Friday, May 09, 2008

Daisy Bates in 1908 - Her Year of Living Dangerously

Daisy Bates in her prime

Recently there have been two forays into the life and work of Daisy Bates – in a review of both for the Sydney Morning Herald, Angela Bennie concluded, “Perhaps the definitive Bates is yet to be written”. Indeed, most recent work has been somewhat sidetracked by her narcissistic problems with truth and her seemingly racist attitudes regarding half castes, cannibalism and the imminent demise of the Aboriginal race. Bob Reece to his credit acknowledges the importance of her work for Native Title cases although, even in Native Title law, remains a resource that has yet to be fully tapped.

In the Battye Library there is a personal file kept while she was working for the Native Welfare Board of W.A. from 1905 to 1910. Her job initially was to record a dictionary but she was adept at turning it into something much bigger. It is clear from the record that she relied on her contacts in the Perth elite, such as her mentor Malcolm Fraser, the Attorney General and her women friends at the exclusive Karrakatta Club. Every year, Fraser lobbied indefatigably for a continuance of her allowance of ₤150. But at some point, everyone who seeks patronage from the elite has to prove or reprove their ‘reliability’. In 1908 Daisy’s reliability came into question.(there's more)

She had almost finished her work by the end of 1907. Her grammar was being reviewed by R.L. Matthews in Victoria she was discussing how the work was to be published with the Government but there was something nagging away about whether she had everything. Most of her informants had come from around Perth or were in the employment of the gentry, and while their information was good, there were some holes. A Mr Jull from Mt Barker had told her that the descent system on the south coast was patrilineal. She hadn’t been to Albany but had heard of Tommy King (Wandinyil) who had been alive since the earliest settlement of the state and was renowned for his willingness to talk and trade.

Arriving in Albany 7 May 1908, she discovered that Wandinyil had died the year previously but Wabbinyet and Jakbum were camped out on the Perth Road and were willing informants. What she learnt from them destroyed her certainties, “I shall be compelled to rewrite six chapters” she wrote to the Acting Chief Protector. “Mrs Hassell has offered to pay for a trip out to Cape Riche.” By the end of the month, she is Esperance asking for more expenses “ I have constantly to supply my native informants with tobacco, tinned meats and sundries”. By the end of July, she had travelled 1900 miles and visited 28 townships through the south coast, the great southern and the southern wheatbelt forwarding invoices for rail tickets and expenses to the Acting Chief Protector.

Her travel diary makes exhausting reading as she literally chases down people from town to town - Collie to Darkan and back Collie and on to Brunswick Junction in 4 days cadging lifts in buggies or on borrowed horses where she could get a side saddle, just to catch up with one group. In this time she records the bulk of her Great Southern “dialects and pedigrees”. She is on a mission now, her eyes have been opened as she has come into contact with other groups in the south west and realized that she has only half the story, if that.

She is in Perth for a week and then she is off again to the Goldfields. Suddenly she has discovered that even within the Noongar (or Bibbulmun as she insisted on calling it) there were different habits and customs, shades of grey and nuance that her white and more colonized informants had elided over. Her trip through the goldfields would be taxing today. She visits 21 towns and travels 1700 miles in five weeks. At Menzies, she wrote “natives afraid of constables and hid, walked some miles next day with some boys and found native camp. Obtained pedigrees … all of them differing from statements of white residents”. She is beginning to risk her reliability.

On her way back to Perth she has a chance to “witness an initiation” at Burracoppin. The Assistant Protector telegrams her to return to Perth forthwith. She writes back, “In view of the proved unreliability of the statements received from white people the Murchison must be traversed…”. The question of reliability is being asked on all sides.

She is back in Perth by the 12th of September, after a trip to Rottnest to follow up with some of the prisoners she is on the train to Nannine and the Gascoyne by the 24th. It’s clear that she is not going to give the protector a chance to stop her. A week later, she is giving a lecture in Meekatharra (proceeds to the hospital) and she drives out to the ‘boolee boolee’ ground. She writes - “ ‘boolee boolee’, a special seed, whose harvesting occurs at this time, gathering of all natives from surrounding districts”. On the train back to Dongara she travels with “2 native murderers from Lawless and Menzies … and obtained p[edigrees]. and some d[ialects]. arrived Dongara midnight.” She is becoming a dangerous woman.

