And everything I have said in my posts so far on Grace Karskens still holds. The book is an absolute joy breathing life into the now very topical area of the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system — include a must-read chapter on floods — but also bringing to vivid life the people, as the title says — officials, soldiers, settlers, convicts, emancipists, men, women, children, and of course the First Australians.
Here is an instance of how a story that would escape the notice of most of us had its significance demonstrated. You see, there was a corroboree at Penrith in 1835, as reported by an accurate but patronising — and I suspect young — reporter in a forgotten newspaper, The Colonist.
Now “Saturday” had indeed been the terror of the Bathurst region, but perhaps you know him as Wyndradyne.
And young Bungary is a son of Bungaree — from whose daughter Sophy, Bowen Bungaree’s sister, my sister-in-law Aileen and her children descend — research there by my nephew Warren.
His, in in my opinion, is a very intelligent face, perhaps more than The Colonist‘s reporter seemed to recognise. While he hit the right romantic notes describing the setting, he seems not to have given full credit to the fact he was being treated to a graphic account of relations between the British and the First Australians. The significance of the red clay — always a danger sign — escaped him. The former and not much loved Governor Darling and the officialdom around him were being given a roasting worthy of Saturday Night Live!
How quaint these savages were! I think — as Grace Harkens makes plain — the true reading is “How perceptive! How clever!” Also how capable they were of adapting their ancient traditions to modern resistance.
This was no “black and white minstrel show” — it was a magic act of resistance. It also seems to have escaped notice that Yellamundy (Yallahmiendi) was a “clever man”, a karadgi, and Jibbinwy (Jabbinguy) was a former resistance fighter “whom Macquarie had imprisoned during the conflicts of 1816.”
Such are some the details to emerge just from two pages of this wonderful book. And more — even in those two pages!
A modern take on the idea of the “clever man.”
Grace Karskens ends People of the River with a variation on this essay, which I cited in an earlier post:
The obelisk was dedicated on the 5 July 1952. This date was deliberately chosen because it was the day Governor Phillip’s party sailed past this part of the river on their first exploratory journey in 1789. The implications are striking: however well-meant and sympathetic, this obelisk marks a kind of final closure, from the day the first white man set the clock of history ticking in this place to the final exit of its Aboriginal people. The monument is about death – not an individual’s death, but the metaphorical death of a race, here on the Hawkesbury – a local, late echo of the old and long-held settler belief that the Aboriginal people were destined to die out.
So, it is strange to stand here at this monument with Leanne, Erin and Jasmine – Darug descendants, whose families are connected to the people who lived on this reserve. I wonder if a more appropriate symbol of the Aboriginal people of Dyarubbin is the ancient fig that clings tenaciously to the rock nearby, roots reaching deep into the river soil.
And to emphasise Grace Karskens’s point about adaptability, survival and continuity, I am adding this — not from the people of Dyarubbin but from other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander countries in the north.
In what I said about Windradyne above I was taking my cue from the report in The Colonist 9 April 1835. And if you look at this plaque on the Suttor property “Brucedale” near Bathurst (taken from the video above) you will think “No problem.”
Don’t worry about the spelling differences; that happens all the time. It is the date I want you to notice.
Now look at this remarkable obituary in the Sydney Gazette 21 April 1829:
Which also seems to be saying Windradyne was a “clever man.” But if he died in 1829, who was it who performed at Penrith in 1835? Or is the plaque not a mistake after all? History is such fun….
See Windradyne (1800–1829) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and take a look at this:
Yet another update:
Thanks for your contribution, Marcellous! Meanwhile I am ashamed to have missed The Resident Judge of Port Phillip’s review from January.
I am not familiar at all with the Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin region, and I found myself having to consult the maps at the front repeatedly. I suspect that someone from New South Wales would appreciate the book much more than a Victorian would. In many ways, these early-contact histories right across Australia are similar in that they are all freighted with a common longing and regret for the closure of opportunities that were once open. But each one is also different, and best known to people familiar with the location, because they are so deeply embedded in ‘country’, and as a result each is particular to itself.
This is a beautifully written book, that has its broad-ranging and yet detailed research interwoven on every page. It combines archaeological, ecological, local, spiritual research that keeps its focus on individuals, in the agency they possess, and the choices they make.
My rating: 9/10
I was drawn in part because of connections; my mother, for one, spent her first years 110 years ago in the Hawkesbury then outpost of Spencer. The Whitfield family were in or on the fringes of Dyarubbin from the 1840s — some still are! And my sister-in-law linked back to one of the great players in the story, Bungaree.
And here is another hour on the book from the author herself, in addition to the one I referred Marcellous to.