We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Regardless of whether the Wentworth statue stands or falls, it's a conversation worth having

5 6 0

Predictable outrage from the usual dreary quarters has greeted the call by supposedly “radical” University of Sydney students to tear down a statue of their institution’s founder, William Wentworth, because of his racist approach to Indigenous people.

While Australia’s leading tabloid, a few ultra-conservative historians and one or two hyperventilating, glorified DJs tie themselves in cultural knots over the students’ Wentworth Must Fall campaign, here’s the reality check: like many purported Enlightenment figures, Wentworth was indeed a racist who saw Indigenous people of this continent as inferior and their demise inevitable and desirous.

Wentworth was many things, among them a barrister, landowner, statesman and advocate of press freedom. But he has been written most prominently into Australian history as one of the trio, with William Lawson and Gregory Blaxland, who crossed the Blue Mountains in May 1813 to sight the great pastoral plains of the continental inland.

They were, in fact, following tracks west from Parramatta padded down by Indigenous feet over countless millennia. And those rich pastoral plains had been hunting grounds and places of cultivation for First Peoples for just as long. But one thing about that expedition is undeniable though rarely contextualised in our national historiography: their expedition marked the formal vanguard of the white, colonial inland exploration – and the dispossession and rapid near annihilation of the Aboriginal tribes of the plains around Bathurst in war, through mass poisonings and disease.

Here’s how the white land grab proceeded after the trio crossed the mountains. George Evans, deputy general surveyor to Governor Lachlan Macquarie (another colonial figure with an ill-deserved reputation for human enlightenment given his appalling treatment of his colony’s Indigenes), followed them and went further west to “discover” what became the Bathurst plains.

Percy Gresser, a shearer and amateur historian later of Bathurst who spent his life documenting the local tribes, wrote how Evans gave such........

© The Guardian