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Ambeyang Researcher Callum Clayton-Dixon launches 'Surviving New England' at the Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Narmi Collins-Widders is a proud Anaiwan and Kamilaroi woman from Armidale. Now 14 years old, Narmi has been creating art for as long as she can remember, and believes that having autism allows her to see things differently, enhancing her creative ability.
Narmi Collins-Widders is a proud Anaiwan and Kamilaroi woman from Armidale. Now 14 years old, Narmi has been creating art for as long as she can remember, and believes that having autism allows her to see things differently, enhancing her creative ability.

Surviving New England, a new book written by Ambeyang researcher Callum Clayton-Dixon, was launched earlier this month at the Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place.

Published by the Anaiwan Language Revival Program (ALRP), Mr Clayton-Dixon says his book explores the history of Aboriginal resistance and resilience through the first forty years of the colonial apocalypse as it transpired across the southern half of the New England Tablelands.

"Clouded by the great conspiracy of silence, the dominant myth of peaceful settlement, and the proliferation of Eurocentric narratives touting the achievements of explorers and pastoral pioneers, our people's remarkable history of resistance and survival during the first few decades of the occupation has faded into obscurity," Mr Clayton-Dixon said.

"It is this history which Surviving New England sets out to reclaim, co-opting the colonial archive and subverting the colonial narrative, deconstructing their story in order to uncover our own."

The book features a set of illustrations by emerging local Aboriginal artist Narmi Collins-Widders; each illustration is a response to descriptions contained within the colonial archive, visually representing and reframing significant moments and figures on the frontier.

Over the course of a year, Narmi worked closely with Mr Clayton-Dixon to produce the illustrations featured in Surviving New England.

"One aspect of this process involved visiting different parts of our traditional country to get a deeper sense of the places she would be depicting," Mr Clayton-Dixon said.

"Inspiration was also sought from old drawings and photographs. "

Researching and writing about his ancestors' history, Clayton-Dixon follows in the footsteps of his great-aunt Patsy Cohen, whose seminal book 'Ingelba and the Five Black Matriarchs' (1990) remains an invaluable and highly sought after publication.

By the end of the 1860s, the New England tribes found themselves in a set of circumstances very different from those of 1831, before the invasion began. The southern half of the district alone swarmed with close to ten thousand colonists, vastly outnumbering the indigenous inhabitants, whose population had been reduced to roughly half its original size owing to the ravages of frontier violence and disease. Homelands were arbitrarily divided up into more than 160 pastoral stations, and pockmarked with a number of towns, villages, and other settlements, all nodes in a branching network of colonial power and enterprise.

This book explores the history of Aboriginal resistance and resilience through the first forty years of the colonial apocalypse

Callum Clayton-Dixon

The Tableland's natural ecosystems, within which the tribes were deeply embedded, had already suffered enormously, devastated by millions of sheep and cattle, mining, and expanding cropping operations. Nor would it be too long before extensive ringbarking laid waste to much of the region's woodlands.

The weight of European domination had irrevocably crushed the armed resistance, leaving the way open for assimilation to proceed with little hindrance. Increasingly intensive exploitation of Aboriginal lands and lives, under the guise of the colonizer's ecocidal and ethnocidal 'civilizing' project, brought with it the shattering of culture, language, tradition, and social cohesion.

Most Aborigines now lived on stations, co-opted into serving the colonial economy, but relegated to the margins of the society they were forced to depend upon for survival, a society built unequivocally on the slaughter, dispossession and subjugation of the original people. Many others ended up scratching out a meagre existence in fringe camps.

After not even 40 years of the colonial occupation, this was the bleak reality facing our ancestors. Yet they endured - beaten, but not broken. Our people fought a fierce war of resistance against such overwhelming odds, and survived through the most disruptive and violent phase of the apocalypse.

Local bookstores will be stocking Surviving New England, and the book can also be ordered directly from the ALRP.

This story New book explores New England's hidden history first appeared on The Armidale Express.