth with AR Radcliff-Brown; living on the islands in Shark Bay where seriously ill Aborigines were brought to die; years touring all of Noongar south-west WA; getting an unpaid position as ‘Protector’ at Eucla, maybe the most remote township in the world, jammed under the cliffs, between the Southern Ocean and a thousand kilometres of desert; travelling by camel buggy for 2 weeks to briefly enjoy the limelight with the Science Congress in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, coinciding with the outbreak of WWI; before returning to the Nullabor, still unpaid, this time on the SA side, to a number of camps west of Ceduna, before finally, in 1919, ending up at Ooldea, a watering stop on the trans-Australia rail line (map), and the southern hub of continent-wide Indigenous trade routes, where she stayed 16 years, until she was well into her seventies.

Nothing more than one of the many depresions in the never-ending sandhills that run waveringly from the Bight for nearly a thousand miles, Ooldea Water is one of Nature’s miracles in barren Central Australia. No white man coming to this place would ever guess that that dreary hollow with the sand blowing across it was an unfailing fountain, yet a mere scratch and the magic waters welled in sight. Even in the cruellest droughts, it had never failed. Here the tribes gathered in their hundreds for initiation and other ceremonies.

In the building of the transcontinental line, the water of Ooldea passed out of its own people’s hand for ever. Pipelines and pumping plants reduced it at the rate of 10,000 gallons a day for locomotives. The natives were forbidden the soak …

Within a few years railways engineers had drilled through the clay bottom of the water table and rendered it all saline.

This a beautifully written book which contains a wealth of stories and information nowhere else available. Its big problem is that it contains ideas which present day Aboriginal people repudiate. Firstly, the idea behind the name itself; secondly, the encroachment of the ‘circumcised’ (Western Desert Group) tribes of the centre into the country of the ‘uncircumcised’ groups in south west WA and out along the Bight; and thirdly the widespread practice of cannibalism and particularly of the eating of infants. (With the caveat I was unable to google any discussion of this book, by Indigenous writers or white.** )

Bates frequently mentions the “last Aborigine” of a particular region or tribe. It is clear that, as the 1905 Aborigines Act under which she was employed in Western Australia, anticipates, she believed that Indigenous people with white blood would be absorbed into the white community. My searches brought up the following quote: 

They did not anticipate a need to manage an emergent, fertile, and anomic half-caste populace, too black for the mainstream white community to accept as equals, but too white to be regarded as Aborigines (D. Tomlison, thesis, 2008)

I’ve read nothing else about circumcised and uncircumcised, but Bates believed that the circumcised – in effect the Western Desert Group – represented a later wave of arrivals from the north and east. Bates believed that right up to white settlement, the Noongar (of south-west WA) were being pushed westwards. Certainly it seems the groups east of the Noongar, around Kalgoorlie and along the Bight have been largely overtaken by Western Desert peoples.

 I’m not going to talk about cannibalism, and neither is anyone else probably.

Bates as an Australian ‘explorer’ and scientist (anthropologist) should be more widely recognised. The Passing of the Aborigines is a fascinating work by a fascinating person and an important and largely unrecognised record in our national history.

 

Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines: A Lifetime spent among the Natives of Australia, first pub. 1938, Benediction Classics, Oxford, 2009


*The bulk of MS 365 is the manuscript of Daisy Bates’ work “The native tribes of Western Australia”, written during her period of service with the Western Australian Government from 1904 to 1912. It comprises 99 “folios” split between Sections I to XIII. Each page has been item-numbered within the “folios”. Many of the drafts have been annotated by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, a British social anthropologist (53 boxes, 2 fol. boxes). Trove (here)


** Anita Heiss doesn’t mention Bates in Dhuuluu-Yala. JJ Healy in Literature and the Aborigine in Australia contrasts Bates’ despair and practicality with English writer Grant Watson’s fear and mysticism (after the two travelled together with AR Radcliffe-Brown in 1910). See my post on Heiss and Healy (here)


Further to my discussion with Sue (Whispering Gums) after my previous post, I noticed in Wikipedia this reference to the ongoing use of her materials: The collaborative work of digitising and transcribing many word lists created by Bates in the 1900s at Daisy Bates Online provides a valuable resource for those researching especially Western Australian languages, and some of the Northern Territory and South Australia [Western Desert Group]. The project is co-ordinated by Nick Thieburger, who works in collaboration with the NLA “to have all the microfilmed images from Section XII of the Bates papers digitised”, and the project is ongoing.


Two typical newspaper stories about Bates:

In “The Desert Farewell” Bates is leaving her camp at Ooldea, forever she thinks, to work on this book in Adelaide, and here, 6 years later, “Abos. Await ‘Kabbarli’, she returns, to live out her years destitute in a tent in the desert.

 

Pinjarra Massacre

Pinjarra Massacre Art

My original post on the Pinjarra Massacre of 28 October 1834, sometimes mendaciously called the Battle of Pinjarra, was ‘Following My Review of That Deadman Dance’ on 6 June 2015 (here). I have now updated it to include more material from the time. The image above is a segment of a stunning piece of work, not attributed to any artist that I can see, advertising the Pinjarra Massacre Memorial: Touring Exhibition, May 2015 (here).

For the information of non West Australians, Pinjarra is about 80 km south of Perth and inland of Mandurah and the Peel Estuary. The Bindjareb, the original inhabitants of that region, are one of 14 language groups making up the Noongar nation of south-western WA.

The Pinjarra Massacre was the result of an ambush of the Bindjareb people by a force of 25 armed men led by Governor Stirling. The stated intention was to quell unrest arising from the recent expansion of white settlement. The result was one dead on the British side and at least 20 dead on the Bindjareb side. Chris Owen, author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review coming) speculates in an article in the Guardian of 18 Nov. 2019 that the Bindjareb death toll may have been as high as 80 (here).

A newspaper report of the time (below) states that Stirling’s party faced 70 men armed with spears who retreated to the river and mostly attempted to hide

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river. (The Western Australian Journal, Sat. 1 Nov. 1834)

Some ‘battle’! Bindjareb Park (here) memorializes the dead.


The following letter, by Associate Professor Simon Forrest, Curtin University Elder in Residence, appeared in the West Australian of 1 June 2015. As you will see, he is responding to an earlier letter:

“The story of the events on October 28, 1834, near what is now the town of Pinjarra has historically been referred to as the Battle of Pinjarra.

The letter by Alex Munro (21/5) says the modern day reference to the battle as a “massacre” is historically incorrect. The battle, he says, occurred because of an attack on settlers in the Swan River Colony and the burning of the flour mill at South Perth, now the Old Mill.

His letter faithfully keeps to the non-Aboriginal version of events. Any efficient analysis of John Septimus Roe’s journal of the punitive expedition will, together with research around the historical events leading up to the battle or massacre,  question Mr Munro’s viewpoint.

Although the South Perth mill is part of the story, it was not burnt by Noongar, as implied by Mr Munro. The Aboriginal leader, Calyute, and his men did raid the mill to take flour that was normally given to them but because of a not so good season of crops in Guildford, flour was rationed and the first to miss out was the Noongar.

Also contrary to what Mr Munro states as an attack by Noongar on the colony is not so.

Governor James Stirling was certainly concerned about a possible alliance of the local Noongar groups that may have led to an attack on the colony but it never eventuated.

One of his reasons to travel to the Pinjarra area was to try to stop the Bindjareb people (this is where Pinjarra gets its name) joining such an alliance.

The West Australian of the time listed 21 Noongar who were killed, including women and one child. If the conflict at Pinjarra on that fateful day was a battle, a battle normally takes place between armies of warring men, but this was not the case.

Also, if it was a battle,  the armed conflict between the two groups of men may have taken possibly five minutes because Noongar men were only armed with spears.

Roe’s journal states the conflict started at around 8am and the killing of Bindjareb people continued until around 10am. The use of the word “battle” becomes questionable and a word like “massacre”, particularly from a Noongar perspective, challenges the view of the perpetrators.

It is also interesting to note that Stirling endeavoured to keep his expedition secretive. Only he and Roe left Perth on horseback, so Noongar spies would not get information about an armed expedition.

