Australia was founded on bloodshed, and its historical identity and its origins-of-thinking include slavery (blackbirding), social engineering, apartheid, racism. To deny all of this is to keep Australians hostage to the various veils and layers of racism. Understanding the past is to free up the present and the future from being held hostage by lies. Far too often our ability to discover the truth has been outstripped by the capacity to manifest deceit.
Prime Minister Abbott in addressing the launch of a project – Defining Moments – in Canberra said he believed “British settlement” which he acknowledged “dispossessed and for a long time marginalised Indigenous people” was a defining moment, profoundly shaping Australia. His loss of sensitivity was inescapable and his obsession with all things British just as obvious. His comments were also born of the fact that the launch coincided with the 200th anniversary of the death of Governor Arthur Phillip.
He spoke of Governor Phillip as Australia’s George Washington. In effect he chose one lot of people over other people instead of coalescing and respecting all people.
“On the 26th January 1788, Governor Phillip raised the Union flag at Sydney Cove, drank to the King’s health and success to the settlement, and I quote from the official record, ‘With all the display of form, which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits and fills the imagination with pleasing presages,” said Prime Minister Abbott.
The ‘official record’ has left out the inhumanities, the barbarous murders, the killing of whole communities.
Prime Minister Abbott said that British imposts have “provided the foundation for Australia to become one of the freest, fairest, and most prosperous societies on the face of the earth.”
He did not say that Australia is not fair to all its residents – certainly not to First Nations people and Asylum Seekers. He did not say that Australia has impoverished First Nations people.
The unsurprising gaffe from a Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who earlier this year described Australia as ‘unsettled’ as if truly a Terra Nullius, follows many comments by so many others in high office who have said that Australia was “achieved without civil war or bloodshed” or that ‘Australia’ was born of this continent without sin.
It is an insult to First Nations peoples, and to the hundreds of thousands of descendants of the hundreds of Aboriginal cultures whose ancestors were slaughtered in massacres. And the coterie of comments from Australia’s most powerful and wealthiest widen the divide that we need to bridge to end the racism.
Modernist Australia is defined by inhumanity, racism and ongoing civil strife when today we stare into the abyss of horrific suicide rates of First Nations peoples, premature deaths, third-world akin impoverishment and some of the world’s highest incarceration rates. We also endure the bents of assimilation; that is the killing of culture and when a culture dies so does a nation. The latest gaffe by Prime Minister Abbott is too much for First Nation peoples and Australians. It is more than just a gaffe, it is a veil of racism.
Many died because of the British colony that the First Fleet brought to this continent.
Unless we come to terms with that, injustice will flourish.
When Prime Minister Abbott spends his fine tuned week in the Arnhem Land he should try his First Fleet and Terra Nullius statements on the people there and see how they respond. A Prime Minister should respect the identities, histories, needs and aspirations of all this continent’s people and not cling to the one culture alone – the British – of the hundreds of cultures that make up the modern day Australia. Australia will only be free of its sins post-1788 when it admits them and returns rights to those from whom they were brutally stolen.
There were hundreds of massacres throughout Australia that cost tens of thousands of Aboriginal lives, and we are only now discovering the extensiveness of the slaughtering, that it may be in the hundreds of thousands nationally, maybe more than 50,000 in Queensland alone. First Nation peoples died or endured various oppression, were victim to apartheid practices and to the atrocities committed by violent settlers and the institutional arms of the colonialist jurisdictions, by the government troops and the police. Native police forces were created specifically to move on Aboriginal peoples. Massacres of First Nation peoples were generally not recorded.
A snapshot of Australian history in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries is what the arrival of First Fleet defines:
In 1790, Governor Arthur Phillip issued an order for a delegation “of two captains, two subalterns and forty privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers from the garrison to bring in six of those Natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay, or, if that number shall be found impracticable, to put that number to death.”
In 1804 the British massacred Aboriginal peoples at Risdon Cove, NSW. In 1816, another massacre took place along Cataract River, just south of Sydney. Governor Macquarie sent possies out against the Gundungurra and Dharawal peoples who had a problem with being dispossessed of their lands.
The Black War in Tasmania took place around the same time when violent settlers, whalers and sealers were bent on wiping out Aboriginal peoples whom they saw as being in the way. Many describe what happened as an act of genocide. This atrocity culminated with 200 Aboriginal survivors rounded up and sent to Flinders Island.
Then there is the 1816 Appin massacre where on April 17 Government troops burnt the camps of the Dharawal people. The dead were thrown over a cliff.
The Bathurst massacre in 1824 was alleged to have taken place over cattle being stolen. In 1828, 30 Pennemukeer Aboriginal peoples were killed during the Cape Grim massacre.
In 1830, the first official “punishment raid’ was led on Noongar people in what is now Fremantle, led by Captain Irwin. An alleged theft of goods from a settler’s makeshift dwelling was met with retribution. Captain Irwin is quoted , “The tall savage who appeared the Chief showed unequivocal gestures of defiance and contempt.”
“This daring and hostile conduct of the Natives induced me to seize the opportunity to make them sensible to our superiority, by showing how severely we could retaliate their aggression.”
In 1883 the Convincing Ground massacre of Gundjitmajara people in Victoria led to 200 Aboriginal women and children being killed.
