Future of aboriginal Australians

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inal and European Australia.

Conflicts over women were flashpoints for many of the physical conflicts between whites and Aboriginals. "Half-caste" girls, in particular, were in great demand for domestic labour and sexual services in the bush. The Aboriginal contribution to the gene pool of "white" society is substantial in much of rural Australia.

In pastoral Australia the curious institution developed very widely of the "drovers boy", in which Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal women travelled with drovers, dressed as men. This has been immortalised in Ted Egans popular song. As in the American South, this question of some black ancestry is the haunting refrain that exists in the recesses of many family histories. The explosion in numbers of people asserting Aboriginal identity in successive censuses is the surfacing of this widespread repressed family memory.

Many other mixed-blood people became part of a surviving, and later reviving, Aboriginal society in many parts of Australia. In Victoria, southern South Australia, Tasmania and NSW there are very few full-blood Aboriginals left, but there is now a large and vigorous Aboriginal society of mainly mixed ancestry.

In the 19th century, a sometimes well-intentioned, but often vicious, white paternalism emerged in relation to Aboriginal affairs and the anthropological study of Aborigines. The work of Protectors cum anthropologists, such as Daisy Bates and T.G. Strehlow, has been used to justify some paternalistic practices and to defend essentially conservative policies in relation to Aboriginal affairs. Recently an anthropologist working in Aboriginal affairs, Ken Maddock, has attempted to use his anthropological prestige to buttress the reactionary Quadrant project in relation to Aboriginal affairs.

Even a well-known, prize-winning, although rather opaque novelist, David Foster, has made spectacularly reactionary public statements on Aboriginal issues, once again, quickly seized on by Paul Sheehan in his book. A theme that was begun in the 19th century by the fantasist Daisy Bates, was that of "the passing of the Aborigines", which she associated with a wild exaggeration of perceived barbaric rituals and practices in traditional Aboriginal society.

The eccentric and tortured Daisy Bates became a byword for these two themes, and her largely invented stories of ritual infanticide came to be a core element in the conventional European view of traditional Aboriginal society, which she kept repeating forcibly was dying anyway. Dick Hall, in his wonderful and effective book Black Armband Days (Random House, 1998), thoroughly and comprehensively "deconstructs" the previously all-pervasive Daisy Bates legend.

Some of the bones of allegedly ritually eaten Aboriginal babies that Daisy Bates sent to the South Australian Museum, were later found to be the bones of feral cats, and a lot of the other bones cant be traced.

The impact of the Strehlow-Bates school of Aboriginal "anthropology" has been enormous. The ease with which someone like Pauline Hanson or the authors of the book Pauline Hanson, The Truth (Pauline Hanson Support Movement, 1997), just reel off wild assertions implying that tribal Aboriginal eating of babies was an almost normal dietary practice, underlines the unpleasant ideological impact of this thoroughly white paternalist, shoddily researched, or even falsified Daisy Bates style "anthropology". Whenever some racist wishes to abolish ATSIC, like Pauline Hanson, or cut off funds for Aboriginal health and welfare, its become almost routine for them to throw in dubious anthropology about Aboriginal "baby eating" and other barbarities alleged to be part of traditional Aboriginal culture.

The main figure in this paternalistic extinctionist attitude to Aboriginal culture and affairs was the extraordinarily talented, prodigiously energetic, but possibly slightly mad, anthropologist T.G. Strehlow. There is no question that Carl Strehlow and his son, T.G. Strehlow, put together a thorough record of the Arrernte culture through their anthropological efforts over many years. Nevertheless, both Strehlows thoroughly racist preconceptions led them to exaggerate perceived brutal aspects of Arrernte culture. T.G. Strehlows racist Eurocentrism made him the originator of a general theme that has become almost a mantra of racists who wish to appear learned. His view was that Arrernte society, although brutal and in parts even Satanic was, nevertheless, in its own way, authentic. (T.Gs father, Carl was head of the Finke River Mission, at Hermannsburg, in the Northern Territory from 1894-1922, and T.G. was raised and individually taught by his father to the age of 14.) He had absolute contempt, however, for mixed-blood people, who he regarded as degenerate, not authentic Aboriginals, and demeaning to the white "race" also.

