Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The Annotated Henry Reynolds (Part 1)

I borrowed the The Other Side of the Frontier from the Coburg Library on Sunday. It's an interesting book. Reynolds is a very lucid and accessible writer but, just in case I miss any of the subtleties someone has been through it and provided helpful annotations on some of the more difficult passages, starting with the Foreword by C D Rowley (p vii - this reference and all page references which follow are to the Coburg Library copy of the Penguin edition):

Henry Reynolds has been a pioneer in Aboriginal oral history in Northern Queensland ...

Yes he has, he was unafraid to point out the racism & misconceptions that existed at the same time (e.g. Blainey)

As you can see, the anonymous annotator has a great deal of insight into Reynolds' work and its place in the complete corpus of Australian historical writing. It seems a shame that these insightful comments should only be available to patrons of one municipal library, so I propose to reproduce them for a slightly wider readership here.

... Yet the book was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship. It is inescapably political, dealing as it must with issues that have aroused deep passions since 1788 and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Many people may find it an uncomfortable book. It will challenge myths and prejudices embraced by both white and black communities and in so doing may please neither. I sought to put down as clearly as I could my vision of how the Aborigines reacted to the invading Europeans and to include as much detail as possible without needlessly clogging the flow of the text ...

It would also hold his own subjectivites
Introduction, p 1

... The fortitude and courage of Aboriginal clans which experienced the massive impact of European invasion demand our attention and respect. They may eventually earn as much, perhaps even more admiration from future generations of Australians as white explorers, pioneers and other traditional heroes of national mythology.

evidence of promoting his own ideologies

Introduction, p 2-3 (annotation p 3)

A good book but the experience of white women with Ab [sic] people is largely ignored, except when they're being tricked. Women did also exist on frontiers.
Annotator's introduction to Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 5

This is one of a number of traditional Aboriginal stories recorded in North Queensland a few years ago. It probably dates from the 1860s or 1870s but it has not been possible to relate it to a known historical event and the detail may have been significantly altered during a hundred years of currency ...

does value oral tradition but does not recognise the difficulties with it's
[sic] reliability.
Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 5

For coastal tribes the sudden and unexpected appearance of Europeans was often an awesome event but away from the sea white men did not arrive unannounced. News of them travelled inland well in advance of the encroaching wave of settlement ...

importance in proving Ab people weren't static*

* - shattering misconceptions

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 6 (annotation p 7)

But perhaps the most notable feature of such meetings [between blacks and whites] was less the terror induced than the courage displayed by people placed in situations of extraordinary tension. This was surely the hidden, perhaps the larger part, of the heroism of Australian exploration ...

Isn't this just the strength of humanity? Not Aborigines? I'd have thought this courage to be expected.

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21 (annotation top margin)

by pointing it out were we meant to have assumed otherwise? I think this reaction to be as normal as fear.
Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21 (continuation of annotation down right margin)

But while the courage of the men who went forward to meet the Europeans was clear it was probably surpassed by that of the young women who were frequently dispatched by their male relatives to appease the sexual appetite of the strange and threatening white men.

why not say more about the women - men had more (a quote) on them?

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21

There's many more equally cogent comments to get through, so this could go on for a little while yet.

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