WHY are there no statues in Sturt Street celebrating Aboriginal people as pioneers in shaping the region?
As symbolic as the statues are in capturing the city's early story down Ballarat's spine, historian Fred Cahir says it is, perhaps, just as indicative there are no Aboriginal heroes.
Cahir has spent 30 years trawling through "white fella" records and pieced together what he says is a provocative telling of the invasion of Wadawurrung country - he deliberately did not seek indigenous voices.
What Cahir found were the seemingly lost accounts of Aboriginal people working alongside and integrating with white settlers, and vice-versa.
The Federation University associate professor and indigenous history expert said early white settlers acknowledged their reliance on Aboriginal people, and then a veil was drawn. Cahir suggests Federation was a radical turning point where the foundations for a nation had to be white and it was easier to limit history to the war fronts with Aboriginal people.
His mission was to bring a fuller picture of international relations back to life.
"(Wadawurrung community) have approached the book with a bit of cautiousness, until they read it," Cahir said.
There is a general suspicious feeling I might be stealing their history...I'm not trying to write about them or of them - I feel I could be accused of stealing their history then.
"This is a time of two nations warring.
"There were distinct laws to Wadawurrung people, they had a distinct language. They did not treaty their lands. We have to concede the British took it by force.
"...Aboriginal people were both helping out and fighting the white fella as a way to try and maintain a foothold on country - they were supporting guerrilla warfare and surviving guerrilla warfare."
The want to dig deeper into history was first sparked in Cahir when we was cycling solo from Perth to Melbourne in 1983. Self-described "young, dumb and blonde", Cahir ran out of food and water for days on the Nullabor Plain.
Once in Victoria, Cahir sought advice from Aboriginal community members. When Cahir arrived in Ballarat in the 1980s, he asked the university librarian to direct him to the section on indigenous Australians - he was shown one book.
His interest led him to archives in New South Wales with Victoria having initially been a district of the colony.
Cahir resolved to write about what he saw as three waves of invasions between 1800 and 1870 on Wadawurrung country: the British, the squatters, and the gold seekers. This is the basis for his newly published book My country all gone - the white men have stolen it.
"There were countless records acknowledging, initially at least, the dependency of white fella on Aboriginal and a reliance on Aboriginal bio-culture," Cahir said. "Men would often remark they would lose themselves in the bush and be camping under a tree only to wake the next morning and see their house a hundred metres or so away.
"...Records acknowledge Aboriginal men were the best workers on the early sheep stations. They could track the sheep better, ride horses better and took to guns with expert use. Some took to wearing European clothes.
They were quick to transform themselves into the society imposed on them.
Cahir said he could see parallels between early records and the conversations evolving now in Australia about how to broaden and enrich culture with a new one to define what it means to be Australian.
In records, Cahir found interactions of Aboriginal people learning the English language, singing songs with white fellas and learning where settlers kept their guns. He said white fellas would similarly engage with the Wadawarrung people. Such interactions, he said, were also a tactic in intelligence gathering.
Cahir said his book was not an easy academic history to read with many people uncomfortable in discovering the region in which they lived and worked was far from peacefully settled.
This was a military conquest, there's no getting around that.
"British military officers fired ship cannons at retreating Wadawarrung," Cahir said. "This was not a settlement, that suggests a civil occupation. The first governor of Victoria was a military officer - there was no legislative house, men were taking orders."
What Cahir hopes is for readers to gain a broader perspective on the past, particularly as Victoria moves closer to becoming the first state to enter formal treaty negotiations with Aboriginal Victorians. Looking back, Cahir said one could see how failure to establish a treaty "blighted us" as a nation.
Elections for The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria are next month. Thirty-three elected representatives from five voting areas, including four in regional Victoria, will negotiate treaty framework.
- My country all gone - the white men have stolen it is available from Ballarat Books and Stonemans Books (Castlemaine)
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