Unauthorized Anthropology

Down Among the Wild Men: A narrative journal of fifteen years pursuing the Old Stone Age Aborigines of Australia by John Greenway,
Hutchinson of Australia, January 1st, 1973

This is a book I picked up a while ago very shortly after I found out it existed. I didn’t know what to expect except that it wouldn’t be the feeble and largely false analysis of the Australian Aborigines that is found today. That it would give a picture of them as they were (specifically, the desert tribes) and it certainly did not disappoint. As the books title may suggest, this is not a conventional academic work but the author certainly has all of the credentials that would be demanded of anyone who dared to contradict current wisdom. 

To state the obvious, this book would never, ever be published today and to the best of my knowledge, was only printed once over fifty years ago. As it has copious amounts of information that is not easy to find anymore, this post will quote very heavily from the book and include my commentary. So while my purpose is certainly to review it, I also want to make sure that many of the parts I found most interesting are available online. This is then somewhat similar to my review of Stalin’s War by Sean McMeekin in August, 2022.

In his introduction to his own translation of the Analects of Confucius, Simon Leys observes that:

In contrast with the idealized image of the traditional scholar, frail and delicate, living among books, the Analects shows that Confucius was adept at outdoor activities: he was an accomplished sportsman, he was expert at handling horses, he practised archery, he was found of hunting and fishing. He was a bold and tireless traveller in a time when travel was a difficult and hazardous adventure … Confucius was a man of action—audacious and heroic.

This is also true of the author of the subject of this post. His short biography on the back flap of the dust jacket suggests he too was a man of action as well as a highly accomplished scholar:

Professor John Greenway took a doctorate in English Literature before turning to Anthropology. He has been a track star, an expert in small arms and judo, a carpenter, and a chess expert. Highly respected as a folklorist, he is a performer as well as collector of folk songs, has been M.C. at the Newport Folk Festival and has recorded ten LP albums.

Nothing within the book suggests this is hyperbole and it is worth adding here that this is usually true of the best writers too. Most of the greats were not retiring bookworms but people that had lived very interesting lives.

As already mentioned, this is also not a conventional work of anthropology, Greenway makes asides and goes on tangents and this makes what he has experienced and observed all the more real and it is backed up by genuine anthropological work he had completed. Though he would be beyond acceptable today, anyone looking to pigeon hole him will come up short. He was something of a “conservative” in his later years and wrote for National Review. While this would normally lower him in my esteem, he is one of the many writers the current editors would rather forget they ever had. A reference to one of his articles from this indignant and unintentionally amusing blog post will quickly establish why:

“without war and raiding and scalping and rape and pillage and slavetaking the [American] Indian was as aimless as a chiropractor without a spine. There was nothing left in life for him but idleness, petty mischief, and booze.” Greenway asked “Did the United States destroy the American Indian?” and answering his own query replied: “No, but it should have.”

This little snippet has me wanting to read the whole thing but somehow, I don’t see National Review republishing it. If you follow the link, you will also get his hilarious response to the people who took offense at this.

If the above wasn’t enough to endear him to me, he also expressed a great love for the city of my birth within the pages of this book.

As cities go, Australian cities are tolerable, even to a hard misanthrope like myself. One of them, my Emerald City of Adelaide, I love.

He elaborates much later in the book and fortunately this description is mostly still true of Adelaide today:

Adelaide! How I love that city. Most of it in the last century, its central city ringed with a broad green girdle ordained by the founding settlers in perpetuity, its sleepy suburbs contiguous with each other and the outer Park Lands, twenty-one miles of white sand beach, balmy weather, and cut right off from the rest of this naughty world by the blank Nullarbor to the west, wilderness to the east, and the deserts to the north.


It seems that he loved the city so much that he poached one of our women. And not just any woman as he married Joan Disher, who was a local celebrity and television star at the time though not much information about her is readily available online.

He seemed to love Australians though as a teetotaler, he also had some difficulties as shown when buying a round of drinks:

What the hell; I’d shout the baastids a round, and did, taking lemonade myself. Putting on a sad, morbid frown, I explained, “Stomach cancer.” Nothing else will excuse a man from drinking with Australians.


