Truth about Aboriginal Art

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Regular row, or fight between themselves is a sketch by William Thomas made in 1840. William Thomas was one of four Assistant Protectorates of the Aborigines in the Port Phillip district. The sketch depicts a group or tribe of Aborigines in combat with each other. It is set in the bush in the Port Phillip district. The main focus of the sketch is two Aboriginal brothers threatening each other with traditional weapons, such as boomerangs, shields and whacking sticks. They are surrounded by other Aboriginal men holding similar weapons and also spears. There is no evidence of any Europeans or signs of colonization. The sketch portrays the Aborigines in there raw primitive naked form.

The caption below the picture informs the viewer that William Thomas nicknamed the two men, who are said to be brothers, De Villiers after C. L. J. De Villiers, a young South African bushman who was an officer in charge of rules and regulations for the conduct of the Native Police.

At the time of this sketch Port Phillip was going through the initial stages of the creation of Australias first Native Police Force. The Government back in Britain had opposed the recruitment of Aborigines as police constables. In the early 180s G.A Robinson set up the first native settlements at Flinders Island. Robinson had been appointed Chief Protector by Lord Glenelg following deep concern by church groups regarding the just treatment for Aborigines in the area. Visits from distinguished leaders such as Alexander Maconochie, a Royal Navy officer who acted as secretary to Sir John Franklin, newly appointed Governor of Van Diemens Land, were frequent. Maconochie was greatly impressed by the efficiency of the settlement especially the native law enforcers, who were given restricted yet sufficient powers to control members of their own tribe. Moconochie recommended an experiment whereby local Aborigines would be employed as a Native Police force under white officers. De Villiers was appointed as officer in charge, laying down special regulations for conduct of the Native Police.

The sketch by Thomas promotes a view of Aborigines as primitive people in need of proper food, clothing as well as spiritual direction. The sketch represents a dispute that has erupted into a fight in a native settlement and the natives surrounding the two men or brothers supposedly are native law enforcers of this particular settlement. Thomas knew the Aboriginal people well and said that gatherings between tribes were usually peaceful and if there was any quarreling or fighting it would be settled quickly and followed by a Corroboree.

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Thomas was a high minded Wesleyan ex-schoolmaster, who held the naïve delusion that if the white man wore on his face a smile as a symbol of the love of Christ in his heart for the black man, if he used loving kindness and got the Blackman to read the bible, all would be well. Thomas saw Aborigines as individuals and enjoyed their wit and humour and believed that they needed someone to stand up for them. This was in contrast to many white settlers who saw the Aborigines as a problem.

This sketch was Thomass way of insisting that with some spiritual direction, clothes and education these primitive simple people could fill out the ranks of police scattered thinly across large areas of the continent. They would become the white mans economical servants and in theory this would improve the relationship between Aborigines and white people. Thomas uses the sketch to promote the idea that Aborigines are able to sort out their own disputes effectively and it thus adds support to the formation of the Native Police.

Although many groups in the Port Philip District agreed with Thomass view, there were also a large number who didnt. Back in England at this time the House of Commons were opposed to the recruitment of Aborigines as police constables, mainly because it feared the tendency of natives to take advantage of their new status and possession of firearms to repay tribal scores.

Another important group in the colony who disagreed with the scheme of Native Police were the squatters. The squatters believed these native settlements would take up precious land that could be used for farming instead.

The watercolor painting done in 188 by William Anderson Corthorne shows mounted over-Landers in battle against an enormous army of Aborigines at a river in the Port Phillip District. This painting exaggerates the threat of the natives to the white people and suggests that these natives were savage and if given the power of a firearm could fight back against the whites. It was images such as these that increased the white peoples fears of Aborigines and produced groups who were against the establishment of the Native Police.

After many attempts to build a Native Police Force in the late 180s, a native Village in Narre Warren led by Captain Lonsdale who employed De Villiers as an officer in charge of the native police, was established. De Villiers would often use bad language towards the Aboriginal police, drink heavily and encourage children to leave the mission. It is for this reason that Thomas nicknamed the two Aboriginal brothers De Villiers which was a direct attack against him, because De Villiers started a dispute as well as caused distress within the settlement, which is exactly what the two aboriginal brothers are depicted as doing.

After the resignation of De Villiers and the new allocation of the settlement the Native Police force was finally established in the mid 1840s. Thomas had achieved his goal of creating Australias first group of Native Police .

Thomas saw the Aboriginals as individuals. He enjoyed their wit and humour and continually battled with the Government for financial assistance.

Thomas was one of four Assistant Protectors of the Aborigines who took up their duties in the Port Philip colony in 18. He was responsible for the Central Protectorate District, which included the Woiwarung (Yarra) and Bunurong (coastal Port Philip and the western part) tribes.

As Thomas was entering the Port Philip Colony in 180 G.A Robinson the founder of these Aboriginal settlements had started one at Flinders Island. Alexander Maconochie, a Royal Navy officer who acted as private secretary to Sir John Franklin, newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemens land visited the settlement and was extremely impressed with the use of selected Aborigines as constables to control members of their own tribe. In 187 Maconochie wrote separate reports to Franklin, Governor Bourke and Lord Glenelg, suggesting that the settlement of Port Philip provided on opportunity for experimenting with the employment of local Aborigines as a Native Police Force, under white officers, possessing restricted but sufficient powers to control regions remote from Melbourne.

Maconochie was warmly supported by Sir J.Franklin and G.K Holden, private secretary to Sir R.Bourke, largely because of the apparent civilizing possibilities of the scheme.

Throughout the colony many leaders such as Captain Lonsdale, the man in charge of recruiting the natives, thought having natives as constables with restricted powers was practical as well as economical. This was because Aborigines had been found so useful as trackers of runaway convicts, and in some other quasi-police roles, that governments were prone to favour the employment of such economical servants, if only to fill out the ranks of police scattered thinly across large areas of the continent.

However back in England the House of Commons were opposed to the recruitment of Aborigines as police constables, mainly because it feared the tendency of natives to take advantage of their new status and possession of firearms to repay tribal scores.

Thomass sketch is suggesting that these un-educated people need to be cared for and guided, therefore the need for native police was mandatory. The constables could put an end to these inter-tribal disputes that erupt into battle, in this case between two brothers.

This sketch was a direct attack against the South African bushman De Villiers. On September 187 Captain Lonsdale recruited a force of natives under the command of the whites. The next month he appointed De Villiers as an officer in charge, laying down special regulations for conduct of native police.

In November De Villiers took his men to the spot allocated for the native police village at Narre Warren near Dandenong. A bitter feud between De Villiers and missionary George Langhorne erupted in December 187. According to Langhornes complaints, De Villiers ridiculed his efforts at the mission, used bad language to Aborigines, drank heavily, and encouraged children to leave the Mission. After much debate and investigation de Villiers resigned. By September 188 Lonsdale re-appointed De Villiers to command the native police, and to base them in a paddock adjoining Lonsdales residence, where hey would be under his ever-watchful eye. Further complaints against De Villiers followed, mainly from George Smith. By January 18 Lonsdale found De Villiers not so attentive and in a month De Villiers resigned for a second and final time, to take up inn keeping and wool growing along the Dandenong road.

Thomas gives the two Aboriginal men fighting, the nicknames De Villiers because De Villiers caused so much dispute and distress within the native settlement. Thomas, a Wesleyan by conviction, and a man who longed to tell the black man that Jesus was keeping a place for him in the sky, for he contained in his person childlike simplicity of manners with great goodness of heart, believed that for the whites to live and grow with each other men like De Villiers must be excluded.

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