Mparntwe – Alice Springs sacred sites, urban impacts – ABC Off Track podcast. Ozstudies Pop-Up ed

The audio download on this ABC Off Track program regarding Yeperenye (Caterpillar) Dreaming in Mparntwe – Alice Springs is worth a listen. It is 28 minutes long, so you need to make time to listen.

The local Dreaming landscape was very well known since the work of anthropologists Spencer and Gillen circa 1900, but treated as insignificant by Australian authorities until the 1980s.

Program raises the issues of sacred sites which have been negatively impacted on by the development of the town –  and more.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/offtrack/in-the-shadow-of-the-caterpillars/7980944

Trial trip to Central Australia – June 2017. Ozstudies Pop-Up ed

I am taking some mature-age friends like me on a two-week trial Ozstudies trip into Arrernte country (Central Australia) in June. One friend is an artist and another has an interest in plants. This itinerary is for information only.

If there is enough interest from others (Central Australia is not cheap to visit) we may pop-up again!

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

Co-ordinator

admin@ozstudies.com.au

Itinerary Central Australia  trip June 2017

 We can only do so much in a short visit of 15 nights as there is so much to learn about and experience. This trip serves as an introduction – to provide some first-hand experience and begin to see country from bi-cultural perspective –  indigenous as well as from the more familiar non-indigenous.

I have aimed for a mix of town and country experiences, with ample time at Uluru and Arrarnta country to simply be there. Rather than a long reading list, we flow with the go. You cannot help but feel the full-on forces of creation in this part of the world.

INTRODUCTION

Mparntwe/Alice Springs is in Arrernte country. The earlier spelling was ‘Aranda’ or ‘Arunta’. Further west (Western Arrernte people) the preferred spelling is ‘Arrarnta’. This country is rich in Dreaming tracks, sites and stories.

The best people to learn from about these matters are Arrernte/Arrarnta people themselves. This is easier to say than to do, but we will keep our eyes open for mentors. Their time is valuable. 

QUICK OUTLINE

First stage: Saturday – ARRIVE IN MPARNTWE/ALICE SPRINGS (3 nights)

Pick up Alice Springs airport.

The aims here is to rest and recover from traveling internationally; to start to gain the feel of Central Australia; and to learn a little of the indigenous and non-indigenous culture and history of the town.

We can learn a lot about desert loving plants – Eremophila – and others (e.g. Hakea) in a short time at the Olive Pink Botanic Reserve (very good lunch cafe) and the Desert Park. These all have Dreaming aspects and we need to start learning to see the landscape as signified by Arrernte peoples.

What is happening in the local life and the art scene (indigenous and non-indigenous)?

Visit to Red Kangaroo Bookshop and art galleries (e.g. Araluen)

Second stage: Tuesday – TRIP TO ULURU (3 nights)

This trip gives some idea of the extent of country in Central Australia. It is almost 500km and takes 5 to 6 hours depending on stops. The days are short and we don’t want to be driving west into the setting sun if we can avoid it.

Uluru is increasingly regarded as a kind of spiritual centre in Australia (but there are sacred sites everywhere!) I thought we should do this part of trip first since most people want to see “the Rock”. I have planned for three nights there. One whole day to just be at Uluru and a second day to visit the nearby Kata Tjukas.

The Pitjantjatjara – Yankunytjatjara country may access our dreams while we sleep?

Third stage: Friday – RETURN TO MPARNTWE/ALICE SPRINGS (4 nights)

When we return to Mparntwe/Alice Springs it will already be more familiar from our first stay. While there are lots of activities, it would be good to leave this time open so we can check out anything which comes our way once we are there.

Could hire some bikes for a day trip around town or in the nearby part of the West MacDonnells on the Larapinta Trail?

