1788 Deserves Better

first fleetInvasion won prime ministerial approval at the winter election and now seems set to win the decades-old battle with settlement as the key word in the larger argument about whether or not the origins of modern Australia were “shameful”.

Invasion is mainly applied to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788—one never hears it applied to settlement in comparable contexts, for example settlement in the north—and there are arguments for and against. It leads, though, to a general but erroneous public impression of the past. It gives the impression that European settlement in Australia was only achieved by armed force and widespread killing, which is far from the truth.

The invasion/massacre/dispossession “black armband” version of history now routinely appears in the media and fiction, is taught in schools and universities and is a staple of private conversation, often in a deeply moral way. But it is invariably just a “given”—a vague and generalised presumption without detail or context. It originates in history books, themselves sometimes only moderately biased, and then seeps into the system, becoming exaggerated over time. The available facts, however, do not support it.

There is not much direct evidence either way about what the Aborigines thought at any time about whites arriving. I have read everything I could find over many years, and the indirect evidence suggests that the Aborigines usually—though not always—accepted our forebears, shrewdly and warily. There is no evidence that, except in a few parts of the tropical north, the indigenous people “resisted invasion” or were in any modern sense “freedom fighters”.

The “evil ancestors” version, blaming supposedly ruthless and racist governors, police, soldiers and squatters, also barks up the wrong tree.

There is much more evidence about convict transportation and the record there is clear: for all its rough edges it was massively successful in improving the lives of scores of thousands of people.

To be quite clear, the colonial period was a disaster for Aborigines. But they have genuine grievances enough without the need of exaggeration or invention. The disaster that befell them was essentially a consequence of the outside world colliding with a continent and its people after they had lived in isolation for 50,000 years. Even if it had been foreseen, it would not have been avoided for long had Britain decided to ship its convicts elsewhere. Regrettably, it was an inevitable part of the opening up of the Pacific.

The extreme “black armband” version of Australia’s pioneer days is a fantasy, a 1970s radical confection from assorted anti-colonial theory, American history, anti-Vietnam War ideology and a dash of South Africa grafted on to cherry-picked bits of Australian history.

It is simply not true that the 1970s brought, Watergate-style, a sudden rush of enlightenment, until then suppressed, especially from school books, about the “shame” of Australia’s past and the “need to come to terms” with it. As with all history, there have been a lot of new books about the white–black encounter since the 1960s, varying from good to patchy to bad, but they add detail, opinions and interpretation; they do not change the main story.

Many of these books display an anti-white bias, mainly through being selective, and have sought to enlarge the Aboriginal presence in mainstream history and build up Aboriginal pride and confidence. The ensuing publicity established fashionable views which have been repeated uncritically and built on by guesswork.

It is hard to see how in the 1780s “permission” from the Sydney Aborigines, or a “treaty”, could have been practical, given the immense gulf of culture, language and distance. North American treaties between Europeans and natives, which are often held up as examples of what should have been done here in 1788, usually broke under the pressure of white expansion; they were rarely worth the paper they were written on.

The British executive governors in Australia instead used diplomacy and conciliation with the Aborigines, as London instructed them to do, and it worked reasonably well over the seven decades of governor rule that followed 1788.

There is no evidence that the Sydney Aborigines opposed the First Fleeters or had a big problem with their presence. Black-armband writers point to the clearing of land as an example of probably unwelcome invasion of space, or to known and recorded conflict with the Botany Bay dissident Pemulwuy.

While there is no record of what the Aborigines thought, a vast amount has been recorded and written about early Sydney. On balance the impression is of a fairly successful, well governed and harmonious society, especially given the human raw material.

It is unlikely that any of the London officials who authorised and organised the early fleets had ever heard of the words “Terra Nullius”, which was then a legal technicality but is now widely supposed to be the doctrine that allowed the British and other European powers to “invade” countries such as Australia.

From the remote past until about a century ago, powerful countries considered it normal to plant small colonies in less developed lands. This was particularly so when the colonies were in territory with small populations, “wilderness” without towns and farming or visibly built dwellings or identifiably effective government. Group movement of people from one country to another was seen as normal.

