The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal people
Josephine Flood 2006
Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, xiv+306pp., ISBN 1 74114 872 3
This is the latest in a succes sion of books from the pen of Josephine Flood, a popular author. Like her other works, it is a book that may appeal to the scholar and literary public alike. Lavishly illustrated with colour and black-and-white photographs, and the occasional map, it is written in a style that is a casual narrative and is peppered with pertinent facts and personal explanations. In the preface (p.x) Flood explains that:
The Original Australians tells the story of Australian Aboriginal history and culture from their distant beginnings to the present day. As an archaeologist, my aim is to try to explain what happened in the past and place traditional Australian indigenous societies into their global context. My mission is to present an accurate, objective, informative account of this continent's first inhabitants.
Well, does it achieve this exalted aim?
The structure of the book and coverage of particular topics, as Flood herself affirms, is motivated partly by the relatively recent debate within the history fraternity, and by what friends and relations wanted to know of Aboriginal Australia. The topics are condensed into 21 points that certainly reflect a non-Australia bias (p.xii). Flood undoubtedly tackles many of the pertinent issues that still resonate with emotion, bigotry and resentment within Australian society. The structure of the book lies in the sequence of outside contact, the changing social norms and research directions of the outsider's perspective.
Unlike many narratives, this one does not start at the beginning of Aboriginal Australia; rather, it starts with the European exploration of the continent and contact with its Aboriginal peoples. Divided into eight chapters, it is a book that deals more with the historic associations, encounters and society of the past 200 years than with the greater socio-cultural circumstance of the original peoples of this continent. Colonisation, confrontation and depopulation are the heading topics for the next three chapters. As with Chapter 1 ('Exploration'), these also include short treaties on certain social and cultural anthropological aspects, chosen, I suspect, to answer friends' interests rather than to sit constructively within the particular narrative of each chapter. One recurring theme is that Aboriginal society is resilient, conservative and well adapted, remaining unchanged from first arrival in this land: a second is the inept and devastating consequences of European colonisation and government activities.
Only in Chapters 5 and 6 are the more traditional aspects of Aboriginal society dealt with. The sixth chapter is where Flood discusses the origins and timing of arrival into this continent, providing a potted outline of the subsequent tens of millennia of events and knowledge. One needs to go to some of her other books, or those of other authors, to gain a better appreciation of the greater human past of this continent. The final two chapters are concerned with particular social and historical aspects of the twentieth century, while dipping back into the nineteenth century, and focus to an extent on government policies and their consequences for Aboriginal peoples.
There is much to recommend the book, not least that it brings together a diverse range of topics and provides explanations, if not insight, into why things occurred the way they did. …