and his hitman
Sydney Morning Herald
is best remembered for having given his name to the point on Sydney Harbour
where the Opera House stands, and for the
Governor Arthur Phillip had him kidnapped, dressed him up in the fancy clothes
worn by privileged people of the time and
him to King George III.
Aboriginal people recall him as a collaborator, in the pejorative sense. He was
probably the first indigenous Australian alcoholic
and, in a
sense, the first of the stolen generations, although he was 25 when taken away
from his people.
Vincent Smith's new book, Bennelong, claims there was much more to Bennelong.
Smith questions "the persistent notion that he
willing collaborator with the invaders of his country" and shows him as
"a clever politician" of complex character.
says Bennelong helped lead a determined resistance movement against white
settlement, culminating in an unwritten peace "treaty"
in 1790. His
closeness to Phillip - the governor had a brick hut built for him and had him to
dinner at Government House - is explained
Bennelong's playing a complex double game between his people and his abductor.
Smith builds a good case.
the truth, the book demonstrates just how long is the road to reconciliation.
Bennelong had tried it with Phillip more than 210
Coombs wrote in a foreword to John Kenny's 1973 book, Bennelong, First Notable
Australian, that Bennelong's association with
the first colonists was "a sombre episode which, with minor variations, has
been replayed countless times throughout
Reconciliation Australia is calling for a structured process of national
discussion, including a round table forum, to map out the next
reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia took up the unfinished business of the
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation when that
its 10-year term in December. Its call came after indigenous leaders voiced
disappointment over lack of progress.
Bill Jonas, the Social Justice Commissioner, reported that the Government's
practical reconciliation policy had failed. Senator Aden
told the UN Human Rights Commission that non-indigenous Australians were keen to
embrace reconciliation rhetoric, as long
as it didn't
require effective action to share resources and political power. The Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Commission
,Geoff Clark, said: "We've had the walks, now we're ready to talk - about a
treaty, about real advances."
Phillip had meant well. He was a product of the Age of Reason, touched by
Rousseau and notions about the noble savage. He
learn Bennelong's language and customs and use his knowledge. Settlers had
stolen Aboriginal canoes, weapons and fishing
Aborigines had retaliated by killing white stragglers, and stealing food and
equipment. Phillip thought that Bennelong and another
man, Colbee, could act as peaceful conciliators.
of Smith's case rests on his analysis of Phillip's spearing, by Willemering, at
Manly in 1790. Isadore Brodsky's 1973 biography
"Bennelong can be seen to have had no culpable part in this sensational
incident". The usual interpretation is that Willemering
spear from fear that he might be abducted.
argues, however, that Willemering was a "hitman" and Bennelong the
mastermind of an avenging action for his own abduction. He
"this crucial event in cross-cultural relations" led to the Eora
"coming in" to live peacefully in the Sydney settlement.
says this was a triumph for the diplomatic skills of Phillip, who guaranteed
that the Eora could come and go without restraint, and
Bennelong, a resistance leader who now promoted reconciliation and co-existence.
wanted to concentrate on Bennelong's positive early life. His book ends with the
Aborigine's departure for England, before his
Sydney Gazette patronisingly reported his death, aged about 49, at Kissing Point
in 1813: "Of this veteran champion of the native
little favourable can be said. His voyage to, and benevolent treatment in, Great
Britain produced no change whatever in his
inclinations, which were naturally barbarous and ferocious."
Bennelong, by Keith Vincent Smith, Kangaroo Press, $24.95.
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