Flinders Street is an appropriate location for the broadcast of the unfolding #handsoffAboriginalkids events on the national day for protesting the abuse of children in detention. The constant reference to Flinders reminds us of the important role history and memory plays in how we understand what is going on in Don Dale and other jails and juvenile detention centers around Australia.
Matthew Flinders was the first white man known to have shot a man down with a gun in Quandamooka (a.k.a. the Moreton Bay region east of Brisbane). The Quandamooka people, old and young, male and female, suddenly had a new story to tell. The reasons for the shooting are yet to be well explained to me, but Flinders’ cabbage-tree hat was a focal point and Matthew Flinders seemed to be responding to his feeling of being in danger. Some commentators describe it as a response to an act of aggression. Some simply provide data without analysis. What is missing, crucially, is an account of the shooting incident from a Quandamooka perspective.
On his return to the Quandamooka a few years later, Matthew Flinders was in need of fresh drinking water. The Quandamooka people guided him and his small crew of ship-wrecked castaways to a spring where they could re-plenish their supplies and continue their profoundly ironic journey. One of the many ironies of Flinders’ encounter with the Quandamooka people and their hospitality at this point was that his safe return to England would result in the Quandamooka people being re-named as ‘Australians’.
While his men were being provided with drinking water, Flinders was thinking about his previous visit. He seemed to hope that the Quandamooka people had shared that story widely, based on these thoughts from his 1803 journal entry…
Perhaps (they) had heard of my expedition to Glass-house Bay in 1799, in which I had been provoked to make one of them feel the effect of our arms; and had they attempted anything against my two men, we were prepared to have given them a volley from the boat which would probably have been a fearful confirmation of the truth of the report; but happily for both parties, we were not reduced to the necessity.
John Oxley led the next generation of surveyors into Quandamooka and the neighbouring country. By this time, the Quandamooka children of Matthew Flinders’ day had become adults. It was one of their contemporaries around Jaggera or Turrubul Country who ‘made off’ with John Oxley’s hat, only to be later gunned down by Oxley’s military support. The story of Flinders’ hat in Quandamooka country had been echoed a generation later in the neighbouring country in relation to John Oxley’s hat. The story echoed through the generations. A 1950’s headline recounting the Oxley incident (of 1824) observed ‘Brisbane’s natives learned about guns the hard way’. I hope that we, as a population, are at a point where we do not need to debate whether shooting people is ever an appropriate way to teach people how dangerous guns can be.
There is a prevailing idea in Australia that some people still need to learn ‘the hard way’ about the deadly and destructive effects of colonization on dispossessed people, while at the same time, other people are excused from understanding anything at all about this. Our contemporary narratives about juvenile detention remain much like how we speak of the shooting of Aboriginal people in incidents related to the hats of Matthew Flinders and John Oxley. Firstly, these events are spoken of so infrequently, that they come as a bit of a surprise, perhaps even disbelief. They are then justified as appropriate responses to ‘bad behaviour’. For those who are willing to give it some time, they are put forward as recollections and accounts of powerful observers. There is only one legal/cultural framework admitted in the public discourse. What has been harder to see (though I know it is not absent) is the time and space for cross-cultural communication.
Thanks to all who put today’s events together and prayers for all who made it necessary. I’m with you in spirit on Flinders Street.
Jandai language street names recall the scene of Flinders’ encounter with Quandamooka hospitality.
Our favourable breeze died away in the afternoon and we took to the oars; it however sprung up again from the northward, and brought us within sight of Cape Moreton at sunset. Towards midnight, the weather became squally with heavy rain, and gave us all a thorough drenching… After the rain ceased the wind came at SSW; and the weather remained unsettled… We tacked at daylight to get close in with the land, and at noon anchored under Point Lookout.
The necessity for a supply of fresh water was becoming urgent, for our remaining half-hogshead was much reduced. There were about twenty Indians upon the side of a hill near the shore, who seemed to be peaceably disposed, amusing us with dances in imitation of the kangaroo; we made signs of wanting water, which they understood, and pointed to a small rill falling into the sea. Two of the sailors leaped overboard, with some trifles for the natives and one end of the lead line; with the other end we slung the empty cask, which they hauled on shore and filled without molestation. A shark had followed them to the beach; and fearing they might be attacked in returning, we got up the anchor and went to a place where the surf, though too much to allow of the boat landing, permitted us to lie closer. The cask of water, a bundle of wood, and the two men were received on board without accident, the natives keeping aloof during the whole time, and even retiring when our people approached, though they were without arms and naked
[From Matthew Flinders’ Journal 29 Aug, 1803 while aboard Hope]