Due to a misunderstanding…


The true story of the coming of white settlement to the Hunter Valley is a story too big for this post. I will return to this history in future when I can do it justice.

This sign in the window of the National Parks and Wildlife office in Scone makes me angry in two different ways.

It makes me angry to read this sad litany of horrific treatment of Aboriginal people by  white people and white officialdom across 150 years. The story rolls out with a sense of detachment; forcible removal after forcible removal, until even those dwelling on the fringe of Singleton are forced out and have to live on the rubbish tip. This, like Gundy rubbish tip, was on the Common. This crown land being their last resort. I am appalled by this history; this is the past we cannot change.

But what makes me most angry, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is the lie being perpetrated, that:

Due to a misunderstanding between the two cultures there was confrontation, resulting in deaths on both sides.

This statement is wrong. It is not the truth of what happened, certainly not here in the Hunter which was, it should be noted, the first place where the white invasion extended after the Sydney basin. Early days, then. It is also not the truth of what happened across the continent. Genocide is not a misunderstanding between two cultures.

Why this makes me so angry is that this comment is not ‘history’. This is not about the past we cannot change. This is about seeking to delude ourselves in the present. To ignore and subvert the past, to reject and disavow its lessons, and to continue to marginalise the place occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within Australia today.

This effort to create a present that is delusional, one that whitewashes the colonisation of black Australia, is not limited to this sign in a shop window in Scone.

Earlier this year my husband and I were astounded when a guide at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra spoke these very same words of comforting denial, ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘deaths on both sides’. Even after we challenged her on it, she stuck to her guns. I guess as the locus of the storm that was the History Wars, the NMA is now concerned to be seen as an institution without a black arm band.

All history is a view of the past as seen from the present in which it is written; it is always a manifestation of that present but its real effect is on the future. As such, this particular delusional present puts the future of us all in jeopardy.

And, by the way, I don’t believe in post-colonialism. It has no meaning in the context of Australia. Australia can never be post-colonial. Only non-Indigenous Australia can be ‘post-colonial’. And I’m tired of the world being made in our image.

As one of the Arrernte traditional owners of Mbarntwe [Alice Springs] said to a friend of mine, a long-time Alice resident:

I know you are a good person, but sometimes I wish all you white people would go back through The Gap and leave our Country forever.

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