Dhakiyarr vs The King on NITV last night

In Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV and How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits… earlier this month I recommended Channel 34 should become a regular part of our viewing. Indeed, I can think of few better ways to celebrate Australia Day than to go on over to Channel 34 as much as possible. Don’t miss the News at 5.30 pm. It’s a revelation.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Jeremy Geia is a regular on the news. He is really very good. He is also an artist.

Last night NITV showed the 2004 documentary Dhakiyarr vs The King.

In his acceptance speech when the film won the Audiovisual History prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2004, the producer of the film, Graeme Isaac remarked, "It has been said that history is written by he who holds the pen, but much of the Aboriginal history of Australia since white settlement has been unwritten history, a history conveyed orally rather than through books and letters. The court case of Takiyar vs The King and the following appeal to the High Court is a famous part of Australian legal history, often taught to undergraduate law students, but Dhakiyarr’s story has never really been told from the point of view of his own people. We fashioned this film project to rectify that imbalance, and to fill in the gaps in the white history created by our ignorance of the Aboriginal oral tradition. We wanted the film to be a mouthpiece for Dhakiyarr’s descendants to tell their side of the story from their own perspective.

They told it not just in words but also with their painting and their ceremony. And in commemorating Dhakiyarr’s memory in the way they did in the High Court in Darwin, with their generous offer of reconciliation with the system and the society that took their leader’s life, they have also changed the feelings and the views of many others, effectively becoming not just tellers of history but also makers of history" We made our film specifically to present the point of view of a participant, to enrich our understanding of a story that is important not just to the Yolngu but to all Australians, one of the great iconic stories of our frontier history – not a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ history but a shared history, where both sides must understand and learn from the other in order to glimpse the full story.

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Dhakiyarr

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When men of the law meet.

Northern Territory Supreme Court Justices Brian Martin (left) and David Angel (right) and High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson (second from right) meet Yolngu Law Man Wuyal Wirrpanda.
Date: Unknown
Photographer: Peter Eve

Just inspiring.

In 2004 my former SBHS student Sacha Molitorisz had this to say:

Tom Murray and Allan Collins have a remarkable story, and they’d prefer to let someone else tell it. It’s about a blackfella called Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from north-east Arnhem Land.

In 1933 this Yolngu tribal leader came across a policeman who had broken Aboriginal law by trespassing on Yolngu land. He had also chained up Dhakiyarr’s wife. In accordance with black law, Dhakiyarr speared the policeman, Constable Albert McColl, through the leg. McColl died.

The retribution, in accordance with white law, was equally harsh. On the advice of a missionary, Dhakiyarr travelled to Darwin to face the Northern Territory Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to death for murder.

After lobbying by academics and unions, however, the High Court overturned the decision, ordering Dhakiyarr be freed. At the time, it was a hugely controversial result, recognising Aborigines should be treated equally before the law. "It was an amazing decision," Murray says.

But the Yolngu celebrations were short-lived: as soon as Dhakiyarr was released, he disappeared. Rumour had it he was killed, possibly by vengeful policemen, or by vigilantes. His remains have never been found.

Murray, a Manly resident with a deep love for Arnhem Land culture, has long been fascinated with Dhakiyarr. "I’ve spent a bit of time up there. I’d heard the story in whispers. It was such a significant trial of the time, so I’d read bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, ‘I bet Dhakiyarr’s family have an amazing story.’ When I went to meet them, this raw, unreconciled story of wanting to know what happened to Dhakiyarr revealed itself."

When Dhakiyarr’s descendants reconciled with the McColl family, Murray decided to make a film about them. As an experienced maker of radio documentaries who lacked film experience, he teamed up with Allan Collins, the cinematographer of Beneath Clouds.

Funding proved hard to raise – until Film Australia’s National Interest Program saw the project’s significance. So filming began, with the focus on two of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons, Wuyal and Dhukal.

"In the Yolngu way, they call themselves sons of Dhakiyarr," says Murray. "To us they’re his grandsons. The film is about Wuyal’s and Dhukal’s attempts to reconcile this raw wound after 70 years."

Last year, Wuyal and Dhukal sent a video letter to Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, asking for the return of Dhakiyarr’s remains. Alternatively, the brothers asked to hold a ceremony at Darwin’s Supreme Court, where Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death. Martin agreed to the latter, and the ensuing scenes – featuring a meeting of Dhakiyarr’s descendants and McColl’s family – form the climax of the finished film, Dhakiyarr vs The King, a powerful piece of work. Last week, the filmmakers learnt they’ve been nominated in the best doco category at this year’s Dendy Awards, scheduled during the Sydney Film Festival.

