Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Greece, the Aborigines and New England

Just at the moment, I am writing a series of posts on our Greek trip. I am really enjoying soaking myself in the history of the Greek Islands and the Eastern Mediterranean, although it is a dreadful distraction from the book I am meant to be writing on the history of New England.

Anybody interested in history will know the way in which thought in one area feeds into thought in another. After a while, the histories of apparently different areas becomes point and counterpoint around common themes. This really shouldn't surprise, although I am constantly amazed. After all, history is all about humanity, and the general problems people face have been constant across the eons. It's only the expression that differs.

Inevitably, given my interests, the lessons and ideas drawn from my Greek trip have been playing across into posts on the New England Australia blog about the lessons for New England tourism. I make no apology for this.

When I write as an historian, I try to be objective if interesting. When I write about New England issues or development, I can be as partisan as anyone else.

I accept that not everybody shares my interest in history. Not everybody wants to visit historical sites or see how things fit in with history. Yet, on my experience, a remarkable number of people do.

To my mind, Australia in general and New England in particular are very bad at explaining history, at creating a visitor experience, that will bring the past alive. Does this matter? I think that it does.

On Santorini I got into a dispute with my mother-in-law. It wasn't a bad fight, we are very good friends, but I still reacted strongly. You see, she compared the historical sites that we had seen with the Australian Aborigines, arguing that the Aborigines did not build things. I said that she was wrong, and tried to provide evidence.

P1100568 Of course, Aboriginal constructions cannot compare with Ancient Thera on Santorini. That's not comparing like with like.

The Aborigines were not a farming community, they did not generate the type of food surpluses necessary to sustain a building workforce. They didn't need too. After all, their average standard of living was probably higher than that holding in many Neolithic farming communities. Why work a ten hour day when you can meet your needs in six?

Yet the Aborigines did build things from fish traps to ceremonial sites. They did so when there was a clear collective purpose.

Just at present, the Australian Government is considering a referendum to enshrine the Aborigines in the constitution as the first Australians. Depending on how it's worded, it will probably pass. It would pass more easily if Australians had better access to our Aboriginal past.

New England, here I am talking about the broader New England, had one of the highest Aboriginal populations on the content.  It was also a diverse population with different languages and life styles. Yet so far as the visitor is concerned, it might not exist. You cannot access it,

I think that's a pity.                    

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