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Recovered Aboriginal songs offer clues to 19th century mystery of the shipwrecked ‘white woman’



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An image of the landscape around Bairnsdale in the late-18th century. D. R Long (Daniel Rutter), between 1856 and 1883.
State Library of Victoria

Stephen Morey, La Trobe University and Jason Gibson, Deakin University

In 1846 Melbourne was gripped by a panic: a story had spread that a white woman had been shipwrecked off the coast of Gippsland and was living with Aboriginal people. “Expeditions” were sent to “rescue” her. Messages were left for her printed on handkerchiefs, and because some believed she was Scottish, some of these were written in Gaelic.

The expeditions sent to Gippsland resulted in the massacre of large numbers of Indigenous people from the Gunai/Kurnai community.

For generations, people have argued over whether the “white woman” really existed and if so, what happened to her. In her 2001 book The Captive White Woman of Gipps Land author Julie Carr recounted a story written in 1897 by Mary Howitt, the daughter of A.W. Howitt, an anthropologist and Gippsland magistrate, which told how the white woman later had children with an Aboriginal husband and drowned in McLennan’s strait. Carr came to the conclusion that evidence for the existence of the woman was inconclusive; government searches in 1846 and 1847 having failed to find her.

But we have recently identified two short songs in the Aboriginal language of Gippsland (Gunai/Kurnai) about the white woman’s story that provide some clues. These were in the papers of Howitt at the State Library of Victoria.

A handkerchief for the white woman shipwrecked in Gippsland.

A gift of possum skin

At the top of one page of Howitt’s notes headed August 23 1868, per J.C. Macleod (the son of an early pastoralist), Howitt wrote the following note:

Blacks told him [Macleod] in the early days the white woman was wrecked in the coast with some men who were killed – the woman being saved. She was a tall woman, young with very long black hair in ringlets (some said the hair was fair). … She was the Miss Howard who was about 16 years of age when the vessel in which she was going to Melbourne was lost. Daughter of Commissary Howard. Part of the vessel was after picked up in the ninety mile beach

Two Gunai/Kurnai songs are written on the same page. Howitt notes that these songs were composed by a “Dinni Birraark”, a senior songster and ritual specialist, where dinni is the word for “old” and the birraark is the name of an expert who was skilled in songs and magic. These men were said to fly and see beyond the physical world.

In the 1840s there were seven surviving men who held the title of Dinni Birraark. The composer of this song was likely to have been a man also known as Bunjil Bamarang from near Bairnsdale. Bunjil Bamarang was not his personal name, but indicated that he was an expert (Bunjil) in something. We do not know what Bamarang refers to, but it may indicate expertise in the use of the “spear shield”, which was called bammarook in Gunai/Kurnai.

One of these songs, written down by Howitt, directly mentions the “white woman”:


State Library of Victoria

We have transcribed this as:

U-auda kai-ū Lohan-tŭkan móka kat-teir nŭ́rrau-un-gŭl mūndū wánganna

Underneath the song, Howitt gives translations for many of the words. For instance, he translates Lohan-tŭkan as “white woman”. The overall meaning of the song seems to be, “Give the white woman from over the sea the possum skin skirt, and that blanket there.”

This genre of song, gunyeru, was traditionally sung with dancing at public gatherings, what might be otherwise commonly referred to as a “corroboree” (although the word “corroboree” originates from the Dharuk language spoken in the Sydney area). The Dinni Birraark was certainly an acknowledged expert in composing this style of song.

Burning ladders

On the same page, is a second song that seems to give more information about the Lohan-Tuka, or white woman’s, story:


State Library of Victoria

This we have transcribed as:

Blaung-a-requa drūraua kŭllŭngŭka

Wŭrūng-tūnkū bŭdda-tūnkū pŭtta-ngaiu

tūka-pŭnta kŭrnŭng-ŭka ma-kŭrnung-ita

In the first line of the song there are three words that Howitt translates as “burn”, “ladder” and “whitefellow”. This would appear to be a sentence meaning, “The whitefellow’s ladder is burning”.

When we remember that ships in the 1840s were sailing ships, we can imagine that the Dinni Birraark used a word that he knew – “ladder” – to represent the rigging on a sailing ship. As Gunai/Kurnai elder, Russell Mullett, pointed out to us, “As a senior man, the Dinni Birraark would have used a ladder in his ritual life.”

The remaining portions of this second song are harder to interpret. It seems that the Dinni Birraark was watching the burning of this ship from the narrow strip of land along the Ninety Mile Beach between the sea and the freshwater of the Gippsland Lakes.

