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Shillings, gods and runes: clues in language suggest a Semitic superpower in ancient northern Europe



Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire. Joseph Mallord William Turner, c 1815.
The National Gallery, CC BY-NC-SA

Robert Mailhammer, Western Sydney University

Remember when Australians paid in shillings and pence? New research suggests the words for these coins and other culturally important items and concepts are the result of close contact between the early Germanic people and the Carthaginian Empire more than 2,000 years ago.

The city of Carthage, in modern-day Tunisia, was founded in the 9th century BCE by the Phoenicians. The Carthaginian Empire took over the Phoenician sphere of influence, with its own sphere of influence from the Mediterranean in the east to the Atlantic in the west and further into Africa in the south. The empire was destroyed in 146 BCE after an epic struggle against the Romans.

Carthaginian sphere of influence.
Adapted from Kelly Macquire/Ancient History Encyclopedia, CC BY-NC-SA

The presence of the Carthaginians on the Iberian Peninsula is well documented, and it is commonly assumed they had commercial relations with the British Isles. But it is not generally believed they had a permanent physical presence in northern Europe.

By studying the origin of key Germanic words and other parts of Germanic languages, Theo Vennemann and I have found traces of such a physical presence, giving us a completely new understanding of the influence of this Semitic superpower in northern Europe.

Linguistic history

Language can be a major source of historical knowledge. Words can tell stories about their speakers even if there is no material evidence from archeology or genetics. The many early Latin words in English, such as “street”, “wine” and “wall”, are evidence for the influence of Roman civilisation.




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Punic was the language of the Carthaginians. It is a Semitic language and closely related to Hebrew. Unfortunately, there are few surviving texts in Punic and so we often have to use Biblical Hebrew as a proxy.

Proto-Germanic was spoken in what is now northern Germany and southern Scandinavia more than 2,000 years ago, and is the ancestor of contemporary Germanic languages such as English, German, Norwegian and Dutch.

Identifying traces of Punic in Proto-Germanic languages tell an interesting story.

Take the words “shilling” and “penny”: both words are found in Proto-Germanic. The early Germanic people did not have their own coins, but it is likely they knew coins if they had words for them.

Silver double shekel of Carthage.
© The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

In antiquity, coins were used in the Mediterranean. One major coin minted in Carthage was the shekel, the current name for currency of Israel. We think this is the historical origin of the word “shilling” because of the specific way the Carthaginians pronounced “shekel”, which is different from how it is pronounced in Hebrew.

The pronunciation of Punic can be reasonably inferred from Greek and Latin spellings, as the sounds of Greek and Latin letters are well known. Punic placed a strong emphasis on the second syllable of shekel and had a plain “s” at the beginning, instead of the “esh” sound in Hebrew.

But to speakers of Proto-Germanic – who normally put the emphasis on the first syllable of words – it would have sounded like “skel”. This is exactly how the crucial first part of the word “shilling” is constructed. The second part, “-(l)ing”, is undoubtedly Germanic. It was added to express an individuating meaning, as in Old German silbarling, literally “piece of silver”.

This combining of languages in one word shows early Germanic people must have been familiar with Punic.

Similarly, our word “penny” derives from the Punic word for “face”, panē. Punic coins were minted with the face of the goddess Tanit, so we believe panē would have been a likely name for a Carthaginian coin.

A silver coin minted in Carthage, featuring the Head of Tanit and Pegasus.
© The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

Cultural and social dominance

Sharing names for coins could indicate a trade relationship. Other words suggest the Carthaginians and early Germanic people had a much closer relationship.

By studying loan words between Punic and Proto-Germanic, we can infer the Carthaginians were culturally and socially dominant.

One area of Carthage leadership was agricultural technology. Our work traces the word “plough” back to a Punic verb root meaning “divide”. Importantly, “plough” was used by Proto-Germanic speakers to refer to a more advanced type of plough than the old scratch plough, or ard.

Close contact with the Carthaginians can explain why speakers of Proto-Germanic knew this innovative tool.

The Old Germanic and Old English words for the nobility, for example æþele, are also most likely Punic loanwords. If a word referring to the ruling class of people comes from another language, this is a good indication the people speaking this language were socially dominant.

Intersections of language and culture

We found Punic also strongly influenced the grammar of early Germanic, Germanic mythology and the Runic alphabet used in inscriptions in Germanic languages, until the Middle Ages.

Four of the first five letters of the Punic alphabet and the first four letters of the Germanic Runic alphabet.
Mailhammer & Vennemann (2019), Author provided

This new evidence suggests many early Germanic people learnt Punic and worked for the Carthaginians, married into their families, and had bilingual and bicultural children.

When Carthage was destroyed this connection was eventually lost. But the traces of this Semitic superpower remain in modern Germanic languages, their culture and their ancient letters.The Conversation

Robert Mailhammer, Associate Dean, Research, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Did a tragic family secret influence Kate Sheppard’s mission to give New Zealand women the vote?



Kate Sheppard (seated at centre) with the National Council of Women in Christchurch. 1896.

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

The family of pioneering New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard kept an important secret – one that possibly explains a lot about her life, her beliefs and her motivation.

The secret involved her father, Andrew Wilson Malcolm, and what happened to him after Kate was born. An extensive and painstaking quest by her great great niece Tessa Malcolm has revealed the truth about his fate.

Sadly, Tessa died in 2013 before publishing her decades-long research. I am now completing her work and hope to publish a new biography of Sheppard in 2023, the 130th anniversary of New Zealand becoming the first place in the world to give women the vote.

Solving the mystery of Andrew’s death deepens our understanding of Kate and her extraordinary life.

What happened to Kate Sheppard’s father?

Following family leads and with detailed searches of official and military records, wills and graves, Tessa finally established the truth: Andrew Malcolm died aged 42 of the delirium tremens (DTs) in New Mexico on January 26, 1862.

The DTs are a severe form of alcohol withdrawal and a horrible way to die. Symptoms include fever, seizures and hallucinations.

Kate Sheppard.

It had already been a long and difficult slog for Andrew. He was one of thousands of Scotsmen who served in overseas armies throughout the 19th century, motivated by a lust for adventure, sympathy for a cause, financial reward, a desire to emigrate or just to escape their lives at home.

When he died he was months short of completing ten years service in the Union Army. His burial site at Fort Craig was recently looted, which led to the official exhumation and reburial of bodies, Andrew’s remains possibly among them.

So we now know the Scottish father of a leader in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) died an alcoholic amid the horrors of the American Civil War. He had served and sacrificed his life on US soil, far from his wife and five children at home in the British Isles.