A lot of the world was still like this in 1788, though it had declined greatly over the centuries. Immigration and port restrictions were also in a fledgling state worldwide. It was a quieter, less busy world. World population in 1788 was about one billion, compared with 7.5 billion today.

The original European colonies were usually intended for trade, such as those planted in seventeenth-century India, but it was common enough also to plant them for domestic purposes, such as exiling convicts or for major power strategy considerations—all factors present in early Australian colonies, though convict transportation was the main purpose here. Over time and for various reasons, such as wool growing in Australia, early niche colonies often grew far beyond their original purposes and were then incorporated into empires.

What happened in Australia also happened in comparable ways in India and the Americas. It had been the way of the world back at least as far as ancient Rome and could be viewed as a natural way of bringing stronger, more developed society to the weaker ones. One could endlessly ponder the strengths or weaknesses of particular cultures but it is evident that some survived and developed better than others under the pressures of the outside world.

The idea that 1788 was an invasion became popular in the lead-up to the 1988 Bicentennial. The main impetus was a perceived need to be more inclusive and build up Aboriginal pride, which seemed then to be sadly lacking. But “invasion” gives a wrong impression. People tend to imagine a process more like the D-Day invasion of occupied France in 1944 than the bland events at Port Jackson in 1788. There was a popular view around in 1988, which never even made it to print or screen, that the First Fleet came sailing in with war guns blazing at hapless indigenous defenders.

What did the Aborigines do? As far as we know, nothing much, except look on from the bush. One said later they thought the newcomers might be possums, climbing the ships’ masts as they did.

The main impression that emerges from fairly abundant records, and has been told in print over and again, is of the two Sydney-side races mingling fairly well, mutually curious and learning from each other. But there are serious qualifications to that happy picture that the black-armbanders seize on.

There were probably about a thousand Aborigines living around Sydney Harbour in 1788 in about a dozen loosely related communities, and 5000 of them in the wider Sydney region. The Australia-wide indigenous population was perhaps 750,000. The white population reached about 5000 in 1800 and only 190,000 even by 1840, when the Aboriginal population was about the same—extremely light use of the land by any standard. There were probably no more than 50,000 of each in the southern grazing lands.

White occupation of the land was slow—smidgins before 1800, and long after that only tiny coastal enclaves plus vast uncleared grazing runs. Only rarely did indigenous people directly oppose the process.

Nor was much land “grabbed”. An orderly system of government land grants prevailed in the Sydney basin and tiny areas around Hobart and Launceston in the early years. After about 1820 the grants went to wider areas within “limits of location”—about 350 kilometres round Sydney, and in the area between Hobart and Launceston. The grants were intended to grow food for the colony and help to pay its costs, to employ the convicts, teach them rural skills and encourage them to stay in Australia when their sentences expired. Immense expanses of unexploited bushland filled even these relatively “settled” districts.

Occupation by whites beyond the limits was illegal until 1836, when the wool boom had reached such a pitch that it was too big to stop. From 1836 these early “squatters” on the vast expanses beyond the “limits of location”—most of south-eastern Australia—had to pay for licences to graze their stock. Only after 1848 were the licences for fixed areas and periods, allowing more settled “stations” to develop.

Governments seemed at first to view the land as like common land in England, for informal sharing. Aboriginal rights were uncertain until 1848 but when some graziers drove local Aborigines from traditional lands, London ordered the grazing leases to be legally shared with the Aboriginal customary owners. Local colonial governments sometimes fudged the application, but the principle is the basis of Mabo.

As a rule, and with much qualification, the Aborigines accepted this rather light sharing of their lands with newcomers, who brought advantages such as more secure and diverse food and drink, metal goods, often a degree of security from hostile neighbouring tribes, and also the eye-opening wonders of the previously unknown outside world. It is, after all, normal for people to accept modernity.

Far more distressing for the indigenous people than the arrival in 1788 of a thousand interesting whites, surely, must have been the calamitous death rate at the same time. The greatest blow was the smallpox epidemic of 1789; First Fleet records estimate it to have killed about half the Aboriginal people of Sydney in a short time. The epidemic most likely originated in the Sulawesi area of Indonesia and came to the north coast of Australia with Sulawesi fishermen, who were frequent visitors at the time. Smallpox then spread throughout the continent by contact among the tribes, probably halving the total population.

