When Captain Hook Met the Flintstones at Sydney Cove

The picture book, for children aged four to eight, is in the Welcome to Our Country series. At the beginning there is a full-page acknowledgment of traditional owners. At the end is a double-page spread of modern Sydney. The book’s conclusion is inked across the colourful spread: “It was Aboriginal Land. It is Aboriginal Land. And always will be Aboriginal Land.” Children are not told that the image they are looking at is of Sydney, Australia. The central figures in this setting are a man and woman and two children. Book notes by the authors suggest children should:

Look closely at the Aboriginal people pushing the pram. Can you recognise the flag on the man’s tee-shirt [they do not identify him as the father]? What do the words “It was Aboriginal Land. It is Aboriginal Land. And always will be Aboriginal Land” mean to you?

This is the break-up of Australia, a picture book at a time.

It brings to mind the Aboriginal land at Risdon Cove and its famous sign, the words imposed over a painted version of the indigenous flag: “PRIVATE LAND—No access beyond this point”. If this picture book version of Sydney was Aboriginal real estate there would be barbed-wire fences, closed gates and exclusion—the tall buildings in the background would be ruins. Sydney is the result of our history since 1788, but you would not know that from this text.

Michael Connor’s review appears in the current Quadrant.
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That “flag” in the picture is a self-identifying racial marker. It excludes non-Aborigines, though children are not told this, just as they are offered a very softened view of Aboriginal customs. The book is Somebody’s Land and is sold as:

An accessible picture book for young children that introduces First Nations history and the term “terra nullius” to a general audience, from Australian of the Year, community leader and anti-racism advocate Adam Goodes and political advisor and former journalist Ellie Laing, with artwork by Barkindji illustrator David Hardy.

It may be a picture book, but it is indoctrinating pre-schoolers to Year 3 students with bad history, fake culture and racial fantasies which it wants them to take into their adult lives:

Somebody’s Land is an invitation to connect with First Nations culture, to acknowledge the hurt of the past, and to join together as one community with a precious shared history as old as time. Adam Goodes and Ellie Laing’s powerful words and David Hardy’s pictures, full of life, invite children and their families to imagine themselves into Australia’s past—to feel the richness of our First Nations’ history, to acknowledge that our country was never terra nullius, and to understand what “welcome to our country” really means.

The text is very simple and follows a pattern, breaking into a series of short segments contrasting Aborigines and white settlers—praising one and denigrating the other. The 1788 children in the illustrations are limp impersonations of idealised twenty-first-century kids (though deprived of smartphones). The good-people sections consist of six lines divided into two parts. The first is two lines long—the words do not change and are repeated seven times through the book:

For thousands and thousands of years,
Aboriginal people lived in the land we now call Australia.

Of the remaining four lines the first is an unchanging repetition of “The land was where people …” and the remaining three lines, illustrated with artwork of happy Aboriginal families, describe an idealised lifestyle. The following is an example:

The land is where people
Built their homes,
Played in the sun,
And sat together to tell stories.

After this good section comes the bad. An unchanging four-line mantra is repeated over and over:

When the white people came
They called the land Terra Nullius.
They said it was nobody’s land.
But it was somebody’s land.

In this picture book there are ten double-page picture spreads which use this simple and repetitive arrangement of text, and the word land is repeated thirty-eight times. In the final pages, where the activist slogan is used, it is capitalised: “It was Aboriginal Land. It is Aboriginal Land. And always will be Aboriginal Land.” This is ugly propaganda used against the young, though a review from the Australian Book Council disagrees: “Young readers will enjoy these chorus lines [sic] with the opportunity to help the reading.”

Nobody called New South Wales terra nullius in the eighteenth century. It was only used in the later part of the twentieth century when it was seen as useful by land rights activists. From being an unknown phrase, Australians are now afflicted with terra nullius (even as they don’t know what it means) from cradle to grave.