To get to the main content of the book, Greenway opens with a detailed description of the path to manhood for many Aboriginal men:

In the western desert of Australia a boy becomes a man by having an upper central incisor pounded out of his head with a rock, without anesthetic, without permission to express pain or terror; by having his foreskin cut off in little pieces with a stone knife and seeing it eaten by certain of his male relatives, and as a climax of agony, by having his penis slit through to the urethra from the scrotum to the meatus, like a hot dog. At the same time the men singe into his brain with the white-hot poker of these memorable operations the first important knowledge, secular and sacred, of what he must know to survive in the world’s most hostile inhabited land. He goes away by himself, bleeding, terrified, to prove he can live for a time alone. When he returns to camp weeks or months later, he is a man, a child no longer. The little boys throw toy spears at him. They break against his chest.


He then acerbically contrasts this with the relatively easy path to manhood in the West. It is worth stopping here to point out that though Greenway has little in the way of a filter, he is not (or at least didn’t consider himself), a racist. He has a great respect for them but also isn’t blind to their shortcomings. Much later in the book, while recounting a journey with a truckload of Aboriginals near the borders of Western Australia and Northern Territory (as if these political lines really matter out there), he comments:

I would have to call this the roughest country I have ever traversed in a vehicle, since this break in the mountains was the only place where I had to walk in front of the vehicle to push insurmountable boulders out of the way. This is also where the aborigines became as dumb as the racists would have them be. Catch any of them getting out of the truck to help me roll rocks away!


Though he certainly would be considered racist today, he at least didn’t consider himself one. I don’t particularly care but he did enough to mention it.

I took quite a variety of passages from different part of the book and I have attempted to put them into some thematic order below. First, is with the common idea that the Aborigines lived in harmony with the land. The myth of the noble savage is a persistent one and really the only option for anyone who wants to work in Australian history or anthropology departments today. However, actual observation of the way they lived suggests this to be fanciful at best.

First, a short anecdote on the Aboriginal’s commitment to sustainability:

Our men ate [Witjuti] grubs as we eat peanuts, tearing up man-high saplings to get two or three grubs. I should like to confront our ecology idiots with the agonizing paradox of sacrosanct livers-with-the-organic-land inflicting such rape upon the environment. 


Then there is the simply reality of the harsh living they had to endure. Greenway was able to observe probably the last aboriginals living their traditional ways before it was all but ended. The below passage details his experience of finding a group of aborigines resigned to death without water who I must say all prepared for what they thought was inevitable bravely:

I would have to say, too, that this place produced the most shockingly dramatic incident with which I was even indirectly associated in all my pursuit of the desert aborigines. To this place, thirteen months earlier, thirty-seven aborigines had tracked a rain cloud only to see it pour itself out in the sands beyond the two rockholes Malara and Erinjerinja, just this side of Poka. All these stone catchments were dry; they had crossed the tire marks of Bob’s truck on the track (evidence, they inferred, that he had gone through on his monthly patrol a few days before) and since neither Bob nor any other white man would be at all likely to come along the track, they cut their hair for the death ceremony, dug their graves, and were lying in them when Bob came through. The tracks they thought were his were actually those of the other Native Patrol Officer, Wal MacDougall, on a special run to the Giles Meteorological Station in the far west. Bob had seventy gallons of water in his tanks — life for them now instead of death. But to people accustomed to accepting either with little emotional distinction, it was all one. They rose from their graves, ambled over to the truck, and asked Bob for a kapati — a cup of tea. One of the women in the band was Anmaneri, middle wife to Bell Rock Jacky; that morning she had given birth to a child.


My cynical side assumes that had these aborigines not been rescued, this place would have become the site of one of many fictional massacres now documented as “historical fact”.

Then there is an example of the delusions about how peaceful and harmonious they lived when their culture was extremely violent (and still is): 

An unusual number of men sat away from the singing every day, making spears. For their fighting, I was told; there was a distressing amount of enmity to be released by holes through the thighs. This same American anthropologist’s smarmy book later declared with the sanctimony required by Consensus Anthropology that there was no spearing, that the people were all gentle, that they hated war and grew their hair long. Only white Americans settle disagreements by violent means. That is a well-known fact. Everybody knows that.


Then the notion about the physical superiority of the savage: 

I have always had doubts about the presumed physical superiority of the Noble Savage. In physique, only the West Africans and the upper-class Polynesians have enough muscularity to keep beach bullies from kicking sand in their faces. During the 1904 Olympic Games tribesmen from all parts of the primitive world were brought in to participate in the “Anthropology Days.” Their performances were risible. If I remember aright, the high jump was won with a leap of two and a half feet. Do not offer as argument the case of the seven-foot leaps of the Nilotic Watusi. I can rise from this chair right now and clear a seven-foot crossbar if, like the Watusi, I took off from a four-foot platform and had lying Italian ethnographers to record the feat (it was the Duke of Abruzzi who faked the Watusi high-jumping). The Watusi are so effete for all the talk to the contrary that when the ordinary-sized Bahutu rebelled against them a few years ago they would have been killed off to a man, had it not been for the help of their Batwa allies, who saved their elongated skins. The Batwa are pygmies.

