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What is History?

After listening to the hysterical comments this last week or so concerning “good” or “bad” history, I thought that I would add to the conversation with my own experience, and perhaps throw a little light on just what is “history”.

Most people know what history is as an identification piece, without knowing how it is brought to the attention of the general public. I say ”brought to the attention of”, because it is of no surprise to learn that most people do not go out of their way to seek history, lest it be about their own personal situation, eg genealogy.

History can be little more than a series of disconnected events that have to be brought together with rhetorical flourish that attracts the cultured mind to find common connectivity to a known outcome, and then to “join the dots” for that “Aha!” moment … when the incandescent flare flashes and all is revealed.

What cements the “reality” of those events as a “true history” is the evidence of the outcome of those rhetorical flourishes connected to a chain of seemingly unconnected events; what I would call the logical truth. Logical, that is, after the final outcome. The Ohhh! moment.

For instance, when the imperial colonisers decided that the land mass we know of as Australia could be “legally” claimed as “Terra Nullius”, they based their understanding of “unoccupied land” as that which was not farmed or worked in an agricultural way. A false history was deliberately created (they knew it was bullshit) to justify claiming that which was already “owned” by tribal societies who “worked” the land in a nomadic cyclic way in a seasonal cycle of traversing, harvesting, letting fallow and returning at a later season or year to re-harvest. (I have posted on this subject before: An Advanced Society).

In “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia” Stuart Banner writes that:

“The absence of Aboriginal farms was crucial, because the British were heirs to a long tradition of thought associating the development of property rights with a society’s passage through specific stages of civilization. Greek and Roman writers were unanimous in holding that property was a man-made institution.

“There is,” Cicero declared, “no such thing as private ownership established by nature.” They agreed that there had once been a time, long ago, when property was unknown, when, as Seneca put it, “the bounties of nature lay open to all, for men’s indiscriminate use.”

They knew of far-off primitive peoples like the Scythians, who lacked property even while the Greek and Roman civilizations were at their peak.

And they agreed that it was the invention of agriculture that gave rise to property rights in land. The reason the Scythians and other primitive tribes did not divide up the land they occupied, the classical writers believed, was that they were nomads who had never learned to cultivate the land. The Scythians “have no fixed boundaries,” observed the second-century writer Justin, because “they do not engage in agriculture…. Instead they pasture their cattle and sheep throughout the year and live a nomadic life in the desolate wilds.” It was only when “Ceres first taught men to plough the land,” Virgil explained, that land was first divided. When there were “[n]o ploughshares to break up the landscape,” Ovid agreed, there were “no surveyors [p]egging out the boundaries of estates.”…”

(We can now see why Roman history became “wedded” to the British imperial colonising designs).

So in effect, the Imperial British Crown invented their own version of history, and having once crossed this line, they had little choice but to declare: therefore, Captain James Cook “discovered this land”… this was neither logical, nor truthful.

Really, it was only going to be a matter of time before that little bit of bullshit was outed.

I have witnessed first hand how a “history” can be created..

It goes like this:

Ziedel’s secret carburetor

I was asking for a bit of background knowledge about a long deceased relative of mine from the local aged mechanic, Peter Pohl. He and his off-sider Vern run the only workshop in the district and have done so for near on fifty or sixty years! I don’t know, neither does anyone else … not even them!

“Name doesn’t ring any bells,” Peter frowned.

“He was a very inventive sort of chap … in the line of mechanical things,” I assisted.

“Oh, there were a lot of them about in them days,” Peter opined, “a lot of them. There was Pastor Ziedel, for instance. HE was a sort of genius. Do you know, he invented a carburetor that could halve petrol consumption in a motor? But the thing was, he was dammed clever how he done it.” And here Peter tapped the side of his nose.

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, you know he didn’t want anybody to find out how he done it, so he got those little jets and needles and seats and whatnot made in different places by different chaps so no-one person could put them all together. Oh … he was cunning alright.”

“So did you get to see how it looked?” I pushed on. Peter stopped, pulled up and looked at me in wide-eyed wonder.

