ABORIGINES: CONVERSATION STARTER

My future wife and I became actively interested in Aborigines and Aboriginal policy when we were members of ABSCOL. At that time, ABSCOL was a University based society that raised money for Aboriginal university scholarships. (It also provided Aboriginal policy advice to the National University Students Association. – I chaired the committee that drafted the NUSA policy in 1964.)
Since then my wife and I spent about 20 yrs in places with substantial Aboriginal populations. In these places we spent more time than most mining town residents interacting with Aborigines.
This post looks at some of the things we thought we learned from our interactions with Aborigines and some alternatives for the future.
DETAILS:
A few key dates:
1965: Charlie Perkins led a “freedom ride” that shocked a lot of Australians. Australians were not comfortable confronting things like Aboriginal kids not being allowed to use the Kempsey swimming pool.
1965: In the early 1960’s BHP negotiated a mining agreement that allowed BHP to mine some of the manganese ore deposits on Groote Eylandt. At the end of this process BHP agreed to a number of things including equal pay for Aboriginal workers and the payment of royalties. Radical stuff at the time.
1970’s: Davidson’s lived most of this decade on the Groote Eylandt Aboriginal reserve. (I worked for Groote Eylandt mining. My responsibilities included Aboriginal training at one stage.)
1976: Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (ALRA) is Australian federal government legislation that provides the basis upon which Aboriginal Australian people in the Northern Territory can claim rights to land based on traditional occupation.
1980’s to early 1990’s: Davidson’s lived most of this time at the Pilbara town of Newman. During this time a large fringe dwellers camp grew at Newman.
Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Is: Home of the Warndilyagwa people. This group consisted of a number of clans who all use Enindilyagwa as their primary language. (They could also speak a number of mainland languages as well as English.)
Makassan trepang gatherers had been visiting Groote for hundreds of years. The Groote people were used to dealing with strange outsiders and not given to being pushed around.
Traditional culture and laws have a significant influence on the decisions that the Warndilyagwa make. Some features of the culture can cause difficulty for strangers. For example, Aborigines think it is bad manners to say “no.” They deal with unwanted requests by saying “yes” and then not doing what was wanted.
We both learned a bit of Enindilyagwa. The language provides a good example of how languages develop to satisfy needs. (There were about 100 prepositions – It was important not to make mistakes about who was being talked about.)
My wife commented that: “After 8 yrs I would think I had things worked out. Then something would happen and they would do something completely different to what I expected.”
We were impressed with how the Warndilyagwa could make decisions and then make things happen.
Newman Fringe Dwellers Camp: During our stay in Newman a fringe dwellers camp grew next to Newman. My wife had some dealings with these Aborigines as a result of working for the Dept of community services and being editor of the local newspaper.
At that time the camp was used by Aborigines passing through, those who were there because of the booze and people trying to avoid tribal law punishments. (Since we left some improvements have been made but the fringe township is apparently being shut down and the people being moved into state housing.)
Newman was unusual because there were no living traditional owners because they were wiped out by the Hamersley mob. Since we left the Martu desert people have taken some responsibility for this land.
The Davidson’s have had not much to do with Aborigines since leaving Newman.
Conclusions: At the end of our time with Aborigines I concluded that:
1. It is the Aborigines and often only the Aborigines that can fix many Aboriginal problems.
2. My wish was that both individuals and communities have the freedom to choose what they want to do.
3. A lot of progress had been made since 1964. In 1964 I believe I knew all the Aborigines with university degrees – Both of them.
Conversation questions?
1. In 1964 Australia was following an assimilation policy which was similar to our migrant assimilation policy. The idea was that Aborigines/migrants should be helped to become part of the broader population. ABSCOL scholarships were about helping this process by demonstrating to both Aborigines and other Australians that Aborigines could do well in the broader society. Stan Grant suggested recently that Aborigines may be better of if they looked at how immigrants had succeeded in becoming a successful part of broader Australia.
2. Later on we talked about using an integration policy which aimed at bringing the Aboriginal community into the broader community. At first this was about getting the support of older Aborigines for the movement of younger Aborigines into the broader community. Over time both Aboriginal and immigration policies became more about encouraging multiculturalism rather than assimilation. (Benefits both societies.)
3. At the moment some Aborigines are talking more and more about Aborigines becoming a nation that deals through its leaders with the government and is recognised in the constitution. This may go further to the next logical step where the constitution and the Australian government are ignored.
4. Jailing, treatment in jails, defacto differences in how the justice system treats Aborigines and other Australians are topics that also need discussion.

