Category Archives: Australia
Hidden women of history: how mother of 8, Mary Anne Allen, made do on the goldfields amid gunshots, rain and sly grog
In February 1852, 46-year-old Mary Anne Allen set off from Melbourne for the Mt Alexander (Castlemaine) diggings with her husband Reverend John Allen and their eight children, the youngest aged five.
Histories of the Victorian gold rushes often overlook women’s presence on the goldfields in 1852. Women, children and home, however, were always part of goldfields life.
Mary Anne Allen’s diary appears to have been written for publication. In it she observes life on the diggings, not through the lens of masculinity and mateship, but through family and home.
A perilous journey
Englishwoman Mary Anne and her family had arrived in Port Phillip before the gold rushes. They migrated in 1849 to deliver the word of God for Scottish evangelist and colonial enthusiast John Dunmore Lang. Yet two years later the family abandoned their congregation in search of gold, “dreaming of little beyond wealth and competency”.
On route to Mt Alexander, the family almost lost their dray over a ravine. Their son Frederick tried to “scotch the wheels” (likely wedging a stone or bar to stop them rolling) but to no avail.
“My little girl came running towards me”, wrote Mary Anne in her diary. “She said we expected father would have been killed but Fred’s hand was smashed and two of his fingers broken.” Disaster was averted, but it would be just the beginning of the family’s trials.
Next, four bushrangers bailed up a bullock driver ahead of them. The Allen family continued cautiously forward, one of her sons armed with a gun, the second with a hatchet, a third with a club. Mary Anne’s younger children inquired anxiously, “What will they do with you Mamma?” Fortunately, fate spared Mary Anne an answer.
Life in the clearings
Mary Anne found the new goldfields “remarkably picturesque and singularly beautiful”. The countryside was already home to miners’ mia-mias (based on Aboriginal dwellings) and hundreds of tents, scattered for miles through the still dense bush.
But clean drinking water was impossible to find. A German miner gave Mary Anne’s children a cup of water, milky with chalk. Another miner gave Mary Anne a loaded gun to help her protect any water they found. The family moved on to nearby Barker’s Creek, where there were fewer tents and more available water.
The Allen’s erected their tent and furnished it with handmade “bush bedsteads”: saplings driven into the ground and bed cases filled with dried leaves. Their table was topped with bark and the floor carpeted with the same. Mary Anne wrote that the bark decomposed rapidly in wet weather, producing an “exceedingly unpleasant” smell.
Many miners’ tents, she wrote, were lined with blankets inside and bullock hides externally to keep out the weather. Her sons built a stone fireplace with bark sides, which they topped with an old sugar cask. They put up a tarpaulin awning so the family could bake damper and roast meat without standing in the rain. Even with these precautions, mould covered everything.
Living with uncertainty
Families lived in fear of the dangers presented by mine shafts. The lesson was brought home for the Allen family as they watched a man trapped down a shaft. Then another man went in after him. The father of one of the men rushed forward and he too fell headlong into the mine. The whole party, Mary Anne noted disapprovingly, was the worse for “the influence of spirits”.
Bushfires were a frightening, yet entertaining, reality:
One small tree burnt through fell at our horses feet. We hastened onwards and when out of danger we sat and admired the grandeur of the scene.
At night, diggings glowed with fires outside every tent and lamps lit by candlewicks made from honeysuckle flowers soaked in oil. One night, as the family sat reading around their table, a gun was fired through their tent. The bullet landed on her son’s book: “So uncertain was life at Barker’s Creek”.
On the diggings, Sunday was not for religion but for domestic duties and domestic quarrels. Sometimes Mary Anne expected that “instant death would ensue from stabbing members of their own families”.
Living next door to a sly grog tent, Mary Anne reported: “Drunkenness, fighting, profanity and robberies were every day occurrences”. Her diary ends abruptly, to cries of murder and an aborted gold robbery.
She did not record whether her family found gold. Historical documents reveal the family only stayed six months on the diggings. John did not return to the church until just before his death in 1861, by which time the couple had bought a number of properties in Melbourne.
My doctoral research is the first time Mary Anne’s diary has been written into goldfields history. Her manuscript is entitled Mrs Allen’s Trip to the Gold Fields, suggesting she intended it for publication. Now, almost 170 years later, we can read her observations as one of many women on the diggings in early 1852.
Australians love their war heroes. Our founding myth centres on the heroism of the ANZACs. Our Victoria Cross recipients are considered emblematic of our highest virtues. We also revere our dissident heroes, such as Ned Kelly and the Eureka rebels. But where in this pantheon are our Black war heroes?
If it’s underdog heroism we’re after, we need look no further than the warriors who resisted the invasion of their homelands between 1788 and 1928. And none distinguished himself more than Tongerlongeter — the subject of a new book I have written with historian Henry Reynolds.
In Tasmania’s “Black War” of 1823–31, Tongerlongeter led a stunning resistance campaign against invading British soldiers and colonists. Leader of the Oyster Bay nation, he inspired dread throughout the island’s southeast. Convicts refused to work alone or unarmed, terrified settlers abandoned their farms, the economy faltered and the government seemed powerless to suppress the violence.
It was a legacy Tongerlongeter could never have imagined in 1802, when his people encountered the French explorers under Nicolas Baudin on Maria Island. Having never heard of foreign lands or peoples, they concluded the pale-faced visitors were ancestral spirits returned from the dead. If zombies are an apt comparison, they were soon to experience a zombie invasion.
The British established their first settlement at Risdon Cove, opposite today’s Hobart, in 1803. Only from the 1820s did settlement accelerate up the fertile valleys of the southeast. Tongerlongeter initially restricted his warriors to targeted retribution, but as the violence intensified, all stops were pulled.
By night, Tongerlongeter and his people were vulnerable to ambushes. Gangs of frontiersmen and sealers killed hundreds of men and abducted countless women and girls. Tongerlongeter’s first wife was taken in just such an ambush.
Being wary of evil spirits, Tongerlongeter’s people never attacked by night. But from sun-up to sun-down, exposed colonists lived in constant fear of attack. Using sophisticated tactics such as reconnaissance, decoys, flanking and pincer manoeuvres, sabotage, and arson, Tongerlongeter’s war parties attacked hut after hut, and often several at a time.