In this place, perhaps a musk duck (Tuka) had a nest, there was a hollow place near to water. Intriguingly the word for white woman, Lohan Tuka, is a compound including the word for musk duck. Perhaps, as Mullett has suggested, the place where the Dinni Birraark watched this had an association with an ancestral musk duck.

The message printed on handkerchiefs in a bid to find the shipwrecked white woman.

These songs are composed as if witnessing real events: the wreck of a ship and the rescue of a young woman. Nothing is more naturally human than offering a young shipwreck victim a “skirt and a blanket”, and the description of the shipwreck as a “burning ladder” is fully plausible.

These two songs seem to suggest that there was a White Woman, the Lohan Tuka. There is much tragedy in this story – shipwreck, massacre, possible drowning. This history needs to be told and re-told.

What these songs reveal is an Indigenous perspective on it and a glimpse into the rich artistic culture of the Gunai/Kurnai. In the words of Mullett, “taken together these two songs are like an opera composed by the Dinni Birraark”.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University and Jason Gibson, Research fellow, Deakin University

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

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Friday essay: dreaming of a ‘white Christmas’ on the Aboriginal missions



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Christmas Dinner, Mt Margaret Mission 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

Laura Rademaker, Australian Catholic University

This story contains images of people who are deceased.

Aboriginal missions, which existed across Australia until the 1970s, are notorious for their austerity. Aboriginal people lived on meagre rations – flour, sugar, tea and tobacco – and later, token wages. At some missions, schoolgirls wore hessian sacks as clothes or skirts made from old bags.

Christmas, however, was a joyful time on them. Old people remember Christmas for food, gifts and carols. But the celebration had a sinister edge. For years, missionaries hoped the joy of Christmas would replace Aboriginal traditions. But Christmas actually became an opportunity for creative cross-cultural engagement, with Aboriginal people adopting its traditions and making them their own.

The food was a respite from the usual diet of damper, rice or stew. On the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory, missionaries would shoot a bullock, and the old women remember feasting on beef and mangoes on the beach.

Oenpelli Mission (Gunbalanya) Christmas, 1928.
National Archives of Australia

Missionaries used food to attract people to church. Christmas might be the only day of the year that it was distributed to everyone. Cake was a favourite. On Christmas Day at Gunbalanya in western Arnhem Land in 1940 the superintendent called it “the happiest we’ve experienced here. Ten huge cakes for Natives – no complaints – 106 at service” (suggesting that church attendance was linked to cake quantity).

For elders on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, turtle-egg cake was a highlight of Christmas in the 1940s. As Jabani Lalara recalled:

We used to have a lovely Christmas … In front of the church, that’s where they used to put the Christmas tree and that’s where we used to get a present. Especially like cake, used to make from turtle egg. I love that cake. True.

Gifts were another drawcard. On Christmas 1899, the Bloomfield River Mission in far-north Queesland was said to be “overflowing” because Aboriginal people “heard there would be a distribution of gifts”. These included prized items such as handkerchiefs, pipes and knives. At some missions, Santa (often the superintendent) distributed gifts.

Father Christmas arriving at Mt Margaret Mission in a rickshaw, 1945.
State Library of Western Australia

However looking back, old people have mixed feelings about the gifts. As much as they loved them at the time, they discovered their treasures were only toys that white children had rejected. As one person told me:

We didn’t have much in them days, it was tough, but we were happy. We were happy with those secondhand toys at Christmas from the Salvation Army. We didn’t know they were secondhand toys at the time. I found out in my later years.

Christmas rally church service, Fitzroy Crossing Mission, 1954.
State Library of Western Australia

Missionaries and Aboriginal people alike loved carols; they were an opportunity for shared enjoyment. Tiwi women look back fondly on their time singing with nuns. Said one woman:

Sister Marie Alfonso, she used to play organ and all of us girls used to sing in Latin, but we still remember… Every Christmas [the old women] sing really good. They all can remember that Latin. It’s really nice.

There were also nativity plays, with Aboriginal children proudly performing for their communities. Said another:

When there was Christmas or even Easter Day there was a role-play… On Christmas Day I used to read. Three of them was the Wise Men and the other one was Mary and the other young boy was Jesus.

Christmas at Nepabunna, C.P. Mountford, 1937.
State Library of South Australia

Behind the lightheartedness came an agenda. As one priest commented, Christmas was to be a “magnet” to draw people into missions. Ultimately, missionaries hoped the celebration of Jesus’s birth would prove more attractive than Aboriginal people’s own ceremonies.

For those who would not settle on missions, Christmas was used against them. At Yarrabah in Queensland the “unconverted heathens” were invited to join the festivities, but their exclusion was symbolised by them walking at the back of processions, sitting at the back of the church and being the last to be served their meal.

