Bennelong Papers

Reconciliation Starts with Telling the Truth

This Thursday marks the start of National Reconciliation Week. However, it’s difficult to see how true reconciliation can occur when falsehoods continue to be perpetrated. Just note the following example from Reconciliation Australia, which ironically comes under the sub-heading Beyond the Myths:

As someone with an undergraduate degree in anthropology, these issues have always been of interest to me. What were the actual beliefs and practices of the Aboriginal peoples living in Australia, especially since Europeans arrived?

To help answer this question, I turned to the renowned A. P. Elkin, at various points president of the Anthropological (1934) and Royal (1940-41) societies of New South Wales, the Australian Anthropological Association (1941) and the Australian Institute of Sociology (1941-44).

In 1964, some 15 years before his death at the age of 88, Elkin published the final edition of The Australian Aborigines: How to Understand Them, which first went to press in 1938 and is still viewed as a classic. Significantly, the way Elkin describes how indigenous communities treated their women is quite shocking. In his book, Elkin gives the following six examples:

Before a revenge expedition sets out on its dangerous enterprise, its members temporarily exchange wives, thus expressing their unity and friendship to one another.

When an attacking party is about to attack the home party, the latter if it does not want to fight, will send a number of its women over to the former. If these are willing to settle the matter in dispute without fighting, they have sexual intercourse with the women; if not, they send them back untouched.

In some parts (e.g. north-eastern South Australia), the temporary exchange of wives between the two parties to a quarrel is a regular part of the method of settling it, if each has an admitted debt or charge against the other.

The final making of peace between two groups may always include the temporary exchange of wives, and on such occasions, all the usual tribal marriage laws (except those concerned with incest within the family) may be and are usually broken. This apparently marks the renewed friendship in a special manner; all groupings are transcended.

Very often at times of great excitement during ceremonies, the men go aside to prearranged places and there have sexual intercourse with the women, and once again, the usual rules governing the intercourse of the sexes are ignored. Sexual excitation is a feature of some rites, and it may be thought that sexual intercourse will add to the effectiveness of the rites, or it may be just another occasion for expressing the common unity which those participating in the rites felt. In any case, it is for them just part of the traditional pattern, and they do not look for reasons.

The above five occasions are communal in nature; but there is another similar in some ways, which differs in being a mark of friendship or hospitality and in being practised between individuals. This is the lending of a wife to a visitor. In such cases, kinship rules governing marriage apply, and “incest rules”, interpreted tribally, are not broken. This is more than a mark of hospitality in some tribes (e.g. north-east of South Australia); it is an institution.

Then there’s the internationally feted Time art critic, Robert Hughes AO, who also wrote the early history of British penal settlement in Australia, The Fatal Shore. While Hughes received the W. H. Smith Literary Award for this work. his book would almost definitely fail the newspeak criteria currently in vogue at many of our leading tertiary institutions, but it nonetheless seeks to provide an unvarnished snapshot of the cultural standards of that time. For instance, in regards to the First Nation’s treatment of women Hughes wrote:  

…the unalterable fact of their tribal life was that women had no rights at all and could choose nothing. A girl was usually given away as soon as she was born. She was the absolute property of her kin until marriage, whereupon she became the equally helpless possession of her husband. Before and after [marriage], she was merely a root-grubbing, shell-gathering chattel, whose social assets were wiry arms, prehensile toes and a vagina…

As a mark of hospitality, wives were lent to visitors whom the Iora tribesmen wanted to honour…. If a woman showed the least reluctance to be used for any of these purposes, if she seemed lazy or gave her lord and master any other cause for dissatisfaction, she would be furiously beaten or even speared.’ 

To claim the abuse of women and children is “learnt” falsely implies that it wouldn’t have existed if European colonisation had never occurred. Indeed, it relies on the tired and offensive trope of the “noble savage”.  All Australians want reconciliation. But it’s never going to achieved as long as historical falsehoods are allowed to be perpetuated.

