Daily Archives: December 22, 2008

From Surry Hills Library: Griffith Review Winter 2008 – Cities on the Edge

This excellent magazine has much of interest:

For the first time in history most people in the world now live in cities. This is an enormous change of profound importance. The sheer pressure of numbers will test the old adage, that cities are the heart of civilisation. Many already teeter on the brink of chaos.

Climate change is the great new challenge confronting cities and the billions of people who live in them. The lead essay by outstanding urban planner Brendan Gleeson examines this and other stress points and suggests solutions to make cities better places to live and work. His expansive essay sets the big agenda for a new generation of thinking about the increasingly complex nexus with Nature. Making cities more liveable, more sustainable and more fun is one of the great new global tasks.

The human, cultural and environmental implications of the global drift to cities are evoked in moving essays by outstanding writers including Margaret Simons, Robyn Davidson, Sally Breen, Nadia Wheatley and Creed O’Hanlon. Award-winning short fiction offers an intimate feel for city life.

Highly-functioning cities are inspiring places – they allow creativity to blossom, cultures to flourish and communities to thrive. Getting this mix right is crucial to a viable future for Cities on the Edge.

Other writers include:
James Woodford, Peter Meredith, John Kinsella, Wendy Steele, Kate Fitzpatrick, JT Glazebrook, Gabrielle Gwyther, Adam Aitken, Marcus Westbury, Chris Womersley, Hamish Townsend, Brett Caldwell, Tony Barrell, Jorge Sotirios. Poems by Gregory Day and Geoffrey Lehmann. Photo essay by John Wright.

James Woodford’s article on archaeology in the Sydney area, especially on city building sites, resonated with my own recent “Looking for Jacob” series on Ninglun’s Specials, except that Woodford was looking for Weerong. Where? To quote First Fleeter Watkin Tench:

1st. January, 1789. To-day being new-year’s-day, most of the officers were invited to the governor’s table: Manly dined heartily on fish and roasted pork; he was seated on a chest near a window, out of which, when he had done eating, he would have thrown his plate, had he not been prevented: during dinner-time a band of music played in an adjoining apartment; and after the cloth was removed, one of the company sang in a very soft and superior style; but the powers of melody were lost on Manly, which disappointed our expectations, as he had before shown pleasure and readiness in imitating our tunes. Stretched out on his chest, and putting his hat under his head, he fell asleep.

To convince his countrymen that he had received no injury from us, the governor took him in a boat down the harbour, that they might see and converse with him: when the boat arrived, and lay at a little distance from the beach, several Indians who had retired at her approach, on seeing Manly, returned: he was greatly affected, and shed tears. At length they began to converse. Our ignorance of the language prevented us from knowing much of what passed; it was, however, easily understood that his friends asked him why he did not jump overboard, and rejoin them. He only sighed, and pointed to the fetter on his leg, by which he was bound.

In going down the harbour he had described the names by which they distinguish its numerous creeks and headlands: he was now often heard to repeat that of ‘Weerong’ (Sydney Cove), which was doubtless to inform his countrymen of the place of his captivity; and perhaps invite them to rescue him. By this time his gloom was chased away, and he parted from his friends without testifying reluctance. His vivacity and good humour continued all the evening, and produced so good an effect on his appetite, that he ate for supper two kangaroo rats, each of the size of a moderate rabbit, and in addition not less than three pounds of fish.

Woodford’s essay refers at length to the work of The Australian Museum’s Val Attenbrow – and see too an ABC Book Talk transcript from 2005.

Val Attenbrow was awarded the inaugural John Mulvaney Book Award by the Australian Archaeological Society for Sydney’s Aboriginal Past. A guide to Aboriginal sites in the Sydney region, the book brings together the archaeological and historical records to produce a detailed account of the way of life of the original inhabitants before and during the early decades of British colonisation…

