Treasures Collection Talk
Talks / Lecture
Discover first contact through the eyes of Indigenous people and the Europeans they adopted into their families. Professor John Maynard, Professor Victoria Haskins and National Library Curator Matthew Jones explore these encounters.
Speakers: Susan Hall (S), Matthew Jones (M), John Paul Janke (J), John Maynard (M), Victoria Haskins (V), Audience: (A)
Location: National Library of Australia
S: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Susan Hall, the Publisher for our in-house NLA Publishing. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and thank their elders past and present for caring for this land that we’re now privileged to call our home.
We’re very grateful to our supporters for making this evening’s event possible. In particular we thank the Australian Government for supporting the Treasures Curator through Catalyst, the Australian arts and culture fund. We also thank our National Library patron supporters of the Treasures Gallery Access program. Our collection houses many fantastic artefacts from Australia’s indigenous history and with them we can try to piece together how it was to live in communities past and try to see from their perspective. To tell us more about the Library’s indigenous collection, primarily what we have on display in the Treasures Gallery, is Library curator, Matthew Jones who will also introduce our other guests. Please join me in welcoming Matthew.
M: Now I was told not to touch the microphone but something about it just makes me want to jostle it around a little bit. Thank you, Susan. I too before I begin would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of their land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this beautiful place that I’m very privileged to call home.
So I work in the Exhibitions Branch here at the Library where we develop exhibitions and displays which we hope will enrich the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the collections of the Library. We have two major galleries here, the Exhibitions Gallery where we mount temporary exhibitions based around a single theme, story or collection, and the Treasures Gallery. So before I introduce John – Victoria and John today I’d like to take 10 minutes to talk about the Treasures Gallery and the collections that we display there.
The Treasures Gallery opened in 2011 and presents visitors with the opportunity to come face-to-face with many of Australia’s greatest stories. It has been designed and custom-built as a permanently accessible space for the Library’s rare and fragile and most important collection material. The main section of the Gallery is Terra Australis to Australia, an episodic narrative of the European mapping of our continent and Australia’s post-contact history and development. Central to these displays has been material relating to indigenous lives.
The central part of the Treasures Gallery consists of two exhibitions. One features material relating to Captain Cook and his three voyages, the other focuses on the hard fought, decade-long legal battle now simply remembered as Mabo which ended in 1992 with a landmark ruling that recognised indigenous land rights. In 2001 the Mabo case manuscripts which feature Eddie Koiki Mabo’s papers and those of his lawyer and friend, Bryan Keon-Cohen, were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register at the same time as James Cook’s Endeavour journal. The papers were described as a rare instance in world history of pre-existing tribal law being formally recognised.
Over the years we’ve displayed a range of objects from these papers including legal documents, maps, paintings and journals. Both in terms of space and themes I think the rest of the objects in the Treasures Gallery kind of orbit around this central access, they’re all in some way touched or informed by those two central stories.
Over the last six years we’ve displayed many more objects in the Gallery relating to indigenous lives and culture. Many of these, especially objects dealing with these early decades after 1788, are representations of indigenous people by nonindigenous people. Much of this material is informed by prejudice and misunderstanding however as John Maynard who’s here tonight, and I’ll introduce him soon, has shown in his excellent book, On Lycett, True Light and Shade, which is on discount in the bookshop at the moment so do yourself a favour, there is still much to learn from these images. Lycett, a convicted forger, who arrived in Australia in 1814 was unlike most early colonial artists in that he depicted rituals and customs of indigenous people in active control of their lives and land.
Also in the collection are these watercolours by William Westall and they are valuable records and we also have displayed these in the Gallery. Westall was a landscape and figure painter on Matthew Flinders’ Investigator expedition to New Holland. During his visit to Chasm Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria Westall made the first European depiction of indigenous rock art.
Other images in our collection that we’ve displayed such as this one use very European tropes of portraiture to create powerful and unforgettable but also very complex images. In this portrait of Desmond, which is the only name we have for him, from 1826, the English artist, Augustus Earle, uses a low viewpoint placing the viewer in a subordinate position to the subject. Now this convention was usually reserved for depictions of members of the British aristocracy and military but increasingly in the late 18th and early 19th century European academic painters were using such strategies to represent indigenous people all around the world. Other than this portrait we have no knowledge of the sitter.
Also little is known of Tallboy who lived in far west New South Wales, 200km north of Broken Hill. Tallboy would have been assigned the European title of King and given this kingplate to wear, presumably for supporting behaviour – for supportive, pardon me, behaviour towards European settlement in the region. Kingplates were derived from military insignia and originated under Governor Lachlan Macquarie to assign authority to certain indigenous persons. Today they are mainly viewed as emblems of an attempt to impose European cultural values.
Another potent symbol of the early interaction between the two cultures is the Governor Arthur proclamation panels. As the European settlements continued to expand throughout Van Diemen’s Land violence between European settlers and indigenous people intensified. Governor Arthur proclaimed marshal law in November 1828 to force indigenous peoples away from settled districts, a policy expanded in 1830 with the notorious black line. Ill-conceived by the government surveyor, George Frankland, and tied to trees and distributed to indigenous leaders the proclamation panels were intended to quote make them understand the cause of the present war end quote. This is one of the seven panels still remaining in collections around the world.