Fourth stage: Tuesday – LARAPINTA /FINKE RIVER & TJORITJA/ WEST MACDONNELL RANGES (3 nights)

We don’t have to travel so far for the trip into Larapinta country – an hour or so along the Larapinta Drive to the first stop. Larapinta is the Arrarnta name for the Finke River – a very old river, with some surprising links to the night sky in Arrarnta Dreaming stories. I have written about this cosmology. More anon.

We will visit the former Lutheran Mission at Ntaria – Hermannsburg. Lot to be said about this area – later. Albert Namatjira country; Sterhlow Father and Son, and now Arrarnta women potters (and choir).

We can camp and/or book cabin at Wallace Rockhole – Aboriginal run venture – and to do their short intro dot painting course.

If our AWD is ok for the rough sandy track along the river gorge, we plan to visit Palm Valley. Ancient Palms connected by Fire Dreaming.

Then to travel round to Tnorala – Gosse Bluff (very large impact crater and Dreaming story) to camp etc at Yapalpe -Glen Helen – great place in its own right and, fingers crossed, still serving wonderful meals in its cafe. Motel accommodation is greatly overpriced for what you get so backpacker and/or camping.

On the way back to town along the Namarjira Drive we can explore some of the Gaps in the Toritja -MacDonnell Ranges – narrow ravines, towering cliffs, waterholes – and also visit the ochre pits.

Fifth stage: Friday – RETURN TO MPARNTWE/ALICE SPRINGS (2 nights)

Follow up any leads from earlier time in town. Any local artists or other interests?

If we haven’t already seen the stars in the dark sky (the moon is against us in the early part of the trip) this will be a last chance to get out of town and see the night sky in all its glorious expanse in the desert air.

Good chance to  visit Anthwerrke – Emily Gap rich with Yeperenye – Caterpillar Dreamings as documented in Wenten Rubuntja’s life story “The Town grew up dancing.” (No photos of rock art) and for a final billy and cooking on a fire at the nearby Tyethe – Jessie Gap.

Finally. Sunday – Alice Springs airport. Depart for other destinations.

 

Some useful Arrarnta/Arrernte resources

Self-exercise 1.

Locate Arrernte language on this AIATSIS map:

http://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia

Arrernte is also spelt Arrarnta (for Western Arrernte); and formerly,  Aranda and Arunta. Linguists say it is definitely Arr…. (double r) and not Ar…

Note the two different contemporary spellings of ‘Arrarnta’ and ‘Arrernte’. That is because there are two competing orthographies – the former (which is easier for English speakers to recognise) is said (Strehlow Research Centre) to be preferred by Western Arrarnta people themselves (so i am told) and the latter is preferred by linguists as it is more accurate (but less easy for  English speakers to recognise).

Read one account of this at:

http://www.clc.org.au/articles/info/have-you-ever-wondered-why-arrernte-is-spelt-the-way-it-i

The Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD) IAD Press in Alice Springs/Mparntwe has really good language (and other) resources, but some are often out of stock. See https://iadpress.com/shop/category/aboriginal-languages/ Their website mentions their Apple app but I could not find it?

Here’s two useful dictionaries for Western Arrarnta. 

WAPD compress.jpg

Self-Exercise 2. Have a look at the notes from inside the Western Arrarnta Picture Dictionary regarding the cover picture and compare the Arrarnta – English translation. Name some plants? Marna means ‘food, vegetables and fruit.’

cover notes WAPD compress.jpg

IDWA compressed.jpg

These apps in Apple Store are well worth a look and a good place to start:


Not the sign of the Cross

SONDERBAR IST …

In his great work on Arrarnta (Aranda) people’s Dreaming narratives the German Lutheran missionary at Hermannsburg/Ntaria Carl Strehlow wrote:

Carl S Adlersfuss.jpg

(Carl Strehlow 1907:25.  8. Der Komet. Full reference below)

Google Translate gives:

Carl S google trans.jpg

My Google Translate of Carl Stehlow’s original 1907 comment may be a little rough (i left the final ‘t’ off ‘knupft) but the sense is clear – the stars which many Europeans (and others?) see as the Southern Cross are not seen this way by Arrarnta people in the centre of this continent.