Trained from infancy in the arts of war, Aboriginal warriors carried out guerrilla operations with extraordinary discipline and strategy. Apart from soldiers, most colonists were woefully unprepared to face such assailants. Typically, warriors would surround a hut, then kill its occupants, plunder whatever they wanted, and set it alight. Then they “simply vanished”, outwitting even mounted pursuit parties.
In 1828, as the body count rose, Lieutenant Governor George Arthur declared martial law. Vigilantes had long “hunted the blacks” with impunity; now they did so legally.
While such measures took a devastating toll, Tongerlongeter and his allies, the neighbouring Big River nation, only intensified their resistance, making 137 documented attacks in 1828, 152 in 1829, and 204 in 1830. Each year they refined their tactics. Some settlers insisted the colony should be abandoned.
Drawing a line
In September 1830, under mounting pressure, Arthur initiated a massive military operation designed to crush the resistance of Tongerlongeter and his allies.
The Black Line, as it came to be known, was Australia’s largest ever domestic military offensive. It involved 2,200 soldiers, settlers and convicts — 10% of the white population — in a seven-week campaign designed to “capture the hostile tribes”. Outnumbered by about 200 to one, and using only traditional weapons, Aboriginal resistance had driven the colony to take the most desperate of measures.
Commanded by Arthur himself, the Black Line was a human cordon, sweeping down eastern Tasmania. It was also a stunning failure, resulting in just two Aboriginal people captured and two killed. During the same period, Oyster Bay-Big River warriors killed five colonists and wounded six.
Still, the white men had made an impressive show of force, so Tongerlongeter’s people headed for the relative safety of the Central Plateau.
They didn’t make it unscathed. According to Tongerlongeter, who recounted his wartime experiences years later in exile, he
[…] was with his tribe in the neighbourhood of the Den Hill and that there was men cutting wood. The men were frightened and run away. At night they came back with plenty of white men (it was moonlight), and they looked and saw our fires. Then they shot at us, shot my arm, killed two men and three women. The women they beat on the head and killed them; they then burnt them in the fire.
A musket ball almost severed Tongerlongeter’s arm just below the elbow. As his comrades sliced off what remained of his limb, the chief’s pain would have been stupefying. But worse was to come. We know from post-mortem records that someone, presumably using abrasive rock, ground smooth his splintered forearm bone. To stem the bleeding, Tongerlongeter simply said his kinfolk “burnt the end”, belying the true horror of cauterisation without anaesthetic.
The desperate final year
Miraculously, Tongerlongeter survived and made it to the plateau, but the momentum of the resistance waned. Oyster Bay and Big River bands made only 57 attacks in 1831. Desperate to avoid the white man’s guns, they wintered in the frigid high country.
Then, in the spring of 1831, Tongerlongeter’s people made one last foray to the east coast where they found themselves trapped on the Freycinet Peninsula by more than 100 armed white men. They were again forced to slip past the muskets at night.
Tongerlongeter made a beeline back west where his wife, Droomteemetyer, gave birth to a son. Parperermanener was the last Oyster Bay-Big River child — a delicate flame kindled from the dying embers of his people.
On New Year’s Eve 1831, Tongerlongeter’s war-weary remnant, now just 26 in number, were holed up in the remote lake country when they were approached by a small Aboriginal party. They were envoys of George Augustus Robinson’s “friendly mission”, whom Arthur had tasked with “conciliating the hostile tribes”.
Robinson’s terms were: if Tongerlongeter’s people laid down their arms they could, once order was restored, remain on their Country with a government emissary for protection. The chief was undoubtedly suspicious, but the alternative was the wholesale erasure of his people and culture.
When Tongerlongeter’s small band of survivors entered Hobart a week later, the whole town came to witness the spectacle. Spears in hand, they approached Government House, where the governor invited them in. His administration kept meticulous records — but as important as this meeting was, Arthur knew better than to document the promises he made.
Ten days later the whole party set sail for Flinders Island. They became dreadfully seasick. Severely dehydrated, Droomteemetyer would have struggled to breastfeed Parperermanener, and soon after disembarking, his tiny body went limp. For the Oyster Bay-Big River remnant, this was no ordinary tragedy. It wasn’t just that a child had died, or even that it was the child of a chief. There were no more children.
Despite the loss of his son, his arm, his country, his way of life and almost everyone he had ever known, Tongerlongeter did not give up hope. As a leader, he couldn’t, and from the outset he was proactive. By popular vote, he represented the exiles in negotiations, settled disputes, provided counsel, distributed justice, and was instrumental in a range of improvements.
In 1834, a visiting missionary identified Tongerlongeter as “the principal chief at Flinders”, where 244 Aboriginal Tasmanians were eventually exiled. When Robinson took command of the settlement in 1835, he immediately recognised the chief’s seniority, renaming him King William after Britain’s reigning monarch.
But good leadership could only do so much. During the five years Tongerlongeter was at the settlement, there were four births but well over 100 deaths, mostly from influenza. On March 21 1837, Tongerlongeter demanded they be allowed “to leave this place of sickness”; and when Robinson hesitated, he asked: “What, do you mean to stay till all the black men are dead?”
It wasn’t just that an “evil spirit” was sickening his people — Tongerlongeter never stopped advocating for their promised return to Country. When that failed, he supported Robinson’s plan for their removal to Victoria, even if the fledgling settlement’s only appeal was that it was not Flinders Island. Some eventually made that journey, but Tongerlongeter was not among them.
King William died from illness on the same day as his namesake in Windsor Castle — June 20 1837.
The two men could scarcely have been more different. One led the largest empire on Earth; the other led a small nation of hunter-gatherers. One dispossessed millions of indigenous peoples; the other determinedly resisted dispossession. One died in the comfort of a lavish castle, the other in a draughty hut on an accursed island far from home.
King William was just a character Tongerlongeter played so his people might have a voice.
If he had anything in common with the British monarch, it was that his death produced a comparable tide of shock and sorrow, albeit confined to a shrinking settlement on a tiny island at the edge of the known world.
