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Beautiful Lies
QUARTERLY ESSAY 9

Beautiful Lies

Population and environment in Australia

Tim Flannery
 

Extract

On 17 October 1999, thousands of ageing workers gathered together to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Television documentaries showed elderly men who had come from eastern Europe reminiscing about arriving in Australia to work in the Snowy Mountains, how audacious the scheme’s engineering was, and how they coped with life in the insular Australia of the long-ago 1950s. Their reminiscences struck a chord with the many Australians who owed their citizenship and a new start in life to the scheme, or who had come to the country at around the same time. They had left a Europe that had been ravaged by war to become part of what they were told was a noble enterprise.

But at the very time those documentaries were going to air, the Snowy scheme was starting to be seen in a quite different light. It was, many now agree, an environmental catastrophe, and the workers who built it were the innocent perpetrators of a national tragedy. While Victorian fisheries once fed by the Snowy River languished, the water that might have saved them was at work leaching salt from the rock and depositing it into the floodplain and the waters of the Murray, contributing greatly to one of the most serious environmental crises ever to hit Australia – salination.

The Snowy project was in large part created precisely to attract and give meaningful work to migrants. After the war with Japan, Australia had such a fear of Asia that it sought to boost its population with immigration from Europe at almost any cost. Had post-war immigration not occurred in Australia, and had fertility stayed at 1930s–early 1940s levels, Australia’s population today would stand at 7.6 million, after reaching a peak of 7.8 million in 1968. The Snowy scheme was part of the cost of population increase, for it helped prevent social upheaval and resentment by providing work for the new migrants and a noble raison d’être for their influx. The scheme was built on a distinctive xenophobia – fear of the yellow peril – and it appealed to one of the most cherished myths of the Anglo-Celtic Australians, the dream of turning the rivers inland. It was a sure-fire winner for the governments, state and federal, of the day. Yet the unintended consequences of this grand and expedient enterprise have come back so relentlessly that the hubristic nature of the project could not be more evident.

You would have hoped that the old nexus between unsustainable dreams, environmental damage and population growth had been left behind in the 1950s. Yet today we still hear of schemes for turning the rivers inland; and Australia still lacks a population policy. It seems that even now, when it is so clear that our environment is in peril, we remain incapable of apprehending the danger. We lack a mechanism to link our ever-increasing demand to the worsening environmental crisis, to assess what the cost of growth will be. At the same time our foreign policies continue, directly and indirectly, to spread misery overseas, adding to the burden of desperate refugees who will seek our shores in the future.

The fundamental question of sustainability is at the heart of the matter. What do we mean by sustainability? It is the overriding desideratum that we should live without destroying future prosperity. Sustainability is integral to our sense of ourselves as a nation because we must achieve it if we are truly to call this continent “ours”.

If we are ever to break the pernicious connection between our environmental mismanagement, disgraceful treatment of refugees and other victims, and lack of direction when it comes to the question of how many people we can support, we need to face some hard truths. If things do not change, it will become more and more difficult to sustain even the number of people we now have, let alone take in the vast number of refugees our foreign policy threatens to create in the days ahead. Right now we pin our hopes on the delusion of Fortress Australia – a mirage-like refuge where negligent people can hide their heads in desert sands. What we need, I believe, is to face the future with all the toughness of mind and humane care we can muster, and practise a humanism that recognises the cost of the choices we make as well as the moral necessity of trying to create the greatest possible good.

In essence, this essay tries to expose the heartfelt falsehoods that keep us from seeing the truth of our situation. These lies are close to the bone, they go deep in the Australian legend. They are the things that lead to slanging matches at family get-togethers and flying fists in pubs. So let us begin resolutely by examining the greatest lie of them all.

THE FOUNDING LIE

No lies are as potent as the lies we tell about land and people. Because they justify or deny the access of individuals – and indeed of entire societies – to acres and resources, they often take on a legal status. Australia’s founding lie was as wide and all-encompassing as the continent itself: terra nullius, the myth of the empty land, whose Aboriginal inhabitants of some 47,000 years tenure had, under British law, no rights to their country whatever. The land was literally taken over in toto, and Australia has been a colonial country, in the truest sense of the word, ever since. For the continent was colonised by an immigrant people whose food and mores, outlook, laws and social organisation originated elsewhere. To a great extent that situation still prevails, and it has ramified in our history into a thousand misunderstandings and errors. It lies at the heart of most of our environmental woes, and it is central to the dilemma we face in defining ourselves as a people.