Mark Powell is associate pastor of the Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Strathfield, NSW

23 thoughts on “Reconciliation Starts with Telling the Truth

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Both Sturt and Mitchell record Aboriginal groups offering them their women

  • ChrisPer says:

    Things we are not allowed to say.
    Remember, we in the basket of deplorables are not the targets of speech enforcement.
    Rather it is those in the institutions, both those with power to be heard, and those who labour at the oars, the undergrads and tenuously-employed grad students and teaching staff and public service case officers… those are the people whose very ability to earn a living from their education and experience may be withdrawn if they speak unauthorised speech.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    Female Aboriginal skulls and bone fragments that were uncovered and recorded to be thousands of years old – revealed massive bone lacerations and scars compared to male skulls in the same burial site.

  • joan.shrapnel says:

    YES< YES, please just tell the truth.
    Blaming this Aussie culture for aboriginal grievances is appaling victimhood based on lies and wilful blindness, leading to worse outcomes for all Australians by causing division and a widening separation of the aims of all people of good will.
    Anyone with an ounce of inquisitiveness can discover that contemporary aboriginal women (in particular) would not choose to live as they were compelled before 1788.
    And the boys, would they submit to the initiation rites that see their penile urethra slashed from perineum to the eye?
    And then there was their unjust justice system.
    And the intertribal violence and massacres tribe on tribe etc etc.
    All reasonable people can just acknowledge these things as they were (anthropological facts) as with so many of our tribal cultures depending how far back we look.

    There is no more damaging practice for the aboriginal cause than that of activists perpetrating lies and victimhood in the false expectation that we will be shamed into submission and compliance.


  • Harry Lee says:

    It is a great social good that information such as presented in this article is still permitted public exposure.
    And while such facts can still be aired in venues such as this, one must doubt it will result in the refocusing of efforts and resources to better support the well-being of Aborigines.
    Obviously, Reconciliation, Voice and Sorry are all diversions -possibly well-intentioned by some of their proponents- away from projects that would help more Aborigines move to less violence and greater engagement in productive activities.
    And to say the obvious, there are several other Big Projects now well-advanced within Australia that, while possibly well-intentioned by some of those involved, are fast destroying the prospects for the internal security, effectiveness and probity of our institutions, for economic prosperity, for civil peace-
    -and for the general ability of most of the populace to comprehend the reality of very present dangers and the requirement to grasp key opportunities, before it is too late.
    Some key topics are off the list of those permitted for public questioning. Just too scary, just too upsetting, just too expensive in their consequences. This is true in any society. Taboos you know.
    Better to let future generations deal with the intractable problems -that is the current dominant view among the power elites and their gate-keeping agents.

  • rosross says:

    Our history is littered with the evidence of higher levels of violence, in Aboriginal cultures, toward females. It was worse than the British or Europeans had ever seen in their long histories of roaming around the world. Those who deny it are clearly ignorant.

    Quote: Paleopathologist Stephen Webb in 1995 published his analysis of 4500 individuals’ bones from mainland Australia going back 50,000 years. (Priceless bone collections at the time were being officially handed over to Aboriginal communities for re-burial, which stopped follow-up studies).[15] Webb found highly disproportionate rates of injuries and fractures to women’s skulls, with the injuries suggesting deliberate attack and often attacks from behind, perhaps in domestic squabbles. In the tropics, for example, female head-injury frequency was about 20-33%, versus 6.5-26% for males.

    The most extreme results were on the south coast, from Swanport and Adelaide, with female cranial trauma rates as high as 40-44% — two to four times the rate of male cranial trauma. In desert and south coast areas, 5-6% of female skulls had three separate head injuries, and 11-12% had two injuries.