This was studied in more detail in the early 1930’s by B. G. Maegraith, who confirmed Carl Strehlow’s statement (and much more). (Maegraith, B. G. (Brian Gilmore), The astronomy of the Aranda and Luritja tribes. More info below.)

Why should it be strange that Arrarnta do not have the same constellation for what Europeans (and others?) see as the Southern Cross? This important fact demonstrates that Arrarnta people have a very different cosmology to that of Europeans.

There is a world of difference between the Ways of First Peoples and those of European peoples of the last several centuries.

For Carl Strehlow, a Lutheran missionary, the sign of the Cross had the greatest of transcendental significance. First Peoples, on the other hand, had and have a much richer transcendental tradition which we know as ‘Dreaming’.  

The arrangement of stars, not visible to people in the Northern Hemisphere in recent times,  as a Cross played – and continue to play – an important role in providing some kind of astral blessing to the ‘expansion’ of Europeans into the lands of people in the Southern Hemisphere.

From Magellan on, seeing this imaginary Cross was something which had strong significance for the explorers, missionaries and colonists.  

Anyone who seriously wants to find out more about Arrarnta cosmology, and the arrangement of stars in that region which European’s group at the Southern Cross, can make a start at a piece from my earlier series on Arrarnta cosmology:

https://1drv.ms/w/s!AlcvXZV0m016jVtWxEYtIXob6fhK

And for more on how Europeans and their colonisation of the Southern Hemisphere and Southern Cross see:

https://1drv.ms/w/s!AlcvXZV0m016kkCGG3AZAu4iRJcN

References:

Maegraith, B. G. (Brian Gilmore). 1932. “Astronomy Of The Aranda And Luritja Tribes.” Transactions And Proceedings Of The Royal Society Of South Australia 56 (10). Adelaide: 19–26. http://ehrafworldcultures.yale.edu/document?id=oi08-021.

Carl Strehlow: Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien, Ed. Städtisches Völkerkunde-Museum Frankfurt am Main and Moritz Freiherr v. Leonhardi, Vol. 1-5, Frankfurt 1907-1920 (No published English translation.)

Banksia – what’s in a name?

Banksia – what’s in a name?

CLONING ON A GRAND SCALE

Europeans first referred to this country as  “New” Holland and, while Cook had used “South Wales”, it soon became “New South Wales”. There is a pattern – New World, New Spain, New Amsterdam, New Zealand, New Guinea, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, New Britain …

In some instances, these are said to become ‘Neo-Europes’. (Alfred W Crosby 2004 ‘Ecological Imperialism – The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900.)

The imperial colonising process can be compared to the cloning process – that is, the existing cultural nucleus is forcefully excluded or suppressed and another foreign culture is forcefully inserted in its places in order to monopolise the rich resources of living country. Keeping the original culture(s) suppressed is a key part of maintaining the privileges thus acquaired.

In this country, at least, European one-sided cultural forms were conceived in bad-faith vis-a-via First Peoples – and remain so in present times.

This country was never an empty space – either in terms of population or in terms of culture. As we now know, it was completely populated and completely cultured by the time Europeans arrived.

A kind of counterfeit reality was constructed. We know this one-sided form of reality as ‘Australia’. We do not yet have an agreed indigenous name (or names) for this country.  

From the outset of European designs on this country they proceeded to fill the imaginary ‘empty space’ with culturally one-sided cultural forms. Irrespective of First Peoples forms of signification for places, plants, animals –  and people –  European cultural constructs were prefabricated and imposed on to life here.

HERE IS ONE RELEVANT EXAMPLE

The role of the Gentleman’s pursuit of botany in the Endeavour’s voyage of exploration is given recognition when ‘Stingray Harbour’’ was later renamed ‘Botany Bay’ by James Cook. Initially, the presence of the many very large stringrays, which were caught for food, was the significant feature recorded in the English name for the large bay.