44 thoughts on “ABORIGINES: CONVERSATION STARTER”

  1. Thanks, JD – you spent some time on that and it is appreciated.

    My direct contact experience with First Nations People is very limited and my personal history of Aboriginals was shaped by my “knowledge” and stereotypes of Redfern, Sydney. It remained that way until the 1967 referendum But was largely unchanged until this century. Yet over the last 12 years, my knowledge of Indigenous culture and history has been boosted by books, film/video, and now the social work course I am undertaking. The latter has brought profound changes to my understanding of the First Nation, much of which I have no cause to be proud.
    One of the most profound changes has been the new understanding of “whiteness” and how it affects societies, not just in Australia but in many countries where there is colonial history. That makes for a great topic in its own right.

  2. Geoff: Scratch a lot of immigrants and there would be some pretty awful stories. Think Jews and WWII, Think Arabs and what happened to them in Israel. Think of the massacres conducted by the English in Scotland and Ireland. Think…. Humans have done some awful things to humans. I sometimes think that we might have more productive conversations between Aborigines and non-Aborigines if both sides acknowledged some of this.
    In Bandjaluk country where I now live the history of colonization was pretty appalling with loss of country, massacres and food poisoning.
    Killing of individual Aborigines by Aborigines was very common on Groote Eylandt. However, massacres of Aborigines by Aborigines was very unusual and there were no massacres of Aborigines by outsiders. The only massacre on Groote that I knew of was the reported massacre of a clan that used to live on the SE corner of Groote on the grounds that they were breaking marriage laws.
    Don’t know why the Newman mob were wiped out by the Hamersley mob.

    1. JD try and watch The Tall Man. It’s about the death of Cameron Doomadgee after 40 minutes in police custody in 2004
      This is my uni link you may not be allowed
      https://mediasite.jcu.edu.au/Mediasite/Play/b8b05b1110fa41ce8468805957015f0e1d Sorry, I can’t help with access.
      You can get details from here: http://blackfellafilms.com.au/project/the-tall-man/
      and you’ll probably find it somewhere.
      Let me know when you’ve seen it and we can chat.

  3. Indigenous cultural fishers call for immediate suspension of fishing prosecutions amid native title claim

    Aboriginal people account for just four per cent of the population on the NSW South Coast but represent 80 per cent of jail terms for fisheries offences since 2009, according to data from the NSW government……. While the data is drawn from NSW government crime statistics over an eight-year period, the case of 74-year Yuin Elder, Kevin Mason’s clash with fisheries officers highlights that the battle continues for Aboriginal people.
    Walbunja man, John Junior Carriage
    Carriage was sentenced to 12 months’ jail.
    On Thursday Walbunja man, John Junior Carriage faced Batemans Bay court after being apprehended with two bags of abalone weighing 9.67 kilograms that he harvested while free diving in December 2017.
    Mr Carriage was convicted on all six charges, sentenced to jail for 12 months to be served as Intensive Correction Order and fined for four remaining offences.

    A table in the article hints of serious bias.
    For example % Aborigines for different sentences:
    Imprisonment 80%
    Fine 23%
    Bond without conviction 21%
    No conviction 7%

    Solicitor Kathryn Ridge practices native title law and has worked on native title defences for Aboriginal men on the south coast.
    “What we’re finding is, for some reason, the amount of prosecutions of South Coast Aboriginal men in particular, for breaches of Fisheries legislation has increased,” she said.
    “And it’s increased coincidentally, at the same time that recognition of their Native Title rights to fish have been at their highest point ever with registration on the South Coast Native Title Claim.

    What has been stolen has to remain stolen?

  4. Geoff: Couldn’t get into the film but do remember the case and the controversy.
    We had the chance to see a number of cops in action over the years. On the downside, we saw one cop dragging an Aborigine out of the pub by his hair. Another ex Groote cop ended up as leader of the NT Klu Klux Klan.
    On the other hand other cops were good at dealing fairly with the Aborigines. On one occasion my wife found a group of friends sharpening the shovel nosed spears they used for serious fighting. They told her that the problem was that a young man from another clan had died for no obvious reason and his clan had decided that the spear sharpening clan had sung him.)
    She went away and alerted one of the cops that she had confidence in. He then went and talked to the offended clan and convinced them that when the man was treated by the hospital they found that he had white man sickness, not Aboriginal treatment – which defused the problem.