We had corroboratory evidence on this point during our perishers. On the worst of these, two men collapsed into unconsciousness and without help would surely have died. And who were the two men?  Tjipikudu and Bell Rock Jacky! The two aborigines most recently in from the uncontaminated Old Stone Age! So much for the wild men.


Lastly, there was a footnote towards the end of the book completely contradicting something I had assumed was true:

The common notion that aborigines make good stockmen is fallacious folklore; they are poor stockmen. Bob and I rounded up some seventy head of cattle on the hundred-square-mile Amata paddock after the aboriginal cowboys swore there were none there.


These are curated but as mentioned, Greenway obviously admired them despite the flaws he saw in their culture. Much like we see the flaws more clearly in those closest to us but love them all the same. He was also often very positive about their ability to simply survive where someone like me would certainly die. After detailing the enormous amount of supplies and equipment he needed to take to survive in the desert, Greenway contrasts it with what an aborigine would need:

“Norman,” I broke in, “do you realize it’s going to take us two tons of supplies and equipment apiece to stay alive out there? How much would an aborigine need?”

“A stone knife, a woomera, and a few spears,” said Vic.

“Nothing,” Norman concluded. “He could go in naked, find a piece of quartz, make a knife in a minute or two, use that to cut his spears and woomera, and he’s in like Flynn.”

“We represent progress?” I asked, philosophically.

“Of course,” said Norman, “don’t talk rubbish.”


Even with all these supplies, he later details how close they came to death on one occasion despite all the equipment they carried. Aborigines, though not with the same comfort, could survive with much less.

Next, we turn to the subject of religion. This book is partially autobiographical and the reader learns pretty early on that Greenway is not a man of God. He can best be described as an apostate Catholic and though he doesn’t describe himself that way, I doubt he would have a problem with me calling him one. I hope this wasn’t still true on his deathbed but it was when he wrote this. He didn’t however, have any of the obnoxious views on religion that you tend to find among many non-religious people today. He actually shows a great respect for religion including for the one he left. In the example below he describes the ritual of a traditional Catholic Mass at a Cathedral which he compares with the serious solemnity the Pitjantjatjara (current spelling) had for their own sacred pagan rites:

Without regular and compulsory participation in dramatic replication of a religion’s important mythic events, the religion dies. Whatever is not used is lost. The Host in a Baggie [he mentioned a priest who actually did this just above — and of course there was very recent history too.] might as well be a potato chip. Solemn High Mass in a cathedral celebrated by a mitered bishop lets the good Catholic relive Christ’s Last Supper and the nucleus of his belief — the doctrine of transubstantiation. With all his senses the communicant knows it — knees sore from kneeling, nostrils tingling from the waft of incense, palate tasting the unique flavor of the Host, hands rubbing the patina worn into the pew by thousands of believing hands before him, the spectacle of the Mass behind an altar rail insulating him against lethal holiness, and hearing the solemnity of Latin, not the vulgar vernacular. When the priest used to intone Ite, Missa est, there was religion in his utterance. Moreover, nobody knew what he was saying, so they stayed for the post-missal elaborations grown up over the centuries. Today, when the priest yells “Split!” the communicants are likely to drop their roaches and get in the wind, man. To draw a better example from the Roman Church to illustrate the meaning of Pitjanjara ritual, consider the Stations of the Cross. It used to be that a good believer would from time to time perform this ceremony: he would enter the church, stop  at the first represented scene (statuary in rich churches, watercolors in poor) of Christ’s Passion on the right wall near the door — the condemnation of Jesus in Pilate’s court. Here he would contemplate the sight and meditate its meaning, say prescribed prayers, and then move on to the next, and so on until reaching the door again and the plaque on the left wall, the Pieta, the taking down of Christ’s body from the cross, the end of the central element of Christian myth. His belief would be renewed and he would leave the church a holier if not a better man. 


