aboriginal presence at Encounter Bay

I've started  to research what happened to the Ramindjeri people, the traditional owners of the land,  after the conquest of their lands and British settlement of  the Fleurieu Peninsula. The settler history is a narrative of  from pioneer port to seaside resort' and this narrative is premised on the the ‘great Australian silence’ in regard to Indigenous people and their history. 

The research is  for the second historical  part of Fleurieuscapes project.  The art historical context of the project is that Australian arts practice abandoned the landscape in the 1960’s at the end of Modernism, the last major figures being Williams, Nolan and Olsen as arts practice entered post modernity and deconstruction. Whilst there are notable exceptions (Storrier, Robinson etc.), landscape representation was left to Aboriginal peoples as Aboriginal painting emerged from the deserts of Central Australia. 

The second  part of the Fleuriescapes project looks at the  significant  historical sites of the Fleurieu Peninsula from the vantage point  of the traditional owners (both the Ramindjeri and the Ngarrindjeri) in  a post-colonial Australia. This history is one where many of the traditional people living on the Fleurieu Peninsula and along the Corrong  were massacred. Those who survived had the power to govern their lives removed, as well as their connections to the land and the space, and as well as their language to articulate their view of what had happened to them. 

The picture below is of the site of an old sealing/whaling station at Encounter Bay, Victor Harbor  that preceded British settlement. The contact  is circa 1830's,  and one of the prime reason  for the Europeans to make contact with aboriginal people was to seek women. Eventually,  some of the Ramindjeri men and women  worked as harpooners and whale spotters. 

 There was another  sealing/whaling station at  Granite Island in Victor Harbor  Many of the Ramindjeri people succumbed to the small pox epidemic which swept the area in the 1830s and then to general disease.  In 1872 the whaling industry, which had started on Kangaroo Island around 1806,  and which produced whale oil  and bones for export,  closed down due to a lack of Southern Right whales.

My crude historical understanding is that  once the wildlife had been driven away from the Encounter Bay  area this left the local Ramindjeri without traditional food sources and government rations were inadequate to sustain them.   Those Ramindjeri people who did not conform to white settlement on the Fleurieu Peninsula  (eg.,as servants or casual labourers helping to work the land  for farming and wool growing)  lived outside the settlers town and the missions. Those who did not seek sanctuary at what was then known as the mission station at Point McLeay (Raukkan, founded in 1859) ) pretty much ended up dead.  

This fish trap  at Kings Beach is one of the historical signs of the pre-colonial presence of the Ramindjeri people: 

The colonising mission of the Christian missionaries basically stripped the First Nation's peoples--the  Ramindjeri and the Ngarrindjeri people's---of their connections to their land, families and culture. The reason is that the 19th century missionaries, such as Revd George Taplin, regarded the Ramindjeri and the Ngarrindjeri people as primitive people with a rudimentary culture, having little or no social order, being steeped in superstition and essential amoral. The ‘Aboriginal race’ were located near the bottom of a hierarchical ‘great chain of being’ – while the European ‘ white race’ was at the top. Those at the bottom practiced   infanticide, cannibalism and violence towards women.

The Christian  missionaries were largely concerned with those aspects aspects of Aboriginal culture that helped them in the Christian conversion of Aboriginal people. If the missionaries aimed to evangelise the Aborigines, using vernacular languages, they  envisioned the preservation of the Aborigines as a separate people with their own identity, rather than as dispersed and assimilated into European society. 

This was opposed by the public policies of "civilisation‟ and assimilation of a colonised people and later, the segregation of Aboriginal children. Settler interests were given priority---the settlers  wanted access to Aboriginal land---and the government had no interest in preserving Aboriginal society or assisting Aborigines to settle. Civilising‟ the Aborigines meant assimilation and that implied that English would supplant Aboriginal languages. The aim was to make Aborigines useful workers.