Encounters with Austral-Caucasians

Walsh River, October 1929

Ross claims that Australian Aborigines are at the root of all human “races” and finds much to praise in their culture.

In prototypical fashion Ross contrasts a “good” and a “bad” Aborigine he met. While “Drunken-John” stands for the native corrupted by European influences, “King John” heads a tribe of Aborigines in Queensland who still “roam the bush as wild and free and primitive as their ancestors thousands of years ago” [p. 1121–2]. While Ross claims that “those savages live on the very lowest of cultural stages” [p. 1122], he admires both the sophistication of their weaponry and the coherence of their worldview. The latter “is more than one can claim for our philosophy.” [p. 1122]

This is one of the few texts by Ross that engages with Aborigines as a race, and not primarily as a culture. Indeed, what really arouses Ross’s interest in the Australian Aborigine is the discovery that rather than being similar only to black Africans, different Aborigines share similarities with all kinds of races, including the lovely blonde girls he calls “Austral-Caucasians”. Meanwhile, “Drunken-John” only reminds Ross—not one to shy away from a mean racial slur—of an “old, depraved nigger” [p. 1121]. For Ross, the Aborigine contains racial multitudes, because he likely is the root of the human race. This compartmentalization of the Aborigine also corresponds to the multiple stances that Ross assumes towards the natives he meets within this short text: from an engineer’s admiration to erotic fascination to condescension.

Apart from that, Colin Ross appears to be flexible even when he recounts the same event at different occasions. The same corroboree (see: Staging an encounter) that Ross described in a rather sober fashion  in his book Der unvollendete Kontinent (1930; see: The business of shooting a ritual dance) is here presented as a dramatic experience and possible danger to his children’s safety.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Begegnungen mit australischen Eingeborenen. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. 1930 Jun 22;Jg. 39(Nr. 25): 1121–2.

Topic: Indigenous peoples
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

See also

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