Other very significant items in the Gallery that we’ve displayed and are still on display include the Tommy McRae sketch books. McRae Yackandandah was an artist from the Wiradjuri nation in Victoria. His work reflects both the traditional way of life and the realities of colonial settlement. Having worked as a stockman McRae made a comfortable living from his art, refusing to move from his land and worked easily between these two conflicting worlds. His unique figurative pictorial style appealed to squatters and travellers who bought his sketchbooks in droves.
More recently in the Gallery we have curated a display on indigenous rights in the 20th century. Currently on display is this watercolour by [Arunti] 8:11 man, Albert Namatjira, one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. His watercolour paintings of country in central Australia are noted for their rich use of colour and command of the interaction between light and landscape. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it.
His skill is evident in this painting of the Glen Helen homestead showing the west MacDonnell Ranges in the background. Now due to his artistic fame in 1957 Albert Namatjira and his wife, Rubina, became the first indigenous Australians to be granted full citizenship rights, in 1957. We’ve also put together a display on the 1967 referendum with the help of NLA staff member, Yanti Ropeyarn, and our colleagues in the Education Branch. It includes items from across the Library’s various collections from pictures, manuscripts, the Australian collections and our ephemera collection. Now this is part of a larger project to mark the 40th anniversary of the referendum at the Library which includes special videos in the Library’s digital classroom as well as the series, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection conversations, and these are all available on the Library’s YouTube channel so check it out.
Also within the Gallery at the moment is a first edition of We Are Going poems by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly Kath Walker, who is a leading indigenous poet and political activist. In the 1960s as Queensland State Secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders she actively lobbied for Aboriginals to be given full citizenship. Her poetry gave voice to the campaign. With the publication of her collection she became the first indigenous person to publish a book of poetry in 1964.
So I hope that’s given you some insight into the Library’s varied collections displayed in the Treasures Gallery that address indigenous lives and themes of first contact. I also hope it’s inspired you to continue to visit the Gallery in the future or perhaps maybe for the first time, to see the material that the staff at the Library continue to uncover, acquire and interpret.
Now I’d like to introduce our three speakers for the main part of tonight’s event which will be a discussion about first contact through the eyes of indigenous people and the Europeans they adopted into their families. Joining us tonight is Professor John Maynard, Professor Victoria Haskins and Director of the ATSIS Foundation, John Paul Janke to help us see from the perspective of indigenous people during their first encounters with Europeans and how they navigated through these new circumstances.
Professor Maynard currently works at the University of Newcastle in their Indigenous Education and Research Department. John has spent his career trying to fill in the gaps in history where indigenous voices have been neglected. He and Victoria have collaborated before for the National Library. They are the co-authors of an NLA publication, Living with the Locals, which you can also find in our bookshop.
Victoria Haskins has come from a long line of activists for Aboriginal rights. Her expertise is in the shared history between indigenous and nonindigenous people.
And hosting tonight’s event is John Paul Janke, a descendent of both the Mirima and [Wiltarthy] 11:36 people. John Paul has worked as a journalist in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for nearly three decades. His long list of professional achievements include working for ATSIC, the Sydney Olympics and the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council. He is a member of the national NAIDOC Committee and a director at the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre.
Please join me in welcoming John, Victoria and John. Thank you.
J: Oh good evening, welcome everyone. I’m John Paul Janke, not to be confused with John Maynard. The only thing we have in common is that we’re both soccer tragics and the older we get the better we were so tonight if we diversify, go into our soccer skills, please, it’s up to Vicky to bring us back on track. But look, firstly let us – on behalf of John and Vicky, acknowledge country and acknowledge the elders past and present and it’s great to be on Ngunnawal and Nanbury country again and also acknowledge you guys for coming out on a beautiful crisp Canberra winter day. I think the fog lifted at about 2:00 today and the sun went down at about 4:00 so we had two hours –
M: Our plane was delayed.
J: Yeah. But tonight what we’re going to do is we’re going to unpack the book, Living With Locals. I’m going to try and tease some more information out of John and Vicky about some of the fantastic stories that are in the book and give you greatest insight into why they wrote the book, some of the characters they’ve profiled in the book and maybe come up with some world changing conclusions at the end. So I think we’ve about 20 to 30 minutes? He says looking at the timekeepers. Okay so we’ll try and keep you on track for that.
The first thing I really want to ask having read the book is how did the book come about?
M: Well we can both comment on this but to start with I mean I have to acknowledge the Library, certainly Susan, Paul and Jo Carmel, I mean I’d done the book on Joseph Lycett and I was down here and was invited to coffee here at the Library and this is Jo’s baby, I mean as far as this particular project was concerned and Susan and Jo asked me if I’d be interested you know researching this particular topic and writing a book on those early people who got shipwrecked, lost or just ran away into the bush. And I said yeah look, I’d be interested but I think it’d be better if we had an indigenous and a nonindigenous viewpoint of these people so I mentioned my wife, Vicky, in regards to that and Jo and Susan thought that was a great idea as well. So I went back and said to Vicky what do you think? Because I will say for us it’s rare that we get an opportunity to work together, we’re both extremely busy and although we’ve you know our interests certainly with Aboriginal history and Australian history, even world history is similar, it’s very rare that we get an opportunity to work together so we were quite excited by the prospect of that and jumped at the opportunity. I mean that’s where it come from and I mean do you want to add anything to that?
