Aboriginal Wales

How do I justify a comparison of the treatment of the Welsh with that of Aboriginal Australia?

If the aim is to destroy a culture then an attack on its language and history is guaranteed to further that aim. This happened here in Australia and also occurred in Britain – in Wales.

As a way in which a critical examination is disparaged in Australia the phrase ‘A black armband view of history’ is used. Another point will be made which suggests that the beliefs and prejudices of the time must be taken into account when examining ‘what happened.’

No doubt there was and still is a genuine belief in Australia that assimilation into white society would be beneficial to Aboriginal Australia but having a genuine belief doesn’t make that belief right and the dreadful results of ongoing policy are evident today where we’re yet to even give a dignity to Aboriginal Australia by virtue of a treaty. It’s a woeful state of affairs and given the immense recent effort and resources devoted to same sex marriage, it stands in stark contrast to the deafening silence given to Aboriginal requests for a voice, an advisory body attached to our parliament.

As for the ban on speaking Welsh in schools – this is courtesy of BBC Wales.

Welsh was actively discouraged in schools by means including the hated Welsh Not.

The mid-19th century was a turbulent period in Welsh history. Popular risings and riots broke out across the country. Questions were raised in Westminster as to why the Welsh people were prone to lawlessness.

According to some, one possible reason was the continued existence of the Welsh language. After a speech in 1846 by William Williams, a Welsh MP representing Coventry, a parliamentary report was commissioned on the role of Welsh in education.

The report eventually became known as the Treachery of the Blue Books - 'blue' from the colour of the reports covers and 'treachery' from an ancient Arthurian myth about the Saxon invasion of Britain. When published in 1847 it caused a furore - particularly certain passages in which the commissioners exceeded their educational brief to make disparaging remarks about the morals of the Welsh.

Predictably, the report found the provision of education in Wales to be extremely poor. The commissioners saw the Welsh language as a drawback and noted that the moral and material condition of the people would only improve with the introduction of English.

In response many questioned whether three monoglot Anglican barristers from England were the ideal people to investigate anything in Wales at that time, particularly the Welsh language.

This period is associated with that most hated symbol of English cultural oppression, the Welsh Not, or Welsh Note, a means of forcing Welsh children to speak English at school. A stick or plaque was given to any child heard speaking Welsh during school, to be handed on to whoever next spoke the language.

At the end of lessons, the child left with the Welsh Not was punished. Yet according to historian John Davies, it is unlikely that the use of the Welsh Not was as widespread as the mythology of the 20th century maintains.

There is strong evidence of the Welsh Not in Carmarthen, Cardigan and Meirionnydd before 1870, but it was never official government policy. A number of school organisations used it, from the national schools of the Anglicans to the British schools of the nonconformists, but attendance at these schools was voluntary and if a headmaster had a Welsh Not policy it was with the approval of the parents.

The speaking of Welsh in schools may not have been prevented by law, but nor was it given any government support or recognition. The long-term effects of the Language Clause in the 1536 Act of Union Act of Union were still playing out. Welsh was not an institutionalised or official language, and simply wasn't considered a suitable medium for education during the Victorian heyday of the British Empire.

In this era, convention had practically the same force as law. English was deemed by convention, and with popular support, to be the only appropriate medium for learning.”

So – there we have it, in that segment about the Welsh language there’s a ‘on the one hand this, yet on the other hand, that.’ approach to the subject.

As to the truth of Welsh early history, by which I mean British history, I’ve said my piece in earlier posts.

There’s a map of Australia in existence which shows the boundaries of the various Aboriginal nations rather than the present day States and Territories. As I understand it, these boundaries weren’t set by warfare but by an understanding in which the role of the individual nations was as caretakers rather than owners of the country. This approach to country isn’t replicated in the Western mind where individual ownership is the dominant approach to land.

 Individual fields are named in Wales – my family guide there agreed that this is true and that while she doesn’t know the names or meaning of those names on the family farm, her father does. I’m not suggesting that the Welsh have an Aboriginal approach to land but that there is a connection in which the history of the place is there in fine detail.