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5 years ago

A Place in the Past: Pilkington and van den Berg on the Moore River ...

A Place in the Past: Pilkington and van den Berg on the Moore River ...

Colonisers relied on written sources, ong>theong> ‘whitewashed’ chronicles that have domong>inong>ated knowledge transmission ong>inong> European cultures ong>andong> excluded Aborigong>inong>als from maong>inong>stream Australian history. More than just nostalgia for ong>theong> Eong>denong>ic harmony of pre-modern ong>inong>nocence lost, Pilkong>inong>gton’s version of first contact reclaims a place ong>inong> ong>theong> past for her ancestors. Her narrative ong>inong>verts colonial stereotypes. In ong>theong> mutual misunderstong>andong>ong>inong>gs that characterise early ‘deals’ between whites ong>andong> Aborigong>inong>es, ong>theong> settlers are irrational, brutal, duplicitous, promiscuous ong>andong> thievong>inong>g. The Aborigong>inong>al people are lawful, honourable ong>andong> generous compared with ong>theong> sealers ong>andong> colonists, who treat ong>theong>m as part of New Hollong>andong>’s vegetation: eiong>theong>r as a resource for overexploitation or as ong>inong>-eradicable pests. Despite ong>theong>ir dehumanised status ong>inong> later Western Australian law as part of ong>theong> country’s flora ong>andong> fauna, Pilkong>inong>gton’s ancestors are more ‘civilised’ than those who sought who to civilise ong>theong>m. Their cooperative, communal lifestyle compares favourably with ong>theong> Englishmen’s rationalised brutality, ong>andong> disproves ong>theong> social Darwong>inong>ian philosophies of ong>theong> day that deprived ong>inong>digenous people of ong>theong>ir humanity to justify ong>theong> seizure of ong>theong>ir long>andong>. Follow ong>theong> Rabbit-proof Fence ong>andong> Rosemary Van ong>denong> ong>Bergong>’s No Options, No Choice are set ong>inong> a bleak period ong>inong> Australian colonial history, a time when assimilationist policies sought to complete ong>theong> genocidal work begun by settler vigilantes at first contact. 4 With ong>theong> commencement ong>inong> West Australia of ong>theong> Aborigong>inong>es Act of 1905, ong>inong>digenous people were no longer ‘wildlife’ under ong>theong> law, but slaves to ong>theong> pseudoscientific whims of a ‘Chief Protector’. A Chief Protector had wide-rangong>inong>g powers, ong>inong>cludong>inong>g ong>theong> authority to forcibly remove children from families ong>inong> order to assimilate ong>theong>m ong>inong>to ong>theong> lower orders of white society. In ong>theong> words of Chief Protector A.O. Neville, ong>inong>digenous children were to be traong>inong>ed for a future of menial service to white society by a department of native affairs that stood ‘ong>inong> loco parentis to all ong>theong> coloured people’, as ong>theong>ir ‘guide ong>andong> aid until time proves ong>theong>m able to fully take care of ong>theong>mselves’. 5 Government legislation separated children from ong>theong>ir parents, prevented ong>theong>m from speakong>inong>g ong>theong>ir own languages, ong>denong>ied ong>theong>ir culture ong>andong> sent many ong>inong>to a kong>inong>d of slavery. In ong>theong> report on ong>theong> Stolen Generations – Brong>inong>gong>inong>g Them Home – it was estimated that ong>theong> number of ong>inong>digenous children abducted by government fiat was between one ong>inong> three ong>andong> one ong>inong> ten over a period of a century (no distong>inong>ction was made between part Aborigong>inong>al ong>andong> wholly Aborigong>inong>al children). ‘Most families,’ ong>theong> report said, ‘have been affected by ong>theong> forcible removal of one or more children.’ 6 The price of ‘protection’ was high: complete submission to colonial authority ong>inong> every sphere of life. Aborigong>inong>al children, ong>andong> ‘half-castes’ ong>inong> particular, were ‘rounded-up’ by authorities ong>andong> forced to live under white people’s supervision ong>inong> missions set up to deal with ong>theong> ‘native problem’ (more than forty missions were established ong>inong> WA alone). ‘Mission’ was a loose term used to describe Aborigong>inong>al ong>andong> Torres Strait Islong>andong>er reserves set up by ong>theong> government ong>andong> various Christian churches. To facilitate ong>theong> colonial takeover of ong>theong> country, many ong>inong>digenous people were imprisoned ong>inong> ong>theong>se poorly run, often disease-ridong>denong> prisons. When he was six, Rosemary ong>vanong> ong>denong> ong>Bergong>’s faong>theong>r was taken from his Aborigong>inong>al moong>theong>r; he knew only ong>theong> ong>inong>stitutional life of a State ward until he married Rosemary’s moong>theong>r. He never saw his moong>theong>r agaong>inong>, ong>andong> did not meet his extended family until half a century later. Rosemary recounts ong>theong>se stories ong>inong> her writong>inong>gs. 7 2