At Mingenew, she “found a Berkshire Valley woman who gave me Jindal and Manara woman’s ped. Had to work with her during her laundry work, walking from washtub to clothesline”. She has discarded virtually all her white informants as reliable sources of knowledge and has recognized the separate importance of women’s knowledge. It would take another 50 odd years for the rest of Australian anthropology to catch up as she blazed a trail for the likes of Olive Pink and Caroline Berndt.

A few days later, at Moora, she finds a ‘native camp’ where all but one of the residents is ‘half caste’. She writes, “Obtained pedigree of native as I consider the half caste information of no ethnographic value”. A viewpoint she was reiterating from Lorimer Fison , the co-author of the landmark book “Kamilaroi and Kurnai” (published in 1880), who had cautioned that “...they had to be ‘continually on the watch’ that ‘every last trace of whitemen's effect on Aboriginal society’ was ‘altogether cast out of calculation’… ”.

Her supposed distaste for half castes originated not from an unthinking prejudice but from her aspiring to follow the dictates of scientific research at the time. It would be later reinterpreted as prejudice on her behalf, because she was so obviously ‘unreliable’. As Elizabeth Povinelli points out, “given time, deeply held moral convictions …[reappear] as simple parochial beliefs, as good intentions gone awry.” Today, in native title cases arguments about the authenticity of “customary beliefs and practices” determine the issue of people’s entitlements due to the perseverance of this belief.

By the time she has finished this third trip she has travelled 5400 miles and recorded 34 dialects from the southern half of western Australia. The protector writes to her at the end of the year that “her employment is to be terminated”. Fraser again intervenes but the knives are out. She spends most of 1909 rewriting her work and trying to negotiate a publishing deal with antagonistic officials who adopt a hard line. No money will be forthcoming. In 1910, the State sees a way out. The noted and reliable anthropologist, Radcliffe Brown is coming to the state and she is to be loaned to him. More importantly, the drafts of her book are to be given to him for him to publish as he sees fit. She writes to the Undersecretary of the Premier’s Department “I regret … my long and arduous labours… have not met with more equitable consideration” and pleads that she could have the material that Brown doesn’t use for a popular book. Eventually she publishes this in her influential book “The Passing of the Aborigines”, but her original work is not published until 1985. The conflict with Radcliffe-Brown is discussed elsewhere and a source of some dissension. Prejudice surrounds Daisy and her works, I hope this article stimulates some discussion of her guts and determination. She is accused of woolly headed thinking more than once by her reviewers but her actions I suspect speak louder than words.


Povinelli, Elizabeth, "The Cunning of Recognition - Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism", Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2002

State Government Personal File, Daisy Bates C.SO. 1023, State Records Office, Battye Library, Perth.

Angela Bennie, book review, The Sydney Morning Herald; 1/3/08; no internet text; this text quoted from [last visited 9 May 2008]

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Small Town Saints and Sinners

In a small city, there is an edge between anonymity and identity where those who don’t fit in, live halfway between madness and normality. I know several quite ordinary saints who conduct miracles over the chook pen.

One looks after her Noongar neighbour’s young daughter while her mum oscillates between speed and prison, she makes sure she the kid gets to school, standing up to the aggro when it comes her way with strength and patience. Another borrows other people’s cars so she can visit 'her boys' in prison, they’re no one’s boys, in actuality, but she can write letters for their appeals or to get them home or just listen to their loneliness. Is she a saint or just misguided as some of the guards think. Her life is guided by spirit voices who tell her what she is meant to be doing for the planet. She’s survived more than her share of tragedies. Whenever I talk to her, I’m left breathless by this other world and the power that she grants it. She makes me believe in miracles.

There are sinners here too, on this edge of town. Narcissistic tendencies get full rein in a place where you can pretend to one more mark that you are poor and misbegotten and can you spare me a dime. This belief, that my view of the world is all that matters, compounds itself as the emo queen screams abuse at the cops and her mother. Her demands get more unreasonable by the minute. She’s just like Putin, seeding the clouds so it won't rain on his big parade. Except she hasn’t got a cloud seeder just some stolen drugs. My narcissistic sinners commit no grand auto thefts; their crimes are against emotion. Stealing hearts and twisting desires to ensure their grandiloquence and the hubris of their miraculous birth.

Fortunately, in small cities and amongst the poor at least, saints outnumber sinners and the disabled and destitute find jobs and friendly shop keepers who keep an eye on their money for them. People remember their names and do what they can because the saints inspire them.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Noongar Resistance on the South Coast

This is a much awaited public copy of an essay I wrote last year. I've just finished rewriting it tonight. I will post a footnoted and referenced version to my website tomorrow.


