Media, Personal and Academic Reviews of Patrick Collins’ 'Goodbye Bussamarai: the Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1952', UQP, Brisbane 2002.
Since 'Goodbye Bussamarai' was released by UQP in March 2002 it has been well received throughout Australia by both academic and media critics. The pages below include the most significant reviews up to the end of 2002. In some instances, Patrick Collins has commented on statements made in some of the reviews. Click here for Reviews for 2003. Patrick Collins has also added a five page paper that expands on his published conclusion that Bussamarai, a powerful Mandandanji military leader, was also known as Possum Murray, Eaglehawk, Old Billy, Billy and Combo. Click here for this paper.
On 06.12.2002, the Centre for Australian Cultural Studies (CACS), Canberra, awarded the "Special Mention" certificate below to Patrick Collins for Goodbye Bussamarai. Patrick thanks the director, Dr David Headon, and all members of the judging committee who were involved in making this award. Patrick also thanks those who compiled the reviews that follow the certificate. Without them, Goodbye Bussamarai would have been a non-event.
'Goodbye Bussamarai' from The Age (Melbourne) March 30, 2002.
By Cameron Woodhead.
The following appeared beside a small colour copy of the cover from 'Goodbye Bussamarai'.
“It is a terrible platitude – but most of us can name more Native American tribes than Aboriginal ones. Aboriginal leaders who actively resisted white settlements, such as Bussamarai, remain strangers to history. Patrick Collins’ comprehensive history goes some way towards redressing the balance. He brings to life the violent struggle between pastoralists and the Mandandanji, documenting massacres that decimated the local indigenous population and eventually killed their most viable elder. This is an important book, not least because the realities of Australian frontier life are usually glossed over in schools.”
The text below was extracted from an article titled “Freedom fighter of the five nations”. 'Goodbye Bussamarai' was the first of many books mentioned. The headline above it appeared to relate to Bussamarai.
Edition 1, WED 01 MAY 2002, Page 031
Freedom fighter of the five nations
By Diane Carlyle, Nick Walker and David Dunstan
A monthly update of new scholarly books from Australian publishers by Diane Carlyle, Nick Walker and David Dunstan.
'Goodbye Bussamarai: the Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852', by Patrick Collins (University of Queensland Press, $34, pb).
AUSTRALIANS are still coming to terms with the extent of racial conflict and dispossession that occurred on the frontier, and historians' claims and counter-claims about the veracity of reported incidents of conflict, murder and dispossession. Patrick Collins's 'Goodbye Bussamarai' is the impressively detailed study of an Aboriginal resistance leader of southern Queensland whose influence of resistance spread across five Aboriginal nations.
Author’s note: This was the first media publicity received by 'Goodbye Bussmarai 'in Queensland. Coincidentally, Russell Kelly (a Mandandanji from Roma), while sitting in a waiting-room, read the article and then bought the book. His positive response resulted in he and other Indigenous Australians deciding to hold an annual or biennial event to honour Bussamarai’s life and to remember Aborigines who died during the frontier war. Surat is the likely venue.
Evaluation of 'Goodbye Bussamarai' by Kim Scott, The Book Bulletin, 28.05.02.
(The Book Bulletin is a section of The Bulletin magazine.)
The extract below is from an article titled “Between Black and White”, which appeared under the lead, “The history of the Australian Aborigine encompasses European Oppression and the struggle to preserve identity. Kim Scott sifts through nine new books about the cultural collision for words and hope”.
The complete article can be accessed via a Google search using the title 'Goodbye Bussamarai', about which Kim Scott wrote:
Collins advises us to not think "race, racism, racialism" but to look at frontier conflict as a form of "unethical and insidious competition". Better, he suggests, to identify the motivation of competitors and to focus on ruthless attacks and counter responses rather than categories of discrimination.
Think of Australia as the many-nationed continent it undoubtedly was, says Collins, and of frontier violence in terms of international conflict rather than colonial skirmishes.
'Goodbye Bussamarai' is a passionate and provocative book and I am grateful to be made aware of another indigenous hero, and intrigued by Collins' desire to unbuckle "mental straitjackets", and assist "liberation from the strictures of our past". As he reminds us, the stories of Australia's colonial history are not those of a multicultural society.