On the way to Peel’s place in modern day Mandurah, Stirling arranged reinforcements to his expedition at points along the way.  When the expedition left Peel’s place the expedition now numbered 24, comprising five civilians (including Roe) and 19 mounted police and soldiers (including Stirling).

On that fateful morning Stirling’s group surrounded the Bindjareb Noongar on three sides.  The initial skirmish that started with one of the two smaller groups of Stirling’s men and the Bindjareb men led to the rest of the Bindjareb retreating in the direction of the Stirling-led larger group hiding behind a hill, as stated in Roe’s journal: “On approaching an abrupt rising ground, the rest of the party halted out of sight”.

Stirling’s group opened fire as the Bindjareb tried to escape towards the river.

This event has been well researched by Noongar scholars and non-Aboriginal scholars.  I take many people to Pinjarra and follow Stirling’s exact route and talk about the events of the day in a spirit of reconciliation, an acknowledgement of our shared history.

The “Battle of Pinjarra” was certainly not a battle, and it may not have been a massacre. But we know the leader of the Swan River Colony led a secretive, punitive expedition to attack a group of Bindjareb people, living and camping on their land, as they had done for many thousands of years.

The Bindjareb retaliated against Stirling’s punitive force, fighting for their freedom, land, culture and way of life.”


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 1834.

ENCOUNTER WITH THE NATIVES IN THE PINJARRA DISTRICT, ON THE BANKS OF THE MURRAY.

The report of this successful and decisive encounter with the Natives of the Murray, who have for some time been the terror of the neighbourhood was received with general satisfaction, — an opinion having prevailed that the system of lenity and forbearance hitherto adopted by the Government was not calculated to ensure safety to either the lives or property of the settlers. We have not space to revert to the many atrocities committed by the tribe, upon which at length retribution has fallen ; they are, however, within the recollection of our Readers, having but recently transpired, and will fully justify the severity of the punishment. – A Gentleman, an eye witness, has obligingly favored us with the following narrative of the encounter ; from the respectability of the party, the accuracy of this report may be implicitly relied upon.

The party consisted of His Excellency Sir James Stirling, Mr. Roe, Capt. Meares and his son Seymour, Mr. Peel, Capt. Ellis, Mr. Norcott, with 5 of the Mounted Police (one sick), Mr. Surveyor Smythe, one soldier to lead a pack-horse, Mr. Peel’s servant, Corporals 2, privates 8, of H. M.’s 21st Regt. – to leave at Pinjarra. In number 25.

On the night of the 27th of October, the party bivouacked at a place called by the natives “Jim jam,” about 10 or 11 miles in a direct line E.N.E. from the mouths of the Murray, where is abundance of most luxuriant feed for cattle, at a broad and deep reach of the river flowing to the N.W., and at this time perfectly fresh. After an early breakfast, the whole encampment was in motion at ten minutes before six the next morning, steering south-eastward for ” Pinjärra,” another place of resort for the natives of the district, and situated a little below the first ford across the river, where it was intended to establish a town on a site reserved for the purpose, and to leave half the party, including the military, for the protection of Mr. Peel and such other settlers as that gentleman might induce to resort thither.

Crossing the ford, where the river had an average depth of 2½ feet, and was running about 1½ miles an hour to the north, an easterly course was taken for the purpose of looking at the adjoining country; — but the party had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile over an undulating surface of the richest description, covered with nutritious food for cattle, when the voices of many natives were heard on the left.

This being a neighbourhood much frequented by the native tribe of Kalyute, which had long been in the almost unchecked commission of numerous outrages and atrocious murders on the white people resident in the district, and which had hitherto succeeded in eluding the pursuit of the parties that had been searching for them since their treacherous murder of private Nesbitt of the 21st Regt., and spearing Mr. Barron only a very few weeks ago, the moment was considered propitiously favorable for punishing the perpetrators of such and other diabolical acts of a similar nature, should this prove to be the offending tribe.

For the purpose of ascertaining that point, His Excellency rode forward a couple of hundred yards with Messrs. Peel and Norcott, who were acquainted both with the persons of the natives and with their language, and commenced calling out and talking to them for the purpose of bringing on an interview. Their own noise was, however, so loud and clamorous, that all other sounds appeared lost on them, or as mere echoes. No answer being returned, Capt. Ellis in charge of the Mounted Police, with Mr. Norcott his assistant, and the remaining available men of his party, amounting to three in number, were despatched across the ford again to the left bank where the natives were posted, to bring on the interview required.

The instant the police were observed approaching at about 200 yards distance, the natives, to the number of about 70, started on their feet, the men seized their numerous and recently made spears, and shewed a formidable front; but finding their visitors still approached, they seemed to feel unable to stand a charge and sullenly retreated, gradually quickening their pace until the word “forward” from the leader of the gallant little party brought the horsemen in about half a minute dashing into the midst of them, the same moment having discovered the well known features of some of the most atrocious offenders of the obnoxious tribe. One of these, celebrated for his audacity and outrage, was the first to be recognised, at the distance of 5 or 6 yards from Mr Norcott, who knew him well, and immediately called out “these are the fellows we want, for here’s the old rascal Nöonarr;” on which the savage turned round and cried, with peculiar ferocity and emphasis, “Yes, Nöonarr, me,” and was in the act of hurling his spear at Norcott in token of requital for the recognition, when the latter shot him dead.

The identity of the tribe being now clearly established, and the natives turning to assail their pursuers, the firing continued, and was returned by the former with spears as they retreated to the river. The first shot, and the loud shouts and yells of the natives, were sufficient signal to the party who had halted a quarter of a mile above, who immediately followed Sir James Stirling at full speed and arrived opposite Capt Ellis’s party just as some of the natives had crossed and others were in the river.

It was just the critical moment for them. Five or six rushed up the right bank, but were utterly confounded at meeting a second party of assailants, who immediately drove back those who escaped the firing. Being thus exposed to a cross fire, and having no time to rally their forces, they adopted the alternative of taking to the river, and secreting themselves amongst the roots and branches and holes on its banks, or by immersing themselves with the face only uncovered, and ready with a spear under water to take advantage of any one who approached within reach.

Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river.

The others had either escaped up and down the river, or had secreted themselves too closely to be discovered except in the persons of eight women and some children, who emerged from their hiding-places (where in fact the poor creatures were not concealed) on being assured of personal safety, and were detained prisoners until the termination of the fray. It is however very probable that more men were killed in the river, and floated down with the stream.

Notwithstanding the care which was taken not to injure the women during the skirmish, it cannot appear surprising that one and several children were killed, and one woman amongst the prisoners had received a ball through the thigh. On finding the women were spared, and understanding the orders repeatedly issued to that effect, many of the men cried out they were of the other sex, but evidence to the contrary was too strong to admit the plea. As it appeared by this time that sufficient punishment had been inflicted on this warlike and sanguinary tribe by the destruction of about half its male population, and amongst whom were recognised, on personal examination, 15 very old and desperate offenders, the bugle sounded to cease firing, and the divided party reassembled at the ford, where the baggage had been left in charge of four soldiers, who were also to maintain the post.

Here Capt. Ellis had arrived, badly wounded in the right temple, by a spear at 3 or 4 yards distance, which knocked him off his horse; and P. Heffron, a constable of the Police, had received a bad spear wound above the right elbow. No surgical aid being at hand, it was not without some little difficulty the spear was extracted, and it then proved to be barbed to the distance of five inches from the point.

Having re-crossed the river in good order, with the baggage on three horses, the whole party formed a junction on the left bank, fully expecting the natives would return in stronger force, but in this were disappointed. After a consultation over the prisoners, it was resolved to set them free, for the purpose of fully explaining to the remnant of the tribe the cause of the chastisement which had been inflicted, and to bear a message to the effect that “if they again offered to spear white men or their cattle, or to revenge in any way the punishment which had just been inflicted on them for their numerous murders and outrages, four times the present number of men would proceed amongst them and destroy every man, woman and child.” This was perfectly understood by the captives, and they were glad to depart – even under such an assurance ; – nor did several of their number, who were the widows, mothers and daughters of notorious offenders shot that day, evince any stronger feeling on the occasion than what arose out of their anxiety to keep themselves warm.

