Monday, October 13, 2008

To answer that question ... Aboriginal history since we arrived

When I travel, or talk to foreign friends and students, the issue of Aboriginal people in Australia is one that I'm very frequently asked about. Mostly the questions are about the Stolen Generation (sadly well-known worldwide, by the sounds of things) and the current living conditions for Aboriginal people in Australia; occasionally, I hear happier questions about Aboriginal art or cultural traditions.

But when I answer, I usually feel pretty unqualified to do so. I'm sad to say that Australian history - and especially anything before 1788 - was fairly neglected during my schooldays. They taught us heaps about European history and we knew all the significant dates of the two World Wars, and (something that's become useful now) a fair whack of Chinese history, but Australia? Nah, that's a place with no history, or at least that's the impression we were left with.

Anyway, before I ramble on too long, what I want to highlight is an excellent show that's just started showing here on SBS TV. It's called The First Australians and the opening episode screened last night, talking about the Aboriginal reaction when the First Fleet arrived in 1788, and what happened over the next 10 or 15 years; I think future episodes continue up until the Mabo decision in the 1990s.

I learnt so much just from this first episode, and above all that history isn't simple. What saddened me the most was that there were obviously quite a few white people who seemed to have built a good relationship with the local Aborigines and that despite having their land stolen, the Aboriginal people were willing to compromise and build good relationships too. But - my interpretation - a few power-hungry and culturally-blinded whites got aggressive and spoilt it all. It could have been so different.

There's so much more to learn and the great part you don't have to be in Australia to watch it - you can download the episodes from the website (not sure if it's only while the series runs or forever) and I highly, highly recommend that you do!


  1. I missed it last night. Thanks for the reminder. I will download and watch it now.

  2. Nice to read.I will download and watch it now.


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