Thursday, 14 April 2011

Responses to Gold

In this blog I will mainly look at what anxieties the gold rush inspired in Australia. As Russel Ward shows us in his work on The Australian  Legend, the gold rush was a time of social, economic, racial and cultural upheaval, and it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that this period caused anxiety and tension for the miners and prospectors.

Economically and politically, the gold rush produced tension between the small-time capitalist miners, and the government of the colonies, which wanted to retain some sort of economic power in a time of colonial growth and wealth. Indeed, from the primary source "the political demands of the diggers" which was passed by a meeting of diggers in1854, we can see that what miners saw as excessive taxation with no political representation was causing extreme tension. This tension came to a head in the attack on the Eureka stockade, in which these miners made a stand for the economic protection of their trade, an area in which they clearly felt politically let down. Indeed, as Charles Fahey asserts, "the egalitarian ethos of the goldfields was strengthened by a common opposition to the monthly license fee".

More than this, the gold Rush caused racial tension inbetweeen the new arrivals from China in particular, and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists. This tension was clearly exhibited in the 1861 'Lambing Flat Riots' where, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported, around 3000 white settlers rallied around a "no Chinese" banner and committed atrocities to the Chinese. These racial tensions are described by Russell Ward, stating that the white settlers considered themselves superior to newcomers , and that the gold fields generally caused increased resentment of the local indigenous populations and recent 'Mongolian' immigrants alike.

In these situations the chief anxieties of gold rush Australia can be seen, situations which were almost certainly breed and increased by the stress and hardship of the occupation, in a male dominated society.

The early 1900s skyline of Ballarat, a skyline which has changed little since the gold mining boom in rural Victoria, when nearby gold at Sovereign Hill and other areas attracted investors, banks and immigrants to the urban centre. At the time Melbourne and other Victorian cities were growing to rival the established colony of New South Wales due to the rich gold fields.

Accessed at: State Library of Victoria:

Frontier or History Wars?

For this blog I intend to look at why the frontier conflict debate is so contentious, and indeed so personal. I believe that it has provoked such intense debate within out society, often labelled the "history wars" because the national pride and founding of the Australian nation is being called into question. It could be more accurately assessed as a debate in whether the ancestors of Anglo-Saxon Australians were law abiding and respectable people, or whether they in fact attempted what historians such as Henry Reynolds would call 'genocide'. I intend to use the debate between Reynolds and Windschutttle as a case study for why this debate is so intense.

In the debate between Reynolds and Windschuttle this intense debate is apparent, with Tony Jones pointing out that Reynolds has called Windschuttle the equivalent of a 'holocaust denier'. The debate between the two is fierce, with Windschuttle calling Reynold's research into question, and it is centred around the protection or vilification of colonialists. The debate seems so intense because the early history of white Australians is under attack from Reynolds, who claims 20,000 or more indigenous people were killed in a frontier 'war'. Reynolds suggests that Windschuttle acts as the defence council for settlers and the government, again implying that he is taking part in this debate because of highly personal reasons, wanting to see his ancestors cleared of this unjust war which Reynolds suggests.

Reynold's work in The Other Side of the Frontier suggests another reason why this debate is so intense, because it affects the politics of Australia. From the Mabo to the Wik case, and Tent Embassy of 1972, white Australian response to indigenous peoples has been affected by our politics and consequently our historianism. As Attwood and Foster acknowledge, this view of history affected John Howard and his rhetoric in Australian politics, and our decisions about this debate certainly affect the future policies of the country, particularly concerning indigenous peoples. 

 In this way, I would suggest that the debate over the frontier wars is so  powerful because it is personal to so many in Australia and affects the way they see themselves and their responsibility to indigenous peoples. Bain  Attwood and S.G. Foster argue against the polarisation of the debate, and urge for the actual attempt to discover 'historical truth'. I believe that what is at stake in the debate is the credibility of Australian history, and, like Attwood and Foster, I believe debate should lead us not to absolute opinions and poor historianism, but for an objective search for the truth in Windschuttle and Reynolds respective claims.

This picture is titled 'natives attacking shepherds hut', and is by Samuel Calvert in the early 1800s, it depicts aspects of the 'frontier wars' and suggests definite conflict between the native and colonial people. The fact that it was produced in a newspaper suggests that it may have propagandist intent, vilifying the natives and suggesting that they began the conflict. 
Accessed at National Gallery of Australia :

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Europeans and the Australian Environment

When considering the relationship between Europeans and the environment, the historians Andrea Gaynor and Catherine Speck have contributed greatly to our understanding of how settlers made sense of the new environment. Gaynor focuses on how settlers maltreated the land in order to form a more familiar landscape, having an attitude of replacing 'inferior' local flora and fauna with 'superior' European wildlife and landscape. By contrast, Speck focuses on the same topic through the lens of art, and how settler artists helped make sense of the new land.

Gaynor's essential point is in agreement with that of Tom Griffiths, who claims that sheep and cattle were the 'shock troops of the empire'. Gaynor suggests that the Europeans made sense of the land by moulding it into an ecology which closely resembled home, introducing European agriculture and animals, such as rabbits. She contends that Europeans basically attempted to 'tame' an Australia that to them felt threatening and foreign. Of course, the consequences of this were huge, and continue to affect the ecology of Australia today

Speck, on the other hand, focuses on how Europeans came to represent Australia through art and made sense of the landscapes through this. She goes about showing how each different culture used their own style of art, with Australian subjects, to familiarise the subjects to themselves, using John Lewin as an example. She explains that Lewin used distinctly Australian features in her paintings, such as fish or marsupials, but painted them in a Dutch still life genre, thus drawing European culture out of strange new animals. Not only this, but Speck also interprets how early settlers made sense of the native people through painting, describing how Augustus Earle's painting Bungaree in 1826, captures the changing nature of Port Jackson, and the irony of the indigenous King's lost power over the area.

