Bruce Elder; 1/5/10;
Richard Broome, Allen & Unwin; 400pp, $35
Since 1982, Professor Richard Broome’s Aboriginal Australians has been one of the key general texts about this continent’s “First Nation” inhabitants. Although it has been revised four times and sold more than 50,000 copies, it has not been part of the so-called History Wars. Keith Windschuttle, for example, does not even list it in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History’s bibliography. Nor does Henry Reynolds in Frontier. Broome has managed to write an essentially political history of indigenous Australians and avoid the ire of the left and the right, a major achievement when the politics of Aboriginal history have been so venomous.
See: Review: The Australian, No Internet Text
Broome’s central thesis is that the core of relations between Aborigines and Europeans since 1788 has been a lack of cultural understanding, which has manifested itself as racism and led to more than 200 years of cruelty. Early on, he shows that even early settlers inspired by notions of the “noble savage” were largely incapable of understanding Aboriginal culture.
Broome explores the: – early confrontations between the Eora people of Sydney and the settlers;
– the resistance that led to the emergence of warriors like Pemulwoy and “Mosquito”;
– the problems as the Europeans pushed out of the Sydney Basin and settled land beyond the Great Dividing Range;
– the humiliations of the removal of land ownership,
– establishmentof Aboriginal boards and creation of caste barriers;
– the struggles for civil and indigenous rights; and, in this new edition,
– the policies of the Howard government (particularly the 2007 intervention in the Northern Territory) and the apology of the Rudd government.
It is a potent thesis that, through weight of evidence, Broome backs up repeatedly.
Particularly telling, in a contemporary context, is his list of Aboriginal success stories with its implicit repudiation of negative stereotypes.