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Australians in denial ...

By Bruce Pascoe - posted Monday, 21 May 2007


Australia is a baby. An innocent baby, gurgling with good humour and wonder. We've pulled the paper bag over our head and believe no-one can see us.

There we are, in the middle of the floor with a bag over our head. We refuse to look back at our past and hope that with no effort on our part the future will look after itself.

We live in a country with an incredible history but pretend it began in 1788. The ancient past was not written so therefore it doesn't exist. The Aborigines are primitive hunter gatherers who are migrants to the country just like us, so really they had no more right to the land than we did. And we're better at it.

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Oh, baby, pull off the bag, examine your land.

It is on the public record that Aboriginal people were not feckless and innocent nomads but constructed complex housing; harvested grain, yams, eels, fish and other produce with sophisticated feats of engineering; and created the first and most enduring art, music and language in the world.

The social organisation looks amazingly like the first democracy, the first modern state where art and dance were devoted more time than the procurement of food.

We live in an incredible place but refuse to believe its history.

The eel aquaculture of the Western District of Victoria covers thousands of hectares and involves hundreds of kilometres of stone walls, weirs and tunnels burrowed through solid rock. The houses for these fishermen were set out in large villages and some of them could accommodate 20 or more people. They are like small town halls.

Grain was harvested in Queensland and from other grasslands: the fields of over 1,000 acres were carefully managed to maintain productivity. Settlers found this grain stored in stone silos and intricately sewn, vermin proof skin bags. Often the stored grain weighed over one tonne.

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This is all on the public record in the first hand reports of Europeans. So why do we maintain the myth of a crude civilisation meandering hopelessly across the continent? Because we have to? Because to admit anything else defies our perception of ownership and legitimacy, our own perception of how we took the land?

We need to understand that there was a war in this country and the Indigenes lost it but not before conducting battles which forced the Europeans back on many fronts in the campaign. Aboriginal people did not just go away, disappear, die out from exotic diseases - they were defeated in war. That war is on the public record. The word “war” was used by our first governors and magistrates: it is there for any Australian to read.

Of course it was unlike any other war we are familiar with because Aboriginal people had lived within nation boundaries which remained the same over thousands, probably tens of thousands, of years - their languages tell us this because of the reference to ancient climatic and geological events. This country is unique but we can't bring ourselves to admit it because we have to believe the Indigenes walked away from it, left the field in awe of the marvellous European.

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About the Author

Bruce Pascoe's new book Convincing Ground (Aboriginal Studies Press) discusses these ideas and looks at how we might "move on". His website is here.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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