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The personal becomes political

As is well known, after the family left Scotland and re-grouped in New Zealand, Kate went on to play a key role in the movement to grant women the vote.

The late Tessa Malcolm, great great niece of Kate Sheppard.
Author provided

The peaceful campaign was closely aligned with the temperance movement. It argued that moral, enfranchised women were needed to clean up society by voting against the “demon drink”.

A New Zealand tour in 1885 by Mary Leavitt of the American WCTU was a catalyst for local organising. Sheppard became the secretary of the WCTU franchise department.

With her own family experience and connection with America, we can certainly speculate that for Kate temperance was more than a platform from which women could gain the vote. It’s highly probable that her quests for a sober society and votes for women were personally entwined.

A missing page from history

So why did Andrew’s death remain a secret? Stigma, a sense of shame, or just the natural desire for privacy could all be explanations.

In her 1992 biography of Kate Sheppard, Judith Devaliant dedicated only two pages to Kate’s life prior to her 1869 migration to New Zealand around the age of 21. Of Andrew she wrote: “His death has not been traced with any accuracy, although it is known that he died at an early age leaving his widow to cope with five young children.”




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The biography is also vague about the details of his life. He was born in Dunfermline, Fifeshire, in 1819 and married Jemima Crawford Souter on Islay in the Hebrides in 1842. Documents describe his occupation variously as lawyer, banker, brewer’s clerk and legal clerk.

There is no mention of Andrew in either the New Zealand History Net or Book of New Zealand Women entries on Kate Sheppard. Until now, the focus is on Kate’s adult life and work, with family taking a back seat.

Even in her own 1993 entry on Kate in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Tessa simply wrote: “Her father died in 1862”. The implication was that Andrew had died in Scotland, although Dublin and Jamaica also appear in genealogical records.

Ruins of the officers’ quarters, Fort Craig, New Mexico, USA: last resting place of Kate Sheppard’s father.
CC BY-SA

The search goes on

But Tessa was already aware of Andrew’s New Mexico fate by 1990, two years before Devaliant’s book was published. After following dead ends and disproving family rumours she had solved the puzzle of what really happened to the ancestor she referred to as the “bete noire” of her research.

Can we conclusively say that Kate Sheppard’s temperance and suffragist work was directly linked to knowledge of her father’s death? Or are we dealing with an irony of history, albeit a sad one?

As yet we can’t be sure. But Kate’s mother definitely knew the cause of Andrew’s death and we know she greatly influenced Kate. I believe it was also likely known by other senior (and also influential) family members, but kept quiet.

The fact the truth was hidden so well suggests a degree of deliberate concealment. By building on Tessa’s groundbreaking research I hope to reveal more of a remarkable story that connects Scotland, America and New Zealand to a global first for women.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Border closures, identity and political tensions: how Australia’s past pandemics shape our COVID-19 response


Susan Moloney, Griffith University and Kim Moloney, Murdoch University

Tensions over border closures are in the news again, now states are gradually lifting travel restrictions to all except Victorians.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says singling out Victorians is an overreaction to Melbourne’s coronavirus spike, urging the states “to get some perspective”.

Federal-state tensions over border closures and other pandemic quarantine measures are not new, and not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our new research shows such measures are entwined in our history and tied to Australia’s identity as a nation. We also show how our experiences during past pandemics guide the plans we now use, and alter, to control the coronavirus.




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Bubonic plague, federation and national identity

In early 1900, bubonic plague broke out just months before federation, introduced by infected rats on ships.

When a new vaccine was available, the New South Wales government planned to inoculate just front-line workers.

Journalists called for a broader inoculation campaign and the government soon faced a “melee” in which:

…men fought, women fainted and the offices [of the Board of Health] were damaged.

Patients and contacts were quarantined at the North Head Quarantine Station. Affected suburbs were quarantined and sanitation commenced.

The health board openly criticised the government for its handling of the quarantine measures, laying the groundwork for quarantine policy in the newly independent Australia.

Quarantine then became essential to a vision of Australia as an island nation where “island” stood for immunity and where non-Australians were viewed as “diseased”.

Public health is mentioned twice in the Australian constitution. Section 51(ix) gives parliament the power to quarantine, and section 69 requires states and territories to transfer quarantine services to the Commonwealth.

The Quarantine Act was later merged to form the Immigration Restriction Act, with quarantine influencing immigration policy.

Ports then became centres of immigration, trade, biopolitics and biosecurity.

Spanish flu sparked border disputes too

In 1918, at the onset of the Spanish flu, quarantine policy included border closures, quarantine camps (for people stuck at borders) and school closures. These measures initially controlled widespread outbreaks in Australia.

However, Victoria quibbled over whether NSW had accurately diagnosed this as an influenza pandemic. Queensland closed its borders, despite only the Commonwealth having the legal powers to do so.




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When World War I ended, many returning soldiers broke quarantine. Quarantine measures were not coordinated at the Commonwealth level; states and territories each went their own way.

Quarantine camps, like this one at Wallangarra in Queensland, were set up during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Aussie~mobs/Public Domain/Flickr

There were different policies about state border closures, quarantine camps, mask wearing, school closures and public gatherings. Infection spread and hospitals were overwhelmed.

The legacy? The states and territories ceded quarantine control to the Commonwealth. And in 1921, the Commonwealth created its own health department.

The 1990s brought new threats

Over the next seven decades, Australia linked quarantine surveillance to national survival. It shifted from prioritising human health to biosecurity and protection of Australia’s flora, fauna and agriculture.

In the 1990s, new human threats emerged. Avian influenza in 1997 led the federal government to recognise Australia may be ill-prepared to face a pandemic. By 1999 Australia had its first influenza pandemic plan.




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In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (or SARS) emerged in China and Hong Kong. Australia responded by discouraging nonessential travel and started health screening incoming passengers.

The next threat, 2004 H5N1 Avian influenza, was a dry run for future responses. This resulted in the 2008 Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza, which included border control and social isolation measures.

Which brings us to today

While lessons learned from past pandemics are with us today, we’ve seen changes to policy mid-pandemic. March saw the formation of the National Cabinet to endorse and coordinate actions across the nation.

Uncertainty over border control continues, especially surrounding the potential for cruise and live-export ships to import coronavirus infections.




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Then there are border closures between states and territories, creating tensions and a potential high court challenge.

Border quibbles between states and territories will likely continue in this and future pandemics due to geographical, epidemiological and political differences.

Australia’s success during COVID-19 as a nation, is in part due to Australian quarantine policy being so closely tied to its island nature and learnings from previous pandemics.

Lessons learnt from handling COVID-19 will also strengthen future pandemic responses and hopefully will make them more coordinated.




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The Conversation


Susan Moloney, Associate Professor, Paediatrics, Griffith University and Kim Moloney, Senior Lecturer in Global Public Administration and Public Policy, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Coronavirus is taking English pubs back in time



A tapster delivers a frothing tankard to seated alehouse customers in this 1824 etching.
British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA

James Brown, University of Sheffield

The announcement by Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, that pubs in England will be allowed to resume trading from July 4 was greeted with rousing cheers from some. But having a pint in the pandemic era will be slightly different. While two-metre social distancing rules are being relaxed to one metre to ensure economic viability for publicans, to maintain the safety of customers and staff, pubs will where practical be restricted to “table service”.

Standing at the bar is one of the most cherished rituals of the British pub experience – and many people are worried that the new rules could be the beginning of the end of a tradition that dates back centuries. Except, it doesn’t – the bar as we now know it is of relatively recent vintage and, in many respects, the new regulations are returning us to the practices of a much earlier era.

Before the 19th century, propping up the bar would have been an unfamiliar concept in England’s dense network of alehouses, taverns and inns. Alehouses and taverns in particular were seldom purpose-built, but were instead ordinary dwelling houses made over for commercial hospitality. Only their pictorial signboards and a few items of additional furniture distinguished them from surrounding houses. In particular, there was no bar in the modern sense of a fixed counter over which alcohol could be purchased and served.


Check out: Intoxicating spaces


Instead, beverages were ferried directly to seated customers from barrels and bottles in cellars and store rooms by the host and, in larger establishments, drawers, pot-boys, tapsters and waiters. The layout of Margaret Bowker’s large Manchester alehouse in 1641 is typical: chairs, stools and tables were distributed across the hall, parlours, and chambers, while drink was stored in “hogsheads”, “barrels”, and “rundlets” in her cellar.

Five customers receive table service from a tapster in this woodcut illustration from a late 17th-century ballad.
English Broadside Ballad Archive

The bar as we know it didn’t emerge organically from these arrangements, but rather from the introduction of a new commodity in the 18th century: gin.
Originally it was imported from the Netherlands and distilled in large quantities domestically from the later decades of the 17th century, but the emergence of a mass market for gin in the 1700s gave rise to the specialised gin or dram shop. Found mainly in London – especially in districts such as the East End and south of the river – an innovation of these establishments was a large counter that traversed their width.

Along with a lack of seating, this maximised serving and standing space and encouraged low-value but high-volume turnover from a predominantly poor clientele. The flamboyant gin palaces of the later 18th and early 19th century – described by caricaturist and temperance enthusiast George Cruikshank as “gaudy, gold be-plastered temples” – retained the bar, along with other features drawn from the retail sector such as plate-glass windows, gas lighting, elaborate wrought iron and mahogany fittings, and displays of bottles and glasses. While originally regarded as alien to local drinking cultures, by the 1830s these architectural elements started making their way into all English pubs, with the bar literally front and centre.

An 1808 aquatint after Thomas Rowlandson, showing human and canine customers standing at the bar in a gin shop.
Metropolitan Museum of Art

As architectural historian Mark Girouard has pointed out, the adoption of the bar was a “revolutionary innovation” – a “time-and-motion breakthrough” that transformed the relationship between customers and staff. It brought unprecedented efficiencies that were especially important in the expanding and industrialising cities of the early 1800s.

In particular, a fixed counter with taps, cocks and pumps connected to spirit casks and beer barrels was more efficient than employees scurrying between cellars, storerooms and drinking areas. This was especially the case for “off-sales” – customers purchasing drinks to take home – which had always been a large component of the drinks trade and still accounted for an estimated one-third of takings into the 19th century.

An 1833 lithograph depicting an ‘obliging bar-maid’ using a beer engine.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC

Posterity has paid little attention to the armies of service staff who kept the world of the tavern spinning on its axis before the age of the bar. But they are occasionally glimpsed in historical sources – such as Margaret Sephton, who was “drawing beer” at Widow Knee’s Chester alehouse in 1629, when she gave evidence about a theft of linen. While skilled – one tapster at a Chester tavern styled himself rather grandly in 1640 as a “drawer and sommelier of wine” – drink work was poorly paid. Staff were often paid in kind with food and lodgings and the work was usually undertaken by people who were young, poor, or new to the community.

The lack of a bar made the job especially challenging. It was physically demanding – in 1665 a young tapster at a Cheshire alehouse described how during her shift she was “called to and fro in the house and to other company, testifying to the constant back and forth. The fact that drinks were not poured in front of patrons made staff more vulnerable to accusations of adulteration and short measure – sometimes with good reason – and close physical proximity to customers when serving and collecting payment meant such disputes could more readily turn violent. For female employees, the absence of the insulating layer of material and space later provided by the bar meant they were much more exposed to sexual abuse from male patrons.

What can the historical record teach proprietors of any newly bar-less pubs? There are, of course, modern advantages such as apps and other digital tools – plus the example of European and North American establishments, where table service was never fully displaced. But there are practical lessons to be learned from the past all the same. Publicans today might streamline the range of drinks on offer and encourage the use of jugs for refills. Landlords could develop careful zoning for their staff – in larger alehouses and taverns tapsters were allocated specific booths and rooms. Most importantly they need to establish and enforce clear rules about behaviour towards staff – especially in terms of physical contact. Better to have premodern pubs than no pubs at all, after all.The Conversation

James Brown, Research Associate & Project Manager (UK), University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


In a first discovery of its kind, researchers have uncovered an ancient Aboriginal archaeological site preserved on the seabed



S Wright, Author provided

Jonathan Benjamin, Flinders University; Geoff Bailey, University of York; Jo McDonald, University of Western Australia; Michael O’Leary, University of Western Australia, and Sean Ulm, James Cook University

For most of the human history of Australia, sea levels were much lower than they are today, and there was extra dry land where people lived.

Archaeologists could only speculate about how people used those now-submerged lands, and whether any traces remain today.

But in a study published today in PLOS ONE, we report the first submerged ancient Aboriginal archaeological sites found on the seabed, in waters off Western Australia.

The great flood

When people first arrived in Australia as early as 65,000 years ago, sea levels were around 80m lower than today.

Sea levels fluctuated but continued to fall as the global climate cooled. As the world plunged into the last ice age, which peaked around 20,000 years ago, sea levels dropped to 130m lower than they are now.




