About sixteen years ago I visited the Hobart Museum and, after some difficulty, found the gallery which housed most of the relics of the extinct Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The room was so dark that it was impossible to see much more than the shadowy outlines of the exhibits behind the dusty glass of the show-cases. I therefore set about raising the window-blinds which were tied down securely with reef-knots. A scandalized attendant entered the room crying, “Sir, sir, you mustn't raise those blinds! That is a terrible thing to do!"
"I'm sorry," I replied, "but I should like to study these exhibits. I've travelled more than a thousand miles to see them. Aren't they here to be seen? What is wrong with raising the blinds?"
"Oh no sir! It's a dark part of our history, like. We never raise the blinds in this room: but I'll switch the light on for you for a few minutes, like."
In those days this attitude was not singular to Tasmania. A.P. Elkin and other good men had studied and written about the nature of Aboriginal society, but almost nothing had been published about Aboriginal history. The long and sickening story of how our ancestors expropriated and almost completely destroyed the Aboriginal people, was felt to be too hideous to contemplate. Histories generally paid little more attention to the first Australians, or to the relations between them and the invaders, than they gave to the kangaroo and emu.
Now, not before time, the situation is changing rapidly. In 1967 three-quarters of the electorate resolved by referendum that Aboriginals should be counted as people in Commonwealth censuses. Books with titles like Racism in Australia and The Destruction of Aboriginal Society are pouring from the presses. This book deserves an honourable place among them. It also serves to remind us that not every white Australian was, at best, a thoughless pharisee who passed by on the other side while the Aboriginal people were being debauched, exploited and decimated.
In Mister Maloga, Nancy Cato recreates the life of a gentle, thoughtful man and his wife who did all they could to help and protect some tribal remnants along the Murray a hundred years ago. That they were not remarkably successful only adds, in a sense, to their moral stature; for their failure was conditioned by the society in which they lived and the possibly well-meant, but disastrous, policies of the Aborigines' Protection Association. This piece of authentic history will be valued highly by everyone who cares for the welfare of the Aboriginal people.