Australian news, and some related international items

Violence and cover-up in the taking of Aboriginal land

book-Forgotten-WarSlaughter on stolen lands, The Age, August 10, 2013 Review By Raymond Evans of . “FORGOTTEN WAR”, by Henry Reynolds 

While we remember our casualties in overseas wars, no toll exists for Aboriginal deaths during the brutal colonisation of Australia.

“……the kind of paradox that Reynolds gamely wrestles with throughout this closely argued account. For the past 40 years, in a succession of such volumes, he has continued to wrestle with it, approaching it from those two peripheries of the Australian imagination, Queensland and Tasmania, and coming closer and closer each time to pinning it to the mat. Patiently, and with admirable, indomitable energy, he keeps informing the Australian public of things they need to know, but which many of them do not wish to hear.

What he is now basically saying is: Forget the so-called history wars. They represent a hollow, media-driven campaign to deny the undeniable. Focus instead on the war for Australia: that is, the extended and bloody destruction of Aboriginal first nations across almost 150 years of frontier strife – the utter territorial dispossession of perhaps as many as 1 million people, and a unilateral assumption of their sovereignty, accomplished with swaths of escalating violence.

This was, as Reynolds writes, ”one of the greatest appropriations of land in world history”, unmatched elsewhere in speed and scale. It is the basis of every leaven of prosperity in Australia today. An accompanying ”progressive transfer of sovereignty” was equally a blatant ”transaction of global significance”.

It was ”a double usurpation” of both the right to exercise authority over one’s territory and of customary title to land. What was done here, in short, was anomalous and ”manifestly not consonant with international law or the practice of nations at the time”. It was, Reynolds claims, ”an outrage, a violation of international usage, the assertion of a monstrous principle”.

No wonder, then, that it led dually to such degrees of violence and cover-up. Violence, both invasive and resistant, as thousands of ”aggressive, well-armed” settlers advanced confidently into what British authorities assured them was ”vacant land”, legitimately there for the taking, and thousands of resident Aborigines fought in defence of their traditional territories, as close to their beings as a blood-bond. Cover-up proceeded apace alongside this, later outstripping it, as the violence was increasingly realised to have been both excessive and shameful.

By any objective consideration, this was Australia’s long war – the bitter, dis-remembered struggle at its very national foundations; and, for Aborigines, their great war. Most of the engaging colonists knew this at the time. The resistant, conquered Aborigines even more intimately knew it, too. Furthermore, they have never forgotten……..

And, though the Australian War Memorial still demurs, most military historians now concur with Australia’s embattled race-conflict historians on the point. It was clearly our longest and most irregular war. Its combined casualties probably rival those of Australia during World War II and vastly outnumber those of the smaller wars we have fought in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is arguably our most consequential war and perhaps, ultimately, our most costly, controversial and heartbreaking conflict of all.

This is an important and richly textured book – one that deserves wide reading and debate. It is probably the most impressive and instructive book that Reynolds has written since his ground-breaking volume, The Other Side of the Frontier, in 1981.

It is, perhaps, more impressive than that first iconoclastic foray, for it distils so many more years of forensic research and deep thinking into this corrosive topic. In terse, uncompromising sentences, Reynolds lays out a new road map towards true reconciliation. FORGOTTEN WARHenry Reynolds  Read more:


August 10, 2013 - Posted by | Resources

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