Black gender identity

The last plank in the dehumanizing of aborigines was to make them, one way or another, sexually unattractive. So, Aborigines were seen as sexually taboo, and in many of the poems of the period, aboriginal males are portrayed as a voracious threat to white womanhood, while aboriginal women are the subject of what now seems like sick comedy.

Mary Hannay Foott, in Up North (1885), tells the true story of a Mrs Watson who was living on an island off the north coast of Queensland, with her husband and two children. Her husband set out to look for sea cucumbers, which were then a commercial commodity. She ‘was attacked by wild blacks from the mainland’, defended her home ‘with her revolver’ and perished when she tried to escape the island in a makeshift boat[16]:

Into Thy hands let me fall, O Lord-

Not into the hands of men-

And she thinned the ranks of the savage horde

Till they shrank to the mangrove fen.

In fleeing, she was saving her honour, as well as her life:

For the demons of murder and foul disgrace

On her hearthstone dared not light;

But the Angel of Womanhood held the place,

And its site is a holy site. [17]

To this early Queensland poet, aboriginal men are ‘demons’ who threaten ‘foul disgrace’. But to others, aboriginal women are simply disgusting and comical. Message to white men: keep your hands off.

In To a Black Gin (1873) James Brunton Stephens sets the scene:

Thou art not beautiful, I tell thee plainly,

Oh, thou ungainliest of things ungainly!

Who thinks thee less than hideous dotes insanely.

Stephens goes out of his way to portray his disgust at the prospect of mating with such a woman, a ‘partner in thy fetid ignominy, The raison d’etre of this picanniny’. He doubts that she can be human:

Eve’s daughter! With that skull! and that complexion!

What principle of “Natural Selection”

Gave thee with Eve the remotest connection?

And so on. It’s not as if he is a minority figure, expressing a minority view. By 1888, he was given ‘the highest reputation of any living poet in Australia’ on the basis that the ‘essential quality of his work is subtlety’[18]!

Woe betide any white man who finds a black woman attractive. Wilkes, in The Raid of the Aborigines describes an aboriginal woman who captures the heart of a white man:

Her eyes would have melted the heart of a stone,

And her nose was adorned by a kangaroo bone.  

The white man runs off with her, thinking only of love, to find that:

Like thunder the horrid conviction did greet him

The cannibal jade only wanted to eat him![19]