The plight of the Australian indigene

“Like most Asians, I do not take notice of variations in skin colour. When everyone around me sported a different colour, how could I be sensitive to such variations? This claim will no doubt surprise those with a need to detect, and possibly denigrate, anyone with any hint of colour. The way the mixed blood urban Aborigine is talked about is sufficiently illustrative. Since most parts of the world are multi-hued, differences in skin colour are generally not persuasive in human relations where whites are not involved.” … …

“In Australia, mixed-blood Aborigines with the right shade of colour could pass into white society or, at least, avoid the indignity of bureaucratic control over all aspects of their lives.” … …

The ability of white men to intrude into, and control, the lands of coloured people everywhere on the globe eventually resulted in skin colour being deemed as inferior; indeed, as inferior as the faiths, and other cultural values and practices they found in these lands. Yet, I feel that, in their hearts, many whites do not seem to like their own skin-colour.” … …

“In Australia, an indigenous people living in a precarious balance with a predominantly harsh environment seem to me to have been treated worse than any other allegedly heathen non-threatening people. Why?  Because they were seen as sub-human by an advanced Western society offering its vision of progress. Against the background of Christian colonists generally treating all subject people with indifferent brutality, and of the colonists in America practising slavery, and driving away or killing the indigenes, the British colonists in Australia destroyed a whole people in a way that might not have a parallel elsewhere.

The attempts to camouflage this dreadful and unchristian conduct (reflecting greed and lust) resulted in new concepts and definitions — of peoples, law, justice, religion and historiography. This pithy piece of graffiti may therefore be obliquely apt: “Judas needed the money for a sick friend.”

Australian Aborigines were seen by many of the new colonists not only as sub-human.  The indigenes had, according to the coloniser and his judiciary, no law and no religion. They were not seen as living in an organised manner, with cultural values and practices derived from concepts about their origins, and a vision about their relationship to their environment. Official British government edicts and a few caring state governors did little that was effective in protecting the indigenes.

Two centuries of being treated virtually as fauna, with the women taken as needed, and thereby contributing to a hybrid species, resulted in a demoralised people. They had no confidence in themselves, had few rights, and lived a marginal and poverty stricken life. It was more an existence, akin to the life of beggars in Asia; at least, until they were included in the welfare state. “

“This was the Australia I entered in 1948. The whites were in two broad ecclesiastical camps — the Roman Catholics (claiming to be all-Irish) vs. the rest. The former were referred colloquially as ‘micks’ or ‘tykes’, the significance of which missed me for decades. The latter included the mainstream Protestants, referred to as ‘prods’ by the ‘micks’, and a clutter of other Christian sects. There was no place for the urban mixed-blood Aborigines, even though they too were Christian.

The rural indigenes, whether pure of blood or mixed, could live in river beds, or on the fringes of townships in shanties; that is if they were free to live where and how they wished. If not, they would live on official settlements created as holding ponds, so that their lands could be exploited by the whites. The pattern for this treatment had already been set in North America.

This is why I am somewhat bemused by the official Australian and his mentor, the US American, when they now babble about human rights. Their houses are not yet in order. But, they do thunder, most righteously, about their perception of a deficit of rights in developing Asian nations. Good try, lads! Is there not something in the Bible about casting the first stone?”

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (published in 2005).  While imported ethno-cultural communities were invited to retain their traditions in multicultural Australia, the Australian Aborigine continued to be expected to become like ‘us,’ the Anglo-Australian. A senior official explicitly denied that the indigene was covered by multicultural policy).