Richard Ackland’s brilliant article today (‘The defence of free speech is limited for the anti-18C brigade‘ in The Guardian) reminds us of one of Pauline Hanson’s more puerile assertions: that “Aboriginal women ate their babies”. Ackland wrote:
A book published in her name, Pauline Hanson – The Truth, made a number of ludicrous claims, including that Aboriginal women ate their babies. When a racial vilification case was brought against the book, it was defended under the RDA exemption for publishers acting reasonably and in good faith.
Let us leave aside the absurd finding that the publishers were “acting reasonably and in good faith”: absurd in that they must have believed her and that her evidence could not be disputed, and ponder instead how Pauline Hanson could have come to her conclusion of these cannibalistic practices.
I can only assume she read it in a book.
After five years at university studying (among other things) Aboriginal archaeology and anthropology I can confidentially announce that there was no evidence in the archaeological record or oral histories to suggest they did, but yes, it was once ‘confirmed’ in a book. This book reported that:
As a race the aborigine is a savage in the strongest sense of that term. Alike cruel and treacherous, he loses no occasion of wreaking his vengeance on an enemy, and indulges in the most bloodthirsty propensities. The practice of cannibalism is general among the natives: for a long time this was doubted, but it has been proved, beyond the reach of question, and the practice often found accompanied by the most revolting ferocity – as the sacrifice of an infant by its own mother for the mere pleasure of eating its flesh.
The book? David Blair’s History of Australasia, published in 1879. The above paragraph can be found on page 237.
When quoting that paragraph for my Honour’s thesis (A review of the racist ideologies of Social Darwinism and eugenics in colonial Australia in the formative years of Federation, and how these ideologies were applied to purify and secure a White Australia) I introduced it by noting that:
In a period that witnessed Aborigines being hunted like animals, dying in their thousands through imported diseases, and reportedly murdered at the hands of punitive colonials, the emergence of a law which not only justified the extermination of Aborigines but argued that it was beneficial to the human race, was gratefully accepted and enthusiastically endorsed by many sectors of Australian society.
Popular literature of the nineteenth century depicted an image of the Australian Aborigine that reinforced these colonial ideals. We are to assume that the contemporary reader of the following extract [above] from David Blair’s History of Australasia, when published in 1879, foreshadowed, perhaps demanded, the inevitable extinction.
I clearly underestimated Pauline Hanson. She is far more well-read than I ever imagined. One can only assume that she has read David Blair’s repulsive work and as such is well-versed in the Australia of 1879 and is passionate to the cause of the colonials. (Yes, I am being sarcastic). But I really can’t imagine where else she could have read it. I’ve read over a thousand books, journals or articles about Aboriginal Australia and I’ve only seen it as a ‘matter of fact’ in Mr Blair’s book.
If Pauline was truly sincere and wanted to learn about Aborigines I would be more than happy to loan her one of my 80 or so text books that all contain one important element: the truth. In 2016 that’s what we prefer.