“And you know Kimmy, it seems a bit funny that different times when our people travel and been going down, some of thems’ cars have stopped and they have trouble, just like the spirits are trying to stop them, and telling them not to go past [Cocanarup].” … “in the darkness a voice said, ‘Oh, what happened at Cocanarup means a lot to us’ ” . In rediscovering his Noongar ancestry Kim Scott published the first written account of a massacre that occurred near Ravensthorpe towards the end of 1881. The wadjela record is fragmentary and oblique, “terrible stories abound” but no one doubts that something happened. The Noongar record, on the other hand, is specific as to circumstances, numbers and names. In order to examine how these two opposing narratives arose I want to explore the genealogy of inter racial murder and violence on the south coast leading up to the 1880’s from the initial settlement at King George’s Sound (Albany) in 1826.

The colonial history of the south coast makes much of the apparently peaceful co-existence between Noongar and the British colonizers that marked the colony’s birth. Garden, in Albany’s official history, records that “during the 1830’s Albany became the showplace of race relations” . In 1833, following the death of Yagan, Gallipurt and Manyat were sent to Perth from Albany to explain to the local population the value of co-operation. Tactfully, they pleaded ignorance of the local language. The “superior intelligence of the Albany natives” , the qualities of the “men in charge” , and the “small size of the settlement” are cited as reasons that here, at least in the beginning, peaceful settlement was no myth even if it was exceptional.

Fifty years later race relations in Albany were very ordinary indeed and conflict on the south coast from Albany to Eucla reached a peak as the local authorities turned a blind eye to massacres, mass murderers and the concerns of authorities in Perth.

This account, of necessity, skims the surface of the Noongar resistance. Some subjects such as the impact of disease and traditional payback are omitted completely. It begins in the last decade of colonial rule and works backwards to the beginning. Like Alice reading the Jabberwocky, we must hold the colonists’ accounts up to the looking glass to decipher them, to see the view from the other side

Cocanerup and other massacres of the 1880’s

In 1881, R.C. Loftie, a gentleman of the “old school” , took over as the Government Resident at Albany. It was the sort of place “where above all a gentleman is required” and he was “highly popular” . On 27 February 1882 he was most put out, having to return “to my office after four o’clock” to respond to a telegram from the Colonial Secretary that complained “about three shocking cases of natives in want” . The telegram had been sent in response to one sent by Campbell Taylor visiting Albany from his station at Eucla. Taylor found the three lying next to the road “within a mile of the town” near Mr Gardener, the birdman’s house. One was a young girl of 19, “lying in a perfectly helpless state of partly from a great boil on her knee which for want of urgent treatment has become a putrid sore”, another “frightfully burnt about the belly and privates…some boys had put some red hot ashes on him”, the third, Towlett, was to die of starvation and thirst within the week . Taylor had complained that the police “made light of” the incident and his willingness to bypass Loftie may have been due to his knowledge of recent events at Eucla and at Cocanarup.

Six months earlier the telegraph station master at Eucla, G.P. Stevens had taken a statement from Geordie, a Mirning man, which he was to forward later to Loftie, as Chief Protector of Aborigines in the district, and which was the basis of a report made by Constable Truslove . Truslove accused the Kennedy brothers and William McGill of a “wholesale system of murder of natives” on their sheep run at Mundrabilla . The Superintendent of Police in Perth thought it was of “sufficient importance” to pass it on to the Governor, Sir William Robinson, who expressed the hope that “Captain Smith will not lose sight of this case” . According to Stevens, Truslove was shown the graves of 16 natives .

Geordie, much later told his story to the young child Arthur Dimer who grew up to be a man of Ngadju and Mirning descent who, in his 70’s, told it Peter Gifford in 1993 . Gifford was able to uncover the few documents relating to this mass murder. He cannot “excuse his [Loftie’s] inaction” in response to repeated reports “over what were, in effect, accusations of multiple murder of Aboriginal people” by McGill and the Kennedy’s .

In March 1880, John Dunn, one of three brothers who had been running sheep at Cocanarup since 1872, was killed.

