History 101 redux: Australia's violent colonial past
Australia has a violent, racist colonial past. How many white intellectuals does it take to say what generations of Aboriginal people have said? The 'Comment' piece in October's The Monthly by author Kate Grenville is the latest commentary on the European invasion of Australia. She particularly looks at the language slight of hands that disguised or 'tidied-up' the messy, brutal job of hunting down and killing Aboriginal people. Her essay is quite compelling.
I don't want to hang shit on Grenville. She is doing something quite powerful, and risky. I wonder if Grenville, who's latest novel, The Secret River, looks at the 'encounter' between the earliest settlers and Aboriginal people, will face the same apologist backlash from the Winshuttles of Australia that previous participants in the 'History Wars' faced in previous years.
Some of the language on colonial violence was pretty plain, as shown from this quote from a Captain Tench, acting on orders from Governor Phillip to go capture some 'natives' as retribution for the killing of a white man (a convict):
"we were to cut off and bring in the heads of the slain: for which purpose hatchets and bags would be furnished".
It's from a historical document Grenville examined.
I find it strange that Australia is only now having this discussion about its history of colonial violence – and of how that history had been submerged under the obfuscation of official, judicial and pompous colonial language. So many other peoples and nations who were colonised by the European powers in the 18th–20th Centuries have been exposing Europe's violent, despotic and brutal colonial history.
The stories of how the peoples of Africa, the Americas, Oceania and Asia suffered under Europe's empires has been going since at least the anti-colonial movements of the 1940s–50s, or sooner if we count the work by Mahatma Ghandi in South Africa and India before the independence movements blossomed, or sooner if we look at the anti-slavery movements of the 18–19 Centuries.
The thing is, Aboriginal people in Australia have been talking about the colonial horror of European invasion of Australia. It's only now that whites are talking about it too, and listening to each other. I wonder if that is because these are middle class, well-educated whites. And whites listen to each other before blackfellas.