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Towards R.contiguring Australian History
or over a decade I have conducted a wide-ranging investigation . of the various forms of contact between Asians and Aborigines in the far north of Australia: from the Kimberley across to Torres Strait; from pre-British Macassan contact to more recent efforts of mixed descendants to reconnect with severed patrilineal connec tions:-by embracing Islam,. by organising family reunions, or by travelling to Indonesia, China, the Philippines or the Pacific.' Here I offer a sketch of the implications of this work in the wider frame work of Australian history.
Northern histories read so differently from the standard-version of national historical consciousness that they are more suggestive of 'exploitation colonies' than 'settler colonies'. In the far northern townships of colonial Australia the population balance was weight ed heavily against White Australia. Despite great official efforts to keep Asian and Aboriginal populations apart, and manage them separately, what emerged were mixed populations, able to
challenge the hegemony of Aboriginal protection 'bureaucracies, and forming close-knit communities. The history of the poly-ethnic north appears to reside at the margins of Indigenous Australia, at the margins of histories of Asians in Australia, and at tlie remote margins of White Australia.
But what are the intellectual frameworks within which these
peripheral histories appear marginal? Might they not challenge core assertions of Australian history and identity? Could they be the seeds of a reassessment of fundamental historical dynamics in Australia?
Lost in the Whitewash
Thinking about history and its poly-ethnic spaces
We are able to know the world by matching it against knowledge models'-models of societies, of historical processes and trends, models of causality, models of power. Max Weber referred to them as 'ideal types' in the field of sociology, Thomas Kuhn favoured 'par adigms'to refer to the field of science, and historical models might be referred to as 'master narratives'. Models help us decipher and interpret complexities. They are powerful instruments of knowledge. Ifthey seem unsatisfactory it is not sufficient to critique them-in that case they must be replaced with moetween ,populations, coloured communities resisted these distinctions.
In '934 the Department asserted its authority with a further amendment to the Protection Act targeting the northern coloured communities. It now reined in Pacific Islander descendants, and per sons of Indigenous offspring to the fourth generation. This meant a disenfranchisement of many who had enjoyed full citizenship
rights. All over Queensland associations were formed demanding citizenship, and a range of strikes, including at Stradbroke Island and in Torres Strait, underlined the resistance movement. In an. attempt to fragment this movement, the Acts were repealed in 1939 and replaced with separate legislation for the mainland and for Torres Strait, the latter gaining some measure of self-government. Asian entrepreneurial competition, the growth of mixed popula tion~, and their contestation of White hegemony played a crucial role in key policy shifts in Aboriginal management. This suggests a fifth thesis, that to understand Aboriginal...
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