At beginning of the 15th century, extensive overseas exploration emerged as a powerful factor in European culture. It also marked the rise in Europe of colonialism and mercantilism as national policies. Many lands previously unknown to Europeans were discovered during this period. Australia sits in the southern hemisphere far from the maddening crowds of Europe and if any one of you have ever made the pilgrimage to Europe, then you will know what I mean. Now, I pause here to acknowledge that I may have adopted a Eurocentric or Anglo-centric view of the geophysical location of Australia. For, if you were an Australian aboriginal native in say, 1788, you wouldn’t have given a tinker’s curse where Europe was or dear old Blighty. What was important though, was that the geographical location of the continent of Australia was unknown to the world. However, the known world, European powers, knew it was an unknown and that it was just a matter of joining the lines of longitude and latitude together to fix its position on the world atlas. On the other hand, the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia knew nothing of the known world nor, indeed, of Australia as a large landmass. They were disconnected from the outside world and had been so for 60,000 years, if you accept the upbeat view of their presence in Australia. When I say the known world, I just don’t mean European powers, one must be strict, and include the ever present and equally ancient civilisations of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and the Chinese who, each in their turn, conquered or influenced the great Malay Archipelago, from Rangoon to Cebu, up to recent times. Now some wit will put up his hand and say, please Sir, what about the Makassans? Yes, they fiddled about the fringes of northern Australia and it could be said that up until the arrival of the First Fleet, the top end of Australia was the entry point through which any and all features of change or variation may have diffused into Australia but on the face of it, the cultural impact of the Makassans contact was regional. I qualify that by saying even though the contact was trivial, collecting sea cucumbers, it was frequent and persistent contact over a long period of time which produced a devastating impact on the wellbeing of the aboriginal natives of Australia by the transmission of the disease of smallpox into the indigenous community. The disease entered Australia in the same way as hitherto all other intruders had, until the arrival of the white man who entered by following the sailing instructions of the VOC: “seek the latitudes of 35, 36, 40 to 44 degrees south, depending on where the seamen can find the best west winds.”
As I said, the geographical location of the continent of Australia was unknown to the world, to all the major civilisations of the world apart from the odd reef rat, seadog or privateer of whatever flag, who might have drifted and shifted the Seven Seas. The European view at the time, was that the place was Terra Australis Incognita and wasn’t worth knowing, let alone having, because it had no natural resources of any value or note and the inhabitants were naked and unfriendly. Europe, Asia, and Africa were prodigal in their gifts, both the Americas rendered rich tribute to man, but Australia gave nothing. The aboriginal blacks were the poorest of all savages. They possessed neither grains nor fruits, neither flocks nor herds. Their land gave nothing because it had nothing to give; only sufficient for their barest animal needs, and to white men it appeared to have nothing at all to offer. The consequences of this was that the aboriginal natives were equally ignorant of the known world not just the world of the Europeans, Catholic or Protestant but also the eastern worlds of Islam, Buddhism, the Chinese, etc. & etc. Captain Arthur Phillip summed it up this way:
I could have wished to have given your Lordship a more pleasing account of our present situation; and am persuaded I shall have that satisfaction hereafter; nor do I doubt but that value of this country will prove the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made; at the same time no country offers less assistance to the first settlers than this does; nor do I think any country could be more disadvantageously placed with respect to support from the mother country, on which for a few years we must entirely depend.
That great Australian, Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization put this way:
A great deal of nonsense has been talked about the aborigines, as it regards their social and moral condition. Had they been in a more civilised state it would have been singular; for no country on the face of the earth yet discovered has been so destitute of the means of fixed residence, corn and fruits, for the localisation of a people. … The mode of life of the natives of New Holland is the natural result, age after age, of the one compelling necessity of roaming over the land in search of food. The blandness of the climate, too, tends to perpetuate such a kind of existence. Their desires are simple as their food, and easily satisfied. … had it been at all a land of corn and oil and wine, it might have been otherwise. Its indigenous fruits are few and contemptible. The dwellings of the natives are such as would naturally result from their wandering life.
The origin of the Australian aboriginal native is enshrouded in obscurity, and currently subject to much uncertain conjecture. There are a variety of opinions entertained upon this subject; and I leave the matter to those who wish to run down that particular rabbit hole. The period I write of is the last thirty years of the eighteenth century from Cook to say the time of Federation, 1901. In this period each succeeding wave of settler advancement was by and large met with aboriginal natives who were still untouched by civilisation.
As to their system of governance, they were not to be regarded as one extended community, acknowledging authority vested in one or more principal persons, but divided into a number of petty groups, denominated tribes, which seldom include more than two or three hundred in the largest and most influential, whilst by far the greater proportion were small and feeble; yet, whether large or small, weak or powerful, they were entirely distinct from each other, as it relates to their habitat, and the control and management of their own affairs, which for all general purposes were directed by the mutual consent of the adult male members.
