Jewish History Australia
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Jews and Aborigines Interact in Australia

Since Jews were in the first Fleet, contact between Jews and Aborigines took place from the days of earliest European contact.
  • There were three Jews involved in the consortium that was behind Batman's famous Treaty of 1835 with the Aborigines of the Port Phillip Region - the future Melbourne. (Joseph Solomon's farm was one of the first three then established.) [ The British Government rejected the Treaty as it implied Aboriginal Title to land in Australia. ]
  • Isaac Nathan, came to Australia came to Australia in the 1840's, where he wrote the first Australian Opera, to become feted as "the father of Australian music". He collected Aboriginal music, both personally, and from certain missionaries, and wrote an amazing compilation the Southern Euphrosyne published in both London and Sydney in 1849. The Euphrosyne comprises piano versions of Aboriginal songs, together with an account of aboriginal customs, and his own very positive impression of Aboriginal capability for education. As well as the score of the overture from his opera San John of Austria. This fascinating document can now be perused online, a reading usefully augmented with notes from the National Library of Australia.
  • There is a "sense of shared experiences between the Jewish community and Aborigines, epitomised by the pioneering legal work of the late Ron Castan QC and Jewish involvement in the key High Court land-rights cases of Mabo and Wik."
  • Inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the US, there was a groundswell of support for Aboriginals in the 1960's, in which Australian Jews played a notable part. One intriguing aside was the running of a children's club, the Nulla Nullas, at the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Reserve circa 1965, by the Canberra-based Australian National University Jewish Students Society {ANUJSS). The story of ANUJSS and its involvement as an organization in running the Nulla Nullas is described here. (Opens in a new window)
  • For two weeks in 1965 the Freedom Bus toured NSW country towns drawing national and international attention to the situation of aboriginals in Australia. On Feb 12 1965 the �Freedom Bus� set out from Sydney under the leadership of Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman. Perkins, the president of SAFA, was the first aboriginal to gain a university degree, while Spigelman, secretary of SAFA, was at that date cultural officer of SUJSU, the Sydney Universities Jewish Students Union.
  • Its noteable that the ANU Jewish Students Society, a part of what is now called the Australian Union of Jewish Students, conceived and ran the Nulla Nulla children's club at Wallaga Lake in 1964-5-6 over 20 years before any member organization of the far larger Australian Student Christian Movement. (ASCM). undertook any such activity for the Aboriginal Community.
  • On December 6, 1938, several weeks after Kristallnacht in Germany, Aboriginal leader William Cooper led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate in Melbourne to deliver a petition which condemned the �cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany." See this.
  • In recent years, when Aboriginal leaders have had the opportunity to visit and study in Israel, there has come a recognition of a commonality of the operations of community and family and those bonds are extremely strong for both. extremely strong . See, for instance, this news story.
  • In summary: In Jews and Koories we see members of two peoples with histories of dispossession and humilation and killing who recognise each other,who find points of intersection and of parallel. Australian Jews deeply conscious that the struggle of this century that ended their disempowerment of their people in the land they have dwelt for over 3000 years, have worked zealously in overcoming the dispossession of the Aborogines from their homeland of 40000 years. For both peoples, Herzl provides the vision, "If you will it, it is no dream".
  • It needs to be stated that the author of this appraisal was one of those Australian Jews acutely aware of our common histories who were active pre 1967 in Aboriginal Affairs; in my case as a member of the Aboriginal Advancement League of South Australia, following my three years with the ANUJSS Project the Nulla Nulla Club. The Nulla Nulla Club, was a remarkable effort for the tiny Canberra Jewish Community of its time, and is also notable as being some nineteen years ahead of any similar activity by other religious clubs within Australian Universities. The Nulla Nulla Club was short-lived as the key ANUJSS people involved left Canberra in 1966; nevertheless there are long-term outcomes
A footnote to this account. The first genocide in Europe in this century was of the Armenians. Public committees were set up in Sydney and in Adelaide concerned with the care of the survivors. Members of these commitees included:
  • Rabbi Isaac A. Bernstein of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation was a member of the relief committee in Adelaide in 1922
  • Miss Dora Cohen was the secretary of the Lord Mayors Armenian Relief Fund of NSW from 1922 to 1929. [ She was the daughter of Sir Samuel Cohen, a prominent Jewish Australian who lived in Sydney.]
As with so many Australian causes, from disaster relief to disease research, Jews were notably involved.

Jews And Aborigines - A common experience of massacre

Waterloo Bay viewed from edge of cliffs

Waterloo Bay aerial view of 1849 massacre site

Luffwaffe Aerial View of Babi Yar massacre site
There are official records of isolated incidents nearby, but no colonial records of the cliff-top massacre at Waterloo Bay. However the massacre is well remembered by local aboriginal people.

No marker or memorial at Waterloo Bay until 2018
Before the German retreat from the USSR, the buried remains were dug up, crushed and cremated on tombstones removed from nearby Jewish cemetery. The slave labourers involved in this obliteration of memory were then murdered and buried. But many details of the horror remained post WW=II in preserved NAZI data and images.
No memorial at Babi Yar was erected during the Soviet era, and in fact a stadium over the massacre site was beng planned when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Russian poet Yevtushenko braved Soviet censure when he wrote his famous poem Babi Yar in 1961.
Cliff tops on which a massacre of aboriginals took place at Waterloo Bay near Elliston, South Australia, in late May 1849 Memorial erected 2018 atop the cliffs at Waterloo Bay Simple Memorial at Babi Yar commemorating the brutal massacre of Jews taking place there 1941-1943.

Babi Yar in closer detail from Luftwaffe air photo.
Death Toll at Waterloo Bay

Estimates of the number of aborigines murdered in 1849 atop the cliffs at Waterloo Bay vary, with one recent estimate suggesting "only" twenty aborigines were murdered. In the lore of local aborigines the number killed is remembered as being over two hundred.

Survivor Story

There was but one survivor. This was a young boy who was hidden in a tree while his mother went with other aborigines towards the cliff tops. His grandson served in the AIF in World War 1.
Death Toll at Babi Yar

Nazi records record 33,771 Jews were murdered in the first two days of the massacre at Babi Yar. Jews were ordered to queue awaiting resettlement, but then were made to undress and stand in groups of ten at the edge of the ravine, where they were machine gunned; then the next group to be shot took their place.

Survivor Story

There were a paltry few survivors of the massacres at Babi Yar. One survivor, Dina Pronicheva, jumped before being shot, so fell on other bodies, and was then covered by the bodies of further victims. When the machine gunning was finished for the day, Waffen SS and their Ukranian collaborators walked on top of the pile of bodies, shooting any still breathing. Ms Pronicheva was sufficiently deep in the pile to not be seen, and she escaped that night through the bodies above her, and a pile of soil placed on top of the pile.

© Harvey A Cohen 2020

Jewish History Australia
Click on the flag in top left corner to return to index page of Jewish History Australia.

© Harvey A Cohen 2005 2014