The book illustrator David Hardy worked for the Walt Disney Animation Studios and his illustrations are smoothly familiar friendly native types. The absence of truthful visual historical observation is his responsibility:

Creative licence has been taken with regard to historical accuracy, and clothing; other details reflect the sensibilities of a contemporary audience. The settings are general, depicting the tropical north, central Australia, and scenes that reference colonial artworks in other states.

His Aboriginal children and their families are digital Disney. Softly tanned and modestly clothed they are an offence to 1788 Aborigines, who were black and naked. Young Dark Emu is an unacknowledged source—from possum cloaks to the familiar big dark bird in the night skies. The tall palm frond (?) covered house the industrious father is building for his family mirrors the dome house illustrated in Pascoe’s book which, as Peter Sutton notes in Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?, is not at all Aboriginal but a construction from Torres Strait.

On the front cover is an Aboriginal family at the seaside. Mum, sitting in the sand, is kneading bread (?) in a coolamon. She is dressed for baking in a dress and big beaded necklace that could have come from Wilma Flintstone’s wardrobe. Father, loins covered in manufactured fabric, is in the sea with a spear, catching fish. Three children sit on the sand. A fire burns. One boy is drinking from a coconut, which he must have opened, as his mother and siblings watch on. Nothing in the text about infanticide: I looked.

The simplistic text sells pre-contact Aborigines living in a phoney Neverland: “The land is where people / cared for the rivers and seas, collected shells to share, and caught fish and mud crabs to eat.” Here the illustration features a fish happily leaping into the outstretched arms of a boy who is hunting him: another fish smiles as it swims into a net being held by a second boy. The opposite page (the bad one with the terra nullius mantra) has a little girl offering a seashell to an open-mouthed military man in tricorn, top boots and with a flowing moustache—think Captain Hook before the hook. The notes for this are correspondingly flaky:

Caring for Country is at the heart of Aboriginal histories and culture, so take a moment to discuss the children using nets for catching fish to eat. Explain that they only take what they need so the land and waterways are never damaged, and that this is still a common practice.

Children are not told of how you actually care for country; this is no more than vacuous feel-good sentimentality. There are fine ethnographic films (I mean the ones they haven’t yet locked away) that show with absolute candour how Aborigines really lived as late as the middle of last century. How animals were caught, killed, cooked and eaten is not very pretty.

On another double-page spread the children find and follow tracks that lead to a goanna and an echidna on a rotting log. Near them are stumps of very big trees that have been cut down. Nearby on a rocky outcrop a soldierly figure watches as two white men saw down another big tree. There is no indication of the brutality with which the very sweet children will kill the nice goanna and echidna. There is also no indication of what was done to the harvested trees and the productive ends to which they would have been put—as in the building of houses. Instead the authors state, “This page is important as it juxtaposes two distinctly different attitudes to Caring for Country.” They offer advice:

Try asking the following questions as a way to help children better understand the different attitudes … What do you see the “white people” (British/Europeans) doing to the tree? Who do you think is being kinder to the land here—the Aboriginal people or the white people? How does this image make you feel?

How did I feel? Well, to be honest, the questions prompted me to turn to George Worgan—an antidote to woke.

Worgan was a First Fleet surgeon. He bought a piano in his luggage—the first in Australia. He was an artful observer and a prolific writer. Unfortunately, only some pages of his writings from his journal and a letter to his brother have been preserved. When picture books are put aside or perhaps when someone draws an adult graphic non-fiction novel to educate the abused generations, Worgan will be a masculine and truthful source. Unlike Adam Goodes, he did not turn to a politicised journalist and media adviser to help with the words.