Remembrance and The Black War
The Black War, as everyone at the time understood, was just that — a war. Yes, it was a small guerrilla war, but so were most wars throughout history. It’s impossible to overstate its significance for Tasmania and its peoples. The impacts of subsequent wars pale by comparison, and yet these overseas conflicts and their heroes monopolise our commemorative spaces.
How can this be? Almost all those who fought alongside Tongerlongeter were killed in action — not as helpless victims, but as warriors. Theirs was the most effective frontier resistance campaign in Australian history, killing at least 182 invaders and wounding another 176. No less intimidating were their efforts to sabotage the invasion by spearing thousands of sheep and cattle, and burning dozens of homes and crops.
And the impact of their resistance was felt beyond Tasmania. Governor Arthur later wrote it had been “a great oversight that a treaty was not […] made with the natives”, and a chastened Colonial Office took steps not to repeat that mistake. New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi, for instance, was due in no small part to Tongerlongeter and his warriors, who taught the British Empire a lesson in the true cost of “free land”.
Tongerlongeter should be recognised as one of our nation’s greatest war heroes. He should be celebrated by politicians and school children alike, and yet almost no one has ever heard of him.
Tongerlongeter showed the “extreme devotion to duty” and “self-sacrifice” that would later make a soldier eligible for the Victoria Cross. He and his warriors fought year after year in the face of staggering odds.
It’s not that these heroes should receive posthumous medals, but they should receive the respect accorded to those who do. Their skin was black, and they wore no uniform, but if the men and women who sacrificed everything in defence of their country do not exemplify our highest virtues, then who does?
It is an Australian quirk that we don’t officially commemorate or memorialise our frontier wars or those who fought in them. When contrasted against memorials to overseas campaigns, this sends a stark message: our country values these foreign conflicts more than those fought on this country, for this country. And it implies our war heroes are all white.
Time has come
Other countries are far ahead of us in this regard.
A statue of the Chilean Mapuche leader Caupolicán has commanded an imposing position in the centre of Santiago since 1910. Samuel Sharpe, the leader of the Jamaican slave rebellion, was declared a national hero in 1975. And outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s government recently erected a 15-metre bronze statue of indigenous guerrilla fighter Juana Azurduy.
Momentum for commemoration in Australia is building. Aboriginal community groups and elders, with the support of RSL Tasmania, Reconciliation Tasmania and the Hobart City Council, are planning to install a Black War memorial in Hobart’s Cenotaph precinct. When erected, it will be the first of its kind in Australia.
Tongerlongeter and many other heroes of The Black War are buried at the Wybalenna Cemetery on Flinders Island. But rather than being overlooked by an impressive memorial, only thistles adorn their unmarked graves. How Aboriginal people are commemorated or memorialised is the prerogative of their descendants, but admiration for warriors like Tongerlongeter has the potential to transcend race, culture and creed.
Images of mounted police contending with anti-lockdown protesters on the weekend have now gone viral around the world. In fact, mounted police have a long history in Australia.
They have certainly been used as a method of crowd control at countless demonstrations in living memory — from anti-war protests to pro-refugee rallies and everything in between.
But the history of mounted police in Australia goes much deeper.
Mounted reconnaissance and messengers
In early colonial Australia, horses were at a premium. In the 1790s, policing of convicts and bushrangers in the confined region of the Sydney basin was conducted on foot by night watchmen, constables and the colonial military.
By 1801, the then Governor King formed a Body Guard of Light Horse for dispatching his messages to the interior and as a useful personal escort.
By 1816, at the height of the Sydney Wars of Aboriginal resistance, the numbers of horses in the colony had grown.
Their importance as mounted reconnaissance and for use by messengers was critical to Governor Macquarie’s infamous campaign, which ended in the Appin Massacre of April 17, 1816.
The horse as a key element of occupation
Along with firearms and disease, the horse was a key element in occupying Aboriginal land and controlling the largely convict workforce on the frontier.
In the early 1820s, west of the Blue Mountains, the use of horses in the open terrain of the Bathurst Plains was critical in capturing escaped convicts and bushrangers, as well as defending remote outstations against attacks from Wiradjuri people.
Early intrusions into Wiradjuri land were not so much by British colonists, but by the animals they brought with them. In what is now recognised as “co-colonisation”, cattle and sheep did a lot of the hard yards for the British, often well before they arrived in Aboriginal lands.
In 1817, Surveyor General John Oxley thought he was well beyond the limits of settlement when, as he wrote:
to our great surprise we found the distinct marks of cattle tracks [that] must have strayed from Bathurst, from which place we were now distant in a direct line between eighty and ninety miles.
From a colonial cavalry to mounted police
During the first Wiradjuri War of Resistance between 1822 and 1824, calls were made to the colonial authorities for the formation of a civilian “colonial cavalry” to assist the beleaguered and overstretched military forces. My (Stephen Gapps) forthcoming book, developed in consultation with Wiradjuri community members in central west region of NSW, The Bathurst War, looks in deeper detail at this period.
It was hoped colonial farmers would be their own first line of defence against Aboriginal warrior raids on sheep and cattle stations.
Governor Brisbane wrote to London that in 1824 a mounted force was becoming “daily more essential [for the] vital interests of the of the Colony”.
But by August that year, heavily armed and mounted settlers, overseers and their armed convict workers had decimated Wiradjuri resistance before a formal cavalry militia was established.
After possibly hundreds of Wiradjuri people had been massacred by heavily armed and mounted settlers, a “Horse Patrol” was created in 1825, which soon formally became the Mounted Police.
The Mounted Police were critical during a spree of bushranging soon after — a largely unanticipated side-effect of arming of convict stockworkers to defend themselves against Wiradjuri attacks in 1824.
By the 1830s, the force had proved useful as a highly mobile quasi-military unit in combating Aboriginal resistance as well as bushranging.
As the colony continued to expand with an insatiable desire for running cattle and sheep on Aboriginal lands, three regional divisions were based at Bathurst, Goulburn and Maitland.