A second smallpox calamity hit in the 1820s and also possibly again killed half the indigenous population of Australia, as well devastating many of the Pacific islands. Again Indonesian outlying islands are suspected to be the source. Black-armbanders ignore the epidemics or make little of them, and the less responsible ones guess that the First Fleet brought smallpox.

The origins of the epidemics have been debated, inconclusively, for two centuries but the weight of evidence is with the northern source. A First Fleet source cannot be ruled out but is the least likely of various suggestions. There is no record of smallpox on the First Fleet ships, and the time and distance of the voyage would not have allowed the germs to survive.

Once smallpox has entered an area the population gradually becomes immune, as in Britain or Java, but it devastates unexposed populations with no long-term history of it, such as the outer Indonesians, Australian Aborigines and Pacific islanders.

Another population calamity was venereal disease. Convicts and visiting seamen from 1788 onwards undoubtedly brought it but it might also have been spread by the Indonesian fishermen. Once into Australia, it spread through the unsuspecting indigenous people, devastating women’s ability to have children.

The age-old custom of lending wives—it was a polygamous society with child betrothal and two or often several wives—in exchange for presents had been a social bond over isolated aeons when visitors were rare, but it was calamitous when the outside world crashed in.

Aboriginal liking for alcohol, especially when visiting towns like Sydney, multiplied the disaster, since the Aboriginal people often traded encounters with their women for grog. White observers from time to time reported rates of 30 per cent and even up to 90 per cent of indigenous women suffering from venereal disease. Official reports on populations of various tribes show very small numbers of children, especially compared to the big-breeding colonial whites. Aboriginal infanticide—the killing of unwanted babies, including part-white ones—also reduced the population, although reliable information about its extent, which seemed to vary, is scarce. This again was age-old practice geared to life in the wild, especially in difficult times.

Other European diseases like influenza and measles do not seem to have been big killers in the early decades but they added to the tsunami of fatal disease, especially in Tasmania and other colder climates, as the white population increased, voyages became faster and more frequent, and colonisation spread. Tuberculosis was another major cause of death, among whites then too, but thought to have been devastating among blacks.

Aborigines, especially mixed-race people, gradually learned precautions against the new diseases, and immunity may also have improved. By the 1880s the plummeting population numbers of the mid-nineteenth century began to steady, but recorded indigenous numbers continued to fall; they reached a low of about 80,000 in 1930, but this figure excluded many part-European people.

Australian health control was fairly good, though, and the worst international killer diseases, such as cholera, were kept out. Little is known about Aboriginal health in the long aeons of isolation from the world.

Massacres of Aborigines by whites and vice versa have long haunted the Australian imagination. Old bush tales about them abound. People as various as South Africans and the far Left seize on them as the main reason for the decline in the Aboriginal population. Massacres had an especial lease of life in the wake of the anti-Vietnam War protests, when the spin was added that knowledge of them had been suppressed until that time.

Nobody denies that massacres happened. The challenge is sorting out the facts from substantial but inadequate evidence and an overdose of rumour. “Freedom fighting” and “defending country” rarely fit the evidence, except occasionally in the far north. I have seen very few references to verified poisoning and even fewer of poisoned waterholes.

As an extremely inadequate summary, from inadequate evidence, there may have been forty or so massacres around the country between 1800 and 1920. They were more often extended, lethal skirmishes in the bush than set-piece massacres.

Only about half a dozen that we know of were in the first fifty years of white settlement on the mainland. This period saw the great wool boom, when graziers spread over much of southern Australia, and Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane were founded. Most incidents could be attributed to white mistakes rather than outright resistance. Otherwise, as far as records show, relative racial harmony prevailed throughout Australia until 1838—a considerable achievement, as officialdom liked to point out.

It would not have been difficult for the Aborigines to have fought off the whites then, had they seriously wanted to. The graziers advanced with slow-moving mobs of sheep accompanied by bullock drays on barely existent bush tracks. Most of the accompanying workers, typically serving or former convicts, were on foot, usually unarmed. Such guns as there were were muskets or long-barrelled rifles, of limited use against nimble Aborigines armed with spears and knowing every inch of their country.