The two historians show how settlers made sense of a strange place through mediums familiar to them: contemporary artistic styles and European styles of agriculture and land use. The refusal to conform to the Australian landscape and a determination to instead 'conquer' and change the land for the sake of comfort and familiarity is a common point to each of the sources.

The picture of Bungaree by Augustus Earle in 1826, which evokes the sadness of his predicament, no longer having a kingdom. The small pieces of officers clothes he wears seem ironic in their poor state in contrast with his enthusiasm. This picture is an example of how Europeans made sense of these new peoples and contexts, through the medium of European style art.
Accessed at Library of NSW:

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Convict Lives

From my reading, the convicts, who are so hotly debated by such historians as Manning Clark and G.A. Woods, were not a 'criminal class' as such, but were highly difficult to pin down to a certain 'type'. During the course of Australian colonial history different types of convicts were transported and different deportation criteria were enforced, leaving historians with the impossible job of summarising their nature and character.

Indeed the problem lies with the different phases of immigration that took place. To generalise, the female convicts of Australia were not members of a 'criminal class'. In fact, as Deborah Oxley asserts, they were often shipped out to Australia for their first offence, often simply a crime of petty theft. This eventuality has it's roots in the insignificant female population of the early settlement, which was supplemented by petty female criminals, a large proportion of whom were maids. The convict indents of the Pyramus confirm this interpretation's truth, as almost all of it's occupants were petty criminal maids. This, though, is in contradiction to earlier thought, when women convicts were thought of as whores, and even mid twentieth century historians such as A.G.L. Shaw, who believe they were at least 'singularly unattractive' in their portrayal.

In terms of the male convicts of Australia, they seem more varied in type, and more difficult to either vilify or uphold. Manning Clark suggests that transportees were members of a 'criminal class' and that they were generally not 'casual' criminals more 'sinned against than sinning'. In fact, through his analysis of contemporary observer Patrick Colquhoun, he claims that the convicts were actually 'in pursuit of criminal pleasures'. This seems somewhat heavy-handed in it's appraisal of convicts, and does not really take into account the statistics. In general, from the ship indents he cites, theft is by far the most common of crimes, and implies a similar situation to the female convicts, who were without major crime against their name. 

However, in the indent from the Hougamont, 1868, there seems to be a vast array of skilled workers who were unlikely to 'need' to steal for their own survival. Indeed, by this time there seems to be an increasing amount of career criminals, people who were employed and skilled, but still committed crime. In the table Clark cites this can be seen too, as an increasing amount of middle class crimes and serious crimes can be found in the transportation lists.

In this way, I believe that as time progressed, the male convicts came more and more from the inherent  'criminal class' of Colquhoun's description. However, this is in contrast to the nature of the first convicts, at which time Britain needed skills in Australia, and seemed to send more petty, undeserving criminals to antipodean shores. In conclusion, it is impossible to neatly summarise the nature of the convicts of colonial Australia, as they were constantly changing from decade to decade, to suit the needs of the colony. This can be seen in perfect example in the shipment of female maids to Australia to meet the needs of a male dominated society.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney: Constructed by order of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, this was used to house convicts from Britain until it's closure in 1848. It was a key feature of the lives of convicts in New South Wales before they could be allowed to work the land as freeholders, sleeping in the barracks by night and working in labour gangs by day.

Accessed at Historic Houses Trust:

Monday, 11 April 2011

Outpost of Empire

Geoffrey Blainey's book, The Tyranny of Distance, was a highly controversial new interpretation of the founding of Australia which challenged the common view of historians and the populace alike that Australia was primarily a place for Britain to dump it's convicts. In it he argues that Australia was in fact recognised by British politicians as a land of plenty and utility for Britain to take advantage of. His most controversial claim was that Australia was too far away to simply send convicts, it had to have some other advantage to be worthwhile.

Since times contemporary to the colonisation itself it has been assumed that Australia was simply a 'dumping ground' for convicts, as can be seen through the writing of Henry Fielding in 1751 and John Howard in 1777. In each of these sources the overcrowding of prisons in the British Isles and growing inequity in the cities is highlighted and lamented. Indeed it is easy to see why Blainey's argument was controversial, as it went against contemporary historianism, interpreting the Primary source material in a very different way. Blainey focused in particular on the writings of both Joseph Banks, the naturalist, in 1779 and Lord Sydney in 1789, arguing that  the Australian colony was founded for the 'advantageous return' and New Zealand hemp and flax which are mentioned in the sources.

His new history was also controversial because of the perceived simplicity of his argument. In Charlie Fox' analysis of the great debate he shows how Blainey has come under fire for his argument that distance is such a defining factor in colonialism. Indeed P.J. Marshall identifies three key factors for colonising Australia: economic, military and moral and Geoffrey Bolton criticised Blainey for this, saying that no one factor can explain all historical answers.  

To conclude, Blainey's Tyranny of Distance was so controversial because it revisited old sources and old ground and came up with a new, somewhat patriotic history, which acknowledged the merit of Australia in it's own right, not simply as a convict 'dumping ground'. Blainey's overarching idea, that the distance between the countries proved Australia to be financially beneficial to England, has also caused controversy for its simplicity and arguable lack of scope. It cannot be doubted, however, that his research was important in that it challenged the assumed history of Australia and paved the way for future research.

Joseph Banks - the botanist who's advocacy of Australia's natural wealth influenced Blainey's work. He claimed that Australia would be of benefit to Britain and would support European plants and animals well, yielding 'advantageous return'

Accessed at: National Library of Australia: