The place of the indigene in a national identity

About 30 years ago, only a decade after White Australia had been officially dispensed with, multiculturalism, as policy, began to gather favour. By then, there were public officials whose parents had emigrated to Australia. The concept of European ‘reffos’ and ‘wogs’ had been tamed, initially through officialdom deeming the new arrivals to be ‘New Australians.’

When one of these officials asked about the place of the Australian indigenes in this new multicultural society, his boss, also a second generation Australian of European descent, denied them a place. The spectrum of multiculturalism seemed to be for those of European stock, supplemented (possibly) by the trickle of the preferred light-skinned East Asians, most of whom were (later) identified in the Census as Christian.

In the light of the undeniable heavy hand across the entry door for those wishing to migrate to Australia from the Indian sub-continent, until near the end of the 20th century, and the 2 centuries-long plaint by many white Anglo-Australians “Why can’t they be like us?” (‘they’ being the indigenes who had been marginalised by white settlement), is it surprising that the Australian Aboriginal is expected to be assimilated, rather than integrated like the immigrant communities?

Buckets of scarce taxpayer money, wrapped in very Christian utterances about helping the original occupants to achieve parity with later Australians, do not seem to have done much. Indeed, the prevailing prejudice when the High Court relatively recently threw out the original coloniser’s claim to have entered ‘terra nullius’ (an empty land), and granted ‘Native Title Rights’ to the Aboriginal people, conservative politicians joined in the frantic wailing that up to 85% of the swimming pools in the cities would be taken away by the minuscule Aboriginal population of the nation! Racist prejudice was thick in the air.

Notwithstanding that a number of people of Aboriginal descent have achieved great success in academe, the law, the arts, particularly dance, and in business, my view about the plight of the Aboriginal people as a whole is captured in the following extract from ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’ (The chapter is ‘On multiculturalism’)

A proposal to have the Constitution recognise the Aboriginal people as the first nation people of Australia has been long delayed. Those who oppose the so-called ‘black armband’ view of Australia’s history are probably responsible for that.

“The indigenes – are they included? I am sure that they do not want to remain submerged as a people beyond more than the two centuries of being ignored. As a former colonial subject, I can understand how they must feel about their post-invasion experience. Their terrible history is matched only by that of the indigenes of the Americas and New Zealand. However, their claim to be the foundation people in this island continent may one day be enshrined in some official document. Whether this would put them on par even with imported coloured people is uncertain.”

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