It was Granny Monkey’s [Ngurer] brother, Yandawalla, that killed Dunn, you know, for what he was doing to the women.
The truth was, Esmeralda Dabb was thirteen years old when Dunn raped her, and him and the overseer were busy satisfying themselves with the young girls and they locked all the old people up in the harness room…
They were shepherding sheep …and…having initiation ceremonies…she went and told the men…and… they come back and they speared him, they killed him. Yandawalla speared him, at Cocanarup.

Next day, when John still had not come back, he [Walter] and Robert set out to look for him. They followed tracks, lost them; found them again. It was two days before they came upon John’s body and signs of a scuffle. The body had a spear wound in the neck and bruising on the arms as though they had been held.

After much delay Yangala (Yandawalla) was put on trial in October 1881, based mainly on the evidence of Dartaban who had previously been accused of the murder by Yangala. “The Attorney-General told the jury the case rested solely on Dartaban’s evidence”. Yangalla was acquitted leaving the Dunn’s “stunned at the result” .

There is no evidence of when exactly the massacre that followed these events occurred but it seems likely that directly after the trial there would have been a strong motive. The following year, Walter and Robert, bought the women of the family, to see John’s grave. They stayed six months before returning to Albany . The brothers may have felt confident of their situation by then but it was misplaced as the following year in September the Noongar again attacked, James was ‘beaten and left for dead… Robert was also attacked by them, but he shot 2 of them Dead and wounded 3 more”

Many of the Noongar accounts claim that they were “given permission from the authorities”, they “got a permit to kill the seventeen people that were residents of that place”, they “bought back the wadjela farmers and two cops with guns” and that “the police were sent up from Albany” .

“Old Henry Dongup…reckoned that altogether there was over thirty people that were killed down there.” All the people living at Cocanarup were killed except for a couple of children (the impact can be traced in genealogies recorded by Daisy Bates and Gerhard Laves ).

The popular “old school” Loftie’s brother-in-law was Maitland Brown who, in 1865, was hailed as a hero for leading a punitive expedition that killed at least 15 people in revenge for the murder of three explorers at Moola Boola . In his first year as Resident Magistrate and Protector of Aborigines in Albany, it would appear that he has ignored one report of a massacre at Fraser Range and possibly actively encouraged another at Ravensthorpe. It is little wonder that Campbell Taylor, felt motivated to send telegrams and strongly worded letters of complaint in February 1882.

In 1883, Albany residents dislike of “newcomers” and resentment towards Perth found voice in the new Albany Mail. They dreamt of separating from W.A. and annexing to S.A . A viewpoint shared by McGill and the Dempster brothers who had taken up the first leases at Esperance Bay in 1865 .

The Dempsters in 1880 had demanded an apology from the Colonial Secretary when he issued a circular banning the practice of “imprisoning natives on the islands” . They claimed that, “our conduct towards natives generally has been such as to merit esteem from the natives and praise from the public in general” . By 1870, the Dempsters had already twice reported to the Colonial Secretary Barlee that it had been “necessary in self defence to take an Aboriginal life”. They were forgiven “so long as no complaint is preferred.” The Dempsters claimed throughout that they had “very little trouble with the natives” . In 1883 outraged when Loftie connived with the Dempsters by giving them “an authority in blank” to care for “sick natives afflicted with measles” enabling the Dempster’s to charge the Government ₤291 for care that Constable Truslove reported to be greatly exaggerated. The Albany Mail accused the Government of short changing Albany by “thousands of pounds per

By 1890, after 10 years of Loftie’s protection, the Noongar population of Albany was reduced to six who dutifully attended the celebrations of Colonial independence (see below). In 1881, Loftie reported that there were 9 “exclusive of course of those in employ of householders who … would appear in the census” but Loftie was clearly in the business of under-reporting, in the same report he states “It is known that there are a few wild natives between Esperance and York but impossible to return the number – not exceeding 50.” Much later, in 1992, it was claimed that these were the last of the tribe (LOTT) and that the 800 or so Noongar residents recorded in the 1991 Census were from ‘elsewhere’ , although at least 33 Noongar burials are recorded in the Albany Memorial Park Cemetery between 1900 and 1935 . What is clear from the record is that many Noongar people had retreated from the town and the hostility that had developed towards them from the 1870’s on. Fanny Taylor, Campbell’s mother records in her diary in 1873 “[Candyup] Bobby came out but bought us no letters; he is afraid to go to town as Mr McGill is said to be in Albany" .

