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Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One's Land Hardcover – 24 May 2007
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"The most original work on Australia and its treatment of Aboriginals I have ever read . . . a marvelous book." —Phillip Knightley, author of Australia: A Biography of a Nation
"Lindqvist is a provocative guide through the intractable shame of the past." —The Guardian
About the Author
Sven Lindqvist has published more than thirty books, including “Exterminate All the Brutes”, The Skull Measurer’s Mistake, A History of Bombing, and Terra Nullius (all published by The New Press). He holds a PhD in the history of literature from Stockholm University, an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University, and an honorary professorship from the Swedish government. He lives in Stockholm.
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Lindqvist accounts for how the white European settlement of Australia in turn resulted in the wholesale systematic dispossession of the indigenous aboriginal peoples. Of course it doesn't end there - not only were their lands and waters stolen but there was a conscious attempt to actually exterminate them altogether. Citing countless and varied sources he demonstrates how this peaked in the 1930s - one exponent even calls it 'the final solution' - and would even continue in many aspects well into the post-WW2 era.
Families are seperated, children interned in labour camps, boys made to pearl-dive, girls sent away as maids (often to repeated sexual & physical abuse), mothers would have their babies taken away, and the men would be utterly disenfranchised and often arrested, rounded-up, beaten, disappeared, and even shot. Time after time the authorities would turn a blind eye or even encourage these acts. The prison islands for supposed carriers of STDs were little more than concentration camps for the thousands...
Towards its end, Lindkvist's book explores how through art the persecuted peoples have made a sort of breakthrough into modern Australian identity and consciousness. The subject of restitution is an ongoing one and has clearly become a hot political issue in 21st century Australia.
As others will doubtless echo - all Australians should read this book, but it isn't a story unique to that country alone. We should all look at our own countries and ask ourselves did this happen here? Did we do it over there? Are we still responsible for it happening?
In the form of a travelogue, this book provides a widely sweeping yet detailed account of the appropriation of Australia and the disregard and contempt of the invaders for the indigenous population, their customs, or their right to life. In graphic detail it recounts how the last of the surviving Tasmanians were rounded up and herded together before being mass slaughtered, thus effecting their total extermination by their civilised, Christian European invaders who wanted their lands.
As well as this detailed history of the theft of Australia, the author gives a vivid panoramic view of the geography of Australia and the lifestyle of its European settlers.
How Australia was built on the backs of its indigenous people. A shocking account, stark, original and humane.
Lindqvist doesn't waste a word or a moment of your time as he transforms your outlook and scorches the facts into your imagination.
A remarkable historian who thinks with feeling.
Like many of his earlier books it is written as part history and part journal. He chronicles events from the past, key places in this history story, and side by side with that is his journey to and fro across the Australian countryside to personally experience the places discussed in the history. He writes in a very fluid, lucid style. At times it appears to be stream of conscious writing, yet as the reader goes further and further into the book, you realize that it was nothing so random. Every history event portrayed has a specific purpose; each personal recollection brings to light either the preceding or following events; each portrait of either a victim or someone who attempted to help the victims has specific meaning and purpose to the whole.
What amazed me most about this book was that it was a story with which I was completely unfamiliar. I remember in school in the late 70's and early 80's that we often had lessons on apartheid and the situation in South Africa, and even Africa as a whole. Later in high school and into university I often encountered history around the Latin American situation and especially liberation theology, and again in film with such powerful movies as The Mission, Cry Freedom, Amistad and others. Yet never have I encountered these stories and events. Such as:
1911 In the Northern Territory, The Aboriginals Ordinance gives a protector appointed by the 'whites' authority to take any Aborigine of 'half-blood' into custody at any time. The ordinance remained in force until 1957.
1937 The Native Administration Act gives Chief Protector legal instruments with which to 'breed out' the Aborigines, the 'final solution' to the race problem in Western Australia.
1953 The Welfare Ordinance (NT) substitutes the racially neutral word 'ward' for 'Aborigine'. More than 99 percent of the Aboriginal population is declared 'wards' of the state.
1962 Aboriginal people acquire the right to vote in state and commonwealth elections, even though they are still wards of the state.
1964 Aboriginal people are no longer wards of the state, but in name only.
1967 Aboriginal people are included in the national census.
1983 Sixteen Year old John Pat dies in police custody; 5 officers are charged but acquitted.
1991 The Year of Indigenous People.
Lindqvist's book portrays brutal acts by individuals and by a people as a whole. It is not uplifting or enjoyable in the message it portrays. Yet it should be considered essential reading, for man's inhumanity to other humans must be remembered, and we need to remember those few who spoke out against it. Lindqvist's book is easy to read and flows well, but the subject matter and events depicted will be seared into your memory.
(First Published in Imprint 2009-06-26.)
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