If I were a historian, I’d probably belong to the black armband group. Those seek to challenge the dominant telling of Australia’s history.
Much better wear a black arm band than put on John Howard’s (for the non Australian readers, conservative Prime Minister) white blindfold; choosing to remain ignorant to the fact that colonisation is barbaric and brutal, that much violence was inflicted upon the indigenous peoples and choosing to only tell tales of heroism and bravery.
Even with my perspective, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling had much to challenge me. Such as the concept of Aboriginality only being authentic and having native title claim if it close to traditional lifestyle. Obviously culture evolves and adapts, especially if faced with colonisation. Kind of one of those “slap your forehead” moments. “Of course!” Why should that exclude them from native title?
Other arguments had me nodding in agreement. The positive stereotypes of the noble savage being just as unreal and inaccurate as the negative stereotypes. But Behrendt takes it further and explains how the noble savage stereotype takes away their own agency and infantilises indigenous people. They can only be the beneficiary of white action. But even worse, any who do not fit the paradigm (angry urban Aborigines) are not seen as real and can be excluded and undeserving of support.
Don’t get me started on that drivel Mutant Message Down Under by the American bullshit artist Marlo Morgan. I know I shouldn’t be angered, knowing new age followers believe all manner of crap, but this particular rubbish with obvious fantasy and falsehood is just ridiculous. If you bought that book, give yourself an upper cut for contributing to the financial success of a woman peddling shit and doing harm to indigenous peoples everywhere.
Most challenging for me in Behrendt’s book is the idea that dissenting views of Australian history presented by the black armband in the history wars are still just about white identity; about what we want as our dominant narrative. (More like a “look at how tolerant and understanding I am”, than about Aboriginal experience and history.)
The rational but arguments presented in such direct and incisive manner, drawing on wide social and historical material, made this a compelling read.
Edited to add: you know what I really like about this is it isn’t written in a pompous, “I’m an intellectual” style. No gobbledygook, no self conscious use of words no one really uses, no post modernist nonsensical bull, no having to read sentences a zillion times to make sense of it. It is straightforward. Writing with clarity, Behrendt lets the ideas challenge, not the language.