The First Wave: Exploring early coastal contact history in Australia
Wakefield Press, $49.99 pb, 452 pp, 9781743056158
First encounters between Indigenous Australians and European voyagers, sealers, and missionaries often unfolded on the beach, a contact zone where meaning and misunderstanding sparked from colliding worldviews. This sandy theatre also serves as one of the enduring metaphors of ethnographic history, a discipline that reads through the accounts of European explorers, diarists, and administrators to reconsider historical accounts of the gestures of Indigenous people from within their own cultural frameworks. Europeans blinded by racial preconceptions scribbled reports about the peoples they met, often misinterpreting actions as foolish, threatening, or pointless. Yet from the late twentieth century, historians such as Greg Dening (whose extensive theoretical work positioned the beach as the great physical and mental horizon of contact history) began combing through accounts of these tense meetings to reach for the other side of the story.