Why weren’t we told? A personal search for the truth about our history
Encountering Aboriginal people in central Perth is rare. They are like ghosts, almost invisible, a feature of the landscape that nobody seems concerned about. The near-invisibility of Aboriginal people in the urban landscape is the results of abject ‘white’ policies implemented by European settlers over two centuries. It is also, as historian Henry Reynolds explains in Why Weren’t We Told?, because Indigenous Australians were written out of history.
In 1964, Reynolds secured a teaching position at a North Queensland university. In Townsville, he discovers the violence and the hatred against the Aboriginal community. He witnesses several altercations characterized by violence and unfairness towards Aboriginal people. Convinced that the present can only be explained by the past, he decides to research the history of interaction between Indigenous and colonial communities.
To his great surprise he found that in most books, the History of Australia started with the first settlements and made little to no mention of Aborigines. There started a greater process of understanding why Aboriginal history was excluded from the official record. Reynolds’ book explores the grimmest details of Australian history, from massacres of Indigenous groups to their ‘disappearance’ both physical and academic. It deconstructs the myth of Australia as Terra Nullius, rehabilitating both Aboriginal occupation of the continent and resistance to invasion.
Built as an autobiography, Why Weren’t We Told? narrates Reynolds’ research process and how he became a fervent activist for the Aboriginal cause. The book explains how he fought to gain recognition for the history of Indigenous Australians, their land, and their diverse cultures. The book therefore acts as a closing chapter on his life – a reflection on years of research and battles.
The book was published fifteen years ago, yet it is still relevant to Australia, where Indigenous rights are still a constant issue. It is a book about history and the research process. More importantly, it is a scream for justice.