Greenway might not have believed it but he did at least get it. Interestingly, elsewhere in this book he predicts that the changes brought by the Second Vatican Council (which were very recent at the time the book was written), would spell the end of the church. Of course, it won’t be the end but he probably wouldn’t consider himself wrong if he were alive to see the church today. Someone who is religious (or was), can understand better than others that people who are religious, really do believe it. This was certainly true for the Aboriginals.

As with their old religion, the sincerity with which many Aboriginals hold the faith that arrived with the European invaders was also sincere. This short anecdote of  a full-blood Mirning woman who a colleague had met a quarter century earlier is telling: 

She went on to greater things as the white man began to penetrate the Nullarbor in greater numbers and her own people died out. A life of wickedness followed, she told us; but she had put all that behind her now. One more example of the aching tooth of age; a man does not leave his vices — his vices leave him. She had met a white man to marry her and be father to his children and they now had children. More importantly, she had come to know Jesus. Well, fair enough. Sin is great for the short run, but for the long haul put your money on religion. 


Greenway also witnessed what were then the last days of the missions before they were replaced with something much worse:

And my notions about missionaries. Anthropologists as a first article of received faith must hate missionaries. I hate easily, but I couldn’t hate the dear ladies at Umeewarra. Granted, they had a house stuffed full of native children taken, in violation of the United Nations charter, from their parents; there were no amenities at all; in the periphery of the mission adults squatted in squalor; altogether the place was a mess. What, I asked as a first question, were these missionaries doing with all the money? What money? I learned that the Umeewarra Aborigines Mission was one of those autonomous Christian charities known to Australian inlanders as “faith missions.” Independent as they are dedicated, fundamental in doctrine and fundamental in purpose, they have little in common except a raw Christianity, the work of helping aborigines as they know best, and abject poverty. The “faith” missionaries live on a subsistence as bare as the aborigines who come to them in desperation as refugees. I never met one who earned in currency more than five dollars a week; many received no cash at all. Harder than poverty, as I look back on them now, was their dissociation from a great Church to give them comradeship in Christ. They exist in spatial and social isolation, clinging to their aborigines as the aborigines cling to them. At Umeewarra the missionaries were women, strong sisters of the poor, worn by hardship to rawhide; and yet I criticized them for “conditions.” In a day I learned the children had not been taken from their parents; the parents had brought them in and abandoned them. I was shocked to see the children lying in dormitories on beds set together as tight as squares on an inlaid chessboard. What would the children do in case of fire? Fire indeed. As well worry about the wetness of water in a bay full of sharks. 


The calumny that is now heaped on these missions today will one day have to be answered for. Though in saying this, I don’t doubt there were abuses as there always will be. They are still dwarfed by the horrors going on in settlements today even as I write. The last portion is also very relevant for the great national calumny known as “The Stolen Generations” which is yet another reason why information like this needs to be more widely available.

There was also an interesting anecdote on the origins of a portion of the Dreaming which I found amusing:

Norman went on to raise a pertinent and important point: he knew a Ngangamerda man whose tjurnga design had literally to be dreamed, but the fellow could not make the pattern come good until the accidental sight of a Worcestershire sauce bottle in a bushman’s swag gave it to him  — the writing on the label. And of course it is common knowledge among Australianists that on the north Carpentarian coast gin bottles thrown overboard by the early Dutch mariners were found and used by the aborigines as sacred totems. And why not? What could be a better source of spirits?


This reads like something out of The Gods Must Be Crazy

Another example of how seriously the Aboriginals take their religion is in the way they treated the buildings provided for them.

“Can’t understand these people,” said our guide. “We build them these rather nice little homes and they pull out the fixtures for their camp fires and go off squatting in the bush. Strange.”

Of course they did not occupy the houses. There were so many of them that there must have been one death at least early on — and that mean evacuation, just as at Umeewarra. We see the practice all over the world. Our American Navajo used to abandon a settlement after a death, and not so long ago, despite their sophistication. It is the same ancient and universal fear that makes us put ghosts in old houses.

Bob said later, “I told these Giese [Northern Territory Aborigines Administrator] to build houses with just a concrete slab for a floor, four steel corner posts, and a corrugated iron roof with a smoke hole in it. They could make their own brush walls and have their fire in the house. And when somebody died, they could burn the brush walls to drive the spirit out. In a week they would have been back in.”


I don’t know if the sensible solution suggested was ever followed but I still hear stories like this from time to time.

