9X Humanities ‘First Australians; They Have Come to Stay’

Students in 9X Humanities have been studying contact and conflict and used the documentary First Australians; They Have Come to Stay as inspiration for a chosen task.

Task: Creative response 

This is a creative task. Use the documentary as inspiration for a non-laptop piece – this could be a drawing, a painting, a musical piece, something like that. Their idea here is to get out some alternative tools to the laptop (and a break for your eyes)!

My painting represents how the English settlers took over, with the red and black dots representing the aborigines and the blue and white dots representing the English.
Lottie G

I chose to do a sketch of what Captain Cook was believed to look like.
Scarlett V

Isabella J

Freya H

Task: Short Response The relationship between the English colonists and the First Australians was always going to be difficult given the significant differences between their cultures. To what extent do you agree? Use evidence from the documentary to justify your view. 500 words

When looking back at the events of British colonisation in Australia and what resulted because of it, it is easy to believe that there was no possibility of a relationship forming between the First Australians and the Colonists. However I think that if a couple things happened differently, things could have been very different and that there was a possibility for the English colonists and the First Australians to work together and grow a relationship.

When the British arrived at Botany Bay they were meant to make peace with the native people, it was said at this time that all men are equal, and within the first couple of days upon landing the British and the First Australians seemed to be quite tolerant of each other, this can be seen through a quote from Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnin (Historian) “There is this very curious and very touching attempt to come together and to comprehend each other, so you have these extraordinary scenes within two or three days of landing with Britishers and Aborigines dancing together”. 

Of course there are many examples of things which British did that were unfair to the First Australians. An example of this is Bennelong, while Bennelong and Governor Phillip grew a close relationship during their time together it was still unfair for Phillip to take and use Bennelong as his translator. It was also unfair as Bennelong and Phillip seemed to have a father – son like relationship that Bennelong was still treated as a prisoner and not as an equal among the British. I do however think that there were some genuine attempts from Phillip, to try to understand and to respect the traditions of the First Traditions. For example when Bennelong allows the spearing of Governor Phillip in the ritual called ‘payback’, Phillip understood and acknowledged that this was a part of and connected to their culture. In a quote from Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnin (Historian) when Phillip was speared by Bennelong he “absolutely prohibited any vengeance being taken”, I think this is an important example of when the British, instead of retaliating against the First Australians with ten times the force, they attempt to understand the First Australians and their culture and to keep a good relationship with them.

While I think the British did make some good hearted attempts to understand and keep a good relationship with the First Australians, ‘some’ being the keyword. I do however, think that it was always going to be very difficult given how the British in many cases seemed to think that First Australians were inferior to the British, for example according to the First Australians documentary, a First Australian Wimdradyne’s entire family was murdered by the British “over a handful of potatoes”. While I think the British in many situations were disrespectful and viewed the First Australians as inferior I do not think that it was intentional when the British spread smallpox to local Australians, I think this because at that time the British were trying to keep a good relationship with the First Australians and also according to Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnin (Historian) “in all British accounts there was bewilderment, despair and horror in the British accounts as they see smallpox is loose along the native population.”.

In conclusion I do think that the relationship between the British and the First Australians was destined to be challenging to uphold given the contrast in their cultures, however I think that it was possible because there were some clear, genuine attempts from the British to try to understand the First Australians. I think that is all the proof you need to say there was some, if improbable, prospect of a relationship between the British and the First Australians.

Tom A

The relationship between the First Australians and the English colonists was outright doomed from the moment the English arrived on the shore of New South Wales. The drastic differences in their culture, technology, farming/hunting and their general ways of life made the idea of a peaceful relationship almost impossible.

When Governor Arthur Phillip first arrived in Warang, also known as Sydney, the Indigenous people were very confused as to what these people were;  Where did they come from?  Why were they in their country?. As Governor Arthur Phillip was missing a front tooth, he gained respect from the Aboriginal people, A missing tooth meant an Aboriginal person had been initiated. Arthur Phillip’s missing tooth meant he had shared an indigenous ceremony and he was considered an “elder” or “senior”, a man the Aboriginal people could negotiate and talk with. Governor Arthur Phillip had been given instructions from Lord Sydney, Secretary for the Home Department, “to endeavor by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives and to consolidate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness”. Just after a few days from landing, paintings can be seen in which the Aborigines and the English colonists are dancing together. Both the English and the Indigenous people were quite happy with each other’s presence and Arthur Phillip’s instructions from the Home department had been put in place until the colonizers came to an opinion that the Aborigines were “inferior” as they were “savages” like “animals”. They started clearing out land, cutting down trees and establishing a small town.