After conflict between colonists and Gamilaraay warriors on the Liverpool Plains, commander Major Nunn led a Mounted Police detachment on a two-month campaign around the Gwydir and Namoi Rivers, resulting in the Waterloo Creek Massacre on January 26, 1838. Armed colonists soon followed suit, ending in the Myall Creek Massacre in June that year, where colonists killed at least 28 Aboriginal people (possibly more).
The Mounted Police’s military functions came with heavy expenses, which included uniforms, equipment and barracks. During the 1840s, a Border Police force of ex-convicts equipped only with a horse, a gun and rations was created and attached to Commissioners of Crown Lands.
It was funded by a tax on squatters (whose interests they protected) and proved a much cheaper policing option for the frontier.
The Native Mounted Police
By 1850 the “Mounted Police” were disbanded. Another relatively cheap and what proved to be a tragic, if remarkably successful, option had been found — the creation of a “Native Mounted Police” force of Aboriginal men with British officers.
The troopers were provided with uniforms, guns and rations. By the 1860s, particularly in Queensland, the main problem on the frontier was not policing colonists but stopping Aboriginal resistance. So arming Aboriginal fighters was part of a tried and tested British method of exploiting existing hostilities by rewarding those who collaborated and punishing those who resisted.
As Bogaine Spearim, Gamilaraay and Kooma man, activist and creator of the podcast Frontier War Stories has noted, the Queensland Native Mounted Police (NMP) were not only feared by bushrangers such as Ned Kelly, but known for their violence toward the Aboriginal population of Queensland.
The NMP united incredible bush skills with military capability. Their legacy has been the focus of a recent project by Australian researchers Lynley Wallis, Heather Burke and colleagues.
The role of animals in colonisation and policing
From 1850, the colonial police force (and then from 1862, the NSW Police force) incorporated mounted police as mobile units in mostly remote locations.
But they also found them useful in urban areas, especially with growing numbers of strikes, political disturbances, protests and riots in the rapidly industrialising cities in the late 19th century.
The use of horses in crowd control has a long history in policing, which itself has a long history in warfare. Among the other issues this presents, we might also consider horses’ long suffering histories of being placed in the front lines of conflict.
Like the inexorable march of sheep and cattle as part of the invasion of Aboriginal lands, understanding the role of animals in colonisation and policing is crucial to a broader understanding of Australian history.
Threat or trading partner? Sailing vessels in northwestern Arnhem Land rock art reveal different attitudes to visitors
Sally K. May, Griffith University; Daryl Wesley, Flinders University; Joakim Goldhahn, The University of Western Australia, and Paul S.C.Taçon, Griffith UniversityThe rock art of northwestern Arnhem Land is world-renowned and represents one of the world’s most enduring artistic cultures. Rock art is a continuing tradition. It includes images of “outsiders”: people and objects brought to Australian shores by Macassans from southeast Asia and, later, by Europeans.
Paintings of sailing vessels, smoking pipes, firearms, domesticated animals and other exotic items dot the landscape in Arnhem Land, often overlaying earlier works. Comparatively recent paintings feature more common images too, such as kangaroos, emus, and hand stencils.
While most Australians know about the history of European arrivals, few are familiar with the ongoing visits by people from southeast Asia to the region. Our latest research shows artists depicted early trading sailing vessels less often and differently to European ships — suggesting they viewed these encounters with other cultures in contrasting ways.
Visitors to our shores
Far from the generally accepted notion of an isolated shoreline, the north Australian coast was teeming with sailing vessels engaged in trade for hundreds of years before European exploration and settlement.
Most commonly referred to as Macassans (because they’d made the crossing from the port of Makassar in southern Sulawesi) these early traders came in fleets of praus with their signature tripod masts, to harvest trepang (sea cucumber) and for materials such as turtle shell, beeswax, and iron wood.
Working with Aboriginal Traditional Owners, especially members of the Lamilami family, our new research focuses on the Namunidjbuk clan estate within the Wellington Range in the Northern Territory. We looked closely at one particular type of rock art — boats in the form of Macassan praus and European ships.
Sailing vessels are among the most common new subjects in rock art made during the last 500 years in northwest Arnhem Land. Yet, there is a perplexing inconsistency in how Aboriginal artists of this region treated Macassan prau and European ships.
The earliest dated prau depiction is from the first half of the 1600s. No depictions of European ships are thought to be older than the early 1800s.
Yet we counted many more rock art images of European ships: 50 examples in the study area, compared to only six prau (five images feature elements of both).
These extraordinary works illustrate the maritime history of this region. They range in detail from basic outlines of hulls to detailed depictions of European ships. Some even illustrate cargo.
Others reveal ship features found under the waterline such as anchors and propellers. Southeast Asian prau are recognisable because of their unique tripod masts and sails. Some paintings of European ships show the crew smoking pipes and with their hands on their hips.
The missing Macassans
When people are portrayed on or next to watercraft in our study area, it is always in association with European ships, with no depictions associated with prau at all.
So, why did Aboriginal artists feel the need to paint so many European ships, and sometimes their crew — but very few relating to southeast Asian visits?
We argue the proliferation of European-related imagery signals the threat they posed to Indigenous sovereignty. Communicating this threat (via rock art and other means) to family and neighbouring clans was an essential tool for inter-generational education, inter-clan communication, resistance and survival.
The lack of praus does not suggest a lesser cross-cultural relationship between Macassans and Aboriginal people. In fact, nearby in Anuru Bay is one of the largest Macassan trepang processing complexes in the NT.
But visits by the Macassans were seasonal, while the Europeans came to stay. Cross-cultural contact between Aboriginal people and Macassans in this region is generally thought to be characterised by mutual respect and exchange. Contact with Europeans was more violent, with historically known killings and massacres of Aboriginal people.
Importantly, our findings in northwest Arnhem Land are the opposite of research undertaken in other parts of northern Australia, such as Groote Eylandt, where there are many depictions of Macassan prau and crew. This reminds us that one size does not fit all in the history of invasion and cross-cultural contact in northern Australia.
For decades R. Lamilami (1957-2021) worked to protect his Country and to educate outsiders on the cultural significance of the Namunidjbuk clan estate and, more broadly, the Wellington Range. With this article we pay tribute to his life’s work and his firm belief that rock art is an irreplaceable history book for Australia.
