Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: The Kalkadoon and the Mitakoodi
Date: November 27, 1994 14:06

16:42 Alice Springs, Northern Territory :: 27 OCT 94

Some time ago near Mt. Isa in Queensland, I picked up the following brochure at a roadside historic site. Been meaning to get around to it. Couldn't find it when I was writing THE OUTBACK EXPERIENCE post which would have been the obvious point to bring it up.

This is perhaps a little long, but stick with it to the end. Besides, how often are my posts short, anyway?

The Kalkadoon and Mitakoodi Memorial

Corella River, Mount Isa-Cloncurry Highway


The Australian Aborigines (Boories or Koories) came to Australia in successive waves from South India during the last Ice Age, some 40,000 years ago. In 1788, they numbered abut 300,000 people in 600 tribes with many different languages or dialects and concentrating along the tropical northern fringes of the continent. For instances, little Mornington Island has three tribes and the whole of Tasmania had only four.

They traded such things as axe heads with their neighbours and had joint corroborees but were never a nation with a central organization in the modern sense. They had no dwellings, cultivations or food producing animals or birds. The wheel was unknown to them and they normally went naked.

Nevertheless they had a well-organized culture with totem symbols and their rock art was superior to that of stone age cultures elsewhere in the world. Two of these tribes were the Kalkadoon inhabiting the range of hills running in an arc from Selwyn to Mount Isa to Kajabbi and the Mitakoodi who lived the Cloncurry River basin and their languages were as different as French and English.


It's obvious that this age old situation could not continue into the modern world and occupation by others was inevitable. When Dampier in the seventeenth century and Cook in the eighteenth came to Australia, they saw no buildings, no cultivations, no beasts of burden, none of the trappings of civilization, only a few wild and naked men wandering about: they considered the land Terra Nulla or No man's land and informed the British Government accordingly.

The aborigine must not blame the European for this. Simply, the latter was lacking in imagination: he could not conceive that men like his own ancestors who went through the similar Neolithic stone age were there busy in their own simple way as his own forefathers had been.

The Aborigine was as it turned out fortunate that the occupation was not by several different countries with different languages and cultures but by the English, Irish, Scots and Welsh, the British mix who are with al their faults the most enterprising, energetic law abiding and tolerant combination history who built up the Commonwealth of Nations, the United States of America whose speech is destined to become the universal language of mankind. He could not know that in time, he would join them as an equal member.

It was this formidable combination reinforced in the Twentieth Century by the Germans, Italians and Chines who confronted the stone age aborigine armed only with spear, nulla nulla and boomerang.

He saw these thrusting newcomers parcel out his land between themselves filling it with their sheep and cattle, effectively cutting off his means of sustenance and separating him from his sacred sites and traditional ways.

Should not our hearts go out to this poor man who unhappy and bewildered was reduced to begging for salt, tea and flour on the outskirts of European's towns?

In general the loss of language and culture followed detribalisation and was not the invaders' deliberate policy and apart from some instances of killings, poisoning and massacre the European treated the "blackfellow" humanely even kindly but he left no doubt as to who was boss.


Few aboriginal tribes struck back, notable exceptions being the Palmer River tribe and the Kalkadoons who in 1884 charged down Battle Mountain near Kajabbi against the invader. What chance had spear and boomerang against Urquhart's mounted troops with carbines? They were killed almost to a man, a terrible reprisal for the spearing of cattle and the killing and eating of a few Europeans and Chinese.

The Kalkadoon was a broken man and his numbers and those of the Mitakoodi were further reduced by the European's diseases such as measles leading to pneumonia.

Australia-wide the Aborigine's numbers declined to about 60,000 and some Europeans considered them a dying race. But Adam in ochre is made of sterner stuff and in recent times his numbers have doubled to around 120,000. This has been due to a slow and steady improvement in their position from the low point in the 1800s to the provision of schools, hospitals, housing, supermarkets etc. a process far from complete but proceeding at an ever faster pace as the European's conscience asserts itself.

Brown Adam has lost his Stone Age Garden of Eden but his children have been accepted as free, equal and valued members of modern Australian society, continuing to make their own distinctive contribution.

For every one thing he lost, they have gained a hundred.


The Aborigine at his best is a fine man, soft spoken with a twinkle in his brown eyes, loving his home and his children and having a fine sense of mateship. He has been described as "Nature's Gentleman".

His wife is a motherly person full of human kindness. He is somewhat shy and can be hurt like anyone else by the insults of the arrogant and the ignorant.