Next, we move on to some of the fanciful nonsense about Aboriginal society being a kind of communism. This is laid to rest quite neatly in this interesting though somewhat nauseating description of how they cooked and consumed a kangaroo:

When a man kills a kangaroo he throws the dead animal on its back and immediately disembowels it, a memorable business for eyes and nose. After the visceral opening is cleared, the hunter pins the opening closed with a sharpened twig (another Found Artifact), ties the four legs together with the animal’s entrails the way a cowboy ties up a thrown calf, and heaves the sixty-five pounds of meat on top of his head for the walk back to camp. Gutting prevents spoilage; it is the inordinate time entrails are left in white-hunted kangaroos that turns the meat bad and certifies their bad reputation in cities.

In camp an oven is dug for each animal, just deep enough for it to be covered by the embers of a fire lit the moment a hunter returns with his quarry. Branches are first thrown into the pit, shaken into a roaring fire, and the animal is thrown on to singe off its fur. It is then removed. Aborigines with a kangaroo in the earth oven, broiling under a heavy mound of hot ashes, are as impatient as Charles Lamb’s Dootsy Bobo when he invented roasting pig by burning down his house. Aboriginal kuka consequently is cooked only within the most tenuous definition of the word. like a Frenchman’s biftek Americaine, the meat appears raw to any decent human being. Only the outer half inch of a kangaroo could be said to be truly roasted; the rest drips blood. One of the good shots I missed when my camera wind ran out (as it always does when something good is going), was Tjipikudu holding up a cooked wallaby to his mouth and drink the pouring blood like a Spaniard with a bagful of wine.

With a naturally organized group of Pitjandjara — which I did not have — the meat would be distributed according to a rigorous pattern based on the schema of social organization. This sharing of food persuades some willful people that the aborigines are primitive communists incipiently inventing the best of all possible governments in the worst of all possible worlds. Not so. Native food-sharing is nearly the opposite — a device that does not merely distribute food, but also simultaneously reinforces the small-group selfishness of tight relative cohesion. If our animals had been carried to the Amata camp, the choice loin of a ‘roo would have been given to the hunter’s wife’s father and mother. His elder brother would have got the heavily meated hind leg, his younger brothers and sister the foreleg, the head, and a portion of the thigh. Mother and other elder brothers, if the hunter had several of such, would have been given the breast. The tail, another choice part, is for his wife’s elder brother. The hunter himself would have received the kidneys and liver. And if no one more important covets the crackling, the skin would have been thrown to the family dogs — which would, having no parallel distributional organization, have had to fight over it with their fellow communists.


My uncle once described exactly the same thing to me which means some probably still cook roo this way.

On the subject of communism, Charles Perkins gets a brief mention:

Almost on our heels the brother of Australia’s first aboriginal university graduate (part-blood) died of thirst. Another banal irony: Charles Perkins, the show native of Australian Communism, calling for black power in Sydney; his brother in the bush perishing for water.


Perkins’ political sympathies with communism are not widely known and he is today described simply as a “civil rights activist“. It is also now the height of rudeness to observe that he is only of partial Aboriginal descent but very relevant.

This next part will be lengthy but puts a decidedly less romantic account of Don McCleod and the Pilbara strike:

Don McLeod a contractor! He is thought to have been a Communist for donkey’s years. We will refer to him delicately as an agrarian reformer. What he did was to cast the dice — Australian-kip the nob — across the Murchison and construct a commune among proletarians more primitive than existed even in Marx’s philosophy. He conceived, so I was told, a bloody brilliant idea to keep sympathy and admiration on his side. He got himself an aboriginal liaison man, one Dooley Binbin (whom we shall meet again), rough and tough and charismatic and clever, and set about solving a mission impossible: to organize a general strike among illiterate aboriginal pastoral workers to occur secretly, simultaneously, and spontaneously along a thousand miles of northwest Australian stations. He sent Dooley to a Marble Bar storekeeper, a “good man” (read again “agrarian reformer”), who would give him a for the incipient strikers a pile of calendars each with a red mark covering the first of May (when else?). Dooley was to take the calendars along the strike route, marking for the local aboriginal leader the day each calendar was delivered. The local man would then mark each day from that point every morning and when the dark mark coincided with the red mark, every abo on every station would lay down his tools. The effort would be assisted by the comrades of the Seamen’s Union, some of whom could read calendars even without marks. And so it chanced that on may Day of 1946 every aboriginal station hand who was not sleeping went on strike. Unfortunately, McLeod did not issue instructions on contingency plans, so the strike collapsed on the second of May with some of the strikers going back to work and others giving up work forever.

