Sunday, 22 November 2015

I've been reading lately...

Blood On The Wattle by Bruce Elder

I normally read for pleasure. Even when I hope to learn from a book, I enjoy the reading and I enjoy what I'm learning about.

This book provided no enjoyment for me; it was sickening, harrowing and completely demoralising. But I'm glad I read it.

In recent months I've come to think that I need to take responsibility to learn more about Aboriginal Australians. I want to learn the history, I want to know about their customs and beliefs, I'd love to gain some understanding of the way they relate to the natural world. I expect this to be a long, slow journey, but I now believe that any sort of reconciliation in our country requires non-Aboriginals to take some steps - and this year I'm taking my first small steps.

Vincent Serico's 2002 acrylic dot painting, Kilcoy Massacre No. 2.

This book is subtitled "Massacres and Maltreatment of Australian Aborigines since 1788" (it was published in 1988 when "Aborigine" was still a commonly used term)  and it is primarily a factual account of many of the mass killings of Aboriginals by the British from the time of settlement until the early twentieth century. Elder uses his journalistic training to bring a mostly dispassionate tone to the book as he draws on sources such as letters, diaries and newspaper reports to relay each event. It is compelling writing, as he describes the landscape and the character of the people of the time. He hardly needs to use evocative language because the facts alone are enough to have a reader shaking to their core as he relates the details of massacre after massacre.

Before reading this book I had a vague knowledge that the Aboriginals had been mistreated, of course they had. But never before had I been confronted with the plain facts of how often, how widely, how brutally and how relentlessly they had been stripped of absolutely everything they held to be precious, and pursued across their own wide land. I was also unaware of how desperately they fought - to the limits of their ability - to hold onto their country. While I am still processing what I've read, I now feel I have a more clear-eyed understanding of our nation's recent history. We owe our history to murderous, devious cowards with guns.

Only in the introduction and conclusion does Elder provide a substantial commentary, and I found what he wrote to be heartfelt and appropriate. The final words are:

"The blood of tens of thousands of Aborigines killed since 1788, and the sense of despair and hopelessness which informs so much modern-day Aboriginal society, is a moral responsibility all white Australians share. Our wealth and lifestyle is a direct consequence of Aboriginal dispossession. We should bow our heads in shame."

Somber thoughts, and there were times when I was reading that I wondered if there was anything to be gained by learning of these atrocities, but I have a feeling we need to more fully face the darkness of our past if we are to move forwards as a unified country. Any thoughts?

Do you have any recommendations of other books I could read to help me along on my journey?

In a word or two: Horrific

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