November 28, 2013

I see the blood on the leaves

I'm reading about so many foul and disgusting things that white people did to Aboriginal people when they first arrived in the Northern Territory.

It's kinda unbearable and makes it starkly clear that white Australia has blood on their hands.

And the names that come up in the history books! The one I'm most surprised at is former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer's grandfather, Sir John Downer, who was premier of South Australia and a lawyer (and has a suburb in Canberra named after him). John Downer "played an active role" when "successive South Australian governments masterminded, condoned, or concealed the violent dispossession and oppression of Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory to 1910" (Roberts 2009: 22). And don't be fooled - the violence and atrocities that white people carried out on the frontier is not something buried. It's in government reports, newspapers, memoirs and diaries, letters of officials, the research of many historians and in the oral histories of Aboriginal people. John Downer and other government officials could not have been ignorant of what was happening.

And it wasn't just as a politician that John Downer played a role this history. As a lawyer, he defended William Willshire, who stood trial for the murder of two Aboriginal men, shot while they slept. Willshire who, after the murders, "then had breakfast before burning the bodies a short distance away - all of this in front of witnesses" (Roberts 2005: 134) was acquitted and returned to police work in the Victoria River District after his acquittal. There is nothing about Willshire's legacy that indicates he didn't commit atrocities. Even his official biography points out his "boastful sadism", "racial triumphalism" and that "he was contemptuous of Aboriginal lives and culture, and condoned female exploitation" (Mulvaney 1990).

There's so much more to say about all of this but I just don't know where or how to start. Or where to stop.



Mulvaney, D. J. (1990) 'Willshire, William Henry (1852–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 November 2013.

Roberts, T. (2005). Frontier justice: A history of the Gulf country to 1900. St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Roberts, T. (2009). Black-White Relations in the Gulf Country to 1950. Blackheath History Forum, 29 August 2009:, accessed 28 November 2013. 

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