His story – Australian style
Traditional Australian history teaches that the First Fleet arrived in 1788 to bring civilisation to an empty land. In fact, the land wasn't empty and had been occupied for up to 70,000 years. The 1788 Aboriginal population can only be estimated, because of the deaths caused by smallpox epidemics in 1789 and 1829, but estimates range from a population of 750,000 to a possible 900,000.
Another popular myth was that of a race of noble savages, primitive and peaceable, who acquiesced passively to the annexation of their lands. Massacres like those at Hornet Bank and Cullinlaringoe were then presented as isolated aberrations by an untrustworthy primitive people without a real motive for their actions, instead of a logical result of the meeting of two widely differing cultures claiming one land.
What happened in Australia since 1788 isn’t unique to our land.
The European Celts and North American Indians are also nomadic societies with a strong oral culture who experienced annexation of land which had traditionally been shared by family groups. By ignoring or undervaluing traditional culture and promoting a stereotype of an unintelligent, lazy and drunken people, untrustworthy and therefore unworthy of self-determination, the original land annexation could be validated and a source of cheap labour exploited.
These nomadic cultures were then declared to be a dying race and therefore in need of government intervention offering, in turn, benevolence, protection and eventually assimilation as solutions for the problems of a dispossessed people.
From the first official European landing in 1788, the Aboriginal culture was not honoured, or even recognized. A tribal people whose aunties sang teaching songs to the toddlers so the children would learn to share all possessions met a highly organised, acquisitive and possessive society; a society so materialistic that its laws considered rape to be a crime against property rather than against a person.
There was such a philosophical gap between the two cultures that even the good intentions of Governor Phillip towards his friend Bennelong caused harm, when the Governor suggested that Bennelong and Barangaroo's child should be born in a hospital, full of sick people and the spirits of the dead, rather than in the Governor's House as had been requested by Barangaroo, a place of power which would forge new associations between the two societies.
While ignorance can be offered as an excuse for Governor Phillip's reaction, it seems that very little effort was made by the new settlers to understand or even appreciate Aboriginal culture and in some places this attitude has continued up to the present day. Individual Aborigines were accepted solely on their usefulness to society as manual labourers, while many of the dispossessed became fringe dwellers in their own land.
Although Australian settlers provided employment for some Aboriginal people (and confiscated five percent of their wages to pay for government settlements to house other dispossessed Aboriginals), any opportunity offered was usually at the bottom end of Australia's socio-economic scale.
When Aboriginals did resist the annexation of their lands, their protest was often misinterpreted or in some cases ignored. Traditionally raised Aboriginal children are taught to respect their Elders and to be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, this cultural heritage supports, rather than opposes, Australian society's "out of sight, out of mind" attitude to the original Australians.
Successive government attitudes to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have moved through benevolence to protection and then assimilation. Australia is still to move into offering her indigenous population true self-determination.
If History is the story written by the victors, then orthodox Australian History has followed precedents used in Europe and the Americas. However, just as the Celts and Indians have been successful in reconciling different belief systems so Australia can follow the example set by other dispossessed indigenous peoples. If Australia can assimilate the truths of our Aboriginal story into our accepted History we can use this knowledge as a base for Reconciliation.
And by working together honestly and honourably, we can celebrate the diversity of people who are today’s Australians to create a united Australia.
Myths, magic and mayhem ...
Long, long ago, in a country far, far, away there lived a family of giants who walked all the known lands …
Isn’t that the way all good fairy tales start? Like most fairy tales, this story is yet another piece of oral tradition that has a hard core of truth.
Over two thousand years ago, the Celts were a huge population through Europe, the Balkans and Asia Minor. Although they loved fighting for the sheer joy of honest battle, they never used their combat supremacy to build empires or found dynasties. They were equally happy to fight amongst themselves and their tribes were only linked by language, family honour, and a religion based on respect for nature and its energies.
The Celts believed in reincarnation which is probably what made them bold fighters and so audacious that the Celtic tribes twice invaded ancient Rome. The story of the disorganized Celts invading the capital of the powerful Roman Empire to avenge an insult is one of the good old Celtic stories about fighting and family honour that has been told around the fire for many years.
Physically the Celts were a tall race and often blonde because they washed their hair with lime which not only bleached it, but made their hair stand on end something like a cockatoo’s crest. It must have been a fearsome sight for a civilised Roman soldier to be expecting civilised warfare amongst civilised men with civilized rules and regulations and instead to be confronted by a mob of screeching human cockatoos where the whole extended family came along to either to join in the battle or to yell encouragement from the sidelines. It is also an interesting reflection on our current fashion for spiked hair and bad bleach jobs - the next time you see a teenager having a bad hair day, just remember that perhaps that teenager is simply honouring their ancestors by copying their hairstyle.