This Strehlow view of Aboriginal traditional society as cruel, brutal, authentic but doomed, and half-caste society as loathsome and degenerate, has become the accepted ideology on Aboriginal affairs of many racists and bigots in Australian society. The many variations on this theme permeated most attempts to address the problem of Aboriginal society until very recent times. The state project of stealing mixed-blood children from their parents (the stolen generations) stems from the Strehlow view that half-caste society was vile. The Hermansburg Lutheran Mission, where Strehlows dramas were played out, was one of the saddest and most contradictory of Christian missions. It certainly acted as a kind of refuge for Aboriginal people trying to survive the widespread physical attacks on them, but the price they paid was a constant assault on their cultural traditions by the narrow and bigotted Lutheran missionaries, who regarded Aboriginal traditional religion as Satanic.

The important book by the infuriating postmodernist, Paul Carter, The Lie of the Land (Faber, 1996), is very illuminating on this. Ploughing through Carters maddeningly obtuse text is, in this instance, well worth the effort. The chapter "A Reverent Miming" is an extraordinary mine of information about what happened at the Hermansburg Mission.

Carter describes, in a pathetic and moving way, the constant pressure on the Aboriginal elders and religious leaders by the Christian religious maniac, Pastor Albrecht, to surrender to him the traditional Aboriginal religious artifacts, the tjurungas. He also describes the official Lutheran ceremony of "desacralisation" of the Manangananga Cave in which these objects had been preserved for many hundreds of years. Both Strehlows accumulated a collection of thousands of these looted Aboriginal sacred objects, and many of the Aboriginal people in central Australia are still fighting a vigorous battle with the Strehlow estate to get them back for the Aboriginal people before they are dispersed via Christies or Sothebys to rich collectors around the world.

The account of these events in Carters book is supplemented by the account in One Blood (Albatross Books, 1990) by the Anglican, John Harris, who provides a perceptive overview of the experience of Christian missions in Australia.

Australia played a bloodthirsty role in the South Pacific. Nevertheless, 150,000 people from the South Pacific now live in Australia

From the time of white settlement, Sydney became the main port for the British looting and conquest of the South Pacific. British ships out of Sydney supplied guns to Maori chiefs in New Zealand and to many tribal chiefs throughout the Pacific, using their trade in guns to increase British political influence, and to thereby facilitate their looting of the area.

This activity was almost universally bloodthirsty. The notorious activities of Samuel Marsden, the Anglican minister, flogging magistrate and missionary gun-runner, and the later "blackbirding" of many thousands of Melanesians as semi-slave labourers to Queensland, are only the best-known examples of a whole system of conquest and exploitation.

A typical event was the incident in 1837 when, without warning, the men of Sapwauahfik Atoll (then called Ngatik) in Micronesia were killed by the crew of a trade ship, out of Sydney, who wished to steal a cache of valuable tortoiseshell possessed by the islanders. This is recounted in the fascinating book, The Ngatik Massacre (Smithsonian Institute, 1993) by Lin Poyer

The story of this community is, in its own way, just as fascinating a story as that of the Pitcairn Islanders. After the massacre, several of the European murderers settled on the island and were joined by a collection of other Pacific beachcombers, who cohabited with the female survivors of the massacre, giving rise to a vigorous new community with its own complex culture, which now numbers some hundreds, descended, in a way, from the murderers and the surviving widows of the murdered men. Needless to say, a collective memory of the massacre is an important part of the cultural history of the island.

Quite a lot of South Pacific history is like this, containing terrible memories of past atrocities mixed with the extraordinary resilience of the surviving indigenous people, recreating a life and culture for themselves from whatever is left to and available to them.

In the light of this bloodthirsty Australian participation in Pacific history, an interesting feature of the racial history of Australia is the presence, today, of vigorous communities of indigenous people from all over the Pacific. For a start, people from the Torres Strait Islands, who are mainly Melanesian with some Polynesian influences, have scattered all over northern Australia, from Darwin to Brisbane,