Extract from a Letter to the Editor of the Western Star Newspaper, 4.06.2002.
By Russell Kelly, 22 McEwan St, Roma.
Russell Kelly is a Mandandanji and perhaps a descendant of Bussamarai who was shot in 1852. Russell’s grandfather’s grandfather was Mar-Mero, born 1863. He was referred to by nineteenth century settlers as “King Jimmy of Wallumbilla”. Wallumbilla Creek was in Bussamarai’s homeland. It is therefore possible that Bussamarai was Mar-Mero’s grandfather, or at least a close relation.
“I have just finished reading a book of historical importance to all Australians, especially for all people in the Warrego, Maranoa and St George areas. The book is titled 'Good-bye Bussamarai'(pronounced Bussa-Murri): the Mandandanji Land War 1842-1852, author Patrick Collins Qld University Press 2002. If people read this book it would make us all more aware of who we are and where we came from, for “I belong, you belong, I am, you are, we are Australian.” Educating all our young people, would help stamp out any animosities, petty jealousies and make us all more aware of our histories and incorporate our past to unite all of us to be “Australians”.
Comment on 'Goodbye Bussamarai 'by R.W.H “Bob” Reece, 26.06.2002.
Professor Bob Reece is the author of 'Aborigines and Colonists: Aborigines and Colonial Society in New South Wales in the 1830’s and 1840’s', Sydney UP, Sydney 1974: a landmark book on frontier conflict in Australia. He is currently an Associate Professor at Murdoch University, Western Australia. On 26.02.02, he delivered a paper “Aboriginal-European Treaty Initiatives in Australian History”. This was during “A National Conference on Racism, Land and Reconciliation in a Global Context”, Murdoch University 26-28 June 2002.
The full text of Professor Reece’s paper is available on the Internet: http://www.treaty.murdoch.edu.au/index.html
The following is an extract from pp.5-6.
“However it is to Queensland from the early 1850’s that we must look for the best (or should I say the worst) evidence of frontier war. Documenting this in his masterly new book, 'Goodbye Bussamarai', Patrick Collins reconstructs the pastoral settlement of the Maranoa and other rivers of southern Queensland which drastically disrupted the lives of the Mandandanji people and plunged them into two or three years of bloody conflict – both with the pastoralists and with the European-led Native Police who were hired to protect European life and property by ‘dispersing’ any Mandandanji who appeared to be threatening it. In the middle of this terrible carnage it is interesting that on at least one recorded occasion the Mandandanji sued successfully for a truce (and possibly a negotiated accommodation) with the cattle men and the police.”
Review of 'Goodbye Bussamarai' by Dr Jack Bowers, JAS Review of Books, 1.08.02.
Jack Bowers is from the Australian Defence Forces Academy (ADFA), Australian National University. He reviewed 'Goodbye Bussamarai' in Issue 8, the August 2002 edition of the online JAS [Journal of Australian Studies] Review of Books, produced by the Australian Studies Centre at Curtin University, Western Australia. A colour copy of the cover was included.
The original review is available at: http://www.api-network.com/cgi-bin/reviews/jrbview.cgi?issue=8
Jack Bowers, ANU, ADFA, wrote:
The Mandandanji land war occurred across the land of the Barunggan, Mandandanji, Bigambul and Yiman peoples, about 300 kilometres west of Brisbane. From the first white explorations into the area, until a few months after the Yamboucal massacre, Patrick Collins sketches the historical, cultural and political complexities of a decade of what we still feel uncomfortable about calling war.
The title, though interesting, is a little misleading. Bussamarai (pronounced bussa-murray) was an influential Mandandanji warrior who led a coalition of different tribes against the white people. Collins asserts that the Aboriginal identities known in documents as Bussamarai, Old Man, Old Billy, Eaglehawk and Possum Murray are the same person, but the evidence is precarious. While I understand Collins' motives for the title, the book is about more than any one person. Goodbye Bussamarai is about the nature of the invasion and settlement of Australia, the competition for resources and diverse cultures failing to understand or respect the other's world view. Most importantly, it shows repeatedly the gap between legislation and administration, and the reality of racism. What Collins pieces together is a picture of the way in which forces conspired against the Aboriginal populations to compete successfully for the land. In carefully documenting the movements of the Native Police and the station owners, Collins shows clearly how the indigenous people, entitled to British rights under British law, were pushed from their land.
