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Re: Man 'cooked' to death in Australian prison van *LINK*

Horrifying story of this murder of an elder.
Below is an interview with Australian historian Henry Reynolds that may interest the I's ...



Race wars written out of Australian history: historian

KERRY O'BRIEN: With time running out for Australia to find a form of words everyone can live with as a declaration of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, before the end of the century, one prominent historian has asked why we weren't told the truth about our history in the first place.

Professor Henry Reynolds has spent most of his life researching the early history of black-white relations in this country.

His work led to the landmark Mabo High Court decision with far-reaching ramifications for indigenous land rights in Australia.

Professor Reynolds's books have often struck a raw nerve, particularly his claim that Australia was not settled peacefully by whites but only after some 20,000 Aborigines and more than 2,000 whites were killed in a war across the continent, or, a series of wars.

In his latest semi-autobiographical work, he says the question he is most frequently asked by Australians is "Why didn't we know? Why weren't we told?"

I spoke with Henry Reynolds earlier today.

But first, an excerpt from his book.

HENRY REYNOLDS, HISTORIAN: In an article entitled "Naming the Niggers", published in the 'Townsville Herald' on 2 February 1907, an old pioneer using the nom de plume 'H7H', boasted of his part in a punitive expedition.

"It was estimated that over 150 miles bit the dust that morning, and unfortunately, many women and children shared the same fate.

In that wild yelling rushing mob, it was hard to avoid shooting the women and babies and there were men in that mob of whites who would ruthlessly destroy anything possessing a black hide.

It may appear cold-blooded murder to some to wipe out a whole camp for killing perhaps a couple of bullocks, but then each member of the tribe must be held equally guilty and therefore it would be impossible to discriminate."

KERRY O'BRIEN: Henry, that account comes from north Queensland, was that something exceptional to north Queensland, or did your research show it was part of a pattern around Australia?

HENRY REYNOLDS: I think it was part of a pattern.

I mean, I think the first punitive expeditions took place within a couple of years of the first settlement, but I think they became more common.

They certainly became more effective as the European weapons improved and they went on until the 1920s.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You write that when you began your research of Aboriginal history after white settlement, you say: "There I was a lecturer in Australian history with a Masters degree in the subject and yet I had no idea about what had gone on all around the frontiers of Australia for well over a century." Why?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, that's the question I ask. The reason is that certainly by the beginning of the 2Oth century, much of this violence had been written out.

It had been written out because it didn't fit in with the sort of favourable picture that historians wanted to create of the new nation.

It also was a consequence simply of writing the Aborigines out overall and if you wrote them out, you wrote out much of the violence, and you could say that Australia was a very peaceful place.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What prompted you to start down that research path?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, quite by accident.

I mean, I went to north Queensland almost by accident in the 1960s.

I was confronted by a situation that I knew nothing about, that is the race relations which was an everyday reality and I decided I had to teach my students about this, because they'd come out of this environment and the books that were available to me had nothing about this.

There were no general books I could go to to do a quick study so I started doing the research myself.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Could you repeat the story you tell right at the beginning of the book about your first visit to the Aboriginal community at Palm Island off the Townsville coast in the late '60s?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Yes. Well, I went there with a senator, Senator Jim Keefe and we looked at the settlement and he asked to see the prison and the prison was a bare concrete building set on its own and inside the cell sitting on a dirty mattress were two small girls.

They may have been about 12 or 13.

They stood up and the Senator said, "Whatever are these children doing in jail?"

And the superintendent said without seemingly too much concern said, "Oh, they're here because they swore at the teacher."

KERRY O'BRIEN: How indicative was that of black-white relations in that part of Australia at the time?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Oh, I think that was a good example. One, it indicated the complete power which white administrators had over black people.

It indicated, I think, that they felt no real concern about what they did.

They apparently didn't think there was anything wrong with doing this and they obviously didn't think what this might do to the girls.

KERRY O'BRIEN: One difference that puzzles me is comparing how American history treats the American Indian and the history of the American Indians and the white pioneers who came there comparative to Australia.

I mean, Americans almost revelled in the savagery of their contacts.

HENRY REYNOLDS: Yes, I mean quite obviously white Australians grew up knowing much more about cowboys and Indians than they did about Aboriginals and settlers.

We all played cowboys and Indians and we all knew names of chiefs and tribes and yet we knew very little about what had happened in Australia, because we -- never in the 20th century were we comfortable with the idea that war was going on, whereas in the 19th century, many people -- even those who were against it or those who were for the conflict -- talked about it as war.

KERRY O'BRIEN: There are still many who would dispute you on that including the Minister responsible for Reconciliation.

I think in one of his first public discussions on his new portfolio he said, "You can't have a treaty because there wasn't a war."

HENRY REYNOLDS: Yes, yes. Well, my riposte to that of course, is if it wasn't war, it was murder.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Have you found it a struggle at times to be an objective historian?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Yes. I mean I've never suggested I'm objective in the sense that I'm not committed, that I don't have political commitments in the present, but I do think that I still have the -- I try to have, I try to behave according to professional standards.

That is, I check evidence, I try and find more examples, I throw away the evidence I don't think's sound enough.

I scrutinise what I'm doing and I take a long time to make my mind up. I suppose that I do write with political ends in mind. There's no question about that.

But in terms of the evidence I use, I challenge anyone to find fault in it.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So, what "political ends"?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, my political ends are to bring about much more satisfactory relationships between white and black Australians than existed when I arrived in north Queensland.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Do you have a sense that we're close to reconciliation?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, I think we will achieve something in this generation, but I don't think it's forever.

I think each generation is going to have to find ways of dealing with the evolving relationship, which will go on changing.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Henry Reynolds, thanks for talking with us.

HENRY REYNOLDS: It's a pleasure.

Messages In This Thread

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