Aboriginal Victorians: A History since 1800

Aboriginal Victorians: A History since 1800

Aboriginal Victorians: A History since 1800

Aboriginal Victorians: A History since 1800

Excerpt

A number of times during this project, people expressed surprise that 'there were any Aboriginal people left in Victoria'. This both astounded me and vindicated my decision to write this book. Their view stemmed from the twin reasoning that as black skins are now less in evidence in Victoria and traditional dress and customs are no longer practised, people are therefore no longer Aboriginal. I hope that a reading of this book will end such misapprehensions. My view here is based on the belief that people are defined culturally, not racially or by skin colour, and that people are free to define themselves. People do not cease to be Aboriginal due to their skin being lightened by inter-mingling and inter-marriage with lighter-skinned groups. Nor do people cease to be Aboriginal because they no longer use spears and digging sticks and choose or come to live materially like other Australians. Cultures can and do change, and people can and do reinvent themselves, while still retaining core cultural values that define them as different from other groups.

There is no denying that the European presence in this State, beginning two hundred years ago, irrevocably changed Aboriginal people. The European arrival created a land and cultural struggle that still continues. We must try to imagine the depth of feeling of this contest between original owners, who saw the land as life, as their cultural essence and identity, and newcomers, who saw it as an arcadia, the reward for their uprooting from distant homes and hearths. The subsequent interactions of these groups were diverse, complex and deadly serious—sometimes literally so—and I have tried to portray them on the large canvas of two centuries. This book is about how Aboriginal people experienced the European presence since 1800, and how they have forged a place in this State, reconciling themselves to living as Aboriginal people in an altered world.

I first imagined this book in 1988 and commenced research over the following few summers. It began as a twentieth-century history, but at . . .

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