Monthly Archives: February 2019

‘Remembering the Myall Creek Massacre’ ed. by Jane Lydon and Lyndall Ryan

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167 p. & notes, 2018

The name should have been a give-away. “Myall” was an old term for “aboriginal” and it was to be expected that any outback station called “Myall Creek” would have – or used to have- a noticeable indigenous presence. Late in the afternoon of Sunday 10 June 1838, eleven armed stockmen, most of whom were expired or convict labourers, rode into Henry Danger’s Myall Creek station near Invernell in north-east New South Wales. Henry Dangar himself was absent; as were the overseer and senior stockmen. The stockmen dismounted and entered a hut where they brought out about thirty Wirrayaraay old people, women and children who had sought refuge there on hearing the stockmen ride in. They led them out, tied with a leather strap, and took them away. Shots rang out; then the stockmen rode away. They returned the next day to burn twenty-eight bodies.

It was an appalling crime, and we know about it because the perpetrators actually faced court, and seven white men were hanged. The massacre itself was not exceptional: massacres had occurred prior to Myall Creek, and they continued afterwards. But the case was marked with controversy,  both from observers appalled by it, and squatters and settlers outraged by its legal consequences. It was the last time in the nineteenth century  that  white perpetrators of frontier massacres were convicted and hanged.

In 2000 a permanent memorial was erected at Myall Creek. Eight years later the Myall Creek Massacre and Memorial Site were added to the National Heritage List. This book, comprising a number of essays by both indigenous and non-indigenous authors, was published for the 180th anniversary. The academic historians represented here – Lyndall Ryan, Jane Lydon, Anna Johnston and John Maynard –  are all well-respected within the academy. The earlier chapters focus on the massacre event itself.  The final three chapters focus on Myall Creek within the songlines and trading networks of indigenous groups the length of the east coast of Australia and tease out issues of memorialization and reconciliation. The book evokes the harshness of distance and the impunity it confers in Warwick Thornton’s film Sweet Country, even though that was set in a different place some eighty years later.

If you’re not familiar with the Myall Creek massacre, you will be by the time you finish this book, which gives a clear account of the event and the men involved. I did know about it – my own Judge Willis was bobbing around in the background as one of the members of the NSW Supreme Court, but I have been guilty of the “failure of imagination” that Paul Keating spoke of in his Redfern Speech.  This book shows that it was all there: unarmed, defenseless, frightened old women and children; white onlookers too intimidated to intervene; wide distances adding a sense of menace, and averted eyes that cloaked these stockmen with the arrogance of impunity.

In Chapter 1 Lyndall Ryan focuses on Henry Dangar, the absentee owner of the Myall Creek station, who chose not to support his employees who reported the crime. In Chapter 2, Patsy Withycombe points out that the ringleader, John Fleming, was the only one of the eleven stockmen who was not a serving or former convict, and he escaped punishment altogether, protected by local squatters. In Chapter 3, Jane Lydon places the international and humanitarian response within the anti-slavery context of the 1830s, focussing particularly on the widely circulated engraving of the prologue to the massacre titled ‘Australian Aborigines Slaughtered by Convicts’ by ‘Phiz’, better known for his illustrations of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Chapter 4 looks at the more local response where Anna Johnston examines Eliza Hamilton Dunlop’s poem ‘The Aboriginal Mother’ published in December 1838 and later put to music by Isaac Nathan in 1842. In Chapter 5 Lyndall Ryan asks of the massacre “Was it typical of the time?”. Building on her work on the Massacre Map, she points out that it was. All the perpetrators had been involved in other massacres. It was not unusual for incidents to take place in daylight, or be led by a settler. It was not unusual to tie the victims together and lead them to the site where they would be slaughtered, or burn their bodies afterwards. Such atrocities have their own sickening rhythm and recurrences.  Chapter 5, which has multiple authors, links the Myall Creek massacre with another massacre at the Wonomo waterhole, and argues that trade networks and songlines made it possible for different aboriginal groups along the eastern coast of Australia to be forewarned of the struggle which would soon extend to their area too. Chapter 6 ‘Myall Creek Memories’ is a reflection by John Maynard on being asked to give the commemorative address- the first by a non-indigenous historian – in 2015. Chapter 8 co-written by Jessica Neath and Brook Andrew is a compilation of interviews with advisors, architects, academics and scholars of cultural memory, over the question of how Myall Creek should be memorialized (if, indeed it should be) and its relation with other memory-sites related the Holocaust and Genocide. The book is framed by a prologue by Sue Blacklock and John Brown who worked on a reconciliation and covenant relationship between the Uniting Church and ATSI people in 1992. It closes with Mark Tedeschi’s QC’s address delivered in 2017, both as Chief Crown Prosecutor for NSW and the author of his own more legally-oriented account of the massacre and its legal aftermath.

This is an excellent book. The chapters are engagingly written, and if the chapter by Jessica Neath was perhaps a bit tedious in its format, it raised some interesting questions. It makes me wonder: will I live long enough for Australians and their governments to have the maturity and humility to look at the white settler past, and actually do something about an honest recognition and reconciliation that must come one day?

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I have included this book in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 database.

Movie: Colette

 

(From a few weeks back)

It’s a pity that Keira Knightly was case as Colette in this movie. She’s too well-known and I was consciously aware of that throughout most of this movie, except for one striking scene where she becomes very angry. Dominic West was very good, and disappeared better into the character. I must confess to never having read any of her work, and really knew little about her. Still, an interesting take on celebrity and marketing in the literary world of a century ago.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I’m off……again

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Did I mention to you that I’m off again? This time to Buenos Aires, Colombia and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

You can follow my adventures – and this time I hope that this rather edgy trip doesn’t have any adventures to speak of – at my other travel blog

https://landofincreasingsunshine.wordpress.com

I rather foolishly promised that I would write the first sentence of each entry in Spanish, so apologies to those who don’t read Spanish, and even deeper apologies to those who do!