    Web could not rule out women-on-women attacks but thought them less probable. The high rate of injuries to female heads was the reverse of results from studies of other peoples.[16] His findings, according to anthropologist Peter Sutton, confirm that serious armed assaults were common in Australia over thousands of years prior to conquest. [17]

    From 1788, British and French arrivals were shocked at local misogyny. First Fleeter Watkin Tench noticed a young woman’s head “covered by contusions, and mangled by scars”. She also had a spear wound above the left knee caused by a man who dragged her from her home to rape her. Tench wrote, “They are in all respects treated with savage barbarity; condemned not only to carry the children, but all other burthens, they meet in return for submission only with blows, kicks and every other mark of brutality.”[18]

    He also wrote, “When an Indian [sic] is provoked by a woman, he either spears her, or knocks her down on the spot; on this occasion he always strikes on the head, using indiscriminately a hatchet, a club, or any other weapon, which may chance to be in his hand.”

    Marine Lt. William Collins wrote, “We have seen some of these unfortunate beings with more scars upon their shorn heads, cut in every direction, than could be well distinguished or counted.” [19]
    Governor Phillip’s confidant, Bennelong, in 1790 had taken a woman to Port Jackson to kill her because her relatives were his enemies. He gave her two severe wounds on the head and one on the shoulder, saying this was his rightful vengeance.[20]
    Phillip was appalled that an Eora woman within a few days of delivery had fresh wounds on her head, where her husband had beaten her with wood.

    In 1802 an explorer in the Blue Mountains wrote how, for a trivial reason, an Aboriginal called Gogy “took his club and struck his wife’s head such a blow that she fell to the ground unconscious. After dinner…he got infuriated and again struck his wife on the head with his club, and left her on the ground nearly dying.”[21]
    In 1825 French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville wrote “that young girls are brutally kidnapped from their families, violently dragged to isolated spots and are ravished after being subjected to a good deal of cruelty.”[22] George Robinson in Tasmania said in the 1830s that men courted their women by stabbing them with sharp sticks and cutting them with knives prior to rape. The men bartered their women to brutal sealers for dogs and food; in one case such a woman voluntarily went back to the sealers rather than face further tribal violence.[23]

    Also in the 1830s ex-convict Lingard wrote: “I scarcely ever saw a married woman, but she had got six or seven cuts in her head, given by her husband with a tomahawk, several inches in length and very deep.”[24] Explorer Edward John Eyre, who was very sympathetic towards Aborigines, nevertheless recorded:
    “Women are often sadly ill-treated by their husbands and friends…they are frequently beaten about the head , with waddies, in the most dreadful manner, or speared in the limbs for the most trivial offences…

    “Few women will be found, upon examination, to be free from frightful scars upon the head, or the marks of spear wounds about the body. I have seen a young woman, who, from the number of these marks, appeared to have been almost riddled with spear wounds.”[25]

    Quote: At Mapoon the missionaries could not believe that Aborigines could illtreat their women so badly and stated:

    “The cruelty displayed towards women was at times almost fiendish.

    One man in a fit of rage seized his ‘Gin’by the head and poked a red hot fire brand in her eye.
    If the mother tried to punish the children for anything, the men beat the mother and let the children abuse them.
    Telford speared Toby’s dog. Therefore Toby speared Telford’s sister.

    Source: The Miracle of Mapoon. Page 96. A.Ward.

  • DG says:

    To say nothing of the reports in Berndt and Berndt “The World of the First Australians” Sydney 1964, Ure Smith.

  • NFriar says:

    @ Mark Powell – thank you for your ongoing exposure of facts about our shared ancestry.
    Keep up the awesome work which has been shared on social media – for the moment.
    Thanks again.
    How did you access Elkin’s work – hard copy?
    I was unable to share the amazon link or the word biblio on fb.

  • nfw says:

    Telling the truth when politicians and vested interest groups (read taking taxpayer money without actually working themselves) are involved? I fall about laughing.

