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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Aboriginal New England to 1788 1 - the story starts

This series examines Aboriginal life in New England up to the arrival of the first European settlers at Botany Bay in 1788. By then, the Aborigines had been living in the area that would be called New England for millennia. We don't know when they first arrived, but my present best  guess is that the most likely date is something over 30,000 years ago. 

I chose 1788  as a cut-off date to avoid becoming entangled in, twisted by, the events that were to follow. We know what is coming, but we have to put this aside. Our story is of people as they were, not what they would become. Our knowledge of the future means that we know that storm clouds are looming over the bright sun of the Aboriginal present, yet we mustn't lose sight of the sun.

You won't yet find the story that follows in these posts in any book, although parts are covered.  The material that I am drawing from comes from the first third of the book I am writing on the broader history of New England. My work is halting, imperfect. The book haunts me, for the project is many, many, years old now and yet seems as far from completion as ever. I have aged with the book and sometimes wonder if I will ever finish!

To my mind, it is better to put some of the material out there now rather than to wait. There is a story to tell and I will try to tell it as best I can. You must judge whether I have been successful. Can you see, hear and even smell the world of Aboriginal New England as the eucalyptus scented smoke drifts into the night air from the fire in the centre of the camp, rising in the cold night air towards the sandstone edge stark against the brilliantly starlit bowl  of the sky?

The place is now called Graman, not far from modern Inverell. The year is say 100 BC or, in current parlance, 100BCE. By now, the people who would be called the Aborigines have been camping here for at least 3,000 years. Down towards the creek, the grooves made in the rock from grinding stone tools are hidden in the dark.  The ceremonial rock shelters with the paintings and sculptures are hidden in the dark.

It can get cold at night here, even in summer. Away from the fire breath mists in the air. The camp is neat, the kit stowed. The men yarn quietly, talking among themselves, telling stories, some true. The talk is of day to day things. The camp falls silent as people make their way to bed. Tomorrow it is time to move along well known paths.  


Joanne Lowe said...

Hi Jim,
I am a teacher looking for stories of pre-european Aboriginal life in New Engaland. Is it possible to see more of the story that has begun.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Joanne. Thanks for the prompt. Jim. More will follow pronto.

Joanne Lowe said...

Hi Jim,
I am looking for material to use next week. Can you point me in the direction of narratives of the vein of the introduction on your blog or even perhaps a traditional story or material from which I can write a story that contains elements of the lives of Ainawan people. Much of what I can find is very academic and I have been pulling bits from places and weaving a short story together. I have done this before in a more general sense of Aboriginal people but am wanting to make this more clearly about Ainawan life and culture as the work we are doing is on local geography and history.
Is there more of your story available now or are you still in the process of writing it? The opening is very evocative and draws you into the scene beautifully. Many thanks Joanne

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Joanne. I will try to pull something together quickly and post here. Some of my books are still in boxes following a move earlier this year, but I can say a little.

Joanne Lowe said...

Thanks Jim, I will keep checking,Joanne