Resisting the Invaders
The Aborigines in the interior were not entirely unprepared for the invasion of their lands. Accurate and detailed information about the European explorers travelled up to 500 kilometres along the traditional lines of inter-tribal communication. Distant communities heard of the movements of pale, ghost-like strangers, equipped with odd implements and weird animals, which they later knew to be drays and horses. Some of the tribes, even before they laid eyes on the strangers, had received items of metal and glass and fallen victim to European diseases. 1 Had they known the implications the arrival of these strangers would have for their future, they may have met the intruders more frequently with violence and less often with curiosity.
The European explorers had a clearer idea of the chain of events they were setting in motion. In 1835 Major Thomas Mitchell wrote: ‘As I stood, the first European intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains… I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes; and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and the animals for which it seemed to have been prepared.’ 2 The irony was that the Aborigines had often helped the European explorers and the first settlers as they bumbled through the bush loaded down with equipment and plagued by inexperience.
As time passed the Aborigines realised that the Europeans were permanent intruders who aimed to use their land. At Burrumbeep, Victoria, in 1841, Timberroon of the Bullucs stamped on the ground and yelled at George Robinson: ‘Country belonging to me; country belonging to me. My Country’. Similarly, Edward Curr was confronted on the Murray River in the 1840s by an elder of the Moitheriban tribe who spat at him and shouted that the water, the fish and the ducks all belonged to his tribe. 3 Each confrontation was a dramatic clash between the Aboriginal people who saw the land religiously, as an intimate part of themselves and all life, and the Europeans who saw it economically, as a commodity to be taken, exploited, bought and sold. This clash was enacted again and again as the frontier of settlers moved across the southern and eastern parts of Australia between the years 1820 and 1870.