  • mags of Queensland says:

    It goes to show that in more than 230 years nothing has changed much. Where are all the feminists decrying the treatment of aboriginal women? Crickets. And when one ( Jacinta Price) speaks out she is vilified by other aboriginal women, particularly aboriginal academics. It is more palatable to the activists, who do nothing to be part of a solution to the violence against aboriginal women, to sustain the myth of the noble savage.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Within a short time some decades ago, my wife and I enjoyed the lavish silver service of the famous Westin Hotel in Toronto and then in the Top End of Australia, we had the sight of a part-naked, presumably drunk, beaten young Aboriginal woman lying in the doorway to the bar of the hotel at Humpty Doo. These days, we have simple people advising us to learn from the latter group and improve our morals and our interpersonal conduct.
    Why has society become so stupid? Is there something in our drinking water? Geoff S

  • Harry Lee says:

    Geoff Sherrington -for me, the answer to your question is: Yes, the left-green forces put something bad in the water of life. The left-green people are animated by the twinned lusts for supreme power over the ordinary people and to feel fully virtuous at no cost to themselves. And they know that ordinary people can be easily enslaved by the combination promises of free goodies, material and otherwise, and by lies and censorship. And, as the left-green people acted out those lusts and lies, too few of the rest of us, even those who could it happening over the decades, could be bothered to fight against this totally toxic assault on human flourishing. To fight back would be expensive in our own time and our own money, and in our willingness to self-organise in our millions. And these days, who has that willingness, or even the skills for that. No critical mass in those departments. So, here we are.

  • mpowell says:

    NFriar thanks for your kind words. I ordered and read Elkin’s work as a hard copy as I was told that it was he was a well-respected authority on the subject. While a little dated it is still excellent. Truth is timeless!

  • gardner.peter.d says:

    Violence and sexual abuse against women and children has never been part of British culture either – unless I was asleep during that class at school.

  • lhackett01 says:

    William Buckley, an escaped English convict, lived for thirty or so years amongst many different groups of Aborigines, mostly in Victoria. His story, published by Morgan in 1852, includes, “Violence, treachery, and killings were common, almost everyday occurrences in many groups among whom Buckley lived. In a very high fraction of the cases the conflicts began over women, sexual jealousy, and abduction of women who, according to Buckley, were the ‘source of almost all the mischief in which the men engaged.’ … His account makes it clear that Aboriginal men actively competed to acquire them and took many of them by force from weaker neighbours whenever possible.”

    As for reconciliation, I posit the matter is mute. Only those who foster division between Aborigines and others see a need for reconciliation, and then mostly on terms of kowtowing to Aborigines. Admittedly, the emotional ‘black-armband’ approach has over several years now driven a wedge deeper between the two peoples. Activists and governments have and are creating a situation where most Australians see Aborigines as being different from other people. This has been achieved by allowing and encouraging Aborigines to live as they wish in isolated communities, where ‘civilized’ behaviours are lacking, law enforcement essentially non-existent, and violence is endemic, all supported by distortions of the Native Title Act 1993, the discriminatory legislation that allows Aborigines to benefit from mining royalties and similar advantages not available to Australians generally, and the welfare system of Australia.

    Only when Aborigines and their manipulators stop trying to separate from the Australian community, rather to join and be part of that community, will the Aboriginal issue and industry cease, and cease to be newsworthy.

  • mpowell says:

    @lhackett01 thanks for the tip. Interestingly, Tim Flannery has overseen the republishing of Buckley’s work just a few years ago and it’s now available on Kindle. Looks like an excellent resource.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes, it has always been clear that the various Aboriginal tribal cultures rank among the most violent, most anti-female, most anti-learning cultures on Earth -cultures both extant and extinct. So of course, the marxist-inspired anti-Europeanist forces will devote vast energies to proclaiming the contrary. This, while denigrating, vilifying and telling lies about European cultures -all in denial of the great benefits and boons that only the European-derived cultures have bestowed upon all the peoples of the Earth.
    That the universities, the ALP and the Greens, and the mainstream media encourage and endorse such destructive anti-Europeanism is in the nature of things. Will pro-Europeans fight back, in ways to win? Unlikely.

