Blackfellows

24 January 1938 The Sydney Morning Herald

By Percy S. Allen

Royal Orders to Phillip.

". . . . You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.

And if any of our subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary interruption in the exercise of their several occupations, it is our will and pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the offence..."

The aborigines of Australia are fast dwindling, ever on the march westward, and, as far as this State is concerned, the children of to-day, in all probability, will live to see the last full-blooded black man and black woman in New South Wales.

What the native population numbered, when the continent first was occupied by the whites, can only be guessed, but, though we have little trustworthy data to go upon, it must have been considerable.

To-day, the full-blooded aborigines in all Australia number approximately 50,000, most of them in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

In New South Wales the number of full-blood blacks has shrunk to 858, and in Victoria to less than 80.

And how little has been done, while it could have been done, to arrest this mournful, if inevitable, decline!

Although tile aboriginal is, for the time being, holding his own in the far regions where white settlement has not yet really penetrated, elsewhere in the remote parts where he has been "civilised" he leads a precarious and not very happy existence, and his fate is sealed.

The tribes in the so-called aboriginal reserves along the North Australian coast and the islands adjacent to it are being demoralised by the alien pearl-shellers.

As settlement spreads, the aboriginal must give place to the white man.

The occupation of the land by pastoralists and graziers deprives him of his means of subsistence, and whether he fights or accepts the situation the result is the same.

If he attacks the whites or preys upon their flocks and herds, when the now unoccupied areas in North-western Australia and the Northern Territory are taken up, we know what will happen, and if he makes friends with the new-comers his destruction through vice and disease is not less certain.

Our treatment of the blacks in the early days and in later days, though it was relieved by many individual instances of kindness and consideration, darkens the pages of our history, No doubt they often were troublesome, but had they not a grievance, too?

Without being given any opportunity of acquiescing in the occupation of their territory, with no possible appreciation of what the white man considered to be his rights, with their hunting grounds ruined, themselves treated as vermin, is it any wonder that the aborigines with their primitive weapons put up what resistance they could, though to no purpose?

Too weak to demand justice, the blackfellow was often shot down, or given flour with arsenic mixed with it!

The loss of the white man's sheep or bullocksóand this not always was due to the blacksówas not infrequently deemed sufficient justification for murdering them in cold blood. It is a pitiful chapter in our history, and what happened in New South Wales happened elsewhere in Australia.

The last of the Tasmanian aborigines died in 1876. While Governor Arthur's great "drive" against them failed, there were not many left when a few years later a Mr. Robinson, who had been appointed their protector, gathered the remnants and took them to Flinders Island in Bass Strait.

The so-called half-castes now settled on one or two of the islands in Bass Strait are the offspring, generations removed, of the sealers and native women.

A table on this page shows how sadly the aborigines have fared during the past half-century, but the process of extinction was well advanced when the first enumeration was made.

Not only were the tribes reduced, and in some cases wiped out, by troops in Governor Darling's time, as well as by settlers who had to defend themselves against their savage incursions, but other enemies of the blacks were the convicts who had escaped into the bush and the assigned servants who also were convicts.

They frequently were guilty of the grossest abuses and brutality, and when the blacks, unable to discriminate between the good and the bad invaders, attacked the settlers, stern reprisals followed.

At Myall Creek an entire tribe was captured by a body of shepherds and stockmen and murdered in cold blood.

People were not soft and sentimental in those days of the chain-gangs, of flogging for minor offences, and public executions, and when we read in the old files of the "Herald," from John Fairfax's day onwards, the protests against the barbarous treatment of the blacks, we may be sure that the poor wretches were dealt with very atrociously.

When a report came to Sydney that the blacks on the Limestone and Maneroo Plains - the vicinity of the Federal Capital Territory - had speared cattle and sheep, we find the "Herald" declaring that the report was likely to be without foundation, being probably made "to cover the delinquencies of the men in charge of their masters' stock."

It was proved later that this was so, the blacks often being blamed and massacred for offences they had never committed.

Europeans, as we know, if they were placed in the same circumstances to-day, not to speak of those days, equally wronged and equally shut out from redress, would not, in the great majority of cases, exhibit half the moderation and forbearance that was often shown by these poor, untutored tribesmen.

All in vain was the very touching appeal of the aboriginal chief to some pioneers who ascended upper parts of the Clarence, formerly known as the "Big River,"

"Why do you come so far hither to disturb us? Return to your houses in the valley. You have the river and the open country. Be content! Leave us this part, and go away!"

So the blacks are going, and a vast amount of intelligence has been allowed to run to waste.

Does anyone doubt their intelligence? If so, let him see a good tracker at work, and he quickly will change his opinion.

I have known some wonderful blackfellows. Take, for example, the late Douglas Grant, a Queensland aboriginal, adopted by Mr. Grant, of the Australian Museum.

He was a draughtsman at Mort's Dock, and afterwards was one of the most efficient wool classers at Belltrees, Scone.

He was a Shakespearean student, and served with distinction through the war, several of his letters, graphically narrating his experiences, being published in the "Herald" of the time.

Then there is David Uniapon, a South Australian aboriginal philosopher, inventor, and musician, a brilliant example of what training and environment will do.

There is also the Reverend James Noble, a full-blooded aboriginal, who has been ordained as an Anglican clergyman, and is working at one of the mission stations in north-western Australia.

These three cases alone, and many more could be cited, illustrate what can be done to raise the status of the aboriginal and equip him for the tasks of civilised life.

Everyone must be ashamed of our past treatment, and no one denies that the lot of the blacks in Australia to-day is capable of a good deal of amelioration.

Various mission bodies are doing what they can to atone for the guilt and neglect of the past, and, as far as the remnants in New South Wales are concerned, good care is being taken of them by the Aborigines' Protection Department. The largest collection of full-bloods, some 60 odd, is at Menindie, on the Darling. There are aboriginal stations in various parts of the State, a home for aboriginal boys at Kinchela, on the Macleay River, and a home for girls at Cootamundra.

In this regard, it may be questioned whether we are acting fairly towards the young aborigines in taking them from their parents at the age of puberty and separating the sexes, whose opportunities for meeting, subsequently, though the Department tries to contrive such opportunities, are too few and far between.

In this way, it would seem that the inevitable end of the race is being unnecessarily accelerated.