My free e-books from ANU Press include some excellent publications on Indigenous Australian History, Emma Dortins, The Lives of Stories: Three Aboriginal-Settler Friendships (2018) being one. The three friendships are: Arthur Phillip and Bennelong (see cover), James Morrill and the Birri-gubba people of Queensland, and Windradyne and the Suttor family of Brucedale, Bathurst NSW. The first story is the best known, the third less well known by most Australians. The Windradyne/Suttor story features in Stan Grant’s excellent family story, The Tears of Strangers (Harper Collins 2002), which I read recently courtesy of Wollongong Library.
The Lives of Stories is based on a History thesis written at Sydney University between 2007 and 2012. It blends meticulous research based in documents, some revealed for the first time, with consideration from a number of critical perspectives. I found the result enriched my understanding both of the strictly historical matters and the theoretical frameworks around their interpretation over time and place. In her concluding chapter Emma Dortins says:
When I set out, I was on the alert for change; I wanted to hear the new interpretations and fresh perspectives on these old stories that I felt would flow from their retelling in changing social and political climates. Initially, characterisation of the differences between versions came more easily to me than plumbing the meanings of the many layers of continuity that had been maintained through repetition. I was most flummoxed by a story that had not changed when I expected that it would have. However, I gradually came to see that the patterns of repetition and familiarity told their own story….
It is the activity of sharing stories, and working on their meanings, that can, at times, bring people together to enact social healing, and may also highlight different desired futures. It is the activity of sharing stories that continues to lay down strata of meaning about ancestors, past events and ancient places. These three stories are part of a conversation about the past in which there will be no last word.
Here is the accepted burial site of Windradyne of the Wiradjuri people at Brucedale, near Bathurst in NSW.
I recall being part of a Sydney High history excursion to Hill End back in 1986 — the year of Halley’s Comet — when the bus we were on came to a halt so Brian Hodge, local Hill End historian and then Head of History at Sydney Boys High, could tell the story of Brucedale and the Suttor family. That came back to me as I read the last third of this book. Here Emma Dortins outlines the story:
The opening episode of the First Australians television series concluded with a story of friendship, jointly told by Wiradjuri Elder Dinawan Dyirribang, formerly Bill Allen, and David Suttor, owner of Brucedale, a cattle farming property near Bathurst. Suttor introduced his great–great grandfather, William—a 17-year-old, ambitious to succeed in the new world he saw opening up to him as more extensive settlement was permitted beyond the Great Dividing Range in the early 1820s. Dinawan Dyirribang introduced his ancestor, Windradyne—a fiery young warrior, family orientated and strong in his culture, who met the newcomers with dignity. Wiradjuri people guided William and his father, George, to land with good water, and Brucedale was established. William was left to manage the property with instructions from his father to respect the Wiradjuri. He took these instructions to heart, learning some of the Wiradjuri language. When violence ignited under the pressure of rapidly increasing settler and stock numbers in Wiradjuri country, the ties between the Suttor family and Windradyne and his people held.
A flashpoint came when a farmer offered Wiradjuri people some of his potatoes, but then, when some of the same people returned the following day to help themselves, he rounded up an armed posse to help him ‘defend’ his crop. Several of Windradyne’s family members were killed. Soon afterwards, Windradyne and a group of warriors surrounded William Suttor’s hut at night. William came to the door and spoke with Windradyne in the Wiradjuri language. After extended discussion, the warriors departed. Thirteen other settlers were speared and burned to death in their huts over the following month, and the stock of many farmers scattered, but Brucedale was spared. The settlers retaliated, killing Wiradjuri men, women and children. Governor Brisbane declared martial law in the Bathurst district on 14 August 1824, and the Wiradjuri faced a military contingent, as well as continued action by landowners and their servants.
Eventually, perhaps recognising the toll the conflict was having on his people, Windradyne and 130 other warriors walked to Parramatta to attend the governor’s annual Aboriginal conference and negotiated peace with Governor Brisbane. Windradyne returned to live on his own land, which included Brucedale, and was buried there in the Wiradjuri way. The story closed with Dinawan Dyirribang calling for recognition of the harm and pain caused on both sides of the conflict, and David Suttor thanking the Wiradjuri people for their mercy on that fateful night in 1824; without their goodwill, Suttor said, ‘we might not be here today’.1
As the voices of Dinawan Dyirribang and David Suttor entwine, their story of friendship takes on a redeeming quality, transcending the larger narrative of war of which it is a small part. The viewer is left with a sense of hope…
I really commend this excellent book. See also Professional Historians Association NSW & ACT.
This book emerged from a scholarly endeavour but is infused by Dortins’ experience as a public historian. She has engaged with the academic literature but also with local history groups and, through her own professional life, with the policy and practice of heritage. From this combined experience emerges an important consideration of how history is made and the role it plays in the nation. Dortins does not want to burden these three stories of Aboriginal-settler friendships with too much responsibility but does demonstrate how they contribute to the reconciliation movement. Her book also shows that history cannot be made just once; it must be retained and repeated and reassessed.