There are good things on TV…

Yes, there are so many cringeworthy shows, some of them unaccountably popular too. Can’t be bothered naming them! You know what I mean. But there are so many gems too. For example, I have lately caught up with replays of The Recording Studio on ABC. And last night SBS offered an absolute treasure: Struggle Street Season 3.

The controversial SBS documentary, which was criticised and labelled “poverty porn” when it first premiered in 2015 documenting the lives of people living in the western Sydney suburb of Mount Druitt, returned for a third season on Wednesday night.

This time it explores the lives of individuals living in Ashmont and towns across the Riverina region — an area distinctly affected by the ongoing NSW drought.

“It’s absolutely gutting watching this,” one viewer wrote on Twitter.

“This should be mandatory viewing by everyone in government. My heart breaks for our country,” another said.


See Meet the participants of season 3 of ‘Struggle Street’.

Last night we met:

Barry and Rosey

Barry’s family have been dairy farmers for a century and a half. Barry, 54 and his wife Rosey, 49, with their two young children, Annabella, two, and Lincoln, five, live in Deniliquin in the southern Riverina. As the drought stretches on relentlessly, their farm is on its knees. A lack of government-allocated water, escalating costs and the fixed price of milk have culminated in desperate times for Barry and Rosey. Rain is their only chance of salvation. Can they stay afloat long enough to save their farm?


For over four decades, 72-year-old Robert, known as Bob, has lived on the road, cycling to jobs from rural town to rural town, mostly living in a tent or makeshift lean-to. But since sustaining injuries when he came off his bike, he’s been forced to stay put. When we meet him, he’s living in a caravan on the edge of North Wagga Wagga and dealing with ongoing medical conditions. Facing the prospect of having to stay put, Bob is not taking well to the idea of giving up his itinerant lifestyle.

Mason and Katherine

Mason and Katherine live in Tolland, five kilometres from downtown Wagga Wagga. The suburb has developed a bad reputation due to its high unemployment rate and growing crime. Mason is looking for work and Katherine is stay-at-home mum to two-year-old daughter, Suzianna. Their home is a drop-in centre of sorts. Katherine’s taken in two pregnant teenagers and also helps Mason’s partially blind best mate, Ethan. When their home is broken into and ransacked, Katherine questions the environment in which she’s raising her child.

This is truly REALITY TV — a very healthy dose of reality it is too. A must watch.


Some images of my part of the world

… and a recommendation. Following my last post, I must recommend A History of Aboriginal People of the Illawarra 1770 to 1970 (2005) and Murni, Dhungang, Jirrar: Living in the Illawarra (2009), both free to download from NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

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And here are some evocative images. The first is based on “Native Encampment Illawarra 1843”, a painting by John Skinner Prout. The second is “Entrance to Illawarra Lake from the sea” (1840-46) by Robert March Westmacott. The third is self-explanatory, from the book above.

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201 years ago at Minnamurra River

Between Shellharbour, my father’s birthplace, and Kiama. See Random Friday memory 22 – Beethoven in Minnamurra. Last night it featured in WIN local news.

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A memorial has been set up marking the Minnamurra Massacre of October 1, 1818.

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Here is an account from Mike Donaldson, Les Bursill and Mary Jacobs, A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 2: Colonisation, Dharawal Publications, Yowie Bay, 2017.

The fate of the people of Illawarra was sealed by a notice from the Governor in the Sydney Gazette of 28 September 1816. Those who have obtained promises of allotments are hereby required to avail themselves of the approaching occasion of the surveyors being on duty in Illawarra to get their locations marked out to them and for this purpose they are required to meet the Surveyor General at the hut of Mr Throsby’s Stockman in Illawarra, or the Five Islands district, at noon on Monday, 2 December 1816.

In the hut of Throsby’s stockman, at what now is the corner of Smith and Harbour Streets in Wollongong, that fateful meeting resulted in 2,100 hectares of Dharawal land being given to five non-resident gentlemen. These grants were practically free and each landholder was provided with convicts to do whatever work his stockmen required. The formal stealing and occupation of Dharawal land had commenced.

But taking the land by legal fiction was one thing, securing it was another. In October 1818 Lieutenant Weston, land owner at Dapto and Cornelius O’Brien, formerly a stockman at Sandon Point and now the overseer of a property at
Yallah, organised a group of seven labourers and convicts. Unusually armed with muskets, cutlasses and pikes, they headed to Kiama supposedly to fetch two muskets lent to a group of people living on the Minnamurra River. According to Young Bundle, who was long trusted by the British, the posse killed all the people at the camp.

Word of the massacre spread rapidly through the community. Responding as one, they very quickly returned all the guns –– quite a few –– that they had borrowed from the whites, removing that excuse for further acts of evil.

The attackers admitted only to wounding a boy in self-defence. After a sharp letter of protest from Charles Throsby to Governor Macquarie, the murders were investigated by D’Arcy Wentworth, the Principal Superintendent of Police, along with other magistrates. They took no action against the killers despite a letter from Governor Macquarie to D’Arcy Wentworth expressing his “surprise, regret and displeasure” at their findings.

This process of land alienation was repeated in Shellharbour where another small group of white men met on 9 January 1821 to give to and receive from each other more Dharawal country. Very soon, D’Arcy Wentworth, the colony’s Principal Superintendent of Police, Principal Surgeon and founder of the Bank of NSW, owned more than 5,000 hectares of mainly Wodi Wodi clan land, in addition to the land he already owned elsewhere. And the clearings continued.

So endearing: Poster Boy



Those posters are by Peter Drew, an Australian artist (b. 1983).  Last month BlackInc Books published his autobiography Poster Boy.  Fortunately for me Wollongong Library acquired it on 13 August.  So quick!

The publisher’s blurb:

45420509._SY475_Peter Drew’s posters are a familiar sight across Australia – his ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’ and ‘Aussie’ campaigns took on lives of their own, attaining cult status and starting conversations all over the country. But who made them, and why?

In this irresistible and unexpected memoir, Peter Drew searches for the answers to these questions. He traces the links between his creative and personal lives, and discovers surprising parallels between Australia’s dark, unacknowledged past and the unspoken conflict at the core of his own family.

Packed full of Peter Drew’s memorable images, Poster Boy is an intelligent, funny and brutally honest dive into the stew of individual, family and national identity. It’s about politics and art, and why we need them both. And it’s about making a mark.

I really have found the book irresistible!  The personality that comes through is so attractive. And so honest, as another reader on Goodreads has noted.

Honest as fukk and raw as ya mama’s favourite blue steak. Some real good quotes about the way the world be for real for real. Well done Peter Drew, whoever the hell you are, two first names do not unmaketh the man after all, thanks for writing this – I got a lot out of it.

There is an Epilogue “Ten Rules for Great Propaganda”.  With this blog in mind, not to mention Facebook and Twitter, I rather relate to, and will more consciously practise, this one:

Irritate Both Extremes

Try to pull your audience towards the centre by irritating people at both extremes of an issue. Unless you’re being attacked by the extremists on both sides, you’re doing something wrong.

As Molly Meldrum would say, “Do yourself a favour…”

Free E-book from ANU: The Lives of Stories

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.