“No! Of course not, it was a secret! Hell, he wouldn’t let anyone see how he done it … why, if he went to any motor event, he’d take that carburetor off and put the old one on so nobody could pinch his design. Oh, he was cunning … old Pastor Ziedel.”

“But if no one saw it, how do you know it worked?”

There was a pause in the response, which told me that this cynical line of reasoning had never before been broached, then;

“Whhyy … of course it worked, you ask anybody who knew of it. He had it on his old Holden for years … of course it worked … and dammed good too!”

“Well, I imagine some one saw it after he passed away. Was it in his estate when they went through his effects?”

“No, not that I ever heard. I suppose his son threw it out with a lot of other stuff.”

“What!” I exclaimed “I would have thought it would be a very valuable item.”

“Maybe, but because the old man was so secretive about it, I don’t suppose the sons would have known what it was if’n they came across it.”

And that is the wonderful way history is created!


  1. bobrafto

    herefore, Captain James Cook “discovered this land”… this was neither logical, nor truthful.

    May I suggest that Capt Cook did discover Australia and for the British Empire as it was unknown to the Brits at that time and it was a voyage of discovery.

    And to put that in context Cook discovered Australia that had an indigenous population.

  2. Peter F

    ” be the first to find or observe” is my computer’s definition of discovery: How can Cook possibly be the first to observe this continent? You would have to be blind to the facts to believe that he was.

  3. bobrafto

    I also suggest that Australia Day be held on the day the indigenous folk were given the right to vote.

  4. bobrafto

    Peter F
    Definition of discover for English Language Learners. : to see, find, or become aware of (something) for the first time. : to show the presence of (something hidden or difficult to see) : to make (something) known. : to learn or find out (something surprising or unexpected)

    This can be debated all day long and I’m not suggesting that Cook was the first person to discover Australia. The fact is that Oz was unknown to the Brits and it was a discovery for them.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Whatevva!…But you see; bobrafto..that in itself is not true..Cook was on a voyage to record the transit of Venus…the “discovery” bit was a covert instruction from the imperial govt’ to “suss out” the known and partially mapped coast of “New Holland”…a land mass known from the 16th century.

  6. roma guerin

    Thanks Joseph. I was trying to think what it was called on the old maps.

  7. Joseph Carli

    Join the history dots, had the Dutch, French and the Germans scurrying around the East Indies looking for places to colonise..and you don’t reckon the Brit’ foreign office didn’t know about “new Holland”…give it a break….You reckon ol’ Cook found his way to Oz by bumping into a french trader off The Cape who told him ..: “You just go right on down that-a-way…just keep bearing to the left…you caaaaannt miss it!”

  8. Terry2

    Lieutenant James Cook was using charts originally prepared by Abel Tasman during his voyage of exploration between 1642-1644. When Cook sailed west from New Zealand heading back to Britain in March 1770, he was looking for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) using those charts but was too far north and arrived at and named Point Hicks, now Cape Everard, New Holland (Australia) in April 1770.
    Cook turned north at the start of a two thousand mile journey that involved the first accurate charting and naming of points along the east coast of Australia.

    Even James Cook would not claim that he discovered New Holland (Australia) but he did some excellent charting of the East Coast.

  9. helvityni

    “In 1642, Dutchman Abel Tasman discovered Van Dieman’s Land, now named Tasmania, before returning on another voyage in 1644, when he passed the coast of Australia naming it Nova Hollandia (New Holland). Navigator and astronomer Captain James Cook set out in 1768 on the HM Bark Endeavour bound for Tahiti.”

    I wonder why Abel , and other Dutchies did not settle in Nova Holland, perhaps they found it too dry to grow vegies and Tulips; why not give Tasmania a go, a bit like the old Holland . After all they rescued the country from the sea, or made it from play dough….