Thus, making for isolation and aggression amongst the various tribes or groupings. Within their defined habitat, the Aborigines lived a nomadic existence based on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle employing stone age technology supported by fire for hunting and fighting and some weaving like dilly bags and fishing nets. I don’t wish to be disparaging by saying the Aborigines lived by sticks and stones alone but that is the summation of their technological status. There existed an oral tradition involving an intricate mythology as well as societal norms governing kinship and marriage together with rules relating to punishment as well as practical instruction in collecting and processing the natural food of the group. Their rock art catalogues what animals played a significant part of their food chain and not one of them might be domesticated. Apart from that their minds were as naked as their bodies when it came to knowledge and understanding beyond the immediate aboriginal frame of reference which was the Sisyphean tasks of hunting and gathering within their habitat. Membership within each language group was based on birthright, and relationships, responsibilities and obligations within the group were also predetermined. The environment was controlled by the spiritual rather than physical means and ceremonies were deeply tied to the tribe’s habitat, salient features or landmarks having meaning or existence from mythical stories.
Historians of the left investigating the colonisation of Australia concentrate upon what they allege are the crimes, omissions and failures of the white colonial apparatus in settling and governing the country. The Aborigines were victims, they say and thus are immune from any inquiry or serious analysis into their response or lack thereof to the settlers’ actions and their polices of settlement and governance. The idea or assertion that the entry into Australia by officers, agents and servants of the British Crown in 1788 was an illegal act and furthermore, should be characterise as an invasion is an absurdity, lacking any serious-minded credibility. Yet it remains the cri de guerre of the left and its troupe de partisans. It is beyond doubt that at some stage given the fundamental wellspring of human nature, through expansion and knowledge, Australia would have been acquired to meet that appetite. However, the left’s modus operandi is to argue that in the scheme of things colonialism was authoritarian, exploitive and repressive thus, criminal or, at least, illegal. Therefore, all actions or omissions in furtherance of colonial expansion were illegal and any reaction by the indigenous subjects whether cooperative or uncooperative are beyond scrutiny and can only be portrayed as a justifiable, heroic, liberation struggle. The reasoning is analogous to English criminal law where the traditional position of both the praxis and the theory has been to deny the relevance of the victim’s behaviour. It is said that the criminal law is made to protect those who are harmed. The input of the victim, given the responsibility of the offender, must be put aside. To illustrate the point, A intentionally injures B. B seeks medical advice and is told he needs a blood transfusion to save his life. B assembles his family and spiritual adviser and together they inform the medical practitioner that B will not consent to a blood transfusion because it offends his religious and cultural beliefs. B is warned once again that without the transfusion he will die. B dies and A is tried for murder and convicted. A appeals and argues B is the author of his own death because he wilfully rejected lifesaving therapy out of ignorance and further, religious and cultural beliefs are irrelevant in the event of imminent death. The court rejected the appeal based on the rule that you take the victim as you find them. Of course, remaining in a state of ignorance can lead to serious economic downfall, relationship crises, legal issues, and more. Like B, it can lead to death. It is important for human survival to be knowledgeable on different topics. The concept of ignorance, lack of knowledge, describes a person or groups of persons in the state of being unaware. Stanner said the Aborigines were a deeply religious people. Surely, the inference is that they were ignorant and bigoted, unwilling to change. Now as to the frame of reference of the Aborigines of Australia, they were unaware, ignorant, and lacking knowledge of the beliefs, schemas, preferences, values, cultures and other ways in which the rest of the world behaved, operated and functioned. I am being neither judgmental nor Eurocentric when I say the Aborigines were ignorant of the ways of the world beyond their habitat. It’s a fact based on empirical evidence. Lauriston Sharp in her article Steel Axes for Stone-Age Australians made an interesting observation:
Among the bush Yir Yoront the only means of water transport is a light wood log to which they cling in their constant swimming of rivers, salt creeks, and tidal inlets. These natives know that tribes 45 miles further north have a bark canoe. They know these northern tribes can thus fish from midstream or out at sea, instead of clinging to the river banks and beaches, that they can cross coastal waters infested with crocodiles, sharks, sting rays, and Portuguese men-of-war without danger. They know the materials of which the canoe is made exist in their own environment. But they also know, as they say, that they do not have canoes because their own mythical ancestors did not have them. They assume that the canoe was part of the ancestral universe of the northern tribes. For them, then, the adoption of the canoe would not be simply a matter of learning a number of new behavioural skills for its manufacture and use. The adoption would require a much more difficult procedure; the acceptance by the entire society of a myth, either locally developed or borrowed, to explain the presence of the canoe, to associate it with some one or more of the several hundred mythical ancestors (and how (to) decide which?), and thus establish it as an accepted totem of one of the clans ready to be used by the whole community. The Yir Yoront have not made this adjustment, and in this case, we can only say that for the time being at least, ideas have won out over very real pressures for technological change. In the elaborateness and explicitness of the totemic ideologies we seem to have one explanation for the notorious stability of Australian cultures under aboriginal conditions, an explanation which gives due weight to the importance of ideas in determining human behaviour.
If a neighbouring tribe or clan could not accept or adopt a more efficient technological improvement within their economy because of their beliefs, customs, traditions, religions, etc, then what is their prospects of survival when competing forces challenge their existence? Sharp draws this conclusion arising out of the introduction of the steel axe:
The most disturbing effects of the steel axe, operating in conjunction with other elements also being introduced from the white man’s several sub-cultures, developed in the realm of traditional ideas, sentiments, and values. These were undermined at a rapidly mounting rate, with no new conceptions being defined to replace them. The result was the erection of a mental and moral void which foreshadowed the collapse and destruction of all Yir Yoront culture, if not, indeed, the extinction of the biological group itself.