The severe but well-merited chastisement which had thus been inflicted, upon this troublesome people, who had rendered themselves equally the bullies of all the tribes around and the dread of the settler, made it very evident that the post which it had been in contemplation to establish on the very spot could not with, common prudence be thought of until a little time should develop the consequences likely to arise from the encounter.

Under these circumstances, and as Capt. Ellis was displaying alarming symptoms of torpor and delirium, accompanied by great weakness and continued flow of blood from his wound, it was considered desirable to return to Mr. Peel’s establishment at the mouth of the Murray Estuary with as little delay as possible. The party accordingly started at ten o’clock on their return, came out on the shore of the estuary at the distance of ten miles west, and in ten miles more arrived at Mr. Peel’s station at 4 o’clock on the same afternoon, by fording the several mouths of the Murray, about which the traces of natives were both numerous and very recent.

Captain Ellis was supported in his saddle during greatest part of the homeward journey by a man riding on either side of him, and became quite delirious. Having been copiously bled by Corporal Malone of the 21st, surgical assistance was sent for express from Fremantle, and at 4 o’clock next morning, when His Excellency and the Surveyor-General mounted on their return to Perth, both the wounded men were doing very well.

Thus terminates, for the present, an affair which is calculated to produce very beneficial effects on a complete nest of hornets, which had rendered themselves the pest of the surrounding country, and whose murders of Mackenzie, Budge, Wood, Nesbitt and some others, besides their almost successful attempts on the lives of Jenkins, Barron, Layman, &c, have thus fallen heavily on their own heads, – leaving as the only subject of regret that Kalyute and some other similar characters were, according to the accounts of the women, absent in another part of the country; being most probably in the vicinity of the settlement, where so many traces had been observed.

It would be an act of injustice to close this short narrative of the proceedings of the day without testifying to the efficient services and manly bearing of the handful of Police who commenced the attack, led on as they were in so able and spirited a manner by Capt Ellis and Mr.Norcott ; nor can less be said of the detachment of H. M.’s 21st Regt. and the Civilians who were present on the occasion, – all of whom, being fully impressed with the justice and necessity of the measure, contributed their utmost to achieve the result. It were presumptuous to do more than merely allude to the personal conduct of His Excellency Sir James Stirling throughout the whole business, whose promptness and decision in carrying into effect what his energetic mind as rapidly conceived, led to his rendering this affair of an hour as complete and masterly a manoeuvre on a small scale as could well be accomplished.

The Natives of the Perth district and the neighbourhood of the Swan, who have for the last few days visited us, doubt the account of the numbers killed, but generally evince a satisfaction that the atrocities of the Murray tribe, to which they have all been exposed, have met with this merited chastisement. Their expressions of gratification are, however, mingled with suspicion of our good intentions towards them ; and their commendation of the act is not unfrequently followed by the inquiry ‘Now, now, white man Swan River man babin’ (friend ),


THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1834.
On Wednesday last, Captain Daniell of H. M.
21st Regt, returned to head-quarters with a portion
of the detachment stationed at the Murray, ac-
companied by Mr. Norcott, Superintendent of
police, and two of the Mounted Police, as it has
not been considered necessary to retain so large a
force at that station any longer. A constant patrol
has been kept up in the neighbourhood of the
settlement at Peel Town since the affair with the
Natives at Pinjarra, and several parties have con-
tinued to scour the country in various directions ;
the only party, however, which traversed the
country in the immediate vicinity of the scene of
action was directed by Captain Daniell, accom-
panied by Lieutenant Armstrong of the 21st Regt.,
Mr. Norcott, and Mr. Peel, notwithstanding the
unfavorable state of the weather which, it may be
remembered, we had during the past and previous
week.
On arriving at Pinjarra, they found that the
bodies of the natives who were killed, were all
decently interred, in one spot there being three
graves of large dimensions, about twelve feet each
in length, supposed to contain the members of
separate families, and at a short distance from
them were the graves of thirteen men. The party
was unable to reach the quarter where the heavi-
est firing took place, owing to the brooks being
much swollen, from the incessant rains; but it
was generally believed, that in this spot, also,
there were several graves,—and but one opinion
prevails, that, during the night after the encounter,
the natives returned and buried their dead, in the
manner we have described.
Captain Daniell’s party bivouacked within 400
yards of the scene of action, and returned to their
quarters, at Peel Town, after a three day’s march,
without crossing any recent traces of the natives.
The vicinity of the Canning River, it is thought,
will be visited by the remnant of this obnoxious
tribe ; and, indeed, a rumour has reached us, com-
ing, we believe, from the natives of the Swan
tribes, that Galute, the villain who has been the
subject of frequent notice in our columns, has
speared two natives of their tribe, in consequence
of the death of one of his women, who happened
to receive a fatal shot in the affray.

see also:
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
My posts:
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

The Old Lie, Claire G Coleman

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If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori*. [Wilfred Owen]

The Old Lie is a war story, framed by Wilfred Owen’s famous poem, of Australian soldiers, Indigenous Australian soldiers it turns out, part of a larger force fighting in the mud and ruined habitations of distant lands. Strange territory for Western Australian Wirlomin/Noongar woman Claire Coleman, but as we are learning, she is full of surprises.

Corporal Shane Daniels was lost, the grey uniformity of the sky and dirt, the rain, the muck, had rendered the flat, bomb-wracked plain featureless … Tangled barbed wire was a constant obstacle, tangling, tearing , hidden, trampled into the soupy mud …

A familiar opening for Australian war stories for a hundred years now. But in Coleman’s sure hands it becomes something else, becomes more. Yes, the treatment the protagonists, best friends Daniels in the infantry and fighter pilot Romeo endure bear out the justifiable bitterness of Wilfred Owen’s poem. But the story is also a metaphor for Aboriginal dispossession; for White settlement on Aboriginal lands; for Australia’s lickspittle subservience to Empire which led to the Maralinga atom bomb tests on Aboriginal-occupied desert land; for the stolen generations – the seizing and selling into institutional slavery of mixed race children; for the imprisonment of refugees.

No, I won’t discuss how the metaphor works, though that would be a pleasure with others who had read the book. And I won’t discuss this as a genre novel, which I could, and which I think Coleman does well. The Old Lie is clearly presented as literary fiction and that therefore is how it must be judged.

The underlying story is that Daniels and Romeo fill out the old trope of brave, anti-authority soldiers; fight their way out of impossibly tight situations; Daniels has family back home, Romeo finds a (saccharine) love interest. In another part of the war zone, a young man and a girl separately escape slavery and join forces with a foreign monk; find themselves herded in with refugees from the various fields of conflict; do their best to head for a near-forgotten home. William, a medic, wakes up in prison; is forced to assist his captors in their experiments. A strange illness follows the bombing of a remote city.

Unlike fellow Wirlomin/Noongar writer Kim Scott [and I assume there is a connection. The Coleman boys married Fanny/Benang’s daughters (here)] Claire Coleman is not particularly literary, but she is a great story teller. And she uses her stories to emphasize Aboriginal themes, in this case, particularly connection to country.

The red scrub, it didn’t even reach her knees, the red sand, that was home. She could feel it, hear the voices of her ancestors. Maybe it was Walker’s lessons … maybe it was her proximity to death, but she felt more in contact with her people, with her Country, than she had ever felt in her life. [Or ..]

He waited to die, he could not breathe, he smiled, he waited to die. His soul, what was left of it, would escape his body and return to his Country. There he would join his old people. His wife and kids would be there one day too.

The Old Lie is an old-fashioned adventure story, but also a story with a purpose, with an underlying theme. On the basis of her two novels I think it is fair to say there is always more to Claire Coleman than first meets the eye.

This is a very short review but Coleman’s story telling depends for its oomph on the reader coming upon the elements of the story in the order which the author presents them and saying more would put that at risk. Yes I liked it and I would recommend that everyone read it and discuss the issues it raises.

It ends without a resolution. Perhaps Coleman is planning a series.

 

Claire G Coleman, The Old Lie, Hachette, Sydney, 2019

see also: Terra Nullius (my review)


*It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country, Horace (Ode III.2.13)

“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”

ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Literature Week

"It's Still in My Heart, This is My Country": The Single Noongar Claim History

“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”* (2009) is subtitled The Single Noongar Claim History – the Noongar people being the original occupants and custodians of south-west Western Australia. The authors credited are South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, and John Host** with Chris Owen. It is basically the case put up to The Federal Court (Australia’s second highest court), Justice Murray Wilcox presiding, in 2005, to prove the Noongars’ claim to native title over the Perth metropolitan area.