Aboriginal Christmas

In missionaries’ eagerness to use Christmas to spread Christianity, they started to use Aboriginal languages (with Aboriginal co-translators). At Ngukurr in southern Arnhem Land and Gunbalanya, the first church services in Aboriginal languages were Christmas services (in 1921 and 1936).

Aboriginal people loved carols, so these were the first songs translated. On the 1947 release of the Pitjantjatjara Hymnal, Christmas carols were the most popular (The First Noel sung in parts being the favourite). On Groote Eylandt, translation began with Christmas carols, nativity plays and Christmas readings in the 1950s. At Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land, the annual Christmas Drama was in Yolngu Matha from 1960.

Translation was meant to make missionary Christianity more attractive, but it opened the way for more profound cultural experimentation. Aboriginal people infused Christmas with their own traditions. On the Tiwi Islands, in 1962 there was a “Corrobboree Style” nativity on the mission told through traditional Tiwi dance. Dance traditions missionaries had previously called “pagan” were now used by Tiwi people to share the Christian celebration.

At Warruwi on the Goulburn Islands in western Arnhem Land, Maung people began “Christmas and Easter Ceremonies” from the 1960s, blending ceremonial styles with Western musical traditions as well as their own music and dance. At Wadeye, in the Northern Territory, “Church Lirrga” (“Liturgy Songs”) include Christmas music, sung in Marri Ngarr with didjeridu. The Church Lirrga share the melodies of other Marri Ngarr songs that tell of Dreamings on the Moyle River.

Many who embraced Christianity sought to express their spirituality without missionary control. At Milingimbi in the NT, Yolngu people developed a Christmas ceremony with clap sticks and dijeridu outside the mission and free of missionary interference.

Mt Margaret Mission Christmas, 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

At Ernabella Mission in South Australia in 1971, people began singing the Christmas story to ancient melodies, with the permission of their songmen. Senior Anangu women at Mimili, SA, later sang the Pitjantjatjara gospel to their witchetty grub tune, blending Christmas with their Dreamings and songlines.

Christmas was woven into community life. Just as introduced animals found their way into Aboriginal songs and stories, Christmas became part of the seasons and landscape, as Therese Bourke explained at Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands:

They used to have donkeys [here] and the donkeys used to come round in December. And my mother’s mob used to say, “they’re coming around because it’s Christmas and Jesus rode on the back of one.”

The missions transformed into “communities” under a policy framework of self-determination in the 1970s, although missionaries themselves often remained active in the communities for decades. Meanwhile, many Aboriginal people have mixed memories of the missions – fondness for some aspects, anger at others – including Christmas.

The ConversationBut regardless of the missionaries, Christmas became an Aboriginal celebration in its own right. Some missionaries even came to appreciate Aboriginal ways of celebrating Christmas in line with their Dreamings. Though missionaries had wanted to replace Aboriginal spirituality with a “white Christmas”, it became a season of deeper meetings of cultures.

Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern History, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Vikings were never the pure-bred master race white supremacists like to portray


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Shutterstock

Clare Downham, University of Liverpool

The word “Viking” entered the Modern English language in 1807, at a time of growing nationalism and empire building. In the decades that followed, enduring stereotypes about Vikings developed, such as wearing horned helmets and belonging to a society where only men wielded high status.

During the 19th century, Vikings were praised as prototypes and ancestor figures for European colonists. The idea took root of a Germanic master race, fed by crude scientific theories and nurtured by Nazi ideology in the 1930s. These theories have long been debunked, although the notion of the ethnic purity of the Vikings still seems to have popular appeal – and it is embraced by white supremacists.

In contemporary culture, the word Viking is generally synonymous with Scandinavians from the ninth to the 11th centuries. We often hear terms such as “Viking blood”, “Viking DNA” and “Viking ancestors” – but the medieval term meant something quite different to modern usage. Instead it defined an activity: “Going a-Viking”. Akin to the modern word pirate, Vikings were defined by their mobility and this did not include the bulk of the Scandinavian population who stayed at home.

‘Going a-Viking’.
Shutterstock

While the modern word Viking came to light in an era of nationalism, the ninth century – when Viking raids ranged beyond the boundaries of modern Europe – was different. The modern nation states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were still undergoing formation. Local and familial identity were more prized than national allegiances. The terms used to describe Vikings by contemporaries: “wicing”, “rus”, “magi”, “gennti”, “pagani”, “pirati” tend to be non-ethnic. When a term akin to Danes, “danar” is first used in English, it appears as a political label describing a mix of peoples under Viking control.