The Native Police — Aboriginal people brought in from far away — were used as cheap, silent and compromised vigilantes. Of course, this was not a new idea. As Collins points out, 'the “Roman method” of deploying citizens of occupied countries against fellow citizens, had been used by the English in India and Africa'. (p 47) In an unusually candid report, the leader of the Native Police, Commandant Frederick Walker, reported one of his early forays against the blacks:
The blacks at first took into the scrub but it being of small extent one party attempted to escape across the plain, when they were immediately driven back again by a detachment of the Police under Corporal Logan at the same instant on the other side two troopers drove back a large body who were attempting to escape on the side nearest the river.…I much regretted not having one hour more of daylight as I would have annihilated that lot. (p 61-2)
According to Walker, only a few Aborigines were killed in this affray, although other details suggest that it was considerably more. Walker was ultimately under the supervision of Governor Fitzroy, a man known to be sympathetic to the interests of squatters, and he in turn reported to Earl Grey, whose liberal sentiments were no more than lip service to British law. In drawing the details together, Collins shows that Walker had to tread a careful line:
Walker's constant dilemma was how he could continually engage in warlike activities and yet remain within the limits of British law. Of course he could not. The squatter politicians saved his skin and their own with their charade of not allowing Aborigines to give evidence. Senior public servants saved theirs by telling Walker to obey the law. To save his own skin, Walker watered down his written reports. The first annual report on the Native Police, which Governor Fitzroy dispatched to Earl Grey, was Walker's own diluted and sanitised summary of his activities up to 31 December 1849. All backs were protected except those of the Aborigines. (p 63)
We do not always know how many Aboriginal people were killed, or who they were, or by whom. But there is ample evidence that massacres did take place, that they were illegal under British law, and that officers of the Crown and white squatters frequently hid the truth. The massacres were brutal and systematic, and the intentions were genocidal; only the most myopic of revisionists could see otherwise.
Although the evidence of genocide is overwhelming, it is a relief not to find a tale of goodies and baddies. Books of this kind, built on the conventionally verifiable evidence of contemporary documents, inevitably focus on the actions of the colonisers. Brutality, kindness, opportunity, incompetence and self-interest are often difficult to disentangle in our own time; that the shades of grey remain unbleached here adds to the credibility of Collins' usually judicious observations.
Jack Bowers, ANU, ADFA
Author's Comments: (The JAS Website invites responses to reviews such as the above)
Thank you from the author.
Dear Jack Bowers, UQP forwarded a copy of your JAS review of my book "Goodbye Bussamarai" to me this morning. First let me say thank you for reading the text so closely, as you obviously did. It is not for me to sing my own praises but I spent seven years, full time, on the project and do appreciate your level of understanding of what I was trying to say. So far as your few qualified comments are concerned, I agree with them too. I have no doubts about "Old Man", "Billy" and "Eaglehawk" being the same person. However, I could not verify how Lang and Stafford (in "The Rifle and the Spear") linked this man's identity with "Possum Murray", ie Bussamarai. Intuitively I believe this to be so, as his dubious death coincided with the disappearance of Billy, aka etc, from the Balonne River, at a time when he had offended the establishment. Perhaps some bright young researcher will one day find the necessary linking document. Enough said. Thank you again for your time and effort. Pat Collins.
Patrick J Collins (28/08/2002)
Addendum to the above: by Pat Collins, 27.11.02.
