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Book Review: 'Bypass'

Aboriginal GenocideBypassing Australian Aboriginal Genocide

“Bypass” is an enjoyable, good-hearted Australian non-fiction book that nevertheless bypasses the horrendous, continuing  Australian Aboriginal  Genocide. “Bypass. The story of a road” by Michael McGirr (Picador Pan Macmillan, Sydney, 2004) is a very readable true account of a  40 year-old ex-Jesuit priest and his girl friend bicycling from Sydney (New South Wales) to Melbourne (Victoria) following the route of the old Hume Highway through the heart of South East Australia. “Bypass” gets its name from the reality that the Hume Highway, Australia’s busiest, now bypasses all the towns on its former route.

“Bypass” is  a civilized and humane book containing a wealth of interesting details about explorers Hume and Hovell and the people and towns on the route of the Hume Highway. However “Bypass” nevertheless manages to almost completely bypass the continuing Australian Aboriginal Genocide (2 million deaths from violence or deprivation over 2 centuries and today 9,000 avoidable deaths annually from horrendous deprivation out of a present Aboriginal population of 0.5 million) (Google  “Aboriginal Genocide” ). 

No Australian Aboriginals (Indigenous Australians, Aborigines) are encountered on this bicycle trip  through what was only 2 centuries ago the heartland of a rich and prosperous Aboriginal culture. However, as set out below, there are relatively few mentions of the Indigenous Australian First Nations (500 tribes, 250 languages) that were largely exterminated by the White settlers through violence, dispossession and disease after the British Invasion of Australia in 1788 (the Aboriginal population dropping from about 1 million to 0.1 million in the first century after 1788).

1. Page 113 states that “On one 20-kilometre near Gundagai , four hundred collisions with kangaroos take place in a typical year” and that “34,000 native animals are killed every day in Australia”.  Indeed I remember seeing a big kangaroo bounding across the modern Hume Highway against the flow of  3 lanes of 110 kmh car and truck traffic. The kangaroo was a major staple of the Aborigines. However the Aborigines have largely gone but the kangaroos remain in huge numbers because, unlike the Aborigines, they could evade mounted British killers who mercilessly hunted Aborigines down  to clear the land for sheep and cattle.

2. Page 117 mentions that the new Hume Highway was re-aligned to spare one site of “pre-historic Aboriginal significance, not far from Mount Mundoonan”. A local farmer shows McGirr kangaroo-processing stone implements he found on his ”property” (the name given to Australian farms) but says that he’ll never reveal where he found them, stating “They might claim the land”, this being an oblique reference to the key 1992 Mabo Case decision of the Australian High Court that recognized limited Aboriginal rights to their land and overturned the traditional view of “terra nullius” that conveniently claimed that Australia was an “empty” continent and that the Indigenous Australians had zero rights to their land.

3. Pages 132-134 deal with the famous Australian poets from this Australian heartland,  Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson,  and Lawson’s suggestion that Patterson change  the name of his poem from “The Story of Conroy’s Gap” (on the Hume Highway) to “Conroy’s Gap”. Both of these famous and egregiously racist poets were variously on the Australian currency (for examples of their racist doggerel see Gideon Polya, “Antipodean epilogue - the moral dimension of the Lucky Country and the world”, Chapter 17, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”). Until 1967 Australian Aborigines were only “counted” under the terms of the Flora and Fauna Act and until the 1970s lighter-skinned Aboriginal children were routinely forcibly removed from their mothers in a genocidal policy the victims of which are  described as “the Stolen Generations”.

4. Page 156 offensively refers to former Australian PM Gough Whitlam as “the pompous Labor chief of the early seventies” who “has his picture in more cafes on the Hume than any other prime minister, although none of them is the kind of place he has ever to frequent.” Gough Whitlam was an extraordinarily reformist Australian PM between 1972-1975. Despite being elected twice (in 1972 and 1974)  he ran foul of the Americans was dismissed from office by a CIA-linked Governor General in 1975. Whitlam was elected just 5 years after Australians had overwhelmingly supported the referendum in 1967 that enabled the Federal Government to make laws in relation to people of any race (deleting  reference to Aborigines from the Constitution  that had previously referred to “The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”) and removed a prohibition on counting Aborigines.