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Between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago the world warmed up. Melting ice sheets caused sea levels to rise. Tasmania was cut off from the mainland around 11,000 years ago. New Guinea separated from Australia around 8,000 years ago.

The sea-level rise flooded 2.12 million square kilometres of land on the continental shelf surrounding Australia. Thousands of generations of people would have lived out their lives on these landscapes now under water.

These ancient cultural landscapes do not end at the waterline – they continue into the blue, onto what was once dry land.
Jerem Leach, DHSC Project, Author provided

Landscapes under water

For the past four years a team of archaeologists, rock art specialists, geomorphologists, geologists, specialist pilots and scientific divers on the Australian Research Council-funded Deep History of Sea Country Project have collaborated with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to find and record submerged archaeological sites off the Pilbara coast in WA.

Location of the finds in northwest Australia (left) and the Dampier Archipelago (right).
Copernicus Sentinel Data and Geoscience Australia, Author provided

We studied navigation charts, geological maps and archaeological sites located on the land to narrow down prospective areas before surveying the seabed using laser scanners mounted on small planes and high-resolution sonar towed behind boats.

In the final phase of the research, our team of scientific divers carried out underwater archaeological surveys to physically examine, record and sample the seabed.

Archaeologists working in the shallow waters off Western Australia. Future generations of archaeologists must be willing to get wet!
Jerem Leach, DHSC Project, Author provided

We discovered two underwater archaeological sites in the Dampier Archipelago.

The first, at Cape Bruguieres, comprises hundreds of stone artefacts – including mullers and grinding stones – on the seabed at depths down to 2.4m.

A selection of stone artefacts found on the seabed during fieldwork.
John McCarthy and Chelsea Wiseman, Author provided

At the second site, in Flying Foam Passage, we discovered traces of human activity associated with a submerged freshwater spring, 14m below sea level, including at least one confirmed stone cutting tool made out of locally sourced material.

Environmental data and radiocarbon dates show these sites must have been older than 7,000 years when they were submerged by rising seas.

Our study shows archaeological sites exist on the seabed in Australia with items belonging to ancient peoples undisturbed for thousands of years.




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In Murujuga (also known as the Burrup Peninsula) this adds substantially to the evidence we already have of human activity and rock art production in this important National Heritage Listed place.

A submerged stone tool associated with a freshwater spring now 14m under water.
Hiro Yoshida and Katarina Jerbić, DHSC Project, Author provided

Underwater archaeology matters

The submerged stone tools discovered at Murujuga make us rethink what we know about the past.

Our knowledge of ancient times in Australia comes from archaeological sites on land and from Indigenous oral histories. But the first people to come to Australian shores were coastal people who voyaged in boats across the islands of eastern Indonesia.

The early peopling of Australia took place on land that is now under water. To fully understand key questions in human history, as ancient as they are, researchers must turn to both archaeology and marine science.

Archaeologist Chelsea Wiseman records a stone artefact covered in marine growth.
Sam Wright, DHSC Project, Author provided

Protecting a priceless submerged heritage

Submerged archaeological sites are in danger of destruction by erosion and from development activities, such as oil and gas installations, pipelines, port developments, dredging, spoil dumping and industrialised fishing.

Protection of underwater cultural sites more than 100 years old is enshrined by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), adopted as law by more than 60 countries but not ratified by Australia.

In Australia, the federal laws that protect underwater cultural heritage in Commonwealth waters have been modernised recently with the Historic Shipwrecks Act (1976) reviewed and re-badged as Australia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Act (2018), which came into effect in July 2019.

This new Act fails to automatically protect all types of sites and it privileges protection of non-Indigenous submerged heritage. For example, all shipwrecks older than 75 years and sunken aircraft found in Australia’s Commonwealth waters are given automatic protection.




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Other types of site, regardless of age and including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sites, can be protected but only with ministerial approval.

There is scope for states and territories to protect submerged Indigenous heritage based on existing laws, but regulators have conventionally only managed the underwater heritage of more recent historical periods.

With our find confirming ancient Indigenous sites can be preserved under water, we need policy makers to reconsider approaches to protecting underwater cultural heritage in Australia.

We are confident many other submerged sites will be found in the years to come. These will challenge our current understandings and lead to a more complete account of our human past, so they need our protection now.The Conversation

Deep History of Sea Country: Investigating the seabed in Western Australia.

Jonathan Benjamin, Associate Professor in Maritime Archaeology, Flinders University and ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University; Geoff Bailey, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of York; Jo McDonald, Director, Centre for Rock Art Research + Management, University of Western Australia; Michael O’Leary, Senior Lecturer in Climate Geoscience, University of Western Australia, and Sean Ulm, Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Comets, omens and fear: understanding plague in the Middle Ages



A comet depicted in medieval times in the Bayeux tapestry.
Bayeux Museam, Author provided

Marilina Cesario, Queen’s University Belfast and Francis Leneghan, University of Oxford

On August 30 2019, a comet from outside our solar system was observed by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Crimea. This was only the second time an interstellar comet had ever been recorded. Comet 19 or C/2019 Q4 , as it is now known, made its closest approach to the sun on December 8 2019, roughly coinciding with the first recorded human cases of COVID-19.

While we know that this is merely coincidence, in medieval times authorities regarded natural phenomena such as comets and eclipses as portents of natural disasters, including plagues.

One of the most learned men of the early Middle Ages was the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk who lived in Northumbria in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. In chapter 25 of his scientific treatise, De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things) , he describes comets as “stars with flames like hair. They are born suddenly, portending a change of royal power or plague or wars or winds or heat”.

Plagues and natural phenomena

Outbreaks of the bubonic plague were recorded long before the Black Death of the 14th century. In the 6th century, a plague spread from Egypt to Europe and lingered for the next 200 years. At the end of the seventh century, the Irish scholar Adomnán, Abbot of Iona wrote in book 42 of his Life of St Columba of “the great mortality which twice in our time has ravaged a large part of the world”. The effects of this plague were so severe in England that, according to Bede, the kingdom of Essex reverted to paganism.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that 664 “the sun grew dark, and in this year came to the island of Britain a great plague among men (‘micel man cwealm’ in Anglo Saxon)”. The year 664 held great significance for the English and Irish churches: a great meeting (or synod) was held in Whitby in Northumbria to decide whether the English church should follow the Irish or Roman system for calculating the date of Easter. By describing the occurrence of an eclipse and plague in the same year as the synod, Bede makes this important event in the English Church more memorable and meaningful.

