By Dr Ni­cholas Cle­ments Univer­sity of Queens­land $ 34.95

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - REG. A. WAT­SON

THIS is not the first book with the ti­tle Black War to deal with early colonists and na­tive con­flict in Van Diemen’s Land, cul­mi­nat­ing with the in­fa­mous Black Line of 1830.

The first Black War was pub­lished in 1948 and writ­ten by Clive Turn­bull. Nonethe­less, the mod­ern au­thor, Dr Ni­cholas Cle­ments, has treated the sub­ject with even- hand­ed­ness and with full doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Be­tween 1824 and 1831, at least 218 colonists and about 600 Abo­rig­ines died vi­o­lently in east­ern Tas­ma­nia. The Black War, as it be­came known, was the most in­tense fron­tier con­flict in Aus­tralia’s his­tory.

This is first book by Launce­s­ton-based Cle­ments, an hon­orary re­search as­so­ciate in the School of Hu­man­i­ties at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia who said in the pref­ace: “I can­not re­call ever learn­ing about the Black War when I at­tended high school in Tas­ma­nia in the mid 1990s.”

This be­ing the case, he cer­tainly an­swered his cu­rios­ity with his book. It is a very de­tailed ac­count, but fit­tingly easy to read.

Much of it is har­row­ing, deal­ing with the tragedies both sides ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the con­fronta­tion. He starts by giv­ing the back­ground to 1830, pro­vid­ing the at­ti­tudes from both white and black, then the war­fare, the Black Line and the war’s end.

The first con­fronta­tion hap­pened in 1803 at Ris­don Cove, which was con­tro­ver­sial.

Cle­ments passed over this episode rather quickly, say­ing it was “cer­tainly not the pri­mary cat­a­lyst for the Black War”.

He delves into great de­tail about how whites viewed the na­tives and vice versa, with many Tas­ma­ni­ans “con­sid­er­ing white men to be an­ces­tral spir­its”.

The na­tives soon learnt of the white man’s way – in­clud­ing their weapons. As set­tlers spread out, the threat to the Tas­ma­ni­ans be­came more ap­par­ent and, es­pe­cially from 1824, the num­ber of na­tive at­tacks against set­tlers in­creased to the point where the whites ex­pe­ri­enced ex­treme ter­ror and panic. Cle­ments deals with the sen­si­tive topic of geno­cide. Was the govern­ment guilty of geno­cide? Were the colonists? He has an in­ter­est­ing an­swer: “What­ever word we use, we must at least ac­knowl­edge the at­ti­tudes and cir­cum­stances that pro­vided colonists to kill na­tives in Tas­ma­nia were very dif­fer­ent from those typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with geno­cide.”

Things could not con­tinue. Be­fore the spring of 1830, blacks had killed or wounded at least 417 colonists so “de­ci­sive ac­tion” had to be taken, with Gover­nor Ge­orge Arthur or­gan­is­ing the Black Line.

That was al­most a com­plete fail­ure. But the writ­ing was on the wall and while at­tacks con­tin­ued in 1831, the num­ber of set­tlers grew and the num­ber of na­tives less­ened. The end was in sight.

The Black War will not please ev­ery­one, as the mat­ter has be­come very po­lit­i­cal and sen­si­tive. But he has treated it ad­mirably and given an ex­cel­lent ex­po­sure of an un­for­tu­nate episode in our his­tory. I en­joyed the read.

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