In a sense, colonisation resulted in a classic mismatch – Australia is the ultimate round peg in a square hole; the round peg being the colonial insertion of a European people, their domesticated species and their laws, while the square hole was the environment of the continent. Despite our long-held beliefs to the contrary – with all of our aspirations to create European gardens, drought-proof the continent and create an Anglo-Saxon society at the end of the world – it is the “square hole” of Australian nature that remains immutable. After two centuries of being bashed up by drought, flood, fire and ecological catastrophe of every kind, we are slowly discovering that if a fatal mismatch is not to occur, it is the shape of the round peg – the colonial insert – that will have to change.

What Australians have needed are people at the wheel who can change society’s direction and turn it towards an genuinely emerging postcolonial awareness, a condition that allows us to strive for an adaptation of law and other cultural baggage to Australian conditions so that we can finally end the colonial period of our existence. A native Australian, Koiki (Eddie) Mabo, accomplished more than anyone in the last 200 years in achieving just that when, at a single stroke, he exposed to the light of scrutiny Australia’s founding lie of terra nullius.

Undoing all the evil the lie of terra nullius has engendered, however, has been a slow and sometimes uncertain business. The very land-claims process that Mabo initiated has left many Aboriginal people disillusioned and frustrated. Indeed, progress has been so poor in this area that Rick Farley argued in his 2003 Australia Day Address that the entire land claims process had been captured by wealthy whites; and certainly the lawyers have done better out of it than anyone. But even if this charge is true, it should not detract from the magnificence of Eddie Mabo’s achievement; for ever since he won his fight, in court cases and in subtle shifts of public attitude, our founding lie has started to be drained of its power. In a sense, the decolonisation of Australia’s legal system began in 1992 with Mabo, and one day, as a result of his actions, a better, more equitable and less colonial Australia will exist. Perhaps a century from now Mabo Day will mean more to our nation than any anniversary of Federation.

At its founding, European Australia was one vast prison, and prisons are almost invariably institutions founded upon falsehood. Not only are they filled with dishonest individuals, but those who build and pay for them are liars too. Otherwise honest citizens tell themselves that jails are a necessary evil that serve to reform criminals and to keep society safe; yet society rarely gets safer as jails proliferate, nor do rates of recidivism decline. Indeed, most often the reverse occurs and crime rates spiral as the number of penitentiaries increases.

Yet European Australia was a far from typical prison, because it was the only prison in the history of mankind that I’m aware of which actually fulfilled the hopes of those who built and paid for it. A one-way journey to “Botany Bay” often turned criminals into respectable farmers, merchants and politicians; and by emptying the hulks and prisons of Britain, it kept the slow burn of social unrest from reaching the flashpoint of revolution which would have turned the islands into a bloody battleground. It was a prison that actually benefited many of those who entered it. But it was also an ugly, brutal place.

Young Charles Darwin saw all this very clearly during his sole visit to Australia in 1836. He toured penal institutions in New South Wales and Tasmania and heartily abhorred what he discovered. He was shocked to find that “children learn the vilest expressions … if not equally vile ideas” from the convicts, and felt the horror of being waited upon by someone “who the day before, perhaps, had been flogged, from your representation, for some trifling misdemeanour”. Indeed, he could find no respite from the all-pervasive brutality and degradation of the thief colonies. Even as he travelled into the Blue Mountains to study their geology, the clanking of the chain gangs rang in his ears, and when he visited the genteel parlours of Hobart he was told of the destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines as the convicts and their masters stole black land. Yet for all the horror of convict Australia, Darwin also knew that his life as a country gent in Britain could not be maintained without this terrible place; for it was the deportation of criminals to Australia that made his bucolic bliss possible. It was perhaps this sense of being personally dependent on the perpetuation of a terrible wrong that made Australia so repugnant to him. He left “without sorrow or regret”, his mind too filled with revulsion and homesickness for him to have learned anything from such natural wonders as the platypus and the kangaroo.