Resistance 1830 - 1890

The events of the 1880’s did not occur in a vacuum. Noongar resistance along the south coast to the spread of colonial settlement follows a pattern that is, in retrospect, evident in the record from the earliest days of colonization. Wadjelas were cautiously evaluated as they moved into new country, an initial test was how they responded to an offer of guidance through local territory . The consequences of cattle and sheep on native pasture and their kangaroo herds were clear from the beginning to both sides.

The Noongar would demonstrate both their numbers and authority to the newcomers, a late afternoon or evening visit usually timed to occur when the men (and their guns) were absent and only women or servants were around was made. At the same time raids leading to the destruction of sheep or stores in significant quantities occurred.

The guerrilla war that followed was mediated by Noongar ideas of payback and individual honour as well as organised resistance . The front line troops were wadjela shepherds and Noongar women and the war was as much about women’s bodies as it was about men’s land. It is striking how this frontline, so much in evidence between 1840 and 1890 on the south coast, is the progenitor of the policies and politics of the early 20th Century.

The Dempsters had ‘pioneered’ the Esperance region in 1866 and had initially settled at Menbrunup on Esperance Bay. By 1873 they had reported to the authorities on three separate occasions that it was ‘necessary in self-defence to take an Aboriginal life’ and in that year “runners with a maintch stick … collected about a hundred men, women and children…” to raid Dempster’s and drove off “between 300 and 400 young weaners” .

Biggins suggests that this is a “new tactic” but it was first employed on the south coast in 1839 against Sir Richard Spencer’s farm on the Hay River when he lost "300 fine toothed ewes and all the lambs out of 500” . It was a tactic designed to forestall the newcomer, at the same time these new farms were besieged as the local Noongar made clear their proprietary rights.

At Augusta in January 1834 Fannie Bussell records “We had a visit or rather an invasion from a number of natives… they seemed well aware of our unprotected situation, demanding bread in a tone of great authority…” Later at Vasse in 1837, her sister Bessie wondered “How will all these wars and rumours end!” It was to end in bloodshed with mass murders in 1837 and 1840. After the first massacre, (over the killing of a calf) her sister Bessy wrote ‘9 were killed and two wounded. No one in the house looks or speaks like themselves’ and after the second she wrote ‘ I fear more women were slain than men...Three women, one man, one boy are known to be dead, but more are supposed to be dying’

At the Hay River in 1840, Spencer wrote “they came in great numbers about the house towards the close of evening” and at Kendenup in 1841, Hassell wrote “the natives have assembled to an alarming number” . However, John Hassell was quick to recognize the value of diplomacy alongside force majeure and, whereas others were all too willing to preach the value of communal punishment following the putative success of the Pinjarra massacre , he recognized the virtue of protecting and rationing those in the immediate vicinity whose land he had usurped while hiring shepherds who were capable of ‘gross acts of brutality’ and who became his front line in the ongoing guerrilla war . This enabled Hassell to report that there were a ‘great many well inclined natives towards the white people… [and to request that] several native constables be made in the district’

It established a pattern. Shepherds became the expendable front line troops in the war against the Noongar. They were often charged with crimes for their actions although rarely successfully prosecuted. The loss of hunting grounds forced Noongar families to work for rations on the farms and enabled the colonists to divide and conquer. By 1840, most districts had two or more native constables who became crucial in the pursuit of the Noongar resistance. But these men risked everything, in 1847 “300 natives carrying fire beside their spears” surrounded a soldier’s house at Kojonup, they were after Bimbert and his brother George who usually stayed with them. The brothers escaped and apparently prospered but with their bridges burnt forever.

On the Noongar side, women became the front line and the war was fought over the right to their bodies. John Dunn was murdered because “the [Dunn] men were messing around with the women” . The ownership and abuse of Noongar women is a constant theme in the documented conflicts along the south coast. In 1862, Anne Camfield and others petitioned the Governor to change the law to make it a criminal offence “for either black or white to take or retain a native woman contrary to the consent of her husband ” because “in this district…the greater part of the serious crime committed by the natives has originated in this manner” .

Suspicion undermined many well intentioned people. Bobbinet went from being a trusted employee of the Graham’s at Eticup (south east of Kojonup) in 1865, to being a hunted murderer ten years later . Bobbinet was accused participating in the murder of a Noongar shepherd called Jacky Mullish in 1874. According to Bill Baker in 1953 newspaper article, he was a “red ragger” who “had always resented the intrusion of the white man” , but according to his family he was framed. The family history accords more with the facts in the contemporary record.

