During this National Reconciliation Week, I think it is worth recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain.
We are accustomed, now, to reading of the violent conflicts and massacres that occurred As the invading colonisers settled on lands which had belonged, for millennia, to the First Peoples of the continent. These are tragic parts of our history that we must not deny, overlook, or ignore. (See my earlier posts on this aspect, noted below.)
But in the early stages of the colony—and, indeed, stretching throughout the colonial period—there were mutually respectful relationships between these groups. National Reconciliation Week seems to be a good time to recall this.
Paul Irish, in his recent book, Hidden in Plain View, has traced the evidence that shows the positive and respectful relationships that existed in the 19th century “between the colonial settlers and Aboriginal people in Coastal Sydney”. (See https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/hidden-plain-view/)
Irish maps an area stretching from Port Stephens to the Shoalhaven, as far inland as the headwaters of the Parramatta and George’s Rivers in the Sydney Basin, but including coastal spurs along northern and southern edges of the Basin. (Pretty much like the current urban sprawl of Newcastle-Central Coast-Sydney-Wollongong-Kiama-Nowra.)
According to Irish, this was an area within which many of the Indigenous peoples moved about, living in different locations at different times, because of their long-established family and clan links with those locations. His interest in is mapping the relationships between the colonisers and Indigenous people at various locations in this coastal area.
Irish refers to “those whose links to coastal Sydney extend back hundreds of generations, whose ancestors met the first Europeans, and who found a way to create an ongoing place for themselves in the oldest and largest city in the country.”
He writes about their “remarkable story of survival through cultural strength and cross-cultural entanglement that sits in stark contrast to commonly held views of colonial and Aboriginal Australia, and to the experiences of most Australians today”. (There is an edited extract from his book available online at https://insidestory.org.au/atween-here-and-the-georges-river/)
Paul Irish refers to men such as Bennelong, Yemmerrawanne, Bungaree, and Mahroot. He also refers to women such as Cora Gooseberry, Biddy Giles, Matora, and Mary Ann Burns. They were leaders in their communities and they were able, for the most part, to relate to the colonisers who had invaded their lands, with grace and respect. In this National Reconciliation Week, we would do well to reflect on them and to follow their example.
(More reflections to come as the week continues …)
On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/
On learning from the land:
On difficulties and tragedies in the early relationships: