The Northern Territory: An Aboriginal View of the Past


In 1975 we were preparing a source book of the Northern Territory for the Northern Territory Curriculum Branch. There was a thick book at the end of it, but it was evident to us that only one section of the population was represented. That was the European, and only the literate part of that. The Aboriginal view of the past was simply not available from history books, nor, except to Aboriginal children, from anywhere else. It was obvious, that to produce an Aboriginal history of the Territory, we would have to move from reading the written word to listening to the spoken. This was the task we set ourselves for 1977–78. Employed by the Curriculum Branch, and backed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, we would act as editors in the task of presenting an Aboriginal history of the Northern Territory to school children. All interviews and discussions would be taped, and cassettes made to go with each booklet of transcriptions and illustrations. Faced with an enormous amount of material, vast distances to cover, and not unlimited time, we decided, rather than produce a hotch-potch volume of what we had managed to record, to edit a series of shorter books on different themes. Some are on specific topics, like the Coniston massacre, or wartime recollections. Other topics are more general but no less interesting: how, when and why did Aboriginal people give up (or were forced to give up) traditional life; how they adapted to the European intrusion; why there has been a shift to out-stations and a preference for bicultural education? Obviously we have not been able to visit large areas of the Territory. We chose mostly to visit places where we already knew someone. Often this was the teacher, who would ask the community in advance if it were interested in taking part in the project. Almost everywhere, the older people were keen to tell stories of the early days, especially when they knew their words would be heard and read by children throughout the Territory. Generally the stories are no older than the third generation, and in English.