My experiences on matters Aboriginal

“I have met very few Aboriginal people over half a century in Australia. How am I to meet them? Our paths are so far apart.” … …

“The first Aborigine I sighted was inebriated. I saw him hit on the head (yes the head), and chucked (yes chucked) into a paddy wagon. This was in Melbourne more than fifty years ago. In Brisbane and Perth in the following years, I saw Aborigines being harassed by the police. Since I was with an inter-varsity hockey team in Brisbane, I should have been safe. Yet, one night, walking back to the campus alone, I was scrutinised by the police in a way which I found uncomfortable.

Regrettably, in the early 1990s, I saw young Aborigines, well dressed and behaving themselves, and in the company of young whites, being harassed by the police. In the late 1990s, I was followed by a motorcycle cop, on an Easter Sunday, for many kilometres before being stopped. I fear that he had assumed that a brown fellow driving an old car sedately had to be a ‘coastal blackfellow’, with all the implications of that for the latter.

In a small seaside town north of Perth, nearly fifty years ago, I was in the company of a dark Indian, with the even features found in South India, and a pinkish Eurasian. The latter claimed proudly that he had a Malay grandmother, although this was not discernible. We had got off a small boat and, at the bar of the nearest pub, were asked if we were Aborigines. Surprised (how on earth could we be, given our appearance?), we said no — and were permitted to drink on the premises. The barmaid explained that Aborigines were not allowed to be served.” … …

A few years later, a tall Chinese Malaysian, an even-featured Sri Lankan, a tall Indian Malaysian and I (with Ceylon Tamil ancestors) happened to find ourselves in a bar in a country town. Our car had broken down, and we were lost. A group of men at the far end of the bar showed a great deal of interest in us. Then the largest fellow in the group came up to us and said something strange, and in a gruff voice: “Where are you boys from?” Seeing that this was none of his business, and taking a punt, I responded with “What’s it to you, mate?” in what my Aussie friends describe as a British accent.

He stared at me, then relaxed. Sticking out a bloody great big paw, he introduced himself by first name. We got on well. I realised later that we had been in ‘boong’ (blackfellow) country, and that the big lad must have been the local sergeant of police.” … …

“Somewhere along the line, I set about trying to help Aborigines in the public sector in Canberra to improve their skills, thereby raising their confidence and presentation. I offered training in chairmanship and public speaking (skills shown to benefit everyone); and on their own terms. They could have their own Aboriginal club within Rostrum, an Australia-wide organisation well regarded for its training capabilities, and whose graduates were in senior positions in both the private and public sectors. Or, we could provide training in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there being no indigene employed elsewhere. Or, they could train themselves in that Department under our expert guidance. We had the skills and the will. There was, regrettably, no interest, in spite of my trying to persuade the highly-regarded Captain Saunders (ex-Army and an indigene), and the Department’s senior management that what I offered was valuable. So, that was that. Since it would have cost the Aborigines nothing, except a little effort to learn and to practice …!”

“After retirement, in my township, I met a wide range of Aborigines, a few seemingly full-blooded. There were those who were apparently well paid, driving expensive cars, and employed by Aboriginal organisations. I was told by a couple of them that, in spite of their academic or professional qualifications, there were no jobs available to them in the private sector.” … …

“The most impressive Aborigine I have met to date is a young lady, who (as she said) developed her Aboriginal heritage only after reaching adulthood. Today she is an elder, busily guiding her people, as well as building bridges between black and white. I sense, with regret, that only a minority of whites are interested in reconciliation, and in assisting the Aboriginal people to develop themselves. In the light of the country’s history, any effort to reach out to the Australian indigene in an un-patronising manner is surely a most progressive step. However, when I attended, as a member of a local adult education committee, a reconciliation study, I was impressed with the understanding and goodwill displayed by the white people participating, and the way local Aboriginal women guided the group.”

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ published in 2005. However, I am aware that quite a number of Australian Aborigines are now highly qualified, and hold high positions – unlike the early 1950s, when (during my psychology course) we were told that clever Aboriginal students were dropping out of high school, saying ‘What’s the use?’ How terrible that must have been for those youngsters!)