My above response to Jack Bowers is slightly ambiguous. There is no doubt that the names Bussamarai, Possum Murray, Eaglehawk, Old Billy (and Combo) were used by various officials and writers to identify the same Aboriginal leader. The only significant issue is that a noted Queensland historian, Clem Lack and his co-author Harry Stafford, did not cite their sources of the names “Bussamarai” and “Possum Murray” in The Rifle and the Spear (1964). The death of “Possum Murray” was documented in Native Police correspondence from 1852. However, Lack and Stafford did not refer to this execution, which logically they would have, if they had known about it. They apparently located an earlier archival reference to “Possum Murray” from which they, presumably, reconstructed the name “Bussamarai”. The evidence for this, plus a discussion of this reconstruction and the meaning of “Bussamarai” is in a paper that follows this collection of reviews. It is titled “Bussamarai was also known as Possum Murray, Eaglehawk, Combo, Old Billy and perhaps other names”, by Patrick Collins, 26.11.02.
Koori-Mail (Perth) mini-review of 'Goodbye Bussamarai', 7.08.2002.
The following mini-review appeared beside a colour copy of the cover of 'Goodbye Bussamarai'. The full title of the book formed the caption:
“This book is the first-ever account of Bussamarai, an Aboriginal warrior, who led the southern Queensland clans in resisting white settlement. Like the legendary Pemuway, Yagan or Jandamara, he fought for the survival of his people, the Mandandanji of Southern Queensland.
As the author says in the Introduction: “The title reflects the 1852 summary execution of the Mandandanji’s most effective military leader. His passing signalled that the settlers had won; the Mandandanji had lost their land and a great deal more.
“The executioners were the NSW Government’s northern division of Native Police, Aboriginal troopers led by white officers. Officially the Native Police were a peacekeeping force that protected white settlers and Aborigines on the colonial frontiers. In reality the force served the economic ends of pastoral landlords, who preferred to be known as squatters."
Professor Raymond Evan’s Review of 'Goodbye Bussamarai', Ca, July 2000.
Professor Raymond Evans was an Associate-Professor of History at the University of Queensland when he reviewed the unpublished manuscript of Goodbye Bussamarai for the Publications Committee of the University of Queensland Press (UQP). It was the Committee’s subsequent “unanimous decision” to offer Collins publication of the text.
Professor Evans is one of a small group of writers who were figural in placing conflict history, together with associated prejudice and discrimination, before the Australian public. His major works include: Race Relations in Colonial Queensland (co-authored by Kay Saunders and Kathryn Cronin), UQP 1975/1988/1993; 1901: Our Future’s Past (co-authored by Clive Moore, Kay Saunders and Bryan Jamison; and Fighting Words, UQP 1999.
Professor Evan’s review of Goodbye Bussamarai stated:
Patrick James COLLINS `Goodbye Bussamarai: The Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland, 1842-1852'.
This manuscript represents a tour de force in both research and historical reconstruction. It fills what is virtually an empty space in our knowledge of Queensland frontier relations and, in scope and chronology, it operates as sequel to Roger Milliss's massive, awardwinning. Waterloo Creek. The Maranoa and Condamine districts - the lands of the Mandandanji and Kooma peoples - lie immediately to the North of the sites of massacre and warfare in Northern New South Wales in 1838: Myall Creek, Slaughterhouse Creek, Water1oo Creek and so on, the lands of the bloody illicit `bushwhacks' which decimated the Kamilaroi. Many of the landtakers who violently colonized that district then moved northward into what later became western territory of the colony of Queensland, replicating what Collins brands as 'incredible racial violence' in those districts (p. 14).
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for Australian history and society to know and own this story. In the present racial climate of denial and obfuscation, manuscripts like this one have the capacity to operate as juggernauts of truth and hopefully justice. While I was reading it I watched the SBS documentary, 'Whiteys Like Us' which reveals the incredible ignorance about our racial past with which Australians are presently struggling. The levels of myth and misinformation stand high and it is especially the hard-researched, fine grained analysis (such as this one) which does so much to educate, enlighten and inform.