According to the trial record, Lance Corporal Armstrong and trooper Michael Fahey visited a shepherd’s camp at Beenup Swamp early on the morning of 13 January 1875 where Bobbinet was rumoured to be staying. He along with 6 other Noongar men were in the company of Donald McKellar, a shepherd. McKellar had entrusted Bobbinet with his rifle the previous Wednsday. Armstrong rode into the camp with his gun loaded and bailed up, at Fahey’s direction, a “native I [Fahey] have since found is called Bob Guarich” . Bobbinet had grabbed one of the three loaded guns in the camp and fatally shot Armstrong. Fahey was vilified by the police force and dishonourably discharged thus preventing any alternative view to Armstrong’s ‘heroic deed’ . Bobbinet was captured after a full scale manhunt which, according to Baker, was to result in “a trial with all the trimmings and an execution” He was caught by Constable John McGlade and was hanged in Perth, before his execution he apologized for the murder of Armstrong and prayed for forgiveness . His two children were sent to Swan Native Home and his wife Lucy remarried .

Whether or not Bobbinet was on the side of the resistance, it was still active. In 1880, when ‘notorious hut robbers’, Youngie and Tommy shot a man named George Smith east of the Williams River, the posse of four police, several farmers and trackers that pursued them returned wounded and dispirited, having caught only one out of the six in the gang ( which included three women) after 9 days and a shoot out in the marlock scrub . The resistance was not easily quelled.

While the displacement of kangaroo by cattle and sheep, exacerbated by the hunting and export of kangaroo skins, forced the Noongar to depend upon the colonists’ largesse, in 1841 and 1842 another threat emerged. American whalers arrived en masse on the south coast and decimated the population of Southern Right Whales . The coastal people had opportunistically exploited strandings and, latterly, the waste of the whalers as a source of food. In April 1844 the Government Resident wrote, “this season this source has failed them” .

The consequences were quickly bought home to the residents of Albany. Norn, Denin, Bobby and Wylie (the latter on a native constable’s rations for his assistance to Edward Eyre) staged a series of raids over a period of six weeks on every available store of food in the town . So effective was this action that there only rice available by August. Local trackers refused to co-operate and the Resident was forced to send to York for Mr Drummond, the feared ‘protector’ of natives. . However the ringleaders had given themselves up before he arrived, cheerfully admitting in court to their part in the various crimes. Denin cheekily told the court that he was ‘asleep during the robbery of sugar from Mr Warburton’s station but another man put some of it in his mouth’ .

Although various terms in Rottnest were meted out, it is clear that the Noongar men involved were aware of the political implications of their action. Indeed Norn was to become one of the most well known figures around Albany, and, in 1890, on the occasion of colonial independence, petitioned the crown reminding his Excellency “that in the year 1829, all of this country belonged to my tribe…Since that time we have been gradually deprived of our hunting grounds and nearly all our kangaroos have been killed by the white man” He may also have been the pseudonymous Kyan Gadac who wrote in 1855 to the Colonial Secretary “There is a tract of land in this colony which time out of mind belonged to me and my ancestors. I can point out its marks and boundaries and no blackfellow ever disputed my right…it is true I have no title deeds but undisputed occupation, when continued for a long series of years, you white men I believe, consider a just title.” Both petitions ask for blankets and flour - rent in other words.

The colonial perception of peaceful settlement at Albany owes much to the early interactions between a young man, Mokare, and various early officials. Mokare was an uninitiated man with a great facility for language and the nephew of the local landowners at the time of colonization. De Sainson, Nind, Barker, Wilson and Collie left descriptions of the Minang based upon their interaction with him . His role as an interpreter was pivotal in the survival of the colony but he paid a heavy price. He was ostracised by the wider community and he and his family were regarded with grave suspicion for their apparent alliance with the newcomers . Just prior to his departure Barker, the most perceptive of Mokare’s interlocutors was to write,
There are a few tribes or families of the Will's still trying to preserve peace, chiefly those who live nearest to this part, but the great majority have been stirred up to hostility by Patyarite(Woolangoli's cousin) who since his recovery, has been constantly going about exciting wrath & revenge & has persuaded the young men of some tribes to come from a great distance.(Feb 13, 1831)
The resistance had already begun.


