Jewish History Australia
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Jews and Aborigines

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.
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.

Jewish History Australia
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© Harvey A Cohen 2005 2014