The 7.30 Report, the Australian War Memorial, Indigenous history

23 Feb

I am intrigued by a segment promised this week concerning a proposal – and a quick search took a while to find evidence for it – that there should be a memorial associated in some way with the National War Memorial in Canberra to the “Black Wars” in Australia. On Eniar I eventually found ‘Aboriginal wars’ memorial plan under fire.

8 June 2008 – IN the wake of the Stolen Generation apology, the Rudd Government is considering erecting an official memorial in Canberra commemorating indigenous Australians killed by white settlers in the so-called "Aboriginal Wars".

The plan, which was immediately rejected by the RSL, would see a memorial erected alongside existing statues and sculptures to Australia’s war dead on Anzac Ave, leading to the Australian War memorial.

The proposal comes from The Canberra Institute, headed by ACT Labor Senate candidate and former Hawke government adviser Peter Conway.

The government responded last week, advising Mr Conway the proposal would be considered by the Canberra National Memorials Committee, which approves the erection of national memorials on national land.

In its submission, the institute argued that the government’s recent decision to erect a national memorial for the Boer War – "a British Colonial War conducted over a century ago" – meant an "Aboriginal Wars" memorial was also justified.

The submission nominates a number of conflicts to be commemorated, including the Pemulwuy-led Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars from 1790, the Black Wars of Tasmania, the Port Phillip District Wars from 1830 to 1850, the Kalkodoon Wars of North West Queensland 1870 to 1890, and the Western Australian Conflict of 1890 to 1898.

The institute points out other colonial wars conducted at the same time as the "Aboriginal Wars" are already recognised in Hall of Valour dioramas at the Australian War Memorial.

If such a memorial is built, it will face fierce resistance from the RSL. The RSL’s Major-General (Ret) Bill Crews told The Sunday Telegraph the RSL would oppose the plan.

He said there was already a memorial for Aboriginal service men and women behind the Australian War Memorial.

"All of the memorials that have been established generally commemorate the role of Australians in conflicts outside Australia and there is no precedent for a civil-style conflict to be commemorated," he said.

The Federal Government yesterday announced the inclusion of the Myall Creek Aboriginal massacre site, near Inverell, on the National Heritage List at a 170-year memorial service.

What intrigues me particularly from the brief promo for The 7.30 Report is that Geoffrey Blainey seems to accept that “war” is a reasonable descriptor for what happened.

Certainly the Reverend John Saunders had little doubt on that when he preached in the Bathurst Street Baptist Church, Sydney, in 1838, just fifty years after the first settlement.

From The Colonist, 17 October 1838:

On the evening of Sunday last, a sermon was preached at the Baptist Chapel, Bathurst Street, by the Rev. John Saunders, in recommendation of justice towards the Aborigines of New Holland. As this is a subject in which we have taken a warm interest, we feel much pleasure in presenting to our Christian readers an outline of Mr Saunders’ discourse. The text was from a passage, in the 26th chapter of the Prophecy of Isaiah and 21st verse, "Behold the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain."

The duty of the colonists towards the Aboriginal natives of this territory, is the important subject of discourse this evening. It is a topic which naturally falls within the scope of the Christian ministry, for it constitutes a part of Christian morals and is intimately connected with Christian doctrine…

…we have shed their blood. I speak not of the broils and murders which might find a parallel in the conduct of the white toward the white, but out of those extra murders in which so many have fallen. We have not been fighting with a natural enemy, but have been eradicating the possessors of the soil, and why, forsooth? because they were troublesome, because some few had resented the injuries they had received, and then how were they destroyed? by wholesale, in cold blood; let the Hawkesbury and Emu Plains tell their history, let Bathurst give in her account, and the Hunter render her tale, not to mention the South, and we shall find that while rum, and licentiousness, and famine, and disease, have done their part to exterminate the blacks, the musket, and the bayonet and the sword, and the poisoned damper, have also had their influence and that Britain hath avenged the death of her sons, not by law, but by retaliation at the atrocious disproportion of a hundred to one. The spot of blood is upon us, the blood of the poor and the defenceless, the blood of the men we wronged before we slew, and too, too often, a hundred times too often, innocent blood. We are guilty here…

I’ll be interested to see what is said this week.


6 responses to “The 7.30 Report, the Australian War Memorial, Indigenous history

  1. Panther

    February 23, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    As you say, maybe war is not the right word. Genocide may be more appropriate.

  2. Bruce

    February 23, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    I think war is precisely the right word. But I think that I’m probably just being all technical as is usually the case.

    I was taught that when there’s an incursion into a territory, the original culture exists (at least in part) and no treaty has been signed, then a state of war exists.

    Call it a war with an extended ceasefire and a lot of mistakes.

  3. Neil

    February 23, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I am reserved about any language which masks the complexity of what happened. Words like “genocide” tend to have that effect.

    I do not propose on this comment to go further than that, but I do suggest readers search via the category drop-down list in the side bar under “Indigenous Australians” to see what I have had to say, and note also the relevant pages. I’m also enormously impressed by David Day’s Conquest, which has reframed much of my thinking about these issues.

    I am waiting to see what the 7.30 Report comes up with; the episode is on tomorrow (Tuesday) night* apparently.

    * Seems to have been squeezed out in favour of Malcolm Turnbull’s interview…

  4. Neil

    February 26, 2009 at 10:08 am

    It is apparently on tonight (Thursday).

  5. anon

    February 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Bill Crews might be saying that the soldiers from Britain were not “Australians”, but the people who suffered the most from the frontier wars were the aboriginals, who clearly, are the original inhabitants of Australia, the first Australians!

  6. Neil

    February 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

    As anon indicates, this segment has finally been aired!

    …MATT PEACOCK: In his definitive Atlas of Australian Wars, the former Chief of Army and military historian Lieutenant General John Coates describes the frontier conflicts as a “brutal, bloody and sustained confrontation that took place on every significant piece of land across the continent.”

    GENERAL JOHN COATES: Really, you’ve got two groups of Australians who, in a sense, were involved in a low scale Civil War. I mean, we’d arrived in their country, and tried to brush them aside, and they didn’t want to be brushed.

    KEN INGLIS, HISTORIAN: That, from a trained historian who’s also a Lieutenant General seems to me to put it almost beyond doubt and to make what I think is the case for that warfare being recognised by the Australian War Memorial.

    MATT PEACOCK: History Professor Ken Inglis called for that at the launch of his book, Sacred Places, 10 years ago, a proposition the former prime minister John Howard quickly quashed.

    JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER (archive footage, 1998): If you want to be legalistic about it, the state of war didn’t exist. Now, I think the Australian War Memorial is to honour Aboriginal Australians and other Australians who died defending Australia.

    GEOFFREY BLAINEY, HISTORIAN: I think warfare is a legitimate term to use. It’s not about the whole relationship, but about certain periods…

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