In the Middle Ages, comets like 2019’s C/2019 Q4 signalled a calamitous event on earth to come.
NASA, ESA & D. Jewitt (UCLA), CC BY

Plague and medieval religion

In the Middle Ages, occurrences like plague and disease were thought of as expressions of God’s will. In the Bible, God uses natural phenomena to punish humankind for sin. In the Book of Revelation 6:8, for example, pestilence is described as one of the signs of Judgement Day. Medieval scholars were aware that some plagues and diseases were spread through the air, as explained by the seventh-century scholar Isidore of Seville in chapter 39 of his De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things):

Pestilence is a disease spreading widely and infecting by its contagion whatever it touches. When plague (‘plaga’) smites the earth because of mankind’s sins, then from some cause, that is, either the force of drought or of heat or an excess of rain, the air is corrupted.

Bede based his On the Nature of Things on this work by Isidore. In a discussion of plague in the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History we find a reference to the “an-fleoga”, meaning something like “the one who flies” or “solitary flier”. This same idea of airborne disease is a feature of Anglo-Saxon medicine. One example comes from an Old English poem we call a metrical charm, which combines ancient Germanic folklore with Christian prayer and ritual. In the Nine Herbs Charm, the charmer addresses each herb individually and invokes its power over disease:

This is against poison, and this is against the one who flies,

this is against the loathsome one that travels throughout the land …

if any poison come flying from the east,

or any come from the north,

or any from the west over the nations of men,

Christ stood over the disease of every kind.

As well as fearing plague, medieval scholars attempted to pinpoint its origins and carefully recorded its occurrence and effects. Like us, they used whatever means they could to protect themselves from disease. But it is clear medieval chroniclers presented historical events as part of a divine plan for humankind by linking them with natural phenomena like plagues and comets.The Conversation

Marilina Cesario, Senior Lecturer, School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen’s University Belfast and Francis Leneghan, Associate Professor of Old English, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


New Stonehenge discovery: how we found a prehistoric monument hidden in data



Archaeologists studying the monument site from above ground.
University of Bradford

Vince Gaffney, University of Bradford and Chris Gaffney, University of Bradford

The chances of finding another major archaeological monument near Stonehenge today are probably very small given the generations of work that has gone into studying the site. Stumbling across such a monument that measured more than 2km across must be highly unlikely. And yet that is exactly what our team from the Anglo-Austrian “Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes” research project has done.

We discovered a circle of pits, each ten metres or more in diameter and at least five metres deep, around Stonehenge’s largest prehistoric neighbour, the so-called super henge at Durrington Walls. More amazingly, the initial evidence for this discovery was hidden away in terabytes of remote sensing data and reams of unpublished literature generated by archaeologists over the years.

Durrington is one of Britain’s largest neolithic monuments. Comprising banks and ditches measuring 500 metres across, the henge was constructed over 4,500 years ago by early farmers, around the time that Stonehenge achieved it’s final, distinctive form. The site itself overlies what may have been one of north west Europe’s largest neolithic villages. Researchers suggest that the communities that built Stonehenge lived here.

The major archaeological monuments in the Stonehenge Landscape, outlined in green.
Vincent Gaffney, Author provided

Over the last decade, there has been a quiet revolution in the landscape around Stonehenge as archaeologists have gained access to enhanced remote sensing technologies. Around 18 sq km of landscape around Stonehenge has now been surveyed through geophysics. Now archaeologists are joining the dots within these enormous data set, and making associations they might not have done otherwise.

The first geophysical anomalies related to our new discovery were recorded (but not published) some years ago when a small number of peculiar circular splodges in the magnetometry data south of Durrington. These were initially interpreted as shallower features, possibly dew ponds, unlinked to the henge. But our research group realised that similar features had been recorded far to the north of the henge by archaeological contractors, interpreted as natural sink holes caused by solution of the chalk bedrock.




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How technology, not spades, revealed what lies beneath Stonehenge


Our mapping work suggested all these features were actually linked and part of a single, massive circuit surrounding the henge monument at Durrington. Detailed study, including drilling for underground samples, revealed the anomalies as massive pits, with near vertical sides, containing worked flint and bone. Radiocarbon dating suggested the features were from the same time as the henge.

Shafts and pits are known in prehistoric British archaeology, but the sheer number of massive pits and the scale of the Durrington circuit is unparalleled in the UK. The internal area of the ring is likely to be at least around three sq km. This arrangement of pits certainly gives the impression they bound an important space, and here there may be a comparison to be made with Stonehenge itself.

Stonehenge actually has a territory sometimes called the “Stonehenge Envelope”. This is marked by lines of later burial mounds clustering around the monument, covering an area similar to that of Durrington Walls. The space is marked so clearly that archaeologists have suggested only a special few people may have been allowed to enter the area.

This association of Stonehenge with death and burial has also led to interpretations that it was reserved for ancestors. Durrington, in contrast, is believed to be associated with the living. But our discovery of the pits suggest that Durrington did have a similar special outer area, as large as that associated with Stonehenge.

The pit circle also provide insights into the mindset of the people who built these massive structures. The pits appear to be laid out to include a much earlier monument: the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.

The pits form a circle around Durrington Walls in line with the Larkhill causewayed enclosure.
Vincent Gaffney, Author provided

Built more than 1,000 years before the Durrington Walls henge, such ditched enclosures were the first large communal constructions in Britain and they were clearly important to early farming communities. The decision to appropriate this earlier monument into the circuit of the henge must have been a deliberate, symbolic statement.

In fact, the pits appear to have been laid out in a notional circle so that they were all the same walking distance from the henge as the causewayed enclosure. Given the scale involved and the shape of the landscape, which includes several valleys, this would have been difficult to achieve without the existence of a tally or counting system. This is the first evidence that such a system may have been used by neolithic people to lay out what must be considered a sacred geometry, at the scale suggested by the Durrington pits.

The unexpected discovery of a unique set of massive pits within the Stonehenge landscape may also have implications in terms of the site’s management. There are similar individual features scattered throughout the landscape that are unexplored but may be of equal significance. Yet a proposed road (the A303) development includes a road tunnel that will pass close to the iconic site of Stonehenge itself and impact a large corridor of land directly associated with the site.

