Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country

Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country

by Bruce Pascoe

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A wide-ranging, personal and powerful work that resonates with historical and contemporary Australian debates about identity, dispossession, memory, and community. Ranging across the national contemporary political stage, this book critiques the great Australian silence when it comes to dealing respectfully with the construction of the nation’s Indigenous past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780855757267
Publisher: Aboriginal Studies Press
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 1,170,950
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Bruce Pascoe is a widely published and award-winning writer, editor, and anthologist. He produced a dictionary of the Wathaurong language.

Read an Excerpt

Convincing Ground

Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country

By Bruce Pascoe

Aboriginal Studies Press

Copyright © 2007 Bruce Pascoe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85575-726-7


Franks is Dead

Everybody agrees that this is what happened.

Franks and Flinders were killed by blows from steel hatchets landing so heavily that Franks' skull was driven into the turf.

And that's the point at which agreement stops.

The Champion arrived at Point Gellibrand in Port Phillip Bay in 1836. On the ship Charles Franks brought 500 sheep and a partner, George Smith, and a shepherd called either Flinders or Hindes, but nobody seems certain.

The waters off Point Gellibrand are shallow, clear and calm, crowded with mussels, oysters, flounder, flathead and garfish. Only twelve months earlier, Bunurong, Wathaurong and Woiwurrung people feasted on this bay of plenty; their ovens and houses are evident but already the people are scarce, avoiding the frenetic activity of the white people.

It is winter but even so the days can be brilliant with mild sunshine, the wavelets scattering light as if from a shattered mirror. It is God's own country. A man might become anything here. In those days women could please themselves.

In this mood of limitless opportunity Franks removes his sheep from the Champion on 23 June and, on the advice of George MacKillop, decides to take up land around Mount Cotterell on the headwaters of the Barwon River. It took until 2 July to cover the 20 miles (32 kilometres) of flat volcanic grasslands. After depasturing the sheep George Smith returned to Point Gellibrand to bring up more stores.

On 8 July Smith arrives at Mount Cotterell, sees no sign of Franks or Flinders but the stores appear to have been ransacked. He takes fright and returns to Point Gellibrand where he conscripts the help of Mr Malcolm, Mr Clark, Mr George Sams, Mr Armytage, Dr Barry Cotter, Charles Wedge, and Mr Gellibrand. Gellibrand asked Henry Batman to accompany him with William Windberry, George Hollins, Michael Leonard, Benbow, Bullett, Stewart and Joe the Marine. On the way they fall in with Mr Wood and his large party, some of whom were David Pitcairn, Mr Guy, Derrymock, Baitlange, Ballyan and Mr Alexander Thomson.

So, a party of well over 23 people are curious enough to drop what they are doing to investigate the upsetting of a cask of flour at Mount Cotterell. Or have they already mounted similar expeditionary forces since the establishment of the first Yarra settlement less than a year before? Are they at war with the Kulin Nation and recognise this as a beachhead in the war for possession of the Port Phillip plains?

When Captain William Lonsdale is appointed Police Magistrate of Port Phillip in July 1836 the frontier community is under token jurisdiction, but it is an indelible indication of the true activities of the previous twelve months that when George Smith notices an upturned barrel of flour he has no trouble in mobilising a small army to investigate the cause.

These men do not believe a delinquent possum is rampant, they mount a volunteer force of heavily armed volunteers. They are not involved in casual reprisal but a calculated vigilante campaign.

The party followed a trail of flour and discarded stores and came across a band of about seventy to one hundred Wathaurong people.

In responding to Lonsdale's investigation of the incident Henry Batman says he yelled at them but they didn't move so he fired his gun once above their heads and they ran off; John Wood said several shots were fired but none could have taken effect because they were fired from too great a distance; Edward Wedge believed that by the nature of the cuts to the heads of Franks and Flinders, whose bodies were found near the stores, they had been 'inflicted with a particular type of long-handled hatchet' which he had given to the natives earlier in the year 'to conciliate them'; Michael Leonard says several shots were fired but to his knowledge no-one was injured; William Windberry says that the party went after the blacks to retrieve the stolen property but he did not think any were killed.