As Cook noted, with the change of name from Stingray Harbour, the Naturalists – Banks and Dr Solander – had been engaged in collecting plant materials while they were there. On board the Endeavour where plants being taken to Europe.

Joseph Banks had an interest in botany from his teenage years. He actually paid for for a Linnaean lecturer of botany when he attended Oxford University as there was none. (See, for example, Richard Holmes “The Age of Wonder” The Folio Society MMXV pp7-8). He also contributed 10,000 pounds (two years of his exceptional income) for the study of Natural History on the Endeavour voyage.

In September 1770, as the Endeavour sailed away from the East Coast of this country, Banks wrote in his journal:

“Of Plants in general the countrey afforded a far larger variety than its barren appearance seemd to promise. Many of these have no doubt properties which might be useful, but for Physical or oeconomical purposes which we were not able to investigate, could we have understood the Indians or made them by any means our friends we might perchance have learnt some of these: for tho their manner of life, but one degree removed from Brutes, does not seem to promise much yet they had a knowledge of plants as we plainly could percieve by their having names for them.”  J. Banks 1770 ‘The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks’ (The Echo Library 2006:308 – emphasis added)

Well, First Peoples ‘botantists’ may have had names (and much knowledge of the plants) but the next step in this process was to name a whole genus, not merely a species, in honour of Banks:

“The genus Banksia was first described and named by Carl Linnaeus the Younger in his April 1782 publication Supplementum Plantarum; hence the full name for the genus is “Banksia L.f.” The genus name honours the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who collected the first Banksia specimens in 1770, during James Cook‘s first expedition.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksia )

The Wikipedia entry on Banksia integrifloia also provides some useful information

“B. integrifolia was first collected at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770, by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, naturalists on the Endeavour during Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific Ocean.[10][11] However, the species was not published until April 1782, when Carolus Linnaeus the Younger described the first four Banksia species in his Supplementum Plantarum. Linnaeus distinguished the species by their leaf shapes, and named them accordingly. Thus the species with entire leaf margins was given the specific name integrifolia, from the Latin integer, meaning “entire”, and folium, meaning “leaf”.[12] The full name for the species is therefore Banksia integrifolia L.f.[1]

Now widely known as coast banksia or coastal banksia, B. integrifolia was previously known by a range of common names. The Checklist of Australian Trees lists four other common names: honeysuckle, white banksia, white bottlebrush and white honeysuckle;[1] and some older sources refer to it as honeysuckle oak.[2][3]”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksia_integrifolia (accessed 5 April 2017)

But what happens next? Wikipedia notes of this species of tree:

It was known to Indigenous Australians before its discovery and naming by Europeans; for example, the Gunai people of Gippsland called it birrna.[4] Because of its wide range it would have a name in a number of other indigenous languages, but these are now lost. In 2001, a search of historical archives for recorded indigenous names of Victorian flora and fauna failed to find a single name for the species.[5]

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksia_integrifolia (emphasis added)

Now, while Joseph Banks never returned to this country, it was not long after he returned to England that, partially on his recommendation, the First Fleet was on its way to found a penal colony at Botany Bay.

With the large number of Europeans arriving, there also arrived the opportunity for some Officers and, later, Gentlemen to fill in the great blanks in Banks knowledge of indigenous plants (and etc). But this did not happen.  As was noted in the case of Banksia integrifolia mentioned above, few (if any) of the original names survive.

The colonising process in this country was been one where, instead of making good use of first-hand experience to falsify and correct initial and mistaken European notions of life here, the opposite seems to be the case – life here has been forced to conform with the mistaken notions imported from overseas.

The name for this culturally one-sided process is ethnocide. This dreadful history has left us with a most challenging legacy – to make good (using the best possible healing means) the errors and omissions of the past.

It is an enormous task. They say healing ourselves is a necessary first step.

Continue reading “Banksia – what’s in a name?”