The mobility of Vikings led to a fusion of cultures within their ranks and their trade routes would extend from Canada to Afghanistan. A striking feature of the early Vikings’ success was their ability to embrace and adapt from a wide range of cultures, whether that be the Christian Irish in the west or the Muslims of the Abbasid Caliphate in the east.

Blending of cultures

Developments in archaeology in recent decades have highlighted how people and goods could move over wider distances in the early Middle Ages than we have tended to think. In the eighth century, (before the main period of Viking raiding began), the Baltic was a place where Scandinavians, Frisians, Slavs and Arabic merchants were in frequent contact. It is too simplistic to think of early Viking raids, too, as hit-and-run affairs with ships coming directly from Scandinavia and immediately rushing home again.

Recent archaeological and textual work indicates that Vikings stopped off at numerous places during campaigns (this might be to rest, restock, gather tribute and ransoms, repair equipment and gather intelligence). This allowed more sustained interaction with different peoples. Alliances between Vikings and local peoples are recorded from the 830s and 840s in Britain and Ireland. By the 850s, mixed groups of Gaelic (Gaedhil) and foreign culture (Gaill) were plaguing the Irish countryside.

Written accounts survive from Britain and Ireland condemning or seeking to prevent people from joining the Vikings. And they show Viking war bands were not ethnically exclusive. As with later pirate groups (for example the early modern pirates of the Caribbean), Viking crews would frequently lose members and pick up new recruits as they travelled, combining dissident elements from different backgrounds and cultures.

The cultural and ethnic diversity of the Viking Age is highlighted by finds in furnished graves and silver hoards from the ninth and tenth centuries. In Britain and Ireland only a small percentage of goods handled by Vikings are Scandinavian in origin or style.

From the Galloway Hoard, discovered in Scotland in 2014.
John Lord, CC BY

The Galloway hoard, discovered in south-west Scotland in 2014, includes components from Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland, Continental Europe and Turkey. Cultural eclecticism is a feature of Viking finds. An analysis of skeletons at sites linked to Vikings using the latest scientific techniques points to a mix of Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian peoples without clear ethnic distinctions in rank or gender.

The evidence points to population mobility and acculturation over large distances as a result of Viking Age trade networks.

The Viking Age was a key period in state formation processes in Northern Europe, and certainly by the 11th and 12th centuries there was a growing interest in defining national identities and developing appropriate origin myths to explain them. This led to a retrospective development in areas settled by Vikings to celebrate their links to Scandinavia and downplay non-Scandinavian elements.

The fact that these myths, when committed to writing, were not accurate accounts is suggested by self-contradictory stories and folklore motifs. For example, medieval legends concerning the foundation of Dublin (Ireland) suggest either a Danish or Norwegian origin to the town (a lot of ink has been spilt over this matter over the years) – and there is a story of three brothers bringing three ships which bears comparison with other origin legends. Ironically, it was the growth of nation states in Europe which would eventually herald the end of the Viking Age.

Unrecognisable nationalism

In the early Viking Age, modern notions of nationalism and ethnicity would have been unrecognisable. Viking culture was eclectic, but there were common features across large areas, including use of Old Norse speech, similar shipping and military technologies, domestic architecture and fashions that combined Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian inspirations.

It can be argued that these markers of identity were more about status and affiliation to long-range trading networks than ethnic symbols. A lot of social display and identity is non-ethnic in character. One might compare this to contemporary international business culture which has adopted English language, the latest computing technologies, common layouts for boardrooms and the donning of Western suits. This is a culture expressed in nearly any country of the world but independently of ethnic identity.

The ConversationSimilarly, Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries may be better defined more by what they did than by their place of origin or DNA. By dropping the simplistic equation of Scandinavian with Viking, we may better understand what the early Viking Age was about and how Vikings reshaped the foundations of medieval Europe by adapting to different cultures, rather than trying to segregate them.

Clare Downham, Senior Lecturer, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


History textbooks still imply that Australians are white



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Who is portrayed as Australian? ‘Opening of the first parliament’ Tom Roberts c.1903.
Wikipedia

Robyn Moore, University of Tasmania

In this series, we’ll discuss whether progress is being made on Indigenous education, looking at various areas including policy, scholarships, school leadership, literacy and much more.


Despite improvements to their content over time, secondary school history textbooks still imply that Australians are white.

Textbook depictions of Australianness are not only relevant to experiences of national belonging or exclusion. Research has shown that students who aren’t represented in textbooks perform worse academically.

My PhD research analysed portrayals of Australianness in secondary school history textbooks from 1950 to 2010.