Jill Kitson: What does the archaeological evidence (apart from what you’ve just told us) tell us about the local Aborigines’ way of life before 1788?
Val Attenbrow: I guess it tells us many different things. From my own research I’ve focused mainly on subsistence and the material culture, and I guess it can tell us the range of foods that they ate there, the fact that, around Sydney Harbour anyway, they focused their fishing on getting schnapper, but they also had a wide range of other fish species including brim and tarwhine and flathead and flounder. And that, as well as the fish around the harbour, they also ate a lot of land animals—wallabies, kangaroos, possums, bettongs and reptiles. So it provides us a lot of information about what they ate.
Unfortunately plant remains don’t survive much so we don’t know much about those things from the archaeological record, but the other things that we can find are…and again, wooden objects and tools made from organic materials don’t survive. Mainly we get the stone which would have been the blade or the point component of a composite tool. These days there are a lot more techniques available and we can look at the edge of these objects and see what sort of materials are adhering to them, and from these we can sometimes find evidence for the types of plants that might have been processed, and therefore used in their tools and weapons, or maybe foods that were eaten.
Jill Kitson: How ancient…I mean, what does the archaeological evidence tell us about the length of time this way of life had been proceeding in the Sydney region?
Val Attenbrow: I guess the earliest evidence we’ve got for occupation for Sydney is about 20,000 years in the Blue Mountains, but to my mind, obviously it went back a lot earlier from evidence in other parts of Australia and we just haven’t found that evidence in Sydney, but over that time period we can see that the stone artefacts changed, and particularly as you come down to the more recent periods where organic material survive, we get shell fishhooks coming into the record, about 900 years ago. These shell fishhooks were used principally by the women—or only by the women fishing from canoes—and that suggests that their focus in the foods they were getting might have changed, that things might have changed in the structure of the way men and women interacted in their food-gathering, their strategies changed. So from these small artefacts we can tell quite a bit that was going on in the changes in life…

Jill Kitson: You do talk about the conflicts that occurred and, of course, the spearing of Phillip at Manly in September 1790, and then when Pemulwuy, who we now think of as a resistance fighter, spearing the gamekeeper, McIntyre…that he is leading the resistance against the taking-over of the lands. But nevertheless, there is this curious rubbing along together as well, isn’t there? There’s the friendship between Phillip and Bennelong who was captured and who didn’t remain captured for all that long, who obviously had a very easy relationship with Phillip and even went to Britain with him and stayed there for three years. And I was intrigued to see that Pemulwuy returned for the big initiation ceremony at Farm Cove in February 1795. So what does this tell us about relations as time goes on?
Val Attenbrow: I found it quite complex, and initially difficult to work out what was going on…I still don’t know what was going on in that respect…but initially when I started looking at the journals, my initial interest was in finding out about the foods they ate and the materials they used and those sides of life, and the relationships between the British and the Aboriginal people were less of an interest. But then as I started to write the book they became much more pertinent, and trying to work out whether there was any change over time, which there obviously was, but there was still these differences that were…obviously different people had differing opinions…but as the frontier of the British settlement moved out, so the conflicts moved out as well. So that the people around Sydney Cove had no other way but to accept what was going on there, so the conflicts stopped there, but out in the Hawkesbury where settlement was increasing, there Aboriginal people were still trying to fight for their land. So all the time there was seeming peace in one area but conflict and aggression in another area, from both sides.
Jill Kitson: And these efforts that took place all over empires, whichever European country was trying to establish…it was the effort to try and Europeanise the indigenous people. This happened in NSW but failed, as it failed in most other places.
Val Attenbrow: Yes, there was obviously a firm belief on the part of the British or the Europeans that their way of life was to be emulated, to be taught to other people, and that the countries they were colonising, the people there had to be shown their way of life and to adopt it. But thankfully enough, people have remembered things and still retain their beliefs and have knowledge of them, and therefore, yes, we now have got quite a vibrant Aboriginal community in Sydney who come from all parts of Australia, but also come from the Sydney region as well…that there are still people here whose descendancy goes back to those pre-contact times.

On that last point, see Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield for one example.

See also Indigenous Australia, an education feature from The Australian Museum site.


From Wiki Commons

To quote Woodford: “Sydneysiders have their equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids or the Lascaux Caves, only we don’t look or understand what we’re seeing when we do.” Sydney is the “rock art capital of the world.” There are around 4,500 registered Aboriginal sites in the Sydney area.

According to Woodford’s article, Sydney before the coming of the Europeans supported up to 8,000 people.

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Posted by on December 22, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, book reviews, Indigenous Australians, magazines