There’s a star man, waiting in the sky …

(Note – Contains images of First Peoples who have passed away.)

THE FATHER OF AUSTRALIA – ALL AT SEA.

First – imagine Sir Joseph Banks in 1770,  having sailed along the edge of the continent, writing in his Journal, how the interior of this continent must be uninhabited. As the Endeavour sailed away from the coast of the continent, towards New Guinea, he concluded that the the lack of cultivation this country meant the interior must be uninhabited.

“The Sea has I beleive been universally found to be the cheif source of supplys to Indians ignorant of the arts of cultivation “ (Banks Journal 1770).

Banks never returned to this country.  As President of the Royal Society for several decades, as a patron with much influence, he served a key role as an expert authority on New South Wales. This role he play to such an extent he has been dubbed the Father of Australia.

After returning from the Endeavour voyage:

“… Banks was actively involved in almost every aspect of Pacific exploration and early Australian colonial life….

He had a role in choosing the governors of the settlement in New South Wales, founded in January 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet. It was Banks who later recommended Bligh to succeed Philip Gidley King as the fourth Governor of New South Wales, Bligh’s governorship ending in deposition during the Rum Rebellion in 1808. Banks corresponded with the first four Governors of New South Wales who, while they reported officially to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, also reported privately and therefore more intimately and openly to Banks.

Practically anyone who wanted to travel to New South Wales, in almost any capacity, consulted Sir Joseph Banks. He was the one constant throughout the first 30 years of white settlement in Australia, through changes of ministers, government and policy.” Source  –State Library NSW http://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/banks/banks.cfm accessed 28 March 2017

But, as we shall now see, when it came to the realities of life in this country, the Father of Australia was all at sea.

ARRARNTA SKY BEING

Second – cut to Central Australia towards the end of the 1800s. In 1984, the Horn Expedition is making its way on camels into the heart of the country. They are not the first Europeans to push into these parts – but they are different in that they are a scientific expedition. Part of the scientific aspects of the expedition includes learning more about First Peoples. It is during this expedition that Frank Gillen learns a little about a curious sky-being – an Emu-footed sky being.

“… Gillen … reported that among the Aranda of his acquaintance “the sky is said to be inhabited by three persons – a gigantic man with an immense foot shaped like that of the emu, a woman, and a child who never develops beyond childhood”. Since Gillen did no work among the Western Aranda, it seems as though the Eastern Aranda group of Alice Springs had a belief similar to that found among the Kukatja.” (TGH Strehlow 1964 ‘Personal Monototemism in a Polytotemic Community’ page 725).

TGH provides the reference for Gillen – Report on the Work of the Horn Scientific Expedition, Pt. IV, p. 183.

However the Lutheran missionaries at Hermannsburg may have first encountered this Being as the searched for evidence of their own God in Western Arrarnta cosmology. As Missionaries they were not in Arrarrnta country in Central Australia to learn about First Peoples cosmologies in order to take those ideas back to Europe.

A fuller account of a Western Arrarnta (aka Aranda or Arrernte or Arunta) narrative was collected and published by the German Lutheran Missionary Carl Strehlow who lived at the Hermannsburg mission at Ntaria.

He published his account (along with a great deal more) in ‘Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stamme in Zentral-Australien’ – several volumes from 1907 to 1920. His major work has not been published in English (although some translations exist).

Unlike many other Arrarnta traditions, which are part of senior men’s business, this tradition is reported to be open to men, women and children. I acknowledge Western Arrarnta intellectual property in this matter, and note  it has been in the public domain for many years.

