Integration or another Dreamtime?

A quarter of a century after being granted citizenship of a land stolen from them, the Aborigines have not achieved much improvement in their economic or social status. The infant mortality rate, the life expectancies of adults, the rate of incarceration in jails, the unemployment rate, the incidence of preventable diseases, the levels of education and housing, and the denial of access to basic services, must seem horrendous to governments of even the poorest Third World countries. The people are still marginalised societally.

And all this in a country which is proudly proclaimed to the world at large as a successful multicultural nation. The ethnics whinge about Anglo-Celt domination of core institutions. The Irish-Aussie whinges about the discrimination allegedly experienced by his forefathers, while expanding his grip on these very same core institutions. So, how many nations do we have in this multicultural society or state? There is a minimum of three that I can see.

The Aboriginal nation, descended from many, many tribes, speaking many languages, today numbers about a quarter of a million people, or less than one and a half per cent of the total population of Australia. About two in every five Aborigines are urban residents, with seemingly good prospects of early integration into the mainstream, but only if they can get jobs and are not denied housing. Another two in every five are ‘fringe dwellers’ on the edge of small towns. These would seem to be genuinely dispossessed … The remaining one in five are in ‘Aboriginal towns’ and in ‘outstation’ properties. … they may not want integration.

… … Encouragingly, there is among the young and the educated middle class of Australia a lot of sympathy for the Aborigines’ right to a share of the sunshine. … Inherited prejudice, based on colour, might be diffused in time if there were visibly more educated, more successful brown people around. Brown may then not be equated with inferiority. This would mean opening the door more widely than hitherto to brown-skinned immigrants. It is sometimes difficult to separate, on appearance alone, an Aborigine from a similarly coloured Asian.

In fact, I have been told by so many of the ‘oldies’ that many of the Aboriginal leaders are not really black. That was news to me. My response to them was along the following lines: for generations, Aussies called these people black, no matter how light-skinned they were, or how European or Caucasian their features were, and treated them as blacks, i.e. with disdain and arrogance. Of course, there is white blood in them; many are mainly white genetically, but skin colour is dominant. … Now that ‘black’ is beautiful … the hope of “passing” into the mainstream community was reversed by many, to accepting their Aboriginal heritage.

The future is not all black for the Aboriginal people. In spite of the understandable “What’s the use?” by many of the disadvantaged Aboriginals of yore, strong role models are being presented to them by professionally-successful ones; the political activists; Afro-American artists, writers and politicians; and by their own youth. Young Aboriginal artists, dancers, singers and theatrical producers, all with competence and superb confidence, are also achieving broad public acclaim in Australia and overseas for the quality of their performances and productions, their pride in their Aboriginality, and their successful portrayal of the plight and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (the latter tend, as a form of short-hand, to be covered in any reference to Australian Aboriginals).

Progress from racial exclusion to social cohesion is, however, going to need a few more generations. … Recovery of the Dreamtime still awaits the Aborigine.

(Nearly two decades after the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ were written, and after the immigration door became fully opened to entrants from the Indian sub-continent (refer first Census of 21st century), the plight of the Australian indigene is not as bleak as depicted above. There are also lots of coloured people everywhere now. The unavoidable white yobbo will, of course, continue to display his prejudice.

Assimilation (total absorption) was replaced a long time ago. Although cultural integration is desirable (in order to achieve one people from diverse cultures), will there remain an attempt to fashion an Aboriginal nation? Or, will it be enough to retain an Aboriginal culture? The reality of course is that change is the law of existence; and institutions (like empires) and cultural practices cannot be preserved unmodified over time.)

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