McGrath, Ann: Secrets of nation

McGrath, Ann

Secrets of nation‘, Inside Story, 15 July 2016

By the 1960s, when I was growing up there, Queensland had become skilled at burying the Aboriginal past, and Queenslanders spoke about its traces in hushed tones. As a child, I wondered why. I recall a particular day when my grandfather Joe whispered that some of his neighbours had a “touch of the tarbrush.” “What does that mean?” I had no clue.

Ann McGrath’s book, Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia was launched recently. The book looks at ‘how Australia’s buried secrets compared with stories from the earlier frontiers of the United States’. The stories differed but they had “illicit love” in common. The book looks at intermarriage restrictions, forced removals, the treatment of the children of inter-racial unions, racial segregation policies, and so on. And yet …

The favoured historical tome of the day, Gordon Greenwood’s Australia: A Social and Political History (1955 and with many updated editions), had 445 pages and thirty-seven illustrations, but no room at all for Aboriginal people. The notion that any Aboriginal people lived nearby did not fit the national imagination.

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