The Tanami + the Frontier wars

After meeting up with friends in a very green Alice Springs we set out on the 15 hour drive along the Tamani Road in Warlpiri country to Lajamanu.

The history of this landscape  is that of the Frontier wars involving a series of conflicts over 140 years (1788 to 1934) that were fought between Indigenous Australians and mainly British settlers. Denialism, the failure to acknowledge  the existence of armed resistance to white settlement and the widespread frontier conflict,  constituted a ‘great Australian silence’ in Australian  history. This politics of ethnic amnesia  started to shift  in the 1970s,  when it was acknowledged that Australians had been engaged in the intentional physical killing of groups of people because they were those people, and forcibly removed children from their group with the intention of ‘transforming’ them into members of another group.

Central Australia was one of the last frontiers in the European conquest of Australia and, when administered by South Australia in the 19th century (between 1860 and 1895) 40 per cent of the population in the Alice Springs region, were mostly shot in the name of ‘dispersal’. Frontier massacres were erratic, episodic, sporadic, from a dozen to ten dozen dead at a time, more eliminationist than simply punitive in intent — for stealing livestock or spearing cattle ranchers, bushmen, miners and men who took Aboriginal women.

 Coniston in the Tanami desert was its western outpost in the European conquest of the Northern Territory.    The conflict was caused by the  pastoralist’s attempts  to occupy Warlpiri land and then to secure that land from the Warlpiri. This conflict lasted until the 1930s,  and  it was centred around the Coniston massacre,   in an area in and  around Coniston Station, just north of  Yuendumu. Coniston  is the last known officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous Australians. It was a series of punitive raids that occurred over a number of weeks as police parties (ie., vigilantes under the command of a white police officer, Constable William Murray)  killed indiscriminately to establish white Australia by killing  over 200 or  more Walpiri, Anmatjere, Kaytete and Allyawar people.   
Termite mound, Tanami

Termite mound, Tanami

 

In 1928 Central Australia experienced a severe drought that reduced the ground water. The original owners of the land did what they had done for thousands of years and gravitated to their ancient water sources, mainly in the form of soaks.For the pastoralists, the lack of water came at a crucial time as they were carving out vast tracts of land to run cattle. Conflicts between Aboriginal people and white settlers resulted. The Aboriginal people were angry as they watched their waterholes being destroyed by cattle, fences being erected and white men taking their women as wives or servants. Their law, customs and traditions were being violated. 

The new pastoralists saw that the Aboriginal people  were competing with their cattle for the precious water. They considered their cattle to be  more important than the Walpiri people. This was a frontier society determined to maintain its whiteness,  determined to put an end to Aboriginality, and  ensure the erasure of the Aboriginal presence, one way or another. Aborigines as a distinct group would disappear.

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Pimba and nuclear trauma

Our first overnight stop  on the road to Lajamanu was Pimba and the caravan park at Spuds Roadhouse. Pimba  is just down the road from the Defence -controlled town of Woomera and the Woomera Prohibited Area, which has been closed to the public since 1947, when it was used for Cold War rocket and nuclear tests by Britain and Australia between 1955 and 1963. Roxby Downs,  BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam site and Andamooka are 100 km or so  down the road.

Petrol station, Pimba

Petrol station, Pimba

The history of this region is one of  the  suppression of  information and  dissent by the British military,  Australian Governments and scientists about the radioactive fallout from the British nuclear testing. Marlinga has been declared “safe”,   even though  the buried long-lived plutonium waste (half-life 24,000 years) is in an unlined burial trench only 2-3 metres below ground – slightly deeper than we place human corpses–  with no regard for its longevity or toxicity. Continue reading

before and after Port Augusta

The landscape just south of   Port Augusta  (ie., after  Port Pirie ) is quite different to the landscape  north of Port Augusta on the way to Woomera.  It is a study in contrasts: farmland and desert.

The Princess Highway, south of Port Augusta,  runs  between Spencer Gulf and the lower Flinders Ranges,   and  the country between the highway and the Flinders Ranges  is primarily farmland.   The landscape looked very green and lush after all the winter and spring storms and rains.

lower Flinders Ranges

lower Flinders Ranges

The electricity grid  that extends down to Adelaide is very obvious in the landscape. Port Augusta is a transport hub and  a crossroads.  The old coal-fired power stations (the Playford A and Northern Power Stations) have been closed, as has the Leigh Creek coal mine.  There is a community push for a transition from coal to renewable energy (solar thermal plants) and to make Port Augusta a renewable energy power hub. 
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on the Goyder Highway

I  sat in the  back of the LandRover Discovery  on the Mildura to Pimba leg of our  road trip to Lajamanu.  Since the stops to take photos would be  few and far between  due to time constraints,  I  took  photos  of the landscape through the window.

The picture below is of  pastoral/grazing  country  on   the Goyder Highway in South Australia,  on route to Port Augusta. This  highway   is an east-west link through the Mid-North region of South Australia, and this is the landscape  between the River Murray at Morgan and  Burra in the mid-north of South Australia.

It is  sparse,  saltbush country with a few small trees. It  looked  strange and   I wondered what would  it have looked prior to grazing? Would there have been more trees?  A mallee woodland?

Landscape, Goyder Highway

Landscape, Goyder Highway

This landscape  is north of an imaginary line that separates the land in South Australia that receives 300 mm or more rainfall per year from the land that receives less than 300 mm per year. The imaginary line  is named after George Goyder, a government surveyor who first identified and mapped Goyder’s Line.

This line   indicates the northern limit of climatic suitability for intensive agriculture in South Australia. North of Goyder’s Line, annual rainfall is usually too low to support reliable  cropping, with the land  only being  suitable for grazing. Continue reading

to Lajamanu: Mildura

In mid-2016  after I’d  bought a swag I accepted Judith Crispin’s invitation  to  join  her and her friends to travel to the northern Tanami Desert to see the Warlpiri people’s Milpirri Festival at Lajamanu.

The Festival is held every two years  on the cusp of the rainy season at Lajamanu,  and it is the result of a collaboration between the Lajamanu Community, the Tracks Dance Company and the Lajamanu School.

vicrivermurraymildura

Judith and her friends were travelling from Sydney and I’d  arranged to drive up  to Mildura from Victor Harbor  via the Mallee and Calder highways to join them at a caravan park on the NSW side  of the River Murray at Mildura. The arrangement was that we’d would camp overnight at Mildura.

In the morning I would leave  my car in the Mildura Airport’s long term carpark  and  then travel with  Judith and friends in her LandRover Discovery. The plan was to  stay overnight at Pimba, near Woomera in South Australia,  before making our way to Alice Springs the next day. We would then pick up  another group of friends  that Judith had invited, and then travel in convoy to Lajamanu via the Tanami Road. The round trip is roughly 8000 km.

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