He has had to leap from the Stone Age in the short space of two hundred years making a profound change and emotional adjustment, a process which took the European 50,000 years.

Small wonder then that some had fallen by the wayside prompting certain Europeans to stigmatise the whole race as "dirty, drunken and diseased".

These remarks in fact only apply to a very small percentage of Aborigines and in dealing with these, we should follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the greatest man who ever lived.

Is he dirty? Shower him.
Is he drunk? Counsel him.
Is he sick? Treat him.
Is he unemployed? Give him a job.
Is he ignorant? Teach him.
Does he despair and take his own life in prison? Pray for his soul and,
Does he do well? Praise him.

Jesus taught that we are all children of God and therefore spiritually brothers. Science reinforces this by telling us that if we go back some four million years we are all descended from common stock and so physically related to every other human being on earth and therefore physically brothers by extension.

There is no answer to racial problems but this principle of brotherhood. No man regards his own brother as an inferior being.

What if scientists claim that the Aborigine is not the intellectual equal of the European? That is neither here nor there.

Robert Burns said "A man's a man for a 'that and a 'that".

The European who patronises or condescends toward the Aborigine should reflect that the latter is his equal before God.

Always, always therefore treat him not only as a man but as a brother.

If I were asked to give him a word of advice, it would be this, "Hold your head high and be as proud of your race as I am of mine."

Remember, the best is yet to come.



These consist of a wall along the tribal boundary between the Kalkadoon and Mitakoodi. On the eastern side as you face Mount Isa are depicted a spear and a boomerang both broken, an etching in brass of the head of a Kalkadoon warrior and a central plaque stating,


and three plaques bearing poems. From left to right the first depicts the ascendancy of Brown Adam over all natural things.

Up this track that's now a road
spear in hand, brown Adam strode
his was everything
Bare the back that knew no load,
naked but a king!

the second the fight at Battle Mountain near Kajabbi

Spear can never conquer gun,
man no more the horse outrun.
By the gunblast tossed
still in death lies every one
and the battle's lost

and the third the cry of anguish of the Kalkadoon as he imagines all is lost forever,

River and rockface and tree
taken and cut off from me
in heartache and fear;
scattered the wild and the free
and broken the spear.

An acknowledgment plaque and an Aboriginal flag background complete the picture.

On the western side as you face Cloncurry are depicted a spear and stone axe both broken, an etching in brass of the head of a Mitakoodi warrior and a central plaque stating,


and three plaques bearing poems. From left to right the first depicts the Aborigine's timeless existence in the bushland,

Earth and the sun and the sky
knowing not wherefore or why
they each saw me roam,
happy to live and die
the bushland my home

the second, his disappearance from the bushland,

Bounds the kangaroo they stalked
cattle graze where the wild men walked
and their camps have been.
Silent bush where they laughed and talked
and their slate's wiped clean

and the third his great leap forward to the modern age and as he confronts his problems here, he weeps for the loss of his former idealised existence,

Age upon age, slow time crept
swift to the space age I leapt
at the hours decree:
back to the past turned and wept
for that timeless me

An acknowledgment plaque and the Aboriginal flag complete the picture. The Australian flag on one side of the monument symbolises the Aborigine's membership of our nation: on the other side is the Aboriginal identity flag, the black symbolising the people, red the earth and the yellow circle the sun.

The two flags are not in opposition, rather does one complement the other. The poems are Japanese Tanka of thirty-one syllables each but unlike the original, metered and rhymed to please the Anglo-Celtic ear.

Wow! I'm not certain who or what this is really a monument to. Imagine, a memorial to a conquered and destroyed culture, expressed through a second culture's artistic form, and rearranged in style and execution to "please the ear" of the conquering culture. It's often said that funerals are events staged for the benefit of the survivors; this monument appears of that tradition.

Let's first set about diffusing some inaccuracies, omissions and misleading wordings.


There is no conclusive evidence in the anthropological record pinpointing the origin of Aboriginal colonists to Australia or the date at which colonisation began. The earliest evidence of an Aboriginal presence was unearthed in this decade and was dated to be in excess of 60,000 years old so they've been here at least that long. Indonesia, New Guinea and a few other SE Asian locations are listed as possible points of Aboriginal origin, but these are the speculation of a scientific community that assumes man originated in Africa. If you ask an Aboriginal they're likely to tell you they originated in Australia [an opinion reinforced for me just last night by a Native American woman-pmj 11/11/94].

The figure of 300,000 Aborigines in 1788 is another outdated estimate. Recent research indicates that as many as 1 million Aborigines inhabited Australia at that date, and perhaps more.

