historical silences

A couple of days after  the Milpirri Festival  had finished we drove  north out of Lajamanu  to Top Springs via the Buntine Highway  The Landrover Discovery was damaged,  so we did  not make a detour to  go to Kalkarindji (formerly Wave Hill) or to  take a look at the Victoria River. This  region is the traditional land of  the Gurindji peoples and I kept on thinking of the myths of colonial history of this region. These myths have shaped how Australian’s have traditionally viewed the country and its indigenous people.

The myth about Aboriginal people is  that before European invasion, Aboriginal people were simply living off the land, with no civilization and a culture that didn’t make it out of the ‘stone age’ despite tens of thousands of years of human habitation. European colonists myth  painted blackfellas as primitive and that the land was an untamed wilderness. European settlement could occur because  the land was seen as desert and uncultivated and inhabited by a  backward people. The myth is part of the  core  narrative of colonial history  about the  establishment of the pastoral industry, which  celebrate European exploration, pioneering, colonisation and conquest. In this narrative  Aboriginal people were part and parcel of the environment: an element to be overcome by force if necessary, along with drought, wild animals, hunger and thirst.

creeper and tin

creeper and tin

This  is a myth and narrative is notable for how it covers over some marked  historical silences.

The reality of course was the arrival of Europeans involved ‘mass killing, introduced diseases, huge displacement of people, increased ecological and social pressures within available refuge areas and increased competition for women’ It was history  of punitive expeditions and frontier policing using a police force to protect the interest of the newly established pastoral industry to dispossessed the Aboriginal inhabitants.The  pastoralists and others could do what they liked with Aboriginal people, exploiting and using violence against them, taking the law into their own hands by punishing and killing them in what they euphemistically called ‘summary justice’.

The pastoralists strongly believed that the police should act in their interests, protecting their stock, punishing people they called cattle killers and returning runaway Aboriginal workers to their stations. The pastoralists certainly did not believe that the police should act in the interests of Aboriginal people.

tin, Lajamanu

tin, Lajamanu

Gurindji – like the Warlpirri—- found their waterholes  and soaks  fenced off or fouled by cattle, which also ate or trampled the fragile desert plant life.   Kangaroos, a staple meat, was also routinely shot since it competed with cattle for water and grazing land. Gurindji suffered lethal reprisals  for any attempt to eat the cattle – anything from a skirmish to a massacre. As noted earlier the last recorded massacre in the area occurred at Coniston in 1928.




One thought on “historical silences

  1. Pingback: at Emu waterhole | The Long Road to Lajamanu

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