In Somebody’s Land a little girl offers a newcomer a seashell. This is what the First Fleet offered Aborigines—it is from a letter by Worgan to his brother in June 1788:

We sailed from the Cape of Good Hope on the 12th of November 1787—As that was the last civilized Country We should touch at, in our Passage to Botany Bay We provided ourselves with every Article, necessary for the forming a civilized Colony, Live Stock, consisting of Bulls, Cows, Horses Mares, Colts, Sheep, Hogs, Goats Fowls and other living Creatures by Pairs. We likewise, procured a vast Number of Plants, Seeds & other Garden articles, such, as Orange, Lime, Lemon, Quince Apple, Pear Trees, in a Word, every Vegetable Production that the Cape afforded. Thus Equipped, each Ship like another Noah’s Ark.

Though it frightens the moderns to say so, Aborigines were black: “they were of a black reddish sooty Colour, entirely naked, walked very upright, and each of them had long Spears and a short Stick in their hands”. The Aboriginal clothing in picture books and films is untrue. Worgan writes:

As to the Article of Dress I have hinted before they strictly follow the primitive Simplicity of the Adamites and the Evites and it may be said of these rude children of Nature, as of them, “they are naked and not ashamed”, and I may add, they are nasty and dirty and not ashamed … They laugh when they see us laugh, and they appear to be of a peaceable Disposition, and have a Generosity about them, in offering You a share of their Food.—If you meet with any of them, they will readily offer You Fish, Fire, & Water, they seem to be easily offended, and quick and fatal in revenging an Injury. In a Word, to sum up the Qualities Personal & Mental, (those at least we have been able to discern) They appear to be an Active, Volatile, Unoffending, Happy, Merry, Funny, Laughing Good-natured, Nasty Dirty, Race of human Creatures as ever lived in a State of Savageness.

Worgan’s Aboriginal women have nothing in common with David Hardy’s Disney/Flintstones housewife. One described living and very sexual human beings, the other draws caricatures: “Notwithstanding this apparent Shyness & Timidity when in your Reach, Yet, the young Baggages, when at a Distance from Us, make all the wanton significant signs imaginable.”

Hardy’s illustrations are censored for the modern “sensibilities” of children and their parents and “carers”. What Worgan described is excluded from Australian museums:

There is something singular in the Conduct of these Evites, for if ever they deign to come near You, to take a Present, they appear as coy, shy, and timorous, as a Maid on her Wedding Night, (at least as I have been told Maids are) but when they are, as they think out of your Reach, they hollow and chatter to You, Frisk, Flirt, and play a hundred wanton Pranks, equally as significant as the Solicitations of a Covent-Garden Strumpet. I cannot say all the Ladies are so shy and timorous on your approaching them, for some shew no signs of Fear, but will laugh and Frisk about You like a Spaniel, and put on the Airs of a Tantalizing Coquet. indeed, if it were not for the nauseous, greasy, grimy appearance of these naked Damsels, one might be said to be in a state of Tantalism [from tantalise], whenever they vouchsafe to permit Us to come near them; but what with stinking Fish-Oil, with which they seem to besmear their Bodies, & this mixed with the Soot which is collected on their Skins from continually setting over the Fires, and then in addition to these sweet Odours, the constant Appearance of the excrementitious Matters of the Nose which is collected on the upper pouting Lip, in rich Clusters of dry Bubbles, and is kept up by fresh Drippings; I say, from all these personal Graces & Embellishments, every Inclination for an Affair of Gallantry, as well as every Idea of fond endearing Intercourse, which the Nakedness of these Damsels might excite one to, is banished. And I can assure You, there is in some of them a Proportion, a Softness, a roundness, and Plumpness in their Limbs & Bodies, were they but cleanly, that would excite tender & amorous Sensations, even in the frigid Breast of a Philosopher.

The real and unstated message in picture books like Somebody’s Land is that hidden in those boring Acknowledgments and Welcomes to Country spiels they are forced to endure is a hidden message that could be expressed as a final and truthful refrain:

Now, get off Our Country.
Go back where you came from.
Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land.

A note on the Australian Museum (Sydney) website:

The Australian Museum has worked with several First Nations peoples to translate “Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land” into languages from their respective Countries, reflecting their own heritage and connections to land.