“You know why there are no Aborigines living in Denmark [west of Albany], it’s because it’s taboo – there was a massacre”. It was said in a knowing smug voice in 1986 when I first moved to the south coast conveying a privileged confidence. Later on I discovered that there was at least one Noongar family living there, mistaken for Italians probably because of there surname and I could find no trace of any massacre. “The last Albany Aborigines died out around the turn of the century”, members of the local historical society assured me. There were 800 recorded in the 1987 Census and I’ve identified over 33 Noongar graves in the Albany Cemetery from 1890 to 1930 when many people had abandoned the town because of the persecution of Loftie and his ilk. The persecution only intensified over the next 40 years as Noongar people were corralled into concentration camps of Carrolup and Moore River unless they were able to secure work on farms and stay out of the towns which maintained a curfew against their presence until the 1950’s.

There was a massacre at Cocanarup near Ravensthorpe to the east of Albany. “…and that’s why there are no Aborigines here and most of the locals think that’s just fine”, I was told recently, it was the malice that was the message. The massacre had only become a topic of public discussion in the last few years as local Noongar people have begun to record their history. The Noongar historians wanted it recorded and reconciled but the white descendants resile from this confronting possibility preferring the opiate of forgetfulness to the thorns of haunted memory.

The history wars are personal, my family is chasing DNA tests to prove that they have a touch of Aboriginality – preferring to forget that their pioneering ancestor, Harry Broome, left his DNA in the descendants of the Yorta Yorta women he raped before he died, slowly, from tertiary syphilis. The dementia enabled him to forget.

But this forgetfulness hides the knowledge that an irrevocable bridge has been crossed and as Bessie Bussell put it “no one in the house looks or speaks the same”.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Meme of the week

"If Chinese foreign asset growth continues at its current pace, China’s government, the Bank of Russia, the Saudi Monetary Agency and a few Gulf sovereign funds will pretty much be the global financial system."

from Brad Setser's Economic blog

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dodgy bullets and Predator

One reason this blog is going to be a daily thing from now on is because of a bloke who went by the moniker of Predator. The other reason is that the dodgy bullets have caught up with me and I've got metastases(secondaries) from the cancer in my jaw. So far, the count is two one in my spine called 'arthur' and one in my shoulder called 'sinclair'. 

It's kind of a privilege to be able to know that your death is imminent. Although how imminent is still 'a piece of string' and I'm still finding out things, had my second cat scanned today since sinclair still is a bit of mystery.  Optimistically, 12 months give or take a bit of traditional Injibardi healing perhaps. Pessimistically, it depends on sinclair and his other undetected cousins. But I intend to live life to the full - I don't have a 'take it easy' gene and there's too much that I want to say and do.

Predator and his mate stacy

Let me tell you about Predator though. I came across his minimalist website from a link on the old Indymedia sites a few years ago. He was a young bloke, in his twenties when he died from kidney cancer. His passions were anarchy, alternative technology, all kinds of d-i-y science and illegal caving. The last involved exploring the drains and pipes that are found underneath every big city. Sydney his home town has a plethora. I used to catch the underground city loop train from Central station and dream about jumping the fence and looking for those ancient pipes and the Tank Stream. Predator and his mates were way beyond that innocent fantasy, they took major risks to tag and get into places that they were not welcome. A few weeks ago someone was dragged dead out of a sewer pipe near Bondi beach. One the clan.

He was destined to have a short life. The man was a genius with more energy and appetite than any normal human. There is a web site created by Predator and others way back in the late 1990's where they pioneered the use of unix and running their own servers to do web casts from community events. These days we rely upon, unthinkingly, ISP's to provide us with access. These guys grabbed there own DNS space early on so that they could run it themselves from the bottom up. It's become slightly redundant and the site is maintained as an archive rather that an active site. It relied, I think, on Predator's energy and intellect.
He wrote about everything from the information paradigm, 'a light hearted' epistemology, viewing human nature and life as an information system; through to details of his own hair rasing experiments of enhancing his masturbation by applying 20v electric currents at the point of orgasm! But his tour-de-force is his diary written upon his diagnosis up until he could no longer write. Maddeningly masculine in outlook, it is a gripping yarn and tragedy as he regards his disease as a biochemical experiment trying one cure after another, putting up with doctors who can't keep up with his intellect, how the allure of death improved his sex life and finally a few days before his death when he reaches the point of no longer being able to write.