 

 

 

White Australian attitudes towards Aborigines

The attitude of Australian whites to their indigene is bifurcated. There are, firstly, the lamp lighters and flag bearers. These are the humanitarians. Colonial values do not cloud their perceptions. They look forward, not to the past. They support reconciliation (a more accurate word might be conciliation) and efforts to have the viability of, and the respect shown to, the Aboriginal people raised to that of the rest of the Australian people. These include the honest people who recognise thefirst nation’ status of the indigene. They seek to have fellow non-indigenous Australians become more aware of the history, cultural values and traditions, art, environmental wisdom, and spirituality of the Aborigines.

Then, there is that majority (a large number of whom have told me about their feelings), with their soul-destroying perceptions of the indigene. This is a grab-bag filled with an interesting assortment of human failings. First, there are the greedy and the rapacious, who may be the cultural descendants of some of the founding fathers, and their protectors in government. Then there are the intellectually-deprived, with their retinal after-image of the white coloniser’s cultural and racial superiority. These are followed by the emotionally damaged fear-filled, lacking the confidence to relate to those not like themselves.  Those afflicted with subconscious guilt about the terrible things done to the inoffensive indigene by their predecessors, not all of whom were linked to them genetically, are also found in this grab-bag. One can sympathise with these. … …

Refusing to accept that the indigenes got the rough end of the pineapple collectively, whilst their women were collaterally used freely to create a new creole people, some modern moral purists argue that the major cause of the initial near-extinction of the indigene was not slaughter but disease. One of these iconoclasts even claimed that it was the Chinese and other Asians who had brought the deadly diseases to Australia. How many Chinese did Cortez take with him into America?

Another defender of ethnic cleansing claimed that the Aborigines should thank God that they were “displaced by Christian people”. On the contrary, I think that the Indians and Chinese might have treated the indigenes better. Their historical record, from the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Tonkin, down to Bali, suggests that.  … …

The same sort of negative attitudes surfaced when the report on the ‘stolen generations’ was released, except that the counter-attack was strangely bitter. The authors of the report, their motives, methodology, definitions, and findings were all attacked, but only by a noisy handful. The semanticists, pretending to be fair, focussed on the meaning of ‘stolen’ and the scope of the word ‘generation’. The other critics, seemingly less erudite, simply went ballistic, with all manner of quaint arguments. Yet, no one could deny, that many, many, lighter-skinned children were removed from their mothers (pounded may be a more appropriate term in some cases) in ways which were both immoral and illegal. … …

The claimed motivation for removing the children seemed to be multi-faceted. The need to save them from a terrible future amidst the dust of the cattle stations was one claim. A related caring claim was that, as part-whites, they could be assimilated through separation from their mothers and the rest of their people. If these motives were genuine, how did those in authority see the rights of the mothers and their communities? Since the children were to become no more than servants, what did assimilation offer them?

In the event, what does this policy say about the morality of those involved?  A more honest motive was to ‘to fuck them white’, in order to avoid a biological throwback to their indigenous heritage. Preventing the allegedly ‘quick-breeding half-caste’ from contributing to the growth of the creole community seems a more honest motive. As the Aborigine was then seen to be an early version of the Caucasian stock, there were thus hopes of breeding out the black peoples as a whole. But was there any intention to have white families adopt these poor kids, as claimed by a friend of mine?  What were the odds of white families even considering such adoptions?  I am inclined to believe that some did.

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ published in 2005. Regrettably, Aborigines lacking that attractive tan colour are alleged by some as not being Aboriginal. So, colour remains a determinant of culture and heritage in the eyes of those who want Aborigines to assimilate; yet imported ethnic peoples are able to integrate, with their cultural values intact, into the nation. Why is there so much prejudice?) 

 

 

 

Did squatters destroy an Aboriginal civilisation?