Collins has done a remarkable job in bringing this frontier so graphically back to life in the light of concerted efforts to suppress such stories. As he shows, even colonial governments took a large hand in the task of suppression and it takes quite an effort of reconstructive ingenuity to piece the broken pieces of the puzzle back together again. Collins has managed this with remarkable persistence, a capacity to follow up on tiny clues and an understanding of motivation and reaction based not only upon an historical sensibility but also on a strong grasp of social psychology. I like his personal interpolations into the story and his use of psychology to speculate upon the effects of massacres on people, not simply to record that certain massacres actually occurred. Further; this book gives us another story of valiant though thwarted Aboriginal resistance and introduces Bussamarai as a resistance leader of the calibre of Dundalli, Jandamara or Walloa. Aboriginal people especially need these role models today.
One day feature films will be made of these amazing stories. In the meantime, the best thing a publisher can do is to make this knowledge permanent in print. There is a growing market for books of this kind as more and more white Australians confront prejudice and ‘white blindfold’ history. All around the world too, people are wanting to find out about what happened to the Australian Aborigines. Collins writes well and unfolds a compelling tale. I learned a lot from it. (One little caveat: on Chapter One, page 4 he refers to ‘Kay Cronin and Kathryn Saunders’ and on p. 15 to 'Evans, Cronin and Saunders'.)
Author’s note: To have received such a review from a historian of Professor Evan's standing was simply beyond my wildest dreams. Enough said..
Review of 'Goodbye Bussamarai 'by John Graham, in the Canberra Times, “Panorama” p.20, 22.06.2002
Heaps of Detail Cloud Crucial Story
'GOODBYE BUSSAMARAI; The Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland, 1842-1852'. By Patrick Collins. University of Queensland Press. 305pp. $34. Reviewer, JOHN GRAHAM.
The path of investigation into the colonial atrocities against Aborigines is well worn by now, but their application in particular areas and the significance of the events for individual communities have been relatively neglected. Patrick Collins's long-term investigation into their occurrence in the Maranoa district of south-cast Queensland in the 1840s and early 1850s is welcome for that aspect alone.
It is also unusual in that he is not a practising historian. His background in psychology and his reading of humanistic writers such as Simone de Beauvoir and Claude Steiner have given him what he calls "a passion for human liberation". The many primary sources he has tapped have translated that passion into a detailed account of the social circumstances that lay behind the rapid and uncontrolled expansion of white settlement and its consequences for the Aborigines.
We now know that era as the squatting age, but we still know little about the social impact of its uncontrolled expansion in areas in which governmental or social control was virtually non-existent. Collins shows quite conclusively that most of the squatters were concerned only with the economic benefits to be gained from taking sheep and cattle into the Aboriginal homeland, and cared nothing for those they ousted. He also shows that the major effect of the establishment of a native police force in the colony was not to establish law and order, but to protect the squatters in their determination to own the land on which, at least in the Initial phases, they had settled illegally.
The Aborigines lost, not only their land, but the sustenance it gave them, and their reaction was natural. They soon learned how to slaughter the introduced cattle and sheep and to confront the station hands who were, in many cases, the occupiers of the land rather than the squatters who claimed ownership.
How devastating were the consequences of this undeclared war? Collins is forced to rely largely on unofficial estimates for the answer to this question, but he shows that the white population was very small, reaching more than 110 only at the end of the 1050s but jumping to more than 1200 by the early 1860s. By that time their protective force, the Native Police, had jumped from 24 troopers in the early 1850s to three commissioned officers, three sergeants and 36 Aboriginal policemen for East Maranoa and the neighbouring lower Condamine.
There is no official record of the death rate of the Aborigines as a result of the activities of the settlers and troops. Collins puts it "possibly in the hundreds" in the 13 years to 1860. That is extremely high, given his estimate of a total local Aboriginal population of 600. His later estimate that diseases, opium and alcohol would have caused more devastation introduces an additional factor on which he does not elaborate.
What is clear is that the main function of they Native Police was to operate as a control mechanism in support of the squatters rather than as a means of annihilating the Aborigines, and that it was a successful strategy from the viewpoint of economic development. He reports one landholder estimating that the value of his land increased 500 per cent as a result of the police presence.
The title figure of his book, Bussamarai, was a tribal elder of the Mandandanji and a leader of his people's defence against the white invasion. He was also, by Collins's account, a gifted entertainer, who organised a corroboree aimed at frightening the settlers away from their confrontation with his tribe. He died in 1852 at the hands of the native police. Despite his assumed leadership role, Collins makes little effort to prove his influence. He remains, like some other characters in his complicated scenario, an unrealised character.
