Neither “Middle Ground” nor “Native Ground”: Reading the Life of Goggey, an Aboriginal Man on the Fringes of Early Colonial Sydney

The Hakluyt Society is pleased to announce that its 2017 Essay Prize has been awarded to Annemarie McLaren, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, Canberra. As runner-up in this year’s competition, an Honourable Mention is awarded to Cameron B. Strang (University of Nevada, Reno, USA), for his essay: “Coacoochee’s Borderlands. A Native American Explorer in Nineteenth-Century North America”. Annemarie McLaren will be awarded a cash prize of £750 for her winning essay. Both the winner and runner-up will also receive one-year free membership of the Society. In this blog post, McLaren reflects upon the research that went into her prize-winning essay, “Neither ‘Middle Ground’ nor ‘Native Ground’: Reading the life of Goggey, an Aboriginal Man on the Fringes of Early Colonial Sydney”.


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When so many Aboriginal lives slipped through the cracks of colonial records in the early decades of Sydney, the fact that one Dharawal man’s life could be traced in fragments offered exciting opportunities. From 1802 to 1836 ― a period closely following on from the arrival of the colonists in 1788 ― Goggey could be traced in journals, letters, newspapers, diaries and petitions. So his life offered an opportunity to consider how one Aboriginal man negotiated a rapidly changing world.

Yet his archival traces also offered considerable conundrums, and Goggey, the subject of my essay for the 2017 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize, has proved to be a bubbling, provocative current throughout my doctoral candidacy, part of a process of considering and re-considering, of stumbling upon and searching for sources, and of dialogue with different colleagues at the Australian National University and beyond.

A native family of New South Wales sitting down on an English settlers farm Earle
‘A native family of New South Wales sitting down on English settlers farm’, depicts an Aboriginal man, his wife and a child, near a settler’s farm in early colonial Sydney’s immediate hinterland. Scenes like this would have been common near some of the farms of the Nepean districts, places in which Goggey was found.
Augustus Earle, c.1826 – National Library of Australia, NK12/45.

 

Goggey was a husband to several wives, a father, and a clan leader. He was an enforcer of laws, and he was also a man who broke them. He fostered relationships with colonists as well as various Aboriginal people, and he harboured with black and white equally.

Goggey could speak some English and use a gun; was the lead guide on an expedition in the difficult country of the Blue Mountains in 1802; welcomed Governor Macquarie to ‘his’ country in 1810; was asked to attend court in 1814 to give information about the murder of Aboriginal women and children by colonists; was listed as a ‘wanted’ and possibly dangerous man in 1816; and was then awarded an inscribed brass plate denoting him as an Aboriginal ‘chief’ in 1817 – just to name a few of the episodes my essays considers.

But Goggey was also an enigmatic, mercurial figure, one who could be violent as well as charming, one who could be found enraged as well as dancing by fires in the moonlight.

I have been thinking about Goggey for several years now, and he has become key to my exploration of the ongoing cultural negotiations and the processes shaping Aboriginal-colonial relations in early colonial New South Wales; including the performance of authority, the continuing ways in which material culture mediated the changing social fabric, and the diffuse processes by which guiding relationships developed. As my knowledge of the shifts in Aboriginal-Colonial relations deepened, my mind would flick back to Goggey, trying to integrate whatever new understanding I had reached with what was known about his life.

With a life embroiled in so many of the key inter-cultural developments in the colony, considering Goggey’s life, the archives in which he could be found, and the negotiations they record or suggest, has richly shaped my understanding of the ways in which cross-cultural interactions unfolded in the colony as well as the ways in which power could operate.

It has prompted me to consider ‘models’ of interaction and the theoretical underpinnings of inter-cultural power in colonial contexts, and to examine ideas surrounding “Middle Grounds” and “Native Grounds” in the context of early colonial New South Wales.

SLV_Parramatta-New-South-Wales
‘Parramatta, New South Wales’, illustrates a growing urban centre surrounded by pastoral land. This place, 15 miles west of port town at Sydney Cove, was the home of the ‘Annual General Assembly of the Natives’, where Goggey is said to have sat at the head of his ‘tribe’.
Joseph Lycett, 1824 – State Library of Victoria, 30328102131561/12 

 

Curiously, I never intended to write about Goggey. Yet as a key figure in an expeditionary account I was considering, and having come across more sources in which he appeared in intriguing ways, I did look for more. This was a useful task, but not as useful as repeated stumbling upon him while searching through archival material. This was a lesson in the fickleness of the archive (as well as in poorly catalogued items), but also suggested something about the nature of entanglement in this colonial context, and that some historical investigations demand ambitious, wide-ranging, even peripheral reading ― or perhaps some degree of serendipity.

Reading Goggey’s life has also been a lesson in the value of collegiality. It was over coffee with a later-stage doctoral candidate that I received reading suggestions of more contemporary anthropology, while I had focused on reading ‘classics’ from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

These readings helped shaped the conceptual and imaginative tool-kit necessary in confronting evidence of a strong-willed, emotive and sometimes violent man, as well as the capacity to consider the ways in which relational economies ― and in fact what was considered of ‘value’ at all ― had many different configurations in the cultural complexities of early colonial New South Wales.

I am grateful to the Hakluyt Society for awarding this piece the 2017 Essay Prize. I am also grateful to those who read this essays in various drafts, and for their words of encouragement and advice along the way.


Annemarie McLaren is a third-year doctoral candidate in history at the Australian National University. Her research considers the ongoingprofile_2 Annemarie McLaren cultural negotiations between Aboriginal people and Europeans in early colonial New South Wales in a project titled ‘Negotiating Entanglement’. Annemarie has been participating in a three-year  post-graduate training scheme of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She is co-editing a book (tentatively) titled Indigeneity: Claims, Relationships, and Concepts Between the Disciplines (expected 2018). She is also the Associate Review Editor of the Aboriginal History Journal.

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