“A few years after the initial ‘discovery’ by Captain Cook, it was apparently known that the indigenes not only occupied the land and used it with economic purpose, but also (according to the highly respected Dr.Coombs) “… lived in clan or tribal groups, that each group had a homeland with known boundaries, and that they took their name from their district, and rarely moved outside it.”  It was also known that they had, and applied, firm rules about trespass, kinship ties, marriage, child rearing and other matters, the hallmarks of an organised society; that they had a “habit of obedience” to their rulers and leaders, a hallmark of a political society; and that they had an ordered ceremonial life, reflecting the sharing of a spiritual vision, a hallmark of a civilisation. Apparently, they also had their own zodiac, which guided their activities. Their artistic records are also well known and respected.

It has now been accepted that the indigenes did not cede any of their land. As the famous poet Oodjaroo Noonuccal said, “We are but custodians of the land”. Whilst the settlers saw themselves at war, and killed to acquire land, officialdom (later supported by local jurists) preferred occupation to conquest. Occupation follows discovery, of a presumed empty land. How were the natives to establish ownership without a Titles Office?

Because the morally political Australian rejected the idea of an invasion, a Senate Committee came up, in the early 1980s, with prescription. This apparently applies when there is no clear title to sovereignty by way of treaty, occupation or conquest. An extended occupation, and an exercise of sovereignty were apparently enough to vest title in the Crown.

But, prescription requires a show of authority on the one side, and acquiescence on the other (says Prof. Reynolds, the renowned contributor to the nation’s enlightenment on this black subject). Since the natives never acquiesced to anything, voluntary abandonment was claimed. The Senate’s clever semantic exercise seemed to accept that being killed or driven away is tantamount to voluntary abandonment! A prominent white Australian sociologist reminded me that cities such as Melbourne and Sydney represented the most effective sites of ethnic cleansing; and that every fence in Australia encloses land that was once the soul, or the shared possession of a particular group of Aborigines.

A very substantial majority of the Aboriginal people died in the years following the invasion. Killing was both official and private. “My father used to round you mob up and shoot you for Saturday and Sunday entertainment”. This was uttered by a school mate of a recent head of ATSIC (the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission). One does not visit the sins of the father upon the son. Yet, there are Australians today who attempt to defend the historical brutality that led to women and children being shot without compunction, and large numbers of fellow humans being killed through the use of poison. What sort of humans were the early arrivals that they could do this? What does it say about their origins, the way they lived before arriving in Australia, and their moral and cultural values? Why were these casual killers so debauched? “ … …

“It would not be quite fair to apply the aphorism ‘The criminal cannot forgive the victim he has defiled’ to those who deny what they call the ‘black armband’ view of Australia’s history. Why someone who cannot claim any ancestors who ‘cleared’ the land so vehemently rejects an honest view of a black history, makes sense only if one accepts that such people have strong tribal affinities, ie their people could not have behaved so brutally; or that, because that was normal colonial behaviour then, the perpetrators cannot be judged by current criteria for morality.

 I have had similar statements made to me when I occasionally refer to my exposure to Aussie racists. Some of these defenders of past brutality, however, confuse guilt with responsibility. That is, they cannot accept that today’s generation has a moral responsibility to compensate, but without any sense of guilt, for the damage done by earlier generations.

(These are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity: Beyond tribalism towards a new Australian identity.’  My hope is the Australian Family of Man, arising eventually from, and through, cultural differences. Our indigenes need to find a place in the sun as a community before participating within a mesh of integrated cultures forming the nation. However, a generation or two of superior white Australians have to join their Maker before that can happen.) 

 

What about sovereignty and sea rights?

The redoubtable historian, Prof. Henry Reynolds, set the cat amongst the pigeons by noting that the Australian High Court had not dealt with the issue of sovereignty when it dealt with the associated issue of land rights. He stated that “the High Court’s decision to recognise prior rights of property but not sovereignty lines Australian law up with the international lawyers writing at the high noon of imperialism”. This decision has therefore left intact the traditional view that, when the British annexed parts of the Australian continent in 1788, 1824, 1829 and 1879, the Crown acquired sovereignty over the land; and that sovereignty is indivisible.