  10. Joseph Carli

    Helvi’..This proves my point about people not going out of their way to search out history..bobrafto could’ve just gone to Mr. Google and he could have found a whole “raft” of records about the known existence of Oz, instead he waffled on about ..”Cap’n Cook, Cap’n Cook”..ah! screw Cap’n effing Cook!…and their pissy effing “history”…HISTORY!!?? I’ll give you history…Where my old man came from , in the Dolomites of Nth Italy, he used to say on a clear day you could see down the Po Valley to the Doge’s Palace in that maritime empire of Venice..and I suspect he could’ve heard the guns of Caporetto in the first WW…his home was near the pass that Hannibal used to cross the Alps where Julius Caesar left his winter quarters and cried : “Jacta Alia Est!” and crossed the Rubicon to start the civil war against the Optimates in Rome..Where Mussolini created his short-lived New Fascist City-State of Salo on Lake Garda…Where the Nazi’s came down and then retreated with great destruction followed by Patton’s 7th Army and more destruction and raping and want history?…start with THAT!..AND in just one area…The indigenous peoples have a history A REAL HISTORY to tell..let us make THEIR history OUR history..THEN we’ll have a story to talk about and be proud of!..65,000 effin’ years of it, by Keerist!…65,000 effin’ years!!!..THAT is history with a capital “haich”.

  11. Mark Needham

    Did a bloody lot in 65,000 years.

    Throwy sticks.
    Diggy sticks.
    Burny sticks.
    Speary sticks.

    Imagine, just imagine, will you, where this marvellous 65,000 year old culture would be now, if Captain James Bloody Cook, had not turned when he did.
    Christ, the mind boggles at the endless possibilities of it all.

    Boggled, I mean really Boggled,
    Mark Needham

  12. Michael Taylor

    I think I know where Joe’s coming from.

    He obviously knows that Cook didn’t discover this land we now call Australia. In his article he was simply putting forward the fallacy that many modern Australians treat as gospel. If you asked people who discovered Australia, how many of them would answer ‘Cook’? I’m guessing that a lot would.

    (Fortunately – as evidenced by the above comments – AIMN readers know a lot more about our history than the average Australian does).

  13. Joseph Carli

    And just what the eff’ do millions of westerners do when they want a break from the endless treadmill of their “luxurious lifestyle”?…I tell you what YOU do..: You go to places where you are expected to do nothing but:
    Throwy sticks.
    Diggy sticks.
    Burny sticks.
    Speary sticks.

  14. Michael Taylor

    Mark, they achieved a lot more than meets the eye. For example, their social structures are a lot more complex than we realise (but that’s another story).

    But the main thing is, in 65,000 they didn’t destroy the continent. We will do that ourselves however it won’t take 65,000 years … we will most likely do it within 300.

  15. Joseph Carli

    Without even knowing you Mark..I’ll describe your lifestyle..: You get up in the morning, scratch your arse a couple of times, go to the dunny, have breaky, get the usual clobber for work, fight the traffic, fiddle at some shit job for a designated amount of sheckels that JUST covers your living costs , fight the traffic home thinking all the while if there was only another way to make an easier living and dreaming of the next holiday…Well…those “sticky-throwy” natives found a way and lived the “holiday” for some 65,000 effing years…why would you invent the wheel to carry stuff if what you needed at the other end of the journey was already there?

  16. Joseph Carli

    But NOOOOOOOOOO!!!….Gotta have that mortgage, maan!

  17. Jack

    As romantic and free as the nomadic lifestyle is, it was only a matter of time before it was swamped by another race with conquering intentions. The British were just the first to decide to set up shop. The separate indigenous groups survived as long as they did due to its remote location.
    Cook discovered the east coast for Europeans and paved the way to establishing western civilisation in this remote location. I’m happy for inscriptions to be expanded and changed where appropriate, but it is still history and we need to be careful of how much we play around with it

  18. Mark Needham

    Joseph. what’s your problem mate.
    Explain, what it is, that is untrue in my post.

    Oh, I was being ‘narky’, yes., sorry ’bout that.

    Give me a good kick up the ‘brain bum’ and educate me, about the History, of the Australian Indigenous People, with a 65,000 year old capital haitch.