William Lonsdale receives the evidence and advises the Colonial Secretary that no harm had been inflicted on the Aboriginal people despite it being common knowledge in the colony that at least twelve were killed. The Wathaurong said over 35 but, of course, they were never invited to give evidence. No investigation is made of other attacks which follow the first punitive expedition.

The court hears that the murderers of Franks and Flinders were Goulburn Aboriginals Dumdom and Callen. The Daugwurrung are the people of the Goulburn River and this evidence places them in Wathaurong and Woiwurrung country, but given known clan movements of the time this is unlikely. But to the avengers one group of Aborigines is much the same as any other.

George Smith says it was impossible that Charles Franks could have provoked the murder because he 'had a great aversion to the native blacks, and would not give them food, thinking it the best way to prevent them from frequenting the station'. He'd arrived for the first time only days before at a 'station' at the headwaters of the Barwon River, heartland of the Wathaurong and Woiwurrung people, a land they would defend with their lives. Mr Franks was 'very mild and gentle in his general conduct, and I do not think he would molest anyone,' concluded his partner,

Mr Smith, but Robert William von Stieglitz, in a letter to his brother, casts a different light on Franks' gentle Christian demeanour. Stieglitz went to Franks in order to buy lead which all knew Franks had in great supply. Franks told Stieglitz that the lead was excellent for 'making blue pills for the natives'. Some historians take the word pill literally and assume it is a euphemism for the manufacture of strychnine to lace bullock carcasses in order to poison Aborigines, a common practice in the colony and further refined in Port Phillip. When challenged about this practice it was a common defence to say that the poison had been for the crows. This was a popular jest in Port Phillip because at the time many referred to the blacks by the American euphemism 'Jim Crow'. It's more likely, however, that Franks was making his own shotgun balls.

Either way, it seems this mild Christian had been murdering Aborigines to secure the 'selection' he and his partners, George Smith and George Armytage, had decided upon. It seems he came upon his 'great aversion to the blacks' in a very short space of time, perhaps even in advance of meeting them, so that he thought it necessary to bring the ingredients of their destruction in his first stores.

Joseph Tice Gellibrand, Attorney-General of Tasmania until recently, and now the token representative of law and order for the Port Phillip Association, wrote of the Franks murder on 7 August 1836: 'Several parties are now after the natives and I have no doubt many will be shot and a stop put to this system of killing for bread'. The press were also phlegmatic in their understanding of the true nature of the conflict. The Cornwall Chronicle records the event thus: 'The avenging party fell on the guilty tribe ... and succeeded in annihilating them'.

It's only twelve months since the arrival of the colonists and yet it is a matter of conversation, among men meeting for the first time, how to eliminate the annoying insistence of the Indigenes to protect their land.

Entrepreneurs in Van Diemen's Land frustrated by the restrictions being placed on land acquisition determine to form a company to take up the green fields discovered by sealers at Port Phillip. In their correspondence with each other they discuss the advantages of taking up broad acres where no civil authority exists to hamper their enterprise. Mindful of the Colonial administration's increasing desire to ameliorate the Indigenes and the Van Diemen's Land governor's determination to uphold that line, they confect a series of documents to disguise the true nature of their activities. The clans of the Kulin peoples surrounding Port Phillip and Western Port are about to experience one of the most blatant thefts in the history of humankind.

John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner were both sons of convicts, both had built fortunes from property in Van Diemen's Land and joined to become the two principals of the Port Phillip Association. Batman was a chaotic character and his wild nature swung recklessly between acts of kindness and bloody-minded self-interest, while Fawkner was a more calculating and meticulous personality. Within days of landing at Port Phillip they were at loggerheads, Batman parading around the settlement with Aborigines he'd brought from Sydney and Fawkner making plans for hotels and newspapers, the stuff of prosperous settlements. But their different humours didn't prevent them from co-operating in the wholesale division of the Kulin lands.