Moore River Native Settlement, where ong>vanong> ong>denong> ong>Bergong>’s parents met ong>andong> married, was typical of a mission system that survived ong>inong> Australia until ong>theong> early 1970s. Situated on ong>theong> outskirts of white communities ong>inong> order to discourage racial mixong>inong>g ong>andong> to position Aborigong>inong>als ong>inong> radical alterity to white society, ong>theong>se settlements were often over-crowded ong>andong>, ong>inong> many cases, brought togeong>theong>r traditional groups of people whose cultures proscribed contact. As Susan Maushart describes it, life ong>inong> ong>theong> Moore River compound was ‘dreary, ong>andong> at times downright degradong>inong>g’. 8 Children ong>inong> ong>theong> barred dormitories slept two ong>andong> three to a bed on bug-ong>inong>fested mattresses of coconut straw, frequently soaked with urong>inong>e. The diet consisted of sour bread ong>andong> fat, watery stew ong>andong> unsugared black tea. There were no toilets ong>andong> only a few buckets, so many used song>inong>ks ong>andong> toilet floors (which were covered with song>andong> for ong>theong> purpose). Militarystyle routong>inong>es made for senseless order that aimed to disciplong>inong>e ong>inong>mates’ lives. Alarm bells rang for wake-up at 6.30am, breakfast at 7.30am, roll call at 8.30, dong>inong>ner at 12.05, roll call at 1.30, tea at 5pm ong>andong> dormitory confong>inong>ement at 6.30pm. There was nothong>inong>g for ong>theong> children to do after ong>theong>y were locked ong>inong> ong>theong> dormitory ong>inong> ong>theong> evenong>inong>g. Education ong>andong> traong>inong>ong>inong>g were rudimentary or non-existent. Based on a report by a government psychologist, education was restricted to ‘practical lessons’ ong>inong>cludong>inong>g how to make a bed ong>andong> a fire, to cook, use cutlery, ong>andong> how to blow one’s nose (‘nose drill’). Authorities considered teachong>inong>g children beyond ong>theong> level of third grade as ‘impossible ong>inong> 75 per cent of cases’, because of ong>theong> children’s alleged ong>inong>ferior mental capacities: it was ‘unrealistic to thong>inong>k that ong>theong>y can compete with whites’ (62). In ong>theong> official language of assimilationist policy: [T]he long term objective of native education [was] education for livong>inong>g ong>inong> full citizenship as part of ong>theong> Australian community. Education must embrace ong>theong> spiritual as well as ong>theong> cultural, provide for traong>inong>ong>inong>g ong>inong> health ong>andong> hygiene, ong>andong> should ong>inong>clude preparation for work ong>andong> oong>theong>r useful endeavours to fit ong>theong> ong>inong>dividual to maong>inong>taong>inong> a position of ong>inong>depenong>denong>ce ong>inong> ong>andong> service to ong>theong> community. 9 Hong>andong>icapped ong>inong> ong>theong> Darwong>inong>ian race for limited niches, ong>vanong> ong>denong> ong>Bergong>’s ong>andong> Pilkong>inong>gton’s ancestors were oppressed by ong>theong> colonisong>inong>g discourse of scientific racism – psychologists’ ong>andong> police reports, welfare assessments ong>andong> bureaucratic memos – which iong>denong>tified ong>theong>m as part of a degenerate population unable to govern ong>theong>mselves. In her faong>theong>r’s voice, Van ong>denong> ong>Bergong> writes that ong>theong> relationship between her parents was restricted by ong>theong> authoritarian, paternalistic surveillance that was a hallmark of assimilationist policies at ong>theong> time: Aborigong>inong>es had to account for ong>theong>ir every action oong>theong>rwise ong>theong>y got ong>inong>to trouble. Although I was now an adult Aborigong>inong>al man, I still had to account to Mr Neal at ong>theong> settlement, who ong>inong> turn passed it on to ong>theong> powers-that-be ong>inong> Perth. This constant monitorong>inong>g made it hard for me to see Rose. 10 In ‘Problematizong>inong>g Aborigong>inong>al Nationalism’, Julia Martong>inong>ez comments on ong>theong> irony of this situation: ong>theong>se harsh aspects of ong>theong> government’s ‘protection’ policy produced ong>theong> first seeds of Aborigong>inong>al nationalism: ‘In keepong>inong>g with ong>theong> White Australia Policy, it enshrong>inong>ed ong>theong> prong>inong>ciple of racism which gave ong>theong> Aborigong>inong>als no choice but to consider ong>theong>mselves as a “race apart”’. 11 3

Torsos by Dutch sculptor Eja Siepman van den Berg Beauty in ...