The Supreme Court ceremony had a reconciling effect on the Wirrpandas and the McColls. As Joan McColl of Narracan wrote to The Age last week: "The Wirrpanda family involved the McColl family in a wonderful healing Wukidi ceremony during which they apologised for Albert’s death and presented to Alan McColl, his nearest living male relative, a ceremonial headpiece. In turn, gifts were presented from the McColl family and the two families now are in close, friendly contact."

Says Murray: "I think it’s been a profound experience for the McColl family. Alan McColl is from Gippsland. He said to me a year ago he’d never even met a black person, and now he has a family of them."

In the process, the McColls have adopted a sporting legend: 24-year-old David Wirrpunda, a star with AFL team the West Coast Eagles. He spells his name differently, but he is Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s great-grandson. Wuyal is his dad. Yesterday, Murray, Wuyal and Dhukal went to a West Coast game in Melbourne.

"It’s the first time Wuyal has seen his son play football since he was a kid. David lives in Perth, and Wuyal is the leader of a community in north-east Arnhem Land," says Murray.

This week, Murray returns to his hometown for the Sydney big screen premiere of his film at the Chauvel in Paddington. Wuyal and Dhukal will attend. "It takes courage to acknowledge the past and to apologise, as Wuyal did to the McColls. That’s been missing from the national debate, where we don’t seem to have that leadership. Dhakiyarr going to face white law, that’s showing leadership … With Wuyal, his leadership was made very clear. He showed dignity and courage, and I think that’s what people are responding to. And the same is true of Alan McColl – the McColls were willing to reconcile their own past."

One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it lets the Wirrpandas tell their own story. "Where there is narration, the two brothers narrate," says Murray. "And I think the film was really affirming for them, especially now so many people are saying to them, ‘You’ve done something really important for the Aboriginal debate. You’ve told a really important story.’

"After the screenings, people have been saying that it’s the first time they’ve been given the privilege of gaining insight into an Aboriginal community, unmitigated by a white voice trying to explain it."

It will no doubt be repeated. Don’t miss it.

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Monday night ABC1–”The Grammar of Happiness”

I watched this with interest.

The Grammar Of Happiness follows the story of Daniel Everett amongst the extraordinary ‘unconvertible’ Amazonian Pirahã tribe, a group of indigenous hunter-gatherers whose culture and outlook on life has taken the world of linguistics by storm.

As a young ambitious missionary three decades ago, Dan, a red-bearded towering American, decamped to the Amazon rain forest to save indigenous souls. His assignment was to translate the book of Mark into the tongue of the Pirahã, a people whose puzzling speech seemed unrelated to any other on Earth. What he learned during his time with the Pirahã led him to question the very foundations of his own deep beliefs.

As a ‘born again’ atheist, Dan divorced his devout Christian wife and became estranged from his children. Having lost faith and family, his new life is dominated by the desire to leave behind his legacy. Everett’s most controversial claim is that the Pirahã language lacks ‘recursion’ – the ability to build an infinite number of sentences within sentences, regarded by Chomsky-ists as perhaps the most fundamental characteristic of human language.

The Grammar Of Happiness interweaves the tale of Everett’s attempt to return to the Pirahã with the story of his personal journey since the sixties – from drug-taking musician to evangelical missionary to rabblerousing academic. It’s the adventurous tale of losing faith but finding happiness.

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Photo by Daniel Everett – linked to source

See also Angry Words: Will one researcher’s discovery deep in the Amazon destroy the foundation of modern linguistics?

Christian missionary sets out to convert a remote Amazonian tribe. He lives with them for years in primitive conditions, learns their extremely difficult language, risks his life battling malaria, giant anacondas, and sometimes the tribe itself. In a plot twist, instead of converting them he loses his faith, morphing from an evangelist trying to translate the Bible into an academic determined to understand the people he’s come to respect and love.

Along the way, the former missionary discovers that the language these people speak doesn’t follow one of the fundamental tenets of linguistics, a finding that would seem to turn the field on its head, undermine basic assumptions about how children learn to communicate, and dethrone the discipline’s long-reigning king, who also happens to be among the most well-known and influential intellectuals of the 20th century.