To do this Host demonstrates that the Noongars, who can be divided into 14 regions with their own dialects, are one people with an ongoing, uninterrupted cultural life, and that the indigenous people forced out of Perth by white settlement continued their cultural practices within Noongar communities on the outskirts, and maintained their contact with important sites within Perth. These are the main elements to satisfy the Native Title Act (1993) shamefully introduced by Paul Keating to limit the ambit of claims after Mabo, and further tightened by John Howard in 1998 after Wik.

Because the Perth people had been so decimated by occupation and direct government action (eg. “Battle” of Pinjarra), not to mention laws which for many years in the C20th banned Aborigines from being in towns, it was necessary to prove that the Noongar were one people – hence ‘Single Noongar Claim’ – not a number of distinct tribes, and that, as was so often claimed, they had not lost their connection with Perth and the Swan River or, as was often claimed, died out. Indigenous people with European blood continued, and continue to lead Indigenous lives.

The SWALSC won their claim, but in 2007 the state (Labor) and Commonwealth (Liberal) governments appealed, successfully, on the basis that the claimants had not shown continuous occupation of the Perth area “explicitly”. An agreement was finally reached and registered in 2018 (here, includes map).

Host, an historian, describes his task as ‘histriography’, a critical summary of writings about the history of the Noongars. What is known about them prior to white settlement is ‘pre-history’.

Map South East Asia and Australia during the last Ice Age. Courtesy Wikimedia

I think we all know that at one time you could walk from PNG to Cape Yorke and from Victoria to Tasmania (and from Perth to Rottnest) but what hadn’t occurred to me is that around 8,000 BC, lower sea levels meant that Australia was surrounded by a wide, fertile littoral plain, and its subsequent inundation has removed much evidence of early occupation. However, there remains plenty of evidence that the South West has been occupied for 50,000 years.

When the British arrived in 1826, Professor Sylvia Hallam describes the people of the south west as “firestick farmers and kangaroo pastoralists” with practices that had been continuously evolving for millenia. It is a (cruel) curiosity of the Native Title Act that claimants must show that their practices have not evolved since white settlement, but have been ‘preserved in aspic’. With the British came writing and ‘therefore’ history. Explorer Matthew Flinders called in at King George Sound (Albany) in 1802 and “wrote with evident bewilderment that Aboriginal people ‘seemed to have no idea of any superiority we possessed over them'” (see also Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (my review)).

Matthew Flinders organised a military parade for the amusement of the locals and it is some evidence of the efficacy of oral history that the story of that parade was related to (anthropologist) Daisy Bates a century later. In fact, Bates’ meticulous records from when she was living with Noongars around 1906 formed an important part of the evidence for the claim (see also: my post Fanny Balbuk Yooreel (here)).

During the years up until the Swan River colony was formed in 1829, explorers and the garrison at King George Sound observed and recorded a great deal of material about Noongar law, custom and ways of living, by living amongst them relatively unobtrusively. In fact garrison commander Capt Collet Barker and local, Mineng man Mokare were clearly friends, and by the account in Barker’s journal had long discussions about all sorts of matters which greatly informed Host’s opinion about the Noongars’ adaptability in the face of changing circumstances.

Host spends a chapter establishing that there is no evidence for a decline in Noongar numbers after white settlement, despite the opposite being true around Sydney (due to smallpox probably). And in the process makes mincemeat of the work of Dr Neville Green, author of Broken Spears (1984). And yes, he acknowledges that there were massacres, but the number killed were not enough to lead to population decline.

If taking issue with the notion of drastic population decline between 1829 and 1850 has diverted me from the terms of my brief, it has been necessary. As noted …, evidence of cultural maintenance is of doubtful value unless the allegation of Aboriginal extinction or near extinction is shown to be groundless.

An interesting aspect of Host’s account is the permeability of boundaries. While one family group had primary responsibility for one area, the area may have been occupied by different groups at different times, with connections formed by marriage allowing families to travel widely to hunt. For instance, Mokare told Barker his family sometimes moved away inland to allow another group to camp by the shore and fish. However, absence did not lessen connection.

It is clear both from settler accounts, and from oral histories – of which many are cited – that Noongars, who in any case had always moved around a lot, adapted to white settlement spreading throughout the south west in the latter half of the C19th (and up to the 1930s) by combining seasonal farm labouring over a number of properties with frequent absences to maintain their culture.

By 1900, disregarding official attempts to distinguish between ‘full bloods’ and ‘half-castes’, Noongar culture remained vibrant and the Noongar population had probably increased.

The turn of the century brought two shocks. First, goldrushes expanded the white population from 50,000 to 184,000 in a single decade; and then, the 1905 Aborigines Act, brought all WA Aborigines under the direct control of the Chief Protector, and presaged 60 years of determined attempts to separate children with European descent from their mothers (see: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (my review)). The Indigenous population of the South West in the 1901 census was about 1,500 but only Noongars living near towns or as farm workers were counted. As Noongars were notoriously (and rightly!) shy of officialdom and there was, and still is, a great deal of bush in the South West, the actual population was much higher, but as had always been the case, could not be accurately estimated. By the 2001 census, the Aboriginal population of the South West was 27,596 and a high (but unknown) proportion of those were Noongar.

Finally …

I will argue, however, that although the maintenance of traditional connections has been harder for some Noongars than for others, the Noongar as a people have retained the web of territorial and kinship ties along with the reciprocity or mutual obligation, that made up (and make up) the matrix of traditional law and custom.

The last quarter of the book documents the survival of the Noongar in the face of the 1905 Act, concentration camps at Moore River and Carrollup, the paucity of aid, the loss of farm work during the Great Depression, legislation which effectively prevented Aborigines from becoming landowners, and misguided attempts at assimilation in the 1950s, through to the current situation of recognition tempered by high rates of unemployment which we might say began with the Whitlam years, 1972-75.

This is a fascinating work, eminently readable, which greatly added to my understanding of Black-White interaction during the first century of white settlement. Of course this is local history for me, but I am sure Eastern-staters will find it equally interesting.

 

South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, John Host with Chris Owen, “It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”: Single Noongar Land Claim, UWAP, Perth, 2009. Cover: Ngallak Koort Boodja (Our Heart Land) canvas by Shane Pickett, Lance Chadd, Troy Bennell, Alice Warrell, Sharyn Egan and Yvonne Kickett.

Update, 30 Nov. 2019: Noongars’ $290 billion comp claim (here)


*”White fella got it but it’s still in my heart, this is my country,” Noongar elder, Angus Wallam, during Oct 2005 hearings.

**From what I can gather, Dr Host, who wrote this report, assigned the copyright to SWALSC who then had it published with some alterations and without Host’s permission. Chris Owen is/was an historian employed by SWALSC. See: Struggle over Host report (here)


Message to Lisa: It’s of course entirely up to you whether this counts as Indig.Lit. The report was commissioned by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, and they list themselves in first place as authors, though the actual writing has clearly been done by Dr Host.

 

 

Odds & Sods

Journal: 017

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Sail & Anchor, Fremantle (wiki)

I’m having (will have had by the time this is posted) a week off. The truck has had a leaking radiator for a few weeks now and on Saturday Sam used it as an excuse not to give me the load he promised me on Friday. I guess one of his own trucks didn’t have work. So I’ve put it in to have the radiator replaced. Apparently modern radiators are too fragile to be repaired.

Hence a journal of odds & sods. My mother used to say “you sod” meaning I think, you duffer. Wrong consonants! My family, all of whom read I’m Making a Mistake, were quick to capitalize on my unexpected availability and I was allocated the task of picking up nearly 15 year old granddaughter from a party in Freo. at 10.30 pm (negotiated down from 11.30). I was already at Milly’s doing some carpentering – she’s never slow to capitalize – so we got changed and went down to Freo for dinner and a movie.