A period of serious conflict began in 1838 and lasted in southern Australia until the mid-1840s. The reasons are not known with certainty—the Aborigines kept no records—but they can be estimated. One would have been drought—1838 was a bad drought year. The Aborigines might also have become wary of the overbearing and permanent nature of the white advance, or perhaps they wanted rent. But this is speculation. It is important to remember that “the Aborigines” were not a single entity but a collection of loosely governed tribes (more accurately described as clans and language groups), historically antagonistic and sometimes at war.

By the late 1830s the squatters were moving into more remote country where the Aborigines may have seen them as allies of neighbouring tribes where squatters had already settled. Such indigenous “politics” seem to have been a frequent flashpoint on the frontier, but it is hard for historians to assess other than circumstantially.

Much of the lethal racial violence of 1838 to 1845 was in these new squatting districts, such as far south-western Victoria, home of the independent, technically somewhat advanced Gunditjmara people; Gippsland (south-eastern Victoria), home of the warlike Kurnai who were already bitterly at war with the Kulin of central Victoria; and in far north-western New South Wales around the Queensland border, home of the big, strong Kamilaroi.

The biggest single cause of fighting, though, was large-scale sheep stealing (at least that’s how debt-plagued squatters perceived it). To again summarise a poorly understood subject, I think the main cause was the many light-fingered former or escaped convicts then roaming the frontier and attempting to set up little pastoral operations of their own and asserting themselves over the local Aborigines.

But it was a real tangle. Various motives have been attributed to explain Aboriginal sheep stealing, from all-out resistance, to punishing particular squatters, to simply being naughty. But the main reason was that they loved barbecued mutton. It seemed more about property and women, including raids on huts and drays, than about land.

The north of Australia saw much more frontier violence, especially in Queensland, where deaths of whites at black hands numbered in the hundreds and Aborigines possibly in the thousands. By then, in the second half of the nineteenth century, guns were much more advanced, horses much more numerous and distances even more immense. Northern Aborigines had the reputation of being more aggressive and there were more of them. The convict era had long gone, so convicts cannot be blamed.

The biggest and most distinctive human killers of Aborigines there were the native police forces, comprising mounted, armed Aborigines under white officers. Especially in Queensland, they developed a dreadful reputation for killing and mistreating Aborigines from outside their own tribal group—who were the great majority of those they dealt with.

Records are poor. How much of the lethal turmoil, especially between 1860 and 1890 when graziers flooded over northern Australia, was due to defending squatters from attacks on their livestock and on themselves and their workers, and how much to friction among Aborigines, remains unknown. But it was a wild time.

The number of Aborigines killed in conflict with whites and native police forces is not known. Published estimates are extremely rough guesstimates, but probably several thousand lost their lives—a sad, if relatively small, contribution to Aboriginal depopulation.

Note: This article has been summarised from many books and records. Two good books are Jan Critchett’s A Distant Field of Murder: Western District Frontiers, 1834–1848 (1990) and Judy Campbell’s Invisible Invaders: Smallpox and Other Diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1788–1880 (2002).

Robert Murray is the author of The Making of Australia: A Concise History (Rosenberg).


40 thoughts on “1788 Deserves Better

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    The settlement of Australia was probably the most benign colonisation in the recorded history of human kind. Australia was never going to escape colonisation/settlement by Europeans of some sort for too much longer than it did, and despite the depredations of disease and displacement, the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia were in many ways very fortunate that the colonisation was done by the British and not by some other Europeans or by the Chinese or some other Asian cultures.
    Even then, the British were only able to successfully colonise Australia at that time because they were technically and socially more advanced than most other cultures of their time. The Indonesians certainly and possibly the Chinese and other Asian cultures were aware of Australia at the time but were not advanced enough technically or socially to establish successful colonies. Technology was then, and still is now, the critical component, as the more that technology has advanced, the more that Australia, one of the hottest, driest, flatest places on earth has became a desirable place to live.

    • Lacebug says:

      By your logic you should be fine with me breaking into your house and staying put, because somebody else will probably break in anyway, and at least I won’t rape your wife and kill your kids.