In 1834, in the Battle of Pinjarra in WA up to 160 Aboriginal people may have been killed despite official records stating only 14 deaths. In the subsequent years right throughout the South West of Western Australian Aboriginal peoples were slain.
In 1838, Sydney’s Waterloo Creek massacre, later known as Slaughterhouse Creek – and which occurred on January 26 – led to 50 Kamilaroi people killed.
In 1838, the Myall Creek massacre occurred. This was the first Aboriginal massacre for which some European settlers were successfully prosecuted.
In 1838, there were also the Broken River and Gwydir River massacres, the massacres at Bowman, Ebden and Yaldwyn stations.
In 1839, followed the Campaise Plains massacre, the Murdering Gully massacre with the Djargud Wurrung people nearly wiped out. During the same period violence between European settlers and Wiradjuri around the Murrumbidgee River was ongoing and would last to the end of the century.
In the Victorian Gippsland massacres during the 1840s up to 1,000 Aboriginal peoples were indiscriminately killed.
In 1841, the Rufus River massacre took 50 lives.
On August 27, in Western Australia at Lake Minimup Captain John Molloy “gave special instructions that no woman or child should be killed, but that no mercy should be offered the men. The bodies were lined up as a warning to others.
Settlers were also prone to poisoning Aboriginal peoples to death. Outside of Brisbane, in 1842, 60 Kabi Kabi died from eating flour laced with strychnine.
In 1842, at the Evans Head massacre, 100 Bundjalung people were killed.
In 1843, at the Warrigal Creek massacre up to 150 people were massacred. The Cape Otway, Balonne, and Condamine River massacres followed. The massacres of the Muruwari people at Hospital Creek followed, and then Brewarinna’s Butchers Tree, the Barwon River and the Narran River massacres.
In 1849, there were the Mount Gambier massacres. In 1857, there was the massacre of the Yeeman people.
In 1861, in the Central Highlands of Queensland, in October and November police and violent settlers killed 170 Aboriginal peoples.
In 1865, the La Grange expedition into the Kimberley led to the deaths of 20 Aboriginal people.
In 1867, in Central Queensland, the Goulbolba Hill massacre claimed the lives of men, women and children. Native Police and about 100 settlers killed 300 Aboriginal people.
In 1868, the Dampier Archipelago’s Flying Foam massacre led to the deaths of up to 150 Yaburara people.
In 1873, the Battle Camp massacre in far north Queensland wiped out many Aboriginal people, many of them would have met the settlers for the first time.
In 1874, the Northern Territory’s Barrow Creek massacre cost 100 Aboriginal lives.
In 1875, the Blackfellow’s Creek massacre in far north Queensland cost scores of Aboriginal lives. An inquiry absolving the settlers and troopers would hear, “The niggers got a dressing there…”
In 1879, once again in far north Queensland at Cape Bedford more than 30 Guugu-Yimidhirr people were killed. An inquiry heard, “Both outlets were secured by the troopers. There twenty-eight men and thirteen gins thus enclosed, of whom none of the former escaped. Twenty-four were shot down on the beach and four swam out to the sea never to be seen again.”
In the 1880s clashes were common in the Arnhem land between Yolgnu and settlers. There were several massacres.
In 1884 at the Battle Mountain near Mount Isa more than 200 Kalkadoon people were killed.
In 1887, in WA’s Halls Creek there were the massacres of Djara, Konejandi and Walmadjari peoples.
In 1890, there was the Speewah massacre of Djabugay people in far north Queensland by Native troopers.
In 1906 and 1907 the Canning Stock Route led to the deaths of many Aboriginal men, women and children and also the capture and enslaving of Martu peoples as guides for the trekkers to map out the Route. Women were raped. The Western Australian Government held an inquiry but exonerated the murderers and rapists.
In 1915 Kija people were massacred at Mistake Creek. In 1918, more than 100 Kaiadilt people were killed.
Then there were “The Killing Times” in the east Kimberley – between 1890 to 1926. The State Government had deployed a quarter of Western Australia’s police force in the Kimberley. Violence was used to dispossess Aboriginal peoples who were hounded by police and pastoralists. Hundreds were killed in the Derby and in the Fitzroy Crossing. Jandamarra was hunted down. There were scores of mass killings.
During “The Killing Times” in the Kimberley many Aboriginal peoples were nearly wiped out, for instance at Warmun and Turkey Creek communities. Near what is now James Price Point (Walmadany) the Goolarabooloo peoples were nearly wiped out.
In 1924, at Bedford Downs, Gija and Worla men were tried in Wyndham for allegedly spearing a milking cow. After the court appearance vigilantes gave them dog tags and forced them to walk 200 kilometres back to Bedford Downs. When back they were forced to chop the wood that would later be used to burn their bodies – once they had finishing chopping the wood their strychnine laced food would kill most of them. Those who clung to life were clubbed to death. The bodies were burned by the local police.
In 1926, the Forrest River massacre in the east Kimberley cost scores of lives.
In 1928, the Northern Territory’s Coniston massacre cost 32 Aboriginal lives – one Great War veteran shot them. One of the survivors was Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, who became a famous Papunya painting man – his mother had hidden him in an acoolamon (a carrying vessel). An inquiry stated the murders were justified.