Dinner was ok, we wandered through the markets and ended up at the multi-outlet place next to the Sail & Anchor. I had Malaysian, rice and fish curry, and a glass of cheap white. Outside, in the busking space, a 9 or 10 year old girl was dancing furiously with a hula hoop. I put a few dollars in her hat. The movie was The Insult. Earlier in the week I’d been discussing an Israeli view of the Palestinian ‘problem’ with Sue (Whispering Gums) and this was the same problem from a different viewpoint, that of right wing Christian Lebanese forced to share their country with Palestinian refugees. It was a good movie, until I got a phone call from nearly 15’s father (at home with 6 and 8).

Nearly 15 is in with a bad crowd as they say and it’s impacting on her schooling and her home life and I was a bit anxious about what state she’d be in by 10.30. So when her dad said (Yes, I went outside to return the call) granddaughter and her friend were waiting to be picked up nearby two hours early, I walked straight there, and Milly caught us up a few minutes later. Two more fifteenish 15 year olds you wouldn’t want to meet. They were bored, they were hungry. Their phones didn’t work, or were lost, or the chargers were lost. We fed them, took them home. I think the other girl hadn’t told her mother everything she might as she (the mother) and Milly had a long talk when Milly rang her in the morning. A happy ending. I just need to borrow the movie to see how it ends.


Westerly, our local bookish magazine, has an essay by Claire G Coleman (my review of Terra Nullius) on the perils of being Indigenous and speaking at Writers Festivals – The Risks of Question Time (here). It seems there will always be at least one old white person to tell the Indigenous how to be Indigenous.

I am speaking to whitey now; you made us. You took our land, you raped our ancestors and made our people feel so unwanted, so hated, that they felt it necessary to capitulate by marrying and bonking our oppressors. When our children were born mixed-race, you decided we were inferior even to our own people and tried to breed us whiter, breed out the black and took kids from their families to ensure you had power over them. You told us our culture was worthless and forced your ‘education’ on us. Some of us excelled at your education and those of us who do well within your system are now, in your minds, ‘not really Aboriginal’.

Leaving aside that I don’t go to Writers Festivals and I find it very difficult to speak in public, I hope I am not such a person. I think we have reached a place in black/white relations in Australia where Indigenous people can speak for themselves. Our duty is to choose the right people to speak for us, to negotiate fairly to achieve a situation where Indigenous people can live both with and alongside mainstream society as they choose.


9b143b41dd1ad9f0241c3c9dabd6fcbe

Weds. I had big plans for this week, all the things I’d put off doing for lack of time (vacuuming for instance!) but instead I seem to be relaxing. Delivered the truck to the repairer, Monday, and Millie’s dog to the kennels. Took Millie to the airport Tues. Had tea with Gee and the kids last night. They all said “Where’ve you been, Poppy?”. I stayed long enough to read two Anh Dos. This morning I did nothing except finish Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling, which I bought at the Addison Road Markets in Sydney last week. I’ve written a couple of posts, had lots of fun with the comments on The Dry. Ok, I’ll stop there and bring my business accounts up to date.


Thurs. Work says there should be work today. Gee gave me a lift – getting her thesis completed is proving a struggle, so she was happy to skive off uni for an hour – so I could pick up the truck and run it back to the depot. Dropped in at Crow Books, got myself a Magbala book, Blackwork by Alison Whittaker (poetry!), and Jane Eyre and a Perth YA, Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson for Ms Nearly 15. Sept/Oct is birthday season in my family so there’ll be more business for Crow when I get back.

No work yet. Maybe tomorrow (Fri.)

Recent audiobooks

Reginald Hill (M, Eng), A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
Jane Harper (F, Vic/Aust), The Dry (2016)
George Eliot (F, Eng), Silas Marner (1861) – Project Gutenberg

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Georgette Heyer, The Foundling
Frank Moorhouse (ed.),The Drover’s Wife
Yelena Moskovich, The Natashas

 

We were not here first

Journal: 012

Nifty Road Sept '13 (1)

We were not here first. It seems self-evident now and was in fact acknowledged by writers from Watkin Tench onwards. Unfortunately though, our behaviour and in particular our legal system, was based on the conflicting ideas that there was no one here in 1788; or that there was but their perceived failure to build houses, engage in intensive agriculture meant that their presence didn’t count; or that there wasn’t a war but they lost anyway and Australia was ours by right of conquest.

That was all swept away, theoretically at least, by a combination of the (Commonwealth) Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Mabo Case (1982-90) in which the High Court ruled (1) that states – in this case Queensland – could not pass laws which conflicted with the Racial Discrimination Act; and (2) that wherever the rules and customs of the indigenous inhabitants – in this case the Mer people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait north of Queensland – have continued without explicit extinguishment by state law, then the land remains theirs.

The Native Title Act of 1993 which was meant to give effect to the Mabo decision in fact interpreted it as narrowly as possible, in order of course to give the greatest possible advantage to grazing and mining interests, with near impossible definitions of continuing occupation for example, when so many indigenous people were forced onto reservations or had drifted in to provincial centres. My own opinion is that all crown land, including leasehold – which is to say, most of outback Australia – should be acknowledged as belonging to the original inhabitants and that we should only then negotiate a treaty for its ongoing use by all Australians. That is, that the Aboriginal Land Councils instead of being supplicants should be able to negotiate from a position of relative strength.

As part of my own, belated education about what it means to live in a shared country I have been increasingly careful to identify whose land it is that I am talking about/driving on in my reviews and journals. But in my last post ‘The Heaviest, Longest Run in the World‘, in concentrating on the driving experience (and the word count!) I said nothing about whose land it was and I want to rectify that here.

In general, because this is where I live, I am best informed about the indigenous nations of Western Australia – though I still have a long way to go! – but as I go on I will do my best to learn and write about everyone whose land I cross.

As I’ve written previously, Perth, the south-west and the wheatbelt (except around Geraldton) are Noongar country. Going north from Perth on the Great Northern Highway we cross the Moore River at New Norcia. The infamous Mogumber Moore River Settlement is just a few kilometres west. I have written about it a few times, in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence of course, but also in relation to Kim Scott and Jack Davis. Molly, Daisy and Gracie, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls headed north from Mogumber before striking east and would have crossed the Highway (if it existed back in 1931) a bit south of Wubin. You don’t see many Aboriginals in these little wheatbelt towns and I imagine they have mostly drifted in to Perth or to provincial centres like Northam and Moora.

Since reading Scott I have also become conscious of the different language groups within the Noongars. The AIATSIS map says the language spoken in the area up to Wubin is Balardung.

Separating Wubin and the Murchison goldfield towns of Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra is 300 km of scrub and desert. About 100 km up, the Irwin River rises near Mt Gibson and flows down to the coast at Dongara south of Geraldton. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marks the border between Noongar and Yamaji country. The various language groups within the Yamaji nation occupy the land from south of Geraldton to north of Carnarvon, on the coast, and inland to the headwaters of the Murchison and Gascoyne Rivers (as best as I can ascertain, which applies to everything I write here).

I wrote about the Yamaji for the first time in my review of Papertalk Green and Kinsella’s False Claims of Colonial Thieves. The Yamaji are bordered to the east by Western Desert people. Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra aren’t big towns and they all have active gold mines, but they also have substantial Aboriginal populations, which are probably these days a mixture of Martu from the north, Yamaji, and Ngaatjatjarra from out towards the NT and SA border. There used to be reports of ‘trouble’ in the towns but I haven’t heard any in the last decade. Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis, a Ngaatjatjarra woman, writes of her family’s move, in the 1960s, in from Docker River on the NT border to Wiluna, east of Meekatharra, from where she was sent to school at the mission at Karalundi, on the highway 50 km north of Meeka.

The rest of the trip, except that we detour via Port Hedland (map) to avoid the atrocious Nullagine Road from Newman to Marble Bar, is Martu country. The Martu are the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples. Daisy Bates who owned a station near Jigalong, north of present day Newman (see Ventured North by Train and Truck) learned elements of the Martu language there and was surprised to find it useful when she later settled amongst the southernmost of the Western Desert peoples 3,000 km away at Ooldea in SA. Jigalong, one of the main camps for maintaining the rabbit-proof fence, became the centre of the Martu people and was of course the home which Molly, Daisy and Gracie were heading back to. The northernmost limits of Martu country include Nifty, my destination, as well as the Woodie Woodie and Telfer mines, in the Great Sandy Desert where I imagine the border with the Walmajarri (see Two Sisters) is fairly fluid.