Sally K. May, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University; Daryl Wesley, Senior research fellow, Flinders University; Joakim Goldhahn, Rock Art Australia Ian Potter Kimberley Chair, The University of Western Australia, and Paul S.C.Taçon, Chair in Rock Art Research and Director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), Griffith University
Hidden women of history: Eliza Hamilton Dunlop — the Irish Australian poet who shone a light on colonial violence
About 28 Wirrayaraay people died in the massacre near Inverell in northern New South Wales. Dunlop had arrived in Sydney in February, and the Irish writer was horrified by the violence she read about in the newspapers.
Moved by evidence in court about an Indigenous woman and baby who survived the massacre, Dunlop crafted a poem condemning settlers who professed Christianity but murdered and conspired to cover up their crime. It read, in part:
Now, hush thee—or the pale-faced men
Will hear thy piercing wail,
And what would then thy mother’s tears
Or feeble strength avail!
Oh, could’st thy little bosom
That mother’s torture feel,
Or could’st thou know thy father lies
Struck down by English steel
The poem closed evoking the body of “my slaughter’d boy … To tell—to tell of the gloomy ridge; and the stockmen’s human fire”.
The graphic content depicting settler violence and First Nations’ suffering made Dunlop’s poem locally notorious. She didn’t shrink from the criticism she received in Australia’s colonial press, declaring she hoped the poem would awake the sympathies of the English nation for a people who were “rendered desperate and revengeful by continued acts of outrage”.
An early life as a reader
Dunlop, the youngest of three children, was born Eliza Matilda Hamilton in 1796. Her father, Solomon Hamilton, was an attorney practising in Ireland, England and India. Her mother died soon after Dunlop’s birth, and she was brought up by her paternal grandmother.
Part of a privileged Protestant family with an excellent library, Dunlop grew up reading writers from the French Revolution and social reformers such as Mary Wollstonecraft.
In her teens, Dunlop published poems in local magazines. An unpublished volume of her original poetry, translations and illustrations written between 1808 and 1813 reveals her fascination with Irish mythology and European literature. She was deeply interested in the Irish language and in political campaigns to extend suffrage and education to Catholics.
In 1820, she travelled to India to visit her father and two brothers. The journey inspired poems about colonial locations — from the Cape Colony (now South Africa) to the Ganges River — that explored the reach and impact of the British Empire.
In Scotland in 1823, she married book binder and seller David Dunlop. David’s family history inspired poems such as her dual eulogy, The Two Graves (1865), about the bloody suppression of Protestant radicals in the 1798 Rebellion, during which David’s father Captain William Dunlop had been hanged.
The Dunlops had five children in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, where they were engaged in political activity seeking to unseat absentee English landlords, before leaving Ireland in 1837.
Settler poetry and politics
When The Aboriginal Mother was published as sheet music in 1842, set to music by the composer Isaac Nathan, he declared “it ought to be on the pianoforte of every lady in the colony”.
Dunlop often wrote about the Irish diaspora in poems which were alternatively nostalgic and political. But she also brought her knowledge of the violence and divisiveness of colonisation, religion and ethnicity to her writing on Australia.
Her optimistic vision for Australian poetry encouraged colonial readers to be attentive to their environment and to recognise Indigenous culture. This reputation for sympathising with Indigenous people — and her husband’s arguments with settlers in Penrith about the treatment of Catholic convicts — were widely criticised in the press.
This affected David’s career as police magistrate and Aboriginal Protector: he was soon moved to a remote location. There, too, local landholders campaigned against his appointment and undermined his authority.
When David was posted to Wollombi in the Upper Hunter Valley, Dunlop sought to expand her knowledge of Indigenous culture, engaging with Darkinyung, Awabakal and Wonnarua people who lived in the area.
She attempted to learn various languages of the region, transcribing word lists, songs and poems, and acknowledging the Indigenous people who shared their knowledge with her.
She wrote a suite of Indigenous-themed poems in the 1840s, publishing poems in newspapers such as The Eagle Chief (1843) or Native Poetry/Nung-ngnun (1848). These poems were criticised by anonymous letter writers, questioning her poetic ability, her knowledge and her choice of subject.
Some critics were frankly racist, refusing to accept the human emotions expressed by Dunlop’s Indigenous narrators.
The Sydney Herald had railed against the death sentences of the men responsible for the Myall Creek massacre, and Dunlop condemned the attitude of the paper and its correspondents. She hoped “the time was past, when the public press would lend its countenance to debase the native character, or support an attempt to shade with ridicule”.
Dunlop would publish with one outlet before shifting to another, finding different editors in the volatile colonial press who would support her.
Poetry of protest
Dunlop wrote in a sentimental form of poetry popular at the time, addressing exile, history and memory. She published around 60 poems in Australian newspapers and magazines between 1838 and 1873, but appears to have written nothing more on Indigenous themes after 1850. This popular writing also contributed to poetry of political protest, galvanising readers around causes such as transatlantic anti-slavery.
The plight of Indigenous people under British colonialism inspired many writers, including “crying mother” poems that harnessed the universal appeal of motherhood.
Dunlop’s poems The Aboriginal Mother and The Irish Mother are linked to this literary trend, but her experience of colonialism lent her poetry more authority than writers who sourced information about “exotic” cultures from imperial travel writing and voyage accounts.
In the early 1870s, Dunlop collated a selection of poetry, The Vase, but she was never able to publish. Family demands and financial constraints precluded it.
Dunlop died in 1880. Like many women of the time, her writing was neglected and forgotten, until it was rediscovered by the literary critic and editor Elizabeth Webby in the 1960s.
Webby identified Dunlop as the first Australian poet to transcribe and translate Indigenous songs, and as among the earliest to try to increase white readers’ awareness of Indigenous culture. Webby published the first collection of Dunlop’s poems in 1981.
Today, communities and linguists regularly use Dunlop’s transcripts for language reclamation projects in the Upper Hunter Valley.
Last year, 140 years after Dunlop’s death, Wanarruwa Beginner’s Guide — an introduction to one language of the Hunter River area — was published.