    1. Thanks John. I think we have all seen both good and bad examples of behaviour towards others and certainly Indigenous folk.
      In this course, we are encouraged to immerse ourselves into the world of the “client”. This is the first course I have ever had that sought subjective comment as opposed to strictly peer-reviewed objective stuff. Behind that is the concept of constant reflection on circumstances before the social worker, a constant review of a case and practice. It takes some getting used to, and can be scary. In my case I am ashamed by what I have never known or ignored. I told my wife that I should have done this last century. Up to my neck in assessments right now, I’d like to put up some stuff a biter though.

  5. Thanks, John and Geoff.

    I’ve been thinking on and off about my contact with Aborigines and their issues, and there is quite a bit that would be of interest.

    Over time I’ll try to do a few posts.

    For now, a couple of links to Henry Reynolds, talking to Phillip Adams:

    Henry Reynolds’s history

    Henry Reynolds -Truth Telling

    I have a vivid recollection of Reynold’s account of an Aboriginal man literally being thrown out of a pub in Townsville.

    The first is a long interview on his whole experience, the second a shorter one on his new book.

    One of my wife’s ancestors, Henry Dangar, owned the property on which the Myall Creek massacre occurred. Dangar was a reasonably big wheel in society and tried to get the perpetrators off, who we being pursued by John Plunkett, to whom Australia owes much in creating our basic social infrastructure.

    Plenty of interest there.

    1. Timothy Bottoms produced a book “Conspiracy of Silence”. The title reflected I believe, the conspiracy [of silence] used to hush the “dispersal” [homocide] of whole Indigenous populations. The book is a difficult read and considered factual. Bottoms only documented credible tales – there were many never reported.

      Another nasty read is Palm Island – Through a Long Lens. A telling account of Palm Island by Joanne Watson as a place of Indigenous abuse and white man’s atrocities sanctioned by the government and church.

      Apologies for offering such dismal stuff on a fine sunny morning. But I guess the sun is different for some people.

  6. Brian: People’s ideas for the future of Aborigines ranges from full assimilation to living something very close to traditional culture. The alternative is to something that is not somewhere between those extremes. They could, for example, become something radically different like choose economic or a cultural paths that are different from both tradition and the European ways of doing things.
    We found our interaction with the Groote Eylandt people an experience we would not want to have missed and would like others to have experienced. However, it did occur to me that we wanted was the equivalent of “keeping them in a zoo” and that this was unacceptable. Aborigines should have a range of choices.
    It seems to me that the Aborigines that are struggling most are those that have got ownership of their land and who still retain much of their original culture.

  7. Geoff “In this course, we are encouraged to immerse ourselves into the world of the “client”.
    We had a lot to do with Aborigines and were interested in the differences in our cultures. However, we would not of thought of ourselves as having a client relationship either way.
    What I think was happening was that both sides were learning about the other culture as well as getting a better understanding of their own culture and language. (I learned more about English grammar in German classes than English classes.)
    This doesn’t mean that there were practical benefits from this learning. It helped in dealings with the other culture as well, for me learning practical things about thriving in a different environment to the one I grew up in.
    Learning was difficult: After 8 years of mixing with Aborigines my said: “After 8 years I thought I knew how it worked. Then something would happen and they would do something completely from what I expected!” Dunno whether her problem was lack of understanding of rigid rules or, like us, flexibility that depended on things like how much you liked and trusted someone or your mood on the day.
    Hope all is clearer than this at the end of your course.

    1. “Hope all is clearer than this at the end of your course.”

      So do I John, so do I. Getting my head around a moving target is difficult. I’ve found that “trust” comes slowly. I was advising about a tourist development at Yarrabah, in particular a large pond. The owners wanted to place fish and crabs in there. But they explained that people would come and steal the crabs.
      Next time I saw the fellow I was dealing with he told me more about the pond, and then each time he would tell me a little more as I gained his trust, and that took months, just on an environmental matter…I thought. No, it turns out that the pond is adjacent to a very beautiful section of rainforest, and that warrior spirits lived in there. He was adamant that was the case. Then it turns out that the pond floods into that forest in the wet season, so whatever marine life went into the pond is had to be local because it would find it’s way into the outside environment. You can see that progress was a bit slow, but over time the fuller picture emerged.

  8. Geoff: “You can see that progress was a bit slow, but over time the fuller picture emerged.”
    So was the real story the “stealing crab” story or the “salt water getting into the forrest” story or the “warrior spirit story” or?
    Your contact may have been someone who had the authority to use the “warrior spirit story” but was reluctant to use the big gun story unless it was really really necessary. Then again, over time, he may have realized that you were someone who would take notice of the warrior spirit story or?