Unlike Darwin, many European Australians still do not understand the implications of continuing to live in a colonial society. The Man from Snowy River is an archetypal Australian hero – one of the brave Aussies who tamed the rugged land. He sits side by side with the archetypal stockman in our constellation of national icons. We even have an entire museum at Longreach, Queensland devoted to the adulation of such men. Yet our worship of the self-reliant stockman neatly sidesteps the fact that the men of the cattle frontier were the shock troops in our Aboriginal wars. As Henry Reynolds has so amply demonstrated, during our frontier wars – the only wars ever fought on Australian soil – thousands of men, women and children were killed in battle or murdered in cold blood.

There is a deep current in our colonial Australian society that resists these simple facts and clings to the great founding lie. Although the scientific and historic proofs are numerous and incontrovertible, the palpable falsity of terra nullius has not been overturned by appeal to reason; instead, opponents have often turned to the denigration of indigenous culture as a way of distracting themselves from modern Australia’s colonial status. Through such denigration, they hope to engender the feeling that the Aboriginal people are inferior and unworthy – perhaps not even fully human. There is no better recent example of this than the claim in Pauline Hanson’s book One Nation that many Australian Aborigines were cannibals. The book cites as evidence sensationalist, popular novels written during the late nineteenth century and set on the Queensland frontier – works that have no anthropological credibility whatever and which portray bloodthirsty natives attacking Europeans and Chinese and eating their flesh with relish.

Hanson’s claim was itself attacked violently, her accusation of cannibalism emphatically dismissed by many academics as evidence of Hanson’s contemptible ignorance. And yet the debate troubled me deeply, for I knew that even a casual perusal of the Australian anthropological and historical literature indicated that cannibalism was indeed practised in some Aboriginal societies, albeit in a very different way from that claimed by Hanson. Perhaps the most unimpeachable example is found in William Buckley’s account of his thirty-two years living with Aboriginal people before European settlement in the Geelong area. Buckley identified two kinds of cannibalism, both of which he seems to have witnessed. The first kind appears to have been geographically widespread in Aboriginal Australia and involved the consumption of portions of a dearly loved relative (particularly a child) as part of the funeral rites. This form of cannibalism is an act of the deepest love and affection. It perhaps finds its closest parallel in Western society in the Catholic understanding of the rite of Communion. The second kind of cannibalism took the form of ingesting the parts of warriors killed in battle in order to obtain their bravery and strength. This seems to have been less widespread even within a single clan, for Buckley claims that this form of cannibalism revolted many of his Aboriginal acquaintances, who instead rubbed the fat of slain warriors on their skin to achieve the same end.

Anyone knowing of these practices at the time of the One Nation furore was faced with a dilemma. Should they lie – denying Aboriginal cannibalism – and so condemn Hanson’s support for Australia’s founding lie; or should they confirm the apparent historical reality of Aboriginal cannibalism, yet still insist that the founding lie must be overturned? While the debate was raging there was no room for equivocation, and every academic I saw interviewed over the issue chose to deny the evidence of cannibalism in Aboriginal societies, which most must surely have known of. There was, however, one notable exception – the remarkable Les Hiatt, a respected senior anthropologist. His thoughts, published in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, deserve to be reproduced at length here:

The debate on Aboriginal cannibalism generated by the Pauline Hanson book has proceeded on the assumption by both sides that the eating of human flesh is shameful. Denials and affirmations of its occurrence are accordingly seen as attempts either to elevate or to lower the image of Aboriginal people in the estimation of white Australians.

The assumption of shamefulness needs to be challenged. In many parts of Australia, Aborigines recovered the bones of recently buried relatives and kept them until the pain of bereavement abated. Sometimes, as in the case of small children, they refused to part with the bodies. In rare circumstances, as when young warriors or women fell in the course of battle, their anguished kin first attacked their own bodies and then ate the flesh of the deceased. An eyewitness account of such an event was given last century by a Victorian assistant protector named C.W. Sievewright and was published in the Victorian Historical Magazine, 1928, pp. 168–170.

As Kenneth Maddock has indicated (Herald, 23 April), necrophagy in Aboriginal Australia is well attested. Those who consumed the bodies of their loved ones did so while they themselves were consumed by grief.

Such ancestors are not necessarily more shameful than ours, who taught us to bite our own lips and choke on our tears.

The feeling of those times – the time of One Nation – was very like being in a war. It was a winner-take-all battle between a reactionary old Australia with its belief in terra nullius and an emerging, post-colonial and reconciled Australia. And as in any war, the first casualty was truth, and it was those on the liberal left as well as those on the right who were, almost wholesale, willing to sacrifice that truth for contingency. It’s a pattern I see repeated over and over again in our history.