It feels like a movie, and it may in fact turn into one—there’s a script and producers on board. It’s already a documentary that will air in May on the Smithsonian Channel. A play is in the works in London. And the man who lived the story, Daniel Everett, has written two books about it. His 2008 memoir Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, is filled with Joseph Conrad-esque drama. The new book, Language: The Cultural Tool, which is lighter on jungle anecdotes, instead takes square aim at Noam Chomsky, who has remained the pre-eminent figure in linguistics since the 1960s, thanks to the brilliance of his ideas and the force of his personality.

But before any Hollywood premiere, it’s worth asking whether Everett actually has it right. Answering that question is not straightforward, in part because it hinges on a bit of grammar that no one except linguists ever thinks about. It’s also made tricky by the fact that Everett is the foremost expert on this language, called Pirahã, and one of only a handful of outsiders who can speak it, making it tough for others to weigh in and leading his critics to wonder aloud if he has somehow rigged the results….

And How Do You Say ‘Disagreement’ in Pirahã?

His life among his fellow linguists, however, has been far less idyllic, and debate about his scholarship is poised to boil over anew, thanks to his ambitious new book, “Language: The Cultural Tool,” and a forthcoming television documentary that presents an admiring view of his research among the Pirahã along with a darkly conspiratorial view of some of his critics.

In 2005 Dr. Everett shot to international prominence with a paper claiming that he had identified some peculiar features of the Pirahã language that challenged Noam Chomsky’s influential theory, first proposed in the 1950s, that human language is governed by “universal grammar,” a genetically determined capacity that imposes the same fundamental shape on all the world’s tongues.

The paper, published in the journal Current Anthropology, turned him into something of a popular hero but a professional lightning rod, embraced in the press as a giant killer who had felled the mighty Chomsky but denounced by some fellow linguists as a fraud, an attention seeker or worse, promoting dubious ideas about a powerless indigenous group while refusing to release his data to skeptics…

And Chomsky, the Pirahã, and turduckens of the Amazon.

The Pirahã maelstrom has had two vortices: recursion, and the language–culture connection. Recursion promises/threatens to slay Chomsky, who argues that much of grammar is innate. The language–culture connection promises/threatens to resurrect Whorf, who argues that language shapes how we think. I work on the latter and I’ve written (here, here) on why I choose not to work on the former. For now, I’ll concentrate Chomsky and recursion, because, truth be told, the “Pirahã slays Chomsky” headlines seem to me like errors in elementary reasoning. In other words, the kind of “because” abuse that this blog is named after…

Why does recursion matter to Chomsky? Well, one of the ways to think about what he is up to (and how I explain my work at dinner parties) is to pretend the brain is a kind of computer, like an iphone. (Sorry for mixing metaphors, computers with food. But, well, iphones are apples.) Obviously, we share lots of our brain hardware with other animals. But other animals apparently don’t have anything like human languages, not even the vocal, gregarious, communicative ones, not even primates formally schooled in sign languages by eager experimenters. Chomsky has co-written that the crucial difference might be that our hardware at some point became capable of recursion.*…

My iphone tags my photos to say where I took them. It tells me what’s nearby (cafés, restaurants, museums, shops, …). It shows me where I am on maps and how to get to where I want to go and which of my friends are nearby. My mother never tags her photos, she never wants to know what’s around her, she never displays herself as a blip on a map, and, if she wants to know if you’re nearby, she calls. But that’s a fact about how my mother has set her iphone up. All location services are off. But that doesn’t mean her iphone can’t provide that information. The computational capacity of our phones is the same, her configuration is just different.

If the Pirahã don’t have turducken sentences, that’s a fact about how their language is configured. It’s not a fact about their hardware. If you kidnapped a Pirahã child (a practice inflicted on numerous indigenous communities) and raised it speaking Portuguese—or, less horrifically, if you exposed it to enough Portuguese for it to grow up bilingual—you’d expect them to be just as capable of learning Portuguese as any other child they were raised with. When Chomsky is concerned with recursion, he is concerned with hardware. The claim is about what brains can learn, not what a particular brain has learned. A dearth of turduckens of the Amazon just doesn’t matter…

And:

And an account by Everett himself at The Edge.

I think that the way that Chomskyan theories developed over the last 50 years has made it completely untestable now. It’s not clear what usefulness there is in the notion of universal grammar. It appeals to the public at large, and it used to appeal to linguists, but as you work more and more with it, there’s no way to test it—I can’t think of a single experiment—in fact I asked Noam this in an e-mail, what is a single prediction that universal grammar makes that I could falsify? How could I test it? What prediction does it make? And he said, It doesn’t make any predictions; it’s a field of study, like biology. 

