A couple of days after the Milpirri Festival had finished we drove north out of Lajamanu to Top Springs via the Buntine Highway The Landrover Discovery was damaged, so we did not make a detour to go to Kalkarindji (formerly Wave Hill) or to take a look at the Victoria River. This region is the traditional land of the Gurindji peoples and I kept on thinking of the myths of colonial history of this region. These myths have shaped how Australian’s have traditionally viewed the country and its indigenous people.
The myth about Aboriginal people is that before European invasion, Aboriginal people were simply living off the land, with no civilization and a culture that didn’t make it out of the ‘stone age’ despite tens of thousands of years of human habitation. European colonists myth painted blackfellas as primitive and that the land was an untamed wilderness. European settlement could occur because the land was seen as desert and uncultivated and inhabited by a backward people. The myth is part of the core narrative of colonial history about the establishment of the pastoral industry, which celebrate European exploration, pioneering, colonisation and conquest. In this narrative Aboriginal people were part and parcel of the environment: an element to be overcome by force if necessary, along with drought, wild animals, hunger and thirst.
This is a myth and narrative is notable for how it covers over some marked historical silences.
The reality of course was the arrival of Europeans involved ‘mass killing, introduced diseases, huge displacement of people, increased ecological and social pressures within available refuge areas and increased competition for women’ It was history of punitive expeditions and frontier policing using a police force to protect the interest of the newly established pastoral industry to dispossessed the Aboriginal inhabitants.The pastoralists and others could do what they liked with Aboriginal people, exploiting and using violence against them, taking the law into their own hands by punishing and killing them in what they euphemistically called ‘summary justice’.
The pastoralists strongly believed that the police should act in their interests, protecting their stock, punishing people they called cattle killers and returning runaway Aboriginal workers to their stations. The pastoralists certainly did not believe that the police should act in the interests of Aboriginal people.
Gurindji – like the Warlpirri—- found their waterholes and soaks fenced off or fouled by cattle, which also ate or trampled the fragile desert plant life. Kangaroos, a staple meat, was also routinely shot since it competed with cattle for water and grazing land. Gurindji suffered lethal reprisals for any attempt to eat the cattle – anything from a skirmish to a massacre. As noted earlier the last recorded massacre in the area occurred at Coniston in 1928.