In 1842 the prominent colonial barrister Richard Windeyer wrote inaccurately, but with greater prescience than he knew, of the ‘grand fundamental law’ among a people he abused with the epithet ‘savages’: ‘…that those should take who have the power and those should keep who can’. Windeyer’s mendacious rhetoric is a prime example of the perversity of the colonial imagination. The ‘grand fundamental law’ he ascribed to the ‘savages’ was in fact an apposite description of precisely what the ‘civilised’ had been doing in Australia since 1788. Reading his words in the early twenty-first century reveals just how prescient Windeyer was. Not only did he disclose colonial rapacity, his adage resonates as a neat characterisation of the corrupting privileges of power in our own day.
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