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Reading Robinson: Companion Essays to George Robinson’s Friendly Mission


10

Community Voices

RODNEY DILLON

ABORIGINAL PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SUSPICIOUS of white people ever since they first landed on the shores of Australia. History has proven Aboriginal peoples’ suspicions as being right. White people did not come here for the good of Aborigines; they came here at the expense of Aboriginal people. This is evident with the slaughter of Aborigines all along the eastern seaboard of Australia. It was not only the noisy muzzle loaders, but also the silent diseases they brought with them that killed our people, in huge numbers.

The English tried to justify the invasion of Aboriginal land. As creatures that inhabited the land Aborigines were not people but savages and it is written in many places that they were not civilised and were unable to look after their own land. The English had a typically arrogant manner and did not understand the significance of the way Aboriginal people managed and lived with land and sea. They did not understand and did not want to understand the intricate way Aborigines looked after the land, animals, water and sea. Aboriginal people had systems in place and they knew and understood the boundaries and limitations which regulated their use of resources. Those boundaries are very clear on Tasmanian maps and people today still know of them.

It was also written by white people in that time how pristine the land looked, how clear the water, the abundance of wildlife in the bush and fish in the sea. Unfortunately, in their studies they did not research the reasons why all these things were in such good condition. It seems they only studied Aborigines and picked out the faults that they perceived. Going back to the past, one would wonder how such highly intelligent people could make so many mistakes in populating a land and taking advantage of it in ways that have misused the land. Fast-forward 200 years: the Tasmanian tiger is extinct, our rivers are dying and the felling of virgin forests continues.

If only the white people took more notice of how Aborigines took care of the land and the sea, instead of studying Aborigines like animals. Instead, white men wanted to segregate Aborigines and in doing this they took them away from their families and country. The Aborigines fretted for their families and were dispossessed of everything that was familiar and stable to them.

It was George Augustus Robinson’s job to conciliate with the natives after other English people were unable to gather them up and control their actions, as they have done so many times in their own country and in many other countries around the world.

I do not deny that Robinson most likely developed a friendship with Aboriginal people over time, as he lived with them day in and day out. When white people first arrived and things did not go as planned, the white invaders became hostile and killed many Aborigines. This shows the forgiveness of some Aborigines who travelled with Robinson throughout the state. In his writings it seems as though Robinson may have been a better builder than a writer.

One would then question the qualifications of George Augustus Robinson. Was he genuinely interested in Aboriginal people, or was he just another person trying to make a name for himself? When Robinson provided our people with flour and other introduced food and drink, he was doing more harm than good. They needed lean meat from kangaroos and muttonfish1 to keep them healthy and lean. They also needed their family structures to support them, as we still do today. Aboriginal people are nomadic within and outside their boundaries at times, but they knew where their country was by reading the land and its landmarks. When Robinson moved all these people he could find up to the northern part of the island he was also taking them out of those boundaries.

It is a proven fact today that the work Robinson did for white people against Aboriginal people was not good for Aborigines. This is evident in how Aboriginal people are disadvantaged, particularly in Tasmania where dispossession of land and culture has taken place over time. The understanding he had about Aboriginal people may have possibly assisted other white people in learning the ways of black people and using that to have control over them.

If the people from that time were genuine about studying Aboriginal people they would have done so in an environment that was safe – not pick them up and move them to unfamiliar lands, mix them in with unfamiliar people from different tribes and feed them unfamiliar food. This shows the attitude of the people of the day.

Robinson also noted that Aborigines did have some organisation in their tribes. He pointed out these Aboriginal people had a leader, and men and women had certain jobs in their society. There were also consequences for a person if there were any wrongdoings to an individual or family member. Justice was carried out, which indicates Aboriginal law structures.

Although Robinson may have thought he was doing right for Aboriginal people he was inadvertently leading them to their destruction, a destruction of society that has shaped Aboriginal Tasmania.

The historical writings of Robinson highlight a soft representation of history, which white people hang on to as they wish to ignore the slaughter of families and a race. They want to distort the true facts that the invasion of Tasmania and its history was gruesome and barbaric. Even today people still believe that the invasion of Tasmania was a Friendly Mission. If this was the case, then why are so many of my people uprooted from their homelands, do not speak their own tongue and are not allowed to maintain their culture?

Reading Robinson: Companion Essays to George Robinson’s Friendly Mission

   by Anna Johnston and Mitchell Rolls