An important document in its own right

31 Aug

I was fascinated by that picture of Milton Public School in 1907 which I added yesterday to my Social History page (see “early last century” tab above). So I have enlarged it a bit.

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What do you see? Yes, look at the Aboriginal faces, getting an education at least, if not at this time, and not for another sixty years, counted in the census or given citizenship rights. There is a history here, and today you may trace it for yourself at Budawang Aborigines Milton-Ulladulla. And out of respect I should add: ” In accordance with traditional laws often followed by Indigenous communities in Australia the mentioning of and photographs of deceased people may offend. Please note on this site there is mention of Aboriginal people who are deceased.”

Prior to 1996 we were in a healthy state working towards acknowledging such history properly. This is not to denigrate the histories of any of us, or to wallow in guilt, but it is to walk together with all Australians towards a maturity we need to attain, but which we have in these days put on hold. “Maybe tomorrow”, as my acquaintance Monty “Boori” Pryor has it.

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3 responses to “An important document in its own right

  1. Jim Belshaw

    September 1, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Neil, there is a hidden story here that I would like to know more about.

    When I was writing my biographical material on David Drummond I did a fair bit on NSW education in the period up to 41. I did not deal with the Aborigines because this was secondary to my primary aim.

    But from an Aboriginal perspective there is, I think, an interesting story because I feel that the 30’s were a critical attitudinal change point. I have read one book on this, but cannot remember the name.

    The Aboriginal children at Milton in 1907 might well have been in a special Aboriginal school twenty years later, then back in the main system after that.

    We need a story on Aboriginal education that does not argue a case. but which looks at what actually happened and why. Once this has been done, we can look at the value issues.

  2. Owner

    September 1, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    I am sure work is being done on it by someone; I must look into it; however, it is not so easy to filter out values issues, as in fact values often shape the questions one asks and thus the direction of one’s research. I know my grandfather was sympathetic to Aboriginal issues, but many of his generation also felt that it was all rather hopeless. I can remember things like “they are very hard people to help”, and I know that was not necessarily a cop-out. I felt such hopelessness myself when I first had Aboriginal students (a very small number) at Dapto in 1970. My grandfather’s reaction when he was told before my father and mother married of my father’s degree of Aboriginal descent spoke volumes for him. He suggested the helpful informant jump into Lake Illawarra, I am told. That was in the mid 1930s.

    I think a lot of the work done in Aboriginal history since the 1970s, while there have been those rather unfortunate left vs right arguments, and the whole Windschuttle/Quadrant push has been a gross over-reaction, will stand up in the end. What I especially like about people like Monty Prior is how positive he always is. And I still think Keating (or Don Watson) hit just the right note in that famous Redfern speech. I think we have lost our way on this one at the moment.

    Turning-points for me happened in the later 1980s, when I met a number of Aboriginal people, especially Kristina Nehm, who regards me as “family”, as I learned more of my own family history, and as the Bicentennial focused all our attention on such things. My nephew, of course, has gone even further, in fact is legally an Aboriginal. I mentioned that in July when he visited Sydney. I did march with the Aboriginal contingent in 1988. I have had a fair bit to say on these matters, as searching here under “Aboriginal” will show. I do try not to be simplistic about it.

  3. Jim Belshaw

    September 3, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Neil, interesting as always. Speaking as someone who sometimes claims to be a historian, there are I think three separate issues.

    The first is topic selection, the question to be answered. Interests and values always come in here.

    The second is methodology or approach. I think that questions of rigour and impartiality are critical here if the writing is to be treated as history.

    The third is the question of balance, of the weighting to be attached to particular things. This one is slippery and has to be related to objective/question as well as to values.

    When I was doing my research on David Drummond, Colin Tatz bailed me up at Sydney Airport and said that I should make Aboriginal education a key theme. I did not. I took the view in the education segment I was writing about Drummond’s overall contribution and that the Aboriginal element was a small part of this. Of course, had I been writing on Aboriginal education then my view would have been different.

    The issue of Aboriginality is an interesting one. Many years ago I was talking to a Mitchell Library librarian who said that she had to watch people reading convict records in case they destroyed records showing that an ancestor was a convict. Today that record would be prized.

    Something similar is happening in regard to Aboriginal ancestry. Talking to one of my professional colleagues a few months ago, he mentioned that his grandmom was Aboriginal. I did not know this, and was both surprised and curious. He said that he used to conceal this, but now felt comfortable mentioning the fact..

    I make you a forecast. Within twenty years, having Aboriginal ancestry will become a universally accepted Australian badge of pride. It already is of course in some ways. My emphasis is on the word universal.

    On a different matter and given your acting background, I have just pu up a story on the New England Theatre Centre – I would be interested in your reaction.

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