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Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788 (4th edn).

Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788 (4th edn)

Richard Broome 2010

Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, vi+400pp, ill., facsims., maps, ports., 24 cm, ISBN 9781742370514

The first time I took Richard Broome's Aboriginal Australians (the second edition) from a library shelf, it was as an undergraduate curious to see what the book said about Aborigines. Searching through the book for references to Wiradjuri people and places, I was surprised to read that Broome had mistakenly located Warangesda Mission (my grandfather's birthplace) near Brewarrina. Finding that Paul Coe (we are both from Erambie Mission) was mentioned, I read a few pages to see what was written about him. In that section it was claimed that Aborigines lacked self-esteem and that there was a growth of Aboriginal identity and pride during the 1970s. Finally, I read that welfare groups developed pride and independence among Aborigines. Next, Broome's claim that it was natural for humans to feel that their own group was superior to others drew me into reading what he had to say about that point.

I dismissed what I read in Aboriginal Australians and dumped it in the returns box at the end of the stack. Walking away from the book, I wondered why Broome would write that it was human to have ethnocentric ideas of superiority when he was generalising acceptance of inferiority on the part of Aborigines. A little over a decade on and I chose the fourth edition from books awaiting review at AIATSIS. Understanding that the book has endured on reading lists for tertiary courses in history and education, I was determined to find out what made Aboriginal Australians a popular history text.

There is nothing groundbreaking in Broome's use, in his prologue, of classics by Fanon and Memmi to frame what is to follow. The book supports Memmi's claim that 'all colonised people had much in common' in experiencing racist representations that are central to the process of colonisation (Memmi 1965/2003:4). In doing this, Broome places his history of Aborigines in opposition to the 'conservative' arguments about Australia's colonial history (p.37). Aboriginal Australians is about racism, paternalism and assimilation. It is about the coloniser and the colonised. The book says that Aborigines have maintained a radical hope of having a unique place in Australia despite successive crushing blows delivered by colonisation. Broome returns to the idea of radical hope enough times to indicate that this concept is what he is leading up to as the thesis of this work. Radical hope is used here as a plea for white Australia to create spaces where Aborigines can embrace the 'new world' and do it 'realistically in an Aboriginal way' (p.81). In places--where Broome speaks for Aborigines--the plea is delivered on hands and knees. This may seem like a harsh assessment but it is one aspect of the book that I continue to reject because it does not fit with what I know about my own people. I do not agree that Aborigines generally internalised ideas about inferiority despite this country's history of racist representation.

The illustrations in the book add to the descriptions of racism. The photographs of prisoners in neck chains (p.113) and the Nulla Nulla Soap advertisement (p.181) are particularly good examples of this. The discussion of assimilation, in the context of colonisation, should be read by prospective teachers and educators who expect it as a matter of course for closing gaps between Aborigines and mainstream Australia. The same could be said of the chapter added to this edition on the National Apology and Intervention. This chapter would be valuable reading for educators.

The mistaken claim that Gribble established Warangesda near Brewarrina can be found on page 88. It is compounded in this edition, where Broome wrongly claims that it was the 'ancestors of the Wiradjuri' who 'carried and placed' rocks in the Barwon River to create fish traps (p.9). In the absence of detailed referencing, I assume that these mistakes stem from confusion between Brewarrina, the town to the north-west of Wiradjuri country, and a similarly named station, established by the sons of United Irishmen, 'Brewarrena', which was located in southern Wiradjuri country (Gammage 1986).

Broome continues to speak for Aborigines and use words such as 'denigrated' and 'impoverished' (p.2). Chapter 12, 'Hoping for equality', illustrates this point from the very first sentence. He writes, 'By the 1980s, Aboriginal people had the radical hope that they could be equal with other Australians and respected for their difference' (p.255). It is the use of the word 'equal' that is troubling because it suggests that Aborigines accept a position of inferiority to other Australians. Other examples include the 1976 Land Rights Act being linked to the dignity of Aborigines (p.256). Crediting the Community Development Employment Projects scheme with restoring 'Aboriginal dignity' (p.260) and a 'newfound community pride' (p.266). Broome should take the time to explain his use of words that generalise feelings of inferiority on the part of Aborigines. Alternatively, he could acknowledge a range of views about the response to colonisation within Indigenous communities.

In the time between rejecting the second edition of Aboriginal Australians and reviewing the fourth edition, I have read Martin Nakata's call to move beyond 'simplistic' responses to 'disquiet about the knowledge' created about Indigenous Australians. Re-reading Aboriginal Australians I considered what colonisation must look like from Broome's (and other non-Indigenous peoples') point of view (Nakata 2007:216).

I wanted to dismiss this edition of Aboriginal Australians and expected to review it as an example of an outsider creating knowledge about Aborigines that was based on his own condescending judgments. Instead, when read in conjunction with other texts, I came to appreciate Richard Broome's contribution to what is known about Indigenous Australians. Despite a few shortcomings, and in some places because of them, Aboriginal Australians should be read by anyone interested in knowing the colonised and the coloniser. The book sweeps across the continent to deliver on its promise of a 200-year history. This fast paced approach works well as an introductory text. Broome appears to understand this as he includes suggestions for further reading throughout. However, it is improved as a text that says something about Australians when it is read alongside the author's other works, particularly his 1980 and 1996 versions of an article on Aboriginal boxers, and Nakata's discussion of standpoint and the cultural interface. The fourth edition of Aboriginal Australians fits with Broome's other writing as a still-developing discovery of how a non-Indigenous Australian views the colonisation of Aboriginal Australians.


Broome, Richard 1982 Aboriginal Australians: Black response to white dominance 1788-1980, 2nd edn, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

-- 1980 'Professional Aboriginal boxers in eastern Australia 1930-1979', Aboriginal History 4(1):49-72.

-- 1996 'Theatres of power: Tent boxing circa 1910-1970', Aboriginal History 20:1-13.

Gammage, Bill 1986 Narrandera Shire, Narrandera Shire Council, Narrandera.

Memmi, Albert 1965/2003 The Colonizer and the Colonized, trans. Howard Greenfeld, Earthscan Publications, London.

Nakata, Martin 2007 Disciplining the Savages: Savaging the disciplines, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Reviewed by Lawrence Bamblett, AIATSIS

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Author:Bamblett, Lawrence
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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