Black War horrors finally told

History is all black and white according to author Nick Clements. EMILY BAKER reports.

EACH year since he was 22, Nick Clements has had a significant life event from the previous 12 months tattooed on his leg.

This year it's lyrics from the Pearl Jam song, Nothingman: "He who forgets will be destined to remember".

Dr Clements said he firmly believed that if we don't learn from history it's bound to repeat itself, which is why he has written about the war between colonists and Aborigines between 1824 and 1831.

The Black War will be launched on May 2 at Fullers Bookshop in Launceston.

More than 200 colonists and up to 1000 Aborigines died in what is regarded as Australia's most intense frontier conflict.

Understandably, Dr Clements said he was surprised he was the first historian to focus solely on the topic.

"We're kidding ourselves if we think this wouldn't have been us." - Dr Nick Clements

"I'm astonished I could come along as late as I did," Dr Clements said.

"I couldn't believe I had the opportunity to write the first book on the experience of the Black War."

It was a task Dr Clements did not take lightly.

Each chapter is divided into a black and white perspective - it was double the work, Dr Clements conceded, but served his aim of providing equal weight to both sides.

It's another aspect of the text which makes it unique.

"My big thing is not to judge," he said.

"The black and white perspectives don't overlap - there's different terminology used, and sometimes that's racist, outdated language.

"The whole book's about empathy on both sides."

Dr Clements, an eighth- generation Tasmanian himself, learnt of his family's involvement in the Black War.

His great-great-great-great-great grandfather had been attacked five times and lost two servants to Aborigines.

His ancestor later took part in an ambush.

"Obviously I'm not proud of what they did, but I'm interested in why this happened," Dr Clements said.

"We're kidding ourselves if we think this wouldn't have been us."

Writing the book, which is distilled from his PhD with the University of Tasmania, provided plenty of opportunities for Dr Clements.

While he maintained an open mind before undertaking his research his views were challenged.

"I went in assuming it was genocide, and that the Aborigines were relatively helpless.

"I've changed my mind in both cases, which surprised me, and will probably upset some people," Dr Clements said.

The Black War outlines his reasoning: "Whatever word we use, we must at least acknowledge that the attitudes and circumstances that provoked colonists to kill natives in Tasmania were very different from those typically associated with genocide".

Dr Clements knows the book is likely to provoke a strong reaction and said he sadly suspects there will be some who will be upset by his approach.

He has not consulted with any Aboriginal groups, relying instead on years of sound and informed research.

Reading and writing about the enslavement of Aboriginal women and children by sealers in the final chapter of the book was especially difficult, Dr Clements said.

"The horrors of the Black War were only possible because Aborigines and colonists dehumanised each other," Dr Clements said.

"We can never allow such things to happen again."

•The Black War will be launched at Fullers in Launceston on May 2 at 6pm. Reservations are essential. To book, email launceston@fullersbookshop.com. au

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