Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Jackson’s Track Revisited: History, Remembrance and Reconciliation

Chapter 8

The Bushman's Story: One Last Look

Carolyn Landon

Constructing memory into a narrative is fraught with complexity as the teller is reassessing their life and creating a story of the past for the present. This final chapter explores the relationship of the interviewer and the testifier, asking questions about the influences, assumptions, and attitudes that existed when they first met and how these have changed in the face of new narratives that have been recently constructed about the same events. All of us who try to make sense of our memories and give meaning to our lives through story change the structure and emphasis of our accounts every time we tell them, depending on the context of the telling. If he could, Daryl Tonkin might tell his story differently now. As for those of us who are the listeners, it takes a great effort of imagination to pull our minds around to another’s way of thinking so we can fathom and respect our sources. This epilogue speculates on the changes the listener and the teller might make to the initial story if they were to resume their collaboration.

If Daryl and I were to tell his story afresh, now that time has passed and other stories have been told, would it be very different from Jackson’s Track? We would be better placed to discover the chronology of events, since the archive has been scoured, but I don’t know if the facts and events he relates would change much. What might be different is the emphasis he gives them. And this would have as much to do with my ability to hear the meaning in his words as it would with any restructuring of his narrative.

What I can do now is look back at the book we wrote and see what I didn’t see before. Yes, yes, it’s all there: most of what Aunty Gina has said, a great deal of what Jensen has told me, much of what the Archive – especially the Historical Society – revealed. It’s all there: for instance, the money owed to Daryl; the debt incurred at Pretty’s store; the winding up of the business Harry and Daryl had been running; the cheating and drunkenness of Daryl’s White employees left over from the time before Harry’s death; the end of ‘millable’ wood on the property and the need to shift operations to the state forest and focus on fence posts instead of timber; and finally the people leaving the Track one at a time before the trucks came to take them away. Of course, they were leaving to find work, just as Aunty Gina said, not because they were afraid of the ‘Welfare’ and the Christians as I had heard Daryl say in our interviews. Had I heard him wrong? Had he been responding to my tastes? Was the emphasis we put in the book a combination of both of our needs? Were we so used to thinking of the family as Aborigines – those people who in the past have been seen as little more than victims of colonisation – that we could not see them as free-thinking, yet culturally bound, Kurnai who had reasons for what they did?

Even though he didn’t take any notice of the official name of the Board or the existence of the League, Daryl knew something was going on that gave people authority to walk onto his property and drive people away to another place. He thought it was the Shire, but he didn’t really care. I see now that I am the one who cared about officialdom oppressing the people at the Track and so perhaps it was my emphasis, my attempt to find a villain in the story, that made him name the Shire and let them take the blame for all the Leagues and Boards and Councils that might have done damage to Aboriginal people during the era of assimilation in every small town in south-eastern Australia. Was this – seeing the Hoods and Roses overwhelmed by a monolithic oppressor – the truth?

image

Daryl Tonkin

Photo by Julian Hills

Maybe, on at least one level, it was the truth. There seems to be nothing in the record that solves the mystery of who bulldozed the bark huts in which the Aboriginal people lived on Jackson’s Track for twenty years or more. There is nothing in the Buln Buln Shire minutes from 1956 to 1964; nothing in all the correspondence between Davey, Felton and Meagher. Yet, Daryl witnessed it; and no one would dispute his version for it has become part of the mythology of the Track. All who were involved there knew it happened, but no one except Daryl saw it happen. “I don’t remember how I knew,” said Alwyn Jensen. “I might have driven out there and seen it after it happened.”1 They all knew what it meant, too, just as Daryl did. Even Jensen understood the tragedy of that event. “It was final,” he said, “because once they bulldozed, they had nothing...” The testimony of those who experienced events at Jackson’s Track is what counts here since the record is silent. Daryl’s account tells the truth in that it gives meaning to the event. Is this what made me hear his story one way and not another?

