When we think Valentine's Day, we picture heart chocolates, red roses, unrequited yearnings and possibly an embarrassing unwanted advance. As Stan Grant recently reminded us, however, the politics of Australian courtship has a history that is less light and easy.
In the late 1950s, artist Arthur Boyd illustrated the fraught nature of frontier marriage in his Brides series. Yet, Australia's boundary-crossing lovers are still omitted from the historical memory of the nation. Despite their long-term, cross-generational legacies, these unions virtually became a secret of state.
The violence, rapes and rapaciousness of Australian frontiers are more widely known now, but not so the romances between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Some of these stories have been told individually, as in Shadow Lines, by Steve Kinnane. He recounts the story of his grandparents: Jessie Argyle, taken from her Aboriginal family at the age of five, and Edward Smith, an Englishman escaping the rigid strictures of London. They fell in love in a society deeply divided on racial lines but why did such couples have to flee like exiles?
Possibly it was because their unions threatened to expose a hidden fault-line of Australian colonialism - one whose legacies are with us today.
In places and at times where Aboriginal people still had the power to negotiate marriage law and authority, such courting couples created a "marital middle ground". In earlier times, Aboriginal people incorporated marriage with outsiders as a way to extend their landed authority and to ensure community survival. When a white man came under the Indigenous kinship and marriage system, he was expected to observe the sovereign law of the country.
These lovers generated families at the core of the cultural and historical interface that became the Australian nation. However, the young coloniser state did not like it.
From the coming of Federation until the 1960s, love affairs between Aboriginal people and others were severely restricted across all of northern Australia. Queensland moved rapidly to curb courtship and marriage between white Australian men and Aboriginal women. Western Australia and the Northern Territory followed. That didn't mean that relationships stopped. Love often prevailed.
Australia's anti-miscegenation laws came under the guise of Aboriginal Protection, purportedly to protect Aboriginal women from sexual exploitation by white men. (Legislators did not tamper with the marriage legislation premised upon individual consent, and formally approved by Queen Victoria - whose lacy gown ignited the "white wedding" trend).
Police and missionary enforcers placed white working class men living with Aboriginal women under sexual surveillance, forcing them to either apply for permits or be arrested. Many were fined or jailed. The Chief Protectors, who had the power to decide who could marry whom, regularly refused their written requests to marry.
Although largely untouched by the new laws, magistrates, pastoralists, police and missionaries also fell in love with Aboriginal women. It was not uncommon for cattle station owners and managers to practice a form of cross-frontier polygamy, sustaining relationships with both a white wife and an Aboriginal woman. At times an Aboriginal husband asserted primacy over the white husband or the Aboriginal woman chose to follow one or the other.
Complex aboriginal kinship-based marital rules monitored "right way" unions and punished those acting against Indigenous law. Gaining marriage endorsement by the coloniser state seemed irrelevant.
Less influential white men bitterly resented laws designed to curb their sex and love lives, and which criminalised them overnight. Petitioning their parliamentary representatives, they played their own morality game. In the early 1900s, they put the sexual activities of Queensland's first Chief Protectors under scrutiny.
When chief protector Archibald Meston's after-hours meetings with a young Aboriginal domestic worker were exposed, his white wife left her position (also as a Protector) in order to save her husband's job.
When white frontiersmen learnt that Walter E Roth, North Queensland's inaugural Protector, had taken naked "ethnographic" photographs of an Aboriginal couple "in coitus", they engineered a parliamentary scandal. Roth later left Australia for British Guyana.
With black and white parents' unions illicit in the eyes of the coloniser state, the children, too, were treated as illegitimate. Little children were taken away. They missed out on inheritances. White men were prohibited from residing on Aboriginal reserves or fraternising with the people living there. A father could arrive home to find his wife and children taken away for good. The comprehensive Queensland Aboriginal reserves system struck a fatal blow to many families, and to the "marital middle ground".
Australian lovers who were willing to cross these punitive marriage bars showed an uncommon courage. Out of this "illicit love" came new generations who carry on the battles for their ancestors and their communities. Some are the very same people who are required today to justify their Aboriginality because of mixed descent. They have to keep explaining who they are and why they are speaking out.
Until we come to terms with the story of courtship, love and family across the colonising divide as a defining part of Australian history, we cannot move on as a nation.
Ann McGrath is a professor of history at the Australian National University and the author of Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in Australia and the United States.