Social Commentator

The Irvinebank massacre.

Folks, I’ll be bringing out a new book shortly. So don’t forget to keep a lookout for it when it comes on the market.

On the evening of 18 October 1884, a group of at least five Aborigines, were sitting round a camp fire boiling the billy and yarning in blackfellow talk when they were fusilladed. Tommy jumped up and ran for it; followed by the thwacks and zings of the bullets as they whizzed after him. The others stayed where they fell. The next day, Alicky, a town blackboy spoke to John Moffat, a leading citizen about the incident, who asked to be shown the campsite.

On reaching the camp, a gruesome scene of partially burnt Aborigines confronted the eyes of Moffat. Driven by curiosity and trepidation, he examined the bodies. One was the body of an old blackfellow, the two others were adult females and one was a picaninny whose sex was unknown. The bodies were lying aide by side. Two with their heads one way and the other two in the opposite direction. The fire being in the middle of them. There were no observable marks of violence on the bodies other than that caused by fire. The faces were lying somewhat downward and it could not be established whether they were disfigured or not.

Mr. Mowbray, the Police Magistrate for Herberton was notified. On 23 October 1884, when he arrived in Irvinebank to conduct an inquest on the bodies of the four Aborigines, all that he found was the remains of a large fire. The fire was still smouldering but no bodies were found. Constable Moroney raked the fire and several pieces of bone were recovered from the ashes. But nothing could be identified. Nevertheless, Mowbray held an inquest and suspicion fell on the native police who were in Irvinebank at the time.

The Attorney-General then directed the police to investigate the matter. They arrested the Nigger Creek native police including Sub-Inspector Willian Nichols, and the rest is history.


Queensland Native Police The First Twenty Years

The Queensland Native Police force were a uniquely, local law enforcement agency on the frontier of Queensland’s white settler expansion. There was probably as much support for the force as there was against it. To some it stood as a force for the eradication of Aborigines from the landscape of Queensland. While to others, it was a force for good in that it protected the white settlers, who pioneered the settlement and opening-up of the Queensland wilderness to trade and occupation. The Native Police pointed their guns at armed myall blacks in order to get them to drop their weapons and to stop killing livestock and white men.

The Native Police seem to have eluded any sensible critique of its role because of the inability of commentators to put aside their own prejudices in attempting to define exactly what were the purpose, procedure and results of the Native Police.

Many commentators have raged over the organisation that at any one time, really only managed to put on the law enforcement line an operational force of about 150 mounted troopers armed with a single shot breech-loading rifle. Given the size of its jurisdiction and its limited resources, you could be forgiven for thinking they were the most unlikely bunch of sepoys ever to sit a horse. To add to the farce, it was said of their target, the myall blacks, that their wandering from place to place in unknown and, therefore, inaccessible scrubs, was so great that it rendered all attempts to surprise them ineffectual. However, the native trooper was the dead equal of any myall black. Therein lay their usefulness, their utility, for wherever a myall could go, so could a trooper just as surely.

It is often said a Mountie “always gets his man”. For the Queensland Native Police, their call was, “People who break laws in this land, whether they be whites, blacks or browns, will not escape punishment.”

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Queensland Native Police The First Twenty Years by Paul Dillon

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.[1] 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:[2] “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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

 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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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,[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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?[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29] 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…[30]

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;[31]

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.[32]

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.[33]

[1] 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.

[2] VOC stands for “Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie” (United East India Company).

[3] HRA Vol 1 p 51 (9 July 1788).

[4] Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix, Longmans, 1845 p 197.

[5] The phrase of the time was myall blacks or wild blacks, Aborigines untouched and living in a traditional way.

[6] Dredge, James Brief Notices of the Aborigines of NSW, James Harrison, Geelong 1845 p 7.

[7] White Man Got No Dreaming Essays 1938-1973 by W. E. H. Stanner, ANU Press, Canberra, 1979 p 32.

[8] R v Blaue [1975] 1 WLR 1411, CA.

[9] Lauriston Sharp, Steel Axes for Stone-Age Australians, Human Organization, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1952, pp. 17-22

[10] Ibid., p 21.

