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Fight for Liberty and Freedom, by John Maynard.

August 26, 2012

Fight for Liberty and Freedom : the Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism, by John Maynard.
Canberra : Aboriginal Studies Press, 2007.

A careful history of an organization by and for Indigenous Australians in the 1920s.

John Maynard has restored the story of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association to Australian history.  Emerging in the 1920s, this group was modeled on the thought of international Black Nationalist Marcus Gravey and consisted of Indigenous people intend on righting injustices and honoring their own traditions.  Unlike groups in the 1930s, it was neither white-instigated nor assimilationist in its goals.  In New South Wales, where the group was particularly active, the Aboriginal Protection Board was their particular target.  In return, the Board acted forcefully and successfully to end the activities and successes of the AAPA.  Out of governmental favor, the group slid out of sight in the historical record.

Fred Maynard, the president of the AAPA, was the grandfather of John Maynard, the author of this book.  Although his grandfather died before John could have known him, his book reveals pride in his ancestor and ongoing anger at the way in which Indigenous peoples have been treated.  Balancing his emotional commitment is John Maynard’s professional training in history and his willingness to follow the practices laid out by the discipline. This book was originally written as his dissertation for his Ph.D. in history.  Thus it is somewhere between a traditional “objective” scholarly work and My Bjalunga People that Ruby Langford Ginibi wrote in the more traditional Indigenous style.  I am sure that there are other sides to the story that Maynard tells, but that does not mean his book is insignificant or wrong.  Often it is only those with a personal connection to a story who are willing to do the hard work to research and restore it.

Because I am not an Australian historian, I do not know the work of those whom Maynard challenges and cannot evaluate his work adequately. What I can say is that I found this book solid and eye-opening.  I am immensely glad I read it.  Although I knew that the Garvey movement aspired to be international, I had no idea of its impact and involvement in Australian affairs.  I knew something of how children were taken from their parents and that girls were bonded out to work for white families from the autobiographies I had read, but I had not really grasped previously the extent of the practice or of Aboriginal Protection Board’s deliberate aim of speeding up the extinction of Indigenous culture.  And I knew nothing of the AAPA and its success among Aboriginal peoples.

While valuable itself, Maynard’s book suggests additional avenues of research.  Because he convinces me that the AAPA was significant, I want to know more about some of the topics he raises.  He is careful to include the work of women in the organization.  Although all its officers were black men, sometimes women, black and white, acted as spokespersons for the group.  In addition, the AAPA was explicitly an organization by and for Aboriginals, yet they were able to have extensive coverage of their issues in newspapers.  Some whites spoke out in their support.  I want to know more about the relationships that made this inter-racial support possible.

In addition, Maynard includes information about Elizabeth McKinzie Hatten, a white woman who had worked as missionary and who worked extensively to organize Indigenous activism for the AAPA.  Initially McKinzie Hatten had recognized the problems of abused young women  who ran away fromthe families who employed them.  The Aboriginal Protection Board either returned them to their employers, even after accusations of rape and other misconduct, or put them in mental institutions.  McKinzie Hatten wanted to open a home for them with the support of the Board, but they opposed and harassed her.  As she learned more about native issues and the activities of the Board, she threw her support to Maynard and the AAPA.  She was explicit, however, that she was not a member or a decision maker of the organization.  Her relationships, as a white woman, with the AAPA must have been challenging to both sides, and I would like to know more.  John Maynard notes her papers are kept in several Australian archives and they might, or might not, help us understand the larger story.  More information about her might tell us more about the particular circumstances of white Australians who did not approve the policies of Aboriginal Protection Board.

Thanks to Yvonne at Stumbling Through the Past for telling me about this book.

I strongly recommend this book, especially to those interested in Australian history and those interested in larger questions of how people work to correct racial injustice in various times and places.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 5:27 pm

    I am enjoying reading your reviews of Australian histories as they come from someone that has not grown up with historical ‘knowledge’ of Australia’s Aborigines that has been absorbed from Australian society as they grew up. A fresh perspective is great to hear. You are quite right that Maynard’s book suggests many new avenues for research.

  2. August 30, 2012 6:54 am

    Thanks for giving me a taste of Australian history

  3. September 8, 2012 2:08 pm

    i am finding Australian history fascinating and surprising.


  1. Book Review – Fight for Liberty and Freedom: The origins of Australian Aboriginal activism | Stumbling Through the Past
  2. Reviews from Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ Litlovers 2013 | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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