      • Patrick McCauley says:

        What a ridiculous analogy Lacebug … settling a country and establishing a settlement on the other side of the world cannot be compared to someone ‘breaking into your house’ within a liberal democracy with an established rule of law. Initially, the aboriginal people saw the white settlement as a source of food and alcohol and entered into various transactions with the whitefellas to secure these supplies … sugar, bread, lamb and beef – clothes, fashion etc – all added to the attractions of the new settlement … Aboriginal people came to the new white settlements in droves. There was no ‘Federation’ of Aboriginal tribes and for the most part, they were more concerned with their ongoing wars between various language groups than they were with the whites (read William Buckley’s account) Finally – Aboriginal peoples had no trouble breaking into other people’s houses – because as long as they were not part of their language group – they had no laws against it – or rape or murder – because these crimes were not included amongst their laws. In the end the ‘culture’ which came to them in a most benign manner – was a culture that could support about 22 million more people, who lived lives about twice as long and in much greater wealth and comfort, than any of the Aboriginal cultures. The Aboriginal people were handed this culture which led to liberal democracy, on a platter – whilst it had taken whitefellas about two thousand years of wars and enlightenements to achieve.

      • acarroll says:

        If my house is the size of a continent, then yeah it’s probably not that big a deal.

      • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

        Are you just bored, or are you from GET UP to make such a puerile analogy? I hope you paid you subs, or else you are ‘invading’ a sensible website where manners and reason are meant to apply. You post had nothing in it that showed where my proposition was in any way inaccurate or misleading, it was just gratuitous under-graduate gibberish. More is expected of respondents at Quadrant.

        • Lacebug says:

          Demandsel, firstly, you show me no manners at all in your reply (bored, puerile, rubbish, gibberish) and if such a reply was made face to face I would challenge you to a bout of fisticuffs. Secondly, it appears that the only ‘reason’ you would see as appropriate is the reason that agrees with you and the Quadrant line.
          Nothing I have read here justifies sailing somewhere with ships full of convicts and dumping them in a place where somebody had lived for 40,000 years. As i stated, I consider myself extremely right wing (I don’t believe in welfare and I disagree with Muslim immigration) but even I can see that there is something wrong with this, no matter how benignly it was carried out.
          And BTW, I wouldn’t WANT to invade your brick veneer house in the burbs anyway.

  • nfw says:

    Mr Turnbull and his acolytes, ie other politicians, public servants living in fairy-land and/or “advisors” (all on the public purse) acquaint themselves with real facts? Not likely. Mr Turnbull is a lawyer and banker. When have those trades and indeed modern academics, Their ALPBC, Fairfax et al and “progressives” (aka Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Pol Pot to name a few: mass murderers all) ever bothered with facts?

  • Lacebug says:

    I consider myself an extreme right-winger, but even I can see that sailing to another person’s country and colonising it (whether by force, or sheer numbers) is simply wrong by any measure. Even my nine-year old son can see that. You can come up with as many clever arguments as you like (including the spurious claim that other countries would have eventually taken Australia, so it’s just lucky we did it first and didn’t kill as many Aborigines in the process) and you can f#*k around with the definition of ‘invasion’ to make yourself sound intelligent. You can even claim that because there are no records of Aborigines being upset by us taking their lands, that they must have been okay with it, But the fact remains; we did the wrong thing.

    • PeterShobart says:

      We did the ‘wrong thing’ by current standards, but not by the standards of the time. A small amount of knowledge in the subject of History will confirm this.

      • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

        What you said, Anthony. People judging the actions/attitudes of previous generations by their own very debatable and anachronistic modern standards really do need to broaden their minds.

      • Lacebug says:

        No need to be rude “a small amount of knowledge in the subject of History” That is so fu*#ing condescending. I’m not bloody stupid mate, I do realise that by the standards of the time what the British did was acceptable and probably rather benign. But it is definitely ‘wrong’ by today’s standards.

    • Jody says:

      Last night on ‘Who Do you Think you Are?” Peter Garrett traced his ancestry back via his grandmother to an island off Canarven where aboriginals were confined because they supposedly had venereal disease and authorities didn’t want this getting into the white population. Who would have had VD first? You can get it wasn’t the aboriginals. Anyway, they lived in squalid conditions and pictures emerged of them chained together like dogs.