The conclusion that I draw from Sharp’s study is that tribal Aborigines or uncontacted Aborigines and their culture were at great risk of extinction not just from les grands maux of colonialization that are so characteristic of the black armband ideology such as, dispossession, disease, firearms, and substances of addiction but also from an item of such obvious utility as the steel axe. This demonstrates how inevitable the consequences of any cultural or technological challenges to Aborigines would be. It further suggests that these outlandish conspiracy theories of the black armband brigade against the white settlers are without foundation and that aboriginal culture and life style was capable of being undermined by even the most benign of foreign objects. AW Howitt put it this way:
If the aborigine could have become physically and mentally such as a white man, he would have been in equilibrium with his new surroundings. If his physical and mental nature had been able to become modified with sufficient rapidity to come into equilibrium with the changed conditions, he could have survived. But the former alternative is self-evidently an impossibility, and probably the strength of hereditary physical and mental peculiarities has made the latter alternative also an impossibility. The consequence has been that he is rapidly and inevitably becoming extinct.
What is the relevance of aboriginal ignorance and their closed culture in the foundation of the Australian nation? The Perry Expedition to Japan was not only one of exploration and surveying for the purposes of navigation but to open contact with the Japanese for trade and commerce and if necessary, to force the Japanese to open their borders. The Japanese had been steadfast in their refusal to admit foreigners. Eventually seeing the error of maintaining their ignorance of modern western culture and science, the Japanese took steps to remove their ignorance by not only admitting the westerners but also by embracing western science, which ultimately led them to becoming an impressive modern western nation. This small event in the history of human interaction may assist in clarifying the approach to the situation of the aboriginal native of Australia. They too were like the Japanese totally different from the westerner who stood at their door seeking entrance for purposes of trade, commerce and exploration for land and commodities to trade. Unlike the Japanese who clearly gave notice to Perry that he was not welcomed and would be refused entry, no such acts of repulsion or expulsion were carried out by the Aborigines. They simply looked on in subdued indifference to the entry of the English. It is beyond question that the Aborigines had a duty to parley with the English as the Japanese had with Perry, rather than skulking off into the fastness of the Australian scrub. Now it is possible to accept that the Aborigines’ actions or omissions were dictated by their ignorance or lack of familiarity with Europeans and that until the Europeans had plainly demonstrated their good intentions of peaceful dealings with the Aborigines and the Aborigines, in turn, had had sufficient time to build up experience and confidence in treating with the Europeans, then little progress could be made in bringing the groups together to forge an understanding of the occupation of the country? However, after an appropriate period of adjustment, if the Aborigines continued to refuse or remain recalcitrant, then they could be admonished to hear and enter into consultation.
Be that as it may, when dealing with myall or uncontacted Aborigines, the peace maker would need to overcome some insurmountable barriers. The identification of a negotiator for the Aborigines would be difficult, almost an impossibility and difference of language between tribes, coupled with their defective understanding of diplomacy, and with the entire absence of any system of authority among themselves, would render it hopeless to treat for an agreement or an accord.
Elkin described the Aborigines as follows:
The reaction of an aboriginal people to the presence and culture of an intrusive and settling people is not based necessarily on curiosity, acquisition and imitation. Such drives are familiar to us of the western world, even in cross-cultural situations; we might infer, therefore, that because our culture is comparatively rich, the less well-endowed peoples, when confronted with it, would desire to examine, acquire and imitate it. In Australian Aboriginal culture, however, the individual is trained not to show curiosity, indeed, not to be curious. Thus, during initiation he only looks at rites and objects when told to do so, and he does not ask the “why”; he waits until he is told, and that in instalments. Moreover, both men and women grow up accepting the fact that sections of knowledge are restricted to one or more groups, and are not free to all. With this background, the Aborigines consider quite naturally that the ways, possessions and beliefs of the white man are his secret, his own possession, and are not to be “taken by storm’’ or imitated. They are just factually “another kind” and neither envy nor acquisitiveness is aroused. They do not expect the white man to pry upon their life.
What were the British asking the Aborigines to understand and accept initially? The British way of life, which involved firstly, learning to speak English and preferably learning also to read and write, a concept completely foreign to them because they had no writing system; then, to accept the Christian faith, the British judicial system, the British political system and the British work ethic and social organisations. Historically, huge sums of public and private money have been spent on endeavouring to persuade the Aborigines to adopt Anglo-Saxon ways of thinking and living. Not only have the funds been without effect, the effort has been thrown back at the donors who have in turn been accused of mala fides by seeking to implement eugenics and social Darwinism among many other forms of social engineering. In reality, all the white settler was trying to do was to persuade the Aborigines to change their way of life and become God-fearing citizens with a highly developed work-ethic. The last attempt at this from of change at a public venue was the 1966 NT Cattle Industry Case.
We agree with the pastoralists that there are many aborigines on cattle stations who for cultural reasons and through lack of education are unable to perform work in a way normally required in our economic society. We agree that the problem of assimilating or integrating these aborigines into our society is a difficult one with many facets. …There must be one industrial law, similarly applied, to all Australians, aboriginal or not.