This time frame covers a period of significant social change in Australia, symbolised by the transition from the White Australia era of the 1950s and 1960s, to multiculturalism, which has existed since. Textbooks reflect these broad social changes.

1950s and 1960s – a celebratory narrative

Textbooks published in the White Australia era openly taught a celebratory version of history in which Aborigines were either absent or derided.

White people were portrayed as the developers of the nation. This can be seen in the following extract from the preface of A Junior History of Australia by A. L. Meston, published in 1950:

The object of this little book is to tell the wonderful story of our own country. Fewer than one hundred and fifty years ago no white man lived in our land. In so short a space of time by the pluck, hard work, and energy of our grandmothers and grandfathers, and of our mothers and fathers, a splendid heritage has been handed down to us.

This extract assumes the reader is white. Aboriginal students are overlooked. Similarly, Aboriginal contributions to each and every stage of national development are ignored.

Aborigines are only mentioned occasionally in textbooks from this era. When Aborigines are included, the portrayals are usually negative, as shown in the drawing below.

The caption from this image endorses the derisive perception of Aborigines reported by English explorer William Dampier, who first visited north-western Australia in the late 17th century.

This image from a textbook published in 1950 was titled ‘One of Dampier’s miserablest people’.
A Junior History by A L Meston

Has anything changed since the 1960s?

The White Australia Policy was replaced by multiculturalism in the 1970s.

Subsequent changes to textbooks reflected this broader social change: Aborigines and non-white immigrants featured more prominently and were portrayed more respectfully.

For example, most history textbooks published from the 1970s onwards have an initial chapter on pre- and/or post-colonial Aboriginal life and a later chapter on post-war immigrants.

Despite improvements such as these, history textbooks still imply that Australians are white. This occurs due to inconsistencies between what is written (the explicit content) and the underlying messages or meanings (the implicit content).

For example, initial chapters that discuss Aboriginal life prior to colonisation are followed by others on European “discovery” and “exploration”, which imply that the continent was vacant and unknown prior to the arrival of Europeans.

There are also inconsistencies in who is considered Australian. Aborigines are named as Australian in initial chapters on Aboriginal life. However, this description of Aborigines as Australian is contradicted by the exclusion of Aborigines from notions of Australianness in the remainder of the text.

The main narrative describes the experiences of white Australians in various eras such as the gold rushes, Federation, the Depression and the world wars. This implies that Australian history is white history and that Australians are white. By excluding Aborigines from these sections, whites are framed as normative or “real” Australians.

21st-century textbooks

Current textbooks show further, albeit, minor improvements compared to those published in the latter decades of the 20th century. For example, Europeans are portrayed as arriving in Australia, rather than “discovering” it.

Another improvement is that references to Aboriginality are no longer restricted to the initial “Aboriginal” chapter. However, Aborigines appear only momentarily in the main narrative. When contrasted with the detailed coverage of white experiences, the cursory treatment of Aborigines implies that Australian history is the story of white Australians.

This pattern is evident in chapters on the gold rushes. The painting below frequently appears in these chapters in textbooks published in the 2000s. This painting, which depicts white people searching for gold, represents the overall focus of these chapters on white people. Aborigines are absent.

‘An Australian gold diggings’ Edwin Stocqueler c.1855.
Wikipedia

Representations of Aboriginality in these chapters are limited to a throwaway line on the impact of the gold rushes on Aborigines, with no mention of Aboriginal responses.

Some 21st-century textbooks also include fleeting references to Aboriginality in chapters on national identity.

Descriptions of nationalism in these texts often include a section on late 19th-century Australian art. This section typically cover iconic artists such as Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.

However, some textbooks published this century also include an example of Aboriginal art in this section, typically William Barak’s painting “Figures in possum skin cloaks”.

‘Figures in possum skin cloaks’ William Barak c.1898.
National Gallery of Victoria

The belated inclusion of Aborigines in chapters on Australian national identity is a welcome improvement. Nevertheless, this inclusion is momentary.

Who’s responsible for textbook content?

According to the Australian Constitution, responsibility for school education resides with the states rather than the federal government.

The first steps in the development of a national curriculum were taken in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until the development of a national curriculum in 2013 that textbooks began to be marketed on the basis of meeting curriculum guidelines.

The cross-curricular priorities in the current version of the Australian curriculum state that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students should be able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum. This is supported by research which shows that embedding Aboriginal perspectives within the curriculum improves educational outcomes.

The ConversationAustralian history textbooks have made considerable progress towards presenting more inclusive and balanced narratives. However, this progress has stalled. My research shows that Australian history textbooks continue to portray Australians as white. Further work is needed to ensure textbooks adequately represent all Australians.

Robyn Moore, Graduate reseach assistant, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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