IMG_4075.PNG

(Page from Carl Strehlow’s German original, showing his indigenous mentors – Anna Kenny ‘The Aranda’s Pepa’ (2013:29-30 citing SRC 6196) gives their names as Loatjira, Pmala (Tmala), (Moses) Tjalkabata, Talku. My screenshot from online version available from

https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/handle/2440/61643

An English translation of Carl Strehlow, probably by Charles Chewings, appeared in the works of anthropologists Spencer and Gillen:

EPSON161.jpgSir Baldwin Spencer and  F.J. Gillen 1927 ‘The Arunta ; A study of a stone age people.’ Volume 2 Page 593

See also

http://spencerandgillen.net/objects/50ce72f6023fd7358c8a96d6

T.G.H Strehlow, one of Australia’s most important anthropologists, was the son of Carl Strehlow. He grew up speaking Arrarnta and had extensive in-depth contact with senior Western Arrarnta lawmen.

I first read about the Emu-footed Being who lives in the sky, with his dog-footed wives, in TGH Strehlow’s 1964 article ‘Personal Monototemism in a Polytotemic Community’ back in the 1970s.

There, he wrote:

“The Western Aranda believed the sky to be inhabited by an emu-footed Great Father (kŋaritja), who was also the Eternal Youth (altjira nditja). This Great Father had dog-footed wives, and many sons and daughters – all the males being emu-footed and all the females dog-footed. They lived on fruits and vegetable foods in an eternally green land, unaffected by droughts, through which the Milky Way flowed like a broad river, and the stars were their campfires. In this green land there were only trees, fruits, flowers and birds; no game animals existed, and no meat was eaten. All of these sky dwellers were as ageless as the stars themselves, and death could not enter their home: the reddish-skinned emu-footed Great Father of the sky, whose blonde hair shone “like a spider web in the evening sunlight”, looked as young as his own sons, and all the women who lived above the stars had the grace and full-bosomed beauty of young girls.” (Personal Monototemism … 1964:725)

TGH Strehlow did not share his father’s view about the use of the word “God” in translating this narrative. The Lutheran missionaries were in Arrarnta country to teach about their version of the high Indo-European God. They  were intent on finding a means of translating their belief system into Arrarnta language and concepts.

There is also a major difference in the T G H Strehlow account since it states that no game animals existed and no meat was eaten.

This Emu-Footed Sky Being may or may not eat meat. He and his family may eat the vegetable foods latjia/yelka, collected by this wives, and other fruits which that grow abundantly in all seasons.

TGH Strehlow explicitly cover this question about whether or not game was hunted in the realm of the Emu-footed sky being in his  major work ‘Songs of Central Australia’. He says the lawmen who instructed him were emphatic that no meat was eaten.

So, we have a puzzle since the narrative recorded by his father, Carl Strehlow, not only states that Iliinka (Emu-footed Being) hunted but also notes the method he employed – the age old method of waiting by a waterhole and letting the game come to the hunter. This is a particularly sound method in Central Australia, where surface water can be very scarce for several months of the year. This seems a strange addition to include if it is incorrect.

We have no means of resolving this contradiction between the two versions.

But the point i need to make here is this – not only did Western Arrarnta people creatively fashion an image of a marvelous eternal  Being in the Sky – a Being which had little (if any) involvement in their daily affairs – but we can ponder whether or not he (and his celestial family) were omnivorous or – if not vegan – at least vegetarian. We have come a long way from 1770.

Cut back to Sir Joseph Banks in 1770 sitting in the cabin on the Endeavour and ‘being at liberty’ to conclude that the interior of the continent was uninhabited since any people living there would need cultivation to be able to survive.

Not only has he completely misjudged the means by which people – in the core of the continent – can survive very well in some of the most extreme country but he also cannot imagine that those people – living well much of the time (even in droughts) over a very long time (as now dated by science) – have also creatively fashioned a complex belief cosmological system which includes an eternal Being residing, with his family, in the most distant part of the sky.

It is well worth taking a moment to reflect on the difference between the creative imaginations of Banks, sailing along the very edge of the continent, and Arrarnta people, sitting by their campfires at the heart of the continent and looking at the eternal campfires, overhead.

Sir Joseph Banks evidence to 1785 Convict Committee

Here is a transcript of the evidence of Sir Joseph Banks to the 1785 United Kingdom “Convict Committee” seeking a new location to send convicted citizens after the loss of the colonies in North America.