About four years later McLeod formed his “Mob,” philosophically communistic but practically monarchic, as these things go. Not to put too fine a judgement on it, the cooperative was one of those nut communities dear to Australian and American intellectuals. Before long he had about three hundred natives living together in the old way — or in the old way plus McLeod as an absolute paternal monarch. Consistency has never been a strong suit in these things; the mob so separated themselves from white Australia as to avoid even the crossing of whitefella roads — but their income derived from grubbing out asbestos, wolfram, scheelite, and tantalite to sell to capitalist warmongers to build weapons of aggression for the perpetuation of imperialist neocolonial running dogs. Tantalite especially cannot be practicably extracted from exposed iron deposits by existent technology, so back to the good old days and ways of human slavery disguised as communality. Everybody was equal, but more equal than the others were Dooley Binbin, whose “comity” of bloody great black bruisers enforced lawnorder and strict obedience in the classless and weaponless society, and of course McLeod himself. Every man Jack of the community — and every woman Jill — had to collect every day one “fruit” (a thirty-ounce fruit can) of tantalite yandied from surface iron with a magnet. No fruit, no bloody food for you that day, mate. This regimen was for the field hands; the house servants had their fruits topped up by the field niggers each according to his bloody orders. 

It is the way of the world, communist or capitalist, that all economic enterprise becomes individual, one way or the other. Shortly before our fringe expedition McLeod had bought several barren stations and had a treasury of an estimated four thousand dollars’ worth of tantalite (and rubbish) in American gasoline drums. A succession of corporations was formed — most importantly, Northern Development and Mining Co., Pty. Ltd.

Ah well. Governor William Bradford, three years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, lamented,

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

And so it was also in the Pilbara in 1966. A young counterrevolutionary, one Ernie Mitchell, broke off half of Don McLeod’s colony and marched down to Perth to get Native Welfare chief Gare’s permission to revert to the policy of each getting what he bloody well earns, mate. McLeod and Dooley and the remnants of the comity and community are still noodling around the northwestern corner of the Great Sandy Desert. 


Unlike Charles Perkins, it is mentioned that Don McLeod was a member of the Communist Party of Australia. I am more inclined to believe this account than the one taught in schools and universities today. Anyone not blinded by ideology and wishful thinking (or at least someone who has actually some genuine experience among them), would do the same. 

From here we can move neatly into more accounts of meddling from white do-gooders. Greenway would not be surprised by the results of more than fifty years of this. Here is a short account of the changes coming from one mission Greenway visited:

Trouble had seeped into Warburton from the outside, trouble generated by political subversives working upon the soft-headed innocents who in quieter times used to weep over unwed mothers and stray cats; from the explosive conditions on any mission station over whose gate hangs the admonition NO PRAY, NO EAT; from herding together people from inimical tribes in a cornmeal mush democracy imported from the United States; from  the unforeseen disabilities of the freedom forced upon the natives by civil rights legislators; from the genetic drive the aborigines share with all other human beings to be just as bad as they are permitted to be; and most of all, from the lack of firm control in a missionary whose own drive seemed to be to make a martyr of himself for whatever denominational heavenly kingdom he subscribed to.

p 306

Then some pages later, the sad early results of do-gooders and their do-gooding quickly baring rotten fruit:

The millennium came for the aborigines in the last years of this century’s sixth decade. Suddenly, by no means they could understand, the aborigines became citizens. Their work would now be paid for at the same rates white men received, they could buy liquor openly, they could purchase motoka [motorcar], everyone — men and women alike — old enough in appearance receive the same pension as superannuated whites. It had indeed come about — the oldman in government named Rations had died, finish, and a new oldman named Pension was ruling. But like all others, this millennium revealed itself as not worth the having. If they had jobs on the fringe stations, the aborigines earned whitefella wages, but white employers no longer hired the unproductive blackfella.* So the newfella high wages became no wages at all, and the working native to become a bludger, a parasite. As the god-men had said, liquor proved to be a pleasant-tasting poison; it killed directly and indirectly — by making a man incapable of staying alive in the desert, and by causing more spear fights than they had ever known. As citizens, the aborigines who had accumulated purchase money for the motoka could no longer be protected from used-car swindlers who freighted moribund automobiles from Adelaide to Alice Springs, few of which stayed alive long enough to get the blackfellas back to Amata. Even the Pension was bitter, for by giving women the status of men, the entire social system collapsed with nothing to take its place. Their dreamed wealth was an undreamed poverty. All that rubbish. 


The state of Wadeye would not surprise him. And in limited defence of anyone trying to “solve” these problems:

The trouble of course was that nobody knew how a good job could be done, for there is no solution, simple or complex, to the problem of bringing Old Stone Age people into the Atomic Era.


Finally, there is a historical anecdote of Adelaide’s early settlement which includes a rare case of a do-gooder getting their due:

“The government people at Papunya are scared sh*tless. These abos are hard-goers. They know a punce when they see one. And then you get administrators like the Musgrave Park super who take out rifles and fire over their heads. These baastids ain’t silly. They know bloody well no white man is allowed to fire at them, so they just walk up, take the guns away, and beat their ar*es with them. Christ, if you pull a gun on a man you’ve got to shoot him or he won’t have any respect for you.”

“Ever hear of Sergeant-Major Harry Alford?”


“Alford was the only regular poliiceman in Adelaide a hundred and twenty-five years ago. Aborigines were killing the outlying settlers all over the bloody place, but the Protectors had laid down the rule: no white man was to fire at an aborigine unless the aborigine not only had his spear in his woomera, but had it in the air.”


“Yeh. You could fire a gun only after you were dead. Well, Alford — he was as tough as our Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who got Bonnie and Clyde — put the Protector under arrest and made him walk in front when Alford and his deputies were going after a mob of abos who’d killed a twelve-year-old boy. The poor kid had obeyed the law — he waited until the mob had thrown their spears — and then he lifted his father’s heavy rifle and killed one of them.”

“Didn’t they spear him?”

Oh, yeh; he was dying when he shot. Well, anyhow, Alford got the Protector out in front when they caught up with the killers, and told him not to worry — the deputies would fire back just as soon as the abos speared him. Baastid was on his knees screaming for the police to fire first.”


Alas, the vast majority never face the consequences for their actions — at least in this life. Accountability is virtually absent in every department or organisation that makes these decisions and likely still will be for some time to come. 

Today, the general consensus is that Aboriginals are a united people that opposed the invasion of their lands. That the British who colonised Australia are invaders. I have gone back and forth with this. In reality, the British did invade Australia and as it is now mostly controlled by their descendants, we have the right of conquest — assuming we can keep it. I may elaborate on this some more in another post but for now this is sufficient.

It is however, complete fiction that the Aboriginals were ever a united people. To the extent that they are now, it is more a product of the invaders than their own efforts. This describes how some of the last of the traditional elders saw being lumped together as one people:

Bob Williams was more than Dooley’s match. After Dooley had taken his leave, accompanied by his punch-up boys, Bob put his humble request to the elders. He outlined the difficulties and dangers they would all have to face very soon now, since mineral prospectors and developers were pouring into the Pilbara and intruding into the edges of the desert itself with their machines, their money, and their vices. He had experience in both worlds, more than any other man, and he was offering himself to all the tribes as the liaison leader. The old men were struck with consternation, for few had any concept of an intertribal leader. While the first wave of surprise rushed through the delegates, one of Dooley’s men ran out to tell him of the awful thing Williams had brazenly asked — and it was awful in every sense, because it was a request for permission to commit regularly the crime of moving freely among the tribes.


As with the account of the division of the kangaroo carcass above, there was a clear hierarchy and if you weren’t in the tribe, you weren’t in the tribe. 

Here is another short anecdote of some Aboriginals who still maintained their traditions and how they viewed the invaders:

Whenever a new mob of savages screamed out of the mulga waving spears, Tommy had to meet them, naked,  without even a white handkerchief to wave back. He says the natives believed the white men to be mamu, devils, come into the desert to hunt aborigines for food, with horses and camels as their hunting dogs. Tommy’s job was to persuade the aborigines of the real purpose of the white man’s intrusion — which did not make even good nonsense to the natives; the cannibal inference was more credible. Tommy insisted the white man was orright, that he had plenty of tucker (the camel and horse were tucker also, if other food became scarce), and his unfortunate white skin was an injury he had received because he had come from a land of ice. Tommy had other incredulities to overcome in arranging a détente; for instance, he had to assure the aborigines that white men had women in their own country. Like the Polynesians of earliest contact, the aborigines believed the whites were a race of men and came to the desert for women. It did not make good sense, they held, for men to come alone, without women to send out to gather mirka and to puck. Spear the lying baastids.