[11] 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.

[12] Reaction and Interaction: A Food Gathering People and European Settlement in Australia by AP Elkin, AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 53, 1951 p 164.

[13] Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award, 1951 (1966) 113 CAR 651.

[14] 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”.

[15] A. W. Howitt, The Kurnai: Their Customs in Peace and War, G. Robertson, Melbourne, 1880 p 184.

[16] 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.

[17] Bowen to Newcastle, Despatch 33 of 10 Apr 1860. [Q.S.A. GOV/22].

[18] WHITE MAN GOT NO DREAMING Essays 1938-1973 by W. E. H. Stanner, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1979 p 4.

[19] 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.

[20] Paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II (1939–45).

[21] Forgotten War, NewSouth Publishing, 2013.

[22] Dedge p 14.

[23] Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser 22 September 1864 p 4.

[24] Henry G Lamond, Native Mounted Police, Walkabout, Vol. 15 No. 11, 1 November 1949 p 32.

[25] Reynolds, Henry, With the White People, Penguin Books, 1990.

[26] ABORIGINES (Australian Colonies), Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 9 August 1844, p 1.

[27] Ibid., p 1.

[28] Ibid., p 21. See Appendix A for the full document.

[29] See Wik case, [1996] 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.

[30] Ibid., p 286.

[31] Bride 1898, p 267.

[32] HRA 1 xxvi p 559.

[33] Paul Dillon, Connor Court Publishing, Brisbane, 2018.

Social Commentator

Aborigines Massacre White Settlers. Three Celebrated Attacks: Hornet Bank, Cullin-la-Ringo & the Maria Wreck By Paul Dillon

