Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sensitive history

I've been working my ring off for past week on three pages. Yep, three pages of text for the webpage I'm working on. It's taken three weeks to complete nearly forty other pages for the site and downloadable fact sheets.

I need no approval for those pages, but I do for the three; see, they deal with Indigenous history and information and thus require cultural sensitivity. While that has been monumentally frustrating, it's also been an education.

When I was at school back in 19... blah, we were taught about Captain James Cook discovering Australia, Captain Arthur Phillips of the First Fleet, various governors and important white people who formed this nation. Nothing was ever taught about indigenous affairs and yet, they were an important part of our history.

Who knew, for example, that the Aborigines had a resistance group who tried to save their land from the English settlers and convicts?

Pemulwuy saw Cook lay claim to Terra Nullus, Empty Land, and to the arrival of the First Fleet. He understood what it meant and set about causing as much trouble as possible. To him, it was war, the British were invaders upon land sacred to his people and he led raids against the farms and farmers, for food and for revenge for the atrocities committed against his people.

In the end, in 1802, he was shot dead, his head removed and sent to England for scientific investigation. All up, 3000 Aboriginal body parts were sent as part of biological curiosity. Pemulwuy was a pest, a troublemaker, according to Governor King who signed the shoot-on-sight order for any Aborigines seen around the Parramatta area. Guns were always going to win out since the Aborigines brought spears to the fight.

The British did not see the land as being occupied. The definition of civilisation was settlement, and the indigenous people were wanderers, following the food, never setting up villages. The French and Dutch had already looked at the land and declared it harsh and worthless, moved on, although we still have Dutch and French names for suburbs or areas.

For more than a century, this country has been divided between the rights of Aborigines and those of British settlement. We're still divided, though to a much lesser degree: instead of a re-enactment of James Cook's arrival at Farm Cove, we have an Indigenous Woggan Ma Gule or Morning Ceremony at the site and celebrations of what it means to be Australian. The flag raising is more to do with celebrating citizenship than historic origins. History, it seems, is of little importance when bringing diverse ethnicities together.

I agree. Previous Australia Day celebrations were tainted by groups protesting 'Invasion Day'; but I don't think we should re-write or disregard the good or the bad of our history. Both are important and make us who we are today.

Prince William - recently in Australia - has announced that he will try to find Pemulwuy's head and the other remains. The indigenous fighter is a hero to the Aboriginal Nations here.

And this year for Anzac Day, commemorative ceremonies will be held for the 500-800 Indigenous personnel who served during the First World War. It's about time; a soldier is a soldier no matter his skin colour and should be treated with the same respect.

In the meantime, I need to get back to work; I have to finish this project before I can get to my editing. Thankfully, these three pages are the last of the big stuff, everything else is of the editing and formatting ilk.

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