One who is realised is Paddy McEnroe, a former Irish convict who was a lone manager on a local cattle property and later became a squatter in the Maranoa District and a friend of the Mandandanji, and particularly its women. He taught the Aborigines English and the basics of agriculture and learned their language. Collins describes him as one who, "unlike the settlers who sought to destroy the lives of his Aboriginal friends, had little to gain from rejecting their culture". Paddy's "happy exile" with his Aboriginal friends is at least one of the factors behind Collins's concluding thought that the principal message of the Maranoa story is not in the conflict between white and black but in the images that can be shared between their descendants without rancour.
Considerable research effort has gone into this book, and the final note of moderation is one that may strike a chord with those who have worked directly with Aborigines. It also provides a welcome examination of the strategy of the squatters at the formation of their power structure, but in that process its major aim of describing the fate of the Mandandanji has been almost submerged under its mass of detail.
Author’s response to John Graham’s review.
This was a fair review of 'Goodbye Bussamarai'. In particular, I appreciated John Graham’s attention to the cruel economic function served by the Native Police on behalf of the squatters, at the expense of the Aborigines. So far as his reservations are concerned, I agree, there was a lot of detail in the text, this was to counter potential denial of reality, eg by Keith Windschuttle and others of like mind, especially some associated with Quadrant Magazine. It is also true that I did not attempt to develop the character of Bussamarai, whereas I did so with Paddy McEnroe. Living with my Irish Australian family and having an Irish migrant father, together with several visits to Ireland, gave me the confidence to do so with McEnroe, but not with Bussamarai. Also, many Indigenous Australians reject the notion that white people can adequately portray the characters of traditional Aborigines. Accordingly, I confined what I wrote about Bussamarai to that which could be verified from credible sources. Hopefully an Indigenous writer will one day attend to other details of his personality.
My major point of disagreement with John Graham is to do with the number of Aborigines who died in the Maranoa. The Mandandanji population was probably no more than about 600. However, if William Telfer Junior recorded the truth, many non-Mandandanji died in the Maranoa after they were recruited by the first white settlers to fight the Mandandanji, especially Ca 1848. Other sources verify that from around 1850, Aborigines from a number of tribes sought refuge in the Maranoa after being driven from the Macintyre, Darling Downs, Wide Bay, the Dawson and elsewhere. How many of these people died there from sickness and conflicts will never be known, but there are some credible records. Eg following the Hornet Bank massacre on the Dawson, white hunting parties entered the Maranoa while in pursuit of Jiman refugees. Once again, how many died during such pursuits can only be guessed at. These and related issues were discussed in 'Goodbye Bussamarai' but I guess some of it was lost in the detail.
Patrick Collins (26.11.2002).
Queensland Review Vol-9, No-1, 2002, published this review by Lorenzo Veracini.
Queensland Review, a biannual journal of Queensland studies, has been published by the Queensland Studies Centre at Griffith University, Nathan Campus, through the University of Queensland Press, since 1994. It publishes articles, interviews, commentaries, and addresses on Queensland history, politics and culture, and provides a unique space where academic and public discussion of Queensland's past, present and future are brought together. Queensland Review addresses the general as well as the academic reader.
Patrick Collins. 'Goodbye Bussamarai: The Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852'. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2002, 305 + xv pp. $34.00
This is an exceptionally good period for frontier history. After a decade of silence, the debate on the nature of frontier warfare, and especially its casualties, has recently witnessed a marked acceleration following Keith Windschuttle's 'revisionist' thesis originally published by Quadrant. Collins' book contributes meaningfully to this debate and epitomises also the longer process of historical recovery and presentation of evidence that has progressively filled the map with the many land wars of the Australian frontiers. More than twenty years after Henry Reynolds' The Other Side of the Frontier, this book fills yet another gap in the historiographical landscape and further supports the notion that there is no district in Australia that was not 'pacified' through the repression of Aboriginal insurgency that followed dispossession.
