Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Black Armband 5: Genocidal mindsets

One of the books that I have is Frederick Morrison’s Aldine History of South Australia, published in two volumes in 1890.

By 1890, one might reasonably have assumed that a more “enlightened attitude” towards Aboriginal Australians than the following may have emerged. I am placing it here because it is important to understand the mindset that afflicted members of the settler regime, and the justifications they used to support genocidal practices that ranged from murder (“dispersing the blacks”) to the forcible removal of children from their parents and punishments for using their own languages on mission stations and reserves.

Note how the author tries to pose as an objective observer, placing himself between “the extremes” before moving speedily to the extreme of apologising for genocide himself.

As we approach the historic occasion of an apology from the Prime Minister to the Stolen Generations (see here and here), the excerpt below will help us understand the arrogant assumptions of superiority behind the injustices visited upon the indigenous peoples of this land.

Chapter IV

The Aborigines

There has been a great deal written about the “blacks” of this fair land, some of which has been extravagant in its laudation, and, on the other hand, much has been said adverse to them equally wide of the mark. Between these two classes of writers we may expect to find the truth somewhere. It has been asserted by many that it is utterly impossible to civilise the native Australian, that is, to induce him by any system of instruction to settle down to the cultivation of the soil, build and occupy houses, much less to adopt a life akin to the modes adopted by his white brethren. On the other hand, with equal earnestness, writers have asserted the possibility of the blacks being raised to a high rank or status in education, religious enlightenment, and other habits of industry, sobriety, and general conduct, found associated with all ranks of civilised people.

There can be no question at all that in some instances there have been satisfactory evidences of a good degree of culture, earnest religious zeal, and praiseworthy deeds of morality and prudence – not a few cases of genuine conversion to the Christian religion and practices have been reported by the early missionaries. Notwithstanding all this, we believe we but express the sentiment of nearly everyone who has been brought into contact with them, that they are, above all other races of savages yet discovered, the lowest in the scale of humanity. They build no houses, perform no labour except such little as is required by the absolute necessity of hunger. They respect no moral code save that of brute force. Their condition at the time of arrival by Captain Cook, and for many years afterwards, was as low as that of the beasts of the field. In fact, in no sense were they superior, except in the low sagacity and cunning they evinced in capturing the birds of the air, the animals of the forests and plains, and the fish of their rivers and seas, and in making them tributary to their sustenance and support on the very easiest conditions. “They toil not neither do they spin,” neither are they clad in the “glory of a Solomon or in the beauty of the flowers of the field.”

The “Voice of God” moved our first parents, Adam and Eve, to seek in very shame a covering to their nakedness, and, as a rule, among all barbarous tribes there is recognised the same “voice” that bids man to make, from palm leaves or other woody fibres of branch or grass, aprons to cover himself; but in the black tribes of Australia we find a race that lives in utter disregard of all rules and requirements of dress, in fact, whose manner of life antedates even Adamic times.

May we not be pardoned for suggesting that one of the first evidences of an intelligence which raises man above the brute and makes him susceptible to civilising influences, is the fact that he is able to appreciate and value the great worth of a garment. The place in civilisation that dress occupies is perhaps not sufficiently understood by any of us. How far its influence for good extends is yet an unsolved problem. It is one of those incidental circumstances that is taken in this life, like the air we breathe and the water we drink and the sunshine we hail, as a matter of course. It is so abundantly bestowed, and hence so common in its plentitude, that we fail to see its worth and absolute value in developing that aesthetic nature that fits man to walk with God in the gardens of the earth and transforms it into a Paradise, in which is heard the “voice” divine….

The first white man killed by the natives was in May, 1788. This provoked a spirit of revenge, not on the murderer, but on the race….

Few institutions of learning are to be found among them, and few Churches are actively engaged in Christianising them. At the same time they are fast disappearing in numbers, and doubtless soon will be reckoned among the extinct races of the earth.

…The work of extermination by the whites still goes silently on, not as a purpose or by concerted plan, nevertheless, steadily and surely. The occupancy by the whites of their land and civilisation in her triumphant march carries along with her a hundred concomitants against which the blackfellow cannot successfully stand. A generation or two will in all probability wipe them out, and the second centennial will record their existence as a thing of the past.


John said...

Amazing exceprt - thanks for sharing it.

bill said...

great find!

love the freudian weirdness about the link between covering one's shame and civilization!

another artifact worth retrieving is the national sesquicentenary newsreel; a remarkable piece given that this was made in the year before the war against fascism began in earnest

aborigines were rounded up and transported to sydney, held in cells, and forced to re-enact phillip's landing painted up as a lily-white conception of 'ooga-booga' style dancing and shouting 'natives' in front of the cameras - the footage of this is accompanied by a solemn (BBC english) voice-over proclaiming how difficult it is to credit that this was a 'wasteland' peopled only by 'savages' so few years before today...

and as flag-bedecked foreign warships arrive as emissaries in sydney harbour; england, america, france, britain, italy, 'and other bastions of white civilisation', the voice-over croaks approvingly

they don't show this little heritage item very often, for some reason...