The British authorities were interested in South-West  Africa as New Holland/New South Wales etc was so far away by ship. But the reports about their location in South-West Africa were unfavourable so … with the prisons and the Hulks on the Thames overflowing – a social crisis –  the British government made a decision in Cabinet to send convicts to Botany Bay.

I only have five pages of this transcript, which was part of a book of facsimile documents involved in the decision to establish a penal colony in ‘New South Wales’. I did not record the name of the book and cannot find details online. Excellent reading for the serious scholar – really takes you back (as it were) to those times. (I will keep trying to locate the source document.)

While Sir Joseph Banks evidence is little hard to decipher it is legible. The format consists of questions and reply.

Note that Banks is talking about the area around Botany Bay and the southern part of the East Coast.

EPSON156.JPGEPSON157.JPGEPSON158.JPGEPSON159.JPGEPSON160.JPG

Bruce Pascoe talking about First Peoples grain belt

Found this video of “Dark Emu” author Bruce Pascoe talking about the extent of First Peoples harvesting grain across this continent.

In his book he also documents the great extent of harvesting of other plants.

Video includes map.

A Very Important Map of Australia: The Early Grain Belt

Banks – a New World fantasy

The European invention of a “New World” opened up a space for all manner of fantasy structures.

By way of context –

I have just read ‘The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt – The Lost Hero of Science’ by Andrea Wulf.  She documents the role of the new thinking of naturalists like Humboldt and the influence on politically active revolutionaries such as Simon Bolivar. Revolution and the overthrow of old regimes was in the air.

The newly emerging elite of  European Gentlemen – such as von Humboldt – play a key role in crafting a new cosmology. Humboldt could use his own financial resources for an expedition to South America circa 1800. He went on to be one of the most famous naturalists in Europe.

The new forms of representation they crafted – a myth of Nature – embedded new forms of privilege (reserved for European men of reason) at the expense and exclusion of pre-existing forms of representation of the original ‘New World’  peoples.

Part of Humboldt’s social world included contacts with Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society based in London.  Banks, immensely wealthy, had previously been part of the famous voyage of the Endeavour, under then Lt James Cook. Circa 1770.

As President of the Royal Society until his death in 1820 Banks exerted tremendous influence at the then cutting edge of new understanding. Banks occupies a key place in a system of patronage. What he thinks is significant – Banks is the authority. (See, for example,  Chapter One “Joseph Banks in Paradise” in ‘The Age of Wonder. How the Romantic Generations Discovered the Beauty & Terror of Science’ Richard Holmes. Folio Society MMXV)

CUTTING TO THE CHASE – “LIBERTY TO CONJECTURE”

The focus of attention here is what Banks recorded in his Journal on that Endeavour voyage. Having sailed along the Eastern Coast of ‘New Holland’ – and having limited contact with First Peoples – he sets down his thoughts as the Endeavour leaves this coast and sails on to New Guinea.

Banks had some knowledge of the West Coast of the continent from the earlier account of William Dampier (Visited coast in 1688 & 1699). Dampier provided a picture of First Peoples as ‘the miserable people in the world’. Such Eurocentric views play an important role in the emerging fantasy structures about ‘Australia’.

From Banks Journal (his spellings) after 1770 August 29:

“This immense tract of Land, the largest known which does not bear the name of a continent, as it is considerably larger than all of Europe, is thinly inhabited even to admiration, at least that part of it that we saw: we never but once saw so many as thirty Indians together and that was a family, Men women and children, assembled upon a rock to see the ship pass by…”

“We saw indeed only the sea coast: what the immense tract of inland countrey may produce is to us totally unknown: we may have the liberty to conjecture however that they are totally uninhabited.”

