Friday, January 02, 2009

2008 in review - Belshaw posts on Australian indigenous issues and history: January to March

I have begun the process of reviewing just what I wrote over 2008. This is actually quite a daunting task. I wrote a lot.

I was going to do chronological reviews, but when I tried this, it became very bitsy. So instead I plan to do a series of thematic reviews. That way I can consolidate my own thinking at the same time.

This first review looks at my posts across blogs on Australian indigenous issues and history. This was one of my major 2008 preoccupations.

I had not realised, however, just how much I had written until I came to prepare this post. For that reason, I have decided to break this review into several parts.


My first post, Aboriginal art - relevant blogs, was as the name said, a listing of some blogs drawing from Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye. This was followed by Introductory Blogging Tips, a post written in response to a question from Will that I then referred to in Saturday Morning Musings - Aboriginal blogs, more on "The Daily Telegraph Test" and the need for simplification. These posts are all illustrated with artwork drawn from Will's blog.

The history of New England's Aborigines provided a major focus during the month.

I began with New England's Aboriginal Languages looking in a preliminary way at the relations between geography and tribal patterns. A key aim was to provide a reference post that could be used as an entry point for other discussion.

I followed this with three posts on people: Emma Jane Callaghan (1884-1979) - Aboriginal nurse and midwife, Kenty - Ellen Mary Kent Hughes (1893 -1979), medical practioner and alderman, Pat (Patricia) Dixon (?-2001). Then came two brief note posts: Armidale's Aborigines - a note and Bellbrook's Aboriginal community - a note.

All these posts were linked by a common thread, the linkages over time between the Dainggatti of the Macleay Valley and the Armidale area. This lead to the creation of Dainggatti Entry Page as a reference page drawing together the initial posts about the Dainggati.

On 28 January Belshaw's position on the stolen generation dealt in a fairly cautious way with an extremely emotive issue. In this post I tried to disentangle some of the issues involved. Here I said in part:

This does not mean that their treatment whether in foster homes or institutional care was different from that experienced by other children. In many cases it was not. But the fact that their entry into the system was based in part on different criteria that led to different treatment as a group makes them different.

I followed this a little later with Tony Abbott and the sorry question. In my view, Mr Abbott's comments illustrated the way the sorry issue had become entangled with other things. In writing both posts I had in mind those like me who do believe that there was a black arm band view of Australian that had distorted Australian's perceptions of their own past.

On a different track, early in January, More UNE Passings - death of Jo Woolmington recorded the death of a woman who had written extensively on the history of Aboriginal-White relations.


At the start of February in Saturday Morning Musings I reported on the work that I had been doing on the history of New England's Aborigines. The post provides a more detailed discussion on issues, including the feedback that I had been getting from readers including Rhonda. This feedback is important to me and is one of the reasons that I have continued writing.

I continued writing short historical posts during February, this time focused on the Anaiwan, the small tribal group around Armidale who seem to have been squeezed to some degree between the Dainggatti on one side, the Kamilaroi on the other.

On this blog, I followed the Saturday Morning Musings post with a major post, Report of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, year ended 30 June 1940.

I had several reasons for writing this post.

This was a time of major shifts in official policy in NSW towards the Aborigines. My grandfather was Minister for Education and Child Welfare at the time, so there is a family interest, while it also bears upon the biography that I have been picking away at since I completed the original PhD thesis on him.

I continued picking away at indigenous issues in Saturday Morning Musings - drought, food prices and indigenous issues. Here I said in part:

At present it is absolutely impossible to have any sensible discussion on the evolution and impact of official policy towards our Aboriginal people. It's all too sensitive.

Yesterday, as a case in point, I happened to mention the NSW report in discussion. All I said was that there was an asymmetry between the stats in the report and some of the "stolen generation"' discussion. I had my head bitten off.

I find that I keep coming back to this type of point because it is like a constant thorn that keeps biting.

You can see the same type of problem in The Apology - now for the next steps, a post I wrote on 13 February. This post gave me more angst in the writing than perhaps any other post I have written. I followed it the next day with The emotional power of the Aboriginal connection, looking at a different aspect.

Somewhat burnt-out, I turned to other issues. However, the month did end on a higher note. In Contact with Sue Hudson I recorded my pleasure at being contacted by Sue Hudson, an indigenous archaeologist now living in Armidale.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was part of Isabel McBryde's pioneering Australian pre-history honours class at the University of New England. I spoke of Isabel's work in an earlier post - Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborgines 3: Australian Prehistory. Now Sue contacted me because of the work that I had done all those years ago.

One quite unexpected pleasure from my re-entry into research and writing on Aboriginal history has been the discovery that my earlier work is still relevant and is still being cited. I had no idea.

My contact with Sue including our email exchanges had the effect of maintaining my interest in the topic. My post in response also provided an opportunity to review some of the work I had been doing. Here I said in part:

Of particular importance is the fact that we both believe that historians have neglected the way in which the combination of archaeological, ethnohistorical, historical and modern data can be used to bring alive the Aboriginal past in a way still to be properly explored. This will only happen, however, if we can tell the story at local and regional level.

This, the need to properly record Aboriginal history, is another of my recurring themes.


After such an intense focus on indigenous issues, my attention moved elsewhere over March.

At the start of the month in Aboriginal midwife - the mystery of May Yarrowyck I reported on the mystery of an Aboriginal woman who trained as a mid-wife during the 1890s. I followed this in Saturday Morning Musings - Australian indigenous poetry with, as the name suggests, a review of indigenous poetry, a topic on which I knew very little.

I also reported in Review begins of Zinafex Agreement of the start of a review of a historic land rights agreement. I had forgotten this. I wonder what the outcome was?

Finally, in How to find and use Australian census data 2 - Creating maps and other nice things I used a comparison between indigenous population densities in Redfern and Armidale to show how to create and use maps. In the Armidale case, I also showed how the varying indigenous population densities in the city could be directly linked to changing official policies over time.

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