The issue of value is complex when we’re discussing a period of history in which the digging of pits clearly had a multitude of social values. We would do well to consider the implication of such discoveries before a tragic loss ensues. Future generations are unlikely to forgive us if we damage this unique landscape.The Conversation

Vince Gaffney, Anniversary Chair in Landscape Archaeology, University of Bradford and Chris Gaffney, Senior Lecturer in Archaeological Geophysics, University of Bradford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Friday essay: how a ‘gonzo’ press gang forged the Ned Kelly legend



Destruction of the Kelly Gang. Drawn by Thomas Carrington during the siege.
State Library of Victoria

Kerrie Davies, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Macquarie University

Washington Post publisher, Philip L. Graham, famously declared that journalism is the “first rough draft of history”. It’s also the first rough draft of inspiration for movies and books “based on a true story”.

Since four Victorian journalists witnessed Ned Kelly’s last stand on June 28 1880, their vivid accounts have influenced portrayals of the bushranger – from the world’s first feature film in 1906 to Peter Carey’s 2000 novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, adapted to a gender-bending punk film earlier this year.

In the hours before the Glenrowan siege, the four newspaper men – Joseph Dalgarno Melvin of The Argus, George Vesey Allen of the Melbourne Daily Telegraph, John McWhirter of The Age and illustrator Francis Thomas Dean Carrington of The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil – received a last-minute telegram to join the Special Police Train from Melbourne to confront the Kelly Gang.

The rail journey would prove to be one hell of an assignment and inspiration for Kelly retellings over the next 140 years.




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All aboard

The journalists have a fleeting scene in the 1970 Ned Kelly film starring a pouty Mick Jagger. Two characters rush up to the train, holding huge pads of paper to signal their press credentials to the audience.

It’s a cinematic glimpse of the journalists whose historic descriptions continue to influence the Ned Kelly cultural industry that is the cornerstone of Australia’s bushranger genre.

Four reporters (plus a volunteer) huddle in the train’s press carriage in an image drawn by Carrington.
T. Carrington/SLV

The train left Melbourne late Sunday evening. Carrington, “embedded” along with the others, described the journey:

… the great speed we were going at caused the carriage to oscillate very violently … The night was intensely cold.

McWhirter’s take was somewhat more upbeat, suggesting a thrill in the cold evening air. He wrote the night was

a splendid one, the moon shining with unusual brightness whilst the sharp, frosty air caused the slightest noise in the forest beyond to be distinctly heard.

After 1am Monday, the train arrived at Benalla, where it picked up more troopers, horses and “Kelly hunter” Superintendent Francis Hare, played by Geoffrey Rush in Gregor Jordan’s 2003 adaptation of Robert Drewe’s novel, Our Sunshine.

Sometime later, the train was flagged down before Glenrowan by schoolteacher Thomas Curnow, alerting the travelling party to the dangerous Kelly gang ahead. In a follow-up article about the siege, Melvin reported the first details of the teacher’s bravery. This would become a pivotal scene in future Kelly recreations: “Kindling a light behind a red handkerchief, he improvised a danger signal”.

When the train arrived at Glenrowan station, the horses were released and bolted “pell-nell into a paddock”, wrote Carrington, as the Kellys opened fire.

A 1906 Australian-made production is thought to be the world’s first feature-length narrative movie.

Part of the story

Unhindered by modern media ethics, the journalists became actively involved in the siege. Their involvement is a nod to “gonzo journalism” practices – made famous nearly a century later by writer Hunter S. Thompson – in which journalists join the action rather than neutrally report on it.

Kelly had a love-hate relationship with the press. He once wrote:

Had I robbed, plundered, ravished and murdered everything I met, my character could not be painted blacker than it is at present, but I thank God my conscience is as clear as the snow in Peru …

Early in the siege, the journalists sheltered from the gunfire at the station, until they saw Hare bleeding from the wrist. Carrington wrote:

We plugged each end of the wound with some cotton waste and bound it up with a silk pocket handkerchief … Mr Hare again essayed to start for the hotel. He had got about fifty yards when he turned back and reeled. We ran to him and supported him to a railway carriage, and there he fainted from loss of blood … Some of the bullets from the verandah came whistling and pinging about us.

As the siege continued into the early hours, the journalists recorded the wails of the Glenrowan Inn’s matron, Ann Jones, when her son was shot, as well as the eerie tapping of Kelly’s gun on his helmet, which Carrington wrote sounded like “the noise like the ring of a hammer on an anvil”.

Their interviews with released hostages revealed gang member Joe Byrne was shot as he reached for a bottle of whiskey that, like Curnow flagging down the train, has become another key Kelly siege scene.

In one frame, drawn during the siege by Carrington, 25 prisoners are released.
State Library of Victoria

Man in the iron mask

Of all the gripping details the journalists recorded, their first descriptions of the bushranger emerging in his armour in the morning mist were what proved most inspiring to subsequent Kelly creators.

Allen wrote the helmet was “made of ploughshares stolen from the farmers around Greta”, describing the cutting blade construction, and called him “the man in the iron mask”. Carrington wrote:

Presently we noticed a very tall figure in white stalking slowly along in the direction of the hotel. There was no head visible, and in the dim light of morning, with the steam rising from the ground, it looked, for all the world, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father with no head, only a very long, thick neck.

After Kelly was shot in the legs, the writer described his collapse and his dramatic unmasking:

The figure staggered and reeled like a drunken man, and in a few moments afterwards fell near the dead timber. The spell was then broken, and we all rushed forward to see who and what our ghostly antagonist was […] the iron mask was torn off, and there, in the broad light of day, were the features of the veritable bloodthirsty Ned Kelly himself.

Precious film footage restored by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive of the 1906 film The Story of the Kelly Gang, the world’s first feature film, shows Kelly shooting at police in his iconic armour, then collapsing by a dead trunk on the ground surrounded by police. The scene is just as Carrington and his colleagues described it in their reports.

Perhaps the most faithful rendering of Carrington’s Kelly description is Peter Carey’s fictional witness in the preface of True History of the Kelly Gang.

Carey’s witness echoes the description of Kelly as a “creature” and describes its “headless neck”.

After he was shot in the legs, the witness recounts Kelly “reeled and staggered like a drunken man” and falling near dead timber. The book’s preface and Melvin’s first Argus report both describe Kelly after he fell as “a wild beast brought to bay”.

Carey’s witness may be fictional, but his account is based on journalists’ accounts of witnessing Kelly’s capture. Carey credited many of his research sources to Kelly historian Ian Jones, who republished Carrington’s account titled Catching the Kellys – A Personal Narrative of One who Went in the Special Train along with illustrations in Ned Kelly: The Last Stand, Written and Illustrated by an Eyewitness.