Some of the most astute businessmen in Hobart helped establish the Port Phillip Association and they were joined by the more entrepreneurial members of the administration and judiciary. It was a formidable combination of law and enterprise; the entrepreneurs providing cash and energy and the legal minds steering the Association through the administrative shoals of colonial government by concocting sham documents of possession in the most portentous and arcane language.

These men were involved in very influential circles and knew how to weasel their way around Governor Arthur's instructions. Batman, Fawkner, Gellibrand, Charles Swanston, and others were the most celebrated business people in the colony and their plot to gazump the authorities and the real owners of the land is still celebrated in Australia as the bringing of the light to the heathen wasteland instead of the white shoe brigade land sham it really was.

Thousands of pounds changed hands in weeks as frantic entrepreneurs threw themselves at the Association in their haste to secure land. Most land was 'selected' unsurveyed and thousands of sheep were offloaded on the tranquil shores of Point Gellibrand where as many as eight ships rode at anchor on any given day, such was the speed of 'settlement'. In fact some of the party sent to revenge Franks' murder were recruited from the crew and passengers of these ships.

Nothing happened at random here; this was an orchestrated campaign where the colonists work against both the Kulin Nation and the colonial governments in Sydney and Hobart.

The unanimity of the colonists' purpose can be gauged by their relationships with each other. They were eager to see all the lands populated by like-minded individuals in order to thwart the government's purposes, and to murder and disperse the black population in order to secure the 'peace'. Indeed they went to great lengths to ensure that their friends joined the colony, their letters to each other confirming that they were anxious to create a solid confederacy to protect their interests and obscure the deceits instituted to acquire them.

George MacKillop, who admired Smith, Armytage and Franks in their precipitous lust for land, was experienced in the process of dispossession having already applied the procedure to great effect in India where he had worked in partnership with Charles Swanston. Swanston went on to become exceedingly rich in Port Phillip, his interests in land and banking making him one of its most respected and powerful citizens. Swanston and MacKillop have extensive business dealings with the staunch churchman George Smith, Franks' fellow squatter. These are respectable people, already wealthy from their Indian and Van Diemen's Land investments; churchgoers, solid citizens, good enough to name streets after, but they were directly involved in the war to dispossess the Kulin people. How did these solid citizens justify their actions?

They describe the murder of the 'gentle' Franks as an 'outrage', the term coined for the action of a black man raising a hand against a white, not patriots desperate to protect their mothers' lands, but criminals to be destroyed before justice could intervene. They urge other settlers to 'full satisfaction' against the blacks. Black resistance is labelled criminality, for to equate it with armed resistance is to acknowledge prior ownership.

The squatters applaud the appointment of the Police Magistrate Foster Fyans in Geelong. Fyans earned the sobriquet 'Flogger' for his administration of 'justice' at Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island, and the esteem with which the gentlemen of Port Phillip regard him was earned by his thoroughness in defending their lands in the Indian Colonial war. What is establishing itself in Port Phillip is a close-knit club of men experienced in dispossession, war, treachery and silence, experience gained in the British Empire's most recent wars against legitimate landowners.

This is a land war and conducted in the same manner as any other in the history of conflict between nations.

At Portland, to the west of Port Phillip, the Henty brothers had already established a sealing colony, and the conflict with the Gundidjmara people is symbolised by a clash on the beach for possession of a single whale. Both sides probably saw it as a beach head in the fight for possession of the soil itself. The battle site became known as the Convincing Ground, the place where the Gundidjmara were 'convinced' of white rights to the land. The Gundidjmara were beaten in that battle but never convinced of its legitimacy.

Australians, however, have absorbed that conviction so completely that they are battling the Gundidjmara in the courts and shire offices today so that they might build houses on the Convincing Ground.

The events on that soil in 1833–34 and the attempts to consecrate them in the courts in 2007 keep the battle of the Convincing Ground alive. This book is an attempt to show how colonial attitudes continue to forge modern cultural imperatives.

