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.

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.

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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.

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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.

20,000 years from my window

Another pic from the set in my last post — from my window:

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Last week I revisited ANU Press and downloaded for free several essays/chapters and seven comlplete books or journals. Some of the books have a China/Asia theme, one on recent Australian politics, and four relate to Indigenous Australians. Of the last set one is of considerable local interest, Julie Dibden, Drawing on the Land — Rock Art in the Upper Nepean Sydney Basin, NSW (Canberra, ANU Press, 2019).

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Much of the book is highly technical, but much is more immediate for the interested lay person. I have to admit I was not sure exactly where “Upper Nepean” might be, thinking it a little further west than it is, for it turns out I see it from my window here in West Wollongong every day — the eastern portion at least.

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I didn’t know this, but the Upper Nepean catchment has approximately 810 known archaeological sites. Some are rock shelters, many with markings, others are areas with grinding grooves — I recall seeing such things in the Royal National Park when I was younger.

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How old? “…the south coastal hinterland and adjacent coast were first occupied before 19,000 years BP, and that early occupation of the hinterland ‘appears not to have been intensive’. Throughout the Holocene, occupation levels fluctuated with sites being temporarily or permanently abandoned at different times, and the intensity of occupation varied between sites.” The art pictured above may be as recent as 2-300 years old. Little survives from the earliest period. Keep in mind that there is now general agreement that Aboriginal Australia dates back 60,000 years.

So many nuggets in this book. “It seems to follow that one cannot make full sense of the development of European life in Australia without reference to the structure of racial relations and the persistent indifference to the fate of the Aborigines; in short, without an analysis of the Australian conscience. Part of such a study would be the apologetic element in the writing of Australian history, an element that sticks out like a foot from a shallow grave… The occupation and settlement of New South Wales by the British in 1788, and during the colonial period, was predicated on ‘two quite opposite and irreconcilable requirements … one the need to assure settlers their legal rights to possess land (and dispossess the Aborigines); and the other the moral requirement that the Aborigines should be treated well and their rights as human beings protected’ (Plomley 1990–1991:1)…. Given that the Upper Nepean catchment was largely unoccupied by European settlers, it can be considered to have been located actually beyond, or on the far side of the frontier (cf. McNiven and Russell 2002). Historical records are scanty in regard to Aboriginal use of this land during the colonial period; however, there is evidence that indicates people did retreat to the Woronora Plateau to recover from introduced disease. It is possible, if not probable, that some rock art present in the Upper Nepean was produced at this time.”

Smallpox. “The most obvious and immediate impact following the arrival of the First Fleet was the introduction of disease, the most lethal of which was smallpox (Butlin 1983). Three major smallpox epidemics were recorded in Australia: in 1789, one year after European settlement, in 1829 and in 1866 (Curson 1985). The 1789 epidemic had a devastating effect on the local Aboriginal people living close to the British settlement at Port Jackson, and it was reported that the region was evacuated until the disease had disappeared (Bell 1959:345). At the end of the 1789 epidemic, when Aboriginal people began returning to the shores of Port Jackson, it was estimated by Governor Phillip that smallpox had claimed at least 50 per cent of the population (Butlin 1983). In the years immediately after the epidemic, its effects were observed in locations well outside the 1789 European frontier.”

