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What Fate Awaits? The Indigenous Peoples of the Darling Downs in 1851–52

  • Maurice French


At the time of Conrad Martens' painting tour of the Darling Downs in 1851–52, the Aborigines of the area were in a state of numb transition — still conscious of the dreaming before the white man, yet fearful of the time to come. In a decade of European intrusion, they had been psychologically traumatized, culturally belittled, sexually exploited, and drastically reduced in number. In the decades to come, they would become fringe dwellers, figures of fun and charity and yet, withal, demonstrating a remarkable resilience and adaptability. The few Aborigines in Martens' sketches and ‘house portraits’ from the early 1850s reflect the trauma and the uncertainty of that era.



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1 See French, Maurice, Conflict on the Condamine: Aborigines and the European Invasion (Toowoomba: Darling Downs Institute Press, 1989), 1317.

2 Hall, Thomas, A Short History of the Downs Blacks Known as the ‘Blucher Tribe', facsimile ed., (Warwick c.1923; Toowoomba: Vintage Books, 1987).

3 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences of Australia: With Hints on the Squatter's Life (London: W.N. Wright, 1846), 225; Hodgson, A., Emigration to the Australian Settlements (London: Trelawney Saunders, 1849), 6.

4 Hodgson, A., Emigration, 13; Archibald Meston in Toowoomba Chronicle, 2 Apr. 1920.

5 Watts, John, ‘Personal Reminiscences’ (unpublished typescript), Wimborne, 1901, 22.

6 Patrick Leslie's diary cited in Russell, H.S., Genesis of Queensland (Sydney: Turner and Henderson, 1888), 207.

7 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences, 236–39.

8 Demarr, James, Adventures in Australia Fifty Years Ago: Being a Record of an Emigrant's Wanderings through the Colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland during the Years 1839–1844 (London: Sonnenschein, 1893), 223.

9 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences, 159.

10 Ridley, William, cited in Lang, J.D., Queensland, Australia: A Highly Eligible Field for Emigration and the Future Cotton-Field of Great Britain: With a Disquisition on the Manners and Customs of the Aborigines (London: Edward Stanford, 1861), 439.

11 Russell, H.S., Genesis of Queensland, 345.

12 Archer, Thomas, Recollections of a Rambling Life (Yokohama: Japan Gazette, 1897), 74.

13 Leslie, George, letters to parents, dated 10 Dec. 1839 and 2 Apr. 1840 (letters 182 and 183 in the Leslie letters, John Oxley Library, Brisbane).

14 Demarr, Adventures in Australia, 223.

15 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences, 77.

16 Leslie, G., letter to Leslie, W., dated 1 Jan. 1844.

17 See French, Maurice, Travellers in a Landscape: Visitors’ impressions of the Darling Downs 1827–1954 (Toowoomba: USQ Press, 1994), chapter 2 for an account based on primary sources. Also see Maurice French, Explorations in Frontier History: Darling Downs, 1840–1860 (Toowoomba: USQ Press, 1997), chapter 3 on massacres.

18 See French, , Conflict on the Condamine, 111–13.

19 Leichhardt, Ludwig cited in Aurousseau, M., ed., The Letters of F.W. Ludwig Leichhardt (London: Cambridge UP, 1968), 658.

20 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences, 252.

21 Ramsay, Robert in Darling Downs Gazette, 11 Dec. 1869.

22 Campbell, John, The Early Settlement of Queensland (Ipswich: Ipswich Observer, 1875), 3.

23 See French, Conflict on the Condamine, 113–14.

24 See French, Conflict on the Condamine, 115.

25 Hodgson, C.P., Reminiscences, 7576.

26 See Steele, J.G., Conrad Martens in Queensland: The Frontier Travels of a Colonial Artist (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1978), 60, 108.

27 See French, Maurice, A Pastoral Romance (Toowoomba: University College of Southern Queensland Press, 1990), chapter 10.

28 Based on the ideas of van Gennep, Arnold, The Rites of Passage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), 11, 15, and Campbell, Joseph, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, –(Princeton: Princeton UP, 1949), 30. See Maurice French, ‘From the Profane to the Sacred: Travellers’ Images of the Darling Downs before Separation’. Journal of Australian Studies 40 (March. 1994): 4456 for a fuller discussion.

What Fate Awaits? The Indigenous Peoples of the Darling Downs in 1851–52

  • Maurice French


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