The professor argues instead that, under international law, sovereignty is a ‘collection of powers’, often ‘separated one from another’; that British colonial arrangements displayed a division of sovereignty, ranging from spheres of influence, to protectorates, to outright colonial possession; and that both the USA and Canada have accepted that their indigenous peoples have residual rights of sovereignty, carried over from pre-colonial days; and that such rights can be extinguished by the state, but only by a ‘clear and plain intention to do so’. It was also British colonial policy to recognise customary or traditional law, where established by usage, and where not inconsistent with British concepts of justice.

I also note that the High Court ignored the issue of sea rights under native title. As for claims by Torres Strait Islanders for sea rights, were the government to be driven by justice, it could foster the development of fishing co-operatives by these Islanders, and issue them with exclusive licences to fish in the seas they claim as theirs.

So, is there some doubt about sovereignty in Australia? Sovereignty to the Crown by occupation on the one hand, and residual sovereignty to Aborigines by prior right on the other?  As indigenous peoples, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders would seem to have rights to self-determination. This includes the right to autonomy or self-government in certain areas, especially in relation to maintaining and developing their cultural distinctiveness. Would this also include the right to special seats in the federal parliament? So, I ask: can the Aussie black afford to have a dream, as did the African-Americans a generation ago?

Special arrangements, including a treaty, for a small cultural minority would be abhorrent to those inured to political dominance by white people over all others –– as in the colonial era. Special arrangements could be abhorrent also to a nation of diverse but assimilated peoples — as in the White Australia era.  Or even to a multicultural nation-state composed of a variety of tribes who have integrated (but not assimilated) with the mainstream population.

Yet, if after more than 200 years, the indigenes of Australia still want to remain separate peoples and to control their way of living, how can they, as first nation peoples, be denied? Is it not time for them to receive their share of justice? After all, isn’t Australia already a multicultural nation?  Perhaps what is needed is for the colour-sensitive Aussie to stop fearing that the blacks will become rich and politically powerful. What if some of them do? As Nelson Mandela said, “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’)

 

The 10-point Plan to protect ‘white space’

Following the Wik decision by the High Court, and the fear campaign, by a white government, white pastoralists, and other white groups, that nearly 80% of Australia would be over-run by black people, the federal government spun into action to protect white space.  The following paragraphs are extracts from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (an ironic title in the current context).

“After a lot of thunder, lightning and hot air had upset everyone, the government got through a ‘ten-point plan’, with the help of an independent senator. In the late 1990s, when the national Parliament pushed through legislation to reduce the property rights of the indigene inherent in native title, it was the whites (politicians, clergymen, and legal advisers) who reportedly decided (yet once again) what was best for the Aborigines.  The latter said that they were excluded from the negotiations!

Overall, it was a despicable exercise. The risks of having the blacks go walkabout on leased land (ie public-owned land), of their having any kind of a say in the potential use of this land, of any diminution in the government’s freedom to be generous to its supporters, was all too much for the government, and its pastoral and mineral constituencies. 

The federal government cannot, of course, extinguish native title without paying compensation. As a consequence, there was a fine juggling act between the federal and state (and territory) governments in the late 1990s. The latter governments were now to provide a statutory regime acceptable to the former, which would achieve an effective extinguishment of native title rights — but which did not cost much to taxpayers, and did not violate the Racial Discrimination Act and sundry international obligations! This was not asking too much, was it?

This federal government approach is akin to a white colonial government employing coloured mercenaries to carry out the more dastardly acts of subjugation of other coloured peoples (eg. Gurkhas against the Maoris of New Zealand).

Was it not St.Paul who said, “We wrestle … against spiritual wickedness in high places”? The indigenes and their supporters were both up in arms and despondent, realising that their recently acquired justice was short-lived. Consequently, the only appeal mechanism available (for what that is worth) is in the international arena. For some inexplicable reason, I keep recalling Arnold Toynbee’s ‘No annihilation without representation’, whenever extinguishment of Aboriginal native title is mentioned.”