      By any civilized measure this was appalling behaviour unbecoming of the colonizers and any human being with an ounce of common decency.

      • acarroll says:

        Assuming the photos that they presented of people in those conditions are actually the said people. We know the mass media likes to drum up misinformation in support of an agenda. If white prisoners were also kept in these kinds of conditions (by all accounts many were) then it’s a reflection of the standards of the time, as stated above.

        We can look back at the world from the luxury and abundant free time we have to care about such things, and view it as appalling and unbecoming, but this luxury is temporary, an anomaly in human history. The world was, is and always will be a violent and savage place. Forget this and you’ll get a lesson in evolution the hard way.

      • Warty says:

        Nevertheless, we do indeed live by different standards. Judging history by the standards of today, I thought, was only fashionable amongst the revisionists. People live according to the standards of the day. If a proportion of today’s white population want to wallow in guilt, well they’re welcome to it: it doesn’t change history (even if they’re keen to attempt it).

        • acarroll says:

          As Orwell wrote in 1984,

          “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

          The political Left are very much in control of the present.

          • Warty says:

            A comment of mine, posted today at 12.54pm is supposedly ‘awaiting moderation’ and it has been patiently been waiting in the outpatients most of the day. Now, I can see it on my computer, but perhaps I’m the only one who can. No, I haven’t begun to lose my marbles, but I was wondering if anyone else can see the aforementioned comment? Perhaps ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’ is a none to subtle hint that I should stop submitting divisive comments in response to Quadrant articles.

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    There is very little we can do about the wrongs of the past. To dwell on them only helps create and encourage the victim hood mentality. That mentality is much more destructive to the future of indigenous people.

    We are much better off acknowledging those events of the past and especially the ignored greatest catastrophe and our very worst behaviour. As Stannar described “the coming in” where the indigenous people left the nomadic life, because of the drying of water hole and the lack of food, and clustered around settlements. He described it as the surrender. We treated these people without respect. And was and is a greater shame than anything that went before.
    He records the indigenous as expecting, as a defeated people to be looked after.

    That is what we westerners do. We didn’t and in many ways still don’t … Effectively.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    Aborigines activists and their white allies will never be satisfied, regardless of any and all appeasement, apologies, concessions and compensations, simply because that would amount to the termination of the Aboriginal industry, the abolishing of a vast number of cushy sinecures and the turning off of the spigot to the limitless largess of funds supplied by Australian taxpayers.

    PS. Lacebug seems to be from another planet.

  • Solo says:

    Just imagine if today you could invade an area larger than the totality of Europe with a few boats, some British marines and a bunch of scabby convicts. I doubt anyone would call it an invasion, but every government and their dog would be lining up to invade.

    Some hilarious alternative histories
    The Arabs discover a new slave trade route. Do you think there’d be any aboriginals left?
    The Spanish use the same tactics on the Australian indigenous as the South Americans. Puppet tribes and spanish rule.
    The French… would have probably run away

    It was not an invasion by any stretch of the word, contemporary or otherwise. This word is simply used to silence discussion of history and encourage white guilt. Further it goes toward silencing discussion of indigenous issues now, in a similar vein to slavery in the US – your ancestor was a slaver so you’re not allowed in this conversation. Your ancestors invaded this country, so you’re not allowed in this conversation. The word and concept of invasion is a muzzle.

    I would be the first to agree however, that a number of HISTORICAL policies viewed aboriginals as sub-human. I believe there were hunting licences to kill aboriginals for a start. There is a “Boundary” street in my city which is called that because aboriginals were not allowed to enter the city limits without shoes (or at all). Additionally, there are local examples of people being killed at creeks and local areas. But I must stress, that reporting breathlessly of a ‘massacre’ is subjective. Family groups were killed, yes, but it was not genocide nor some sort of organised pogrom.

    Killing the Jews, the Yazidis, Serbians, Armenians etc are indeed massacres.

    If we are going to discuss the creation of modern Australia, we should use our words with logic and evidence. There is enough emotional hyperbole on social media and I’ve had enough.