    Why do people try to beat up a storm, about our Aboriginal People. It is like there is a big chip on their shoulder, and stuff has to be idealised, to promote how bloody clever they were.
    Leave the poor bloody Aboriginal alone. They have nothing to prove. They need to prove nothing.

    Stop trying to rule their lives and history, for them. They can do, or not do, what they bloody well like.

    Mark Needham

    PS. Joe, Stick to the subject. Your sidelining, does the conversation, no good at all. Take him easy, Hey!

  19. Joseph Carli

    Jack..I’ll give you respect because you have given some consideration to what I would call: “The appearance of inevitability of circumstance”…however I have to disagree that there was an inevitability of what came to pass and the implied “inevitability of what will proceed” from that circumstance.

    What we have to be careful about is the “sell” form those rent-seekers who have not the best interests of the nation at heart, that what has happened , has happened and we must “move on ” to the next phase or die.. The “next phase” being just more of the same…: cannibalising our own backyard.
    We already have a succinct history from Tacitus warning us of what follows with such “leadership” (read ) A short pause in the time-line of destruction of our environment to have a re-assessment of our priorities and a re-examination of the environmental history of this nation using the indigenous records, would not, I suspect, be a wasted moment..
    And if we can apply your own theory of : ” The separate indigenous groups survived as long as they did due to its remote location.” , then perhaps that “history” of colonial “discovery” has only survived as long as it has due to its un-challenged inscriptions, and now its time to relinquish its hold on our history is also come.

  20. Joseph Carli

    So what was the point of being “narky” and smart-arse and then expecting no come-back?..if you knew you were being “difficult” why do it?…Why not come-back with a rational argument that gets your point across..your point evidently being the outrageous statement that the indigenous peoples didn’t do anything to advance their situation except “burny sticks etc”…if you can’t put up a rational discussion, but only sink the boot in, you can expect a kick up the bum!

  21. townsvilleblog

    We have been taught in schools for over 100 years that Cook discovered Australia so history has to be rewritten but this time factually, instead of the British version, including the massacre’s of Aboriginal Australians.

  22. Joseph Carli

    And, Mark…as for the indigenous peoples not “advancing” themselves in what you imply as “civilising ala western style” ..those most expensive and most sought after locations up and down the East Coast are in most cases the exact places that the indigenous peoples set up their camps and relaxed themselves…the same here in SA..along the Murray River or the best spots on the Peninsula…We didn’t “discover” these places , it was more of an : “Oh yeah!..of course” moment when realising those indigenous campers knew what they were doing.

    “aw I get it!”

  23. diannaart

    History… my sister is 6 years younger than I and to hear us talk, one would think we are from different families and we are hardly unusual at all. Therefore, if history is a malleable subject within families, how to ensure truth in history? Perhaps, the best we can do is accept that history needs to be considered as always in a state of change as we develop greater understanding and as new information comes to light.

    History – set in concrete? or statues? – not bloody likely.

  24. Joseph Carli

    AND, dammit all to have to go on about it and THIS being an enlightened, left-wing blog..there were numerous fresh-water springs from the granite hills that the indigenous peoples used along the foot of the eastern side of the Mt Lofty ranges near where I live which the early settlers used, set winches and pumps to and which are now dry, saline and useless and the farmers have to cart water from the Murray -Moculta pipeline..THIS is the moment to pause and go back to the histories of what was known by the indigenous peoples and told to the early settlers to try and revitalise the environment.
    We don’t need to celebrate European discovery, we need more to educate ourselves on indigenous local knowledge.

  25. bobrafto

    Whatevva!…But you see; bobrafto..that in itself is not true..Cook was on a voyage to record the transit of Venus…the “discovery” bit was a covert instruction from the imperial govt’ to “suss out” the known and partially mapped coast of “New Holland”…a land mass known from the 16th century

    Yes and Cook saw it for the first time.

  26. bobrafto

    And what do say about moving Australia day to the date the indigenous folk were given the right to vote?

  27. Joseph Carli

    ” And what do say about moving Australia day to the date the indigenous folk were given the right to vote?” sounds like an excellent idea to promote…what do others think?

