Australia Day has come and gone, when we — well, most of us anyway — celebrate the First Fleet’s arrival and the instant of a nation’s conception, the birth coming 112 years later. It’s a day when those of goodwill take it easy, enjoy beach and barbecue and enjoin others to do likewise, the other 364 days providing more than enough opportunities for kvetching about the invasion that wasn’t and a ‘genocide’ requiring the word’s meaning be entirely redefined. A day of peace and good fellowship is the ideal, so what follows is presented with regret. In regard to a date that should have been dedicated to amity, what celebrated theatrical luvvie David Berthold presented as history in the SMH and Age was so so far removed from fact and context that it cannot be allowed to pass without comment.
Under the headline ‘Why do we choose to celebrate turning a black continent white?‘ Berthold kicks off his piece with a howler. “Australia is the only nation on the planet that takes the beginning of colonisation as its national day.” Apparently he has never heard of Thanksgiving, America’s most observed and revered holiday, or the lower-key Canadian variant marking explorer Martin Frobisher’s arrival in Newfoundland. Small potatoes as errors go, true, and given that his piece appears in the Nine rags, to be expected of newspapers put together with an ideologue’s eye rather than that of a competent editor. Having warmed up, Berthold continues:
…In 1802, the great British political philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote a pamphlet arguing that with no negotiation with the Aboriginal peoples and no treaty made, the arrangements in NSW were illegal. He called these arrangements “an incurable flaw”.
Berthold should read Quadrant, especially our November issue, in which Michael Connor takes an axe to the claim Bentham wrote or thought anything of the sort, demolishing the misrepresentations one by one. That furphy of the ‘incurable flaw’, originally propagated by Henry Reynolds, has become holy writ on the Left. Connor writes:
… it is empty and inaccurate history. The call for a treaty is modern and Jeremy Bentham never made an argument in its favour. Though Reynolds says Bentham was one of the “most influential” voices to have made this argument, neither he nor any real historian (Bruce Pascoe? Lyndall Ryan?) had previously pointed this out. In the text Reynolds is misusing, Bentham also states that New South Wales was not acquired by conquest, and he does not describe the absence of a treaty as an ‘incurable flaw’. How did Reynolds get it so wrong?
How indeed! Click through to Michael’s dissection and marvel that a professional historian could get his ‘facts’ in such a tangle. Wonder, too, at the longevity of useful myths on the Left and how, long after they are exposed, a good lie will continue to shade an unacceptable truth.
Moving right along, Berthold regurgitates all the standard talking points: Australia Day isn’t serious because it was only recently gazetted as a national holiday, it has been observed on different dates and — Yah! Boo! Sucks! — the First Fleet actually arrived (in Botany Bay) on or around January 18, not the 26th, when anchors were dropped in the Harbour. On this topic he might want to further his education with Margaret Cameron-Ash’s Lying for the Admiralty and Beating France to Botany Bay, both published by Quadrant Books.
Berthold now turns to the Father of Federation:
Have there always been dissenting voices? Yes. When Henry Parkes, premier of NSW, was planning the 100th anniversary celebrations in 1888, he was asked if anything was being planned for Aboriginal people. Parkes replied: “And remind them that we have robbed them?”
He might like to consult the NSW Hansards for 1887, as should Silly readers tempted to infer the “robbed them” line is drawn from a thundering declamation on the evils done to Aborigines.
Unlike Reynolds on Bentham, those words were actually uttered, but it is context that makes all the difference. Below, the exchange in the Legislative Assembly between Parkes and his sworn enemy, the protectionist Thomas Walker. By way of background, know that Walker was a firebrand stirrer, a spiritualist-turned-secularist whom Parkes was attempting to have Canadian authorities charge with murder (an adoring profile of Walker can be found here). The following exchange took place on November 2 and can be read in full via the Hansard’s page 876:
Mr WALKER: I have an objection to governors of the colonies, and other distinguished personages being fed at the Government expense, unless the Government are prepared to give the poor people in hospitals and benevolent asylums a treat in that way.
Sir HENRY PARKES: That will be done; the hon. member may depend upon it!
Mr. WALKER: Then we ought to do something for the aborigines.
Sir HENRY PARKES: And remind them that we have robbed them
Mr WALKER: If we have robbed them, the man who has been at the head of afflairs longer than any other man must be most to blame. At all events, as at this period we are going to rejoice ourselves, let the aborigines, whom we have robbed, have some means of rejoicing too. Let us, if we can, bring a number of them down to Sydney; let us give them some spot to camp upon–
Sir HENRY PARKES: The worst thing we could do for them!
Mr. WALKER: And let us give them such entertainment as would befit the event. And we ought to have some military display too…
Parkes’ remark was a mere aside, a throwaway line in a debate whose transcript all these years later sparks a smile at the antics and arguments of long ago combatants and their party positions on the most picayune matters, among them the moral benefits of rowing as opposed to yachting and, as Walker above demands, a military turnout to boot. It is rhetorical flourish and cannot be taken as anything more than that. At face value, the above exchange indicates nothing more than cognitive dissonance on the part of a notable Australian who casts himself as an advocate of justice for Aborigines on the one hand while simultaneously insisting they be excluded from the centenary jubilee on the other.
Not that Parkes ever had much to say on Aborigines, but what he did commit to paper defines hopes that might not sit well with Voice supporters and indigene separatists. Five months earlier, he unveiled his vision for both a new park — Centennial Park, obviously — and a palatial building to house the state legislature, plus libraries, portrait galleries, a mausoleum for notable citizens and a museum featuring
…the various Aboriginal races of Australia, their customs, languages and ethnological characteristics…
Parkes’ “robbed them” quote, like the injustice Reynolds does to Bentham, is a staple in pro-Voice commentary. There is another Parkes quote, though, one that doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention. Published under his name in his newspaper, The Empire, it is this:
It is the most reckless of all wrongs to neglect the power which we possess to make a difference to Aboriginal peoples’ lives. Why do we not aid them and give them a place among our brethren?
When looking for a handy quote to support an empty argument and despoil what should be a pleasant day for all, much better to go with robbery and grievance than a call for the inclusiveness of assimilation.