V: Yeah. Oh just when John came home and told me about this I was really excited because I’ve always been really interested in these stories and I teach a course in cross-cultural history and you know I have this sort of couple of weeks where we go through quite a few of these stories and I was like this is fantastic, I’d love to see a book come out on this and I’d love to be part of it so you know very excited.
J: There are 13 individuals profiled in the book, did you find – were those 13 limited to the amount of content you could find about individuals?
M: Well the project was connected with the Library’s collections, I mean we’ve had a lot of people say oh you’ve missed someone in Western Australia, you didn’t do this person here but you know we’ve explained to people – and certainly through a lot of radio interviews as well that it was tied to the collections here and what the information was here and we – and I just want to say that, I mean from the Library’s perspective we had fantastic support. I mean we spent time down here and also we were just able to ring up and get people to search for material in regards so it was confined to the collections here in the Library.
V: We also – when we first started we came down to the Library together and we spent quite a bit of time looking through the material and then we both did a couple of trips individually and then we sat down, looked at what we’d managed to pull together and how are we going to write the book? And we decided at the time we’d build it around individuals so that meant that we put aside stories where there just wasn’t enough material about an individual but where we could really construct a person and get a sense of who they were and where they came from and to some extent get an idea of you know their outlook on life and how Aboriginal people or Islander people might have seen them, we thought that would be the way of running the book.
J: Alright. So the 13 individuals, they’re amazing stories and narratives about their journeys into indigenous Australia but yet probably apart from Eliza Fraser they’re actually unknown stories in Australian history. The overwhelming sense that I got through reading the book is that we weren’t told about these things and I actually felt sort of robbed or you know Australian history wasn’t completely told to me. Did you find that as you were going through unpacking these detailed stories of individuals that the thirst to find out more and to tell their story took over?
V: Oh yeah, for me I – like I said I taught in this area so I already had kind of like a reasonable grasp of quite a few of the stories but I – what I was really trying to do was really try and find out as much as I could about what actually happened and what you find is there’s a whole lot of cultural stuff about you know the way it’s represented and the way it’s been imagined but when you go down to find out well what actually happened, the real stories are very interesting. Things like Eliza Fraser that you mentioned. She’s so well-known, so many people know Eliza Fraser and then we work – we spent ages trying to work out one, where she actually went which was pretty difficult but also how long she was there and we worked out she couldn’t have been with Aboriginal people at the very longest, six weeks.
M: At the very longest and you know so many written material, books and films and – have concentrated on Eliza Fraser and she had such limited time actually spent with Aboriginal people.
V: And then there’s people like Buckley who was for 32 years and –
M: And Morrell and –
V: Morrell and –
M: Poletti –
V: Barbara Thompson you know all these people –
M: Long period of time.
V: - spent really long time.
M: I will say too, JP, mentioning that about how we were deprived of that history, I mean for myself certainly as an Aboriginal kid growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, that’s probably one of the big drivers for me in the sense that I come through a school system where there was nothing about Aboriginal history or culture in the school curriculum being taught in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was extremely limited. There wasn’t a lot of support certainly for me in my school years in regards to that so – and coming into well academia as a mature-age student at the age of 40 I was driven to you know – and I’ve always said our indigenous history of this country is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with a lot of the pieces missing and playing a part in putting some of those pieces back into the puzzle has been the driver for me. And it’s the same thing with this particular project, it was so interesting.
I was aware like Vicky of some of the stories you know a good few of the stories but there’s also for us how these stories were constructed and written early on, they were certainly from well a nonindigenous perspective in many instances and for us, and certainly for me, it was unpacking that and trying to put an indigenous understanding back into what was actually happening at this particular point in time.
V: Can I just jump in there? ‘Cause you just saying that makes me think how did I first hear about them? And I used to work at Cornstalk Bookshop which is an antiquarian bookshop and I was given like the very fun job of cataloguing all their Aboriginal collection and that’s where I came across the Charles Barrett book which we used quite a lot and that was published in the 1950s, I think and that had a collection of stories and that’s probably where I first learnt about it but they were really told in that 1950s Ripping Yarns kind of style so we had to kind of write against a lot of that as well.
J: You mentioned look, some of the characters in the book and the book opens with a fascinating story of probably the first wild white man to go into Aboriginal Australia, John Wilson or Bunboe.
M: Budboe, yeah.
J: Now he goes off and lives with the Dharug people on the Hawkesbury River about six or eight years after the first fleet arrive so he’s the first white man to go rogue with Aboriginal people. Importantly he comes in contact with a great Aboriginal warrior and John, this is one of your favourite stories so maybe you can tell us a bit more about –
M: Yeah, yeah well certain Bunboe or Wilson, certainly when he became free – I mean the British were certainly put off because they said you know the accounts were that he seems to prefer to live with the blacks and away he went you know and he spent a lot of time with Aboriginal people there and certainly Pemulwuy was one of the people that he come into contact with although in regards to that there was fairly limited material in regards to the Pemulwuy connection. But one of the fears the British had was with convicts or you know people that’d you know would – then went out into the bush was informing Aboriginal people that certainly British guns weren’t as effective as what they – certainly the noise of a gun and shooting someone, certainly alarming as that was but with someone like Wilson Bunboe saying that look, it takes them an awful long time once they’ve fired that shot you know and if you distract them and draw their fire well then they’ve got to reload this thing and it takes quite a bit of time.