The name of this monograph is taken from Henry Reynolds’s book, The Other Side of the Frontier. In particular, from a subheading called Three Celebrated Attacks, under which he deals with a South Australian incident known as the Maria massacre of 1840, ‘and the successful Aboriginal attacks on’ Hornet Bank of 1857 and Cullinlaringoe of 1861. Please note that Reynolds calls the Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe incidents, successful Aboriginal attacks on white settlers, as if they were events to celebrate. Each of the above three incidents involved white settlers, male, female and children being killed, mutilated and sexually violated in circumstances of total depravity. In other words, the killing of civilians in undefended and unprotected situations and then mutilating their corpses. The Maria incident involved the murder of helpless shipwreck survivors, Hornet Bank, a night-time home invasion on sleeping family members and Cullinlaringoe, a daytime attack when the family were having a catnap after lunch.
The conventional approach to these three incidents would have been for a common or garden variety of historian to have sat down and gone through the European source material and given a standard Eurocentric narrative about what happened, how it happened and why it happened. Then Bill Stanner blew the lid off Australian history with his “Great Australian Silence” statement. He said it was a disgrace to the heritage of Australia because it failed to acknowledge the Aborigines, who according to him had been totally ignored. He added that current attitudes and research would possibly rectify this and end the silence. True to form, schools of thought, theses and books have poured forth like a biblical flood and broken the dirty big drought of silence that had descended over the historical landscape of Australia, loudly proclaiming and defending the rights and entitlements of the Aborigines. Prime Ministers and the High Court have rained cats and dogs on the tin roof of the old regime for being out of touch and downright wrong and ornery when reviewing the contribution Aborigines have made to the historical and cultural advancement of Australia.
Stanner’s injunction appears to have provoked Henry Reynolds and he came up with the idea of relating historical incidents ‘from the other side of the frontier’. He has been the Garbaldi in leading the resurgence of Aborigines in Australian history; leading the charge with a determined and indefatigable spirit to prosecute the cause for the Aborigines, hammering the market place with a plethora of books and publications. Now as a statement of intent, ‘from the other side of the frontier’, is an admirable approach to Australian historical studies. One would put aside the European or white sources and pick up the Aboriginal sources and go forth with a new vision of a glorious future and the cockies shall see your righteousness. Of course, the best and surest way to find out would be to ask an Aborigine what really happened at the time of white settler expansion into the Australian interior. After all, they were one of the principal actors in the alleged invasion chronicles of Australia. Unfortunately, there are no Aborigines left. Nor are there any Aboriginal sagas, nor a Dharmakoori, no hidden stelai to be found in the Valley of Lagoons or the Arnhem Land escarpment, no Rosetta Stone, no epigraphy, no papyrology, not even a clay tablet or a palm-leaf sutra might be scrounged from the old ochre trail to Blue Mud Bay from Oodnadatta, all is in vacuo. The three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, never featured in the Aboriginal way of life. The Aborigines were as Marcel Marceau, practicing the “art of silence”. They lived in a period now known as prehistory, the period before the invention of writing systems. So how are we to obtain the Aboriginal perspective of their encounter with colonialism or white settlers?
Therefore, the European or white sources cannot be abandoned or rejected. What are we left with then? The dreary old parchments of yesteryear hidden away in government vaults, deliberately mislabelled, bowdlerised, expurgated, censored, placed in the Jewish filing system or just plain torn-up and burned? As to the cache of private memoirs and writings that may be found in various libraries, they cannot be relied upon either because they were written by a bunch of right-wing, bigoted, racists who had nothing good to say about the Aborigines. There ya go, no mean feat to write the history of the settlement of Australia from the Aboriginal perspective.
The next question that arises is a matter of methodology. How then are the European sources to be stripped of their Eurocentric contamination, their racism? Who is to extract the relevant information? What guidelines are to apply to the process and who is to verify the resultant material and, if competing interpretations arise, who is to arbitrate? This activity will require a high level of reasoning and professional objectivity. Just scooping up sources and slanting or twisting them to reflect a particular view is nothing more than yellow journalism or rendering a tendentious script. It will require a strong and highly developed integrity to analyse, evaluate, assess and to avoid subjectivity and bias.
Reynolds has with unflagging eagerness and persistence maintained that high levels of frontier violence and conflict were involved in the colonisation of Australia, which should be rightly characterised as a war and Aboriginal resistance should be admired and given significant cultural recognition in the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. He is not alone in this view. Stretching behind him is a phalanx of paladins, all armed to the teeth, ready and willing to swing into action in support of his idee fixe, many of them dangling scalps from their girded loins. Reynolds has sifted through the many words and papers that litter Australian history, all written incidentally by whites or non-Aborigines and has found a trove of chronicles that contain, according him, a catalogue of aboriginal hostilities towards white settlers. Reynolds has developed over the lengthy span of his career, a school of thought that has been dubbed the ‘black armband’ view of the pastoral settlement of Australia. He has developed a macro-history that is painstakingly spelt out in his book, Forgotten War which perhaps can be briefly summarised as follows:

Armed conflict was the central feature of the relationship between settlers and the indigenous nations. It was a war of conquest to transfer the sovereignty of the Aborigines to the British government and its successor colonial administrations.

Reynolds effort to single out one factor in the settlement of Australia, such as armed resistance by Aborigines, as the central driving force of Australian settlement is a nonsense. His book reminds me of a scrub turkey’s nesting mound which consists of leaf litter and sundry other detritus at which the ever-present male bird spends long hours of fastidious scratching and raking to produce a pile of rubbish. Like the tiresome turkey, Mr Reynolds has raked and scratched the congeries of Australian history into a pile of humbug. Human history, at virtually every level, appears to embody a large degree of arbitrary acts committed at random. The challenge for macro-history is to preserve the discipline of empirical evaluation for the large collection of incidents put forward to support the theory. This is what this book is about. Does the historical evidence support Reynolds’ theory of armed conflict or are the events just the random opportunistic acts of criminal gangs of indigenous bandits and thugs?
Let us compare and contrast the Reynolds’ theory of Aborigine resistance with some of our home-grown rebels who all gave voice to their grievances and demands. Take our dearly beloved Ned Kelly, even though he was the product of the bog Irish, he managed to write the Jerilderie letter. Thus, sharing his thoughts with us and at least giving a warning of what was to come:

The police can’t protect you, all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund. And do not attempt to reside in Victoria but as short a time as possible after reading this notice, neglect this and abide by the consequence which shall be worse than rust in wheat in Victoria or the drought of a dry season to the grasshoppers in New South Wales. I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed.

Then there is the Eureka Rebellion, they assembled themselves around their flag to resist further licence hunts and harassment by the authorities and swore an oath:

We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

And who could forget the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 which was a major confrontation between Queensland graziers and their shearing hands:

Fellow Unionists, an unprovoked and unjustifiable attack has been made upon the above shearers’ and labourers’ unions by the squatters’ associations. It therefore becomes our duty to take such action as will best conserve our interest and frustrate the attempts of organised capitalism to crush unionism and reduce wages in this district…

Yet Reynolds says the following about the sources of the ‘other side of the frontier’:

The historian has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased.

This is because the Aborigines cannot represent themselves. They must therefore be represented by a know-all, who knows more about them than they know about themselves. Reynolds has assumed the power to narrate the Aborigines’ story by seizing white settlers’ sources and material and subjugating its words and contents to the meaning he desires to attribute to them. This is not a credible historical method but a discriminatory attack on the settlers and a false voice of Aborigines. He has developed a macro-history with ideological and racial investments, which go well beyond academia into realms of politics and social theory. Moreover, it is destructive of existing national and cultural symbols, beliefs and perceptions. His concepts appear robbed of their empirical content but are festooned with nod and winks to his prejudices and objectives. This particular ideological structure of thought should not be allowed to go unchallenged since we must always ask what kinds of intellectual, cultural and material energies went into the construction of this ideology.
There is no Académie française in Australia or an equivalent academic curia which might make authoritative pronouncements on matters pertaining to or incidental to Australian history and culture. The closest we have to such an institution was when the High Court delivered judgement in what is now called the Mabo [2] case. The interpretations or understandings arising from that case seem to me to ignore or fail to recognise the limited power and scope of the High Court’s authority in matters of Australian history. Since Australia was discovered and taken possession of by the British, it is said the principle of discovery gave title to the British government against all other European governments, and such title might be consummated by possession. Captain Arthur Phillip on disembarkation and entry, together with the formal proclamation and reading of his instructions, duly bestowed British sovereignty over the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, which was further strengthened by the fact that the Aborigines of the day did not object but acquiesced in the British occupation of the country. Arising out of that is the fact that the Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies came under the control of the British Parliament, which had omnipotent powers to legislate for the control and regulation of Australia and its inhabitants, white or black.
It seems to me that a line was drawn in the sand by Mabo [2] where it was held:

1. The acquisition of territory by a sovereign state for the first time is an act of state which cannot be challenged, controlled or interfered with by the courts of that state.
2. Under the common law of England, a distinction has traditionally been drawn, for the purposes of identifying the law of a new British Colony, between colonies where British sovereignty was established by cession or conquest and colonies where such sovereignty was established by settlement or “occupancy”.
3. The result is that, in a case such as the present where no question of constitutional power is involved, it must be accepted in this Court that the whole of the territory designated in Phillip’s Commissions was, by 7 February 1788, validly established as a “settled” British Colony.

How is it then that Henry Reynolds’s with his mare’s nest of history, has continued to dazzled, if not the world, then at least most of the literati of Australia? How is that Henry Reynolds and his acolytes persist with this endless stream of historical verbiage about the war fought on the Australian homeland between the white settlers and the Aborigines?

Social Commentator

Aborigines Massacre White Settlers. Three Celebrated Attacks: Hornet Bank, Cullin-la-Ringo & the Maria Wreck By Paul Dillon

Chapter Two ― Hornet Bank, Henry Reynolds

In 1974, Henry Reynolds published Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, I quote:

Some of the dangers and complexities of frontier contact can be illustrated by reference to the fate of the Frazer and Wills families who died in Aboriginal attacks at Hornet Bank in 1858 and Cullinlaringoe in 1861. At Hornet Bank the Frazers initially had good relations with the local Aborigines who had been ‘let in’ and who assisted in the work of establishing the station. Suddenly violence erupted. In a well-planned attack most of the family were killed. To Europeans this was an example of senseless and motiveless savagery perpetrated for the sheer joy of killing. On the frontier Hornet Bank came to symbolize the dangers of ever trusting the blacks. But from the Aboriginal side things looked very different. By piecing together scattered pieces of information it is possible to partially recreate the course of events. The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Frazer family or their employees. Such behaviour merited dire punishment in tribal society. When no action of appeasement or retribution came from the Europeans the blacks took matters into their own hands and carried out the vengeance which traditional custom demanded. The whole Frazer affair then looks very different indeed when seen from the other side of the frontier.

