As I mentioned on my home page, I have long pondered and occasionally discussed the fact that I have not made any form of acquaintance with an indigenous or Aboriginal person after thirty five years of living in Australia. Last year a longtime Christian (and church going) friend challenged me to go to an aboriginal town that holds annual religious meetings. So I went to these meetings and was able to join my new friends for meals and get to talk with them. Before this visit my friend told me that she had a book that I should read; it was called One Blood by John Harris. first published in 1990.
The book left me in shock. It confirmed everything that Henry Reynolds covered in his later book Why Weren’t We Told? By comparison, the story told in One Blood is much harder to come to terms with than that of Why Weren't We Told?. To summarize the information in One Blood that bothered me:
and, this what most upset me most
I want to deal with these last points using two perspectives, first what was happening back in the nineteenth century and then what is happening today? For obvious reasons, which don't include virtue on the part of whites, incest is not a problem that is mentioned in the records.
We should remember that slavery was abolished in England in 1833, while in the USA it was abolished in 1865. Further we should remember that European society saw slavery as an acceptable practice and did not wish to be confronted with the brutal realities of this evil trade. In a system that allowed slavery, persons of evil intent had a license to treat slaves as inhuman beings. These evil people existed on the fringes of society and they found any dispossessed victims to be easy prey. Further, as pioneers roughing it out under tough conditions, it was not too hard to persuade their fellows to join in their sport, provided the better men didn’t get to see the worst excesses or had their senses numbed by alcohol. After all, the victims were of lower status than slaves in which case these practices were sanctioned, but of higher status then animals, in which case cruelty and sexual abuse was forbidden by the bible. The aboriginal women and girls had no defenders; they had no legally recognized fathers or husbands, any family or tribal male trying to defend them was described as a murderous savage and shot or tortured to death.
This evil abuse was not something that the Aboriginals of Australia suffered alone. The exploitation and abuse of females has always happened, especially at social fringes and boundaries. In 2005 my wife and I visited our ancestral lands (mostly England) for the very first time, we went with a plan to visit the places our great-grandparents had come from and to see what we could find out about our (mostly lost) heritage. What we found were records of the “clearances”, this was the period when sheep were introduced to the United Kingdom and all the people living on their traditional lands were simply rounded up and told to go elsewhere, so that ‘sheep could safely graze’. This happened about the same time as the European occupation of Australia. There were no police in those days and the military couldn’t be used against the citizens they were supposed to defend; so the security forces were drawn from traditional enemies and the macho elements of the social fringes. The citizens were provoked, and criminalized and told to live elsewhere, either forced immigration or into the city slums. Did sexual abuse and slavery occur? Well in those days the European victims couldn’t read or write or leave a record of their history. At the same time the educated sections of society did not want to know about the nasty truths and wrote their own selective histories. The nasty facts remain in the oral tradition, these become folktales then legends and finally myths, at the myth stage they are said to be untrue i.e. mythical. A typical example is found in short story that I found in Skye. In this story an agent on the Island had been recruiting young girls for well-paid jobs in the cotton mills of Manchester, the only trouble was that the girls never returned or were heard of again. When an educated lass was approached, the recruiter didn’t realize that she could speak English and she soon learned that the real trip was direct to slavery in South America. Of course that was just a story, wasn’t it? These things don't happen to girls from Eastern Europe or the Middle East today, do they? The tales of Xavier Herbert and Katherine Susannah Prichard are just stories too, aren’t they? So far I have been writing in general terms, how can I be sure that the abuse was really as bad as I am hinting at? I found the proof of child abuse in short biography of Josephine Butler. Josephine was social reformer, who tends to be overlooked or forgotten, working through the Victorian era. Her male colleague, W. T Stead published a number of articles in the Pall Mall Gazette; these remain unchallenged and clearly establish the sexual abuse of young girls that occurred in England in the 1880’s this abuse went unpunished even when exposed. Let me repeat my earlier remark the Aboriginals were not singled out for special treatment, they just encountered the Europeans as they were.
Perhaps we all need to understand what happened to us and come to terms with our suppressed grief and guilt before we will be free to say SORRY to each other.