Review Blog

Nov 20 2019

Aboriginal Australians by Richard Broome

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5th edition. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760528218.
This history of Aboriginal Australia from colonisation to the present day looks at how our indigenous people have endured attempts to erase their inconvenient presence through multiple programs to assimilate or eradicate them. Reading it, as an immigrant, ignorant Australian I have been appalled at the extent of systematic racial discrimination over generations. Far from being a dry, academic tome however, the author works through 15 focussed chapters using interesting case studies and examples to support his analysis. Colonialism infused the first encounters where "each was a dramatic clash between Indigenous people who believed land was a spiritual essence under their custodianship and was not transferrable, and intruders who treated it as a valuable commodity to be exploited, bought and sold" p37 including 1888 observations about "Social Darwinism" p106 in which Europeans believed they were more highly evolved. Assertions at Federation that Australia needed to "keep the breed pure" p107, embroiled Aborigines in the White Australia Policy, ultimately leading to the removal of children from their families " a systematic, racially directed policy in an attempt to erase Aboriginality and make Australia white" p200, The white man's laws and ideas of justice brought to this country were imposed universally including poaching laws which held property above life until 1832 (p39) and there was (is) an ethnocentric bias as Mary Durak observed in her 1959 book Kings in Grass Castles "no native brought to justice in Kimberley was acquitted nor was any white found guilty on a charge involving the treatment of an aborigine" p114. Early missionaries brought Christian paternalism to people they viewed as primitive savages and, apart from a few, well presented exceptions "Aboriginal people on missions were generally managed, protected, taught and chastised like children which eroded their former autonomy." p153. Short summaries at the end of chapters help to bring a perspective on specific issues, succinctly preparing the reader for the next argument. Working through chapters on civil rights, indigenous rights and aspirations for equality we are brought up to the present day with chapter 14 "Crisis, intervention and apology" and 15 'Seeking a voice" where we are suddenly thrust from reading about past injustices to our own complicit involvement in resisting acknowledgement of our nation's first people.
First published in 1982, the book has been fully revised and is in its fifth edition, being reprinted 33 times. The author patiently builds us a perspective on Aboriginal history, from the general to the particular using statistics and individual accounts through well referenced quotes. Nothing is sensationalised and strategic book recommendations are offered to help readers educate themselves more broadly. Extensive notes to each chapter make this a valuable resource. It should be in every library and required reading for every teacher and politician.
Sue Speck

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