The reader is asked to note that Reynolds does not give any authorities or footnotes for his categorical statement: “The principal cause of conflict was the behaviour of European men towards Aboriginal women who were taken by force and raped. Opinions conflict as to whether the men were members of the Fraser family or their employees.”
In his introduction to his above paper Settlers and Aborigines on the Pastoral Frontier, Reynolds appears to be saying, the aboriginal version of events must be put and since there is no aboriginal version, white commentators are to be used only after a thorough vetting as to possible bias:
Yet many problems confront the historian wishing to reassess this aspect of our past. Perhaps the most difficult is the task of trying to look at early race relations from the other side of the frontier, to see the encroaching tide of settlement as far as possible through the eyes of the Aborigines themselves. Clearly no easy endeavour! The historian – perhaps rather the ethno-historian – has to piece together innumerable fragments of information provided by European informants while rejecting much that can be assumed to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased. Fortunately a small number of explorers, officials or squatters were remarkably intelligent and perceptive observers of Aboriginal life despite the lack of sophisticated anthropological knowledge. Information gathered has to be weighed and tested against modern studies of traditional life and acculturation in Central and Northern Australia. What eventually emerges can hopefully be built up into a meaningful mosaic of the Aboriginal response to settlement.

Reynolds makes no reference to his own bias and how it might be filtered out or supressed. In 1976, Reynolds published in the journal of Historical Studies, the following article, The Other Side of the Frontier: Early Aboriginal Reactions to the Pastoral Settlement in Queensland and Northern New South Wales. He made the following observations:

Considerable problems confront the Australian scholar who seeks new perspectives. Evidence is scarce, widely scattered and comes overwhelmingly from European settlers and travellers, missionaries and officials. Oral history can still yield valuable material about early contact in the north and centre of the continent where settlement was recent and will be essential for the study of 20th century race relations, but it is probably already too late to gain detailed information from Aboriginal sources about the first years of contact in the greater part of south-eastern Australia. Modern anthropological studies of acculturation provide the historian with valuable insights but they need to be used cautiously when investigating the 19th century. Traditional Aboriginal society was so fragmented that any generalisation about a particular clan or tribe may be inappropriate if applied elsewhere. It seems probable that the Aboriginal response to Europeans was far more complex and diverse than our limited stockpile of evidence will ever suggest.

The above statement outlining his approach to writing about ‘the other side of the frontier’ is a fair assessment of the problems one would face in attempting to produce a credible version of the motives and reasons for Aboriginal destructive behaviour towards white settlers on the frontier, without the added burden of trying to justify it. Since the Aborigines never came forward as a group and approached government regarding their possible grievances, their actions have remained reactionary and troublesome, without justification or reason. The above article appears to be an attempt to deal with a lot of historical information from white sources detailing depredations by Aborigines on livestock and station plant and stores in the pastoral settlements across northern New South Wales and Queensland. Depredation means the act of attacking or plundering. Reynolds faithfully details the acts of robbery and the killing of livestock and white settlers as a kind of rite of passage, an acculturation into:

In some places the Aborigines appear to have become effective herdsmen on their own account before they had come in to European settlements. This helps explain why Aborigines often became effective workers in the pastoral industry in a very short time, for they had learnt about the exotic animals before coming in, while as first generation stockmen they continued to utilise many traditional skills.

