White occupation of Australia has been devastating to Aboriginal languages. As a linguistics subject, much of this course has been about describing what is evident and what can be pieced together about Aboriginal languages. For me, some of the burning questions I’ve had as this course progressed were regarding the series of choices made that resulted in the loss of Aboriginal languages in the first place. Questions such as “why did it happen that way?” and “could it have been different?” I read chapter 3 of our textbook (Walsh and Yallop) which described in some detail the first few interactions between Aboriginals and whites and I was keen to know more. I was therefore thrilled to come across and enjoy the documentary First Australians on SBS On Demand.
First Australians is a seven-part documentary on Australian history told from an Aboriginal perspective. Episode one covers the arrival of the whites with the First Fleet and using archival documents and interpretations, historians and members of both the Aboriginal and white community, recreate the brief period where Aboriginals and whites were exploring each other, and a harmonious co-existence seemed possible.
I think those first three years were a heartbreaking time, because you see people of curiosity, goodwill, trying to comprehend each other. For a while, it looked like something was possible here that hadn’t happened anywhere else. That something remarkable might have been achieved, and that door closed, catastrophically and quickly, within a few years.
Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnen
Chapter 3 of the textbook provides a description of the relationship between researcher William Dawes and his language exchange partner Patyes which focuses on the language recorded by Dawes. Episode One of First Australians on the other hand humanizes the relationship between the two people in a way that makes such a partnership believable – they may not have been lovers, but that this was a close and tender relationship all the same. It also suggested Governor Phillip as a complex man, who, despite arrogantly believing the land and people were objects for England, in his own way he did have a genuine level of respect for Aboriginal culture and desire to treat Aboriginals well. It was only when he left to return to England exhausted and broken, that soldiers were able to freely commit atrocities to Aboriginal people.
If you are one of those people like me, who need to know why and how things evolved the way they did, you might find this program as satisfying as I did.
Peta Mason, Ling 566