Notes for a dictionary of dispossession

Language shapes our thought. Examined carefully, it reveals our attitudes. For both reasons, looking at the language around the arrival of Europeans in Australia is worthwhile.

wordle for a dictionary of dispossessionThese are notes for a dictionary, a collection of words and concepts arranged somewhat logically. English is a rich and flexible language. Where we have multiple choices for an idea, as we usually do, each of them has a slightly different meaning and cluster of connotations. Teasing them all out is slow, patient work.

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Black Swan – a Koorie Woman’s Life

Black Swan coverBlack Swan – a Koorie Woman’s Life

Eileen Harrison and Carolyn Landon

Allen & Unwin, 2011

All reviews say more about the reviewer than they pretend to, but this one is far more personal and autobiographical than most.

Black Swan came to me as a review copy when it was first released, but the newspaper I freelanced for wasn’t interested so I set it aside for myself. It has been on my shelf ever since. In the aftermath of thinking again about Singing the Coast, its time has finally come: its parallels and contrasts with that book and with my own life made it particularly relevant to me this year.

Eileen Harrison was born into a large, close-knit family on the Aboriginal Mission at Lake Tyers on the Gippsland Lakes. She grew up there, attending the mission school while I was attending the state school in Leongatha, 250 km away. I went on to secondary school; she was not allowed to. Rather, she and her family were uprooted by a new government policy and sent to the Western District, far from extended family.

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Singing the Coast: Masks, Mists, Mirrors, Maps

  • This is a reflection or meditation on Singing the Coast, rather than a review as such. It grew out of a short review I wrote for the Townsville Bulletin at the time of publication. I may have submitted it to an academic journal (I can’t even remember whether it got that far) but really, I wrote it for myself as a way of trying to make sense of a very strange piece of story-telling. I have posted it here on Words & Images because it connects with concerns about indigenous history and heritage in The European colonisation of Australia. A word of warning: it’s long.

Singing the Coast
Margaret Somerville and Tony Perkins
Aboriginal Studies Press, $34.95
May 2010

Singing the Coast attempts to preserve a specific Aboriginal vision and share it with white society. One of its two authors, Margaret Somerville, is Professor of Education at Melbourne’s Monash University, while the other, Tony Perkins, is identified as a ‘cultural knowledge holder and member of the Garbi Elders of Corindi Beach’. With the help of Tony’s fellow Elders, they present essential elements of Gumbaynggirr culture through stories passed down in aboriginal families on the coast between Nambucca Heads (NSW) and Yamba, stories which relate the patterns of their daily lives and weave them into the timeless presence of the country.

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January 26 – Australia Day or Day of Mourning

“What’s on my mind?” Facebook asks.

I’ve been thinking about why I am increasingly uncomfortable with celebrating January 26 as Australia Day.

My parents arrived from England as post-war migrants. Growing up, I felt little connection to Australian, let alone indigenous, history. It wasn’t my history at all, and no-one on either side of it was any relation of mine.

In due course, my brothers and I married Australian-born women and produced children. In doing so we acquired families with longer Australian histories than our own, going back in some cases to the 1790s in NSW, the 1840s in Victoria and the 1890s in North Queensland, all well within the period of the displacement of indigenous people from their land.

At least some of our children are therefore direct descendants of settlers.

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The European colonisation of Australia

This post continues a sequence that began on Green Path with Where did we come from? and People in Australia before Europeans arrived. Those two, covering the evolution of Homo sapiens from ape-like ancestors to the beginnings of modern history, fitted well enough in an environmental blog. This one, continuing the Australian story from 1788, is primarily social and political history. As such, it is a better fit here on Words & Images.

Much of the “new” history is disturbing but, as Alex Miller’s Landscape of Farewell tells us, we have to come to terms with it so that we can move out from beneath its shadow.     Continue reading “The European colonisation of Australia”