After the original reason for the settlement in Australia was superseded that of a penal colony, the venue then became a settlement where immigrants came to conduct commercial, agricultural, pastoral and mining activities so as to enter the UK market of the day and accumulate wealth. These activities required land and the settlers with their means of production: herds of domesticated animals and shepherds, were granted land on an ever-expanding frontier. The nature of the frontier was such that settlers would cross into an unsettled area containing an uncontacted tribe or myall blacks to use the vernacular, who naturally, had no experience of white settlers’ activities. Inevitably the actions of the settler or squatter would disturb the tribe and where the tribe had a cohort of warriors not lacking in bravado, then some form of collision would occur resulting in the death of the whites and/or the destruction of their pastoral assets. The reaction of the authorities would be to send in Native Police who would engage these troublesome warriors, which generally led to their death because they would resist the police and thus, the tribe would then become a mendicant upon the squatter with the inevitable long-term disintegration of the group through white disease and white foodstuffs which were inimical to the health and wellbeing of Aborigines bred in tribal ways. This pathology did not occur in all cases of contact between whites and Aborigines on the frontier. True to human nature, some Aborigines avoided collisions with settlers and entered into a variety of relationships but without exception, the nexus depended on sustenance being given to the Aborigines in return for what I call make-believe aboriginal labour. The alternative way of describing this connection is to use Elkin’s phrase, intelligent parasitism.
A W Howitt (17 April 1830 – 7 March 1908) the much-respected Australian anthropologist, explorer and naturalist put it this way:
When the first settlement of white men was formed in Gippsland, the country was found to be well peopled by an aboriginal tribe. … The advent of the white man, however, changed all this. Numbers were killed in conflicts with the settlers; and these aborigines were mostly, though not all, fighting men of the tribe. Other individuals collected round stations and townships. Their food was altered, and, as a whole, their society was disorganized, and their general mode of life profoundly modified. …They only adopted some of the habits of the white men; but with these they also adopted some of the vicious habits of the new comers. They fell, it may be said, not only without a struggle, but voluntarily into the fatal enticements of intoxication; their women fell, not only into intoxication, but into fatally vicious connections with the worst of the white men. This reacted again upon the tribe, for, with these newly-acquired evil habits, newly-acquired evil diseases were introduced. In addition, safeguards to health, which had become through custom part almost of their nature, were no longer regarded. …It is, therefore, no wonder that colds, rheumatism, pneumonia, and phthisis have been frightfully and fatally common. Besides these diseases — produced probably in greater intensity by their own change of habits — other diseases, which the whites generally have as children in a mild form, such as measles or whooping-cough, attacked them as adults, and with fatal effects. It is difficult to point out all the directions in which change of conditions, consequent upon the settlement of Gippsland by the whites, has operated injuriously upon the native tribe. … It is not necessary to continue the enumeration of instances in which altered conditions have been injurious to the aboriginal natives of Gippsland. Those I have given may suffice; and I think that, with some show of probability, I may allege that the dying out of this tribe has been the result, not of some mysterious cause, but the cumulative influence of many and various causes, all arising out of altered surrounding conditions to which either the aborigines must become adapted, or under which they must become extinct. If the aborigine could have become physically and mentally such as a white man, he would have been in equilibrium with his new surroundings. If his physical and mental nature had been able to become modified with sufficient rapidity to come into equilibrium with the changed conditions, he could have survived. But the former alternative is self-evidently an impossibility, and probably the strength of hereditary physical and mental peculiarities has made the latter alternative also an impossibility. The consequence has been that he is rapidly and inevitably becoming extinct.
Edward Micklethwaite Curr (25 December 1820 – 3 August 1889) the Australian pastoralist, author, aboriginal advocate and squatter took the same view:
The subject of disease naturally leads to the consideration of the decline in the numbers of our Blacks, and, in fact, to what seems likely to be their total extinction at no distant date. Experience shows that a populous town will kill out the tribes which live near enough to visit it daily in from two to ten years; venereal in such cases becoming common, lung diseases prevalent, and births ceasing. As a consequence, the Blacks have disappeared from all our old settlements long since. In more sparsely-settled country the process is somewhat different and more gradual, but it leads to the same end. In the bush, many tribes have disappeared, and the rest are disappearing. Towns destroy by drunkenness and debauchery; in the country, from fifteen to five and twenty percent, fall by the rifle; the tribe then submits, and diseases of European origin complete the process of extermination.
Governor Bowen in writing to the Duke of Newcastle made the following observation:
The life of the pioneers of colonization on the distant prairies of the interior of this Colony presents several distinct phases, when viewed in its connection with the Aborigines. The first sight of the horse and his rider appears to strike a tribe of blacks, as yet ignorant of the white man’s existence, with supernatural terror, similar to the awe with which the American Indians contemplated the comrades of Columbus and of Cortez. But superstitious fear is soon succeeded by bitter hostility. Mutual provocations between the races lead to mutual reprisals. The fiercer spirits among the native warriors fall before the superior arms and skill of the Europeans, or are driven still further backwards into the unexplored wilderness. The milder natures sink ere long into the well-fed dependents of the Colonists; and in the course of a few years no danger remains to be apprehended from them, beyond some isolated acts of robbery or revenge.
The great and far-sighted guru Willian Stanner said this:
The blacks have never been able to make a formal protest, except by an occasional spear. They have never been able to stir and hold any lasting interest in their plight. They themselves have no notion of tribal tragedy on a national scale, nor perhaps would it interest them if they had. Most of their interests and loyalties are narrowly tribal. The petition sent to the King by eighteen hundred civilised natives in 1937, asking to be saved from extinction and given political representation in Parliament, was the only articulate national plea they have yet made on their own behalf, … Doubtless much of this apathy is due to the fact that the tribes never stood and fought the invaders in the resolute and able way of the Zulus and Maori. The Aborigines were never politically minded enough to speak of their ‘rights’, or to demand minimum conditions for the co-operation they undoubtedly did give, and still give, in the work of settlement. They never set up any real competition for the land of which they have been dispossessed without compensation. Not having any established villages or hamlets they could, and did, bend their frontal line whenever the whites came, and after flinging a few spears, co-operated in their own destruction by accepting a parasitic role which enabled them to live peaceably near the intruding whites.