    1. I have previously lamented how long it has taken me to reach even a rudimentary understanding of Indigenous culture, it can be tough. In my case it’s incremental, over time and with experience, I hope to become more contextually conversant or competent in dealing with First Nations.
      Since the arrival of the First Fleet, we have done the most awful things to a culture around 60,000 years old and took not a day to consider the nature and worth of those People.
      The real story John was a short tale of some interactions with a badly damaged group of people who really deserve to be heard and given credit for not doing a lot of damage to the planet. And the warriors in the forest? He was not trying to impress me, I think he was showing a glimpse of his deep culture that English arrogance tries to rub out. I appreciated that.

  9. Geoff: More details on the issues facing the group you were dealing with.
    The Groote Eylandt Aborigines were lucky to be living on an island that was essentially unsuitable for grazing or farming and where it took a brilliant who saw a lump of pisolitic manganese ore in Darwin and realized that, unlike previous thinking, it would not of come from a localized lateritic deposit but would have come from a much larger marine deposit.
    They were also lucky that the Yirrkala petitions had been presented in 1963, before BHP realized the potential of Groote Eylandt.
    They were also lucky that the BHP board had an idealistic streak and wanted to be good citizens.
    So the Groote Eylandt Aborigines ended up with something that was pretty radical for its time.
    I guess the people you were dealing with were not so lucky?

    1. No John, what with the intent of wiping out by “dispersal” or blending stolen children so that Aboriginals would become past history (and the land for settlers and government), luck was not much on the side of the Indigenous.

  10. I’ve had my head in a task that is taking about 5-10 times longer than expected. I stayed home today, not because of the weather, (which promised rain, but fine so far) but to sit here until it is done.

    I’ve enjoyed your dialogue.

    Geoff, I remember two stories from visiting your area many years ago on several occasions. On the first, some local (Caucasian) told me that the rainforest Aborigines were gentle folk who had retreated to the rainforest essentially to escape the more aggressive plains Aborigines.

    I have no idea whether that was true.

    Secondly, the folk at Trinity Bay HS told of how the Yarrabah kids had to make a 90 minute trip across the bay to get to school, and same to get home. They were saying that the sound of the motor was so loud that it inhibited social interaction between the kids.

    Again, no idea whether that was true, it’s just what I remember them saying.

    1. Brian the story about some tribes retreating into the forest is one I have not heard.
      The other might be true. But today there is a local primary school and seniors are bussed to an area south of Cairns – maybe Gordonvale.
      There is a plan to open up the East Trinity area by the Indigenous land holders. There are various issues attached to that plan but it will likely happen. Yarrabah has secured a commitment from the government to fund a fast catamaran Cairns-Yarrabah. But there is, as far as I know, ongoing disagreement on where to build the new jetty. The previous jetty was victim to a cyclone years ago. The dispute is over whether the north end or the south end of the town hosted the jetty. Now with 40 language groups and years of bitterness, the Council on Yarrabah changes frequently so that the deciding Council says where the jetty goes. Now one end of the bay is so shallow that the passenger cat could not get close enough to land passengers – you would need to send another boat out to bring the passengers ashore. At the other end, there is good deep water – where the old jetty was. I’m not updated on that one but agreement can be elusive on some matters.

  11. I recall doing a second year sociology subject when I was studying for a Bachelor of Education, a graduate degree, where the entry level was to possess a degree, and there may have been a work experience qualification also.

    At the time the new big thing, I can’t remember the jargon word, but it was saying that anthropology basically could not be just about one culture understanding another.

    The reason given was that it was impossible to understand another culture without becoming embedded in it. When that happens, the ‘observer’ changes to the point where the observer is not a true outsider.

    I think now in recent times we need to add a notion of the fluidity of the self. We are in fact always changing.

    Now I picked this one up decades ago from Zen.

    Naming things is like sticking butterflies to a wall.

    This brings up the whole relationship between language, reality, and, if you like, truth.

    Science is reductive, poetry is more or less the opposite – finds a way of using language that suggests meaning beyond the meaning of the words.

    Which perhaps gets us to Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences and ‘frames of mind’ (the title of his book.)

    Schools have tried to cater for this with having a compulsory range of subject areas, which are, of course culture bound.

    To get beyond our given culture, perhaps having a year or two as an exchange student should be a necessary part of schooling.

    Which more or less brings me back to where I started!