A result of the two constitutional amendments was that Aborigines ceased to be mentioned at all in the national constitution. The Whitlam Government got Australia out of the genocidal Vietnam War ( 22.5 million deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation in the Indo-China War including  the subsequent Cambodian Genocide) and passed the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act forbidding racism at the Federal level. Unfortunately  subsequent Neocon American and Zionist Labor Party Governments made most of Australians complicit in the Iraq Genocide, the Afghan Genocide and the Palestinian Genocide (the post-1990 US War on Muslims has been associated with 12 million deaths from violence or avoidable deaths war- and occupation-imposed deprivation) and specifically excluded Northern Territory Aborigines as well as Afghans fleeing the Afghan Genocide and Tamils fleeing the Tamil Genocide from the protection of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.

5. Pages 164-166  describe how in June 1852 the Murrumbidgee River rose to flood  the town of Gundagai and how 2 surviving  Aboriginal Wiradjuri men Jackey and Yarri saved dozens of settlers in their bark canoes. These men were given memorial breastplates that are now in the Gundagai historical museum and are the only specific aborigines mentioned in the book.

6. Page 234 actually mentions Aboriginal bones, the discovery of which forced the Goulburn Valley Highway to be moved about 40 metres. Politically correct racist (PC racist) Australia is very concerned about Aboriginal remains but evidently in practice far less concerned about the actual  lives of Aborigines, 9,000 of whom die avoidably every year due to worse-than-Third –Word living conditions.

7. Pages 240-248 deal with war and the Hume Highway and commences with an incorrect assertion that “The Hume Highway has never carried an army to battle” that ignores the reality that the Hume and Hovell expedition from Sydney to Port Phillip (to be the site of Melbourne) in 1824. opened up the Murray–Darling River System to pastoralists with the accompanying Black War in which most of the Indigenous inhabitants died from violence, dispossession or introduced disease. For indignant eye-witness reportage of this war read the works of the wonderful and humane Dame Mary Gilmore e.g. “The Passionate Heart” (Angus & Robertson, 1918), “Old Days: Old Ways. A Book of Recollections” (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1934), and “More Recollections” (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1835).

Thus, for example, Mary Gilmore recollects an aboriginal woman Flora who was noted for her drawing and singing and then concludes “I never saw Flora again, for soon after the secret unofficial leave for “extermination” came from Sydney. From that time on, the blacks were fugitives”. There are many graphic accounts of the genocide applied to Aboriginal people throughout Australia, a process that continued up to the late 1920s (see Gideon Polya, “Antipodean epilogue - the moral dimension of the Lucky Country and the world”, Chapter 17, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”). On pages 247-248 McGirr describes Lady Jane Franklin’s concern  over Aboriginal violence along the route opened up by Hume and the 1838 massacre of 7-14 men from pastoralist George Faithful’s property Wangaratta (now the name of a small city) near Broken River (the site of the  present-day town of Benalla) ( 8 years ago I was commissioned to draw portraits at a wedding in Benalla and drew over 100 portraits on 2 sheep stations near the town over 2 days).

The Broken River Massacre led to calls for reprisals. McGirr commences this part of the book with “The Hume nearly did carry an army to war” but claims that the colonial administrator Governor Gipps “declined the suggestion that he should go to war against the Aborigines. But he did create a Border Police which was in reality a militia, and established military posts for them along the emerging route to Port Phillip. It was the closest thing to an avenging army that the road ever hosted”. This denies the Aboriginal Genocide witnessed by Mary Gilmore, a genocide that was not simply left to stockmen and the settlers who had seized aboriginal land (the “squatters”). Formal government programs accelerated the process.

Thus “Native Police” forces set up in Victoria and Queensland provided for efficient killing that contributed to the decimation of the Aboriginal populations in these states, the numbers falling by over 90% in the latter half of the 19th century. In Victoria the Native Police was set up by the Port Phillip administrator Charles La Trobe in 1841. This exploited inter-tribal hostility and were involved, in collaboration with settlers, in the systematic murder of aboriginals in Victoria, a process involving poisoning, starving, burning, clubbing and shooting and accompanied by torture and rape. Empirical evidence for the success for this program of extermination is actually provided by “Bypass” which records zero encounters with Aborigines by McGirr and his partner along the Hume in 2004.

