Good Reading : October 2005
22 goodreading and talented businessman; like many of the transported convicts he saw Australia as an opportunity – albeit an opportunity to be built on free convict labour. Lachlan Macquarie, on the other hand, was an earnest Highland Scot, one of those sons of Caledonia who provided the back- bone of the British imperial administration throughout the 19th century. He is a kind of prototype too: the good leader who is ultimately betrayed. John Ritchie’s Lachlan Macquarie tracks Macquarie’s moderately successful career prior to his being posted to New South Wales and makes clear that the posting was hardly the crowning achievement of a brilliant career. But Macquarie was diligent, and superintended the transition of New South Wales from gaol to free colony, leav- ing Sydney some magnificent Georgian architecture in the process. Aspects of his administration were however criticised in the Bigge report, commissioned by a British Colonial Secretary concerned that transportation was losing its deterrent effect, and he returned to Scotland to eke out a fairly miserable retirement. The report squarely backed the vision of men like Macarthur. Land grants to emancipists were abolished and discipline tightened.The future of the colony lay in commercial grazing conducted by capital- ist farmers employing convict shepherds. Rapid expansion west of the Dividing Range from the 1920s was mostly beyond the official boundaries of the colony. Over the next half century a distinctive culture and economy took shape in the vast rural hinterland, characterised by a marked imbalance of the sexes and an itinerant rural workforce on the one hand and commercially oriented land-owning pastoralist families on the other. The influence of ‘the bush’ in the formation of the Australian identity would be difficult to overestimate. Manning Clark’s magisterial multi-volume A History of Australia is still the place to start for this. Clark had a number of axes to grind, so if you want an alternative view of the world read Geoffrey Blainey’s The Tyranny of Distance. For a thoughtful analysis of the cultural implications of the development of the rural economy try Richard Waterhouse’s The Vision Splendid. Waterhouse examines the development of a mythology of bush versus city and the curious fact, in such a highly urbanised country, that many Australians still believe that to find a true Australian you have to visit a sheep station. As the pastoral frontier advanced, the indigenous population came into contact and conflict with the squatters and their shepherds. Neither Clark nor Blainey has a lot to say about frontier inter-racial conflict.WEH Stanner first identified ‘the Great Australian Silence’ in the 1968 Boyer Lectures.They are still worth read- ing, if you can find them. Stanner was perhaps the first academic to put into the public discourse the idea that there was a huge gap in the mainstream history of Australia. CD Rowley’s The Destruction of Aboriginal Society was a groundbreak- ing overview of the history of frontier interaction and was followed by Henry Reynolds’s The Other Side of the Frontier. This influential work makes skilful use of surviving contemporary accounts to paint a convincing picture of extensive and at times effective black resistance. In Claiming a Continent, David Day attempts a one-volume overview of Australian history which gives considerable space to the issue of frontier conflict and analyses Australian history in terms of how an invader legitimises its conquest. First published in 1996, it already reads like the product of another, kinder era. As a take on a number of still contemporary debates it retains considerable interest but it simply lacks the space to do justice to the com- plexities of regional variation. For this reason, some of the most sat- isfying history of the Australian frontier is found in regional studies. Bobby Hardy’s Lament for the Barkindji is a well-researched history of Aboriginal peoples along the Southern reaches of the Darling. Its tone is at times paternalistic but it includes considerable information not otherwise accessible. Koori: A Will to Win by James Miller is a history of contact in the Hunter Valley. Miller makes no bones about whose side he is on. Invasion and Resistance by Noel Loos is a scholarly account of one of the most intense areas of conflict: North Queensland. It includes appendices that list in detail what is known about deaths from Aboriginal resistance in the area of study. A similar concern for accuracy of numbers is found in Henry Reynolds’s Fate of a Free People, which is a history of the Tasmanian frontier and the bargain struck by the Aboriginal survivors of the violent conflict of the late 1820s. Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts provides a similar service for the Gulf country of the Northern Territory. Keith Windschuttle has advanced an alternative thesis for the destruction of traditional Tasmanian society, but it has to be said that his views are considered tendentious by most scholars in the field. Anyone who has spent any time looking at the primary sources that deal with black/ white relations on the Australian frontier is struck by the unremitting violence and the universal practice of ‘dispersal’. Roberts is particularly useful for his insight into how police on the frontier became masters of euphemism.The introduction to the most recent edition of Fate of a Free People pro- vides a useful (and balanced) summary of the debate on this subject for those who would like to pursue it further. Which brings us to the closing of the frontier and a new phase in Australian his- tory characterised by the closing of our borders to non-white immigration; the at times faltering pursuit of a viable first world economy; and the formation of a national identity based on the horrific blood sacrifice of World War One.The scope of that enquiry is well beyond this review. But the right questions continue to yield fascinating answers. categorical Waterhouse examines the curious fact, in such a highly urbanised country, that many Australians still believe that to find a true Australian you have to visit a sheep station.