Now that is not quite right. No scientist can get by without believing in biology, but it’s quite possible to study human language without believing in universal grammar. So UG is really not a field of study in the same sense. I think the history of science shows that the people who develop a theory and who are responsible for the development of the theory are rarely the people who come forward and say: whoops, I was wrong, we need to actually work at it another way, this guy over here had the right idea. It’s rare for that to happen. Noam is not likely to say this.

I want to have well-designed experiments to test my claims on recursion; I want to have mores studies of the Pirahã grammar from people working outside my influence. The more people who can look at this independently, the more likely it is that others are going to start to believe this, because I think it’s going to be shown to be correct. If it’s wrong, that’s also important. The tests have to be done, and then if there is evidence that I might be onto something, we have to look at other languages. And other languages in similar situations where they’ve been cut off for one reason or another from outside influences for long periods of time. And re-examine those languages in light of the possibility that languages can vary more than we thought. And maybe the categories that we have aren’t the best categories.

We need more fieldwork. Linguists have gotten away from fieldwork over the last 50 years. There’s more interest in endangered languages now than there was a few years ago, but there’s just now beginning to be a resurgence of the field work ethic among linguists, and the idea that we can’t figure out everything that we need to know just by looking at grammars that have been written, without going and seeing the language in the cultural context.

And that’s really the biggest research question that I have for the future: What evidence is there that culture can exercise an architectonic effect on the grammar —that it can actually shape the very nature of grammar, and not simply trigger parameters.

In  my years teaching English and English as a Second Language I can conclude that for my purposes Chomsky was pretty much useless. In a paper I wrote for a UTS TESOL course in 1998 I found myself scratching to find anything really relevant to my understanding of how language works and how it may be taught and learned.  It has always surprised me that Chomsky so dominates linguistics when, from my perspective, there are far more interesting and useful linguists all over the shop. For example:

In fact it is fair to say that in Monday night’s documentary Chomsky comes across as a bit of a prick. 

At the same time despite his genuine knowledge of his Amazonians and their language and culture, Everett seemed to me more than a bit naive. It was that tired old nature/nurture, instinct/culture Sapir-Whorf debate in yet another guise. And a bit of an overdose of noble savagery.

I mean, take all the guff about the Pirahã not having tense. So?

For example, say we have the verb ‘go’ but no such thing as went, gone, am going, will go, and etc. Nothing but ‘go’.

  • I go Beijing.
  • She go Beijing.
  • We go Beijing.

How would we try to express tense and time in English under these circumstances? Probably like this, which is one way Chinese does it:

  • Tomorrow I go Beijing.
  • Right now she go Beijing.
  • Yesterday we go Beijing.

Adverbs! Instead of inflecting verbs, the Chinese language relies heavily on the use of adverbs to communicate what English and many other languages do with different verb tenses. And looking at the literal translations in the following examples, you realize that English could probably also get by without verb inflections in a pinch…

Millions of Chinese seem to get by without tense too, nor would I say that this makes the Chinese content to live in an eternal present.

And the Pirahã don’t use numbers.  I was about to say neither do/did Australian Aboriginal languages – “one”, “two”, “heaps” being one way of putting it – but apparently this isn’t true.

Even so, when it comes to Chomsky – and even Pinker – I find myself drawn rather to the anthropological/sociolinguistic varieties of linguistics – the ones I find more interesting and certainly, from the language teaching point of view, more useful.

I must chase up The Language Instinct Debate by Geoffrey Sampson. Oh, and I did enjoy the documentary.

Mostly Australian…

First something that includes but goes beyond our patch: the annual summary State of the Climate Global Analysis 2012 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Climatic Data Center (USA) is now available.

Global Highlights

  • The year 2012 was the 10th warmest year since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This marks the 36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average. Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average. Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001–2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2012.
  • Separately, the 2012 global average land surface temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F) and ranked as the seventh warmest year on record.
  • La Niña, which is defined by cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that affect weather patterns around the globe, was present during the first three months of 2012. The weak-to-moderate La Niña dissipated in the spring and was replaced by ENSO-neutral conditions for the remainder of the year. When compared to previous La Niña years, the 2012 global surface temperature was the warmest observed during such a year; 2011 was the previous warmest La Niña year on record.
  • The 2012 global average ocean temperature was 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the 20thcentury average of 16.1°C (60.9°F) and ranked as the 10th warmest year on record. It was also the warmest year on record among all La Niña years. The three warmest annual ocean surface temperatures occurred in 2003, 1998, and 2010—all warm phase El Niño years.
  • Following the two wettest years on record (2010 and 2011), 2012 saw near average precipitation on balance across the globe. However, as ia typical, precipitation varied greatly from region to region.

