HAPPY AT THE BEACH

There is always a bumper crop of white (or "European" as we are supposed to say) guilt at this time of the year, with much talk about invaders and dispossession. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read, when walking onto Balnarring beach on Victoria's Western Port the other day, a notice that managed to embrace Aborigines and whites within the history of the area without any hand-wringing or recriminations.

The notice was headed "BOONERWRUNG BEFORE BALNARRING". "Welcome to Balnarring," it began. "This was the ideal place for the Boonerwrung people to live. Fresh water from the Balnarring Creek, shellfish from the rock platforms, fish from the bay and reef, waterbirds from the nearby wetlands and shelter from the sou-westerly winds. They would have used this as a favourite camping spot for many thousands of years."

And that was it. The notice went on to give information about the characteristics of the area today, its wildlife, "habitats" etc. No further history, no dark mutterings about the end of the Boonerwrung's happy idyll, nothing about forced occupation of their land, though this must have taken place in one way or another. The tone was eirenic. It seemed to me to be saying, "Much happened in the course of Australia's early history that any humane person must sincerely regret, but it's happened and it can't be changed. Now all sorts of people come to this beach and it's there for all who want to enjoy it. Let's leave it at that."

The notice had been put up by the erstwhile Department of Natural Resources and Environment and had clearly been there for some summers. I thought its approach exemplary - and amazing, coming from a government department, usually places replete with political correctness. (In which context you might be interested in my account of the CSIRO and its smoking ceremonies in Quadrant, January-February 2012.)

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