There are other things in his story I would hear differently now. I would hear a different meaning behind Daryl’s labelling himself a villain and a fool. I can now go back to his book and see with different eyes the scene between him and Dora Hood, Euphie’s mother, when she told him that he would have to be strong to face the racism that would raise its ugly head now he and Euphie had paired off. During her interview, Aunty Gina, after giving a quick conspiratorial glance at Pauline, said quietly, “Dora didn’t like Euphie taking up with Daryl.”2 Of course! Dora’s experience with White bosses may well have been fraught with negative feeling; after all, how many stories would she have heard of unknown White men who had loved and then left Aboriginal women? So, instead of giving Daryl advice, she might have been scolding him for what she thought was a wrong choice. As Stewart Hood’s wife she may have been making an attempt to safeguard his/her lineage. Perhaps she was bringing up cultural issues in an attempt to protect herself and her people. Was it my interpretation or Daryl’s telling that made us avoid such readings of that scene? Dora Hood would also have been concerned that Euphie and Daryl were breaking the law by being together, and Daryl would have known this when he told me this story. But I didn’t ask him any questions which might have drawn out the true meaning of the scene. I went with my righteous outrage and Daryl was content to leave it at that. He was worried about repercussions then. Would he be now?

Would Daryl and I handle many of the events differently now? Yes, we would. We all change the structure and emphasis of our stories – those based on memories – every time we tell them, depending on the context of the telling. Our – his and my – understanding of the place of Aboriginal stories in our national history has changed a great deal in the ten years since we began working together. Bain Attwood summed it up in The making of the Aborigines: over the years, a Eurocentric view has given way to an Aboriginal view, which, in turn, has become a view of acculturation and accommodation between Aborigines and settler people. Close bonds of ‘loyalty and affection’ between White and Black can now be readily recognised and we are willing to trace ‘the rules and relationships of reciprocity concerning land and kin’ as we have not been before.3 I believe Daryl would be able to speak with much more candour and less shame now in 2006 than he did in the mid 1990s: telling his story helped him realise the changes that had been taking place over the years that he was silent about his life at Jackson’s Track. I believe we would now be able to give the Aboriginal people in his story more credit for determining their own lives. In spite of these changes, it has been an effort for me to alter my suppositions about Daryl’s story and about how Aboriginal people like Pauline and Aunty Gina see the world and respond to ‘us’, White settler Australians. It has taken an effort for me to do something so seemingly simple as listen to and hear Aunty Gina’s story. In her Boyer lecture ‘What We Make of Them’ Inga Clendinnen introduces us to the work of the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum who believes it is imperative for us develop what she calls the ‘narrative imagination’, ‘the ability to see unobvious connections between sequences of human actions and to recognise their likely consequences, intended and unintended’. Nussbaum says it takes a great effort of the imagination to pull our minds around to another’s way of thinking so we can fathom and respect the ‘other’ that is before us.4

image

Daryl at home

Photo by Ingvar Kenne, © 2003

I think that at last we have put the Australian story of assimilation in a small corner of West Gippsland to bed. Even though there must be other connected stories that have not been told, the burden has been lifted. It seems to me that we have finally made room for the stories Pauline has to tell by tying up the old stories from the era of assimilation into a safe bundle, to be kept for posterity. Interested people can find out what happened here without ever again having to bear the burden of it as Daryl and his extended family have done. This must have been Pauline’s purpose, all those years ago, when she came to me for help in finding out the ‘true history of Jackson’s Track’.

image

Jackson’s Track

Photo reproduced with permission also from Regina Rose

Endnotes

1     Interview with Alwyn and Hilda Jensen, Neerim South, 8 April 2004.

2     Interview with Aunty Gina Rose and Pauline Mullett, Drouin, 24 March 2004.

3     Attwood (1989, p. 138).

4     Clendinnen (2000, p. 245). Nussbaum was talking about the Holocaust when she made these statements, but Clendinnen, like other historians and rights activists, sees a link between the lessons learned in the Holocaust and understanding Australian Aboriginal history.

References

Attwood, Bain. 1989. The making of the Aborigines. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Clendinnen, Inga. 2000. ‘What we make of them’. In Essays on Australian reconciliation, edited by Grattan, Michelle. Melbourne: Black Inc.

Cite this chapter as: Landon, Carolyn. 2006. ‘The bushman’s story: One last look’. In Jackson’s Track revisited: History, remembrance and reconciliation. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 8.1–8.6.

Jackson’s Track Revisited: History, Remembrance and Reconciliation

   by Carolyn Landon