Then he goes on to say:

I turn now to consider the violent conflict which dominated relations between white and black in practically the whole of Queensland. My concern is not with European brutality towards the blacks but with Aboriginal violence—perhaps their counter-violence—towards the settlers and with the motivation for attacks which resulted in about 500 deaths on the pastoral frontier between 1840 and 1890.32
Revenge killing for the death or serious injury of kin was a common feature of traditional society.33 Clearly many Europeans died in such culturally sanctioned executions. Settlers often understood this.
32 With N. A. Loos I carried out a survey of frontier deaths in Queensland consulting a wide range of source material. We estimated that 800-850 Europeans and their ‘allies’ i.e., Chinese, Melanesians and so called ‘civilised’ blacks, were killed between 1840 and 1897. Precision is impossible, but somewhat more than a half of those killed were employed in the pastoral industry.
33 See R. M. Berndt, ‘Law and order in Aboriginal Australia’, in R. M. and C. H. Berndt Aboriginal Man in Australia, Sydney 1965, pp. 167-206.

These statements or conclusions from his research are in reality absurd, and fall into the category of apologetics. It is similar to a legal representative submitting during a plea in mitigation that the victim deserved it and the perpetrator had benefited by acquiring new criminal skills. Reynolds has not provided an historical analysis of, but a defence of, Aboriginal violence towards white settlers. He is simply saying, Aborigines were violent people who killed each other as part of their cultural make-up, therefore, it is not unreasonable to argue that they adopted a similar practice towards white settlers but he tacks on the Eurocentric concept of political resistance. This line of reasoning lacks academic gravitas.
In 1981, Reynolds published his seminal work, The Other Side of the Frontier. In his introduction to the book, he says:

This book presents an interpretation of the Aboriginal response to the invasion and settlement of Australia during the hundred or so years between the late C18th and the early C20th. It is a white man’s interpretation, aimed primarily at white Australians … It is based on extensive research among a vast array of historical records. Yet the book was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship. It is inescapably political, dealing as it must with issues that have aroused deep passions since 1788 … I sought to put down as clearly as I could my vision of how the Aborigines reacted (Emphasis added) to the invading Europeans and to include as much detail as possible without needlessly clogging the flow of the text.

The following is Reynolds’ considered opinion on the Hornet Bank massacre:

The events at Hornet Bank are fairly well known. The Frasers were managing the property and had close, if not always amicable, relations with the neighbouring Aboriginal clans camped on or near the station. An apparently well planned and unexpected attack was made late at night and all but one member of the household were killed. It appears that the women were raped before death an unusual accompanyment (sic) of Aboriginal attack. Various attempts were made at the time to explain Aboriginal motivation but none could compete with the insistent references to the savagery and treachery. However there are scattered pieces of evidence which enable the historian to advance beyond the folk-wisdom of the frontier. The Honourable M.C. O’Connell told the 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police that the killings were a consequence of the young men ‘having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins’ in neighbouring camps. Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls. This story was confirmed by W. Robertson who claimed to have discussed the events of 1857 with old Aborigines who as youths had been present at the time. They reported that after the women were raped the local clans attempted to use sorcery against the offending Europeans. When that appeared to have no effect they sent an old woman to the Fraser’s to explain the circumstances and seek redress. When no action was taken by the whites the clans determined on revenge. So the evidence concurs on the importance of sexual attacks on Aboriginal girls but attributes blame variously to black and white employees of the family. But one account directly implicates the young Fraser men. J.D. Wood explained in a memo to the Colonial Secretary that when arriving in Queensland he made enquiries about Hornet Bank. He was told by a Mr Nicol who had been in the Native Police in 1857 that Mrs Fraser had repeatedly asked him to reprove her sons ‘for forcibly taking the young maidens’ and that in consequence she ‘expected harm would come of it, that they were in the habit of doing so, notwithstanding her entreaties to the contrary’. Several other informants told Wood that the Frasers were ‘famous for the young Gins’ and all agreed ‘that those acts were the cause of the atrocity’.52
52 W. Robertson: Cooee Talks, pp.129-131.; J.D. Wood: Remarks on the Aborigines; Magistrates, Upper Dawson to Col. Sec., 3 December 1857, Qld. Col. Sec. 4995 of 1857; W. Wiseman to Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands, 16 November 1857, Qld. Col. Sec., 4319 of 1857; M.C. O’Connell evidence to Select Committee on Native Police, p.87: A.L. Meston, Courier Mail cutting in Oxley Library Scrap Book Queensland Towns, Districts, Stations, pp.81-82.