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10-Point Plan for ‘bucket loads of extinguishment’ of Native Title

“MR HOWARD’S TEN POINT PLAN

  1. Validation of acts/grants

The validity of acts or grants made on non-vacant crown land since the Native Title Act will be guaranteed by law.

  1. Extinguishment of Native Title on “exclusive” tenures

“Exclusive” tenures such as freehold, residential, commercial and public works (in existence on or before 1 January 1994) would be confirmed by state and territory laws.

  1. Government services

The provision of government services to land on which Native Title may exist would now be made easier.

  1. Native Title and pastoral lease

Native Title rights over land held under agricultural and pastoral leases would be permanently extinguished if they interfere with the rights of the leaseholder.

Activities other than farming and grazing would be allowed on pastoral leases, even if Native Title exists, provided the dominant purpose of the lease remains primary production.

  1. Statutory access rights

If those who register a Native Title claim can demonstrate that they currently have access to land held under a pastoral lease, access to that land will be guaranteed by law until the Native Title claim is settled.

  1. Future mining

For mining on vacant crown land:

  • the registration “test” for a Native Title claim would be more difficult
  • there would be no negotiations over mining exploration
  • only one Native claim for negotiation would be allowed for each mining project

For mining on “non-exclusive” tenures, such as current or former pastoral leases:

  • the right to negotiate would continue to apply until State and Territory governments provided arrangements acceptable to the Commonwealth government
  • compensation would take account of the currently co-existing Native Title rights
  1. Future development

For vacant crown land outside cities and towns:

  • the registration “test” for negotiation of a Native Title claim would be more difficult
  • there would be no negotiations over acquisitions for government-type infra-structure
  • For compulsory acquisition of Native Title rights on other “non-exclusive” tenures, such as current or former pastoral leases or national parks:
  • the right to negotiate would continue to apply until State and Territory governments provided arrangements acceptable to the Commonwealth government
  • compensation would take account of the currently co-existing Native Title rights
  • future management actions for national parks or forest reserves would be allowed forfuture activities such as taking of timber or gravel on pastoral leases would be allowed for
  1. Water resources and airspace

The ability of governments to regulate and manage, surface and subsurface water, offshore resources and airspace, and the rights of those with interests in these areas, would be put beyond doubt.

  1. Management of claims

For new and existing Native Title claims there would be:

  • a more difficult registration “test” for negotiation of a Native Title claim
  • amendments to speed up the processing of claims
  • encouragement for States and Territories to deal with claims
  • a sunset clause within which claims had to be made
  1. Agreements

Measures would be introduced to encourage the negotiation of voluntary but binding agreements as an alternative to formal Native Title agreements.”

(Source: ‘Teaching Heritage’ a New South Wales Government document)

 

 

Extinguishing Native Title – Keating 2011

Extinguishing Native Title through 10-point Plan  (June 1  2011    Sydney Morning Herald)

The 10-point plan that undid the good done on native title – Paul Keating

As prime minister, the pastoral lease question was a vexing and torrid one for me. And for this reason: notwithstanding that the Commonwealth government’s legal advice was that the Mabo (No. 2) judgment had the effect of extinguishing native title on lands subject to pastoral leases – I did not agree with that advice. That is, I did not personally agree with the logic behind the advice.

I had lots of supposedly good people urging it upon me; like the former leader of the National Party Tim Fischer, who was doing his level best to turn pastoral leases into quasi-freehold titles at the expense of Aboriginal people.

I knew there was a massive potential loss here for Aboriginal people – because in 1993 a very large proportion of the land mass of Australia was subject to pastoral leases. In Western Australia it was 38 per cent of the state, in Queensland 54 per cent, South Australia 42 per cent, NSW 41 per cent and the Northern Territory 51 per cent.

Given the scale and importance of it, I was determined not to deny Aboriginal people the chance to test this question before the High Court. So to keep the naysayers at bay and to fend off the opportunists, I decided to record in the preamble of the bill that on the government’s view, past leasehold grants extinguished native title.

