Fascinating library exhibition about Oxley journey 200 years ago

Wauchope library has a window on the world of John Oxley, the explorer who came through the Hastings 200 years ago.

Birpai elders passed on to their children and grandchildren what happened when the ‘Whitefellas’ landed at Sydney Cove and then to the Dhoongang River, which is now known as the Hastings.

The Birpai people spoke of the explorers’ strange habits, their pale colour, their stones that never lost their edge, their sticks that killed at a distance and what hopeless hunters and fishermen they were.

The indigenous people also noted the white men’s lack of women, their appalling treatment of some men of their own mob, the ‘strange coloured skins that they wore, their awful smell, and above all, their ignorance of the Law’.  

Speaking to Trevor Corliss, the Birpai elders gave this description of the explorers.

“They were a confusing mob, at once as helpless and ignorant as small children, yet strong and sometimes cruel in pursuing their will.  Nothing like them had ever been seen or heard of before.  They were an interesting mob, and the discussions and speculations were long and enjoyable,” he wrote.

When John Oxley began his journey, the word of his coming and going spread like the ripples in a pond.  In Normal circumstances, a large band of men travelling through other people’s country would have been assumed to be up to no good, to be enemies and to be treated as such.

Where Oxley and his men struggled with their animals and stores to cover their miles, to the Old People, these distances were a casual stroll.  John Oxley never saw anyone who did not want to be seen.

It seemed to them that Oxley and his men were stumbling around in complete ignorance, going hungry in fat country, crashing and thrashing around, killing things indiscriminately, generally making a dog’s breakfast of the whole process.

The general consensus was that they were interesting but ignorant people, to be watch, but not to be taken too seriously.  If the Old People had had any idea that these ignorant children were to prove to be as dangerous as they would become, they would have been speared immediately.

The exhibition continues at Wauchope library.