Reynolds then sums up as follows:

At Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe Aboriginal action was carefully planned and thoroughly considered and followed months of provocation – harassment by the Native Police on the one hand, sexual molestation by some, if not all, the young men on the station on the other. Even the raping of the Fraser women appears in retrospect to have been a deliberate, political act.

In the introduction to the 2006 edition, The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds’ said inter alia:

The intellectual criticism of the book has long been overshadowed by attacks that are political in motivation. In fact many of them come from people who give the impression of not having actually read the text, yet don’t like the idea of it. Some of the antagonism stems from my open avowal that the book could not escape the fate that awaits a political document. In the opening paragraph of both editions I nailed my colours to the mast observing that it was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship.

Perhaps the question that faces anyone who dares to offer a critique of Mr Reynolds’ work is, will they be zapped by the force field that he says protects his body of work from scrutiny. He has, if you consider his above statements regarding his methodology in writing the ‘other side of the frontier’, issued many warnings, disclaimers, clauses of limited liability and even exclusion clauses regarding his work. Mr Reynolds, however, was a professional academic at the time he authored The Other Side of the Frontier in 1981 and appears to have enjoyed governments grants to carry out his research. The book was published by James Cook University and bears the university’s imprimatur. The consumer, therefore, could expect the book to conform to best practice standards regarding academic research methodology, and professional integrity in the ethical and honest presentation of that research data in his academic papers, articles and publications.
Although the Fraser family were murdered by Aborigines, no person either, white or black, ever stood trial for their murder. Therefore, no official record exists which authoritatively states what happened and why it may have happened. The consensus is that the perpetrators were from the Iman tribe but no contemporaneous statements were taken from them for obvious reasons and, indeed, there were no claims of responsibility for the attack made by the Iman or indeed, any black group. The Blacks simply made off with sheep and loot from the station after killing and raping the whites. What I am trying to suggest is that freedom fighters or resistance movements normally claim responsibility for their military acts of violent resistance against their tormentor. In the case of the first terrorist attack in modern times, the King David Hotel bombing, 1946, the Zionist paramilitary organization, Irgun, claimed responsibility for the bombing shortly after the event. Be that as it may, many statements were made about the Hornet Bank massacre by all sorts of people with varying degrees of direct and relevant knowledge of the incident. The reader will recall from Chapter One that TR Boulton had given a lengthy description of events leading up to the massacre. However, Reynolds doesn’t rely on TR Boulton as a witness, presumably, because Reynolds considered Boulton ‘to be inaccurate, or hearsay or excessively biased’ rather than telling the truth. Reynolds relied on the following: MC O’Connell, I Downes Wood, W Robertson, and A Meston. None of these people were involved in the Hornet Bank incident as Boulton was. Reynolds called them ‘scattered pieces of evidence‘. They cannot be described as witnesses because the only information they have is hearsay, what someone told them. In the 1930s, there was a popular song that went like this:

I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales. He said “Topping band” and she said “Delightful, Sir”.

That is about the strength of Reynolds’ sources for his conclusions about the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. The striking dimension to Reynolds’ assessment is the rather casual construction he put on the rape of the Fraser women, calling it a legitimate weapon of war by the Aborigines.
This was MC O’Connell’s evidence before the Queensland 1861 Select Committee on the Native Police Force:

102. I know nothing of the circumstances of the Hornet Bank murders, (Emphasis added) having been at Port Curtis at the time, but I have heard something from an officer of the Native Police—Lieutenant Sweet—who told me himself that he had been informed by a trooper then in the Native Police, that the murder of the unfortunate women at Hornet Bank was in consequence of the young men who owned the station having been in the habit of allowing their black boys to rush the gins on the camps of the aborigines in the neighbourhood.