I had these words in the second reading speech and in the preamble to the act but I refused to make extinguishment a fait accompli under the operating provisions of the act.

I knew that the whole idea of pastoral leases over Crown land arose because squatters decided to move on to land for which they had no title and where their activities, grazing or otherwise, were uncontrolled. The motivation for the legislative regime, first in NSW in the late 1820s, was to put some control on squatters without conferring on them a freehold title to vast tracts of the country; country largely occupied by Aboriginal people. So I understood that when the various colonial and state governments came to issue pastoral leases they did so knowing that the pastoral activity would occur over lands where Aboriginal people were still conducting a traditional way of life.

I told officers of the Attorney-General’s Department at the time that I regarded their advice as black letter property advice, wherein they failed to understand how and in which ways the High Court was peering through the common law to the development of native title rights over the course of Australian history following European settlement.

As it turned out, in the Wik decision of 1996, the High Court held that the grant of relevant leases did not confer on the lessees exclusive possession of land under lease and correctly, in my view, made clear that, in the case of the Wik and the Thayorre people, that a relevant intention to extinguish all native title rights at the time the grants were issued was not present. That is, the grants did not necessarily extinguish all incidents of the native title rights.

Of course, that decision of the High Court was attacked mercilessly by the Howard government. That villain Tim Fischer boasted that there would be bucket loads of extinguishment, in the Howard government’s response to the decision.

Many will be familiar with the sorry tale that became part and parcel of the Native Title (Amendment) Act 1998. That amendment arose from the Coalition government’s so-called 10-point plan, a plan facilitated in the Senate with the support of Senator Brian Harradine under the advice of the Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

As an aside, and as a Catholic, let me say, wherever you witness the zealotry of professional Catholics in respect of indigenous issues, invariably you find indigenous interests subordinated to their personal notions of justice and equity: because unlike the rest of us, they enjoy some kind of divine guidance. And so it was with the Wik amendments.

The amendments were titled ”Confirmation of past extinguishment of native title”. But it was never clear that all freehold grants and leasehold grants permanently extinguished native title. Mick Dodson said at the time: ”By purporting to ‘confirm’ extinguishment by inconsistent grants, the Commonwealth is purposely pre-empting the development of the common law – not allowing sufficient time to integrate the belated recognition of native title into Australia’s land management system. This does not require the obliteration of indigenous interests so as to favour non-indigenous interests.” Quite so.

The Howard government’s 1998 amendments cut across the spirit of the Keating government’s 1993 act; the notion that the legislation was, first and foremost, of a beneficial kind – enacted to redress historic inequities, rather than to compound ones sanctioned by earlier acts.

Paul Keating was prime minister from 1991 to 1996. This is an edited extract from the Lowitja O’Donoghue Oration delivered at the University of Adelaide yesterday.

 

Demonising Native Title rights for indigenes

Following the decision by the High Court in the Wik case that a pastoral lease did not necessarily extinguish native title; and that, in some cases, some native title rights can survive the grant of a lease, farmers and pastoralists on Crown pastoral leases sought ‘certainty’ for themselves, by the federal government formally extinguishing native title.

Certainty also means the freedom to diversify their operations beyond the terms of existing leases. This would effectively make the leases de facto freehold, independently denying any native title right. Since many of the leases are reportedly already being used for a wide range of purposes, the question is how a pastoral lease, which is surely for pasturage of cattle, allowed full scale farming (as distinct from farming for sustenance). More intriguing was the claim that certain governments had ignored the law in granting mining leases.

The federal government then contributed to the panic that followed. What about our backyards, swimming pools, and tennis courts; can they take them too? This was asked by the newest demagogue then. The threat of Aboriginal intervention under native title will reduce the transfer value of the leases — this was yet another whinge. Apparently this has not happened yet. The federal government did little to allay these fears. Indeed, many of us realised that the government was actually fuelling irrational fears.

A white female pastoralist was reported in the late 1990s to have been fearful when her property was the subject of a native title claim by an Aboriginal community. She thought that, if successful, the Aborigines would simply take possession of her property. After she had met the claimants, she knew otherwise. Why had not the government or the media made this clear? Were they in cahoots with the powerful pastoralist lobby groups? It seems so.