The paradigm I have outlined above has been put far more elegantly by Cawte and Kidson:
In the initial phase, the reaction to the White settler was forthright and assertive, sometimes with opposition, sometimes with interest and friendliness. In the subsequent phase [there] ensued gross physical deterioration in response to sub-nutrition, introduced pathogens and disruption of habits of life. The disease and death rate in this phase was so high that the extinction of the race was threatened. In the third phase, the characteristic features were shyness, withdrawal and regression, with failure to become involved in White society.
Why in the first instance would there be any interest in the life and times of such an unlikely organisation as the Queensland Native Police? What is even more alarming, is that a school of historical study has grown up which has attracted the gruesome name of the Black Armband Brigade which specialises in defaming and pillorying the Native Police as a form of Einsatzgruppen, who were sent out to clean up the countryside after settlement by squatters, planters, miners and sundry other dirt scratchers like the Chinese, tin scrapers and diggers. The above empirical evidence of the Aborigines’ response to white settlement is not some heroic collective of armed resistance, so tiresomely portrayed by Reynolds with his mega-theory but the inevitable reaction of a people who never really understood the life changing events that were taking place about them. They were inhibited by their ignorance which they have never overcome.
Reynolds has sifted through the many words and papers that litter Australian history, all written incidentally by whites or non-Aborigines and has furiously extorted from the records, a catalogue of aboriginal hostilities towards white settlers which he interprets as a just and heroic war of resistance and liberation against the white settlers by the Aborigines which, of course, is not be found among the matters recorded. He has endowed the Aborigines, fighting this supposed war, as a national force with national aims and a national consensus, which is not supported by the empirical evidence either. As Dedge said:
Their existing in small, detached bodies, thereby spread out over a large extent of country, and divided from each other often by interests of a clashing and opposite character—together with the jealousies and animosities originated and fostered by wrongs and retaliations, the accumulations of many years—unite to restrict their acquaintance with each other within very contracted bounds, and totally prevent any extensive combination for purposes of aggression or defence. Hence it is that small companies of Europeans, under prudent management, have been enabled to traverse the open plains and deep forests of this hand, with their flocks and herds, without encountering insurmountable difficulties from large numbers of native blacks. Indeed, it seems difficult, on any other principle, to account for the very little, and comparatively harmless hostility which they have manifested towards the whites from time commencement of the colonization of their country.
Reynolds’ statement is also made in the face of the fact that the colonial governments of the day did not declare war on the Aborigines, nor did they have a policy of eradication. Moreover, there is no record by or for the Aborigines that indicates or records any statement or declaration of war against the government or white settlers by the Aborigines. I don’t wish to take this argument to absurd lengths, but one of the principles of jus ad bellum is that a just war has not only to be declared publicly, but also must be declared by the proper authority otherwise how does one distinguish war from murder and soldiers from criminals. The hypothesis of the black armband brigade is that on the entry of the British into the Australia and at the commencement of their occupation and settlement, the indigenous natives endemic to Australia commenced a war of resistance that persisted for near on a hundred years. The autochthonous inhabitants of Australia are now known as Aborigines. A denomination suggestive of unity and homogeneity. However, when first contact was made with them, they were found to be living in great diversity with no concept of confederacy or unity and without a lingua franca. The Eurocentric need to classify the Australian aboriginal natives met with difficulties because of their confusing diversity. Their traits of national character not being subject to any known laws, admitted of the greatest variety of exceptions, and this made it difficult to acquire a true knowledge of the people, and explains, at the same time, the often-contradictory accounts given by observers in different parts of the Australian continent. However, it has been found that the most efficient system of classification is to adopt a language taxonomy and at the time of initial European settlement, over 250 languages were spoken. A surprising characteristic of the race as a whole was their entrenched enmity between neighbouring clans and an ever-ready willingness to kill strange Aborigines who might stray or trespass into their habitat.
In the settlement of Australia by white pastoralist and others, many collisions occurred between Aborigines and whites. This raised in the eyes of the then colonial government of Australia a law and order issue. Governor Gipps was perhaps the first to put in place an even-handed policy of law enforcement on the frontier to keep the peace. At no stage did any of the colonial governments ever declare war on the Aborigines in a formal sense or in a covert sense either. The response of the government was, at the time, to recruit aboriginal natives as peace-officers. In other words, aboriginal natives who would serve as troopers in maintaining the peace and good order of the unsettled areas. A willingness to join the police, on the face it, would prima facie suggest that the Aborigines or some, at least, had wholeheartedly embraced the Crown and were willing to enter the service of the Crown in a peace-keeping role. Although there were no formal initiation ceremonies like taking an oath of allegiance, the Aborigines were trained in drill, horse riding, firearms, personal hygiene and the concept of discipline. This analysis is consistent with the behaviour of most Aborigines on settlement who never sought to overthrow the Crown but on entering the settler’s economy became prone to transgressions within the economy just like some sections of the white community did:
there are some grounds on which an argument for the use of this force may be sustained. Under skill and proper management, the force may be extensively employed in the prevention of crime and the preservation of life. The black police system has done this for the aboriginal race — it has proved their capacity for discipline, and the strength of their attachment to those who rule them well. On many occasions the officers in command of these troopers have reported that their order, obedience, unflinching courage, and moderation in the hour of triumph, were such as would have done credit to Europeans. Their importance as semi-military defenders of the outlying population, and the place they thus attain in the history of British colonisation entitle them to a degree of consideration which general philanthropy alone would not secure them.
