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By now, most of us would know that 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage along the East Coast of Australia. The federal government has allocated $48.7 million to commemorate the occasion, with a replica of Cook’s HMB Endeavour to circumnavigate the country.
But at the time of the voyage, Indigenous Australians often travelled great distances too, with most of those journeys being unrecorded. One that was, however, was the journey of Weitchymumble, a man of the Wati Wati (Wadi Wadi) from the Murray River around Swan Hill who travelled by foot across the dry regions of northwest Victoria around 200 kilometres to Lake Hindmarsh and back. He endured extreme heat, food shortages and exhaustion during this trek.
Back in 1877, Peter Beveridge, a squatter on the Murray River, published an article detailing Weitchymumble’s journey in the Ballarat Star. It had been told to him by Turrangin, a senior elder of the Wati Wati, who was Weitchymumble’s great-grandson.
We don’t know exactly when this happened, but Turrangin did tell us a little about the timing (Beveridge included words in the Wati Wati language in brackets):
When my cokernew (grandfather) was but a very small boy, long before the turrawil ngurtangies (white devils) came with their numberless stock to overrun the country, and drive away the teeming game, from whence the Woortongies (aborigines) drew their food supply […] his father, then quite a young man, was deputed by the tribe to accompany the Ngalloo Watow to the far Wimmera on tribal business.
The Ngalloo Watow was described by Beveridge as a “postman”, who carried news and conducted barters, able to travel “with impunity”.
At the time of the journey Turrangin’s grandfather was perhaps aged 10. Since Turrangin was a senior elder when he told the story to Beveridge in the 1850s, he might have been born around 1810. His grandfather might then have been a boy around 1770, the same time as Cook’s journey.
A journey through a land of plenty
Weitchymumble’s name means “welcome swallow”. The late Luise Hercus, a linguist who recorded many Indigenous languages, heard this word 50 years ago spoken by Mrs Jackson Stuart, one of the last to speak the Werkaya (Wimmera) language as a mother tongue. Hercus spelled it “wity-wity-mambel”.
We don’t know what the business of Weitchymumble’s trip with the Ngalloo Watow was, but it started in the spring, “the season of peetchen-peetchen (flowers), when the whole country was glowing with bloom”. They reached Lake Hindmarsh after “a long weary tramp of many days”.
After a bath and meal of wallup (sleeping lizard), they were spotted by scouts of the Wimmera tribe, who:
fraternised after the fashion of the Aborigines prior to the advent of European customs; […] they walked up to the fire, squatted down by its side without saying one word, until the time (which was considerable) had expired which Australian savage etiquette demands on these occasions. After that, however, they talked fast enough […]
Returning from Lake Hindmarsh in heat described as having “the fervency of a wean chirrick (a reed bed on fire)”, soon they had run short of water and food when they came upon the nest of a lowan, or Mallee Fowl. Lowan is one of the few words from an Indigenous Victorian language borrowed into English.
In the Lowan’s nest, they found “politulu murnangin mirk” (eggs to the number of the fingers on both hands). The Ngalloo Watow made fire “by rubbing a narrow lath-like piece of saltbush across a sun crack in a pine log” then set the eggs on the sand until they simmered, stirring them with a thin twig, through an opening at the top end. When cooked there was a rich yellow paste of yolk and white mixed, the taste was “talko” (good).
But, within a few days, they were again short of food when they saw a sleeping “little old man” threatened by a mindi (large snake). Weitchymumble immediately dashed, grabbed the snake, rescued the old man from it, cut off the snake’s head and then collapsed from exhaustion.
Seeing Weitchymumble lying, the old man exclaimed “”Niniwoor wortongie birra. Yetty tumla coorrongendoo. Ka ki nginma. Boorm.” (Ah, the young man is dead. I shall cry very much. Come here you. Quickly.) These words are the longest single piece of continuous written text in this language.
Weitchymumble was carried into a large conical stone, where the old man gave him a special drink and he revived. The old man turned out to be the Ngowdenout, the “spirit of the Mallee”. As Beveridge wrote: “He is both good and bad by turns […] all-seeing, all-powerful, and unvulnerable to everything earthly.”
Because Weitchymumble had acted to save the old man, the Ngowdenout was good to both the travellers, providing them with food and then when they were sleeping, disappearing. When they woke, the stone was nowhere to be seen but a clear path for them to return home had been marked out.
Beveridge concludes the story by noting that “the story of the Ngowdenout and his coorongandoo muckie loondhal (big stone house) is as fresh in the memory of the Watty Watty tribe as it was the day after Weitchymumble and his companion had related it”.
While the Ngowdenout is perhaps a mythical entity, at the core of this story is a real journey. It tells of a land of plenty, of Indigenous tribes meeting and interacting in their own customs’ manners, and of ways of life, like the method of cooking eggs. Such journeys would have happened regularly, but this is the only one from Victoria recorded in such detail.
Along with the Cook voyage, then, in 2020 let’s honour Weitchymumble’s journey and the people of the inland.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at Seahenge, England.
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The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s foundation document. On February 6, 1840, the treaty was signed by representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs who acted on behalf of their hapū (sub-tribes).
Māori are indigenous to New Zealand, with historical ties and common narratives extending to Polynesia. The signing of the treaty confirmed formal European settlement in New Zealand. But debate and confusion have continued ever since regarding the exact meaning of the treaty text.
Nuance in translation
The debate stems from the fact that the parties involved in its signing, namely the rangatira (chiefs) and New Zealand’s first governor William Hobson on behalf of the British Crown, had different understandings and expectations as to what they had signed and what authority they would exercise.
There are two accepted versions of the Treaty of Waitangi: a Māori text known as Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the English version hereon called the Treaty of Waitangi. Under law both are accepted as the Treaty of Waitangi, but they are significantly different in meaning.
Te Tiriti speaks of the chiefs maintaining their tino rangatiratanga (authority) over their taonga (all that they hold precious, including the Māori language). The chiefs allow the Queen to have kāwanatanga, a nominal and delegated authority so that she can control her people. On the other hand, the treaty in English tells us that the chiefs ceded their sovereignty to the crown while retaining full, exclusive and undisturbed possession over their lands, estates, forests and fisheries.
A matter of interpretation
Given that at the time of the signing, the dominant language was Te Reo Māori and the majority of the discussions would have been conducted orally, the Māori text of Te Tiriti reflects the intentions of the chiefs. It is a critical reference point in informing our understandings, reinforced by the international convention of contra proferentem in relation to treaty making. This rule in contract law states that any clause considered to be ambiguous should be interpreted against the interests of the party that requested the clause to be included.
The treaty was presented in a manner calculated to secure Māori agreement. The transfer of power to the Crown was thus played down.
Bear in mind also that the Declaration of Independence, the forerunner to Te Tiriti/Treaty, signed in 1835, had affirmed the authority chiefs already had. This meant they held mana and rangatiratanga (all power and sovereign authority). This system of political authority had been in place for many centuries.
Legal status of the treaty
Fast forward to 2019 and what has been happening in the landscape of treaty jurisdiction. During and after the cumulative impact of introduced legislation and policies which led to systemic colonisation, consistent and unwavering Māori protests at violations of both treaties eventually led to the introduction of the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act and its 1985 amendment.
This gave us the Waitangi Tribunal, which allows for a process to hear claims about breaches of the treaty, typically the taking of land and resources from Māori. The tribunal found in 2014 that Maori did not cede their sovereignty in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It also introduced a set of principles which embodied the intention of both treaties in an attempt to mediate the differences in the two versions.
A series of judgements and mandates by the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal also ruled that the Crown has the right to govern (kāwanatanga), subject to the protection of Māori interests (rangatiratanga). This position is not accepted by many Māori who will continue to advocate for the supremacy of rangatiratanga over kāwanatanga.
In his book about the treaty’s place in New Zealand law and constitution, Mathew Palmer notes:
The Waitangi Tribunal developed the core of an interpretation of the meaning of the treaty that could and should be applied in contemporary New Zealand. This was a forward-looking constructive approach to enhancing relationships between the Crown and Māori.
A long-standing education campaign about the Treaty of Waitangi has also helped non-indigenous New Zealanders to appreciate the significance of the treaty relationship.
Most discussions on the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi generally include the following:
- duty to act in good faith, reasonably and/or honourably
- principle of partnership
- principle of protection or active protection.
New Zealand’s constitution demands that robust public policy gives expression to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. This has led to the redesign of Crown agencies which must now be culturally responsive to the aspirations of Māori and actively innovate solutions to reduce the glaring social disparities where Māori are disproportionately represented.
The Waitangi Tribunal has heard and settled 54 treaty claims since 1989, including financial redress of more than NZ$1.5 billion. The first settlement, in respect of the Waitomo Caves, involved the transfer of land and a loan. Settlements since then have included several elements of redress: a formal apology by the crown, financial and cultural redress, the transfer of or the option to purchase significant properties, and restoration of traditional geographical names.
Since the identity of hapū is rooted in their physical and spiritual relationship with the environment over hundreds of years, these forms of cultural redress acknowledge the tribe as the rightful guardians and their deep association with place. The process seeks to restore the sacred relationships compromised by colonisation.
The treaty settlement process has been the catalyst for significant economic growth for iwi (tribe) controlled assets and Māori enterprise. This naturally brings positive development to the New Zealand economy, encouraging iwi and Māori to continue to progress their advancement not only economically but socially, culturally and environmentally.
The genealogy of the term British reveals a fragile and contested historical identity – something Brexit has thrown into stark relief.
In the 17th century, being British only had meaning as a colonial identity, when it was used to denote the projection of English and Scottish interests overseas. When the term was used within the geographical confines of Great Britain – and later in Great Britain and Ireland – its common use was in reference to the British government or the British constitution.
Understanding the genealogy of the term British can help make sense of the lack of consensus which has emerged over Brexit. After all, the British empire no longer exists and the British government is instead managing a declining British presence worldwide. Alongside the devolution of powers within the UK, it’s unclear what the term British is now meant to describe.
The Irish context
While the term British had a medieval heritage, a modern genealogy of the term British began in the early 17th century. With the accession of James I of England (who was James VI of Scotland) to the English throne in 1603, the crowns of Scotland and England were united in one person. This recalled the ancient idea of a British monarchy, recounted by the 12th-century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had described a distant past when there had been kings of Britain.
Scotland and England, however, remained separate kingdoms until the Act of Union of 1707 and so the idea of a united “British identity” had little traction within the geographical confines of Great Britain in this period.
Instead, in those records which still exist of material published in Great Britain and its dependencies up to 1800, the term British was mostly used in relation to Ireland in the first half of the 17th century.
It was with the flight of the Gaelic earls from Ulster in 1607, which opened the way for plantation by Scottish and English settlers in the north of Ireland, that the first truly British policy emerged. The Scots were co-opted into the long-running English involvement with Ireland, justified by the idea of “civilising” the Irish. Crucially, it was the collective actions of the English and the Scots outside their home nations which gave meaning to the term “British”.
A 1610 pamphlet listed the “Conditions to be observed by the Brittish Undertakers of the Escheated Lands in Ulster”, while a 1618 pamphlet restated the terms under which “Brittish undertakers” had received land.
Even with the English Civil Wars in the 1640s, British continued to be used in relation to Ireland, rather than in reference to the internal dynamics of Great Britain. A massacre of Protestants in Ireland, for example, was reported on in 1646 as “Cruelties exercised in Ireland upon the Brittish Protestants.”
An imperial project
A similar pattern can be found from the late 17th century well into the 19th. The 1707 Act of Union of England and Scotland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The debates which surrounded the union were complex, but an important strand concerned the need to project British imperial power in order to counterbalance other European trading nations.
From the 1690s onwards, different pamphlets referred to “British plantations” overseas and later “British seamen”, which suggests that a growing imperial identity helped underpin political union at home.
Figures such as Edmund Burke (1729-97), an Irishman embedded in English domestic politics, expressed the growing complexity of the term British. Burke wrote about “British navigation” and “British trade”, which he argued could, under the right circumstances, benefit the sister Kingdom of Ireland. He also wrote famously about the benefits of the “British constitution”. There were also references from Burke by this stage of the 18th century to the “British nation”. Nevertheless, the propensity remained for the term British to denote imperial expansion – as well as the shared institutional structures of the United Kingdom.
The imperial logic of the term British can also be found in the circumstances which underlay the 1801 Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland, and more importantly Catholic emancipation in 1829, which gave Catholics the right to sit in the British parliament and hold most public offices. Even after 1829, within the confines of Great Britain and Ireland, Irish Catholics continued to be viewed with suspicion – as “disloyal” to the crown – and they were very aware of their separate identity. But the crucial role played by Irish Catholics in the British army overseas, where they embraced a British identity outside Ireland, made increasingly untenable those arguments which had continued against Catholic emancipation.
Searching for a British identity
With the decline of empire, and the rise of nationalism in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, the imperial traction of the term British began, slowly, to diminish. The awkward emptiness of the term British is neatly expressed in the “Order of the British Empire”, which was created to honour those who had acted in service and defence of the British empire during World War I, but now somehow honours those who have contributed to the life of the United Kingdom. The disappearance of the British empire after World War II underlines the strangeness in talking about an OBE.
The genealogy of the term British therefore points to an inherent problem with the Brexit project. British, by its very definition, is an imperial term, not a national one – but there is no longer an empire. Speaking of a British outlook invokes a demand for a global presence. British was also meant to refer to a functional constitutional settlement which, in its idealised form, protected the interests of the different nations of the UK. Devolution, and a divergence in those interests, has placed the constitutional settlement under severe strain.
With Brexit, despite an empty imperial nostalgia so neatly encapsulated by the promise of an “Empire 2.0” after the UK leaves the EU, the term British has lost even more of its meaning. Now, more than ever, the country needs to decide what it wants the term British to mean.