Daley, Paul: Colonial Australia’s foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery

Paul Daley

Colonial Australia’s foundation is stained with the profits of British slavery‘, Guardian Australia, 21 September 2018

Riffs off recently published book, Island Off the Coast of Asia: Instruments of Statecraft in Australian Foreign Policy, by Clinton Fernandes. Fernandes uses British slave ownership records to show how ‘some of the scions of colonial society established themselves in Australia with wealth earned through slavery and official compensation for the loss of income from it when the British government eventually abolished the trade in dark-skinned humans’. Fernandes finds that economic rationalism, as well as humanitarianism, motivated slavery abolitionists.

Fernandes – and Daley, who has worked in this area previously – find that the Australian Dictionary of Biography tends to gloss over slavery-related and other unpalatable aspects of the stories of some of its subjects. ‘So much Australian history has, like the continent, been subject to colonisation [says Daley] – a glossing over of salient and unpalatable fact that tells the true story of British invasion, Indigenous dispossession, frontier murder and war, and pastoral expansion.’

Daley notes that the ADB is working on the problem:

The ADB has already embarked on a significant undertaking to, in the words of some historians, “decolonise” and upgrade parts of the dictionary. Critical to this is the forthcoming Australian Research Council-funded Indigenous biography volume. The decolonisation process will involve, among other things, amending – or perhaps replacing – some of the earlier and notably incomplete entries, now online, so that they include previously omitted accounts of, for example, massacres of Indigenous people. I’ll be writing more about this critical, resources-intensive task in the near future.


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