The Guardian October 1, 2003

Demagogues on the denial bandwagon

by Jo Dunleavy

A recent article in the Australian newspaper by its foreign editor 
Greg Sheridan was yet another to be hauled onto the denial bandwagon 
currently doing the rounds. The denial  basically a history re-write by 
right-wing demagogues  is that the genocide of Indigenous Australians by 
the white ruling powers never took place.

Mr Sheridan goes on about a "genocide debate", accusing those who raise it 
of "emotional manipulative use of so exaggerated a term as genocide". He 
dismisses it as a "jargon word" and even warns: "Once you use a term such 
as genocide, you inspire manic extremism in your supporters".

This claims Mr Sheridan, threatens "one of the finest features of 
Australia's political culture" i.e. "its resolute calmness". And so on.

There are any number of ways to pull this lying propaganda to pieces. As a 
contribution I offer the following poem by Mary Gilmore, one of Australia's 
most calm and resolute political activists.

Mary Jean Cameron (1864-1962) was born at Cotta Walla near Goulburn, New 
South Wales, and was a school teacher before she joined William Lane's New 
Australia experiment in Paraguay. In Paraguay she married William Gilmore 
in 1897.

They returned to Australia in 1902 and settled on a farm near Casterton in 
western Victoria. In 1908 she began to edit the Women's Page of the Sydney 
Worker, which she continued to do until 1931. In 1912, her husband joined 
his brother on the land in north Queensland, and she and her son moved back 
to Sydney.

Her life span of nearly a century joined pioneering Australia to the modern 
Commonwealth, just as her verse projects some of the basic elements of the 
Australian ethos into 20th century literature. In 1937 she was made a Dame 
of the British Empire for her services to Australian literature.

Mary Gilmore is one of two Australian writers (AB Paterson is the other) 
featured on the 1993 ten-dollar note.

The Hunter of the Black*

by Mary Gilmore

Softly footed as a myall, silently he walked,
All the methods of his calling learned from men he stalked;
Tall he was, and deeply chested, eagle-eyed and still,
Every muscle in his body subject to his will.

Dark and swarthy was his colour; somewhere Hampshire born;
Knew no pity for the hunted  weakness all his scorn;
Asked no friendship, shunned no meetings, took what life might bring;
Came and went among his fellows something like a king.

Paid each debt with strict exactness, what the debt might be;
Called no man employed him master; master's equal, he;
Yet there was not one who sought him, none who held his hand,
Never father, calling, bid him join the family band.

Tales and tales were told about him, how, from dawn till dark,
Noiselessly he trailed his quarry, never missed a mark,
How the twigs beneath his footstep "moved but never broke",
How the very fires he kindled "never made a smoke".

Men would tell, with puzzled wonder marked on voice and brow,
How he'd stand a moment talking, leave, and none knew how;
"He was there! b&" and then had vanished, going as he came,
Like a passing of a shadow, like a falling flame.

Once (I heard it when it happened) word was sent, to him,
Of a lone black on Mamoosa  O, the hunting grim!
Through three days and nights he tracked him, never asking sleep;
Shot, for him who stole the country, him who killed a sheep.

Tomahawk in belt, as only adult needed shot,
No man knew how many notches totalled up his lot;
But old stockman striking tallies, rough and ready made,
Reckoned on at least a thousand, naming camps decayed.

Time passed on, and years forgotten whitened with the dust;
He whose hands were red with slaughter sat among the just,
Kissed the children of his children, honoured in his place,
Turned and laid him down in quiet, asking God His grace.

* * *
*Called those days a sharp-shooter; today he would be a sniper. I remember the man well. I met one of his daughters lately, but did not mention that I had known her father or knew what he had been. He had a large family and many grandchildren, and as a paid killer of the black, he was but one of many.

Back to index page