If you subscribe to the black armband hypothesis of war, then what status is be accorded to those Aborigines who joined forces with the Crown and fought against the heroic Aboriginal resistance fighters who were waging a war of liberation. None of the leading exponents of the war hypothesis have dealt with this issue. They have buried their head in the sand or adopted what Stanner called the great silence. If there was a war, which I dispute, then the most effective operational force, for the whites, were the black troopers. They were led from behind by their white officers, which suggests the white officers actually did little killing compared to the troopers’ tactics of shock and awe.
If it was a war, then the language of war would be appropriate. The native troopers, therefore, can only be seen as collaborators and since they took their uniforms off to do battle, maybe they were even worse than collaborators – traitors. Thus, the settlement of Australia was not unanimously resisted by the aboriginal natives of Australia but was supported and assisted by a section who voluntarily enlisted in the defence of white settlement. Some did, indeed, give their life for their Queen and Country. Reynolds has argued for the acknowledgement of Aborigines in the War Memorial, Canberra as resistance fighters against colonialization. The real heroes are the native troopers of the Queensland Native Police who should be recognised for their service to the Crown in right of the colony of Queensland as soldiers of Queen. If Aborigines were killed indiscriminately and without lawful excuse by the Native Police, which is the overwhelming hypothesis of the black armband brigade, then the black armband brigade need to account for this fact and how aboriginal native police are to be accorded a role in the crimes against humanity that are levelled at white settlers. Is an Aborigine who was a member of the Queensland Native Police by virtue of the Nuremberg Principles as guilty as the whites and how is his allegiance to the whites together with his alleged violence against Aborigines reconciled with the conduct of his brother Aborigines against the whites, which is so often characterised in apologist’s literature as a just war?
Governor Darling created what was known as the ‘limits of location’, which allowed settlers to take up land within the ‘limits’. A Government Order on 14 October 1829 increased this area of approved settlement to include an area called the Nineteen Counties. The demand for grazing land was ongoing. In 1833, ‘an Act for protecting the Crown Lands of the Colony from Encroachment, Intrusion and Trespass’ was passed. This Act was nugatory in effect and the squatters continued their never-ending expansion. Governor Bourke sought to legalise and regulate squatting through further legislation in 1836. The regulations consequent to the 1836 Act included issuing licences to settlers to depasture their stock on vacant Crown lands beyond the limits of location, on application to the Colonial Secretary. The 1836 Act also provided for the appointment of full-time Commissioners of Crown Lands to the districts beyond the limits of location. The Commissioners were required to report on the inspections they carried out in their land district.
In a despatch to Lord Glenelg dated 20 February 1839, Governor Gipps advised:
in consequence of the numerous depredations which have of late been committed by the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, on the flocks and herds of the colonists depastured beyond the settled limits of the colony, and of the atrocities which in return have been committed on the aborigines by the shepherds and stockmen in charge of those flocks and herds, I have deemed it proper to call an extraordinary meeting of the Legislative Council, 14 February 1839, for the purpose of submitting to it a Bill for the establishment of a police force in those distant districts.
At the Legislative Council meeting of 14 February 1839, Gipps said as follows:
numbers of persons of all classes now engaged in depasturing sheep and cattle beyond what are called the boundaries of location, might be sufficient of themselves to call for the protection of a police force; but the necessity for it is rendered far more urgent by the frequent aggressions made of late by the aboriginal natives upon the flocks and herds of the colonists, as well as on the lives of their stockmen, by the outrages which have been committed on the aborigines as well as by them; and particularly by one atrocious deed of blood, for which seven unhappy men have suffered on the scaffold. … and by providing that each commissioner shall be accompanied by a moving police force sufficient to repress the predatory attacks of the natives, and to keep order amongst all classes.
After the enactment of the Act to restrain the unauthorized Occupation of Crown Lands and to provide the means of defraying the Expense of a Border Police [2 Vict. No. 27] on 22 March 1839, Governor Gipps published a notice on the Aborigines, dated 21 May 1839. This notice said inter alia:
… as subjects of the Queen, whose authority extends over every part of New Holland—the natives of the colony have an equal right with the people of European origin to the protection and assistance of the law of England. To allow either to injure or oppress the other, or to permit the stronger to regard the weaker party as aliens with whom a war can exist, and against whom they may exercise belligerent rights, is not less inconsistent with the spirit of that law, than it is at variance with the dictates of justice and humanity.