He goes on to provide his reasons:

“The Sea has i beleive been universally found to be the cheif source of supplys to Indians ignorant of the arts of cultivation: the wild produce of the Land alone seems scarce able to support them in all seasons, at least I do not remember to have read on any inland nation who did not cultivate the ground more or less, even the North Americans who were so well versed in hunting sowd their Maize. But should a people live inland who supported themselves by cultivation these inhabitants of the sea coast must certainly have learn’d to imitate them in some degree at least, otherwise their reason must be supposd to hold a rank little superior to that of monkies.”

I am quoting from page 312 of the 2006  Echo Library edition “The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks”. There is an online version of his Journal at http://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/discover_collections/history_nation/voyages/discovery/voya_journal.html 

The dangers of sailing along the Great Barrier Reef make for compelling reading. See also his accounts of other indigenous peoples (e.g. Tahiti, Aotearoa/New Zealand). Note that Polynesian peoples were ‘cultivators’ and thus closer to European ways of life.

In terms of the imaginary relative positions between Banks and this country’s First Peoples, Banks had written that “… their manner of life, but one degree removed from Brutes …” (page 306). Banks believes he (and all he represents) has a superior position.

The British way of life of the late 18th century underwent similar social stresses as those which lead to Revolution in France. They had also lost the American colonies – which had served as a means of dealing with social problems. Needing a place “off site and out-of-sight’  to send its convicted citizens, the British authorities conducted inquiries. Banks was consulted – as Captain Cook was no longer alive Banks was the expert . Botany Bay in ‘New South Wales’ was deemed to be a suitable location for a penal colony and the First Fleet arrived in 1788. A copy of part of Banks evidence has now been added to this ozstudies blog.

We, of course, now well know that Banks was profoundly mistaken in his views about First Peoples and the interior of this country.  First Peoples lived successfully in the most remote – and difficult –  places in this country from time immemorial.

Bruce Pascoe, among others, has documented the extent of what can be  considered as forms of cultivation which are to be found across large parts of this continent. (“Dark emu”). I will upload some more detail on this later. Better still, as a self-learning exercise find an ebook version of ‘Dark Emu’ and read.

Rather, the contrast with Banks which needs to be brought out here comes from the creative imaginations of Arrarnta First Peoples who occupy the very heart of the country in Central Australia.

One of their key narratives – as recorded by the Lutheran Missionary Carl Strehlow at Hermannsburg in Central Australia – provides vivid contrast to the workings of the imagination of Sir Joseph Banks. And we will turn to that next.

(Note – in the first posting of this item i said Banks repeated his views about the inland being unihabited when he gave evidence to the Convict Committee. I cannot find an explicit statement from Banks on this topic in his evidence, which is much more nuanced than in his original Journal entry.)

Ozstudies Popup – Ed. No.1 – Comparing fantasy structures in Oz

By Way of Intro.

Our home planet seems to have an endless capacity to accommodate all manner of fantasy structures. These exist in our imaginations as surely as there is an atmosphere. To that extent they are real, even though they are as tangible as rainbows.

We are all dreamers – we  live out our lives in terms of these fantasy structures.

The creations of our imaginations are both wonderful and dreadful things. Wonderful in what we can create, and often dreadful in terms of the acts of folly into which they may lead us.

Since fantasy structures frame our experience it is often extremely difficult to turn our direct attention to them.

In this short course i will begin by comparing and contrasting some aspects of the fantasy structures of this country’s First Peoples and some of those of Anglo-Australia. The former is well-earthed and the latter a comparative new-comer. Both have remarkable qualities.

I am not sure where this will lead, but i do have a beginning and am intent in setting out. I doubt if there can be a final destination. So when it ceases to be interesting, i will stop.

I do not know if others will join me in this Pop-Up Ed opportunity. We will have to see how it shapes up as we go along.

In my next post i will start with a quote from the Englishman once dubbed “The Father of Australia” – Sir Joseph Banks – and show just how mistaken he was by looking at a non-secret Arrarnta myth-narrative collected by Carl Strehlow.

Bruce (Japaljari)  Reyburn

22 March 2017