April 27, 2011

Why I don't care about ANZAC day

ANZAC day came and went and, yet again, I found myself not caring and not getting it and wondering what the fuss is about. I feel like I'm being very un-PC and un-Australian way to think this way.

I think the reason behind my feelings is that I question why there is so much hype and energy spent on ANZAC day - over the sporadic innocent deaths that have happened to our troops over the years - when the death and violence that was so prevalent in frontier Australia is virtually ignored. So many innocent Aboriginal people died and it's heartbreaking and unacknowledged and we are still dealing with consequences, especially here in the NT.

It didn't happen very long ago.

This arvo I again picked up John Harris' Northern Territory Pidgins and the Origins of Kriol which paints a vivid socio-historical picture of the NT when pidgin spread and Kriol developed. I'd like to share a section I hadn't read before today. It features a piece written by Robert Morice in 1885, published in the South Australian Register. Morice was the Protector of the Aboriginal for the Northern Territory but was 'got rid of for doing his duty in defence of the blacks' (SAR 23 Dec. 1885:4, in Harris 1986:219). Morice reveals violence that occurred in the Daly River region (not very far from Katherine) in retaliation for the murder of four white people in 1884. The retaliation consisted of 1) the official police party, 2) a private reprisal party and 3) another unofficial party.

Morice wrote the following to a South Australian newspaper:

While Inspector Foelsche and a police party were out securing the actual murderers, another party consisting of non-official persons, but armed and provisioned by the Government, were let loose to act as they thought best ... The men who formed this party insisted that they should be allowed to go unaccompanied by a single policeman. The Minister of Justice and Education is reported to have hesitated about giving his consent to their going, but finally yielded to the urgency of the Government Resident, who strongly pressed it. As a salve to his conscience, or to save appearances, he gave, however instructions that they were on no account to fire on he natives unless in self-defence.

What this party did has never been made public, but the officers on board the S.S. Palmerston, which was lying in the Daly River ... say that all one night they heard a constant discharge of firearms. There was good moonlight at the time. The general belief in the Territory was that they simply shot down every native they saw, women and children included. While this was going on three teamsters reported that they had been attacked by the natives at Argument Flat. The teamsters resisted, and shot five or six of them. There were three weak points in their tale. None of the teamsters were wounded; it is unusual for natives to attack in the bold way described; and, lastly, it was admitted that there were women with the natives (one of the killed was a lubra, I think). Now it is well known that natives when they mean mischief always keep their women out of the way ... The Government Resident, as soon as he heard of the affair, arranged that another non-official party should be armed and sent out to follow up the natives. They were sent out, and returned in due time, reporting that they did not fall in with any natives. Of course the party were not asked to account for the Government ammunition they took away; and a few days after some of the men were boasting over their cups that they had shot forty-seven, including women and children ... It is difficulu to say how many natives have been killed for the Daly River outrage, but from all I have heard from different sources, I should say not less than 150, an great part of these women and children ... (South Australian Register, 5 June 1885:7)

(in Harris 1986:218-9)

This is just one story of many similar stories in Harris' book, which is one of many similar books which tell tales of horrible unjust frontier violence.

On ANZAC day you'd say 'Lest We Forget'.

I don't know what I should say in relation to these stories.... sometimes it makes me sad... sometimes it just pisses me off and I want to say 'fucking redneck arsehole war criminal bastards who were never served justice for what they've done and whose descendants are probably living comfortable lives while the Aboriginal families of victims are still suffering'.

But I'm not sure what use it would be to say that, so I won't.