The ongoing process of redescription that has revolutionised Australian historiography originated in Queensland, and although scholarship from the southern states has been relatively slow to recognise the need for a more accurate knowledge of frontier relations, in recent years good quality local histories of Queensland regions have been rare. This successful book could stimulate a renewed interest in local histories dealing with the Aboriginal presence.
The book is extremely localised in its scope and focuses on a very limited period. It recounts the guerrilla insurgency waged by the Mandandanji local people and their allies, and presents a close narrative of the activities of the native police in the Maranoa district at a time in which local settlers were trying to exclude non-'station blacks' from access to their land. Bussamarai, then, joins the gallery of Aboriginal resistors of which Pemulwuy remains the most important literary archetype. He shares many of their characteristics and, even though his struggle is courageous and morally commendable, his fight is doomed and cast romantically against insurmountable odds. Nonetheless, and despite a tendency to present the protagonists of this narrative in a rather simplistic fashion, Collins' depiction of early frontier conditions is forceful.
However, the book is not flawless, and often the historical telling is conflated with its sources. Moreover, while 'Goodbye Bussamarai' is somewhat inclined to present a one-sided type of evidence (and fails to interpret Aboriginal agency in terms that are more attuned with the recent historiography on the subject) it relies almost exclusively on official and private documents without evaluating their reliability. The question of the interpretation of Aboriginal strategies is particularly felt in the case of this type of Aboriginal resistance, where resistors had a vested interest in leaving no trace behind and not being detected. Reading Collins' narrative one has the impression that the Aboriginal resistors were powerless and could only contribute their bravery to their struggle. Yet, in recapping the outcomes of Aboriginal defeat, the author somewhat ambiguously affirms - without explaining how - that, while it would be 'absurd to suggest that the Aborigines did not lose the frontier war, for clearly they did [nonetheless, some stations had been abandoned as a consequence of Aboriginal resistance] it is not true to say the Aborigines lost all subsequent competitions for land, status and determination' (p. 214).
Collins, a trained psychologist, defines reconciliation as an exercise in what he defines as 'historical honesty'. This he sees as an essential part of the recognition process that is a prerequisite to any positive step in building trust between different communities. In his endeavours as an historian he sees himself as practising a sort of relationship counselling, exposing the misdeeds and the illegal practices of the past in order to promote a better approach to Aboriginal issues. Yet, 'Goodbye Bussmarai' transcends in other ways the stringent borders of local history, because it appraises an exceptionally well-documented example of guerrilla warfare, and especially because it may provide a model for similar but less approachable confrontations.
In a context in which the very notion of genocidal practices on the Australian frontier is repeatedly brought into question, the fact that the historiography of the Australian frontiers is still insisting on retrieving evidence, dealing with its many conflicts, and estimating with great accuracy the figures of casualties is heartening. Since much of the 'negationism' that has been published in recent years is grounded on the absence of forensic-type evidence of frontier killings, 'Goodbye Bussamarai,' by displaying exceptionally organised documentary evidence, undoubtedly constitutes a sobering contribution.
This review by Lorenzo Veracini is very fair and, I believe, very insightful. However, I do have some concerns about Aboriginal “agency”, an issue that has been explored in great detail by others. It was my intention to contrast the effectiveness of Aboriginal resistance before and after the Mandandanji were subdued by a small number of ruthless white settlers, who were assisted by the Native Police after mid-1849. Accordingly I wrote (p.214),
“..it is not true to say that the Aborigines lost all subsequent competitions for land, status and self-determination. How could they have? They were never allowed to enter most of them.”
Lorenzo Veracini quoted part of the above but not the last two sentences, which provided the context. My point was (and still is), when choice is restricted drastically, as it was for the Mandandanji after 1852, affected persons cannot compete meaningfully with their oppressors. It is true that they can exercise agency within their comparatively impoverished new environment. However, the Mandandanji and other Indigenous Australians were excluded from land-ownership, high status and self-determination within the broader, European-dominated society.
So how could they have lost related competitions from which they were excluded? In a very different context, many very effective women are excluded from some male-dominated competitions by the so-called glass ceiling. They will never win or lose those competitions until they can enter them.