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Invasion Day: Ignoring History January 28, 2016

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.

History, we are told is written by the victors. If history is not is not accurate it has little value as memory. Propaganda can be very serviceable. Means have a habit of presaging ends. Orchestrated delusion, or at least failure to address the truth of the past, or worst to embrace ignorance, does not serve the larger of cause of humanity.

Winston Churchill, who seems to have had an opinion of everything, expressed the view:

I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.
Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937

As Howard Zinn noted:

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic-the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.

Spain was recently unified, one of the new modern nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

Almost three hundred years later, “the higher grade of human being” and the great civilization that presumably produced such a person, stepping onto the shore of another inhabited continent, had not noticeable improved. Liam McLoughlin paints the broad picture at New Matilda:

John Pilger calls it “one of the saddest days in human history”.

On the 26th January 1788, The First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip and including 1,000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts, landed in Botany Bay. The British declared Australia terra nullius, or land belonging to no-one, and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Australians.

Within three years of invasion, the introduction of small pox by the British had decimated 50-90 per cent of the Aboriginal population of Sydney.

While “settlement” was the preferred term of historical textbooks of 1900-1970 and contemporary politicians, the terms “invasion”, “occupation” and “warfare” were widely used in letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles of the 19th century.

The 1788 invasion began a 150-year war with Aboriginal people. During this war the invaders were guilty of many massacres.

The murders may have stopped, but the dispossession and alienation of land and culture have not. The attitudes to Indigenous People persist.  There are exceptions to European and specifically British attitudes, including the Quakers, the European Indigenous people who had been subject to violent conversion to Christianity with the destruction of their cultures and artefacts, and those who had been cleared from the land, such as in Scotland. The latter often chose to become the soldiers of Empire. Why did the convicts, who had been been treated little better than slaves, adopt the same attitudes?  One assumes, although I don’t know anything about them, that my settler forebears were similarly imbued with the unspoken, cruel, self righteousness of Empire.

The larger historical context of Invasion Day remains deeply relevant as it continues, often unconsciously, to frame current decisions and actions. Obviously, a Platonic Republic (based as it was  in practice on slavery) is a bridge too far.

As a former Prime Minister seeks to emulate, Winston Churchill in his wilderness years from 1929 to 1939 turned his mind to India to bespeak ignorance about that subject population and their cultural history, which some would claim was richer and older than the callow, cruel West:



1. wmmbb - January 29, 2016

One obvious question in relation to the various examples of European and brutality toward subject and dispossessed people is the role of Christianity, both institutionally and theologically. Education frames our minds whether we are conscious of the process or not.

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