Take I Downes Wood who is the authority for Reynolds defaming the Fraser men as cads, gin jockeys, criminals, and white trash by alleging they systematically raped the local female Aborigines. There is no greater insult than to accuse the dominate white race of hypocrisy, double standards, with allegations of sexual exploitation of black women. On 12 March 1862, over 6 years after the event, I Downes Wood wrote an epistle to the Chief Secretary of Queensland on the conflict between the Native Police and the Aboriginals of Australia. He was not present at the Hornet Bank killings. His submission is a long rambling piece of cracker-barrel thinking on Aborigines by an uneducated rustic. Now Downes Wood probably was unaware that Mr Nichol aka Nicoll was a disgraced officer of the Native Police and had a motive to lie about the Fraser brothers. But Henry Reynolds should have known the facts and he should have warned the reader that Nicoll was not a credible source for defaming the Fraser men in the first place, nor a reliable source on which to base a considered academic conclusion about the causes and effect of the Hornet Bank massacre of white settlers. Wood’s statement has been effectively dealt with in Chapter One.
Reynolds next witness is Willian Robertson who again was not present at Hornet Bank. He arrived in Australia circa 1870 as a child. Robertson was a homespun expert on Aborigines having been brought up on Caithness Park cattle station at Boulia amongst station blacks and seems to have been initiated into the Myall Murri tribe and given the tribal name, Brin-ga. Robertson was a radio journalist with 2BL, who differentiated his market by giving talks about Aborigines, known as Coo-ee Talks. In 1928, he published a book called Coo-ee Talks, in which he gives a version of the events that led up to the massacre at Hornet Bank and the cause of the massacre. He said he heard it from the offending tribesmen himself. The version bears no similarity to the original version and it can only be treated as apocrypha or an urban myth. Robertson is said to been au fait with Aboriginal culture but he says the following:

It was perpetrated by a number of young warriors of the Coongarrie tribe in central Queensland, at Hornet station, on the Dawson River, one of the tributaries of the Fitzroy. The story was told me by some of the natives who were present at the massacre. … Twenty years afterwards I myself met some of them among the Fitzroy tribe.

Robertson appears to be suggesting he spoke with the Coongarrie tribesmen some time in 1877 which is highly unlikely having only recently arrived in Australia as a child in 1870. Moreover, calling the perpetrators, the Coongarie tribe, rather than the Iman and further alleging that the majority escaped to the Fitzroy tribe, which is presumably the Fitzroy River mob (Rockhampton), when the official view is that white reprisal parties completely exterminated the Iman from the face of the earth, appears to suggest that Robertson had no idea of the actual events at Hornet Bank station in 1857. Robertson cannot be regarded as an accurate, reliable and credible source for the Hornet Bank incident. He can only be regarded as a doubtful source, bordering on invention.
Reynolds’ final witness is:

Archibald Meston, the Queensland ‘expert’ on Aborigines, heard from a friend of the surviving Fraser son that the white employees of the family had whipped and raped two local Aboriginal girls.

I am afraid the material cited in the footnote does not support this statement. Meston kept a scrapbook of press clippings. The cited pages of the scrapbook contain press clipping on the Hornet Bank massacre but were not authored by Meston. They are a rehash of the incident for the 1938 anniversary of the Hornet Bank massacre, journalistic hype. Reynolds appears to have lost concentration and misunderstood the material. A Meston is not a credible source because he was not a party to the material cited. The material is set out at Appendix B.
So much for the grand principle of letting the Aborigines give their version of the events. Reynolds’ selection of white sources is superficial. It lacks a rigorous and critical appraisal of the material and his narrative and summation is, therefore, a tawdry little piece of cherry-picking worthy of a place in Pravda as a feature article.

Social Commentator

Shorten, Mummy’s Boy!

Shorten and his crocodile tears over his mother. Who incidentally, was a university academic and lawyer who completed a doctorate at Monash University and ended her career there as a senior lecturer in education. She completed a law degree later in life and practised as a barrister for six years. So much for the sob story that his mother was a member of the poor and oppressed classes. Shorten is a member of the elitist gang who run the ALP, another Nicolae Ceaușescu. Shorten and Albanese are mummy’s boys always hanging onto Mum’s apron, schoolyard crybabies.