    • Mikesmith42@bigpond.com says:

      You say there were hunting licences to kill aborigines. Can you provide any information about who issued such licences? What criteria did you need to meet to get such a licence? How much did it cost? Was it a flat charge, or did it depend on how many aborigines you wanted to kill? For how long was the licence valid? Could you renew it? Geographic area? Period of history? Did the system work? Even if you cannot answer these specfic questions, I should be grateful for any evidence you can provide.

  • Keith Kennelly says:


    Oh well I suppose we westerners didn’t do the right thing after the Japanese surrender either then. The behaviour we exhibited then was pretty decent, we’ve always dealt with adversaries who surrender decently.

    • acarroll says:

      I suspect most people then couldn’t really care about Aborigines, as most people now don’t really care what happens on the other side of the world, except the social media virtue signallers.

      As for the Japanese, the respect extended to them was strongly a function of the strategic importance of getting an industrialised nation back on its feet in the war against communism. Treating them with respect had the added benefit of progressing this aim. Question: do you think that “respect” would be extended if the Japanese rose up again under American martial law?

      • Warty says:

        acarroll, I think you’ve rather misconstrued what Keith Kennelly said ironically. It wasn’t so much a matter of treating the Japanese rather decently, it was more the fact that the British and Americans operated from the premise of the ‘rule of law’ and so the arbitrary executions and uncalled for punishments meted out to Australian and British prisoners of war was not reciprocated. The Japanese prisoners were properly tried and sentenced. It certainly had nothing to do with getting them back on their feet post war, and even further from the need to render them strong enough to resist communist expansionism. These were quite separate policies, and even there the motives were not cynical.

        • acarroll says:

          I guess I’m too cynical to believe that the allies weren’t behaving cynically in their post-war administration of, and metering-out of justice to, Japan and her war criminals.


          • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

            Your cynicism, and I think Warty’s comment that it certainly had nothing to do with getting the Japanese back on their feet, ignore the actual fact that this is precisely wnat was done, in effect if not by explicit intention. Left to Australia, the reprisals against Japan would have been very much proportional to the war crimes commiyyed by Japan. The pursuit of the ANZUS treaty was very much motivatemd by what seems in retrospect to have been a quite irrational fear of a resurgent Japan. Wiser heads prevailed, fortunately.

          • Warty says:

            D. Thomas, as I attempted to point out in my response to acarroll, the trials were a series of distinct events, designed to bring about justice post Japanese surrender, and the format and intent were based on the Nuremberg trials designed to bring about the same outcome. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Military_Tribunal_for_the_Far_East
            The article, below points to three distinct phases relating to, firstly, the punishment of those involved in war crimes; a second, albeit distinct phase, the economic reconstruction of a devastated Japan; the third phase involved the reconstruction of the second phase, but also a formal peace treaty, with the safe guards to ensure Japan never again reasserted itself militarily.
            The article https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/japan-reconstruction points out that fear of communist expansionism put the economic recovery aspect ‘centre stage’, which may not have been quite the intensity of effort originally intended.
            These are not sophisticated analyses, but they will do the job with regard to clarifying the positions each of us took.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    Most people who today identify as Aboriginal, except for those north of the Tropic of Capricorn, are of mixed-race ancestry. There are no “full-bloods” much left south of that line, and the further one goes towards Tasmania, the lighter the skin colours become.
    How did this situation arise? I can only be because with the spread of white settlement from 1788 on, young “full-blood” men were steadily eliminated from the breeding population: usually in the course of range warfare. Massacres were rather rare as en masse events. The victims were rather picked off (ie shot) individually or in small groups. The best short account of this is in Ted Egan’s song The Drover’s Boy.
    The literature on this process is fairly extensive.

    • Lawriewal says:

      Ian I grew up with aboriginals in outback Queensland – a long long time ago.
      I fully realise that my experience is limited to the particular tribe of the area but the women there were treated as something less than the dogs which they had in large numbers.
      Thus having a white partner (often a married partnership) was something to be desired by the aboriginal females.
      There is no doubt in my mind that mixed-blood relationships had nothing to do with the males and range warfare.
      As an aside I am often bemused by seeing obviously mixed blood women declaiming loudly about their wonderful culture.
      Guess it had to be different in other parts of My Country.