Aboriginal trade items included stone and wooden implements, ochre and foodstuffs and other goods. The trade network extended for thousands of kilometers beyond neighbours. Even today Aborigines perceive themselves to be made up of distinct peoples; in 1788 they spoke in excess of 200 languages so why should we expect that they would have formed a single "nation" with a centralised government? On the other hand, their sophisticated and continent wide organisational network appears to have operated quite effectively for thousands of years without significant upheaval.

In all regions of Australia, Aborigines built shelters, some temporary, others erected as permanent structures but used cyclically as they moved about their territory, and in some areas of Australia where the Aborigines were not nomadic these were constructed as permanent dwellings.

Where weather patterns were temperate year-round they wore no unnecessary clothing. In Tasmania, Victoria and generally in the cooler southern climes they wore clothes. I don't see that this defines the Northerners as any more 'savage' or 'primitive' simply because they "normally went naked" as this brochure appears to imply.


I'm tempted to just reword this whole section...

Given the imperialistic nature of Europe's colonial period, it was inevitable that the indigenous peoples of Australia would, like all other such peoples in the world, be displaced, murdered and the survivors eventually detribalize. When Dampier and Cook came they confused technologically simple with simply animal and informed the British Government that nothing with a soul inhabited Australia.

The Aborigine should not blame present day Europeans for the ignorance of their ancestors and thus should expect neither conciliation nor compensation for past deeds. After all, Europeans were once 'primitive,' 'simple' and 'wild' but are much better now, thank-you, and are willing to help the Aboriginal out of their pitifully primitive state.

Aborigines should consider themselves lucky that those dirty Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and French didn't get to them. Those peoples would have done much worse than detribalize, rend families apart, massacre entire tribes and then treat the survivors as persona-non-grata right up until the present day. The Dutch, for instance, would never have given them the right to vote in the 1960s, less than 200 years after occupation, like the British. And "illegally" killing an Aboriginal in the 19th century wouldn't even have cost a police officer his promotion like it did in the Australia occupied by the "British mix". He could not know that in time, he would join them as an equal member, the promise he is continually given by politicians, even today. Of course, it's not the fault of Australians now if the Aborigine did not then and does not now care to join them, as an equal member or otherwise. You can't stop progress and all peoples of the world are better off once they join in Western Civilization.

Yes, it could have been much, much worse.

13:03 Whistler, BC-Canada :: 27 NOV 94

A month later and this brochure still brings me to a boil. I take exception to just about every line in it, but this one's perhaps the worst:

For every one thing he lost, they have gained a hundred.

I need to find an accountant with this spin on positive gains.

What have they lost? Demoralizing poverty in a 'land of plenty'; often spotty medical treatment for imported disease; embarrassing infant mortality and teen suicide rates; mothers separated from children; the right to compete for low pay jobs or, when the government 'misguidedly' legislates equal pay for equal work, the right to apply for unemployment or welfare; their land pilfered; the practice of their culture criminalized.

But what have they gained?

Some of the pilfered land is being returned. Mind you, only untenanted land (read, inhospitable or unprofitable) is eligible.

Brown Adam has lost his Stone Age Garden of Eden
but his children have been accepted as free,
equal and valued members of modern Australian society...

This flies in the face of reality. His children have been legislated to be free and equal within Australian law, true. But accepted as equal and valued members of Australian society? Not in practice. Not even close.

It's important to recognize that, other than the return of their land, Aborigines did not seek any of Australian society's gains. In fact, they resisted them. They went to the missionaries not to find food or shelter, Jesus or Capitalism but to seek refuge from murderous pastoralists and police. Even then, the brochure in question adequately describes the image of Aborigines in the mind of Australia Fair:

There is no answer to racial problems but
[the] principle of brotherhood. No man regards
his own brother as an inferior being.
What if scientists claim that the Aborigine is not
the intellectual equal of the European? That is
neither here nor there.

Not inferior in their worthiness before god, just in intellectual capacity on earth.


Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


I believe in the immense skill of white surgeons.
But how can I not believe in the evil abilities of the
Medicine-Men and the sorcerers?
I have the evidence of my own eyes to persuade me.
I have the memory of my own harrowing experience.
I have my tribal traditions.
I am confused, but not disillusioned.
Say, if you like, that I'm just a superstitious Aboriginal.

  graphical element Waipuldanya of the Alawa (Phillip Roberts)
From "I, the Aboriginal"
with Douglas Lockwood