So little heed was taken of what Aboriginal people said or did that the colony could never progress except with enormous misunderstanding and, eventually, ill will. The nature of the planned dispossession precluded any partnership or cultural acknowledgement of the Indigenes because the occupation of their lands was predicated on their unworthiness to hold it. To draw close would reveal the humanity of the adversary, to acknowledge the women as wives and mothers, to admire the men for their courage, and the care and inventiveness with which they provided for their clan could not be allowed. It was crucial to the 'plan' to 'convince' authorities that the Kulin were barely human. This deliberate misrepresentation of the Kulin people is still taught in schools today and continues to stand between us, our country and our identity.

But who are the Kulin people? Did they exhibit evidence of brute savagery or were they just in the way of money changers?

Some settlers, more curious than the majority, report a 'story' told to them by members of the Kulin nation gathering in large numbers near the Botanical Gardens for what they claimed would be a momentous event. Over 150 people from the Yerrunillam balug, Devil River clan of the country north east of Delatite River, arrived and brought with them a spirit man named Kuller kullup who was well over 80 years of age.

He was at least six feet in height, fat, and with a fine upright carriage. His forehead was corrugated; the fine horizontal wrinkles looked scarcely natural; it seemed as if a native artist had been at work on his countenance; and his cheeks too were finely and strangely wrinkled. His friends — indeed all who saw him — paid respect to him. They embarrassed and encumbered him with their attentions. He could not stir without an effort being made by someone to divine his wishes. At sunrise, the adult Aborigines — strangers and guests — sat before him in semicircular rows, patiently waiting for the sound of his voice, or the indication by gesture of his inclinations. None presumed to speak but in a low whisper in his presence. The old man, touched by so much fealty and respect, occasionally harangued the people — telling them, probably, something of their past history, and warning them, not unlikely, of the evils which would soon surround them. Whenever Mr Thomas approached for the purpose of gathering hints of the character of his discourse, the old man paused, and did not resume his argument until the white listener had departed.

William Thomas, the Aboriginal Protector for the Melbourne region, thought it his right to be addressed by this man but each time he came and sat in the circle Kuller kullup refused to continue. Thomas had an evangelical approach to his job and privately abhorred his charges as savage heathens. We are in his debt, however, because he kept good records and was able to confirm with Billi-billari that the big man had come from a tribe inhabiting the Australian Alps who lived in caves, separately from all other people, and were rarely seen. Billi-billari told Thomas that these remote people dreamt the corroborees which they passed on to all other Aboriginal clans.

The Kulin had never seen Kuller kullup before but the legend says he had been living for as long as anyone could remember. There is a comparable story told in the early days of the Port Phillip settlement that a huge man who glistened with Bogong moth fat lived far away in the mountains and was rarely seen by other people. This man was responsible for ensuring the sky was lifted above the sun so that it could not fall down and eliminate the people.


Excerpted from Convincing Ground by Bruce Pascoe. Copyright © 2007 Bruce Pascoe. Excerpted by permission of Aboriginal Studies Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


ONE Franks is Dead,
TWO History, How it Starts,
THREE The Lakes,
FOUR Lady Macbeth's Clean Hands,
FIVE The Lie of the Land,
SIX The Psychology of the Frontier,
SEVEN Brave Explorers,
EIGHT Lake Corangamite,
NINE The Raised Sword,
TEN The Great Australian Forge,
ELEVEN The Great Australian Face,
TWELVE Golden Boy,
THIRTEEN Don't Mention the War,
FOURTEEN The Language of War,
FIFTEEN The Language of Resistance,
SIXTEEN Native Born,
SEVENTEEN True Hunter,
EIGHTEEN Germaine to the Problem,
NINETEEN The Whispering Land,
TWENTY Elbows on the Bar,
I Wathaurong Language Sample and map,
II Place Names of the Geelong–Ballarat Region,
III Jillong Timeline,

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