Wednesday, October 17, 2007
like no others
After Captain James Cook first sailed into Botany Bay in Australia, he noted his impressions of the Aborigines he encountered. Apparently most hardly paid any attention to the large and strange ship sailing into the bay. He wrote in his journal: "They may appear to be the most wretched people on earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans. They live in a tranquility which is not disturbed by the inequality of condition: the earth and the sea of their own accord furnish them with all things necessary for life...they seemed to set no value upon anything we gave them, nor would they ever part with anything of their own...All they seem'd to want was for us to be gone." If only all those to settle Australia shared Cook's sensibilities.
Perhaps these Aborigines somehow knew what their destiny would be with the arrival of the white man, and they generally ignored the strangers in the hope they would become disinterested and simply leave. But of course that's not how it worked out - ahead was disease, intentional poisonings, mass slaughter, hunting for sport, and cold-blooded murder (among other atrocities). The Aborigines were to be treated as subhuman, and at least on Tasmania, would be completely eradicated in a matter of decades. What's remarkable about these native people is just about everything. They lived almost as anarchists, typically with no chiefs or governing councils, possessed very little sense of property, had no clearly traceable ancestry to other people of Australasia, and were full of mysterious and unique traditions. We don't even know exactly how and when they came to Australia. It is almost as if they came from another planet...