So there was a real issue for the British at that particular time and a number of others went with Wilson as well at that particular time and certainly the guerrilla campaign that Pemulwuy instructed which was very, very effective at that particular point. But he wasn’t the only one, I mean there’s you know early convicts were taking boats and finished up at Port Stephens and had children there and there was a white woman who was perceived to have you know gone to live with the blacks and that alarmed them as well, I mean so they sent out search parties which became a common feature in later accounts as well as the you know the missing white woman in the wilds who’s got to be rescued.
J: So Bunboe goes to the Hawkesbury, lives a couple of years with the Dharug people and then he comes back to the colony.
M: Yeah, he came and went a number of times and he was then – it was certainly –there was trouble with the Irish convicts at this particular time and he’d got into their idea that if they went for X amount of days marching or off into the wild they could reach China so there was lots of the Irish taking off into the wilds and the British were alarmed by this. And then with Bunboe Wilson they thought it’s really good if we take an expedition out and actually take some of these Irish prisoners and show them that there is you know no route to China and Wilson was a guide to that. And – but they took a couple of expeditions which you know they went out to what is present day Penrith and they went out there looking for salt, they found salt –
V: Found salt.
M: Found salt. You know and –
V: Which was very important.
M: Yeah, that’s right at that particular point in time so – but he was very effective as – that was recognised as well, that he was a great guide and knew the country and his connection certainly with Aboriginal –
J: And salt is obviously important because they could –
J: - preserve their food and wouldn’t have to rely on cargo coming through.
V: Cooking, you know.
J: Does John Wilson learn any Dharug language or does he invent his own sort of pigeon English?
M: We certainly hypothesise that he’d had to have learnt language, I mean but there was also –
V: There was that story about how he was trying to convey to the – when he was first sort of encountered by the British he was trying to explain to them that the Aboriginal people were very unhappy with what was going on so they think he was – well we think he was probably – the Aboriginal people probably saw him as a useful intermediary so they wanted him to speak for –
M: Speak – a broker across the divide so to speak so yeah and that you know you’d recognise that as a you know an important you know connection.
J: And the first chapter which is carried through all the way to the book brings up the way that white people would move into Aboriginal communities and there was this notion of reincarnated relative –
M: Yes, yes.
J: - and that’s followed throughout the whole of the book and John Wilson pretends that he is the son of quite a famous woman in the clan. And he is accepted as her trueborn son.
V: Well you see you say pretence but that was - Collins said that so David Collins was a big officer of the colony and he’s the only one that they’ve got for John Wilson, he’s the only –
J: Okay, source.
V: Source and he was a very pompous person, he’s quite annoying, David Collins, and he really didn’t like Wilson at all and you know he thought he was an idle young man and so on and so he scoffed and said oh he’s tricked these poor you know these poor woods natives ‘cause the British also decided that the Aboriginal people that they were friends with on the coast, Bennelong’s mob and all that, that they were the smart Aboriginal people and the people along the Hawkesbury were not so smart because they weren’t friends with the British. So then he decided that Wilson had tricked the Hawkesbury Aboriginal people into thinking that he was a returned dead person and that he – and he actually – Collins said that he thought Wilson got this idea from the fellows who went up to Port Stephens because they were regarded as deceased returned relatives. But the timing was wrong because Wilson was already involved with the Aboriginal people before the fellows from Port Stephens came back so it’s just Collins, it’s just Collins saying that.
M: Yeah and it is a recurring theme and certainly that – and Aboriginal people clearly did see that connection and there is quite a number of accounts in regards to that, yeah.
V: But we have to sort of – when we were writing we always had this problem with this white perspective that was very dominant that really all the time wanted to see white people either as you know kind of tricking Aboriginal people and somehow like you know mastering them. Or if they clearly weren’t doing that like Buckley then well they must be completely stupid. But could never – they could never kind of just give indigenous people credit for being you know like reasonable human beings so –
J: And throughout the 13 stories there’s very limited exposure to weapons so a lot of the survivors who were either shipwreck survivors or marooned didn’t have any weapons. Do you think that that was part of the process of being invited into Aboriginal society because they didn’t have the weapons which either the coastal Aboriginals would have seen through the marines? So there was a lot more friendly dialogue from first contact.
M: Well in many of these instances it was the first time Aboriginal people were meeting you know white fellas so they had no idea of the weaponry of or the result or the carnage that could come from something like that so there is that. I mean again in many of these instances these people were completely dependent on Aboriginal and Islander people who saved their lives so that’s the really important thing here so I don’t think there was that real you know –
V: Yeah and they were – I mean John’s compared them before to refugees because they were you know they were shipwrecked often, they were often starving, they were really like in dire straits so you know they were being rescued, really, so that’s quite different from people who are out exploring with guns so –
M: Yeah, these people were in desperate straits in many respects so you know –
V: But a lot of the time the white people are initially really frightened of the Aboriginal people, they’re really frightened and they often think they’re going to get eaten so they’re always like in this default position.
