Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zed . . .

Z is for Zed, the last letter of the alphabet, the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, my 24-entry excursion into aspects of the history of Van Diemen's Land.

So today, I end with the beginning. The First Australians.

This online video overview, hosted by Australian broadcasting company SBS, in 4-5 minute clips, introduces the longer seven 54-minute segments that took six years to create. The entire series traces the journey the first Australians have taken -- from migration and isolation from 'mainland' Australia (a time leap of some 70,000 years), to the first interactions with European explorers, from the 16th through the 21st Centuries, and ending with the great awakenings of self-awareness and the fight for political and legal recognition with very real land rights.

Two impressions stand out for me from this lovely overview. The first, a clumsy painting (most likely water color) that shows early aborigines dancing corroboree with English troops within a few days of the landing of the First Fleet in 1789. An early report says on first sight of the English led by Governor Arthur Phillip, the aborigines "danced furiously" and then vanished into the woods.

The second is harder to put into words. The faces of the descendants of these First Australians carry a sense of pride and sadness, commitment to change, sorrow for what had been lost. For the aborigines did not understand European concepts of land. To these First Australians, land was never something to be occupied and tamed. They were a part of the land, a gift from the ancient ancestors; they were the owners of the land, charged to care for it and protect it. Water holes were sacred. The geography was shaped by these ancient ones, and from father to son, certain responsibilities were transferred.  How could such a responsibility be taken away by the planting of a flag of a foreign king? The land was already occupied by these people and their traditions.

So as I continue to work on Years of Stone, even though essentially the story is not about them, somehow I want to capture some sense of their inner life, and in the 1840s the sense of cultural loss and displacement, the great divide that then existed between convicts, settlers, the government, and the First Australians.

NOTE: The complete "First Australians" is available online (in seven 54-minute segments) at or in book form through amazon. Wikipedia lists a brief description of each segment. If I lived in Australia or Tasmania, I would be haunting the library. Here in the wilds of eastern Washington, such research materials are scarce, so I am very grateful for online research and that this video program has been posted. If I had not written of this video today, I would not have learned the longer version is online! This means Z is for Zed, the end, but in reality, my research continues . . . as does the writing!