19 May 2021

Jeff Sparrow: “In colonial Australia, the white settlers spoke constantly about defending themselves against terror. … In Western Australia, Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling faced resistance from the Pinjarup people. After one violent encounter, Stirling wrote back to London warning ‘that their success in this species of warfare … might tempt other tribes, to pursue the same course, and eventually combine together for the extermination of the whites’. On that basis, he urged the authorities to end the conflict with ‘such acts of decisive severity as will appal them as a people.’ Again and again, we find the colonists describing themselves as victims and presenting their massacres as defensive measures. Today, no-one believes them. We don’t nod along when Lachlan Macquarie talks about the necessity of striking ‘terror among the surviving tribes [to] deter them from the further commission of … outrages and barbarities’. We don’t accept a narrative of conflict beginning when an Indigenous person mysteriously throws a spear. We don’t agree that European punitive expeditions brought ‘peace’ by subduing local tribes. Nor, for that matter, do we declare the hostilities too complex to understand, a mysterious ‘cycle of violence’ only attributable to immutable, ancient hatreds. We recognise at once what was happening as a colonial settlement displaced traditional owners, with the profound and systemic brutality of dispossession forcing Indigenous people to either fight back or die. That’s why Australians, in particular, have no excuses for not extending their solidarity to Palestinians.”