There are two separate language groups on the coast north of Yamji country, one south of Port Hedland, probably once centred on the Fortescue and Ashburton Rivers but now at Roeburn, and another between Port Hedland and Broome. I can’t tell you anything about them so I’d better do some homework!

SONY DSC

Recent audiobooks

PD James (F, Eng), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
Hetty E Verolme (F, Aust), The Children’s House of Belsen (2000)
Masaji Ishikawa (M, Japan/Korea), A River in Darkness (2000) DNF
Michael Veitch (M, Vic/Aust), The Forgotten Islands (2011)
Carole Radziwill (F, USA), The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (2013)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (2013)
Richard North Patterson (M, USA), Loss of Innocence (2013)
Michael Connolly (M, USA), Trunk Music (1997)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), Eyrie (2013)
Stuart Woods (M, USA), Paris Match (2014)
Jay Stringer (M, Eng), Runaway Town (2013)
Gregory Randall (M, USA), Venice Black (2017)

Currently reading

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children


Housekeeping: I started using the Journal heading so that readers who were only interested in book reviews could see the journal emails and press delete. Don’t worry, you still can! But I’ve moved the journal designation down a notch so that while it is still clear in the email it is not so obtrusive.

The photos are mine, from the Nifty and Woodie Woodie roads in the Great Sandy Desert.

Wardandi Massacre

molloy-john-older
John Molloy

The Wardandi are the language group within the Noongars whose home territory in south western Western Australia encompasses the coastal land from Bunbury south to Cape Leeuwin (map). The region was most famously settled (ie. commandeered) by the Bussell family, in 1839, but among the original white settlers were John Molloy and his now well-known wife Georgiana.

Jessica White, who is writing an ecobiography of Georgiana Molloy (here), wrote in her end of year (2017) mailout:

I had an essay published in the Journal for the Association of the Study of Australian Literature on my research on John Molloy’s role in a massacre in 1841. This involved painstakingly piecing together accounts in the archives and newspapers, and attending to the language that was used.

and it is this essay and her account of the massacre and its subsequent denial that I wish to review.

The events leading to the massacre(s) began on 22 Feb, 1841. Some Noongars were employed in threshing wheat on the farm of Molloy’s neighbour George Layman, and some Noongar women were employed in the house. A dispute arose over payment (in damper) and Noongar man Gayware approached Layman. Layman grabbed Gayware by the beard and shook him, Gayware speared him and Layman struggled inside and died.

Molloy, as local magistrate, raised a party of settlers and workers (one account says ‘soldiers’), pursued and surrounded the Noongars, killing seven, and then subsequently pursued a larger body of Noongar north towards Bunbury where many more were killed around ‘Lake Mininup’. (Wonnerup, Layman’s property, is a few kilometres north of present-day Busselton and Minninup another 15 km or so up the coast.)

White has put together her account from newspapers, diaries, official records and Noongar oral histories. She writes:

As I pieced together these documents and attended to their language, I realised that the massacre had been depicted in such a way as to obfuscate John Molloy’s role. I also came to understand that this role had been covered, uncovered and contested over the ensuing years.

The earliest contemporary ‘account’ is the diary of Frances Bussell which records on the evening of 27 Feb, “Captain Molloy drank tea here. 7 natives killed.” Any further information is lost as the pages from 5 to 25 Feb have been torn out.

A newspaper account, in the Inquirer of 10 Mar 1841 (here), of the initial reprisals following the death of Layman states that “five or six natives were shot to death. Unfortunately the actual murderer was not amongst the killed.” And interestingly, “It is certainly to be regretted that any native, not being the actual murderer, should have been slain in the encounter; but supposing all that we hear to be correct, the result is at least excusable if even not justifiable.” This account follows Molloy’s official report that he acted after hearing threats against himself by Gayware while he was observing a Noongar campfire from a position of hiding.

The most graphic account of the second part of the massacre is in Warren Bert Kimberley’s History of Western Australia (1897):

Colonel (sic) Molloy ordered his soldiers to prepare to march, and he took command of them and the chief settlers in the south-western districts. He gave special instructions that no woman or child should be killed, but that no mercy should be offered the men. A strong and final lesson must be taught to the blacks. All were well armed. Into the remote places this party went, bent on killing without mercy…  Isolated natives were killed during the first few days, and, so it is said, some women among them, but the main body had hidden from the terrible white men. A few parties fled from the threatened districts to the southern coast, and escaped. The majority hid in the thick bush around Lake Mininup. Although several natives were killed, the settlers and soldiers were not satisfied… Here and there a native was killed, and the others seeing that their hiding place was discovered fled before the determined force. They rushed to a sand patch beyond Lake Mininup…  The soldiers pushed on, and surrounded the black men on the sand patch. There was now no escape for the fugitives, and their vacuous cries of terror mingled with the reports of the white men’s guns. Native after native was shot, and the survivors, knowing that orders had been given not to shoot the women, crouched on their knees, covered their bodies with their bokas, and cried, ‘Me yokah’ (woman). The white men had no mercy. The black men were killed by dozens, and their corpses lined the route of march of the avengers.

James Battye (after whom our principal library is named) in Western Australia: A History (1924) attempts to excuse all the bones at Lake Mininup:

In 1841 there occurred an incident which, if true, can only be described as an act of atrocious cruelty and savagery on the part of some of the settlers in the south west … An avenging party under Captain Molloy set out and, it is said, ultimately succeeded in surrounding the whole body of natives on an open sand patch …

No records of the encounter exist, and it is more than likely that it has been built up to account for the collection of bones, which in all probability represents an aboriginal burial-ground…

White’s is an excellent account of how Molloy in particular but officialdom in general used weasel words and indirect language to obscure what even the newspapers called “not justifiable” killings. Let us leave the last word to an oral history collected by Whadjuk/Barladong scholar Len Collard in A Nyungar Interpretation of Ellensbrook and Wonnerup Homesteads (1994):

“The first mob was caught, was just the other side of the Capel River (Mollakup). When I was a little boy we found some skulls up there. One of them had a bullet in it, it had gone through the forehead and just sticking out the back. There was quite a few with holes knocked in them in the skulls and the next mob they caught was at Muddy Lake (Mininup) that’s this side of Bunbury and then they chased the other right through Australind somewhere around Australind area they caught up they killed some more there and the rest got away.”

Molloy of course was never brought to account for the murders that occurred under his command, and over time his role was ‘forgotten’, not least by Georgiana Molloy’s biographers. Happy Black Armband Day.

 

Jessica White, ‘Paper Talk’, Testimony and Forgetting in South-West Western Australia, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 2017/1 here

I’m not sure this massacre has an ‘official name, though it appears in at least some (recent) accounts as Wonnerup Massacre. Googling “Wardandi Massacre” brings up a lot of information on this and other massacres.

see also:
Report in Western Mail of 26 June 1914 (here)
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
My posts:
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)

Taboo, Kim Scott

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The biggest issues we face today are the flat-lining of the Australian and most western economies after decades of neo-liberal pro-market, anti-worker policies; and the refusal of right-wing politicians to allow even the possibility of a consensus for dealing with global warming.

Yet the biggest, the dominant issue in Australian Lit. is clearly what it means to be an Australian – Anglo, Indigenous, or otherwise – in this land we whites stole from its Indigenous inhabitants, the oldest continuing civilization on Earth. And which by the way, we continue to steal by all the artificial constraints State and Federal governments put around Native Title determinations when the graceful thing to do after the Mabo judgement would have been to declare all Crown land Indigenous and to negotiate with the traditional owners using that as the starting point.

This blog was started to investigate notions of Australianness, so I would say that, but look at who is prominent in Aust.Lit today and what books are receiving the most attention. None is about the failure of the welfare state or the casualization of work or the disappearance of free education or the obscene wealth of the very rich, and very few are about climate change. It is a subject for another post, the question of which writers at the height of their powers today, clearly stand head and shoulders above their fellows, but I would suggest three names, Kim Scott, Alexis Wright and Chris Tsialkos, and two of those are Indigenous and the third, Tsialkos is concerned to investigate Australianness from his own non-Anglo, non-straight background.