As colonizers observed how the Indigenous people used the land to farm they despised their ways. The English being arrogant didn’t understand that the Aborigines’ way of farming was sustainable and their connection to the land meant the health of the land was of utmost importance. From the British point of view, they would have thought this was a huge waste of land, and so led to the idea of moving the Aboriginal people out and destroying the land.

Some believe one of the ways the English intended to wipe out the Aboriginal population was to use germ warfare. The English brought with them pests such as rats which carried diseases like Smallpox, Measles and Influenza which had previously been released through India. Although these diseases were not believed to be released on purpose, they still wiped out thousands of Indigenous people across Australia as they had never come into contact with the diseases and so were not immune.

Another issue that would make the relationship difficult was the harsh British punishments for minor crimes that the Aboriginal people could mistakenly commit without knowing. This happened to Pemulway’s family when they were offered a small amount of potatoes by some English farmers. They apparently enjoyed the potatoes so much that they went back to pick some more from the ground, which the Europeans considered stealing so then decided to shoot and kill all of Pemulway’s family.

One more huge difference in culture that made this relationship challenging was the technological advantage the English had over the Aborigines. The colonizers had weapons such as guns and swords which the Aboriginal people had never seen before, let alone known what they did.

Although the British had good plans for the two cultures to remain in peace, it’s clear why this relationship was bound to fail.

Tasman C

The relationship between the two cultures was destined to be a bad one, it was just a test of time before things turned to hell. Arguably, their relationship started going negative when Bennelong threw spears at the white men. At first, they were quite happy with each other’s presence. Paintings can be seen of the Aborigines dancing with white men in red clothes. “A sort of playground encounter, if you like” (first Australians, March 30, 2015). The white colonizers would see the land how it’s used and reacted poorly, thinking that it was not being properly farmed and managed, or at least not in the ‘correct way’. The European farming culture was very different to that of the Aborigines, and was not nearly as sustainable. From where the British men were coming from, it would have seemed a complete waste of the land, which in turn led to them wanting to destroy it and move the Aboriginal people out of it.

Due to the culture clash, a world where the two worlds existed in peace together was always going to be difficult. On the Aborigines side, they had no idea of the intentions of the Europeans, who they were or where they came from. Considering the harsh punishments the British put in place for minor crimes, the Aborigines could easily have mistakenly committed a white crime without knowing it, and then sentenced to a horrible punishment. For example, when Pumelways family was offered a small amount of potatoes by some white farmers, They apparently enjoyed the potatoes very much and then went back to pick more from the ground, which was to the Europeans considered stealing so in turn decided to shoot and kill all of Pemulway’s family.  “and they must have tasted really nice, because they came back later and they were actually digging them up” (first Australians, March 30, 2015).

On the Farmers’ side of the story, Pumelway’s family would have been breaking a similar law to what got the convicts sent to New South Wales, or even killed, in the first place. There was another, non social reason, why the two cultures would collide, and that was the carrying of foreign diseases by the British settlers. It is not believed that the British intended to wipe out most of the Indigenous race with smallpox and other European diseases, but that’s what happened. When the convicts arrived, they brought with them rats and other pests which could have been carriers of the diseases that they themselves were immune to. Unfortunately for the Aborigines, they had never met the diseases before and were not immune.

Another difference between the two societies was the technological advantage the British settlers had. When they came to New South Wales, not only did they bring diseases that would kill off the locals, but guns and other deadly weapons. The Aboriginals had never met these devices, and would not have known how to react to them or what they even did, and they would have had such power over the aborigines once they’d seen the drastic things they can do. Even though the British house of commons originally wanted to remain at peace with the aborigines, it is clear why the two cultures were always bound to clash and the land would always be fought over.

Sam W

Task: Short response Governor Phillip and Governor Brisbane were ‘men of their times’ and therefore should not be judged harshly by history for their treatment of the First Australians. To what extent do you agree? Use evidence from the documentary to justify your view. 500 words.

