‘This storied land‘, The Monthly, February 2017
An essay riffing off Mark McKenna’s book, From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories, which tells four stories of encounters between Indigenous and settler Australians. Bongiorno divides histories of Australia into pre- and post-Mabo, pre-Mabo being, among other things, ‘populist, patriotic and masculinist’, and post-Mabo, including McKenna’s book, being ‘ethnographic, cross-cultural and multi-perspectival’. Bongiorno extends this analysis in considering McKenna’s four stories, of Preservation Island 1797, Port Essington 1838, the Pilbara, and Cooktown. They are all places on the coast, and that is significant.
From the Edge reminds us [concludes Bongiorno] of the many ways in which the colonial past is not really past; for even the resources industry – that great symbol of Australian modernity and source of prosperity – is founded on a measure of complacency about the culture and heritage of Indigenous Australians.
Both Frank Bongiorno and Mark McKenna are distinguished supporters of Honest History and both have chapters in The Honest History Book, to be published in April by NewSouth. The Honest History Book also includes chapters by Indigenous academic Larissa Behrendt and Guardian Australia journalist Paul Daley on aspects of Indigenous-settler contact. The final paragraph of The Honest History Book runs thus:
Most of all, upsizing our non-khaki side [the side of our Australian history that is not about Diggers and Anzac and young men dying in foreign fields] means facing up to what Larissa Behrendt calls ‘the invasion moment’, for ‘until we do that we will never have found a way to truly share this colonised country’. That invasion of 1788 and its consequences deserve far more of our attention today than do the failed invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and our military ventures since. ‘Not only Anzac but also’ is shorthand for a complex history that deserves exploration, understanding, commemoration and even, sometimes, celebration. Australia is more than Anzac – and always has been.