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Bring that right back home, perhaps…  You recall earlier this month Flying Fox Dreaming–or nightmare?  Here is a follow-up from today’s Illawarra Mercury:

The region’s budding flying fox population was not immune to Friday’s scorching weather, as dozens of bats died in the heat.

WIRES volunteers spent hours on Saturday disposing of nearly 50 dead grey-haired flying foxes after they died in the hot weather.

The colony, numbering tens of thousands, had taken up a summer spot in a patch of bushland just north of the Figtree freeway exit…

WIRES Chairman Sam Joukador said volunteers had removed a wheelbarrow full of the dead bats and expected to find more on the other side of the freeway exit.

"The heat just brought a lot of them down … they can’t handle the hot weather," he said.

"During the last heatwave, we had the same problem but this time, the weather was a lot more intense … if it had lasted more than one day, we would have lost about 90 per cent of the colony.

"We found a lot of them in the creek; they’d drowned while they were trying to get some water, they can’t just take off and fly from a creek like that, they need to be up high.

"Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do … it’s just nature taking its course."…

On ABC News 24 yesterday afternoon was a pleasant surprise.

When Sydney-based Scott Bevan arrives in Newcastle to visit family and friends, he releases an audible sigh. ‘‘It’s that exhalation of pure comfort … aaaaah … I’m home now and I’m fine,’’ he says, laughing. Until 1993, when the intrepid journalist left town to pursue career opportunities, home was here in the Hunter (he returned in 2001 for a year with wife Jo to write) and even now, when asked where he is from, Bevan replies with great affection and pride, ‘‘Newcastle’’. ‘‘Some nearest and dearest correct me and say, ‘Well, that’s not true any more’, but yes it is. I am from Newcastle in my heart and soul.’’

That passion for his birthplace and a love of history motivated Bevan, who now works for ABC News 24, to embark in February 2011 on an ambitious and meaningful adventure, picking up where he had left off a decade earlier. ‘‘Back in 2001, I wrote a series for the Newcastle Herald about a canoe trip I did with Jo down the Hunter River, starting just below Glenbawn Dam,’’ he recalls. ‘‘Then I went overseas for work [Bevan became the ABC’s Moscow correspondent] but often while I was away I was reminded of the river and I felt strongly about revisiting it with the view to writing a book so I could reach a wider audience. When we came back to Australia, I talked to ABC Books and they were interested.’’

It still took a little while for Bevan’s resolve to turn into action. ‘‘When I got back from Russia and told my dear mate [film director] Bruce Beresford about my plan, he said, ‘Gee, I hope you don’t die’. I told him it was safe and he said, ‘No, I don’t mean that. I hope you don’t die of boredom’. [Laughs] And then I launched into a defence of the area and why it’s so wonderful. I knew I had to get going.’’

After visiting by foot the three streamlets in the Barrington Tops that form the beginning of the Hunter River, Bevan explores the Packers’ 27,000-hectare estate Ellerston before starting his paddling from the White family’s famous Belltrees property.

Had much changed in the decade since his last journey? ‘‘The main thing that struck me was how many areas along the river were unkempt, [with] weeds having taken over. In certain parts it may be because more and more land is no longer primarily used for agriculture, but is tied up with the mining industry.

‘‘That’s not to say mines don’t consider that stuff, but if you’re on the land, day in and day out, and it’s part of who you are and what you are, then you’re going to be more mindful of that aspect. There were parts that were like paddling through South-East Asia because of the profusion of bamboo and weeds.’’

Mining had also increased its reach. ‘‘In 2001, I remember being surprised by how close in places mining does come to the river, so this time, I was more prepared for the shock, but it is cheek by jowl and the mining industry is right there beside the river.

‘‘In places, it is an extraordinary presence when you paddle around a bend and see a range of overburden towering over the river. I felt a sense of loss; you couldn’t just do the Huck Finn thing and paddle down the river and wander up to the farmhouse and speak to the local farmer and say, ‘G’day, can I camp on your land?’ There are stretches now where that isn’t possible.’’

The effect of being a decade older also hit the 47-year-old hard. ‘‘It was a reaffirmation that I’m ageing,’’ laughs the father of five-year-old twin boys. ‘‘You wouldn’t think there would be much difference in 10 years, but there is. My muscles were testament to that every morning I woke up in a tent aching. I wasn’t prepared for feeling so old!’’

