Review Blog

Jun 19 2019

The original Australians, the story of the Aboriginal people by Josephine Flood

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. Revised and updated edition. ISBN: 9781760527075.
(Age: 16+) Non-fiction. Flood writes that her book was provoked by requests from overseas friends for an introduction to Indigenous Australia, and that she wanted to provide an informative and objective account of Aboriginal history and culture that could be read by the general public. She started out by collecting the kinds of questions that people asked, such as where the First Australians came from, their impact on the environment, was traditional life idyllic, why were treaties not made, were Aboriginal children 'stolen', etc.
The resulting book begins with how Aboriginal society was gradually discovered by the outside world, and thus starts with first contact between foreigners and Aborigines. So we learn about the Dutch encounters in the late 16th and early 17th century, the accounts of Englishman William Dampier, and the trading relationship with the Macassans, Indonesian fishermen, all before the arrival of Captain Cook.
Other chapters are titled Colonisation, early Sydney; Confrontation, in Tasmania and Victoria; Depopulation, a century of struggle (1820s-1920s); Tradition, Indigenous life at first contact; Origins, the last 65,000 years; Assimilation, a time of trouble (1930s-1970s); and Resurgence, the story continues.
Clearly it is a mammoth task to write such a book. She is successful in keeping the tone accessible to the general reader, at the same time providing well referenced notes, and including various maps and a collection of coloured prints of artworks and photographs including ancient rock art sites. Surprisingly she does not include the map of Indigenous language or tribal groups, an invaluable tool in helping people to understand the diversity and number of Aboriginal groups, and their 'Country', the places they were connected to.
Some areas where there may be some dispute about Flood's account of Aboriginal life may be in her assertion of their hunter-gather lifestyle, ignoring recent interpretations of their cultivation and agricultural methods, and also the assertion that Aboriginal languages have no numbers beyond 3 or 4, ignoring the complexities of Indigenous mathematical understandings that other writers are exploring in the field of ethnomathematics.
Flood also takes issue with the word 'stolen' as applied to Aboriginal children, and highlights the cases where Aboriginal mothers gave their children into care; undermining the concept of 'stolen generations' and the ramifications for Aboriginal families.
And in the final chapter, Resurgence, in her description of the Intervention, in highlighting views of the benefits to Aborigines of the welfare card, she ignores any conflicting view of the impact on their lives.
Flood ends on an optimistic point, in that whilst Prime Minister Turnbull rejected out of hand the Uluru Statement from the Heart, possibly new Prime Minister Morrison may come closer to giving the First Nations people a voice in government.
Dr Josephine Flood is an expert archaeologist so this volume is a worthy addition to the literature on Aboriginal Australians; however the non-expert reader may be a little wary of generalisations made about a people who are a diverse group with varying opinions on some of the topics covered.
Helen Eddy

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