At the launch, language consultant Sharon Edgar-Jones (Wonnarua and Gringai) movingly recited one of the songs Dunlop transcribed: revitalising the words of the Indigenous women and men to whom Dunlop listened, when so few white Australians were listening at all.
Eliza Hamilton Dunlop Writing from the Colonial Frontier, edited by Anna Johnston and Elizabeth Webby, is out now through Sydney University Press.
From the Caribbean to Queensland: re-examining Australia’s ‘blackbirding’ past and its roots in the global slave trade
Emma Christopher, UNSWThere are moves afoot to scrub colonial businessman Benjamin Boyd’s name from the map. The owners of historic Boydtown on the NSW south coast are planning to change its name, while Ben Boyd National Park may also be renamed. Residents in North Sydney will take part in a survey to rename Ben Boyd Road, too.
The reason: Boyd’s links to “blackbirding” in the 19th century.
Blackbirding was a term given to the trade of kidnapping or tricking Pacific Islanders on board ships so they could be carried away to work in Australia.
Boyd instigated this practice in the late 1840s, bringing the first group of Pacific Islanders to work on land in the Australian colonies. Although his scheme ultimately failed, other labour traders would deliver approximately 62,000 islanders to Queensland and NSW between the 1860s and 1900s.
The moves to rename the NSW sites are largely due to Australian South Sea Islanders’ struggles for recognition of what their ancestors endured. They often prefer the term slavery to indentured labour and demand full acknowledgement of what happened.
One way this might be achieved is by tracing Pacific Islander blackbirding back to its roots and placing it within the global context of slavery.
This history — painful and provocative as it might be — offers a way to bridge the divisions between those who are proud of Australia’s sugar pioneers and Australian South Sea Islanders who are still dealing with the losses from this ugly past.
Boyd’s history with slavery
To take this broader perspective, we need to reexamine Boyd’s early life. Boyd was the son of a wealthy London slave trader, Edward Boyd, whose business shipped several thousand enslaved people to sugar plantations in the Caribbean and fought against the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
This matters. Benjamin Boyd claimed to be a self-made man, but his education, home life, connections and worldview were fostered by his father’s profession and the wealth it had created.
As Marion Diamond wrote in her 1988 biography of Boyd, he had grown up in Britain with an African servant named Dick. As a child aboard one of Edward Boyd’s slave ships, Dick had become too sick to make a profit at market. Instead of being thrown overboard as “refuse”, as was usual, Dick was taken to Britain to be a servant.
Benjamin’s preconceived ideas of “Black” labour and his own place in the world were based on these early experiences of being served tea by Dick.
He was hardly alone among blackbirders in having such a background. It would be extraordinary if he had been.
The reason the importation of Pacific labourers took off in the 1860s, following Boyd’s earlier example, was the fledgling Australian sugar industry.
Sugar had profoundly changed the Americas by this time, creating unparalleled wealth for Britain, France, the Netherlands and other colonisers. It also played a central role in industrialisation.
Sugar’s voracious labour demands — and massive profit margins — accounted for a vast percentage of the 12 million or so African captives delivered for sale in the Americas.
Sugar and slavery created many of Britain’s richest men. And when slavery was abolished in much of the British empire in 1833-34, sugar planters gained by far the biggest compensation payouts for the loss of their human property.
It is no wonder many of Australia’s sugar pioneers and blackbirders had family backgrounds, fortunes and/or experiences from the slave-sugar complex of the Caribbean (as well as Mauritius in the Indian Ocean). I have so far found more than 200 such people who came to Australia to start again.
Among them was Louis Hope, celebrated as Queensland’s sugar pioneer, who came from a West Indies slave trading and owning family. Ormiston House, Hope’s former home, contains a fawning plaque to him, which mentions neither his pioneering use of South Sea Islander workers, nor his family’s past connections to slavery.
John Ewen Davidson, the “doyen” of the Mackay sugar industry, was also from one of the wealthiest slave-owning dynasties in the West Indies going back four generations.
Caribbean planters and their children did not only bring money to Australia, but also ideas of how sugar could best be grown. They were experts in what labourers should look like: dark-skinned, cheap and easy to control by restricting options for escape.
They sought managers from the West Indies to run their plantations, such as John Buhot of the Barbados, for whom there is a plaque in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens. Buhot’s parents were minor slave owners and he had trained there as a sugar boiler and manager.
Other managers were recruited from the US, Cuba and Brazil, where slavery was either just ending or not yet abolished.
In other words, the men who had experience managing enslaved African people in the Americas were sought to oversee Pacific Islanders, despite them being not legally enslaved in Australia. It was thought to be expedient.
The naming of Australian places
These connections to the Atlantic slavery trade dot Australia. The central NSW coastal suburb of Tascott, for instance, is named for Thomas Alison Scott, who had previously worked at his uncle’s slave-trading company and then as a manager at his father’s plantation in Antigua.
When Scott arrived in Australia, he appropriated the sugar-growing successes of a black Antiguan slave as his own.
For others, the use of Caribbean names for Australian locations was both commemorative and hopeful of the wealth they hoped to reproduce. The Brown brothers, whose mother was from the West Indies, settled on the Fraser Coast and named their sugar plantation Antigua. This name remains in use today.
Far more notable were the Longs, who had been among the wealthiest and most influential slaveholders in Jamaica since 1655. They also relocated to Queensland in the 19th century and named their plantation north of Mackay for Cuba’s capital, Habana.
Connections to the Caribbean were celebrated in this way even after Britain became fervently anti-slavery.
If Pacific labour is seen not as an Australian peculiarity but instead as part of the global slave trade, it becomes far easier to grasp the scope of the grief and disadvantage that Australian South Sea Islanders are still dealing with.
As Pacific Islanders have been demanding for some time, we need to examine and confront this history before we can move forward.
How early Australian settlers drew maps to erase Indigenous people and push ideas of colonial superiority
Imogen Wegman, University of TasmaniaThe new Netflix series Shadow and Bone opens with cartographer Alina Starkov crammed into the back of a rumbling wagon, sketching a war-torn landscape. A flashback to her childhood in an orphanage shows her looking at a map of a conflict zone.