The Hume is the key transport route through the most important bread-basket of Australia. Australia has been involved in some 2 dozen genocidal atrocities in its short history since Invasion in 1788, a secret genocide history  that has been deleted from academic and public history in look-the-other-way Australia. Thus in 1942-1945 Australia, a major wheat producer, withheld its grain from a starving India in a Bengali Holocaust in which 6-7 million Indians were deliberately starved to death under the merciless British. Indeed the withholding was on such a gigantic scale that huge emergency granaries had to be built in Australia  to store the millions of tonnes of withheld grain (see “Australia’s ABC censors Bengali Famine”, MWC News, 9 December 2011: ). 

8. Pages 260-262 mention alcoholism of many surviving Aborigines. McGirr refers to a trip to central west New South Wales in which he stays at a hotel where in the evening “Below me, the publican was abusing drunks, especially blacks, when they were slow to get moving at closing time.” However McGirr encounters “blacks” along the Hume, closer to white civilization. One is reminded of Gandhi being asked the question “What do you think of Western civilization?” to which  he famously replied :”I think it would be a good idea.”

9. Page 271 describes the first horseback mail service between Sydney and Port Phillip (to become Melbourne) and John Conway Bourke whose horse was “speared from under him  by an Aborigine.”

10. Page 287 recounts the story of convict William Buckley who escaped from custody in 1803 and spent 32 years living with Port Phillip Aborigines before finally introducing  himself in 1835 to John Batman, the founder of Melbourne. The Australian expressions “You have Buckley’s chance” or “You have Buckley’s” mean that you have no hope at all.

“Bypass. The story of a road” by gentle, humane , ex-Jesuit priest Michael McGirr is an enjoyable read with interesting characters and historical anecdotes. I have travelled the Hume many times and sung the wonderfully nostalgic and immensely popular Australian song “The Road to Gundagai” as we neared the statue of the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox “five miles from Gundagai”:

“There's a track winding back
to an old-fashioned shack,
Along the road to Gundagai.
Where the gum trees are growin'
and the Murrumbidgee's flowin'
beneath the starry sky.
Oh my mother and daddy are waitin' for me
And the pals of my childhood once more I will see
And no more will I roam 'cos I'm headin' right for home
Along the road to Gundagai.”

However this book suffers from the “aren’t we nice” and “look-the-other-way” syndromes of an Australia that resolutely ignores the veritable Herd of Elephants in the Room relating to its past and continuing  genocidal atrocities.  History ignored yields history repeated and thus Australia has been involved in all post-1950 US Asian wars, conflicts that have, so far, been associated with an estimated 38 million Indigenous Asian deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation. Indeed while McGirr-disparaged Labor PM Gough Whitlam stopped Australian participation in the Indo-China War, Labor Governments since 1990 have involved nearly all Australians in the post-1990 US War on Muslims that has been associated with  12 million deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation  (Google  “Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide”:). 

However the Awful Truth gets even worse. According to top German scientists the world has a terminal greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution “budget” of 600 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) that must not be exceeded before zero emissions in 2050 if the world is to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree Centigrade temperature increase. Australia is a disproportionately huge greenhouse gas (GHG) polluter, had already used up its “fair share” of this terminal GHG pollution “budget “ by 2011, and its 85% electorally-supported commitment to unlimited coal, gas and iron exports means that, given Australia’s huge resources, Australia intends to exceed the whole world’s terminal pollution budget by a factor of 3 (see "Australia threatens world with GHGs from unlimited coal, gas & iron ore exports", Bellaciao, 15 May 2012 ). Australia is not just a Dog on a Tuckerbox guarding a continental scale agricultural cornucopia – it is also a climate criminal, terracidal Dog in the Manger that is greedily threatening a hungry world with a worsening Climate Genocide that is set to kill 10 billion people this century due to unaddressed , man-made global warming (Google “Climate Genocide” ). We cannot walk by on the other side – and accordingly please tell everyone you can.

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