Monday, October 13, 2008

The First Australians - a message for SBS re their web site

I watched the program last night and wanted to do a post on it, so I went to your web site to check for details. Frankly, the site is just to flash (pun intended) to be really useful from my viewpoint.

I found the first episode very interesting, but also a little dissatisfying. You got me absorbed in the story, but then left me hanging at the end as the focus switched to Tasmania.

There were a few minor things that grated. Some of the indigenous commentary itself, and the use of the word nations (I think peoples is more accurate), things that introduced modern concepts and perceptions.

I also thought that it was too Sydney focused.

Just to put this in perspective,the first program covered the period in NSW from 1788 to roughly a bit before 1825. We begin in Sydney, then flick to the crossing of the Blue Mountains (1813), occupation of the land to the west and the establishment of Bathurst (1815), then the Wiradjuri fightback under Windradyne (c. 1800 - 1829) to the peace arrangements of December 1824.

This same period saw the establishment of Newcastle (1804), Port Macquarie (1821) and the opening of the Hunter to full settlement. So it wasn't just the Sydney peoples nor the Wiradjuri who were being affected. I kept waiting for references to other areas, but none came.

I recognise that the producers had to select, and maybe the story will be carried through in another episode. but I still think that it was a gap.

All this said, I thought that the program did a remarkably good job in putting together a coherent and fascinating story. I especially liked the use of maps.

All this may seem a long way from my starting point about the SBS web site.

I wanted a few simple things: a still that I could use to illustrate a story; some details of the program so that I could check spelling and also check details on line, especially of things that I did not know or where I though that there might be gaps.

The SBS site does not allow me to do this. It is all Adobe Flash, no text or stills. Flash isn't much use to me anyway, I don't have a lot of spare bandwidth, nor did I want to download the latest version of Flash just to access material.

The end result was that what began as a simple blog post required a reasonably significant investment of time to complete as I checked for stuff, tried to answer questions that I should have been able to answer from the web site.

I wrote the post in the end because the program itself created an itch to know more. Had I been less interested, and this has in fact happened with some SBS programs before, I would have simply given up.


To make this post more useful especially for international readers, you can watch the episodes from the SBS web site. On the Sydney Morning Herald Web site, there is a multimedia presentation on the friendship between Windradyne and a local settler, William Suttor. You should get that here.


John said...

I agree re the use of too much flash. Regarding the discussion of events happening elsewhere in NSW during the first episodes timeframe, as much of the same was happening elsewhere it might seem unecessary to the overall story.

Also, nations is an appropriate term, and one that has been in use for decades now. Each nation is made up of a number of tribes, and those in turn consist of a great number of family clans/hordes.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. Good to hear from you.

I take the force of your point re the broad story. Still, in writing about these things (mainly on New England) I have tried to make the point that local patterns need to be considered.

I suppose that it depends on the story you are trying to tell. One of my frustations is that it is very hard to write or talk about Aboriginal history outside local contexts.

You will get a feel as to where I am coming from in For my own attempt to prepare a regional, integrated, history curriculum see

I still have problems with the word nations because I don't know what it means. When I first looked at this all those years ago, we spoke of family groups, hordes or clans and then tribes.

Definitions change. For my own purposes, I think of language groups. Then, within this, you have varying sub-languages. This is a language sub-division - family groups, clans, hordes operated within these language classes.

The word "nation" seems to me to apply to language groups, but I am not absolutely sure.

It is some time since I looked at Aboriginal social structures, they varied to some degree across Australia, so I am sure that there is further work that I am not aware of.

Finally, what I really want to do in some of the stuff I have written is to try to bring, to use your phrase in this case, individual nations alive focused on my own area. This lead to me asking different questions.

Take the Dainggatti of the Macleay Valley as an example. What were the relations between them and surrounding groups? Am I right in thinking that there were substantial differences between those in the Upper Valley with their Tablelands links and those down stream. How did the Anaiwan survive squeezed between the Dainggatti and the Kamiliaroi?

Many of these questions may never be answered, but they are worth asking.

Sorry for such a long response, but this issue is important to me.

gianniwise said...

I believe that we as 'whites' can now spend time listening. For my part I have only heard snippets of details of want went on. I want to hear more from aboriginal elders and their own memories. I've been fed the my own people's views since I was young, right through school and even now. What I hear constantly is the (anglo) European perspective. I need more than this. The problem is aboriginal speaker are often only legitimised if they have appropriate 'qualifications'. Thanks for your engaging blog.

Jim Belshaw said...

Nice comment and thanks, GW.