      • ian.macdougall says:

        Thanks for your observation.
        I would be interested in any observation you might have regarding https://noahsarc.wordpress.com/kangaroos-thylacines-and-aborigines-1/
        To say that “mixed-blood relationships had nothing to do with the males and range warfare” is a bit of a stretch IMHO, as there is plenty of evidence of range warfare, and not just in massacre stories. Indigenous vs European conflict over land use underwrites much of the history of inland Australia, as well as of both American continents.
        With aboriginal fortunes on the way down, and those of whites on the rise, it cannot be surprising that numbers of Aboriginal women sought safety and sustenance in the camps and beds of white men. But where did this leave the young Aboriginal men? There is scant evidence of young black men forming relationships with young white women in colonial times. Even today it is a rarity.

        • PT says:

          An old man I occasionally speak to tells me that when he worked in WA’s interior in the days when alcohol sales to aborigines were banned, he’d continually be approached by aboriginal men, pushing pounds into his hand and asking him to buy beer or wine, and offering their sister, wife or daughter in return for such “service”. I know of aboriginal women in the Pilbara quite happy to trade sexual favours in exchange for fruity lexia. Mixed race people don’t have to be the result of rape or be do the lack of aboriginal men. We’re dealing with a society with different rules, and without reliable contraception!

  • mvgalak@bigpond.com says:

    In his riveting book – “The sea of danger – Captain Cook and his rivals in the South Pacific” Geoffrey Blainey gives , possibly , the most succinct account of the meeting between the whites and Aborigines.According to this account, local Indigenes did not agree to communicate with the newcomers at all and ignored them completely. The reason for such a strange behaviour was the Aboriginal belief that the newcomers were embodied spirits of their ancestors, with whom they had no right of contact. After a while British sailors , respecting the free will of the local population, desisted from communicating with them. It led to a bizarre situation of two groups passing by each other on the beach, being in close proximity but behaving as though the other does not exist. Taking this account into consideration, the theory of an armed resistance to an “invasion” simply does not hold water. How one can fight his dead ancestors?
    Captain Cook’s “discovery” of Australia was an incidental find after the failure of the main task of his expedition – he was instructed to find a legendary island, populated by Jewish merchants, which, it was thought , were trading with many undiscovered nations of of the Southern Hemisphere. In such a capacity these traders were deemed ti be useful allies and of interest to the British Empire.
    At no stage of an Australian settlement British authorities neither had, nor promoted a deliberate policy of Aboriginal genocide. Comparatively, the British settlement of Australia was the least brutal and most benign of all possible scenarios. Lets face it, the continent of the size of Australia was not going to be left untouched by the rival European nations.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    a propos
    “At no stage of an Australian settlement British authorities neither had, nor promoted a deliberate policy of Aboriginal genocide. Comparatively, the British settlement of Australia was the least brutal and most benign of all possible scenarios.”
    Agreed. But the official policy was one thing. The unofficial behaviour of the land-hungry settlers was another thing entirely, and produced a history typical of the histories of conflict over land use between European, Asian or whatever agriculturalists and stone age hunter-gatherers.

    • mvgalak@bigpond.com says:

      Precisely to prevent this from occurring British colonial administration issued a pictorial proclamation with the graphic depiction of an equal punishment for murder of blacks by whites and whites by blacks. Thus, the principle of equality in law was established. The “stone age hunter-gatherers” is an important distinction, which prevented The Crown from entering a formal negotiation about the treaty.

      • ian.macdougall says:

        Thus, the principle of equality in law was established. But that ‘principle’ didn’t mean all that much to the squatters and settlers. And all this ‘treaty’stuff is a dog chasing its tail. For a start, assuming the PM signs for non-Black Australia, who signs for Black Australia?

  • padraic says:

    The real reason for the debate over “invasion” versus “settlement” is one of legal niceties. The activist lawyers and their academic mates need this change to support their call for a “treaty” which is not possible if it was a settlement. I believe it also has implications for the land tenure decisions by the High Court in relation to Native Title as well our relationship with various UN Conventions. Discussing the past is playing into their hands. “Invasion” implies an army, and the only “redcoats” who came here that I am aware of were initially to control the convicts and a subsequent later brief visit in Ballarat before going to New Zealand to prosecute a war against the Maoris.

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