‘Saltwater’ by Cathy McLennan

saltwater

2016, 314 p

If you go by the cover of this book, with its subtitle “An Epic Fight for Justice in the Tropics”, you’re going to be disappointed. There is a trial in this book, but you won’t have heard of it. It’s just one of what I suspect is an ongoing succession of trials of young aboriginal men, whose lives seemed almost doomed to incarceration by their background of alcoholism, illiteracy and aimlessness. It’s not an ‘epic’ fight for justice, and there’s certainly no victory here.

The book is a memoir written by Magistrate Cathy McLennan, who looks back some twenty years to her first graduate job with the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, when she was aged just 22. She is not of indigenous heritage herself, and although brought up on nearby Magnetic Island, she felt largely overwhelmed working with this indigenous organization. Other non-indigenous barristers came and went, and despite her youth, she was very much thrown in at the deep end. The clerical and administrative staff were indigenous, and she relied on the guidance of aboriginal women working in a liaison capacity.  The male indigenous administrator of the organization was less supportive.

One of her earliest cases involved four young men charged with the murder of a white grog-runner. She was initially convinced of their innocence, and feels blocked by the local police.  The police, however, are not one-dimensional.  Called out to meet with a group of aboriginal people drinking in the park, she was horrified that a very young baby was lying on glass-strewn dirt. Brought right up against the dilemma of child protection vs. fear of another stolen generation, she realized that, in this situation, the police wee just as conflicted as she is.

Running alongside her involvement in this case was her ongoing contact with Olivia, to whom the book is dedicated, an 11 year old the size of a 5 year old, who was continually being locked up for robbery, and was sexually abused repeatedly. Olivia was failed at every turn: by her alcoholic mother, by child services who could do no more than come up with ‘a plan’, and by the ‘justice’ system that was content to shunt her off to Palm Island, where Olivia was even more abused than she was in Townsville.  McLennan bridles against failure at all levels that condemns indigenous children to incarceration. She could see the problem: she had no answers.  Now, twenty years later and as a magistrate, I find myself wondering if she has found a way for the system, that she is now part of, to do better.

The book is written in the present tense, and the prose is fairly pedestrian. She certainly raises many questions, and even if the book is not as “compelling” as its blurb suggests, it does add texture and complexity to a tragic and seemingly intractable situation.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

I have added this to the Australian Women Writers Challenge database.

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I hear with my little ear: podcasts to 31 Jan 2019

I usually listen to podcasts while I’m walking down to the Heidelberg Historical Society museum on a Monday and/or Thursday, or when walking to Watsonia Library for a Spanish conversation class. (Nearly) everything stops in Australia during the first weeks of January, so I’m only just gradually picking up my usual routine again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to:

News in Slow Spanish Latino  I listen to this in bites of three stories at a time which is about as much Spanish as I can cope with in one session. Episode #293  had an interesting commentary about the Mexican film ‘Roma’, which has been recognized in several industry awards, and slated for others. Apparently when Netflix showed it in Spain, they subtitled it – even though it’s in Spanish! Not the hard-of-hearing type subtitles, but the hard-copy foreign language ones. Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a bit of offence in Latin America. [Having said this, I often feel that I need subtitles for films from Scotland] To add to the transgression, they used ‘Mother’ instead of ‘Mum’ (rough translation), and substituted the name of a Mexican lolly with a Spanish one. There was such controversy, that Netflix dropped the subtitles.

Rough Translation.  War Poems is an absolutely fantastic episode about two translators working in Afghanistan as the United States flailed around in its policy on engagement with the Afghani population. But it’s about more than this. It had me crying in the train, then telling a total stranger about it. It’s really good.

Presidential. Abraham Lincoln: His hand and his pen. I borrowed ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ from the library, but didn’t get round to reading this. I had downloaded it to listen to before I read the book because I really know nothing about Abraham Lincoln. I do now. It’s about Lincoln’s love of language in his own writing and in his oratory.

History Hub. While I was on an Abraham Lincoln kick, I also listened to the five- part ‘  series ‘Abraham Lincoln: The Life and Death of a Statesman‘, presented by Brian Schoen.

In Our Time. I must say that Melvyn Bragg is becoming more and more curmudgeonly the older he gets, particularly with women guests I think.  I listened to an interesting podcast about the 12th Century Renaissance, when the Crusades brought Arabic learning to Europe and universities began to be established. In the episode on Anna Akhmotova, I just wanted to give Melvyn a good hard kick.

Caliphate. I know that I’m probably the last person in the world to tune into Caliphate, but I’ve finally started listening to this series about how ISIS recruits and exploits its followers. Rukmini Callimachi, who covers terrorism for The New York Times, is the main presenter in this NPR-y-sounding podcast. I’ve listened to the first two and a half episodes.

Duolingo podcasts Episode 18: La testigo (the witness) is about a young Argentinian girl who inadvertently witnesses the Argentinian dictatorship during the 1970s. If you don’t understand Spanish, you’ll still be able to follow the story, and there’s a transcript as well.

Earshot (ABCRN) Related to the Duolingo podcast was this week’s Earshot program Argentina’s stolen generation, about the ongoing discovery, 40 years later, of the children affected in different ways by the ‘dirty war’ in Argentina in the 1970s, both as children of the ‘disappeared’ and as children of the perpetrators.

99% Invisible. I haven’t seen ‘The Green Book’ film yet, but this podcast called The Green Book Redux is about the original Green Book and how and why it came to be written. It finishes with an excerpt from ‘The Memory Palace’, another podcast I must check out.