Marcia Langton. Foreword, The Way We Civilise. [FULL TEXT]
I am a descendant through my mother’s father, the late Fred Waddy, of the Jiman people of the Upper Dawson River region in Central Queensland. My view of Australian history is fundamentally shaped by this fact of my genealogy and my investigation of the fate of my grandfather’s nation.
The Jiman people were routed following an incident in the Hornet Bank homestead on the banks of the Dawson River in 1857. Vigilante groups rode throughout the area for months afterward indiscriminately slaughtering my ancestors. By 1917, the few surviving Jiman people and their associates remaining in the area were incarcerated at the Bundella reserve, also on the banks of the Dawson River, under the charge of a superintendent.
In 1925, they were marched by force with their belongings on the bullock-drawn days to the present site at Woorabinda Aboriginal community some 400 kilometers to the north in Central Queensland. The last of the old Jiman people who established Woorabinda was a man who continued to reside there until he died in 1996. His funeral was attended by police who arrested a number of the mourners. There are other Jiman elders who continue to reside throughout Queensland and elsewhere in Australia.
In December 1996 some of us reunited at the Taroom Town Hall overlooking the upper reaches of the Dawson river to discuss a proposal for a major dam construction in our country. We visited the trench graves at old Bundalla, now a grazing homestead, and contemplated those who are buried there, and who may be inundated by the dam waters. They were the victims of epidemics, thought to be the ‘Spanish Flu’ and possibly other influenzas.
Few Australians know the history of their nation as it is told by the colonial files and memoranda. They have had instead a diet of mythology and jingoistic revisionism. I was confronted in 1990, while serving in the Senior Executive Service of the Queensland Public Service, with the possibility of doing a simple ting to disrupt the Australian Silence and amnesia about the fate of Aboriginal nations such as my own. Ros Kidd contacted me and asked if she might have access to Departmental files to carry out research on the administration of Aboriginal affairs in the State. I arranged for her access to the files within the limits of Government policy and looked forward to the results. She was the first scholar to approach me with such a request.
Her timing was fortunate. After her thesis was examined it became apparent that she had unearthed the evidence of systematic abuse of Aboriginal rights, and this evidence came to be used in a wage justice case bought by a group of Aboriginal people of Palm Island in the far north of the State. Because of her careful research, their case before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commision was successful. However, the Queensland Government rejected the recommendations of the Commision and the Palm Islanders will now seek wage justice before the federal court. Dr Kidd suffered assertions from Queensland Government that her work misrepresented matters, while she made her thesis available to Aboriginal people and in particular to assist the Palm Islanders. Scholars of Aboriginal affairs in Queensland rallied to support her, many understanding from their own experiences just how difficult it is in Queensland to comply with the requirements of scholarship and integrity.
In a thorough and compelling way, Dr Kidd’s work corrects the ahistoricism which plagued the vision of Australia as the land of the ‘fair go.’
It is therefore gratifying to me to commend, to what will be I trust a wide readership, this account of the administration of Aboriginal affairs in Queensland from 1840 to 1988. Because of her work, more people will doubt the school textbook version of Australian history, which positioned Aboriginal people as the dark historical backdrop to the grand adventures of ‘explorers.’ This account does not tell a history of the ‘savages’ and unnamed ‘natives’, but it is restitutes Aboriginal people as human beings with a known past. Her examinations of the colonial memoirs and memoranda tells of lives carefully documented in the files of the various Aboriginal Protectors and their successors.
Dr Kidd’s detailed analysis of documents throughout the twentieth century opens up new perspective for our understanding of race relations. This knowledge is essential if we are to counter the regular eruption ill-informed ‘race debates.’ Her critical revelations of government operations of recent years should give pause for thought to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Queenslanders alike.
More Aboriginal people will be able to go to the sources of Dr Kidd’s thesis with a new understanding obtained from reading this book. Good history, such as Dr Kidd writes, can have the effect of assisting in the pursuit of justice. I thank her for her courage, persistence and scholarship.
Director, Centre for Indigenous, Natural and
Cultural Resource Management
North Territory University