Histories with Traction: Macassan Contact in the Framework of Muslim Australian history
Australia’s pre-British contact with the Indonesian archipelago is one of the most intriguing chapters of Australian history.1 These early Indonesian visitors, long referred to in the introductory byline of standard Australian histories as ‘Macassans’, once came and went without a trace. But they have now become a staple part of the Australian story, no longer considered incidental and inconsequential. The pockets of awareness of the histories of ‘Afghans’, ‘Macassans’ and ‘Malays’ in Australia—none of which is a strictly ethnic appellation—have been forged into a cohesive historical narrative by the ‘War on Terror’, which redefined all of these groups by the religion they held in common. They have now become interesting historical subjects and in the past 10 years Australia’s major cultural institutions have engaged with these histories. They have now become well entrenched in the Australian historical narrative and they have become useful histories for a range of socio-political purposes in Australia. The ‘Macassan’ history now has political traction. Muslim organisations in Australia have long grasped the importance of remembering the long genealogy of Muslim contact in Australia, which began with the Macassans. Many of their publications referred to the Macassan trepangers and the later Afghan cameleers as the historical anchors of their presence in Australia. Rather than emphasise conflict and disempowerment—as white-authored histories of ethnic minorities have tended to—they underlined the long and predominantly harmonious accommodations with white and black Australia. Indigenous people, too, have shown a palpable sense of engagement with their mixed histories with Asian, Pacific and Muslim people, as I discovered during my fieldwork in northern Australia between 1986 and 1996. This is particularly the case with Macassan contact history, which anthropologists and archaeologists had started to recover. The Macassan contact history was also used by Yolngu people as a paradigm of accommodative rather than conflictive ethnic relations.
Macassan History and Heritage: Journeys, Encounters and Influences
Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)