‘Hunted like a dog’

The journalists helped the police strip Kelly of his armour and carry him back to the station, cut off his boots and kept him warm, all the while interviewing him as the siege continued with the remaining bushrangers inside the inn.

McWhirter remarked the bushranger was “composed”.

“I had several conversations with him, and he told me he was sick of his life, as he was hunted like a dog, and could get no rest,” Carrington wrote. He described Kelly’s clothes underneath the armour – a crimean (meaning a coloured, no button flannel) shirt with large black spots.

The journalists then turned their attention to the burning of the inn, featured in the background of Sidney Nolan’s 1946 painting, Glenrowan which depicts a fallen Kelly towering in his armour over policemen and Aboriginal trackers.

Kelly was hanged in Melbourne in November 1880, a few months after the journalists’ train ride and the siege.

The journalists continued their careers, with Melvin becoming the most prominent of the four in participatory journalism. After a stint as a war correspondent, he joined the Helena ship as an crew member to investigate, undercover, the “blackbirding” trade that indentured South Pacific Islanders to the Australian cane fields.


IMDB

In the 1906 review of the first feature film – The Story of the Kelly Gang and exhibition, The Age critic wrote, “if there were any imperfections in detail probably few in the hall had memories long enough to detect them”.

Yet, the 1906 film was criticised by the Argus for not being faithful to the original descriptions of his “bushman dandy” dress as described by Carrington and his colleagues on the day.

The art may be in the interpreting eye, but the scenes are from that first rough draft of history.The Conversation

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Enforcing assimilation, dismantling Aboriginal families: a history of police violence in Australia



This sketch depicts the Waterloo Creek massacre (also known as the Slaughterhouse Creek massacre), part of the conflict between mounted police and Indigenous Australians in 1838.
Godfrey Charles Mundy/National Library of Australia

Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney and Harry Blagg, University of Western Australia

Readers are advised the following article contains descriptions of violence that may be traumatic.


In July 2018, Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson formally apologised for the mistreatment of Aboriginal people at the hands of police, acknowledging the “significant role” the police played in the dispossession of Australia’s First Nations people. Dawson made particular reference to the way:

forceful removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities, the displacement of mothers and their children, sisters, fathers and brothers, the loss of family and resulting destruction of culture has had grave impacts

“Forced removal” references the unique role played by police in many settler colonies such as Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the United States and Canada in relation to First Nations peoples: executing assimilationist policies designed to dismantle First Nations families.

A closer look at the history of policing in Australia helps explain some of the dynamics at play in the Black Lives Matter and First Nations Deaths in Custody movement in Australia and a growing push for alternative models of policing.

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The ‘Irish Model’ of policing

Mainstream histories of policing have looked to 19th century British Prime Minister Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police “British Model” of policing, with its focus on policing through consensus and “walking the beat”.

There is another model of policing, however, which better reflects the Australian history.

Known as the “Irish Model” from its origins in suppressing dissent in the Irish colony in the 19th century, it set the police against the community, placed them in military style barracks, under a highly centralised and hierarchical chain of command. In general, they were not there to win hearts and minds.

Look to Chris Owen’s magnificent study of policing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia between 1882 and 1905 – titled Every Mother’s Son is Guilty. Policing was based around a highly mobile horse mounted model to cope with the extraordinary distances. As Owen shows, attitudes of the police towards First Nations people were deeply influenced by contemporary beliefs that they were inferior to whites, and a priori criminal.

Many police officers in the frontier colonial era were conscious of being part of a “civilizing mission” and held highly paternalistic attitudes.

One officer who policed the remote regions of Western Australian in the 1920s recalls being

conscientious in my desire for their welfare, for I looked upon them then, as I do now, as children.

Punitive attitudes

Elsewhere, officers exercised often unfettered brutality in punitive frontier expeditions. This was in pursuit of pastoral land grabs, settler occupation and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.

This was a feature of the Native Police Forces that operated in various parts of Australia from the 1830s until the early 20th century.

These forces, responsible for many atrocities against Aboriginal people, consisted of Aboriginal troopers under the command of white officers such as Constable William Willshire whose killings resulted in an unsuccessful murder trial in 1891 and Lieutenant Frederick Wheeler, whose massacres were reviewed by a Queensland parliamentary inquiry in 1861 (which decided to reprimand but not dismiss him).

The inquiry heard evidence of the Native Police Force’s murderous contact with Aboriginal people.

Historical accounts of the Northern Territory’s Native Police, modelled on the Queensland’s Force, documents its fatal force against Aboriginal lives to allegedly defend colonists’ lives and property.

In Western Australia, the 1927 Royal Commission into the killing and burning of Aboriginal bodies in the Forrest River massacre found police were brutal in effecting arrests.

The use of police brutality extended beyond Native Police expeditions, and was characteristic of police powers more widely. The Colonial Frontier Massacres Map documenting massacres of First Nations families across Australia include extensive records of police killings, such as 60 Warlpiri, Anmatyere and Kaytetye women, men and children in the Coniston Massacre in 1928.

Police practices of neck chaining Aboriginal prisoners continued officially into the mid-20th century in parts of Australia.




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‘Aboriginal Protection Acts’ were used to control Aboriginal people.
AIATSIS, Author provided

‘Protection’

Ideas of law and order formed only a fragment of the colonial police role where Aboriginal people were concerned. Much of it was taken up with implementing the “Aboriginal Protection Acts” or simply “Aboriginal Acts”, which continued well into the 20th century. Examples abound: the Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Western Australia), the Aboriginal Protection Act and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Queensland), the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (New South Wales), the Aborigines Act 1911 (South Australia); Aboriginals Ordinance 1911 (Northern Territory) and The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Victoria).

Aboriginal Acts were used in practice to forcibly relocate Aboriginal people to a place of prescribed confinement, which in practice could include on government settlements, reserves, church missions, hospital lock ups, penal islands, cattle stations and other institutions.

Often police officers assumed the role of Aboriginal Protector under these Acts and exercised broad powers over Aboriginal lives.

Police also gained specific powers under legislation that allowed them to remove Aboriginal children from their families under “child welfare” legislation. Testimony from Victoria in the Bringing them Home inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families reported that:

From 1956 and 1957 more than one hundred and fifty children (more than 10% of the children in the Aboriginal population of Victoria at that time) were living in State children’s institutions. The great majority had been seized by police and charged in the Children’s Court with “being in need of care and protection”. Many policemen act from genuine concern for the “best interests” of Aboriginal children, but some are over-eager to enter Aboriginal homes and bully parents with threats to remove their children.

The experience of one Aboriginal child in Western Australia in 1935 was told to the inquiry:

I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old.