Bevan is an evocative and skilful writer with a journalist’s eye for detail. He captures the subtle characteristics of the people and landscape that enriched his adventure. Colourful historical detail is threaded through his account, as is personal reflection. ‘‘You paddle a river and it forces you to look around,’’ Bevan says. ‘‘It also allowed me to meditate on those two questions I set out to answer with the book – who am I and where am I from?’’

from the Newcastle Herald. See also HarperCollins on the book.

Very evocative for me as it showed many places my mother had lived in and often spoke about. See More tales from my mother 4 — Dunolly NSW — and conclusions.

Finally, here’s a thought if you are wondering what to watch on Australia Day: why not be as Australian as you possibly can get? Watch NITV.  Somewhere in there is some footage of 1988. Perhaps I may even see myself!  I will certainly see places, things and people I saw then or have seen since.

Last night NITV showed an excellent movie, Radiance. See my 2007 post One of our stories well told: Radiance (1998). Stephen Page on Talking Heads.

Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV

No matter how you look at it, the key fact in this country’s history since the 18th century is dispossession. On the other hand none of the current possessors/inhabitants is going anywhere.  That’s the paradox we have inherited and have to deal with.

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And then the strangers came…

On Sunday I watched the excellent episode of The First Australians dealing with Western Australia: Jandamarra, the revolting A O Neville, Moore River and so on.  Here were events from my grandparents’ generation, then from my parents’ generation and indeed my own lifetime. A fitting climax to the episode, even allowing for the disappointments one feels at times, was the Kevin Rudd apology of 2008.

In Redfern February 2008 – I was there.

Then last night ABC1 showed Coniston.

In 1928, following the murder of a white dingo trapper, Central Australia would witness the last known massacre of it’s indigenous people. With over one hundred killed during a series of punitive expeditions, now known as the Coniston Massacre, many lived to tell of the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. For the first time those who survived this bloody episode get to tell their side of the story in this new documentary on the Coniston Massacre co-produced by PAW Media and Rebel Films.

Not a single academic historian in sight – just the descendants of survivors or, indeed, actual survivors in some cases. Compelling stuff, and all happening in my parents’ lifetime. Just as my mother’s stories of the same years in another part of the country command my respect so, more so even, do these.

But of course Australia is far from the only country whose history is rooted in dispossession or where that dispossession has been followed by greater or lesser death of peoples and cultures and languages. So to North America, and the USA in particular. Last night NITV surprised with the showing of a 2012 German documentary, Bury My Heart in Dresden.

A Catholic cemetery in Dresden. A grey and weathered gravestone protrudes from the snow. At its foot stands a small American flag. The inscription on the old stone reveals who was laid to rest here in 1914: Edward Two Two, Sioux chief. Strange. How did one of the Sioux Indians, whose home is North America, end up in Dresden of all places? And why was he buried here?

Bettina Renner pursues this question, rummaging in archives and travelling to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to visit Edward Two Two’s old homeland. Edward Two Two came to Germany as part of one of the so-called “human zoos”. In those days, people who fulfilled the local audience’s desire for the exotic would be taken from all over the world and presented in elaborately choreographed shows. The participants, who were sometimes paraded through town, would attract a lot of attention as soon as they arrived. Edward Two Two initially came with his wife and a granddaughter to Hagenbeck, based in Hamburg, later moving on to Dresden’s Sarrasani circus. At the time, Indians were the biggest attraction. Living in tepees in front of the circus tent, they were required to wear a feathered headdress and traditional clothing at all times as well as dance and sing. Flocking past, the large audiences loved them. They corresponded to a common, romanticised image of the Indians. Yet in their homeland the reality had long been far different. From their free life on the prairie, the Native Americans were forced into reservations and subjected to a programme of re-education. The consequences were fatal; hunger and disease were rife. How are things today in the reservation Edward Two Two left behind for Germany at the beginning of the last century? Bettina Renner embarks upon a journey, meeting descendants of Edward Two Two. Gradually she comes closer to the answer of why the Lakota Sioux Edward Two Two, who in real life was never a chief, was determined that his final resting place be in Dresden soil.

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“Chief” Edward Two Two of the Latoka Sioux

See also "Bury My Heart in Dresden" Makes North American Premiere in Chicago and Dokumentarfilmerin Bettina Renner — Ein Sioux in Sachsen.

And dispossession takes many guises.

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Click to see who, what and where.

Dispossession always comes at a cost – to the dispossessors as well as to the dispossessed.