A guardian tells her, “keep a pencil in your hand, or else someone will put a rifle in it instead”. The cartographers of this fictional world are crucial to the military, just as they are in the real world. But there is also a sense that cartographers played a peaceful role in the army.
In reality, the role of surveyors and cartographers throughout history was often far from peaceful. It was their initial explorations that paved the way for destructive waves of colonising armies and civilians.
At each stage of mapping an area, clues are preserved about the priorities and prejudices of the person wielding the pencil, and those instructing them. Today, researchers can spot these clues and draw out the contextual history of the time.
Exploring the land
Maps made it easier for the government back home to imagine the territory of a new colony, to claim to “know” and thus own it. Therefore, surveying expeditions into unknown lands were prioritised.
Some expeditions were huge, such as Lewis and Clark’s crossing of the United States. Others were small, such as James Meehan’s treks around the Derwent River in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) between October 1803 and March 1804.
Meehan kept a daily log of measurements and happenings as he explored. Like many, he occasionally included sketches, probably trying to ward off boredom during the long evenings at camp.
We know through journal records that Meehan met some palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) people along the different routes, once firing on a group when he felt threatened.
Focused on sought-after utilities
Meehan’s observations were then produced for their first external audience – the colonial government. It’s here we start to see the colony’s priorities.
Many of the map labels highlight the quality of the land in terms of potential for expansion and European-style agriculture. Meehan’s map of the Hobart area emphasises whether the land encountered was hilly or flat, covered with vegetation, or cleared pasture.
By the time Meehan drafted his “Plan of the Settlement at the River Derwent”, pictured above, the Europeans had moved from their initial camp at Risdon Cove to today’s site of Hobart. The Risdon settlement was considered a failure as the fresh water ran out and soldiers threatened mutiny, so Meehan omitted any reference to it beyond a small name label.
More importantly, he excluded any reference to any Indigenous people, despite having encountered them on more than one occasion.
Meehan was playing his part in cultivating the narrative of Van Diemen’s Land as a successful colony on an “empty” island that had been (supposedly) waiting for the Europeans to arrive. This was the same as the terra nullius narrative perpetuated by the British government regarding the mainland.
Propaganda in map form
Sometimes the map would be destined for wider circulation and would be refined with simple decorative features such as a key, north arrow, coloured inks and detailed illustrations of ships or gardens.
Within these more attractive maps, hidden clues became even more nuanced.
Aspirational elements were introduced, giving the viewer a sense of what the cartographer, landholder or government perceived as a desirable landscape. Phrases such as “unexplored country” would be used, or an area of blank space sparked the imagination with some promise of undiscovered wealth.
Both sketch maps and their more refined siblings were used by the ruling powers as working maps to track their increasing expansion over the land. By reading the scribbled annotations carefully, stories of changing land ownership, population growth and acts of violence become apparent.
Republishing and distribution
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, geographers, engravers and others combined data from maps and reports to print single sheets and atlases they could sell at a range of prices.
These maps transported the reading public to remote locations and made them sound educated at the dinner table. Accuracy was not required for this, so mistakes were copied from one chart to another, and outdated information often circulated for decades.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, explorers’ maps and reports sometimes included references to First Nations peoples or their significant sites. Abel Tasman observed the presence of palawa people in southern Tasmania. A century later, explorers in America named “native guides” in recognition of their invaluable assistance during cross-country expeditions.
But by the end of the 18th century, changing attitudes towards First Nations peoples started to see references to them disappear from maps of European colonies around the globe.
In 1804, Meehan omitted all mention of Tasmania’s palawa people from his Derwent River map. This is a reflection of emerging ideas of colonial superiority. The Europeans were increasingly reluctant to admit to needing help from Indigenous people, or even to admit there were other people already living on the lands.
So the next time you find yourself in front of a historic map, make sure you ask what details have been included, which have been excluded and — most importantly — why?
An operatic soprano with a voice described as sparklingly clear, her career would take her across the world, from Russia to America, but she always returned home.
This extraordinary Australian was arguably our first celebrity. While her singing is famed, she was a complex woman who shaped her own career, far more interesting than her culinary namesakes — Melba Toast and Peach Melba — might suggest.
On her 160th birthday, here are five things you may not know about her.
1. She avidly pursued the perfect portrait
Melba was aware of the relationship between image and celebrity, and pursued the “perfect” portrait for years.
The most well known painting of Melba today is by Rupert Bunny, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902.
But biographer Ann Blainey reports Melba told her friends no one — save Bunny himself — liked the portrait when it was completed.
One of the most striking photographs of Melba was taken by Harold Cazneaux in 1922.
Looking at this image very closely, there appears to be the 19th century equivalent of photoshopping. Melba’s jawline has been subtly reshaped: a little visual nip and tuck.
In what could be characterised as a form of “pre-mythologising”, Melba commissioned a bust by Bertram Mackennal. When the bust was completed in 1899, she promptly gifted it to the National Gallery of Victoria, saying:
may I express the hope that I am not wholly forgotten in our beloved country.
2. She was shrewd with money
A clever business woman, who always controlled her own interests, Melba only engaged managers for short periods of time in foreign markets.
According to one of her biographers, Joseph Wechsberg, Melba had no time for dinner invitations that carried the implication of a little performance. Once at the party, she would announce she would sing, but only if they would “sign a little cheque”.
She once quoted a fee of £500 to an American socialite who asked her to dinner and to sing afterwards — A$71,000 today.
3. Her OBE was not for her singing
Melba lost five relatives at Gallipoli, and in 1915 she single-handedly spearheaded a charitable endeavour in the form of Melba’s Gift Book of Australian Art in support of Belgian war relief efforts.
Filled with colour plate illustrations from significant Australian artists and writers such as Arthur Streeton, Norman Lindsay and Henry Lawson, the front cover is inscribed with the words “the entire profits from the sale of this book will be devoted by Madam Melba to the Belgian Relief Fund”.
Melba spoke passionately about her love for Belgium in the opening pages of the book:
[…] I made my debut there; my first appearance in opera was in Brussels, and I can still hear the cheers of my first audience, the kindly, warm-hearted Belgians whose generous recognition of the unknown artist from distant Australia gave me hope and courage to persevere.
