As a First Fleeter, a former teacher of Australian History and as a Muslim I am acutely aware of our past. The memory of what our forebears were part of is constantly on my mind.
When my great great great grandparents came to Australia in 1788 and 1791, there were hundreds of nations speaking hundreds of languages across this continent. The diseases we brought from the cesspools that were the industrial towns of England in the 1700s decimated the indigenous population, even before the shootings started. My convict forebears were on Norfolk Island where there was no indigenous population to wipe out.
One of the features written about in 1788 was the presence of millions of birds on the island. They were soon eaten. Ellen Wainwright and Thomas Guy were in the first settlement, which was relatively benign. It was closed in the early 1800s and everyone moved to Van Diemen’s Land. It was re-opened in the 1830s as a place of secondary punishment. A place so terrible that men drew lots as to who was to kill the others, so they would be hanged, to escape the torture of the place.
Granted land in the Derwent Valley, near New Norfolk, my ancestors did well. My great great great grandfather, originally sentenced to death as a highwayman in Gloucester England, became a constable in 1815. If his sentence had not been commuted to transportation for life, I would not have come into existence. When they arrived in their new home there was a thriving community of indigenous inhabitants. By the time my great great great grandmother died in 1839, they had been all but eradicated.
One of their daughters, my great great grandmother, married a recently transported convict and crossed Bass Strait to Portland in 1837. They were, with the Henty family, the first white settlers in Western Victoria. Indigenous tribes were plentiful in that area as there were many animals to hunt and the climate was relatively mild. By the 1870s they had been so decimated that they were concentrated onto mission stations, where they were Christianised, forbidden to speak their language and forbidden to perform traditional ceremonies. In one generation cultural genocide was carried out.
My great grandmother and grandfather lived near the Condah Aboriginal Mission, where the indigenous tribe had lived for centuries in stone homes, near fish traps cut into the rock, which are still famous but unfortunately, neglected.
The history of convict transportation is blood curdling, as anyone who has visited the convict prisons in Tasmania can bear witness. Marcus Clarke’s “For the Term of His Natural Life” written in the 1870s, gives a good, partly fictional, impression of the highpoint of the system on Norfolk Island and in Tasmania. However the suffering which this work displays is as nothing compared to the suffering and physical and cultural genocide of our First Nations people.
When we hear otherwise normal civilized looking people denigrate the indigenous people of this country we must speak up. The recent attempted humiliation of Adam Goodes brought all this to mind for millions of Australians who are aware of their history and who love their country.
We cannot allow the blight of past crimes destroy our future, which is what will happen if racism and bigotry are encouraged by stupid, shortsighted politicians without strong popular opposition.