Taboo (2017) is both personal for Kim Scott and political. Personal in that it is a continuation of his exploration of his roots as a Wirlomin Noongar man, a sequel to the story he began telling in Benang (1999), and political in that he uses the return of the Wirlomin to the site of the Cocanarup Massacre and the reaction of the current (fictionalised) owners of Kocanarup Station as a metaphor for how whites of good intentions everywhere struggle to recognise the depth of the ongoing harm that they are party to.


Noongar: those Indigenous people whose country is all the south-western portion of Western Australia (from south of Geraldton to west of Esperance).

Wirlomin: the south-easternmost of 14 language groups making up the Noongar. Their country is centred on the present-day towns of Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun.

For maps of Australian Indigenous language groups see the ‘Aboriginal Australia’ page above (or here). The AIATSIS map labels the Wirlomin region as ‘Minang’.


And finally, that cover. I have no religion, nor any thoughts about spiritualism or life after death, and I hope that when I am dead my body is rendered into compost. But that doesn’t mean that I think images of dead people should be used as decorations on book covers. And given the enormous efforts of Indigenous people over a long period to have the bones of their ancestors returned from museums and given a proper burial, I think it is doubly inappropriate that a skull should be used in this way an the cover of this book.

In fact, despite my great age and years of long-distance truck driving, I have not only never seen a dead person, I avoid seeing people killed on film or television (I certainly don’t find it entertaining!), and have never been the first or even an early attender at a traffic accident, except of course the ones I’ve been in myself. Which is by way of a lead in to the first (and last) scene in the book: a truck loaded with grain loses its brakes at the top of the short steep hill at the eastern end of Ravensthorpe’s main street, gathers speed, missing pedestrians and cars, looks headed towards the roadhouse at the bottom of the hill before veering to the right, towards the creek where, “slowed at last by deep, coarse sand”, it falls slowly onto its side. And as grain pours from the beached tipper trailer, there appears gradually … “Something like a skeleton, but not of bone. At least, not only bone. The limbs are timber. The skull is timber too, dark and burnished, and ivory dentures …”

Except here Ravensthorpe is called Kepalup (in Benang it was Gebalup), Hopetoun 30 km south on the coast is Hopetown and Albany, the main regional centre, 300 km west along the WA south coast, is King George Town (as it was in That Deadman Dance). Other nearby towns, Esperance and Lake Grace for example, keep their names and Perth is just the City. Kocanarup is now owned by the overtly Christian Hortons – Dan, a widower and his brother Malcolm. In the 1880s, at the time of the massacre, it was owned by the Dunns (Dones in Benang).

Dan Horton’s late wife Janet had been a prime mover in the establishment of a ‘Peace Park’ at Kepalup (which may stand in for the Kukenarup Memorial which overlooks Cocanarup Station, 15 km west of Ravensthorpe). A party of Wirlomin, mostly elderly, mostly from King George Town, camp at the Hopetown caravan park by the sea for a retreat, for some of them to dry out, to prepare for the official opening of the Peace Park.

Tilly, the central character is a student at a private girls school in Perth, on scholarship. She is the daughter of a white mother and a Wirlomin father, Jim who has recently died in jail where he had been leading the revival of Wirlomin language and culture. As a baby, till reclaimed by her mother, she was the foster daughter of Dan and Janet Horton.

Tilly comes down on the bus to Lake Grace where she is met by her father’s cousins, twins Gerald and Gerrard Coolman – descendants of the Coolamons of Benang – one who had been in jail with her father and is now dry and a leader of the Wirlomin revival and one who is not, and they continue on to Kokanarup, to meet Dan Horton and to walk around the vaguely defined sites of the massacre up till now treated as taboo. After a night as guests at the Station they go on down to Hopetown and meet up with the others for the retreat.

All the people are carefully, lovingly even described and we get to know them as they tentatively reclaim the language that was forbidden to them when the older ones were sent away “to the mission” as children, and nearly lost, and as they slowly reclaim the springs and creeks and hills and stones of the massacre site. And so Tilly, by upbringing and education a stranger but still a loved family member, learns the words and sites of her people as Scott must have done too when he began the long journey whose beginning is described in Kayang and Me.

For a while, the middle section of the book, we go back. Tilly starts seeing her father, dying in jail, runs away from her mother, gets in harm’s way, is rescued. A malign presence, a large white man, is in her life, in her nightmares, in the lives of many of the people. And in the third, final section he’s in Kepalup.

Benang, in particular, was a poetic work. Taboo is much more plainly written, but that is also its power.

 

Kim Scott, Taboo, Picador, Sydney, 2017

see also:
The Cocanarup Massacre, my post based on Kim Scott’s source material (here)
Lisa at ANZLitLovers’ review of Taboo (here)
My reviews of Kim Scott’s earlier works –
True Country, 1993 (here)
Benang, 1999 (here)
Kayang and Me, 2005 (here)
That Deadman Dance, 2010 (here)

Jack Davis, Part II

2017 Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers

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Jack Davis (1917-2000), as we saw in my review of his childhood memoir, A Boy’s Life (here), had a normal rural working class upbringing in those years of scarcity prior to World War II, with just a few months at the Moore River Native Settlement in 1932 to remind him of his status as a non-white. The memoir ends in the 1940s with him droving in the Gascoyne, arid country, probably given over to sheep in those days, 1,000 km north of Perth, while one of his brothers and some of his school mates went away to war.

In the 50 pages Tony Hughes-d’Aeth devotes to Davis in his monumental (600pp) Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt, he gives a solid account of the dispersal of the Noongar – the Indigenous people of southwest WA – first by the pastoral industry in the 1800s and then by the transition to wheat farming in the 1900s. In the years before widespread mechanisation Aboriginal labour was vital, though generally unmentioned in rural histories. After WWII Aboriginal people, both Noongar and those from up north (like Davis’ parents), often dumped in the south west via the ‘Native Settlements’ at Carrolup and Moore River, and more and more often unemployed, settled on the outskirts of country towns.

Davis’ mother, after the death of his father, had gone to live with her sister at Brookton, 140 km east of Perth, where the jarrrah forested Darling Ranges merge into the gently rolling hills and open plains of the WA wheatbelt, and there she married into the local Indigenous Bennell family. H-d’A quotes Davis:

Reserves were small useless parcels of land left over from the great land-grab. Once the property needs of the farming community and its town had been met, a few discarded acres would be set aside as a reserve for Aborigines. It seldom had any economic value and certainly never had sufficient natural resources to support a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. Itinerant labouring work was the only means of support an Aborigine could expect …

Davis lived for a time at the Brookton reserve both before and after the War, and through his connection with the Bennells was introduced into Noongar culture. In passing, H-d’A comments on Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers (my review) and adds the information that Gare’s husband was with the Dept of Native Affairs, and that was the origin of her material, though she was also friends with Indigenous writer, Alice Nannup.

Davis had apparently begun writing poetry as early as his Moore River days. In 1937 he had a poem accepted by the Carnarvon Northern Times but it was never printed. Davis blamed racial discrimination and thereafter wrote only “for my own amusement”. Finally, in 1970, when he was 53 and running the Aboriginal Centre in Beaufort St, Perth, four decades of Davis’ poetry were collected in The First Born and other poems with a long preface based on the transcript of a biographical interview with Davis by the novelist Richard Beilby, and a ‘Bibbulmun’ (which I think is a Noongar sub-group though the two words sometimes appear interchangeable. I’m sure Daisy Bates says Bibbulmun where we would now say Noongar) vocabulary. Oodgeroo (Kath Walker), a Noonuccal (Stradbroke Is., Qld) woman had published two books of poetry in the 1960s – the first by an Aboriginal person – with sensational success and this may have made publication of Davis’ work possible, or at least more likely.

The poems in Jack Davis’ The First Born are generally short, rhyming lyrics, often in the elegiac tonality that was one of the key-notes in Walker’s poems, although they did not follow hers – at least not yet – down the path of political manifesto …

There is a sense of every-day Aboriginal experience to Davis’ poems. I’ll quote one, ‘Camped in the Bush’ (note the truck!), set in the Ranges outside Perth on the main east-west railway line.