Somebody’s Land 
by Adam Goodes & Ellie Laing
Allen & Unwin, 2021, 24 pages, $24.99

12 thoughts on “When Captain Hook Met the Flintstones at Sydney Cove

  • young bill says:

    No white folk, no Adam Goodes

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    One wonders if these aboriginals as in Mr. Goodes and other barrow pushers see the irony in the fact that they are married to attractive white women!

    • lbloveday says:

      Or that Cathy Freeman, Evonne Goolagong and Nova Peris married successful white men.

    • David Isaac says:

      I suspect that part of the attraction, among other factors like athleticism and high status, for these women is the possibility of expiating the original sin of Whiteness that they have been brainwashed into believing in. The children remain aboriginal by the one drop rule and the whole family’s on board. You know it makes sense.

    • john mac says:

      Was just going to compile my own list of fake grievance mongers in the AFL , read your post and will expand . Buddy Franklin has a blond model wife , Eddie Betts – blond white wife , Shaun Burgoyne same , Nicky Winmar partner – white, Michael Long’s wife appears very white , Gavin Wanganeen wife – white blond . All the prominent activist indigenous players ( some who could pass for white themselves) are on the grifter’s gravy train , marrying the polar opposite of what they are preaching , their “Culture” , traditions , lineage- and all with white blood coursing through their own veins ! That they are given a platform to vent is a disgrace by the AFL and the media , and not helping anyone .

  • Jack Brown says:

    It wasn’t all that long ago that Aboriginal elders proudly assert that they did not own the land but were ‘of the land’ or ‘the land owns us’ as per the person who loaded this video fourteen years ago.


  • Paul W says:

    Another sun rise and another day the Left racially abuse white people and their children. Nothing good will come of this pseudo-sedition against the Commonwealth.

  • call it out says:

    I remember being a visitor in a local school in PNG. The kids had caught a wallaby, which they proudly presented to us, their guests. The women among us cooed and ahhed over the frightened little fellow, assuming that it was offered as a pet. They graciously thanked the grinning native boys, and asked them to release it back to mother nature. The boys took it to the edge of the bush, and dispatched, cooked and ate the wallaby.
    Don’t you just marvel at he clash of cultures?

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Yairs, a bigger one was the small elephant (pig with two tails) we hauled to the Goroka Show and they offered to cook the “pig with two tails” until they were convinced that the ensuing partially cooked animal would give all and sundry “pig bel.” For the uninitiated “Pig Bel” is a gut problem caused by eating half cooked pig. OK, it’s fair enough for us to recognise our ancestry but just as Mr. Goodes (for example) has an infusion of European blood that made him into a better sportsman than probably all of his spear throwing ancestors, he should recognise that fact as well and rejoice in the progress made by the aboriginal side of his genetic makeup courtesy of the first fleet etc. and not denigrate we white people.

  • Tony Tea says:

    This guff, relating how teacher should address students in the new year, is in today’s Age:
    In the program, students learn of the connection of First Nations communities of Australia to land, sea, sky and waterways and how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the traditional owners of Country.
    The modules also examine the occupation and colonisation of Australia by the British, and critically reflect on the commemoration of those who fought in the Frontier Wars.

  • Solo says:

    I was in Kmart today and there were a bunch of propaganda leaflets masquerading as kids books on the shelves. Total tosh, but there’ll be some that will purchase all of them thinking they are doing the morally just thing. On the upside, they were technically in the fiction section 😀

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    A picture book for children on some of the realities of aboriginal life, showing the old photographs, would be a good antidote to this Flintstones’ presentation of an imaginary paradise unjustly stolen. Australian children will be reading the childrens’ version of Dark Emu too, so will have a completely contorted view of aboriginal conditions of existence. The main problem with this book though is the terrible messaging about the arrival of civilisation and its laws. There’s also the racism demonising the new arrivals as evil whites.
    A thoroughly nasty text and some very fake pictures.

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