What made matters worse in the Hanson fracas was that few questioned the fundamental assumption behind the debate. Was it really right or just that the descendants of people who may have practised cannibalism be shorn forever of all rights to their lands and resources? Does the act of cannibalism make a person less than fully human? Instead, at the height of the Hanson debate, lie piled upon lie, and bitter hatreds and divisions were spawned among Australians.

This appalling situation was made worse by the fact that generations of Australians had turned their backs on their own country’s history. They might have secretly feared that they would discover in the annals of the Australian pioneers evidence that their nation was born in a bloodbath of inter-racial violence – the frontier wars – and perhaps even that their own families had been involved. This was not a lie, but it was a monumental refusal to look truth in the face and to learn where we had come from.

While such fears may not be unfounded, to ignore our history is to live in darkness. For as well as discovering appalling truths in our past, we find the most extraordinary examples of deep humanity. Indeed, I think that in parts of our history we can discern a clear template for creating a better Australia. This is particularly true of our founding texts – the five principal narratives by Phillip, Hunter, White, Collins and Tench dealing with our earliest history, the half-decade from 1788 to 1793. The accounts are as variegated as they are revelatory, and to read them is to discover the unexpected; for the story of Australia’s founding embodies a vital, redemptive thread in our history, which seemed lost for so long but which now, in the wake of Mabo, we are beginning to see the significance of. And, if we are talking about lies versus truths worth living by, I also think that the first four years of European settlement in Australia represent a unique experiment in discerning the human condition.

The terms of the experiment were dictated by the elements that had been thrown into the mix. On one side were over a thousand colonists from the far north of half a world away. They included 736 convicts, the majority drawn from the slums of London, and then, overseeing them, a group of Royal Marines under the command of Governor Arthur Phillip. The contrast between the two groups of whites could scarcely have been greater: the convicts were for the most part starving, illiterate and lost, while in Phillip and the marines we have some of the highly sensitive minds that come out of the culture of the European Enlightenment. Indeed, in individuals like Lieutenants William Dawes and Watkin Tench we find spirits whose humane attitudes and whose understanding of the nature of Australia were not to be met with again in the antipodes for two centuries.

Arthur Phillip, Australia’s first governor, was the son of a German migrant from Frankfurt who might possibly (although this now seems unlikely) have had Jewish ancestry. He was a fluent speaker of Portuguese, having fought with them against the Spanish as a mercenary. As this history may suggest, he was also someone with a keen sense of natural justice and an appreciation of cultural difference. By ordering that a portion of every catch of fish the Europeans made should be given to the Aborigines, he recognised the primacy of the Aboriginal claim to resources. Phillip was also ageing (he was forty-eight when the fleet sailed) and in poor health, and by 1791 his continued physical frailty was beginning to show in some of his decisions about how to deal with the Eora people of the Sydney Harbour area.

Lieutenant William Dawes has been described by an eminent Australian historian as a “man of letters and a man of science, explorer, mapmaker, student of language, of anthropology, of astronomy, of botany, of surveying, and of engineering, teacher and philanthropist”. He was the colony’s official stargazer and was placed in charge of its ordnance. His astronomical observatory had to be located outside the settlement so that the lights of the campfires did not disturb his observations, and he hit upon a point to the west of the settlement which today supports the southern pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is known as Dawes Point. This advantageous geographical location – somewhat removed from the main settlement – gave Aboriginal people the opportunity to visit a European without having to enter the main camp, and Dawes began to build a unique relationship with the Eora. His diary, which is held in the Institute for African and Asian Studies, London, documents his attempt to learn their language, and at the same time reveals the development, Professor Higgins-style, of an intimate bond with a young Aboriginal woman called Patyegarang. “Matigarbárgun náigaba – We shall sleep separate”; “Metcoarsmady minga – You winked at me.” The incoherent strings of words in parallel languages run on, building a bridge on which black and white could have built a greater mutual understanding.

A signal event assured, however, that this was not to be. In December 1790 a young Aboriginal man speared the colony’s “game-keeper”, McIntyre. (“Game keeper” was one of those terms whose meaning had become inverted when it was transposed to this new colony in the antipodes. The Aborigines saw McIntyre for what he was, a poacher of their wildlife.) Phillip, in an uncharacteristic outburst brought on by ill-health and exhaustion, ordered Dawes and Tench to bring six Aborigines to him in retaliation or, “if that should be found impracticable, to put that number to death”.

