The Frontier Mentality Lives On

"Violence of this kind has been used to suppress and control this land and our people for the last 200 years. Such a violent backlash shows just how threatening our assertion of sovereignty is to some in the timber industry. We will not be intimidated." Robbie Thorpe, Krauatungalung elder

Following the recent violence there has been much questioning of why this occurs? These actions appear to grow out of the frustration of the present situation but are also more fundamentally linked to the culture in East Gippsland.

East Gippsland is economically depressed. The logging industry is shedding jobs and a successful PR campaign by the industry lead many locals to believe that "greens cost jobs" and hence the decline of the logging dependent towns in the area. The greenies have become the local scapegoat for all that is wrong in the lives of logging workers. With successive government's failure to fix the situation and provide a realistic restructuring package, the situation has reached a flashpoint.

There is also a much deeper cultural problem. Prior to the Goolengook attack indigenous representatives had called for an end to old growth logging. They informed loggers and the DNRE that logging operations contravene customary law on Bidawal and Krauatungalung land. This action asserted the fact that this land is Aboriginal land, sovereignty has never been ceded, a treaty has never been signed. The violence was very much a reaction to this and is a strong reminder of the local history of this area.

The white's came looking for 'new' land in the 1830s. "As soon as the cattle were brought down from the Monaro in October 1840, the Kurnai warriors moved in, speared cattle, plundered the stores and sent the stockmen packing to Ensay." (Gardner, 13) It was clear from the very beginning that the local indigenous people did not condone the theft of their land. Conflict over stock continued as the Gunai trying to protect their lands, the ecology and food supply, killed an estimated 150 cattle annually. (Tyers 1849-57) The whites concluded that the "only effectual remedy was the gun." (Dunderdale 1898) The white settlers formed posses and massacred the local tribes. In 20 years the population was reduced from an estimated 2,500-3,000 members of Gunai tribes to just 222 individuals.(Gardner, 12)

As stated by Krauatungalung elder, Robbie Thorpe after the Goolengook attack, "violence of this kind has been used to suppress and control this land and our people for the last 200 years. Such a violent backlash shows just how threatening our assertion of sovereignty is to some in the timber industry. We will not be intimidated."

When reading about the massacres that happened in this area one gets a horrific picture of the frontier mentality. Settlers came to exploit the land at any cost. The frightening reality is that that frontier mentality still exists out here. A violent mob, or posse, going out to attack a camp of people is all too reminiscent of the 1840s. The violence was always about the access to the land - and it still is today. The logging community, with encouragement from State and Industry, feel that it is 'their' forests to plunder and react violently to anyone trying to protect the land.

As they did back then, the State sanctions the violence by their inaction and is also a perpetrator of the violence. The theft and destruction of Aboriginal land continues with both State and Federal Government approval, subsidy, and enforcement not just here on Bidawal and Krauatungalung land, but also on Arabunna land (Roxby Downs Uranium mine and proposed nuclear waste dump), on Mirrar land (Ranger and the proposed Jabiluka mine) and many other places.

At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are marching for reconciliation it seems strange that Aboriginal people and their supporters standing up for the needs of the land face such violence. This violence is a cultural problem for Australia, the invasion with all of its ugly brutality is a history that Australia as a society is yet to acknowledge. Without that acknowledgement the frontier mentality lives on.

Michelle van Gerrevink

References -
Bruce Elder, Blood on the Wattle, 1998.
P.D. Gardner, Gippsland Massacres, Ngarak Press 1993
Dunderdale, Book of the Bush, Ward Lock & Co, 1898
Tyers, Letters 1849-57, State Library of Victoria.

Protesters attacked by Military Police at Beverly

The same kind of frontier mentality also seems to be running strong in the desert.

Recently a Adnyamanthana elder, his 11 year old granddaughter along with supporters were attacked by police while protesting against the proposed In Situ Leach (ISL) uranium mine at Beverley. According to an eyewitness, "Helen walked with her grandfather onto her traditional land (and sacred site) at Beverley,(occupied and being desecrated by Heathgate), with about 100 of us ‘concerned individuals’ in a peaceful protest. She with the rest of the group got mace sprayed and beaten by the police and STAR force military police.

All the 31 people arrested that day suffered major human rights violations. For example they were held in an air tight shipping container (presumably for moving yellow cake) which was being welded on the outside so it filled up with toxic fumes and smoke. The channel 7 TV cameraman who was beaten up and semi strangled and was in the container said that he feared for his life. That evening all but two were released without charge!"

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