p 199-200

Not exactly friendly but nowhere near as sophisticated as the heavily massaged consensus we have today. The Tommy described above was an interesting character and it is worth including a little more information about him here:

Tommy had two wives along the way of his life, producing for him three sons, who show specifically, without the distortion of dirty statistics, how aborigines of the second generation can slip from the Old Stone Age into civilization, if they want to and go about it right. Sammy chose to be a station worker, a fringe dweller. Martin went in closer, and is now mining opal at Coober Pedy. Steve went all the way, living now in Adelaide and training white troops in desert warfare. All his sons have large families, but he has not seen any of his children for a long time. Daughters? Several; all finish now, dead. His second wife died after being bitten by a “red-a**ed spider.” [redback spider] “Going to get married again Tommy?” I asked, expecting him to give some accounting for the young woman who was always in his shanty back at Amata. “Naw,” he giggled. “Prightened it might bend a bit, hee hee.”


Today, we have no shortage of mixed-blood Aboriginals who exclude anywhere from half to 95% of their genetic ancestry in favour of their Aboriginality. I am naturally cynical for their motivations for doing this. Though I doubt this will be tested any time soon, I expect most of these people would drop this façade if there was no financial incentive to do so.  This passage suggests that the ancestors of these people would be more than a little surprised by their selected ethnicity:

It was not a matter of virtue with the complaining aborigines, but of valuation. Almost nowhere in Australia for as long as prude allowed the subject to be recorded did aborigines oppose their women having white children out of casual relationships. The natives showed greater wisdom in this than the wowsers who deplored the practice. They believed integration began not merely at home, but in their beds, and only good has come of it. The part-blood children are accepted by whites in the Outback settlements and welcomed by the blacks. In 1860 the Reverend George Taplin wrote that the aborigines “preferred to have white children, as they were least trouble, and whites sympathised more with them.” With the deed done and the children grown, repentance and honor can come, as they did with Mary Magdalene. Marriage, however, did not result often from the sexual relationship; in South Australia Norman’s first doctoral student, Fay Gale, found only three cases of white women marrying aboriginal men. One of these was tragic: a full-blood native, Bert Kite, married a white prostitute, and when she refused to abandon her profession, he cut her throat and was hanged.


At the time this was written, the Vietnam War was still going. From what I can gather, Greenway supported the war effort. Interestingly, some Aboriginals were surprised by the anti-war protestors as they had memories of men leaving to fight for God, King and Country before:

[W]hat puzzled them more — the peace protesters in Perth. Were soldiers all finish? What was happening? Many of them remembered at least two wars in which Australians fought, every white man able to walk volunteering to go overseas to save England their mother, leaving Australia to the aborigines. So sad to drive through those dead little settlements in Western Australia with their cenotaphs in the square preserving the names of dead soldiers whose towns died when they died. Remembering these places and the multitude of heroes gone, all I could answer the aborigines was, “We threw our laws away, too.”

That we did.

This was also published around the time Australia’s borders were made more open to foreigners. We get a rather colourful view on European immigration from an Australian after he discovered some Frenchmen had robbed his fuel dump:

“How in Christ’s holy name can anybody say why a f**king son of a b*tch of a Frenchman does anything. They’re Frenchmen — can’t you understand that? They’re not people! We’re getting some ratbags in this migrant program — the Eyties got their Mafia going, the bloody Greeks copped all the grocery shops and delis, the bloody Yugos’ll stab you for your bloody boots. But you can understand them. They’re sh*theads, but they’re human beings, F**king French baastids. I’ll kill them, Christ help me”


And this was just his opinion of Europeans who’d immigrated.

Lastly, and just for fun, Greenway includes the very politically incorrect opinion of the pirate William Dampier after encountering Aboriginals:

In 1699 the gentleman pirate William Dampier stopped to survey the country, declared it to be utterly worthless, and wrote the first description in English of the Australian aborigines. They were even more loathsome than the country, he said; the most degenerate human being he had seen in earlier voyages to the nastiest parts of the globe were gentlemen to these naked, black, dirty, fly-blown, and apathetic savages. 


This was a very interesting and fun read as the length of this post must attest. As I mentioned, I am doing this partially to have information like this more widely available as it is progressively scrubbed from official histories. If any of this sounds interesting and you can find a copy, I definitely recommend it. Mine didn’t set me back too much and I will be holding onto it in the hope it can be rediscovered by future (and saner) generations. That is people that prefer reality to wishful thinking and don’t loathe their own culture and history.

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