Collins has indulged his passion for history to write 'Goodbye
Bussamarai', the tale of a powerful Aboriginal resistance leader
who led the fight against the squatters in the western Maranoa
near the Balonne River.
Perhaps it's the debate sparked by Keith Windschuttle's 'The
Fabrication of Aboriginal History' and preceding articles, which
has focused attention on the use and interpretation of original
Or maybe it is simply because
Collins is now in the habit of uncovering and exposing details
of our country's violent past.
Collins, a phycologist and
student counsellor, retired at the age of 50 in 1988 and found
he had time on his hands. But when son Mitch bought the pub at
Muckadilla, he embarked on a project. It was suppose to be a
Mitch was decoration the pub's
restaurant with plaques of the area's history and there was very
little information about events before squatters moved into the
area in the 1850's.
"I couldn't find anyone who new
about Aboriginal history in the district" Collins says, "And how
can you do this without a panel on the Aborigines in the
That was in 1990. By the next
year he realised he had uncovered a story that needed a greater
canvas than a plaque on a country pub wall. And it was about a
decade later that the book was picked up by a publisher.
In between there was the slow
tracking down of original source material and putting together
of the pieces.
One of the key parts of the
puzzle, Collins says, was determining the identity of the
Mandandanji leader whose influence spread across an area in this
country about the size of England.
In some accounts, he is old
Billy. In others, he is Possum Murray, Eaglehawk, Combo and
Bussamarai. And the truth is, Collins admits, none of them is
'Although this man was one of the
most effective Aboriginal resistance leaders, it appears that no
white person recorded his name accurately," he says.
Collins says his historical text
is a narrative compiled entirely from original documents. It is
his first book, with his writing background consisting mainly of
freelance journalism for off-road car magazines.
Collins admits that before he
began his research, his knowledge of indigenous history in the
area was "like the rest of us - non existent."
'Goodbye Bussamarai' was
published before Windschuttle's recent book attacked historians
for taking the Aborigine's side in the national debate about
whether there was indigenous genocide.
And Collins strongly rejects the
accusation that he has taken anyone's side in his analysis and
reportage of the events, ort that the tales of a land war
between squatters and Aborigines is a fabrication.
"There is evidence that some
frontier squatters did regards themselves as being at war with
the Aborigines," Collins says.
DEDICATED to history ... Patrick Collins thumbs through his
"Frederick Walker, the commandant of the native police in the
north, believed that several Aboriginal tribes formed an
alliance to attack the squatters on the Condamine and elsewhere.
"To deny that there was warfare
in the frontiers is to deny the evidence."
focuses on a short period in a specific area, namely the decade
from 1842 in the East Maranoa.
And, for the first five years,
nothing happened. Specifically, there are no reports of people
injured or killed in inter-racial fights in the area, despite
more than 100 whites passing through the area.
But violence erupted within weeks
of the first station being settled.
Collins says an "all-out war" in
the area between the aborigines and white squatters had started
by the end of 1847. He says Bussamarai and other local
indigenous people attacked stations on the Macintyre, Condamine
and Balonne rivers, and aggressive responses from native police
resulted in several massacres.
Collins estimated the Aboriginal
death toll in clashes with settlers and various forces in the
East Maranoa was at least 150, and perhaps double or even more.
On the other side of the ledger,
the Mandandanji killed nine white and at least two black station
hands in East Maranoa and took part in the killing of up to
seven white men in the Lower Condamine.
The figures do not account for
indigenous deaths cause by other factors such as introduced
diseases, alcohol and opium.
The native police killed
Bussamarai in 1852, reporting that they had found the rebel
leader while looking for those responsible for injuring cattle
on a squatter's station. Collins says Bussamarai was not the
first rebel leader to be killed by police after being
accused of injuring cattle and is suspicious of the reports.
"Based on the history of what was
going on at the time, I would be very surprised if the object at
the time wasn't to kill him," Collins says.
While Windschuttle is unlikely to
welcome the dark tale of Queensland's history brought to life in
Collins's well-researched book, descendants of the Mandandanji
fighters are glad of his efforts.
After reading a review of the
book Russell Kelly contacted Collins. Kelly is a Mandandanji
and possibly a descendant of Bussamarai, and is working towards
having a Bussamarai festival in the area to mark the
struggles of the indigenous people. And it was only in reading
Collins's book that Kelly discovered the story of Bussamarai.
While the rebel leader was
apparently well known in his time, and was referred to in a
public lecture 14 years after his death, Collins said his story
of his heroic fight for his land was buried and almost forgotten
in the years when it was deemed there could be no such thing as
a heroic black.
'Goodbye Bussamarai - The
Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852' by Patrick
Collins (University of Queensland Press, $34)