Police still play a role in removing First Nations children from their families today. The Family is Culture Report in 2019 noted significant concerns about the use of police during removals, saying:

when police are used for removal, especially riot police, this has historical continuity.

Police powers in the first half of the 20th century extended to the forced isolation and confinement of Aboriginal people on public health grounds, such as in various lock-up hospitals, on the basis of a diagnosis made by a police officer of syphilis or leprosy – or a decision that the person was at risk.

The police acted as the gatekeepers for enclosure in a ubiquity of institutions. At the same time as imposing the law, the police also acted as Protectors of Aboriginal people, distributed rations and blankets, provided pastoralists with Aboriginal workers in remote areas and ensured that they remained on pastoral stations.

Aboriginal worker Hobbles Danyarri said:

If you put your own colour, police tracker, that means he can bring them in. He can bring them in to work and don’t let him steal it [beef]. Let them work. Let them work.

And Aboriginal stockman Barney Barnes remembers the removal of Aboriginal communities accused of cattle killing onto Cherrabun, Go Go and Christmas Creek stations in the Kimberley:

That manager made the police go out and bring all the people in from the desert. He reckoned that they were killing too many bullocks. So the police came out and rounded up all the Walmajarri people […] They kept going at it until nobody was left out there. They didn’t allow the Aboriginal people to live in the desert after that.

Aboriginal people who defied Aboriginal Protection Acts and the rules of reserves and settlements – such as speaking in language, practising culture, marrying without the protector’s permission, or otherwise disobeying orders of the protector – would be sent for punishment to places such as Palm Island. These Acts were often enforced by police officers.

Hope for the future

Moving away from a colonial and assimilationist model of policing in Australia involves restructuring police and honouring First Nations self determination.

Community Patrol models, which are embedded in First Nations communities and work towards the safety and wellbeing of women, children and families, provide a First Nations alternative.

It’s time to consider setting police models on a new course that abolishes force and re-imagines community relationships.


UPDATE: This story has been updated to add more detail and quotes.The Conversation

Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney and Harry Blagg, Professor of Criminology, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia



Lorne sugar plantation in Mackay, 1874.
State Library Queensland

Paige Gleeson, University of Tasmania

Scott Morrison says “we shouldn’t be importing” the Black Lives Matter movement. But in the 1800s, Australia imported plantation owners from the American South.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, the American south produced almost all of the world’s cotton. As war threatened, plantation owners returned to England and English cotton mills ground to a halt.

Emigration to Queensland, ‘the new cotton field of England’ was actively encouraged.
Trove

A new source of cotton was required, and Queensland would be widely promoted as a cotton growing colony and the “future cotton field of England”. The colony government invited mill and plantation owners and workers to re-migrate and re-establish their industry in Queensland.

Under 1861’s “Cotton Regulations”, individuals and companies could lease land and receive the freehold title within two years if one-tenth of the land was used for growing cotton.

As early as June of that year – barely two months after the civil war officially began – the Muir brothers, Robert, Matthew and David, established the Queensland Manchester Cotton Company and initiated plans to send an agent to Queensland to begin the process of establishing plantations.

Believed to be Robert Muir, photographed at Benowa Sugar Plantation at Pimpama, ca. 1875.
State Library Queensland

The brothers owned cotton plantations in Louisiana before returning to Manchester and then on to Queensland. The manager of the company, Thomas William Morton, also migrated from Louisiana to Queensland via England. His son Alexander went on to become the prominent curator of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

After an agreement was made between the government and shipping companies in 1863, thousands of “cotton immigrants” travelled to Queensland, and profits of American slavery were reinvested in Queensland’s new tropical plantation economy.

A colony for cotton

Disruption of the American slave trade didn’t only lead to the search for new fertile soil. Plantation owners also wanted cheap labour for the burgeoning Australian cotton industry.

The free labour of enslaved African Americans had generated immense profits, and Australian plantation owners were unable to induce sufficient numbers of white men to labour in the tropics on low wages.

(Popular medical theories also posited the physical unsuitably of white men for work in the tropics, conveniently maintaining racial hierarchy.)

Plantation owners turned to the Pacific Islands to ensure a steady supply of indentured labour.




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Under the indenture system, workers were bound to an employer for a specified length of time. These contracts were governed by Masters and Servants Acts with conditions set steeply in favour of plantation owners.

Australian South Sea Islanders at Otmoor sugar plantation in Upper Coomera, Queensland, ca. 1889.
State Library of Queensland

The work was physically demanding, and rates of death and injury were high. During a Pacific Islander’s first year of indenture, the death rate was 81 per 1,000 – especially startling given labourers were in their physical prime, usually between 16 and 35 years of age.

Most cotton plantations failed by 1866 due to flooding and crop disease. Owners reinvested in sugar and the labour trade grew to meet demand.

Between 1863-1902, 62,000 Islanders migrated to Australia.

An ongoing legacy

The Queensland colonial government established a tropical plantation economy which benefited from capital, workers and working conditions imported from the American south to the sugar fields of Queensland.

Labourers’ obligations to their employers were almost unlimited, and their rights were limited to the payment of wages.

The legal conditions of indenture made a worker’s refusal to comply with duties demanded by his or her master a prosecutable offence, no matter how small (or unreasonable) the task. Planters could bring charges in local courts against workers for absconding, “malingering”, or “shirking” (deliberately working slowly) – actions sometimes employed by Islanders as forms of resistance.

The Islander workers fought for increased rights, resisting Australian colonial society at times, while at other times adapting to it. The workers would be granted increased protections from “blackbirding” (recruiting labour via kidnapping, coercion or exploitation) under the Polynesian Labourers Act 1968, and later fought for their rights against deportation under the White Australia Policy.

South Sea Islander woman planting sugar cane in a field, 1897.
State Library of Queensland

Despite the harsh conditions, many South Sea Islanders returned to Queensland on multiple contracts, entering a pattern of “circular migration” from the islands of the Pacific to Queensland and back again. Others stayed on after their contracts had expired, became knowledgeable about the labour market and the value of their skills, and engaged in short term contracts on their own terms.

Many Islanders laid down permanent roots in Queensland, marrying Aboriginal and white Queenslanders, starting families and establishing homes.

These people are the ancestors of the contemporary Australia South Sea Islander community, who went on to have important roles in Australian society and advocate for recognition of their communities.

Australia doesn’t need to “import” protests against racism now: this importation happened centuries ago.The Conversation

Paige Gleeson, PhD Candidate, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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