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Issue #1638      May 14, 2014

The Black War wins praise

TASMANIA: Historian Henry Reynolds has hailed The Black War-Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania, a book by Nicholas Clements launched in Hobart last week, as ending the “history wars”.

Clements provides a social history of an often discounted war, fought on Tasmanian soil from 1824 to 1831 between Aborigines and newly-arrived white colonists and convicts, which is said to have claimed the lives of about 200 whites and 1,000 blacks.

“It was more violent than any conflict of comparable scope and duration anywhere in Australia. It was also a clash between the most culturally and technologically dissimilar people to have ever laid eyes on each other, and at stake was nothing less than control of the country and the fate of a people,” Clements said at the launch.

He attributes the cause of the war to lack of sex.

“There was a six to one gender imbalance in colonial society. Available women, particularly for male convicts, were non-existent. Not surprisingly, many frontiersmen resorted to abducting and raping Aboriginal women and children. It’s my belief that this was the main proximate cause of war – yet many Australians know little about it,” Clements says.

“There’s a panoramic ignorance of it, and that’s to do with education.

“This history matters because it not only tells us who we were but also hints at who we are. I believe that all Tasmanians can benefit from understanding the war that ushered in the only true change of government that this island has ever seen.”

A former tradie and eighth generation Tasmanian, descended from a convict who participated in the war, Clements discovered his passion for research and study while recovering from a spinal injury. In his book, Clements attempts to present a balanced social record of the frontier war, relying on diaries, journals, newspaper articles, official documents and other archival material to recount incidences of terrifying, bloody and violent guerrilla warfare.

Clements has brought into the public light, for the first time, detailed first-hand written accounts from Robert Lawrence, the son of a wealthy landowner, Edward Dumaresq, the magistrate of New Norfolk at the time, and Henry Emmett, a colonial treasury clerk; all of whom participated in the infamous Black Line.

Each chapter of the book, derived from his doctoral thesis, is divided into two parts – black and white, from the point of view of those on both sides of the conflict, focusing on the experience and attitudes of those involved. “It forces you to empathise with both sides,” he said.

Tasmanian Aboriginal artist and writer Julie Gough, who has extensively researched the Black War period, says the book is very accessible and clearly explains what happened.

“There’s no excuse to not read about this period now,” she said. “There’s no reason to avoid the Black War.”

Reynolds believes Clements has transcended the “angry contention of the history wars”, referring to the debate sparked by controversial writer Keith Windschuttle, who accused Reynolds and other leading historians of fabricating Aboriginal history.

“Instead of using the Tasmanian history as a battle field for contemporary political contention and moral judgement I think (Nicholas), over the period of time, increasingly came to see the job of historian as one of understanding and empathy,” Reynolds said.

“One of the things most striking about Nick’s book is the way in which he features the extraordinary military success of the Mairremmener people who, with rudimentary weapons, were able to present a challenge to European colonisation quite unprecedented in Australian history, and in particular the capacity they had to interrupt British colonisation.

“They were far more able to do this than any other Aboriginal nation anywhere in Australia and that in a way makes the leaders, those young men that we know of, Tongerlongerter and Montpelliatta, two of the most extraordinary military figures in Australian history.

“And the sadness is that there is absolutely no recognition of them.

“It is my view that in so many ways they are more appropriate to be recognised for their military prowess than those young Tasmanians who went overseas to fight Britain’s wars.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Aunty’s enemies: ABC still under attack after 80 years

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