Indigenous politics, 2006 style (or is that 1930?)

The South Western Times, a Bunbury-based newspaper covering the South West, had an interesting advertisement on 11 September 1958 (p.21): “Pacific Islands Exhibition. Featuring Cannibal Arts & Crafts, Pacific Islanders at Play, Dame Fashion Visits The Darkies…. A must for all school children!”

Shirley Lindenbaum of University of New York wrote on early Europeans’ obsession with “savages” and cannibalism:

“The discourse of cannibalism, which began in the encounter between Europe and the Americas, became a defining feature of the colonial experience in the New World, especially in the Pacific. The idea of exoticism, like that of the primitive, is also a Western construct linked to the exploring/conquering/cataloguing impulse of colonialism. We now live in a world where those we once called exotic live among us, defining their own identities, precluding our ability to define ourselves in opposition to “others” and to represent our own culture as universal.”

Check out this piece credited to Daisy Bates in “The West Australian“, p.16, Friday 10 January 1930. Wikipedia describes her as a journalist, amateur anthropologist and lifelong student of Aboriginal culture and society, and the writeup (see link) makes me wonder what level of editorial input went into this article, given her friendship with many Aboriginals around the state – the article is consistent with the tone and theme of papers of the day. (It goes without saying that I do not endorse the contents of this article.)

ABORIGINAL SAVAGES.

LAWLESS CANNIBALS.

Central Australian Natives.

(By Daisy M. Bates).

There is a large area in Central Australia which is as yet untouched by white settlement, though it has been traversed by explorers at various times. Forrest, Hann, Warburton, Lyell Brown, Wells, Maurice and others crossed it in their journeys east and west or north and south, and placed on record their various encounters with the aborigines of the portions traversed. But not one of thoese explorers realised that the tracks he was making would be utilised later on by the native occupants, and followed until outstation settlement, railway line or coast was come upon. It will probably come as a surprise to many persons, who believe that these central aborigines have laws and customs and rules of their own, which make for a certain camp morality, and which the elders of the various groups explain and enforce, to be told that the great central area, which includes 66,000 square miles of country reserved exclusively for aborigines, is occupied by the most lawless mobs of wild humans on this earth. Their numbers, too, have been so generously estimated thatit will come rather as a shock to hear that there cannot be more than 2,000 persons occupying that vast portion of Australia’s hinterland.”

[…large section omitted…]

“These lawless mobs have largely contributed during the centuries towards making Central Australia the desert it is. They have destroyed trees and shrubs, plants and herbage. They have never sown or planted. They have never realised tomorrow’s needs. They will burn miles of country to get one wallaby or other spinifex animal. Their women are the most abject slaves to every man and boy in the camp. The laws of marriage and of consanguinity are utterly lost. When a man is killed and eaten, his females and children are portioned out among the killers, and in the group that came down to me in 1928, so recent had been their killing that the women were still being wrangled over by the six men of the group.” […]

“There is no innocent childhood among the central children, and no child minds to work upon, for all have the full knowledge of evil absorbed into their systems from the first orgy they witness in their mother’s company. When they become wives they may be speared or clubbed or killed by the man who has annexed them or by others who think they have a better right to them. Happily for them, their familiarity with cruelty renders them less sensitive to pain.”

Happily, indeed. It goes on in much the same spirit.

Left to themselves, the groups still remaining in the central areas will continue their savage life until they either die out or trek into civilisation along the tracks  that are being freshened by the footprints of their fellows who are abandoning their own waters. Cannibalism ceases and cruelty and fighting are lessened when they enter civilisation.

And in some ways, much the same spirit as this ABC Lateline article on 21 June 2006. The “former youth worker (anonymous)” has since been outed in a range of sources as Greg Andrews, a senior federal government official working in Mal Brough’s office – the same minister who claimed on 16 May (then later retracted) that a paedophile ring was operating in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The community where it all started, Mutitjulu, has recently been subjected to something of a campaign of persecution by the Australian Federal Police, just as their case against the appointment of an outside administrator for their community is about to be heard.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Interesting article at The Age (22 May 2006) on the general topic here by Jane Lydon, research fellow at Monash
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3 Responses to Indigenous politics, 2006 style (or is that 1930?)

  1. ab_xq says:

    Lateline were played, and even if they weren’t it would be intheir best interests to suggest they were. It really reaks of their new right-wing policy, but Aunty has survived worse scourges in its time.

    The sources they had for the story – for such a major story, should have been checked and checked again, they shouldn’t have run with it before they knew exactly who was making the claims and what potential angles they had.

    A lot of terrible journalism comes about because of the urgency of it – it has to be produced quickly, usually too quickly, to make it compeitive and current and dangers such as dodgy sources and being played by factions are just some of the risks inherent with the current rush to gather and disseminate ‘news.’

    It’s a great post.

  2. Andrew says:

    It doesn’t help that there’s an entire industry devoted to spinning the facts in ways which benefit certain groups or individuals either. The media have a battle on two fronts almost – getting the news, and getting the *news*.

  3. Gnangarra says:

    Having just read this it reminds me of an article I read in from the sunday times 1928, that two aboriginals had been sent to Perth after meeting with daisy bates who reported ahead to the media that two cannibals are on theyre way to perth carrying a bag which contains human head.

    When these men arrived in Perth it turns out that they were carrying the head of a decease proespector/station hand that they come across and had removed and taken it to the nearest europeans to advise they had found him. the bag they used to carry the head had blood on it but that wasnt human

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