This notice must be taken as a statement of intent by the then Governor of the colony of NSW on how Aborigines were to be dealt with according to the laws of NSW and must be seen as the foundation statement and legal basis on which Gipps and all subsequent Governors acted in dealing with Aborigines on a law enforcement basis and is the foundation stone of the corps of Native Police, including the subsequent colony of Queensland. This notice does not contain a declaration of war on the Aborigines nor does it permit acts of aggression and or violence against Aborigines by whites, quite the opposite. On 21 March 1844, Governor Sir George Gipps wrote to Lord Stanley as follows:
This expenditure is, however, exclusive of that which is occasioned by the maintenance of the border police, one-half of which is usually considered to be incurred on account of the aborigines. It is exclusive also of the expense of a ̎native police, ̎ composed altogether of aborigines, which I now beg leave for the first time to bring under your Lordship’s observation. It has long been customary in this colony to resort to the assistance of the aborigines in tracking offenders (bushrangers as they are commonly called); and for some years past, I have endeavoured permanently to attach two or three aboriginal natives to each party of the border police, as well as to the more regular force, called the “mounted police;” but it is only in the Port Phillip district that a corps consisting entirely of aboriginals has been established. The first attempt at the formation of such a corps was made in 1836 or 1837, soon after the opening of Port Phillip, under an officer of the name of De Villiers, but it led to no satisfactory result, and the project was abandoned, or rather remained in abeyance, until the beginning of 1842, when Mr. La Trobe revived it, and placed at the head of the establishment a gentleman named Dana (an Englishman), by whom the experiment has been very satisfactorily conducted. The establishment of the “native police,” distinct either from the mounted or border police, first appeared on the Port Phillip estimates for the year 1843…
The Port Phillip Native Police were seen as a successful and efficient peace-keeping force in the settlement of the Port Phillip district up until the untimely death of Henry Dana, Commandant of the force on 24 November 1852. C. J. La Trobe wrote to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies on 22 January 1853 seeking a gratuity for Dana’s children as a result of his death, and in the course of which, La Trobe gave a fair assessment of the effectiveness of the Native Police:
7. … a corps of native police was gradually embodied, disciplined, and maintained under his (Dana’s) sole management, which was acknowledged on all hands to have fully answered the main purposes for which it was organized, and to have rendered the most important service to the colony in the position in which it was then placed. It at once formed a link between the native and the European, and gave many opportunities for the establishment of friendly relations. The marked success which, in numerous instances, followed its employment gave confidence to the settler, removed the pretexts under which he would feel justified in taking redress into his own hands, and left no excuse for the vindictive reprisals which have been a blot upon the early years of the settlement. The native, on his side, soon saw that in yielding to his natural aggressive impulses he would be opposed to those who were not only his equals in savage cunning and endowment, but his superiors by alliance with the Europeans.
8. Such was the general result of the experiment till within two years of the present time, when, with the cessation of the urgent necessity which had called it into existence, the native police was seen to be evidently on the decline. It had, in a great measure, attained the objects of its organization, and had outlived its time. Almost the entire number of the original members had died from accident or disease. The natural decay in numbers of the tribes in the colony, and their change of habits and character, particularly among the young, and many other causes, rendered the possibility of its further continuance by any exertion very questionable;
On 12 August 1848, Sir Charles Fitz Roy advised Earl Grey as follows:
… and at page 85 a copy of a Message transmitting to the Council an Estimate amounting to £1,000, for the formation of a small Corps of Native Police beyond the Settled Districts. I have reason to believe that the establishment of this force will not only have the effect of checking the collisions between the white Inhabitants and the Aborigines, referred to in the Message, and which in some instances have had very deplorable results; but I am also sanguine in the hope that it may prove one of the most efficient means of attempting to introduce more civilized habits among the native tribes.
As a result, on 4 August 1848 the Governor appointed Frederick Walker, Esquire, to be a Magistrate of the Territory and its Dependencies and on 17 August 1848, Commandant of the Corps of Native Police, to be employed beyond the Settled Districts in the Sydney District, which in effect was the Clarence River, Darling Downs and beyond the district of Wellington. The Native Police under the command of Walker operated within an area known as the Moreton Bay Settlement (Southeast Queensland) with great success. For a full and complete disclosure of the Native Police under the command of Frederick Walker the reader is invited to take up the definitive work known as Frederick Walker: Commandant of the Native Police.
 Campbell, Judy, Invisible Invaders, Melbourne University Press, 2002. Also, “it is a curious fact that the natives of the Gulf are deeply marked with smallpox, showing that the disease must have been prevalent some years ago, probably caught from Malay traders.” Queenslander 4 October 1884 p 543.
 VOC stands for “Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie” (United East India Company).
 HRA Vol 1 p 51 (9 July 1788).
 Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix, Longmans, 1845 p 197.
 The phrase of the time was myall blacks or wild blacks, Aborigines untouched and living in a traditional way.
 Dredge, James Brief Notices of the Aborigines of NSW, James Harrison, Geelong 1845 p 7.
 White Man Got No Dreaming Essays 1938-1973 by W. E. H. Stanner, ANU Press, Canberra, 1979 p 32.
 R v Blaue  1 WLR 1411, CA.
 Lauriston Sharp, Steel Axes for Stone-Age Australians, Human Organization, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1952, pp. 17-22
 Ibid., p 21.
 Kamilaroi and Kurnai: Group-marriage and relationship, and marriage by elopement, drawn chiefly from the usage of the Australian aborigines. Also, the Kurnai tribe, their customs in peace and war By Lorimer Fison, M. A., and A. W. Howitt, F. G. S., Melbourne [etc.], G. Robertson, 1880 p 185.
 Reaction and Interaction: A Food Gathering People and European Settlement in Australia by AP Elkin, AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 53, 1951 p 164.
 Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award, 1951 (1966) 113 CAR 651.
 Ibid., p 669. This decision is a classic example of a tribunal ignoring the evidence and acting on the feel-good principles of moral superiority and “The White Man’s Burden”.
 A. W. Howitt, The Kurnai: Their Customs in Peace and War, G. Robertson, Melbourne, 1880 p 184.
 Edward M. Curr, The Australian race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over the continent, J Ferres, Melbourne 1886-87, Vol 1. p 209.
 Bowen to Newcastle, Despatch 33 of 10 Apr 1860. [Q.S.A. GOV/22].
 WHITE MAN GOT NO DREAMING Essays 1938-1973 by W. E. H. Stanner, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1979 p 4.
 Cawte, J. E., and M. A. Kidson. “Ethnopsychiatry in Central Australia: ii. The Evolution of Illness in a Walbiri Lineage.” British Journal of Psychiatry 3 (1965): 1079-85, p 1084.
 Paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II (1939–45).
 Forgotten War, NewSouth Publishing, 2013.
 Dedge p 14.
 Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser 22 September 1864 p 4.
 Henry G Lamond, Native Mounted Police, Walkabout, Vol. 15 No. 11, 1 November 1949 p 32.
 Reynolds, Henry, With the White People, Penguin Books, 1990.
 ABORIGINES (Australian Colonies), Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 9 August 1844, p 1.
 Ibid., p 1.
 Ibid., p 21. See Appendix A for the full document.
 See Wik case,  HCA 40, Toohey J: 139. The Act [The Crown Lands Unauthorized Occupation Act 1839 (NSW)] … The protective reference to persons “being upon Crown Lands” was clearly wide enough to include Aborigines. Also, Kirby J: 535. … That Act clearly contemplated Aboriginals “being upon” Crown lands.
 Ibid., p 286.
 Bride 1898, p 267.
 HRA 1 xxvi p 559.
 Paul Dillon, Connor Court Publishing, Brisbane, 2018.
4 thoughts on “Queensland Native Police The First Twenty Years by Paul Dillon”
This seems a terribly sorry apology for our benighted history.
Shashi Tharoor, a member of India’s parliament, has stated in an Al Jazeera article that ‘The creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy: the colonial project of “divide et impera” (divide and rule) fomented religious antagonisms to facilitate continued imperial rule and reached its tragic culmination in 1947.’ (see https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2017/8/10/the-partition-the-british-game-of-divide-and-rule/)
You write – ‘Thus, the settlement of Australia was not unanimously resisted by the aboriginal natives of Australia but was supported and assisted by a section who voluntarily enlisted in the defence of white settlement. Some did, indeed, give their life for their Queen and Country. Reynolds has argued for the acknowledgement of Aborigines in the War Memorial, Canberra as resistance fighters against colonialization. The real heroes are the native troopers of the Queensland Native Police who should be recognised for their service to the Crown in right of the colony of Queensland as soldiers of Queen. If Aborigines were killed indiscriminately and without lawful excuse by the Native Police, which is the overwhelming hypothesis of the black armband brigade, then the black armband brigade need to account for this fact and how aboriginal native police are to be accorded a role in the crimes against humanity that are levelled at white settlers. Is an Aborigine who was a member of the Queensland Native Police by virtue of the Nuremberg Principles as guilty as the whites and how is his allegiance to the whites together with his alleged violence against Aborigines reconciled with the conduct of his brother Aborigines against the whites, which is so often characterised in apologist’s literature as a just war?’
The native troopers of the Queensland Native Police brigades were all recruited from afar (probably the Murray valley area), without allegiance to any Queensland clans/peoples. They are not heroes but simply implements of the Qld government’s solution to the frontier war[s] which continually erupted on the Qld frontier; a ‘divide et impera’ strategy.
Were not the uncounted peoples of terra nullius not actually deemed early in the piece (1770, in fact, or even 1768, when Cook was given his orders) to be British subjects; whose sovereign rights the settlers and the British government then proceeded to overlook.
Yes, I proudly wear a black armband. Better that than carry a can of whitewash around with you in your every waking (but unwoken) moment.
Hi sjk, you appear to have a poor understanding of Indian history. The Muslims ruled India long before the British arrived. Tharoor has no idea what what he is talking about. As for Australia, your understanding of our history is equally poor. Thank you for your comments. Cheers
Actually Paul, my understanding of Indian history is, I suspect, better than yours. The Muslims or Mughals did not rule India (as it exists in modern parlance) at any time. They did control large parts of it at various times but in the last 500 or so years – before the British and French (& to a lesser extent Portuguese came) – they have ‘shared’ that control of the Indian subcontinent with the Maratha and Sikhs. Please do a little research, though I suspect that may trouble your world views.
Try a little Wikipedia, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_India#Early_modern_period_(c._1526%E2%80%931858_CE)
As to your privileged views of Australian history and blindfolded refusal to accept any other perspective than that of the conqueror…
I welcome proper historical dialogue and am always open to changing my mind. I’m starting Sutton’s and Walshes’ ‘Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? – The Dark Emu debate’, which has just arrived. Happy to rethink my regard for Pascoe’s book. But give me more than just ‘poor understanding’ or ‘no idea’ as evidence of your superior position.
Hi SJK Given your open mindedness, please go to Connor Court Publishing and obtain some of my others books. Perhaps they may help you in seeing the real history of Australia. Cheers Paul