And this I found quite fascinating, given Wellington is a place I visited quite often in the 60s and 70s, having relatives in the district. “From the late nineteenth-century accounts, the dominant belief at that time in the south-east was in an All-Father being known by various names, including Baiame and Daramulan (Attenbrow 2002:128). These two beings are in some places the one, but with different names, while in others, Daramulan is the son or half-brother of Baiame (Knight 2001:59; Attenbrow 2002:128). In the late nineteenth century, Howitt emphasises the heaven-dominated cosmology that is central to the Baiame/Daramulan belief, and which is described by Swain (1993:203) as a utopian tradition, whereby humans and ancestral spirits are removed to a sky realm…. There is no mention of the All-Father Baiame in the accounts of the earliest commentators in the Sydney region. Swain (1993:145) argues that the earliest mention of Baiame dates to the 1830s, in the Wellington Valley mission, in central western New South Wales, and that Baiame was introduced to that area from closer to the Sydney frontier. Carey and Roberts (2002:822–823) examine in detail the records (many of which have previously been overlooked) from the Wellington Valley mission, and argue that Baiame, and an associated dance ritual, waganna, was a phenomenon linked to the aftermath of smallpox. Their research is also concerned with exploring the intellectual and cultural response to the impacts of disease and death. At Wellington, Baiame was associated with an adversary, Tharrawiirgal, who was believed responsible for the bringing of smallpox because of his wrath due to his loss of a tomahawk (Carey & Roberts 2002:830–831). Smallpox reached the Wellington Valley in 1830, and was particularly severe. It has been estimated that a third of the population died (Carey & Roberts 2002:827, 829). The Wiradjuri, via a range of Indigenous and/or borrowed natural and/or magical explanatory frameworks, began to search for an explanation and possibly control of ‘so virulent a misfortune’ (Carey & Roberts 2002:831). They argue that, from 1830, there is evidence that suggests that one cultural response was the creation of new dance rituals and mourning ceremonies, and that, by c. 1833, these responses had been elaborated into a waganna, or dance ritual….”

You may download a PDF of the chapter that comes from here. The last quote continues:

Missionaries recorded that some dance rituals were held at this time specifically in regard to smallpox (Carey & Roberts 2002:832). Over a period of time they were performed on a regular basis and with increasing intensity and ritual elaboration. By 1835, there was also a shift in focus from smallpox to the issue of sexual access by white men to Aboriginal women and children, and an insistence on the traditional practice of nose piercing (Carey & Roberts 2002:833, 837–838). Between 1833 and 1[8]35 it was also strongly believed, as Swain (1993) similarly documents, that the end of the world was a possibility, and specifically that the world was to be destroyed by flood.

The Baiame waganna cult at Wellington lasted for two years only, and during this time missionaries recorded what Carey and Roberts (2002:843) describe as the formation and transformation of the Baiame travelling cult. They observed major changes in the prophecies. The concern with smallpox shifted to the issue of the sexual abuse of women and children by white men and a focus on the instigation of traditional practices. The cosmology saw a decline in the acknowledgement of Tharrawiirgal, who was regularly replaced by Daramulan, and to a ‘magnification of the authority of Baiame’ (Carey & Roberts 2002:843). The evidence from Wellington is testament of dramatic and swift change in Aboriginal people’s beliefs and concerns, which could take place in a very brief period to time.

It is inconceivable that the Aboriginal people from the Upper Nepean catchment and environs did not also adapt their world view and conceptions of existence to meet the demands of life within the colonial milieu.

I will share more from my ANU trove later, just adding that the slogan “world’s oldest continuing civilisation” often, and not totally wrongly, applied to our First Australians masks a much more dynamic picture, in fact doesn’t necessarily do First Australians a favour. They were not preserved in aspic for 60,000 years after all.

Didn’t clinch the story of my grandma…

You can find quite a few posts on Indigenous Austalians here, some of them dealing with a probable (in my case) family connection and in the case of my brother’s descendants a certain one.  The critical point in my story is knowing for sure who was the father of my grandmother Henrietta. I have renewed a search for that information in the past few days, but to no avail.

You will find among other posts this from 2011: Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection. And this is said grandmother, whom I never met:

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Henrietta Bursill (Whitfield) 1874-1931

Someone rather well known read that post, I think, and emailed me just now.

Wallangang Eorah Muttong Yagunah.

Hello Neil want to know about my Ancestor I can show a male to male line back to
Pemulwuy & his father Bediagal, Tedbury whom was later recorded as Timbere a black Joe a term used  by white people along with young Bundle they were the chiefs of the tribe.

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His family is indeed well-known. He is quoted in a Choice article on real/fake Aboriginal art.

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