An Aboriginal writer on Aboriginal culture

The plight of Australia’s Aborigines is so sad that I was pleased to hear about Bruce Pascoe’s book ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ A retired school teacher drew my attention to this valuable book. Have our media paid any attention to its findings?

A book about pre-invasion Aboriginal culture, written by an Aborigine, is far more credible than writing by even a sympathetic non-Aboriginal writer. Pascoe’s sources are journals and diaries of (white) pastoralists, explorers, and the like. His sources are plentiful. When British beneficiaries of invasion, killing, and despoliation of native culture say honestly what they saw and experienced, one would expect Pascoe’s narrative to be accepted by one and all.

Not so! A retired Anglo-Aussie school teacher told me that she did not find the book credible. I repeat a belief I uttered way back in the racist 1940s and 1950s: that the oldest generation of (British) Aussies had to join their Maker before the lives of Asian students in Australia would be easier. That did happen.

Those supremacist white Australians who will not even accept that their indigenes are First Nation People, or who are unwilling to allow the Aborigines to have a say on policies to ‘bridge the gap’ in life expectancy, health, education, and a jail-free life have to leave us – in my view, as soon as possible.

Pascoe’s report also suggests that the behaviour of settlers generally, and some explorers, was decidedly despicable and un-Christian. Pascoe’s book also confirms what the redoubtable Dr. Coombs had earlier written about the Australian Aborigines. Their lives had all the hallmarks of a settled people, an organised polity, and a civilisation; and they had spiritual values of a high order, as well as a view of the Cosmic order.

Would not any intelligent person expect that a people who had survived this harsh land for 35,000 to 60,000 years know how to relate to Nature and to heavenly bodies? I doubt that modern man does. He wants control, not balance.

British settlement turned a settled people with agriculture, aquaculture, solid buildings, and a co-operative way of life into nomads. Being converted to Christianity did not protect the indigene from exploitation for more than two centuries. Now, they are expected to be ‘like us.’ Some already are; what about the rest?

Multiculturalism policy permits, even encourages, ethnic communities in Australia to identify themselves as identifiably separate; but not our indigenes. Why so?


Did colonialism make Aborigines nomadic?

Was the Australian Aborigine made nomadic? A most illuminative book by Bruce Pascoe ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ suggests to me that British invaders of Australia, in their respective roles as explorers and settlers, forced the indigenes into a nomadic life. When the British drove away the Aboriginal people from their land by shooting or poisoning them (so it has been written), destroying their life chances, as well as their culture and lifestyle, where could the indigene go? How could they survive?

The imagined terra nullius of Australia and North America led to the despoliation of the First Nation peoples of these lands. They could not have been settled, could they? They had to be nomadic, owning no land!

The back cover of Pascoe’s book says: “Pascoe puts forward a compelling argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag.”

Pascoe is quoted on the back cover thus: “If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely that we will admire and love our land all the more.”

A reviewer (Lisa Hill) wrote “In 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he is not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily debunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complete civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority.

As a matter of interest, during a brief but bitter historiography war in Australia in recent times, a strident effort was made to play down oral history. Why? Without being tested through the adversarial processes of an Australian court, oral statements about the past could have no credibility. So, there go the Old Testament and any other artefacts of culture.

Pascoe’s work was preceded by the renowned Dr. Coombs. The following is an extract from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ Chapter 3 ‘To have a dream.’

“ 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.”

Sadly, government after government talked about ‘Bridging the gap,’ with no discernible improvement in the plight of their First Nation people (except for a handful of urban Aborigines, who seemed to have made good progress through personal effort). Quo vadis?

Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Intimations about the Afterlife

I had a dream recently. I woke up at the conclusion of the dream, wondering whether it followed my recent speculations about the Afterlife. As a metaphysical Hindu, through some in-depth reading and careful analysis, I accept the probability of the existence of my soul, the reincarnation process, and a re-charging domain I conceive as the Afterlife.

The concept of an Afterlife is very challenging. Would insubstantial soul-entities, the spirits of former Earthlings, need a home of substance? But then I cannot conceive of an insubstantial place where a goodly number of soul-entities could sojourn. However, I realise that at age 89 I can expect to have my curiosity satisfied very soon.

