Thursday, 16 October 2008

the first australians

Australia's indigenous people are believed to have been on this continent for somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand years, arguably making their culture the world's oldest. But that culture didn't long survive the coming of Europeans to begin a colony in Sydney, and later elsewhere.

The interaction between the two cultures and races is the subject of a powerful documentary series that began screening on TV this week.

The first episode told of the attempts by people of goodwill on both sides to reach an accommodation that would allow both cultures to coexist. One historian thinks they nearly succeeded. But the unfortunate actions of some unprincipled whites, the need or desire for the whites to spread out to find productive farming land, the enormous differences between the cultures, and the impacts of two white man's diseases, smallpox and alcohol, put an end to that.

The aboriginal people were overrun, and it is a sorry tale. Most of them come out of it with more credit than many of the whites - Governor Phillip, and army officers Tench and Dawes being exceptions.

Even after so many lives and so much land were lost, one settler family out Bathurst way and the tribe in whose country they had settled, reached a peaceful and even friendly coexistence that showed what might have been achieved with more goodwill and less rapacious ambition by the whites.

The rest of the series promises to be valuable, but sometimes harrowing watching.

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