While Melba is known for her astonishing musical talent, she became a Dame in 1918 in recognition of this charitable work.
4. She was a gossip magazine staple
Celebrity needs both fame and commodity, and Melba ensured her renown reached far beyond the concert hall. Even Australians who could have never heard her sing because they lived in regional areas were avid consumers of her as a product.
You could buy cartes-de-visite of her in costume, or eagerly read newspaper and magazine gossip about her poorly concealed affair with the Duc d’Orleans. From 1904, recordings of her singing could be purchased; and in 1926 she published her own vocal method: a hit with singing students, and still used today.
The latter term was also used by the press after her death in 1931. This description of Melba speaks to the collective pride and ownership Australians felt about her.
5. But she didn’t always love being a celebrity
Melba was fatigued at times by the pressure of singing roles as she aged, and had two extended periods of rest in Switzerland in 1890 and 1897 to recover from vocal nodules.
While she did seek fame, carefully moulding the image she provided to the public, Melba would come to know its darker side. She remarked in her biography, “everybody who has known fame has also known the agonies which fame brought”.
Hidden women of history: Melanesian indentured labourer Annie Etinside, hailed as a Queensland ‘pioneer’ on her death
She was brought to Halifax, a small, sleepy town bordering the banks of the Herbert River that was once a thriving port and tramway terminus for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s Victoria sugar plantation and mill.
Evidence today of the indentured labourers who once toiled on the plantation is found in small signposts such as one at “The Gardens”, formerly a small Melanesian village on the outskirts of Halifax. Here lived a few families who were not later repatriated to their islands.
Far fewer women than men were recruited as indentured labourers. In 1906, when forced repatriation of these labourers began, only 14 Melanesian women and 500 men remained on the Herbert. Annie, one of those 14, did not live in The Gardens community. Her life took a very different course.
Available records reveal a woman of colour who defied all odds to participate in a predominantly white community. Yet Annie remains an enigma.
The “frontier” is generally thought of as a masculine space. In part this is because most frontier history has been written by European men, who tended not to notice women beyond their domestic arrangements, if at all. Fleshing out the lives of pioneering frontier women is difficult enough if they are white, let alone for women of colour.
The first Melanesian men were brought to the Herbert River district around 1872; women came about ten years later. Annie appears to have been among them. While some islanders volunteered, others were secured against their own will by deceit and even kidnapping.
They were paid, and at the end of the three-year indenture period could either return to their islands, re-indenture, or work freely in the sugar industry on a set wage. Following the existing record trail leaves many questions unanswered about when Annie arrived and where from.
In the Halifax cemetery, her simple headstone tells us she came from Ureparapara (the third largest island in the Banks group of northern Vanuatu). Yet her death certificate records her as born on “Lambue South Sea Island”. Her marriage certificate records her birth as “Burra Burra South Sea Island”. Neither of these locations can be identified, but the latter may be a corruption of Buka Buka.
A register was kept listing the names of recruited labourers and other details. The only Etinside on this register is a man brought over on November 5, 1888 from Ureparapara. We don’t know if this was Annie, mistakenly recorded as a male.
Details of Annie’s arrival are further muddied by the information provided on her gravestone, marriage and death certificates. According to these, she was born around 1870, so would have arrived in Australia in 1881 as an 11-year-old.
Indentured women were employed both in fields and houses by small farmers, and on plantations. Annie’s obituary, published in the Herbert River Express, says she was first engaged as housemaid to Norwegian sugar cane farmer Johan (John) Ingebright Alm and his wife Antonia, then to an English farmer, Francis Herron and his wife Lucinda.
By 1884, she was housemaid to George Gosling who had migrated from Britain in 1881. George was an overseer of indentured labour gangs, then farmed on leased land and in his own right, turning a piece of land called “Poverty Flat” by locals into a successful farm, Rosedale.
Annie married Gosling in 1898 in a civil ceremony. By this time, she had borne him two children. The children’s birth records are the first bearing the name Etenside (misspelt). At this point, Annie may have begun to feel unsafe. The Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 had just been passed.
Without an official record to prove she had arrived as an indentured labourer, officials could have identified Annie as Aboriginal. This would have meant restriction of her movements and associations; her children, as mixed race and born out of wedlock, could have been taken from her.
The indentured labour scheme was never meant to permit Melanesian people to settle permanently in Australia. In 1901 the White Australia policy legislated to stop the scheme. From the end of 1906, all Melanesian indentured labourers were to be forcibly deported back to their islands, except for those with exemption tickets.
Marriage offered Annie protection. Rather than social disapproval, it seems to have met with tolerance, even if expressed in a patronising way. One Cairns newspaper described her with tongue in cheek as Gosling’s “little black duck”.
Annie and Gosling had three more children although tragedy struck on January 17, 1905, when Gosling died of malaria at the age of 45. Annie was left with five young children, the youngest only eight days old. On Gosling’s death, Annie was recognised as his lawful widow, inheriting all his estate. The success of his farm can be partly attributed to her. On the Herbert, small farmers depended on wives and children for all field labour, apart from cane harvesting.
Annie had another child in 1907, who she named Robert Gosling. She went on to marry William John Davey on February 17, 1909. But one month after their marriage, she registered the death of little Robert. Davey died on August 30, in the same year. After his death she reverted to using the name Gosling.
Despite her “alien” status, Annie integrated herself successfully into the largely white social fabric of Halifax, becoming a respected member of the community at a time of institutionalised racism. She participated in civic life, was registered on the electoral roll and ran a farm.
Her children attended the Halifax State School, her sons farmed and held jobs at the sugar mills (unusual for children of indentured labourers) and her children married Anglo-Australians, Europeans and Asians.
Annie’s were remarkable feats, given the prevailing racial attitudes and prohibitions regarding land ownership, education and constitutional rights. They indicate her determination to be recognised as an accountable, independent and hard-working member of society, regardless of her skin colour.
When Annie died on November 23, 1948 at the recorded age of 78, she was described in the Herbert River Express as a “grand old pioneer”.