J: And what happens to John Wilson?
M: Well he – well the story at the end is that he was speared you know for a transgression but –
V: That was Collins.
M: That was Collins again so did that really happen? You know you have to try and work your way through, that he’d done something and broke Aboriginal custom or law over women, over a fight with another guy over women – that’s the story coming from Collins – and he was subsequently speared but you know we’ve just got to weigh that up again coming from someone like Collins.
V: Eric Willmot did a novel about Pemulwuy which you might know, it’s quite a famous book and in – and in his reconstruction he had John Wilson being killed in a – attack on the Aboriginal group so – but there’s – the only – all that we’ve got is David Collins saying oh he is no longer with us ‘cause he got speared in the middle of like you know misbehaving.
J: And then you go into the – Chapter 2 is a great story of William Buckley around 1803? The newly formed colony of Port Phillip down on the coast of Victoria and he spends some 32 years –
M: Thirty-two years, that’s right.
J: - with the Wathaurong people and again that story is not well-known in Australian history.
M: Well he’s probably one of the better-known you know well less known amongst the wider you know audience of Australian history but up you know Fraser is clearly the most celebrated most known but Buckley is just a remarkable character and figure, I mean –
J: So how does Buckley end up down on the coast of Victoria?
M: Yeah well he and another – it’s five, five convicts I think it was that – they take off from Port Phillip and escape in the bush, one of them gets shot and they go tramping along the coast and the other three then say oh look, we’re going to go back and Buckley goes on alone. And he just lives on the coast on his own ‘til he’s found by three Aboriginal men. He’s a big guy, he’s over six foot, he’s a giant of a figure. He was actually in the British military himself before he was found guilty of – well they convicted him of stealing a piece of cloth which he always said he was not guilty of the crime but he was then taken in by Aboriginal people. But he picked up from a gravesite a spear of a you know major warrior and this is where you know he became known as –
V: [Muringurk] 31:54.
M: [Muringurk] you know which was the name of this warrior because when he came back they all thought that okay, it’s – he's returned you know and then it was the process of learning language and they were amazed that you know obviously he’s forgotten all his skills when he’s died and come back and had to be retaught. But he just fitted in so well with community in regards to that but the Buckley story, the accounts that came later was – again the way these stories were written really sensationalise – I mean there was stuff about cannibalism and Aboriginal warfare. And one of the things that - certainly with the warfare that has you know struck me and same with Vicky was – and it’s appeared in a number of accounts – that there was 150 Aboriginal men in Buckley’s group and 300 from another tribe and it was a major battle you know and you know that all these blacks were you know in this incredible battle.
But when you go through the material and in Buckley’s account only three people died you know three people die in this massive battle. What sort of battle is that? Clearly this is Aboriginal law, someone’s broke the law and certainly you can see that with Lycett’s images in that book as well where there’s an instance of a person who’s broke the law, he has to stand up with a shield and dodge and duck spears being thrown at him. And for me this is a similar thing that was happening down there, I mean you know you don’t get three people dead when there’s 450 in complete battle. And it was the same thing with the cannibalism accounts as well that like to highlight and sensationalise that Aboriginal people and Islander people were cannibals. And there are some accounts of you know some of that stuff but in this instance here, and it was – what’s his name? Was it [Basido] 33:58? In central Australia? I think it was [Basido].
V: Yeah, yeah, the mortuary [rise] 34:03.
M: The mortuary accounts of that if a great warrior had died they did sort of cut off a piece of flesh and that was consumed as if to keep this person alive. They weren’t going out killing people and cooking them and eating them, you know? It’s a you know –
J: So he spends how long? Thirty-two years –
M: Thirty-two years.
J: And he learns the language?
J: And the book unpacks each experience then in the same sort of criteria. You then talk about customary rights and how those people perceived the custom. What custom and ceremony does he bring back to the white colony?
M: Yeah, this is an interesting thing with many of these stories, he clearly went through initiation process, he could speak the language fluently. He became a great hunter as well you know so in regards to that – he came back at the time when Batman’s group arrives down there and that’s when he walks back into the nonindigenous world and appears back on the scene. And he’s certainly perceived at that point and it’s a bit like Bunboe Wilson, this person from the British side can be used to connect and barter connections with Aboriginal people. So there was that but he didn’t say a lot about those cultural initiation processes and there was a lot of this you know this is you know secret stuff or you don’t speak about that sort of stuff. So there was things sort of raised as – directed towards Buckley, I mean that again – what Vicky said – he’s got to be stupid because he doesn’t know anything without recognising he wouldn’t speak about it.
V: He did – he was very scathing of the whole Batman Treaty, he was like no, no, this – the Aboriginal people have – they’re not giving you their country, that isn’t what’s happening. And he was quite an advocate for Aboriginal rights too to the extent that he got driven out and ended up having to go to Tasmania.
M: They forced him out because that was – they wanted him out of the road because he was so outspoken on Aboriginal people and their rights so certainly settlers there, they didn’t want him there, yeah.
J: And then we move into the Torres Strait and we have John Ireland and William Bowley.
V: Yeah, yeah.
J: Who in 1836 were rescued – were rescued - sorry, they spent nearly two years in the Torres Strait before being rescued in 1836 and their story, the way you tell their story, they actually have some really good insights into island custom and the differences between the islands and ceremony and they’re moving around across the Torres Strait from Murray Island to Darnley Island and various other islands. Maybe just tell us a bit about their story.
V: Well they’re one of the most difficult stories we had to deal with because you know there’s a lot of sensational stuff about cannibalism in their story and that –
J: So how do they end up in the Torres Strait?
V: They were on – there was a large –
M: Ship –
V: Ship with – there was about four young boys on it, there was two – the two orphans who were the Doileys, the two, they were the children of the –
V: The – was passengers?
V: Yeah? From India and then there were the two cabin boys. There was a shipwreck and the survivors from the shipwreck ended up on this island and they got picked up by some Islanders who took them to another island and then massacred them and they killed everyone except for the boys, the young boys. So we had to look at what was going on there and it looks to us as if it might have been a retribution massacre from some previous incident that’s happened and we speculate that perhaps they left the boys alive because they were so young because all the adults got killed. And the people that they were living with then didn’t treat them very nicely from their accounts but they got integrated into – there’s a very elaborate trading culture in the islands so the different groups trade different things and they ended up in this situation where they got moved from one island to another through different trading voyages. Some people – [Erob] 38:43 Islanders, I think it was?
M: Yeah, yeah.
V: [Dupper] 38:46 came and bought them for a bunch of bananas, bought the two surviving boys so one of the Doiley boys survived and one of the – what was the other one?
J: William? William O’Dooley?
M: Yeah, William O’Doiley and John Ireland.
V: John Ireland, that’s right, John Ireland’s the older – John Ireland’s the cabin boy and the young boy, William Doiley, he’s only about three or four so the other two ended up disappearing but these two got adopted and then they got treated very well and they got completely integrated in – and they didn’t want to go back –
M: They didn’t want to go back.
V: They got forced back – particularly the littlest boy because he’d been completely integrated into the community and so he was crying when they took him off –
M: Yeah, he was devastated. [Whacky and Nuas] 39:40.
V: [Whacky and Nuas], that’s it. So John Ireland ended up writing a little book about his experiences and he really put a lot of emphasis in that book on how well that they were treated and said that he was writing this book as a message to whites to really deal well with Islander people. But of course the message that got taken up was the original massacre instead so –
M: Yeah. And – yeah.
V: So yeah, that was probably one of the stories that I found the most difficult to deal with.
J: And again with this story, John, which some of you picked up, you said before is that there was a protection of culture and cultural rights that were provided to them, that they seemed to hold back on their story.
M: Yeah, there was a lot of that throughout a lot of these stories, JP, so it was a recurring theme through the stuff as we were you know putting it together so yeah. But again as Vicky said I mean those boys didn’t want to go back, I mean that’s how – the acceptance they’d had into the families and the culture up there and again as Vicky said the really young fella there.
J: Which brings us to the well-known story of Eliza Fraser, shipwrecked after spending some six weeks with the Aboriginal people.
M: At best.
J: On the present day Fraser Island which I think most people think is named after her but it’s actually named after the husband.
V: That’s right.
J: Fraser Island. Can you tell us a bit more about her story?
V: Oh so she’s – because - there’s many, many different accounts of Eliza Fraser, there’s an Aboriginal account of her so one of the few people that you know you asked me earlier about oral histories, there is an Aboriginal oral history of Eliza Fraser so it’s trying to like put all the – trying to work out -
J: What years are we talking about here?
V: 1836 so she was on a merchant ship and the shipwreck ended up – there was quite a lot of them, actually, there was – you kind of imagine Eliza Fraser on her own but there was actually like – something like –
M: Heaps of them.
V: Heaps of them, it was like – and when they went on shore - they made a raft from the ship and got onshore – she took two trunks of clothing with her. Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that strange? When I started going through it I was like this is really weird.
M: But they come in handy.
V: They come in handy but –
J: You have this great quote in your book where you say it’s hard to imagine what the local Aboriginal people made of these white strangers from the sea with their inability to feed themselves and their seemingly inexhaustible supply of summer clothes and bags which they offered as currency for fish.
V: Yes so they dragged these things ashore, they were totally scared of the Aboriginal people, they didn’t – they actually had a fight – her husband fought with the crew because the crew wanted to land and the husband was like no, no, there’s Aboriginal people there, we can see their fires and the crew were like we’re landing. Okay, we’re going to take all these clothes with us because then we can trade them for food. And it ended up in this incredible farce, really where she says – they had guns and they held the natives at bay but somehow the natives kept throwing them bits of fish and so you know you just – and they were like well we’re going to trade you clothes –
M: Reciprocity going on here.
V: Yeah so here’s clothes and the Aboriginal people take the clothes and go and hide them away and come back. But eventually it got quite hostile and the survivors didn’t know what to do, they ended up splitting up into two groups, they were fighting amongst themselves and they all sort of set off down the shore trying to walk back and they started to get harassed by Aboriginal groups all the way down. And they kept getting attacked for their clothes which is even stranger so they kept trying to trade clothes and they kept getting like basically beaten up and give us some more clothes. And there’s one particularly funny scene where two of the guys that went off separately you know were like okay, here’s our underwear and everything, they just end up sort of on – standing there naked and then they start to – like things start to get a lot easier once they stopped the whole here’s some clothes business. But they ended up getting surrounded by what – it looks like a sort of consortium of tribes, gathered them all up in one place and then they start splitting them up into groups and they all get sent off to different groups.