Over the campfire
The bat cries shrill
And a “semi” snarls
On the Ten Mile Hill

And the lonely whistle
Of the train at night,
Where my kingdom melted
In the city’s light

 In 1968 Kevin Gilbert had written The Cherry Pickers, the first play by an Aboriginal to be performed (in 1971), though Davis credits Kath Walker with his move into drama: “As early as 1972 I had been experimenting with theatre  … I had seen the script of a short play by Kath Walker …”. His first play, The Dreamers was staged at the Bunbury Arts Festival (a provincial city south of Perth) in 1972, leading to his ‘great trilogy’ of plays – Kullark (1979), The Dreamers (1982) and No Sugar (1985).

Kullark was performed alongside Dorothy Hewett’s The Man from Mukinupin. H-d’A writes:

Whereas in Hewett the Aboriginal characters perturb and destabilise the white town’s sense of itself, in Davis we see the perspective reversed for the first time – how white people and, in particular, white history looks to the Indigenous.

Davis’ plays are all realist dramas, the first two ostensibly played out in the present, but actually through speech and flashbacks demonstrating the intersection of family history and white settler racism. In The Dreamers, the dying Worru bridges the past and the future, and as he dies his language becomes more and more Noongar, illustrating the language’s survival against all odds.

No Sugar, set in 1929-34, is based on the removal and internment of a whole Noongar community, barely legal even under the 1905 Aborigines Act, from Northam, 100 km east of Perth and in the (conservative) Premier’s own electorate, to Moore River. The penalty for escaping from Moore River was six months in Fremantle Jail. The 1929 setting enables Davis to comment not just on the Depression, but also on the WA Centenary, and by implication on the (then) recent, 1979 state Sesquicentenary and upcoming ‘national’ 1988 Bicentenary celebrations (the 200th anniversary of the movement of the new British settlement from Botany Bay to Sydney Harbour, an event of little significance outside NSW and increasingly offensive to the Indigenous people forced along with the rest of us to celebrate it).

Interestingly, the infamous Chief Protector, A.O. Neville, is a character in the play as the action initially moves backwards and forwards between the Mundays and Millimurras at the town camp, the Northam police station, and the Chief Protector’s office. In the second act, the whole camp, 89 people, has been moved to Moore River. “The climax of the play has Jimmy Munday and the others subverting the ceremonial visit of A.O.Neville to Moore River on Australia Day 1934. Jimmy confronts Neville and [Superintendent] Neal, jeering them about the defeat of [Premier] Mitchell in his seat of Northam.”

Davis’ drama asks who was A.O. Neville ‘protecting’:

… the major beneficiaries of the “Protection” offered in the [1905] Act were the mainly white citizens of Western Australia, particularly those living in rural areas. In the emerging towns of the wheatbelt, the provisions of the Act were used to institute a form of apartheid in which Aboriginal people were kept out of the towns through curfews and other forms of soft or hard police power.

Hughes-d’Aeth concludes: “What Davis is able to do, better than anyone before or since, is to capture the complexity of Aboriginal policy as it affected the lives of thousands of people during the twentieth century.”

 

Jack Davis, No Sugar, Currency Press, Sydney, 1986
Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, A Literary History of the Wheatbelt, UWAP, Perth, 2017

Jack Davis Part I, A Boy’s Life (here)
see also: Mairi Neil’s review (here) of Jack Davis’ poetry in her blog Up the Creek with a Pen …
and my review of Kim Scott’s researching of his Noongar heritage, Kayang and Me (here)

I see in Hughes-d’Aeth’s Notes that there is a biography of Davis by Keith Chesson (211pp) which is also available as an audio book from WA Assoc’n for the Blind (Trove)

A Boy’s Life, Jack Davis

2017 Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers

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Jack Davis (1917-2000) was a poet, a playwright, a Noongar man, and an indigenous rights campaigner. His plays, including No Sugar, his best known, are studied in Western Australian schools but I first came to hear of him only a couple of years ago. Reviewing Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence I wrote: “[The girls] were held at the East Perth Girls’ Home (the author says this is now the Jack Davis hostel, to which I cannot find any reference, though Jack Davis seems to have been an Indigenous writer and activist whom I should follow up)” -and now I am.

Davis’ parents had both been taken from their families up north, but by 1917 his father had his citizenship papers and was working at Waroona not far south of Perth, so young Jack was born prosaically in King Edward Memorial Hospital (equivalent to Royal Women’s in Melbourne) and not “delivered by Aboriginal women in the glow of a campfire” as he might have wished.

However, a quote on the second page marks the place where all accounts of Indigenous life in Australia must start until we whites acknowledge and internalize the great wrongs that we have done and are doing:

[My father] remembers holding his boss’ horse outside the Roebourne police station while his boss went to obtain a permit which gave him permission to shoot troublesome blacks on his property. The cost of the permit was one shilling.

Jack’s father came south and married, with jobs in Waroona and Lake Clifton before settling in Yarloop, a timber milling and railway town between Perth and Bunbury. Jack was the fourth of 10 children and grew up with a happy home life, his father with a job at the mill, no more impoverished than the people around them during the 1920s and 30s, with access to good hunting in the jarrah forests of the Darling Escarpment,  a Black family in a mostly white community and no mention of racial tension.

These are stories of going to school, growing up in any Australian rural town, any loving mother with a big family, getting into scrapes and all the rest of it, at a time when roads were unpaved and cars were rare. The writing is spare and cheerful. The stories are short and not as detailed as Norman Lindsay’s for instance, nor as sickly-sentimental as Miles Franklin’s Childhood at Brindabella. I had a look too, at the opening chapters of Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life, which I haven’t read for a while, but again there was more detail and more continuity than in Davis’ short (150pp) book of stories.

In the last few chapters Jack  falls into the snares of the infamous ‘Protector’ of Aboriginals, A.O.Neville. When Jack is 14 Neville offers him and his next older brother, Harold ‘places’ at Moore River native Settlement to ‘learn farming’. Mrs Davis accepts and the boys make their way there via the Home in East Perth which was later to bear Jack’s name. The offer is of course a con and the boys are used as unpaid labour. As we know, conditions at Moore River were terrible:

One day two sixteen-year-old girls who tried to abscond from the settlement were caught, brought back and locked in the boob. Next day they were taken down to the storeroom where they were both laid over sacks of flour and Mr Neal [the superintendent] flogged them with the cat until they wet themselves. He then ordered them to eat the flour.

Davis thinks superintendent was a tough job, but someone had to do it. After a few months, mostly in the outer camp with the adults, the boys were told to return home. A year or so later, the Depression really starting to bite, the older boys unable to find work, their father dies in an accident, and the family breaks up. Davis heads north and spends the war years droving in the Gascoyne.

Although Davis doesn’t say so, I think his father’s citizenship papers insulated the family from the worst effects of the 1905 Aborigines Act, but the fact that both parents were ‘stolen’ and the Act’s prohibition of ‘citizens’ consorting with Aboriginals meant that nearly all family connections were lost. Neville would claim of course that the Davis’ ‘normal’ family life was proof of the efficacy of this prohibition, but the personal cost was enormous and Jack only discovered he had family connections in the Brookton area east of Perth when author Sally Morgan ran across part of his mother’s family tree during research into someone else, in the latter years of his life.

At this point I have less insight into Davis’ writing than I had expected. Perth academic and editor of Westerly, Tony Hughes d’Aeth, has just released Like Nothing on this Earth: A Literary History of the Wheatbelt which I will review at length ‘soon’, but it contains a chapter on Davis (and another on Facey). For those of you not up on WA geography, the Wheatbelt is a belt of semi-arid country south of a line from north of Geraldton to east of Esperance, but not including the high rainfall jarrah forests of the south west corner. For reasons probably to do with rainfall, that outer boundary roughly coincides with the outer boundary of Noongar country.

For the next few days I am working up the Pilbara coast, but when I get back I’ll put up a part II on No Sugar (the script, I haven’t seen a performance) and d’Aeth’s chapter on Davis.

 

Jack Davis, A Boy’s Life, Magabala Books, Broome, 1991

see also Mairi Neil’s review (here) of Jack Davis’ poetry in her blog Up the Creek with a Pen …
Jack Davis, No Sugar, Currency Press, Sydney, 1986
Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, A Literary History of the Wheatbelt, UWAP, Perth, 2017