Since I had been advised by a casual clairvoyant (or seer) to listen to my subconscious for messages from my Spirit Guide, I wonder if my dream was more than wishful thinking. Living in a flat country whose highest mountain is a mere pimple, whose rivers do not seem to flow like those in New Zealand, and whose dry terrain does not attract much rain (except for sudden troubling downpours occasionally), my subconscious may be seeking to compensate for this deprivation by Nature.

In my dream, I was on a lush mountain top, with a raging river below on one side and a cliff on the other – which allowed me to see the distant sea and a rocky shore. It was raining, but I do not remember getting wet. I heard voices, yet neither saw nor met anyone. It was as if we were all avoiding one another. In the morning, I again remembered this compensatory dream. After all, had I not been born and bred in a lush tropical terrain? Had I not enjoyed the years I had lived there?

Then, much to my great surprise, during my sleep a few nights later, I had a thought flitting through my mind. Intuitively, I felt that spirits created their own personal environments in the Afterlife. Was that message from my Spirit Guide? As a recluse of many years, I am attracted to this possibility.

Indubitably, the conceptual vista of my soul as a time-traveller, traversing countries and cultures through the occupation of a long series of human bodies, and living (with all its pains and pleasures), and learning while necessarily adapting to a new home, and ultimately returning to The Source morally purified is spiritually satisfying. As ever, it is the journey (in spite of great suffering on the way) which matters, not the arrival Home.

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)  


Unacceptable religious interference

Nothing divides people more effectively than beliefs derived from their religions. For years, compassionate people, and those suffering ongoing severe pain (undiminished even with palliative care) have sought legislation permitting voluntary euthanasia. While reliable sampling estimated public support at about 85% – stable over decades – Australian politicians have refused to accept that compassion should over-ride religiosity.

It is not that our politicians are all religion-bound. It is that they fear the power of Christian churches – even in a secular nation – the principal objector being of the Roman kind. From time to time, legislation to enable physician-assisted death, under the strictest, most stringent protective criteria, is rejected by politicians. (Even human rights legislation is denied, allegedly through religious interference.)

Our politicians profess to represent their electorates in parliament. In reality, they represent their political party only – or face career extermination; and they are clearly under the collective thumb of authoritarian priesthoods.

What is strange is that “We are not allowed to have it. So, you too can’t have it” is the line followed by vociferous objectors to voluntary euthanasia. Then, archbishops, bioethicists, other religious functionaries, and some lay people go public, seemingly in a co-ordinated manner (as they are doing now in the State of New South Wales).

They claim that people will be killed – even by themselves (through suicide). Then, they bring up the slippery slope argument. The essence of this argument seems to be that the elderly will be put to death by their family – presumably for financial benefit.

As well, medicos are told that they are to save lives, not ‘take’ lives. Whereas the Hippocratic Oath says simply that medicos should do no harm – not keep patients alive at any cost (usually at the patient’s cost).

Not that long ago, the head of a State Branch of the doctors’ union asked the Federal Parliament for the right of a doctor, in his expertise, to over-ride the legally-binding document known as the Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD) or its equivalent. This effectively says ‘Do not resuscitate’ in specified circumstances; or ‘Do not operate on me unless I say so.‘

More recently, the General Manager of a private hospital stated that his professional staff were “unhappy” at their being constrained by AHCDs (Really!); but nothing was said about their religious proclivities. Then an academic ethicist asked about the rights of his conscience. But, could each set of variable faith-based ethics have an independent legal status, binding all residents in a secular nation?

It cannot, however, be denied that a couple of European nations of a predominantly Roman Catholic persuasion already have laws permitting physician-assisted death (viz. voluntary euthanasia).Reportedly, they have adequate safeguards to prevent ‘killing’ and ‘slippery slopes.’  How backward is Australia, and how lacking in compassion. (This situation also allegedly applies in the non-availability of medicinal marijuana for those who can benefit most significantly from its application. I have seen a video of its benefits.)

In a multicultural nation whose citizens are encouraged by the government to maintain their diversity in cultural values and practices, ridiculously, the religious edicts of a minority Christian population are allowed to dominate the lives of other communities.

It should be noted that voluntary euthanasia will not be compulsory. Do allow compassion free reign. If an authority will not extend compassion to fellow humans, then that authority will necessarily be time-limited. Does God not see all that happens?