Issue 5
Monday, 02 July 2018
Charles Darwin University
Emeritus Professor in History Alan Powell
Emeritus Professor in History Alan Powell

New Red Centre book fills gap in history literature

By Patrick Nelson

A new book that summarises the key developments in the history of Central Australia has hit the bookshelves at long last.

Charles Darwin University Emeritus Professor Alan Powell and author of 10 volumes said: “Forgotten Country – A Short History of Central Australia” had filled a gap in the annals of history books about the NT.

“Central Australia’s history is colourful, filled with explorers, miners, cattlemen, telegraph builders, outright dreamers and some of the most studied Aboriginal tribes in Australia,” Professor Powell said.

“It is also seen as the last frontier of Australia, and politically, the forgotten country.”

The book tips its hat to the region’s notables – Stuart, Strehlow, Namatjira, Flynn, Ward, Miss Pink, Kilgariff and others – but concedes space for someone else to recount the vast repertoire of anecdotes that also characterise the heart of Australia.

“In a short history such as this, the main question was not what to include, but what to leave out, which meant most of it,” Professor Powell said.

“I trust I have included enough to emphasise the critical factors underlying its historical evolution and to make it clear that it is the last chance probably to preserve the living structures of traditional Aboriginal culture in partnership with whites.”

Professor Powell addresses the long-term matter of cultural reconciliation in his concluding chapter Quo Vadis (where are you going?), noting that the Dreaming and Whiteman’s market civilisation are mutually exclusive.

He argues that a joint black/white model of control such as the one “shown to be workable in the case of the Central Land Council” proffers some hope.

And controversially, he supports the drastic measure of redrawing State borders, noting that it is not a new idea.

“Central Australia has no solid links to the Top End of the Northern Territory. Logic dictates that a new state be carved out of the deserts, which could also stretch into WA and Queensland.

“But history tells us that no State or Territory in Australia has ever ceded an ounce of sovereignty.

“It seems that Central Australia will remain cattle country for as long as can be foreseen, so long as the Territory government remembers that underground water, not gas, is its most precious resource,” Professor Powell said.