Whilst researching my new book on Captain John Scully of the 80th Foot, erstwhile Resident Magistrate in the fledgling Swan River Settlement, I've also been visiting museums and reading Rosendo Salvado's records of that era.
In doing so you cannot avoid coming face to face with the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
These people had been living in the Great Southern Land for 30 to 40,000 years and had been husbanding the countryside with great effect. No, they didn't build any great monuments, but they did leave some of the most amazing rock drawings that pre-date anything found in Europe by tens of thousands of years! These people were not stupid savages - as Salvado himself notes - as can be seen from their ancient drawings. It is worthwhile remembering that the first telegraph operator in Western Australia was an extremely bright Indigenous lady!
The illustration above demonstrates the kind of justice that Governor Davey was trying to impose in the brutal early years of Tasmania - or Van Demien's Land as some called it. Whilst the poster suggests equal punishment for blacks and whites, what occurred after that would probably now be called "ethnic cleansing".
But we should also remember that these military wars were conducted under the auspices of the British Empire - not the Commonwealth of Australia.
The other fact to consider is that the life of the Indigenous Australian was not always that of the "Noble Savage". Salvado recounts in his books and writings - and he was definitely considered to be one of the most enlightened people ever to interact with Indigenous Australians - how the indigenous women had a terrible life and were treated appallingly by their own people. The female experience of european missionary influence in those early years was probably one of relief from a life of serfdom or slavery.
Sadly, many male europeans who were starved of female company acted no better than savages and took these poor women for sex slaves themselves - and there can be no excuse for that .... ever...... for anyone.
But along with european settlement came farming and a reliable food source. Yes, it did destroy the land the indigenous were used to hunting on and it did destroy the creeks and rivers too. But food did become more plentiful as the years rolled on and was probably the reason that cannibalism disappeared from Australia. Once again, Salvado is our source and he reports that in dire circumstances the natives would choose someone to kill and eat so that the rest could survive.
In summary: in war - whether declared or undeclared - there is evil committed by both sides and history is written by the winners. In Australia we still have to hear the stories of our indigenous folk - the good and not so good - so that we can understand them. If we do pause to listen to them we will learn so much that we have forgotten about this wonderful country and they will at last feel that they have been heard loud and clear. We also need to hear more about the amazing people who came out and worked with them to help them adapt to the new world order that was about to engulf them.
I'm hoping that my book about Scully and the work we are doing with the Pilgrim Trail will allow the Indigenous to tell their stories and let the current generation of Australians to hear what they have to say. Then, perhaps, all Australians can embrace the fact that we are one nation under the Great Spirit.