  28. Jack

    History is always written from somebodies slanted viewpoint, even if there are facts involved. Don’t let them get in the way of a good story, like the one about that Jesus bloke.

  29. Johno

    Land degradation, extinctions and pollution are pretty much all the whiteman has given to the wide brown land. The aboriginals were way better caretakers of Oz.

  30. diannaart


    ” And what do say about moving Australia day to the date the indigenous folk were given the right to vote?” sounds like an excellent idea to promote…what do others think?

    I repeat, ask the First Nation people what day they prefer.

  31. Jack

    Maybe the aboriginals weren’t such good caretakers.
    Australia didn’t always used to be a wide brown land, maybe they altered it or was it climate change?

  32. helvityni

    Jack, talking about a slanted viewpoint of history, Dave Barry (who? ) says : ‘After you’ve heard two eyewitness accounts of an accident, it makes you wonder about history,’

  33. Johno

    Jack, The aborigines have been here 65,000 years or so and it has only taken the white fella 200 years to mess this place up. To me it is a no brainer who is/was the better caretaker.

  34. jimhaz

    [Australia didn’t always used to be a wide brown land, maybe they altered it or was it climate change?]

    There is a suggestion that they did in NW Aust.

    “The results of the experiment lead us to suggest that by burning forests in northwestern Australia, Aboriginals altered the local climate. They effectively extended the dry season and delayed the start of the monsoon season”

    I find much of the white blaming to be ludicrous – if it was not us, within 50 years it would have been someone else. Perhaps they would have been luckier if say the invaders were French or some other country that declined in power before the Brits did.

  35. Vicki Cox

    When I was at school we sat under a picture of some old woman with a tiara on and sang a song about some dick wanting to save the queen, we got out our history books and were told how wonderful the british empire was, the names of all the American presidents and sprinkled in was a list of the famous bush Rangers. We were led to believe all sorts of crap just like this Liberal government , thank god for The internet ,SBS and this wonderful website. There should be a treaty day for our first people’s that looked after this beloved land for over 65,000 year’s they should decide in all aspects of governing this land, steeŕing it to a better sustainable future not digging it up and killing all the native wild life.

  36. Will

    Well them ‘real’ locals didn’t ever see fit to use the ‘black’ rock to blow off a heap of nuke bombs to despoil and poison the land for next to forever.

  37. Mark Needham

    ” the outrageous statement that the indigenous peoples didn’t do anything to advance their situation except “burny sticks etc””

    OK. Now tell me what they did, Joe. I know you are champing at the bit, to tell me.

    After, you have told me, I shall then reply, “It does not bloody matter what they did”.
    That is what I was trying to say. Leave it all alone. Does it really matter that Incas did this, your mob, Romans??, did someone else, who bloody cares what was achieved or not.
    There are markers, put up to represent “stuff that has happened”. Sometimes the “stuff” annoys me also, but it “DOES NOT BLOODY MATTER”
    Happy now, you got me screaming. ( Capitals no less)

    Cheers Joe,
    Mark Needham

  38. Joseph Carli

    Jimhaz..I thought you were going to write us some epistle of worth while substance…wassamatter, the Staedler 4b got your tongue?’s not “white blaming” at all, itg’s the bullshit “born to rule” whiteys who do not represent the majority of us other whites we are blaming…whose side are YOU on?

  39. Michael Taylor

    Me thinks there are a few people here who have no idea about the Aboriginal occupation of Australia, so just take wild guesses.

    I’ll return at a later time to help in their education.

  40. Joseph Carli

    Mark Needham.. : ” OK. Now tell me what they did, Joe. I know you are champing at the bit, do tell me.”

    Oh, you’re too easy, Markee boy…too easy…..I’ll tell what they did better than anyone else who came here..:

    It would appear if we look to the social contract they made with the environment, their tribal governance and genetic knowledge, oral story-telling, songs and musical instruments, and cultural memory, corroborees, the rock-art, their tools and devices for collecting and cooking..that uniformly all over the nation, most probably through an exchange of technical and social information, and more..They perfected a system of non-intrusive (any more than any other native species) existence that would ensure eternal survival (as much as nature survived at all) and preservation of both their ethnic group and species for as long as the earth could last…and if YOU can think that is a lesser achievement than the latest “self-driving Ferrari” , then “poor fellah” you.