Both men and women were warriors: perhaps the Celts could now be recognized as the forerunners of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, except that I don’t think the Celts were ever politically correct. I suspect that it is more that the extremely practical Celts did not waste resources and so were one of the few races to give their goddesses equal footing with their gods.
This respect carried over into Celtic society, and as a result Celtic women had rights of property and person giving women status within their society. Children belonged to their mothers and inheritance passed quite sensibly through the female line. Priestesses were honoured and women were breadwinners as well as mothers and had equal rights with men. This belief did not appear to weaken the society as the old Celts were one of the fiercest, most spiritually advanced races of the Old World.
Both sexes wore heavy bronze, silver or gold armament and ornaments with intricate designs in the metal; often with their animal totem to repel enemies. They were skilled smiths and armourers who worked first with bronze and then in iron. Woodworking, pottery making and weaving were highly developed and for illiterate warriors they showed an unexpected appreciation for music, poetry and philosophy.
Despite their casual lifestyle, it appears the Celts placed a high value on cleanliness. They loved jewellery and bright clothing, and wore a long cloak in winter described as being checked and striped and from the description sounding a lot like a precursor of the Scottish tartans.
As well as being aggressive and fond of war, the Celts were hot-blooded and party-minded. If you could only trace back the DNA, I suspect you could truthfully name the Celts “The Fathers of Europe”. I can fully appreciate why St Paul felt the need to admonish the Celts in his Epistles. At that time Christianity had made only very limited inroads into the riotous, hard-drinking brawl that was the Celtic lifestyle. The blessed and puritanical Paul would have found the average, everyday Celt obnoxious.
Julius Caesar defeated the last Celtic army in France in 57 BC. From that time on the Celtic civilization gradually lost power and dominion over their lands. Over the years the Celts gave up their territories to Romans, Germans, Saxons and Angles. They withdrew to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany, which are today the only officially recognized Celtic regions.
However, the Celtic family has since spread throughout the world, especially the new world, and we've taken our stories and thereby our culture with us. If you'd like to know where we live, just look at any atlas from Victorian days and see how much of the land mass is coloured red to show the old British Empire. The east coast of North America follows Celtic traditions from the old days. Just watch the TV news in March and you’ll see that everyone in New York in the States is as Irish as paddy’s pigs on St Pat’s day.
In October you’ll notice that Halloween is a big holiday with everyone, not just the kiddies, getting dressed up in scarey costumes. Halloween is just a modern day celebration of Samhainn, the Celtic new year, the most magical time of the year, when those who have gone before and those yet to be born are invited to walk among the living. It’s interesting how many peoples around the world allocate a day during the autumn of their year to honour their ancestors and to feast with their dead. Even in modern Australia, we set aside an autumn day in April to honour our fallen warriors on Anzac Day.
I am an Australian - and proud of it - but my ancestors are Celts. Like the Australian Aborigine, the knowledge and the cultural heritage is transmitted by word of mouth. This oral tradition, which saved the Irish language in the hedge schools when the British banned the speaking of the Gaelic, is what also saved the culture that unites today’s Celts.
Even though we’re taught in our schools and by our wider society not to believe the old stories, we still gather around the fire to tell each other tales of gods and gàis, of heroes and of honour, of myths and magic and mayhem and so pass on the traditions and knowledge of our people.
The other intangible is something of an attitude - perhaps we could call it Celtitute - it’s the inner knowing of the Celt as to who we are.
It’s like a racial memory of a time when gods walked the land; when men and women were equal; when we actually watched and listened to the animals to gain knowledge; when spirituality wasn’t something to be sold at weekend seminars or paid lip service for an hour and a half on Sunday but a truth to be believed and to be lived daily.
Celtitude is also a racial pride. If you have Celtic blood you are aware of it. I ran a Celtic Crafts market stall once a fortnight in Townsville and my very first customer for her Celtic astrology was a lady who looked Aboriginal but who introduced herself proudly as “one-quarter Celt” from an Irish grandfather. I can understand her family pride because I share it. I also know from my own personality that I can plod along being a good citizen, keeping within the law and the budget, when all of a sudden the hidden Celt in me yells “Ah, booger this, let’s have a hooley!” and suddenly it’s headlong into party time.
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