So it looks to us like the Aboriginal people were watching them coming down going what are we going to do about these people? They did have some contacts with whites already so there was already some hostility there but Eliza Fraser, they leave on the beach all by herself so all the other survivors are male, they all get taken off, she’s left on the beach by herself. And then all the accounts piece together, a group of Aboriginal women come down to the beach and surround her and start throwing sand at her and laughing hysterically which Eliza Fraser finds very traumatic. And then they set off back into the bush and really there’s nothing much left for her to do so she follows them and eventually they take her to this woman who is an invalided woman who’s somehow quite wounded, ulcers on one side of her body and she’s got two young children and Eliza Fraser’s basically said you hang out with her and help her.
M: You got to help this old woman.
V: Yeah. Now the oral – the Aboriginal oral history says that the people started to pass her down and the women were covering her with stuff to protect her from sunburn and they also put markings on her to say she’s not to be harmed but they wanted her to go, they wanted to move her down. And so she keeps getting sort of like moved along and we kind of worked out she’s getting moved all the way down Fraser Island then across to the mainland and she’s at the mainland when the party that’s looking for her –
M: The British.
V: - finds her and they find her because a couple of the other survivors managed to get back and so this party comes up. And then there’s a whole lot of different stories about who actually rescued her but one of the things that I really liked was finding the account by the guy who’s officially credited with rescuing her that no-one else thinks did but he wrote this really wonderful essay about his rescue of her and it’s so poetic to read, it’s incredible and it’s like this is a convict and he’s writing this incredible stuff. He was a – he had lived with Aboriginal people and he was very obviously integrated with Aboriginal ways so he had all this kind of – was very hybrid kind of writing about you know tracking down this white woman and bringing her back.
J: So she makes it back to civilisation. Why do you think her story was so attractive to the nonindigenous community?
M: It’s again the sensation, it’s the white woman being with the savages in the wild and I mean you know surviving that particular story. I mean and there are a number of accounts that come out, those sensationalised ones but Vicky was you know really connected with the first account when she was interviewed you know in herself when she was brought back, was the most soundest one to go on.
V: Yeah so when she was first returned she gave a statement about her experiences and it was quite lowkey. She actually spent more time talking about how horrible the crew were to the Aboriginal people but she did say that they treated her horribly, the Aboriginal people, she said they wouldn’t let me in their huts even when it was raining which I found quite sort of – I found quite kind of pathetic, really.
J: So she spends six weeks on Fraser Island –
V: At the most.
M: At the most.
J: But –
V: Very hard to pinpoint it, we think maybe more like four weeks.
J: Another documented shipwreck survivor is Barbara Thompson and she spends about five years living with the [Curraline] 48:11 people just about Cape York Peninsula after being shipwrecked and she is later discovered by the Rattlesnake, HMS Rattlesnake party going through.
M: This is Vicky’s favourite story.
V: Yeah, Barbara Thompson’s my favourite story so she’s – yeah, she is a real interesting character so she migrated to Australia with her family as a child. Her father was a Scottish man, some kind of trade, I can’t remember off the top of my head what it was but she was only about six when they came to Sydney and lived a very hard life. Her father ended up in jail at one point and she ran away from home to get married and this was probably about the age of 12 which really stopped me in my tracks and I had to spend quite a lot of time looking up what the laws around marriage and things were at that time.
J: Age of consent was 10 years old, wasn't it? Yeah.
V: Age of consent was 10 at that time in the British – under British law and marriage was 12. So – and working class girls had to survive in those days. But anyway so she runs away with this fellow and they go up to Moreton Bay where Brisbane is just starting up at that time and he hears from a guy about a wreck up in the Torres Strait and says let’s go up and salvage it and so this is another little insight into that time period, that this is how people kind of got by. They would go to shipwrecks and take stuff off them so –
J: Salvage crew.
V: Yeah, yeah and it was just kind of semi-criminal activity too. So up they went and got caught in a storm and everyone drowned except for Barbara and some – there were some Kaurareg men fishing and they were out turtling, it was turtling season and they called out to her to wait and just hold onto the ship and then when the storm passed they came out and brought her over to their island. And she was immediately adopted by an elder there called [Peckwy] 50:21 who was quite a senior man as his daughter who’d died. And then she – so she was only – she must have been about 13 or so at that time and then she was – lived with them for the next four years and had this very happy life. And then when she was found by the Rattlesnake – so unlike Barbara – unlike Eliza Fraser no search party was sent out for her or anything but there was a surveying ship going around the top of Cape Yorke and the crew had actually stopped at Cape Yorke so they’re not at the island, they were doing their washing and so forth.
And they ran into – now she already knew they were there because all the islanders knew that the whites were there and she begged to be allowed to go over and see them so she did want to go back and see the white people. And so that’s how she came back to them. As soon as the whites found her – they were completely stunned to find this gorgeous 17-year-old girl so they made quite - comments about oh she’s not bad-looking you know so that was interesting too. And they said to her well do you want to come back? And she appeared to be very ambivalent about it but she basically said I’m a Christian, I have to come back. The people that she was with weren’t particularly happy about her going.
