By Jon Rhodes
Published by Jon Rhodes in 2022.
RRP $45.00
Distributed by Woodslane. www.woodslane.com.au

I recently wrote a review of Black Lives, White Law in which criminal lawyer Russell Marks exposes the scandalous way that Australia’s legal system unjustly deals with our Aboriginal communities in the present day, and the dishonest colonial origins of that injustice. I wrote:

Marks takes us on a journey through the brutality of colonisation and demonstrates how, the so called fair and impartial British justice system was anything but fair and impartial when it came to the treatment of our First Nations people. Many were slaughtered by white settlers with no action generally being taken against the offenders.

I then reviewed The Settlement by Jack Serong where I said:

This disturbing, sometimes dark work is a perfect follow up read in which Serong reimagines the way in which the Tasmanian First Nations peoples were cruelly dealt with by the invading European settlers. It is particularly inspired by the ill-conceived and failed activities of George Augustus Robinson who led the forced displacement of Tasmanian Aboriginal people to Pea Jacket Point on Flinders Island.

In a year when we will be asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the Australian Constitution, Black Lives White Law, The Settlement and now Whitefella Way will all be important aides to any voter wanting to understand more about the brutal history of white settlement and why the proposed constitutional changes are so important and necessary.

Jon Rhodes, as well as being a quality writer, is a talented photographer, and this book is a beautifully produced hard cover work, which is not only well written in a clear informative style, but which also contains many informative photos and illustrations.

This book is a sequel to his Cage of Ghosts published in 2018 and in this book the reader is taken on nine journeys to various important sites where the writer deals with the interactions which occurred between the original inhabitants and the invading white settlers.

The brutality and duplicity of the invader is evident from chapter one which is titled Bennelong and Collins Cove. In this chapter the narrative revolves around the Eora rock engravings on Grotto Point in Sydney. We are introduced to many characters whose names will be familiar because they are now well-known Sydney place names. Names such as Bennelong, Phillip, Collins, Bradley, Barangaroo and King.

The much-vaunted British Justice System was certainly not on display from the very beginning of white settlement when it came to the invaders’ dealings with the Black population. In November 1789 Phillip gave an order for the capture of two ‘natives’ who turned out to be Bennelong and Colebe. The capturing party, led by Lieutenant Bradley, trapped the two by pretending to be friendly and offering them some fish before seizing them and herding them into a boat. Bradley later wrote:

The noise of the Men, [and the] crying & screaming of the Women & Children, together with situation of the two miserable wretches in our possession was really a most distressing scene.

Any pretence by Phillip of not leading a brutal regime soon dissolved when, after the spearing of his gamekeeper McEntire by Pemulwuy he ordered a punitive expedition which was to ‘bring away two natives as prisoners; and put to death ten…to cut off and bring in the heads of the slain.’ Remember these were not to be Aboriginal people who had done anything wrong, but any that the expedition could find and capture. So much for British justice.

The other eight chapters take the reader to other important sites and surrounding events around New South Wales including the Balls Head rock engravings in Sydney, the grave of Yuranigh near Molong, Black Jimmy’s grave at Bellingen cemetery, the Bundjalung bora ground and to the Gubbi Gubbi stone-walled fish trap at Sandstone Point on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. 

The events outlined in chapter 9 show that even by 1928-9 nothing much had changed when it came to the way that Aboriginal people were treated by the so-called justice system. The events described in the chapter, known as the Coniston Massacre, took place in the Northern Territory to the north-west of Alice Springs, then known as Stuart. 

After a dispute between one Aboriginal man and one white man, the white man was killed. Police were then dispatched to apprehend the offender and, in the process, managed not only to not apprehend the suspect but to massacre 17 other innocent Aboriginal people. 

A subsequent Federal Government Board of Inquiry found that the killings were all ‘justified’ and exonerated the police. It was on any view a complete travesty.

At the end of this final chapter Rhodes asks, ‘when will the fundamental truth of the 140-year-long Australian Frontier War be wholeheartedly acknowledged and memorialised by the government of the Commonwealth of Australia?’

Perhaps one way to begin the process of acknowledgement would be for Australians to vote in favour of the referendum, which is simply about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Nations of Australia ,and providing them with a body to speak to Parliament and government in order to improve decisions, policies and laws that affect them.

Highly recommended.

John Watts

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