Dawes reluctantly joined the first party sent out to achieve this horrible retribution. But when the venture failed and a second attempt was ordered, he had to make a choice – in effect a choice between natural justice and obedience to a superior. He fully understood that disobedience would be seen as an act of treason that could see him swinging from a gallows without delay; yet he chose the side of Patyegarang and justice, making it widely known that he would refuse to join any such future punitive expedition.

Governor Phillip stayed his hand against his lieutenant until 1791 when the Gorgon arrived to relieve the marines and Phillip’s command. Then, despite Dawes’ desire to remain in Australia, he was ordered “home” to England, and he and Patyegarang were separated forever. If Lieutenant William Dawes had been allowed to join our first settlers, what a contribution he might have made! Still, his life in the wider world was not wasted. He went on to become a tireless anti-slavery campaigner and promoter of full rights for coloured people.

Dawes’ greatest friend in the new settlement was without any doubt the extraordinary Watkin Tench, our nation’s first chronicler and the author of two highly readable and compelling accounts of Australia’s first four years. He was widely acknowledged as “the most cultured mind in the colony”, and such was his enlightened and humane outlook that, despite the prejudices of his times, by the end of his sojourn among the Aborigines he could profess that, “Man is the same in Pall Mall as in the wilderness of New South Wales.”

Tench was astonished by the fearlessness of Eora leaders like Bennelong in the face of overwhelming odds. He was also deeply affectionate to many of his other Aboriginal friends. Indeed, while his view of indigenous people was unhindered by any concept of the “noble savage”, he held some Aborigines in deep regard – not because they were black or different, but simply because they were remarkable people. After leaving Australia in 1792 he would go on to fight in the French Revolutionary wars, and was serving on the Alexander under Captain Bligh when he was captured and sent into rural confinement in Brittany. At that time, to keep a diary as a prisoner of war opened one to charges of espionage and thus death. Yet Tench took the risk, and his Letters from France were published as his third and final literary production. It was the only one of his published works not dealing with Australia. But the links were still there, for Tench tells us that his secret diary was written in part in “the language of New Holland” so that its contents could not be understood if found by his captors.

On the other side of this remarkable human experiment that marks Australia’s founding were the Eora. Because they left almost no written accounts, we know less about them as individuals. Yet among them are statesmen like Colbee and warriors such as Bennelong and the resistance leader Pemulwuy (“Man of the Earth”) who for years fought the Europeans. Bennelong, by virtue of his quick wit and bravery, enchanted Tench. “Love and war seemed his favourite pursuits,” wrote the marine about his Aboriginal friend, whose “powers of mind were far above mediocrity”. On the fateful day when Governor Phillip was speared at Manly Cove, Bennelong (who had earlier escaped from the settlement after being kidnapped) inquired by name for every person whom he could recollect at Sydney; and among others for a French cook, one of the Governor’s servants, whom he had constantly made the butt of his ridicule by mimicking his voice, gait and other peculiarities, all of which he again rehearsed with his accustomed exactness and drollery.

Three important lessons shine through to me from this nascent Australia. The first is a confirmation of the common humanity of all people – as strong a confirmation as you could wish for of the absolute necessity of living by a humanist or at any rate a humane creed. The reason I say this is because the two peoples who met on that momentous day in 1788 – the Aborigines and the Europeans – had been separated from each other for longer than any other human cultures on our planet. For 60,000 years – perhaps half the span of our species’ tenure on earth – they had been cut off from each other, living on isolated and very different landmasses at opposite ends of the globe. They had developed separate languages and cultures, different skin colours, gene frequencies and facial features. But despite it all, recognition and understanding were immediate, for so strong is our common bond that 60,000 years of separation melted away in a moment. A smile was a smile. An uncertain glance, an act of friendship, a shout of hostility or fear, a sexual overture – all were instantly comprehended.

