Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Must be Indian: Human Settlement in Australia

Must be Indian: Human Settlement in Australia

Race, ethnicity and origins are always up for political grabs. No one really wants to know that they were preceded by someone else, that they were not the first ones there. This is the Adam complex, and no culture is immune from it.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted by German geneticists suggests that there was a “substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,230 years ago” (Sci-News, Jan 15).

The authors recapitulate the familiar theme of an isolated civilization on a continent holding “some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the expansion of modern humans out of Africa”. They note that the genetic history of Australians has not been examined in detail, finding an “ancient association between Australia, New Guinea, and the Manwanwa (a Negrito group from the Philippines)” and “a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world.”

The study should not come as a surprise, though the reaction from Australia’s archaeological and broader scientific community will be of interest. The discussion of Indian roots in the Australian connection is probably bound to be troubling for the cognoscenti. It has become something of a shibboleth – the “oldest” civilization and the fact that isolated human existence began on the curiously shaped Australian continent some 40,000 years ago (give or take 10 thousand here and there – who cares?).

Scientists can be a sclerotic lot, often more keen to abide by manifestoes and what their grant making bodies want than the raw pursuit of science. When native title came into vogue as an important feature of Australia’s legal and political landscape, the rush was on to show the continuous association of various indigenous peoples with their lands. Inconsistencies, or parallel accounts on such rock depictions as the Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) paintings were ignored. What does not fit in the cosmos can be conveniently excised or simply ignored.

Most controversially for the stick in the mud community were suggestions by the greatest authority on the Bradshaws – Graham Walsh – who suggested that the sophisticated creations were the product of an Asiatic race before the last ice age. In an interview for Australian Story (ABC, Oct 14, 2002), this aficionado of rock art re-iterated those claims that terrified the establishment. “They’ve got to be in excess of 17,500 years, everything that’s on this panel – sort of 4 to 5 times the age of classic Egypt and the pyramids.” That culture had to have been mobile, using boats, and moving populations. Walsh has documented but a small section of the thousands of sites.

Other scientists, using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and 14C AMS techniques, have attempted to date the paintings. One study suggested a span of 1500 to 4000 years. Another came close to the Walsh figure of 17,000.

A clue on how this latest recent study on Holocene transfer between India and Australia might be treated can be gathered from the overwhelmingly negative response to Walsh. Walsh was the Galileo of the room, attacked by the Australian Archaeological Association for refusing to comply with the political program. He was, as it were, out of sync with the big project of the 1990s – seeking to find continuous cultural associations with land since 1788. The scientific had to square with the political. On December 18, 1995, the Association issued a media statement claiming that Walsh’s interpretations were “based on and encourage racist stereotypes.”

In 1996, the ideology of the association did not waver. The statement issued by the organisation then is worth considering, given that an observation is made merely to be ignored entirely. First, a sober note: “To argue for human cultural and genetic continuity in the Kimberly region over a minimum of 40,000 years is to argue for a degree of conservatism without parallel anywhere else in the world and which is at odds with the current archaeological record.”

Then, the blade is unsheathed. “Even so, there is no basis for ascribing Bradshaws, or any other prehistoric Australian rock art, to any other than the ancestors of Australian Aborigines.” True, there might have been involvement (genetic, cultural) “from adjacent areas of SE Asia”, but that counted for little in the categorisation of the peoples of the area as “Aboriginal”.

The response from various members of the indigenous community was also notable. Many indigenous elders dismissed the Bradshaws as “rubbish” art, barely worth a mention.

Ian McNiven and Lynette Russell, along with Michael Barry, Peter White and Darrell Lewis, were similarly interested in perpetuating the police man version of history and science, one that must abide by the appropriate political strictures lest it re-enforce racial “stereotypes”. Indigeneity is supreme, and hermetic. These academics, after all, know what the policemen of science want. Writing in 1997, McNiven and Russell claimed that, “Walsh, in refuelling a diffusionist debate, has resurrected a colonialist standpoint that has played into the hands of political conservatives and again placed Aboriginal people in the position of having to demonstrate authenticity and legitimacy.”

Walsh was an Indiana Jones keen to seek out the lost civilization when it was always there, governed by the indigenous populace. He was also – and the slur was never far away – funded at stages by the cash of pastoralists and media moguls. The indigenous population of the Kimberley, in contrast, had no reason to prove anything. Walsh, responding in 2000, decried this attitude as reminiscent of a “cultural Dark Ages” where logic and accuracy were excluded. “Emotional biases cloaked in the guise of scientific rigour are rapidly controlling the potential for voicing of contrary opinions.”

The anti-scientific gibberish spouted at Walsh and the Bradshaw paintings is not bound to stop there. Identity, framed in the political and cultural sense, is a dangerous and treasured thing. It remains to be seen whether the latest claims about an Indian genetic connection might be dismissed by the Australian community, both scientific and indigenous, as a “rubbish” link contrary to hermetic indigeneity.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Syed Atiq ul Hassan: Eye-Opener For Islamic Community

An event of siege, terror and killing carried out by Haron Monis in the heart of Sydney business district has been an eye-opener for the Islamic Community in Australia. Haron was shot down before he killed two innocent people, a lawyer and a manager ... More>>

Jonathan Cook: US Feels The Heat On Palestine Vote At UN

The floodgates have begun to open across Europe on recognition of Palestinian statehood. On 12 December the Portuguese parliament became the latest European legislature to call on its government to back statehood, joining Sweden, Britain, Ireland, France ... More>>

ALSO:


Fightback: MANA Movement Regroups, Call For Mana Wahine Policy

In the wake of this years’ electoral defeat, the MANA Movement is regrouping. On November 29th, Fightback members attended a Members’ Hui in Tāmaki/Auckland, with around 70 attending from around the country. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: The Mockingjay Of Palestine: “If We Burn, You Burn With Us”

Raed Mu’anis was my best friend. The small scar on top of his left eyebrow was my doing at the age of five. I urged him to quit hanging on a rope where my mother was drying our laundry. He wouldn’t listen, so I threw a rock at him. More>>

ALSO:

Don Franks: Future Of Work Commission: Labour's Shrewd Move

Lunging boldly towards John Key, shouting 'Cut the crap!' - Andrew Little was great, wasn't he? Labour's new leader spoke for many people fed up with Key's flippant arrogant deceit. Andrew Little nailing the Prime minister on lying about contacting a rightwing ... More>>

Asia-Pacific Journal: MSG Headache, West Papuan Heartache? Indonesia’s Melanesian Foray

Asia and the Pacific--these two geographic, political and cultural regions encompass entire life-worlds, cosmologies and cultures. Yet Indonesia’s recent enthusiastic outreach to Melanesia indicates an attempt to bridge both the constructed and actual ... More>>

Valerie Morse: The Security State: We Should Not Be Surprised, But We Should Be Worried

On the very day that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released her report into the actions of people the Prime Minister’s office in leaking classified Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) documents to right-wing smearmonger Cameron ... More>>

Ramzy Baroud: PFLP Soul-Searching: Rise And Fall Of Palestine’s Socialists

When news reports alleged that the two cousins behind the Jerusalem synagogue attack on 18 November were affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a level of confusion reigned. Why the PFLP? Why now? More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news