  • James Franklin says:

    Stephanie Jarrett’s book, Liberating Aboriginal People from Violence, is a good read on this topic,

  • simonbenson65 says:

    Nor did aboriginal men learn how to smash a beer bottle on the heads of their womenfolk from the white man. Having grown up in a pretty rough neighbourhood in WA myself, I hadn’t witnessed violence like it until I’d seen aboriginal violence of this nature against their own women. I’m not sure what ‘European’ they learned it from. And if it is ‘cultural’ it seems we’ve regressed from tiptoeing around the ‘c-word’ to a position of absolute left wing/ revisionist denial of aboriginal cultural mores. So refreshing that a few home truths about aboriginal people have got an airing – must be the only media outlet prepared to air dirty linen about aboriginal people in this politically-correct, toxic climate we live in nowadays where we’re even bombarded by the AFL and the NRL with cultural cringe. I wonder when our sporting codes will honour some other nations and cultures? Heaven forfend, not whites surely! After all, it’s only the whites who have built the society, and given us enough law and order and national security that we can play sport, let alone paid all the taxes to build the infrastructure, including the vast concrete colosseums in which those sports we all used to love are played, not to mention the Ivy League universities from whose hallowed cloisters left wing academics have the education, luxury, resources and wherewithal to hold forth on the disaster that they think the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage is. ‘Sport we used to love’ is the tragedy of it all. In my slippered senescence, I glory in my memories of watching aboriginal legends like ‘Polly’ Farmer and Barry Cable in the 1970s who just got on with playing eye-watering, champagne football and whose prowess transcended race and culture. They are both still heroes of this suburban boy.

  • simonbenson65 says:

    Brilliant piece by lhackett01
    (NB it’s ‘moot’; not ‘mute’)

  • pmprociv says:

    Today, I had the misfortune of viewing at the local cinema an ABC documentary, “My Name is Gulpilil”, a dog’s breakfast of a melange that did its protagonist no justice whatsoever. I still don’t know if this talented actor has an intellectual life, or views on politico-socio-cultural matters in Australia, and there was nothing about his family life — except that, presumably in an alcohol-fuelled rage, he broke his wife’s arm. I don’t think he blamed colonialism, or white oppression (although am not sure, as sub-titles were not provided), but if such a privileged and exalted man can behave so appallingly, what hope is there for lesser dwellers in remote communities?

    As for “reconciliation”, I still have not been able to find an adequate definition. People of indigenous ancestry who live in cities and suburban areas seem largely to have assimilated and blended into the background population (with growing numbers of exceptions, possibly driven by narcissistic tendencies) so I can’t imagine what sort of reconciliation is required by them. On the other hand, those in remote communities, in my experience, seem oblivious of just about all other Australians, being more focused on traditional inter-tribal hostilities going back countless generations. This accounts for much of the communal violence in those settlements, and can be justifiably attributed to past colonial practice, although the solutions must now lie with the people themselves; outsiders can’t be expected to understand or sort out such ingrained “domestic” issues. Perhaps remote dwellers should first consider reconciling amongst themselves, before taking on “reconciliation” with the rest of Australian society. I can’t help feeling that this localised obstacle doesn’t augur well for our “multicultural” society at large, however.

  • Paul Corcoran says:

    I’m now half-way through Inga Clendennin’s Dancing with Strangers (2003). Her historical narrative is a recreation of the first five years of the Sydney Cove settlement under Governor Phillips. It was, for me, an eye-opening account of the appalling violence rained down on the heads and shoulders of women as a casual, routine, taken-for-granted aspect of Indigenous relationships. Clendennin bases her account on her sometimes imaginative interpretations of what the British diarists narrate, but she goes at considerable length to ground her accounts in both the primary documents and in the still-surviving shadows of Indigenous oral traditions. The earlier comments above several times mention that Indigenous violence, especially meted out to women, is a taboo topic, but that was obviously not a taboo that Clendennin observed. She tries to ‘understand’ this violence in cultural terms, but she certainly does not shrink for describing the physical and sexual brutality in the most excruciating terms.

  • lolpg says:

    Reading the Queensland Aboriginals by WE Roth when girls reached a certain aged they we initated by been packed raped by all the men in the village and any visting men also participated. Reading Daisy Bates The passing of the Aborigine if woman spoke out they were often eaten, she notes 1 man in particular who had eaten 3 of his wives and has a photo of him.

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