This was true from the first instant of contact – and here it is, related to us by the remarkable Watkin Tench, who recorded exactly what happened when that 60,000-year separation was finally ended:

I went with a party to the south side of the Harbour [Botany Bay] and had scarcely landed five minutes when we were met by a dozen Indians, naked as the moment of their birth … I had at this time a little boy, not more than seven years of age, in my hand. The child seemed to attract their attention very much … and as he was not frightened I advanced with him … at the same time baring his bosom and showing the whiteness of the skin. On the clothes being removed they gave a loud exclamation and … an old man with a long beard, hideously ugly, came close to us … The Indian, with great gentleness, laid his hand on the child’s hat and afterwards felt his clothes, muttering to himself all the while. I found it necessary, however, by this time to send away the child, as such a close connection rather alarmed him, and in this … I gave no offence to the old gentleman. Indeed it was but putting ourselves on a par with them, as I had observed from the first that some youths of their own … were kept back by the grown people.

The second great lesson I find in those first four years is that they gave reason to hope that black and white could co-exist – and indeed forge a new and distinctive nation in Australia. A personal friendship grew up between Governor Phillip and Bennelong who, with his clan, was given ownership of one of the first brick buildings erected in the settlement. Catches of fish were shared and, as Watkin Tench witnessed, a feeling of mutual respect grew between the European intellectuals and the Eora.

What killed this earliest of reconciliations was a struggle over resources. Hitherto the Europeans had lived out of government stores – on years-old pickled pork and weevily flour. But then, in February 1792, Governor Phillip made the first grant of land in the new settlement, giving thirty acres near Parramatta to James Ruse. He must have known that it was not his land to give away, for the colony’s judge advocate, David Collins, had found clear evidence of individual ownership of particular pieces of land among the Eora, and of such properties being inherited down the generations.

As the Europeans started to appropriate land for their own use as farms, in creating towns and shaping gardens, for the first time the question of who owned the land – on the broad scale – became an issue. Angry Aborigines who met Europeans on the Parramatta road demanded to know what they were doing. “This is our country,” was the continual refrain. The government’s only response was to increase the military presence in the newly cultivated areas. When an Aboriginal boy was killed by the settlers, the perpetrators were brought before Judge Collins; yet he released them because he was uncertain about the status of Aboriginal people and their testimony under English law in the colony. Justice Aboriginal-style followed, and then the bloody battle was on.

The third lesson I take from Australia’s founding is that a deep humanism as well as enlightened attitudes can survive – indeed flourish – in brutal and divided times, in a distant colony where the Europeans faced starvation in a prison of their own making. The learning, compassion and sheer intellect of the best of Australia’s early European settlers are still astonishing. They possessed a world view rooted in the teachings of figures like Adam Smith and David Hume. Individuals such as Tench, Dawes and Phillip shared a humanism and speculative breadth of mind that admitted no prejudices and few preconceptions. As we read Tench on the Eora we forget, after a while, that we are reading of “naked, wild savages” and instead we see these people first and foremost individually – we see the faces and habits of Coleby, Bennelong or Araboo, all dealing with their intensely human dilemmas in brave and intelligent ways. The humanist perspective could not instantly right the wrongs of history and circumstance, but its survival, and the good it did, shines out to us today as we grapple with problems that seem insoluble.

Among later, often Australian-born explorers we find no such sympathy. Frontiersmen such as John Forrest and David Carnegie, who were charting the Australian inland generations after Tench, could see in the Aborigines nothing but impediments; their humanity had receded completely. It was this generation, growing up without the benefit of an Enlightenment education, which took the land by force and squeezed Australia into the mould we know today.

Tragically, it was in this turbulent period that the new pattern of interaction was set – dispossession of a proud people, then resistance, followed by reprisal. It has taken us 200 years to begin to get back to anywhere near where we started – to a mutual respect and a willingness to talk and listen. And the talk and negotiation today is over the same issue as it was then – land and resources. Terra nullius.

So at the beginning there was that rarest of things. An “honest” prison, gaolers who were a testament to the high values of their age, and a real hope that black and white might make a go of it together in Australia. No armband history, black or white, just reason for hope, and acknowledgement that there was no other possible way of moving forward. For in those infant days at Sydney Cove, neither black nor white wielded absolute power. Modern Australia was thus of necessity born through negotiation and reconciliation.

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This is an extract from Tim Flannery's Quarterly Essay, Beautiful Lies: Population and environment in Australia. To read the full essay, subscribe or buy the book.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Flannery is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Future Eaters, Throwim Way LegThe Weather MakersNow or Never and Here on Earth. In 2007, he was the Australian of the Year. He is currently Chief Commissioner of Australia’s Climate Commission.

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