Reynolds first came to my attention as one of the talking heads in the illuminating SBS series ‘First Australians’ – and he does indeed have a very fine head for television. His manner and mode of speech carries with it a certain gravitas indicating one would be foolish to doubt his views. He was equally impressive in the launch of ‘Forgotten War’ at a Hobart bookshop recently.
Looking back, when we tally the figures provided by notoriously unreliable contemporary sources for the amount of death and mayhem caused in the frontier war, the approximate number of twenty to thirty thousand casualties make these times the equivalent of the Indian Wars of Wild West notoriety. It seems that Australia did not miss out on a conflict in which an imperial power, with superior armaments, defeated and subjugated an indigenous people. The question Reynolds ponders is whether or not the combatants of the time actually regarded what was happening as ‘war’. Reynolds leaves us with little doubt that, from the colonial administration down, they did. He enlists much historical notation to prove his point. This was no quick victory though. In many areas the locals did not put away their spears and waddies easily; organising opposition to the invaders that lasted right through till the 1930’s, only twenty years before I entered the world. That is a sobering thought. No state or territory was spared. There has been a ‘great Australian silence’ on the matter, but now the ‘whispering in our hearts’ has been frog marched out into the open. We finally have made a start on putting these matters to right, but I doubt that in my lifetime names such as Pemulwuy, Mosquito and Jandamarra will be as venerated as those of Monash, Morshead and Blamey.
Australia is an unusual country in that it takes as ‘its coming of age’ a military defeat on a far away foreign shore, as well as its national day being the moment the country was invaded, leading to another defeat; that of our native peoples. In my view, neither event is something we should be inordinately proud of – but if one is seared into our collective consciousness, it is only right and proper that so should the other. Henry Reynolds is doing his bit to ensure that happens.
Raymond Evans' review of 'The Forgotten War' = http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-fight-to-remember-20130808-2rj2m.html
Stephen Wright's column = http://www.smh.com.au/national/a-forgotten-war-a-haunted-land-20130809-2rnc9.html