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‘Heal Country’ theme of NAIDOC Week 2021 – and getting at the truth of Murdering Point

Euahlayi man and ANU PhD candidate Bhiamie Williamson rounds off NAIDOC Week with a reflection in The Conversation on this year’s NAIDOC theme, Heal Country:

Heal Country forces us to see these events [Juukan Gorge, mine pollution in Northern Territory] not in isolation, but in a chain of disasters that continue to impact and threaten Indigenous peoples. It invites people to see the land and water through our eyes and understand that although we didn’t produce these problems, we suffer from them.

Heal Country seeks reflection, for all Australians to ask themselves what they treasure about being from, and living on, this land.

If, like us, you find peace, pride and enjoyment from our natural values — our beaches, mountains, rivers, wetlands, forests, deserts and more — then perhaps it’s time to get off the bench and become an advocate for change.

Williamson has some practical suggestions as to how people can make a difference.

Juukan Gorge 2013 and 2020 (BBC/AFP)

Making a difference also in Far North Queensland is veteran historian, Timothy Bottoms, who has looked again at the story of Murdering Point, about an incident following a shipwreck near Innisfail in 1878. There have been hints – and sometimes more than that – that the local Indigenous people cannibalised the remains of two survivors.

Bottoms’ recent research, using sources from not long after the Murdering Point incident, examines why accusations of cannibalism became a common trope in White understanding of Black culture. Here’s a key paragraph (page 4; we have made a minor edit for clarity):

During my historical research and writing over the last 30 years I could not find any primary source documents that actually witnessed cannibalism. What I did find was that the Rainforest Bama practised ritualistic, but not gustatory cannibalism. The white intruders needed to have an excuse for their own barbaric behaviour to lay at the
Indigenous people’s door – the trouble is that we do not have any primary source
documents that support this historical impression of outright cannibalism. You will
notice in the primary sources, where claims of “cannibalism” are made, it is nearly always
third hand; no one actually witnesses the act of a cannibalistic feast. If you wanted to take
the land, the Indigenous people had to be portrayed as less than human. All this was to
prejudice settlers against the traditional owners, by the promulgation by Europeans of “cannibalism”, which helped to justify the great land theft.

Timothy Bottoms is the author of a number of articles and books on North Queensland and Indigenous history. Use our Search engine with term ‘Bottoms’, but note particularly the pdf linked from this post. The pdf is a revision of parts of Bottoms’ 2013 book, Conspiracy of Silence: Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times.

Murdering Point (Kurrimine Beach) (Murdering Point Winery)

Meanwhile, Honest History has raided the vault for some other NAIDOC-related posts from earlier years:

Finally, the Honest History First Peoples special subject tracked relevant source material, 2013-17, and is still worth a look.

David Stephens

10 July 2021

Honest History has come to you for nearly eight years from Ngunawal Country (Kambri) and, more recently, Woiworung Country (Naarm). AIATSIS map of Indigenous AustraliaABC story.