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Reflections of one who came to stay

  • 09 October 2008

Who are the First Australians? We can identify them under various titles: the Indigenous People, the Original People, the First Nation of this land.

In Australia we have preferred to use the word 'Aboriginal', those who are 'from the beginning'. They offer a continuity of culture and memory longer than any other human group on our planet.

There is, of course, another group we might also describe as 'first' Australians. These are the early convicts, settlers and colonisers of this country. They were the ones who engaged the Aboriginal peoples of this land. Their efforts significantly shaped the legacy of a relationship that has needed much reconciliation and an apology. They were instrumental in forging what we can take for granted, often without much reflection, about being Australian.

The SBS program First Australians takes us back to some of those early contact places and relationships. It offers striking photographic images of those people, now seen through further historical evidence and a prism of current Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspectives.

We hear the names of significant leaders such as Bennelong and Pemulwuy and the description of key events as both Aboriginal people and colonisers struggled to understand and relate with one another at that time.

The State of Victoria is a good example. As William Barak and Simon Wonga sought to find some land where the Wurundjeri people could settle, Government and Protection Board forces denied, avoided and procrastinated. Despite the support of Christian missionaries such as John and Mary Green, and despite Victoria being incredibly wealthy at that time, the Aboriginal voice and the critical needs of a diminishing and suffering people struggled to be heard.

As Professor Marcia Langton reminds the viewer, this is a particularly shameful period of Victoria's history. The neglect and rejection of the Wurundjeri people, particularly around their desire to hold a small piece of land at Corranderk (near present day Healesville), remains an important founding story for all Victorians.

Sadly, the experience of the Wurundjeri was repeated in many other places across Australia, sometimes the result of some very nasty people, sometimes simply the accumulation of ignorance, frustration and greed. There were also the singularly inspiring and prophetic.

I do not consider myself as an Aboriginal person, nor will I ever be able to claim the honour of such an origin. However, this TV program reminded me that my history is intimately bound up with