A retired academic has launched a new website that seeks to raise awareness of Australian Indigenous history. 

by Chris Gilmore

The website So That We Remember is the work of Ray Barraclough, who was a long-time Maleny resident before moving to Currimundi several years ago. He hopes to highlight Australian Indigenous history and bring a wider understanding to those who visit the site.

So That We Remember contains excerpts from the writings of contemporary Australian historians, as well as artwork by noted Indigenous artist Glenn Loughrey, a Wiradjuri man.

Ray says the website aims to expand awareness of the cost to Indigenous lives of the process of colonial dispossession.

“I’m a historian by training so I’ve had that interest all my life and I was challenged by Professor Mark McKenna’s comment that we have no public memorials to commemorate the homeland wars. 

“He noted that we have all these hundreds of memorials to fighting in the wars in the northern hemisphere but we have very few memorials about the Indigenous people fighting for their own homeland. 

:So I wanted to have something that would be accessible in the public arena, and not just in academic circles, that people could access to see what kind of things occurred in terms of the dispossession of the Indigenous people.”

The collection of excerpts is arranged as daily entries. At this stage the entries for November through to June have been posted, with the remaining excerpts to be added during the course of this year. Ray says the format was chosen as a kind of daily reflection. He’s also hoping the website can be added to school syllabus resources.

“It’s a secular work – although ironically both Glenn and I are Anglican priests. We are conscious that in the Catholic and Anglican tradition your priests have what’s called a Daily Office,” he says. 

“That sometimes entails the reading of quotes from saints’ books and so on, and that’s why we have it as a daily entry. We don’t want it too long. Also, we appreciate that people are busy, so we wanted it to be a concise reminder covering a whole year.

“As regards use in school classrooms, a page hand-out is a handy thing for students to access.”

Ray says he’s been a “political addict” since doing his doctorate on the politics in the Christian scriptures. He lived in the Middle East during the early 1990s, living and working in East Jerusalem. He also worked for the Anglican Diocese in Brisbane and lectured at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane.  

He is also well known around the hinterland for his involvement with the Maleny Remembrance Ceremony, which is held on January 26 each year to commemorate the Indigenous people who died or were dispossessed in the colonial acquisition of Australia. 

“Historians call it the Frontier Conflict; Indigenous folk refer to it as the Homeland War,” he says.

“I initiated the ceremony around seven or eight years ago. Attendance at the first ceremony was 20. From it, a supporting committee was formed. In 2021 around 200 people attended, which signifies the growing interest in, and support for, such a remembering of Australian history.”

So what was involved in putting the website together?

“I probably spent about six or seven years reading contemporary historians in terms of their presentation of the homeland wars that occurred,” he says. 

“There have been folk from Henry Reynolds onwards that have done a good deal of fresh research in this area, so there’s a lot that’s available.”

Despite his extensive knowledge of Indigenous Australian history, Ray says he still learnt some things when compiling the website.

“Firstly, I hadn’t reflected on the extent of the suffering of Indigenous women,” he says. “Next to no white settler was ever charged in a court in the 19th century for rape of an Indigenous woman. 

“Secondly, coming through more recent scholarship, there was a union of the clans at times to defend their joint territories – even clans that had not been the closest of friends – so you have a real resistance mounted against the invading imperial forces. 

“I didn’t realise how extensive that was in Australia. The old histories used to think of it as just a single tribe fighting and that they were overwhelmed quickly.

“And the third thing: this was nationwide, from Queensland down to Tasmania and across to Western Australia, it’s very tragic that there was no real initiative by the imperial government to negotiate any treaties anywhere across the continent, compared to New Zealand.”

Ray says the work of Melbourne-based illustrator Glenn Loughrey adds an extra dimension to the website.

“He’s a Wiradjuri man and a fine artist,” he says. “I’m a bit of a philistine about art – I’m more of a word person not a visual person – but I appreciate his art. I find it has a number of messages and not just one, at least to me, looking at it. 

“I felt it was important to have this visual accompaniment to the words and the colours he’s chosen are kind of the earthy colours of the country, they’re strong colours.” 

Ray says he hopes the website will ultimately help increase Australians’ understanding of the dispossession and break-up of Indigenous culture and connection to Country. 

“I know it’s a sad chronicle that we’re giving, but that’s part of history we have to face,” he says. 

“It is intriguing to see the young Indigenous Australians who are proud to call themselves by their clan identity, I think that’s a remarkable and very encouraging identity surge that we’re seeing. 

“Also the media is becoming more attuned to their stories, so I’m encouraged by that. As well, the increasing education opportunities available to Indigenous young people is pleasing to see. 

“But there’s a long way to go for Australia to have a deep nationwide conversation about the consequences of its past.”

Visit sothatweremember.com.au

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