She learnt that the Aborigines’ aim was co-existence.  They only wanted access to significant sites to conduct cultural activities for young people. She was quoted in the press as saying: “When sheep and cattle were moved in, the land the indigenous people lived off was badly affected. They had to find other ways to survive, and the problems were compounded by the aggressive acts of the pastoralists and the local white authorities. During the 1920s and 1930s indigenes were herded together in designated Aboriginal reserves, with little shelter and no water. The communities were split up, their culture fragmented. They gravitated towards the edges of towns … ended up outcasts, on the fringes of white society”.

Where politicians had promised ‘certainty’ to the pastoralists, she reportedly felt that she had been kept in the dark, misled, and betrayed. She was further quoted as follows: “… people like me were being used as tools, in what was obviously a political agenda being used to continue the hurt and dispossession of people who have been hurt their whole lives”; and “… there are people fanning the flames and spreading misinformation”.  She also quoted the Prime Minister of the day as claiming publicly that it would be possible for 78% of Australia to be under ‘veto’ (for development) by Aborigines. Has the government resiled from this ridiculous claim?

Her comment to that was: “I’ve no doubt that most Australians would have believed him. If I hadn’t informed myself, I’d have believed him as well”. Her final comments are noteworthy. “I did not hunt the (Aborigines) off their land: but what I have today I have partly because others did. If I inherited the fruits of the pioneers’ achievements, I also inherited a debt to those they dispossessed”.

That says it all. And what a wonderful human being — a beacon of light. This enlightened white lady has reached out to the Aboriginal people. She is also educating people in her situation about the need to work with Aboriginal people.

As asked by a respected academic in another, but comparable, context: “If lying comes to seem an acceptable political means to a worthwhile end, what will prevent democracy degenerating into a struggle between elites whose relationship to the electorate goes no deeper than the conduct of an auction …?” In any such auctions, the Aborigines will not be viable bidders.

(The above extracts are from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Since the book was published only in 2005, I do not believe that the Australian Constitution will be mended any time soon to recognise the Australian indigenes as the First Nation Peoples of Australia.)    

 

 

The demise of terra nullius through Native Title

The High Court opened up a very large can of worms when it determined (in the Mabo case in 1992) that the Torres Strait Islanders (TSI) and, by implication, the Aborigines, had native title rights under common law. This did not help to contribute land to an Aboriginal or TSI nation. A native title right refers simply to a residual right to share in the use of land, but only in a customary way. Under the High Court’s later determination (in the Wik case in 1996), the rights of the Aboriginal community are subordinate to that of the lessee.

In the Mabo case, the Court said: “Where a clan or group has continued to acknowledge the laws and … to observe the customs based on the traditions of that clan or group, whereby their traditional connection with the land has been substantially maintained, the traditional community title of that clan or group can be said to remain in existence”.  Native title refers to the common law rights of access and use of traditional land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The rights include hunting, gathering, fishing, ceremonies, and just living.

The High Court thus put away for good that useful argument favoured by settlers and Australian jurists that Australia had been an empty land (‘terra nullius’) when occupied by Britain, contrary to all the evidence against that view.

The Court, by finding that the indigenes of Australia had indeed been in possession of their lands, brought the law in relation to Aboriginal land rights into line with current standards of justice. As the eminent historian Prof. Henry Reynolds said, “Terra nullius was out of step with international standards of human rights, on the one hand, and with fundamental values of common law, on the other …”. Mr. Justice Deane of the High Court (subsequently Governor-General of Australia in the late 1990s) remarked back in 1985 that “The common law of this land has not reached the stage of retreat from injustice”, in relation to the nation’s recognition of native title.

However, justice did arrive at last — at least, in the legal realm. In the mid 1990s, the High Court again upset the conservatives, the racists, and sundry fellow travellers. The resulting outbursts were most illuminative, displaying a range of bitter and irrational assertions, suggesting that professed beliefs in law and justice by many in influential positions (including parts of the media) are not deeply held. As Thomas Carlyle said “Can there be a more horrible object in existence than an eloquent man not speaking the truth?”