M: Her brother –
V: They didn’t want to her to go, lots of people coming onto the ship and they were saying to her – they thought that she was being kept prisoner on the ship and they were trying to encourage her to leave. But she went with them but the thing about Barbara Thompson was she got on really well with the ship’s artist and she told him lots and lots and lots of stories about her life with the Kaurareg and he wrote them all down and it’s like a full-blown oral history of her life and she’s got this great voice.
M: I think Susan’s going to tell us –
J: Yeah, we’ve got to wrap up.
S: Thank you to all of our guests this evening for this fascinating discussion and we just have time for a couple of questions, I thought I’d leave five minutes in case –
J: That time went by quick.
S: - anyone wanted to ask some questions. If you’d like to raise your hand someone will bring you a microphone and if you don’t mind waiting for the microphone that would be helpful. So do we have any questions for any of our guests this evening?
A: Thank you, it was fantastic, really, really interesting. I was just interested in the story about William Buckley when he returned and as you say the nonindigenous population were kind of not happy about the message that he was bringing from the – the way those interactions were going. Was there ever any sense that he – an option for him was to go back to the Wathaurong?
M: I mean I think he says at one point, I mean it would be far better off if the land was returned to them and everyone left you know so I mean that was his comment. He did go back with a couple of groups and he was – the people there with him recorded the point that the Aboriginal people were just absolutely in raptures that he’d returned again and there was lots of hugging and talking and it’s like a family member has returned so clearly there was a very, very strong connection for him. And I think like quite a number of them that - Buckley in Tasmania died later on in life I mean as a lonely man. I mean he married but obviously must have been so frustrated and disappointed and look back on that incredible 32 years of – was a very rich experience and lifestyle, yeah.
V: They don’t seem to go back, the ones we look at and I think that’s partly because by – like the frontier’s moved on, there’s nothing to go back to, it’s like you know –
M: I think they recognised what was coming and certainly Buckley was able to see bang, the impact –
V: Moral was really strong on that too.
M: Moral was very strong on that, yeah.
A: I’m a Melbournian and I’ve had a bit of an interest in Buckley from some time back. There is a saying you’ve got Buckley’s hope. I think it comes from Buckley after he came away from the Aboriginal community and he was around the early settlement, a confused – as people saw him – and isolated man. I see a pattern in your stories, that the impact that these people who’d had experience with Aboriginal people is related to their status in the settler society. Fraser – what’s her name?
A: Yeah, was obviously high up in that society so she had a great impact on the – what she had to say whereas Buckley was probably never very well educated, he was a convict, I think, when he went bush so you know he – whatever he had to say would not have much impact and likewise the young children in the Straits so – so that’s a pattern I see, that the people of higher status that had experienced living with Aboriginal people had more to say that the settler society would take notice of.
M: I think Buckley is sadly portrayed as not being intelligent and he’s certainly from a you know a lower rung but I mean he was a British military man and a sergeant, fought in the Napoleonic wars and the reality is from my understanding you know he was quite intelligent you know and quite smart and his reason for not talking were the reasons that we’ve spoke about before, that he – and Buckley’s choice or what is it?
V: Buckley’s chance.
M: Buckley’s chance has been discredited as being connected with Buckley, actually.
V: It’s more of a – there’s some word for it, the way that you get different anecdotes’ views so that the Buckley’s – that expression comes from another story which I can’t remember off the top of my head but they kind of fuse the Buckley story.
M: Fuse, yeah so it’s tied to William Buckley, it’s become tied to William Buckley more than fact.
V: As you can understand why ‘cause it just seems like –
M: I think too there’s humour in some of these stories as well, the moral one, I mean you’ve got the British there that have been wrecked and suddenly there’s a big group of Aboriginal people come over so the British – these people that have survived surrender, they put all their hands up and the Aboriginal people see that and they surrender too, there’s got to be sort of custom going on so you’ve got this picture of these two groups standing there with their hands in the air. So – but there’s lots of stuff like that as well, yeah.
V: Yeah, one of – in Eliza Fraser’s story, one of the – a white guy’s – who is the only one that has any kind of positive experience with the Aboriginal people, he’s – says – he like works out how to talk to them which is just to sit beside them and comment on how they’re laughing. So we have these sort of visions of this man sitting at the fire and there’s Aboriginal people just sitting around laughing and then going – getting on with them now.
S: Unfortunately we’ve now run out of time but I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself this evening like I have and I encourage you to visit the Treasures Gallery of course which is open daily from 10 ‘til 5 to view some of the things that Matthew was talking about. And this ends the formal part of the evening but I hope you can join us for refreshments in the foyer and John and Victoria have kindly agreed to sign copies of Living With The Locals which is available from the Library’s bookshop with a 10% discount which I know we’ve already told you. And also copies of his previous book, True Life in the Shade. Thank you.
J: Minor commission tonight.
M: Can I just say thank you, too, Susan and also thanks to the Library on behalf of me and Vicky and also JP, the black George Negus.
S: Thank you.
End of recording