Saturday, August 16, 2008

The vanished Kamilaroi and the need for a new approach

Photo: Kamilaroi - family pea picking at Tingha

As part of my blog tidying up, I brought on line an earlier post, New England's Kamilaroi people - web search August 08.

In writing about Australian history on this blog, I have often made a number of linked points.

The first is that what is not presented and re-presented in our history becomes forgotten and distorted. The second is that historiography, the writing of history, is subject to fashion. I usually make these points in the context of the history of New England, my own area, whose history has largely vanished because it is now out of fashion.

In writing about policy towards our indigenous people on this blog I have repeatedly tried to make the point that the Australian Aborigines were not, nor are they now, a single entity. I have suggested that a key reason for policy failure lies in the failure to recognise this diversity.

These two themes link in my approach to New England's Aborigines.

At policy level, I have suggested that the NSW Government's Sydney-centric approach combined with the ghettoisation of indigenous policy means that the specific problems of New England's indigenous people and of indigenous-non-indigenous relations have not been properly identified or addressed.

At a history level, I have complained about a dearth of the most basic information on the history of the different language groups within New England.

The Kamilaroi were a major group, occupying a territory stretching from Southern Queensland down the Western Slopes into the Hunter Valley. Yet when I search I can find very little on-line information that will provide any coherent picture about them.

Does this matter? I think that it does, very much.

The Kamilaroi people themselves, and especially the younger generation, need access to information about their long past, not just history presented almost exclusively through a prism of black-white relations. Non-Kamilaroi people, too, need access to that information.

It is impossible for a lone person like me to fill this gap.

As a simple example, I have neither the time nor the resources to go through all the material. There are some twelve theses at the University of New England alone. Nor can a series of blog pages properly fill the gap, even though I have begun the process of trying to provide at least a stop-gap.

I have suggested before that one simple practical step would be Government funding to establish a web site for each language group. In the New England case, this would cost about $250,000 to set up, and then about the same annually to maintain.

Nationally, it would cost a lot more. Still, this is not a lot of money measured by how much we are already spending and the effects would be quite profound.

It would give all Australians access to information about our different indigenous peoples, bringing them alive as people. It would stimulate and disseminate study and research at school and beyond. It would break down barriers and increase understanding.

I do not think that this is too much to ask.


ABennett said...

Even though this blog is quite old, you will hopefully receive my comment. I wanted to say thank you for putting your blogs together. I a a 22 year old descendant of the Kamilaroi people and both my sister and i have been trying to find out about our history but with no success. I strongly agree with what you have suggested and believe more people should ban together to bring our languages and traditions back to the younger generations so they don't disappear all together. Thank you again for your blogs, it is a sense of hope that our people won't just be forgotten.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi ABennett and thanks. You remind me that I need to do an update on Kamilaroi research, pointing especially to Michael O'Rourke's work.