The High Court, by a majority decision (in the Wik case), held that a pastoral lease did not necessarily extinguish native title. In some cases, some native title rights can survive the grant of a lease. However, in any conflict between the pastoralist’s rights and native title rights, the former rights prevail.

Reportedly, the decision took into account an official policy dictated from the UK in 1848 that the grant of a pastoral lease gave “… only an exclusive right of pasturage for their cattle and of cultivating such land as they may require …”, but that the lease was “… not intended to deprive the Natives of their former right to hunt over these districts, or to wander over them in search of subsistence, in the manner they have been hitherto accustomed”.

Following the Wik decision, farmers and pastoralists on Crown pastoral leases sought ‘certainty’ for themselves, by the federal government formally extinguishing native title. Certainty also means the freedom to diversify their operations beyond the terms of existing leases. This would effectively make the leases de facto freehold, independently denying any native title right. Since many of the leases are reportedly already being used for a wide range of purposes, the question is how a pastoral lease, which is surely for pasturage of cattle, allowed full scale farming (as distinct from farming for sustenance). More intriguing was the claim that certain governments had ignored the law in granting mining leases.

(The above is an extract from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Is it surprising that Australian politicians and their acolytes see no need for human rights legislation? Have Mabo and Wik empowered the TSI and Aborigines in any meaningful way? Have Native Title rights been undermined by officialdom since Wik?)    

 

 

 

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).

The Australian Aborigine – a 1997 view

The following are extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM. The author has lived a highly integrated and contributory life in Australia (including holding leadership positions in civil society) since 1948. This and his later 4 books were based on his work and settlement experiences.

For 9 years (in the 1980s), his work covered policy (at the level of Director) on ethnic affairs & multiculturalism; citizenship & national identity; refugee and humanitarian entry; and settlement assistance. Endorsements of his books by senior academics indicate that the author has a sound understanding of his adopted nation (of which he is proud).

Urban Aborigines are rarely seen in employment in offices and shops, or in public transport. I have been told in recent years by Aborigines that many of them are educated and have usable skills, but white employers will not give them jobs. Their poverty is endemic. “To fry poverty, you need no butter,” is a very apt adage.

‘Educated’ whites openly utter statements of prejudice. Their basic premise is that the Aborigine is lazy and will not work. What a convenient stance. Any anti-social conduct by youths is a class problem for whites, but a racial problem for blacks. It may not be long before this underclass (visible because of its colour) stops being quiescent. They might feel that “revenge is profitable, gratitude expensive.” In the event, Australia’s violations of human rights will come out into the open internationally. This may force some of our superior folk to get off their high horses and to desist from arrogantly squawking about the conduct of other nations, usually of coloured people. “Everyone loves justice in the affairs of another,” is a relevant Italian saying.”

“I am beginning to think that it is subconscious guilt that fuels the white man’s prejudice against the Aborigine; whereas, his dislike, initially, of European ‘reffos’ and latterly of the Asians, is more of an inter-tribal stance.

Unless Australia’s treatment of its blacks is seen by observers in Asia to be just, no one will expect equitable treatment for those of coloured descent in Australia. This would be disastrous for the nation.”

“A recent news report claimed that a volunteer effort for Aborigines in the north of Australia to provide a TV service for their people was opposed persistently by vested interests. The community at large accepts (I believe) that the white man’s greed controls the politician and his administration; and, inequitable treatment of the dispossessed is perpetuated. How does one get across the concept of karmic laws to those whose loss of their own faith allows them to behave in such an oppressive way?”

 “More honest government policies might have included the payment of substantial funds to each Aboriginal tribe driven off its land.”

(Reconciliation Week has just ended. I doubt, however, whether our indigenes can find a place in the sun as an ethno-cultural people, without officialdom admitting the injustices of the past – including the killing and the despoliation of cultures which followed. RAR 6/2017)