    Now YOU tell me, Mark, if never, at any time you have gone crabbing, and with a couple of mates have sat on an isolated beach somewhere on a camping holiday, around a rock encompassed fire of drift-wood and tinder, with a dented pot of simmering blue-crabs cooking up just nicely..and that 6th tin of Tooheys clutched in one hand and a twig poking the coals of the fire in the other, the reflecting flames washing over your face with its warming glow and likewise your now glowing eyes and with a concern of not sounding too “soppy like a gurl” in your voice, you stammer out to your mates alike around the late-night fire with mutual admission..:

    “Y’know…I reck’….I reckon it doesn’t..get much better than this “.

    Then..then you will have just, JUST, an inkling of what we (as a human species) have lost.

  41. Freetasman

    People are very generous in the way that they describe Cook.
    IMHO we was a pirate with royal license to get more wealth to the royals back home in the same way that were the other “explorers” that went to “the new world”
    The damage that they have done together with the priests that went with them to “bless” their crimes or clear their conscience continues today.

  42. Nearly Normal Frederick

    Of course the his-story wars are not only confined to Australia. They are raging big-time in the USA and elsewhere too
    And of course all “official” his-stories are constructed according to the golden rule – those that have the most gold get to write the “official” his-story. “Official” his-stories are also created by or an extension of the dictum -power grows out of the barrel of a gun, or in earlier times via the business end of a sword.
    Meanwhile this site provides some useful parameters (etc) for engaging the his-story wars.

  43. wam

    surely he was a friend of sarich or jo bjelke’s water mate, truly they were historical or will be if it is in anyone’s interest to make it so.
    When I was a young high school teacher(early60s enfield) I saw two old black and white films that reformed my ideas of reality, truth and history. They were rashomon and kapo. The former showed truth to be interpretations of a flexible combination of stimuli and the latter showed the brutality of survival.
    The post shows how together these films can form beliefs that in turn become history.that in recordings become histories that in survival becomes history.
    My irrational fear is born of ignorance:
    when I search ‘history’ there is an instant 4 billion results with wikipedia prominent always there I do not trust wikipedia. google or facebook or any business that operates under an anonymous company name!

  44. paul walter

    Good to see Cicero getting a run. Read his own times spectacularly well.

  45. Joseph Carli

    Didn’t lose HIS head over the mores….Oh wait…

  46. paul walter

    Fairly direct mob, back then.

  47. Mark Needham

    And they are still doing it!

    Does it matter?
    Mark Needham

  48. Joseph Carli

    You wrote:
    ” And they are still doing it!
    Does it matter?”

    Mark…Whether you think it clever mockery or clever snide to reply to my above post with no more than a two line comment that reflects at the same time both a positive and a negative point of view, I will not judge. What I will observe is that your original post that so enraged me with its stark cynicism and scorn is the common ground shared with many of those who feel they are in such a privileged position within their own society that they can “step away” from the situation they observe and readily scorn those poor souls they stand aloof from and make banal observations about.
    Not for yourself, obviously ( and that other “spoonbill” who posts here regularly with the Cuban name and borrowed wit and gravitar), is there need or mood to “walk that mile in their shoes” nor absorb the lines of that most worthy poem of John Donne of “No man being an island”…better to play the safe game of mock and cynic rather than give original thought and be a part of the solution..
    And as for your throwaway comment above on the , I presume, cultural practices of the indigenous peoples and their, AND our, stolen freedoms sacrificed to the beast of right-wing economic rationalist “civilisation”?..NO, we/they are not all doing IT as IT once was, and : if one reads the statistics of self-harm amongst the indigenous citizens and the young and vulnerable of our side of the citizen body…YES! does matter!
    I suggest you lift your game .

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