I wont write as personally as him, but I'm inspired by him to use the occasion to record as much of the miscellany of indigenous history and culture and environmental knowledge that I've acquired over the years.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yorgum - a large red flowering gum

Yorgum is "a Noongar name for a large red flowering gum tree with healing properties" and also the name adopted by the Yorgum Aboriginal Family Counselling service( an indigenous run service). Their introductory page contains the following words "yorgum a symbol of grandmother for the family tree", "dwott yorgum kwopping very good walbrininy healing".

I'm recording this as an example of what I was talking about in my previous post - of how the writing of Noongar is taking on a life of its own. Let me unpick some of the words here.

dwott is a word used for various eucalyptus trees. George Moore recorded its use in the 1840's, Moore spelt it twotta . Yorgum is probably derived from Yok(woman) and may also be a name for a specific tree. Large red flowering gum trees are not common on the west coast. The most likely candidate is Corymbia ilicifolia which is generally a small tree. It would be nice if someone could ask the service for me about the origin of this word. My intuition is that it may well find its way more generally into the language.

kwopping is a variant on kwop/gwab - here the -ing ending is used as an intensifier(very). Daisy Bates is enlightening on the variations of this common word in Noongar.

walbrininy is interesting. It's not recorded in any of the early word lists as far as I can tell. But is now quite common in the Perth area where it means 'healing'.


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Monday, April 28, 2008

A very brief history of written Noongar

Words tend to congeal, like blood from a wound, out of the flow of possibilities and spellings. The Noongar language is still flowing across the page redolent with potential, like the earth after the rain.

Tonight I counted 13 different word lists that had been written over the last 200 years recording the southern Noongar dialect as it has been spoken around King Georges Sound since 1801. At a guess, there would be another 30 or more word lists for the whole of the south west during this period of colonization. Now Noongar people themselves are beginning to write the language in their own way, scratching the itch making the blood flow again.

Consider by way of contrast the languages of the Western Desert, these languages have been ‘saved’ partly by linguists writing them down and providing a phonetically based script. Well, at least that’s the linguist’s justification, the actual saving was done by the speakers speaking and the learners learning. What the script and consequent dictionaries and grammars have provided has been a way of competing in the classroom with English. But even this argument is flawed - the descriptive tools of linguists have become the prescriptive tools of the classroom. The clotted words have colonized the poetics of recitative.

Collett Barker, in 1830, wrote about Noongar visitors arriving at King Georges Sound “when they have something important to say they say it in a sort of recitative”, Nind referred to “a chant”. The traditional language was sung as much as it was spoken. When I read this sort of thing, I feel that we have missed out on a high culture where everyday conversation was an art form that would leave the salons of Europe for dead.

Something else happened instead. Unlike the precise dictionaries of the Western desert, Noongar was written down by ordinary people trying to communicate what they thought they heard around them. As a result many Noongar words have solidified into spellings that (in much the same way as English) do not map the pronunciation but are purely symbolic. Thus balga, Palgarup, refer to the grass tree and to a place where grass trees grow; quenda, rather than kwenda is used for bandicoot. In linguistics both sets of words Noongar and Western Desert are considered technically symbolic but clearly the former is more arbitrary than the latter.

The form is also political. The academic spelling was for years, Nyungar, but this was challenged by Noongar people themselves in the 1980’s and so by 1992, the first dictionary produced by the speakers themselves was the Noongar Dictionary. Many Noongar people speak bitterly of being unable to speak their language as children and young people. They risked arrest, one lady I know recalled being put off the school bus for saying something in language. Another spoke of the aura of fear and criminality that surrounded the old people who lived on the edge of the Gnowangerup reserve.“We were too scared to talk to them”. An unfortunate legacy of Daisy Bates was her appellation of Bibbulmun to the people of the south west. Writers like Jack Davis derided this mistaken metonymy. During the 1960’s and 70’s there was a slow and painful process of reclaiming their own name in official and educational publications, of fighting the studied ignorance of racism.

Many people objected to the 1992 Dictionary, especially on the south coast. “That’s not our talk”. The complexities of the dialects were not acknowledged, not through any sense of superiority but more from a lack of time and money. So today a new phenomenon is beginning to occur. As people write stories, signs, lists and posters they are making their own spellings, revising those found in other dictionaries. Two books featured here recently spelt kangaroo, yongker and yongka. In Perth I’ve seen other examples of this fluidity (although I’ve been remiss in recording them). It’s as if each family wants it’s own way of doing things and it’s also a form of resistance. As Luce Irigary wrote… “fluid movements that permeate and resist, but are irreducible to the phallocentric[read colonial] structures of representation”.

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