Reclaim Australia protesters (image via en.wikipedia.org)

Bilal Cleland discusses Australia's violent, white supremacist history, as evidenced in an historical account by Ian Clark, and asks if this is the Australia and the values some wish to "reclaim". 

 “Frontier violence was an inescapable feature of Australian society for almost 150 years, beginning on the fringes of the fledgling settlement at Sydney Cove within a few weeks of the Europeans’ arrival.”

This statement at the start of Professor Henry Reynolds' foreword to Ian Clark’s book Scars in the Landscape: A Register of Massacre Sites in Western Victoria,1803–1859, is a fact which does not have seemed to have penetrated the consciousness of a significant section of the Australian population.

Many of us have been dimly aware of the violence which accompanied European settlement in this country but the level of violence comes as something of a shock.

My family have been in western Victoria since 1837 and I had been told of the stench of rotting bodies in the lava stones near Penshurst, just out of Hamilton, but these were just stories. Clark has researched the field and has presented the facts in this 200 page book (which can be read online).

As historian Henry Reynolds points out:

'For the first time we have a detailed, meticulously researched study of massacre in one Australian region.... It provides a model for what now needs to be done all over Australia.'

Statements from early settlers in the book paint a bleak picture:

In a frank admission in a diary entry, the western Victorian squatter, Niel Black, discussed the understanding that prevailed in Victoria in the early 1840s of the need to massacre local Aboriginal populations when occupying their lands.

"The best way [to procure a run] is to go outside and take up a new run, provided the conscience of the party is sufficiently seared to enable him without remorse to slaughter natives right and left."

The early period of pastoral expansion, as squatters brought in their sheep, from 1838 to 1842 was the period of the most sustained Aboriginal resistance to the loss of their hunting land and ceremonial sites. Clark mentions some 107 separate massacres and killings in this area of southwestern Victoria.

(9 December 1839.)

My mother’s family lived at Wallacedale, near the Lake Condah Mission. Never once did I hear mention of the massacre at Murderer’s Flat, in the 1840s or 1850s, near Lake Condah.

It is known only through Aboriginal oral history:

The evidence for this massacre rests entirely with the oral history of the Kerup community.

According to this tradition, Hannah Lovett (nee MacDonald) and her brother and mother witnessed the massacre. Hannah is purported to have been a young girl carried on her mother’s back when she witnessed the murders. Hannah Lovett died in 1940 at the age of 91, and was born in 1849. Assuming she was under five when the massacre occurred, this would date the event between 1849 and 1854 ...

The exact details of the massacre are vague. Massola’s account has 20 people poisoned, another suggests upwards of 200 were killed. A further source suggests 300 were massacred in 1842 (Age, 15 January 1988).

Malcolm Turnbull announces new citizenship tests to ensure new migrants share "Australian values".

The First Nations people became refugees in the lands they had lived upon for 50,000 years.

In an effort to protect them from destruction, camps or “Mission Stations” were set up: 

In 1865, the Church of England formed the Framlingham Aboriginal Mission, on the Hopkins River, northeast of Warrnambool, in Giraiwurrung country. The Portland and Lake Condah Aborigines refused to settle there. Consequently, in 1866, 827 hectares (2043 acres) of land at Lake Condah were reserved but not gazetted until January 1869. In 1885, a further 692 hectares (1710 acres) were added to safeguard hunting grounds adjacent to what became known as the Lake Condah Mission. 

Although most of this reserve was lost to the Soldier Settlement Commission in 1951, for which Aborigines were not eligible, 53 hectares were won back in 1984 under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act

Those ignorant souls who want to “Reclaim Australia” should ponder on Ian Clark’s book and what it reveals. One incident stands out in my mind, which I cannot forget. One Robert Tulloh, in 1841, told the Chief Protector George Robinson of an incident which occurred in a group that went into the Grampians in search of blacks.

Another ruffian with the name Robinson was in this party of eight men:

They gave the men a child to lay near the fire. They put it so close to the fire and roasted it or, to use his qualified expression, burnt it. He found a fine little boy about six years in the water. He gave him his hand and the child got out. In walking along the child bit his hand. He told George Robinson, one of his men, to take charge of it. He was taking it to the fire where Robinson struck the child on the head. The child threw a piece of stick as it was sitting on the ground, which struck Mr Robinson. The ruffian then kicked the child to death.

Is this the Australia they want to “reclaim"?

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and has held positions as Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Assistant Editor and Member Executive Committee of Australian Muslim News, Chairman Muslim Welfare Board Victoria, Australian representative for Board of Governors, International Business Forum in Istanbul, President Independent Business and Industry Association of Australia and Secretary Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

This article first appeared in Al Wassat in  April 2017 and is republished with permission.

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