I believe that Governor Philip and Governor Brisbane should be judged by history for their crimes. As it is said in the documentary, Governor Philip and the British colonists came up with the excuse that the First Nations people of Australia were animals and therefore had no entitlement to the land. Can you imagine looking into the eyes of another human, someone who is just like you, an intellectual equal and discarding them as an animal, for your own benefit?! This was not necessary for the British Colonists to do at all, yet they did. This led to the first nations People of Australia being as if they were animals, which led to many unnecessary deaths. As far as I am concerned, murdering a fellow human is one of the worst things that anyone anywhere can do and history should not forgive anyone for it, no matter the time, no matter the context. 

According to the documentary Governor Phillip sent an order to capture two Aboriginal men, one of which is Bennelong. He captures them simply for his own convenience, just so he could have a translator. The poor men were pulled into a boat and tied up. They were both taken away from their families and their community. Governor Phillip had the power to meet with them, however he kidnapped them for his own convenience, in other words Governor Phillip brought aboriginal people to him as if they were prisoners when he could have brought them peacefully. History should not forgive Governor Phillip the act of capturing two aboriginal men, forever changing their lives just for his own convenience. 

Later on when governor Brisbane took over the colonies it is said in the documentary that he allowed anyone who was willing to pay, could be given land. This is an awful thing to do. He was aware that there were people living there already, yet he discarded them in order to pursue money. He didn’t even warn all the people living there that the land that was rightfully theirs was going to be given to the highest bidder. It is said in the documentary that this was, as governing was not a spectacular success. History should not forgive this act because even then, there were white people who respected the first Nations People, and this was one of the acts that would define much of Australian history as racist and prejudiced. It would lead to the witch hunting and killing of innocent aboriginal people for over a century. That is something that history, no matter the context, should never forgive.

In my opinion these two men should never be forgiven, as people died at the hands of their mistakes and misjudgements.

Oisin T

As the documentary states, Phillip and Brisbane were explicitly sent by the government to make peace with the First Australians and to “make peace and reconciliation” with them, in order to win them over and occupy the land as British territory. For this reason, Phillip and Brisbane should have kept a peaceful demeanour between their fleet and the first Australians. The notion that they were doing good in relation to what was thought to be effective at that point in history is disputed by the fact that they were sent with the intention of peace and therefore should not have engaged in the dominant behaviour that they did.

Some of the blame could be shifted onto the attitude of the British at the time and their intention to occupy any land they could, with disregard to the Indigenous people occupying the land. However, this does not mean that Phillip and Brisbane cannot be held accountable for their actions. As the documentary states, there is “very little evidence” that the white settlers were doing anything to build a partnership. This, of course, was Phillip’s initial responsibility, to achieve reconciliation between their peoples, and there is obvious evidence that he did not hold up his responsibility, such as the taking of Pemulwuy’s head that was necessary for grieving rituals and the various outbreaks of war initiated either by the white settlers or the actions they had taken against the First Australians.

Of course, it can be considered that there would be many communication problems between their societies and misunderstandings that result in “accidental conflict.” However, in several of Phillips letters and journal entries, he does refer to Indigenous Australians as people, and them having a society, yet he still treats them as lower than himself, sometimes as a spectacle for the English to enjoy and be fascinated by, sometimes as prisoners and slaves. Despite these behaviours, his view of them in his journals and historical records suggest that his opinions and behaviours contradict themselves. Phillip’s behaviour is not consistent, nor should it be justified by the zeitgeist of the time.

Brisbane also had contradictory behaviours towards the first Australians; whilst sometimes he would govern with respect towards the owners of the land, including commending the Indigenous elder Saturday and trying to make peace with the Indigenous people as best as he could, however in some instances, such as the establishment of Brucedale, Brisbane shows a complete disregard for the ownership the First Australians have over the land. As Professor Gordon Briscoe states in the documentary, “In the minds of the British, the idea was that they could simply go over the mountains and own everything out there.” 

The governors’ attitudes, as with that of the British, often dispute and contradict each other, ranging from peacemaking to total dominance and complete ownership of land that they acknowledge and state multiple times in their records is sacred property of the First Australians. Despite this, they believe that they can own whatever they desire.

Phillip and Brisbane’s treatment and governing of the First Australians do indeed line up with the opinions and intentions of the British empire, and therefore with the opinion of those times. That in no way, however, means they should not be judged by their gross mistreatment. They were indeed “men of their times”, yet they had opportunities to take ethical and moral responsibility for their actions and avoid war where possible, yet they did not. As a result of this, they ensued war, famine, disease and theft of sacred land. Perhaps they were men of their times, and that time in history was cruel, but that in no way means their actions should be judged any less.

Gully T