How can professional historians better tell the history of colonialism in Australia, especially in a way that provides Aboriginal perspectives of it? 1 In recent decades, scholars have been considering this question and exploring new ways of undertaking this task. During the same period, as we have noted (in Chapter 2), other ways of relating the past and relating to the past—such as oral history, myth and tradition—have become increasingly popular and have become rivals for historical authority. It is now more apparent than ever that history, and particularly academic history, is only one way of understanding the past in the present.
Among academic historians, there has only been a partial acknowledgment of the enormous difficulties that arise when trying to represent British colonisation of this country—particularly its impact on Aboriginal people. At the same time, many academic historians have failed to recognise the limits of their discipline when they try to historicise this past. The nature of the difficulty faced by academic history can be made clearer by reformulating the question posed in my introductory sentence to this chapter: How does one relate disaster? More particularly, how does one relate a past in which the props of memory of one of the two peoples who could have registered it were mostly destroyed by the events of that past—either by the destruction or the dislocation of people and things—and when that people's perspective was barely recorded contemporaneously because they had an oral culture? In other words, how can you provide a reliable narrative of a cataclysmic event when the contemporary historical sources upon which academic history has conventionally relied are inadequate? Furthermore, how does one relate a traumatic past such as this one—traumatic for both