  12. Brian: I suspect “embedding” is an idea that would help anthropologists kid themselves. You rabbit on about what you did to imbed to give authority to your conclusions.
    H spent a lot of time with Aboriginal women but I don’t think she would have described it as imbedding even though she was very interested in finding out how their society worked. After 8 years she was still surprised by Aboriginal reacting to circumstances in ways that she didn’t expect.
    I got slightly embedded in a payback issue at one stage. Unbeknown to me a Lalara man who worked for me had killed a Wurramurra man. This meant he was on the the payback list of the young Wurramurra men. I found out about it when I planned to send some of our Aboriginal trainees to Bickerton Is (Wurramurra land) to help build an airstrip. The leader of the Wurramurra clan paid me a visit and pointed out what the Lalara man had done and “could be trouble eh? if the Lalara man went to Bickerton.
    I changed my plan but all this did was defer death by payback. I can still remember how absolutely shit scared the Lalara man looked when I told him he wouldn’t be sent to Bickerton.
    One of the problems on Groote Eylandt was that the defense against a spear attack depended on dodging. (There were no shields.) OK when sober but not real good if under the influence.
    One of our friends got in trouble when he hit a man in the arm during a spear fight and the man lost his arm. My friend was not punished because the armless man’s clan decided that the man would not have lost his arm if he hadn’t been drunk.
    It is worth noticing in both the above cases that the elders were more interested in stopping trouble than payback.

  13. Geoff, I keep getting a request for a password, and I tend to think I shouldn’t have one.

    John, that is very real, and gives insight.

    What I was trying to do was talk in terms that are detached and academic, which is what I’m saying doesn’t really work.

    Another story from my academic past. Don’t quote me but this is what I remember, you may have more accurate information.

    Margaret Mead was a classic for many years writing about ‘love in the South Seas’.

    However, someone discovered later that her ‘field work’ consisted of talking to boarding school girls who told her stories that excited her and that she liked to hear.

  14. Brian: “Margaret Mead was a classic for many years writing about ‘love in the South Seas’.”
    Yep, remember the fuss about Margaret Mead. When the girls grew up the story changed. Not sure whether it was about young girls telling porkies to please Margaret or older women defending their respectability. Or young women being polite and agreeing with what they thought Margaret wanted to hear.
    I would have said in the past that, if you wanted to find out what Aborigines really thought the question should be open ended or at least ask for preferences for a number of choices.
    It also helps if you know who the real decision makers are. Particular problem if the real decision maker is that old man who cannot speak English.

    1. Apparently, it can be acceptable to not answer a question.
      Lord Denning, a noted English jurist in a judgement in the matter of Hedley Byrne v. Heller and Co. ruled that in this case, if a question was asked [about the financial status] of another company, the choice was to answer or not answer. However, if an answer was offered, there was an obligation to deliver an informed opinion. In other words, there was a “duty of care” upon the entity answering the question. And yes that’s where “duty of care” came from. Interesting that Aboriginals recognised the option of not answering.

      Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465

  15. The Hedley case laid out precedent in Australia. In a case led by Garfield Barwick.
    MUTUAL LIFE &CITIZENS’ ASSURANCE CO. LTD. v. EVATT
    (1968) 122 CLR 556 11 November 1968

    MLC wanted to buy retailer H G Palmer and relied on advice from Evatt to proceed. Palmer failed after that and MLC successfully sued Evett under the Hedley Byrne law.

  16. Geoff: “Interesting that Aboriginals recognised the option of not answering.”
    Not what I said Geoff: What I was saying was that stated agreement was not always agreement – merely avoiding conflict.
    In their tightly specific obligation dominated society someone would only ask you for something you were obliged to give. The problem comes when ignorant outsiders make requests. This was dealt with by saying yes with no intention of doing the thing that was asked for.
    Obligation driven sharing meant there was no word for thanks.

    1. Thanks, John, I did not know that.
      Ootz has kindly offered to introduce me to his Aboriginal language class soon: he explains it as a great way to understand Indigenous culture.
      John this is my first semester as a social work student so I’m hardly qualified to carry on a learned debate. But please keep challenging me and I hope that eventually, I can argue from an informed position about whatever you are banging on about. Part of my issue is my lack of experience interfacing with Indigenous. But that should change and I look forward to chatting about stuff with you.

  17. Djirri Nyurramba,
    I follow your discussion with interest, however I am short in energy and time. I congratulate Geoff on his venture into our indigenous culture past present and future. I have been on that trip since I arrived in this country in early 80s and is continuing, this afternoon II’ll be attending my regular Djabugay language sessions. Language is the key to get an insight into a culture. If you are interested Geoff, it is held in Kuranda on the Ngoombi estate on wednesday at 6-8pm. Also, you may contact Timothy Bottoms (see his webpage, which also has many snippets of info on history of Cairns and local Bama), It was his master thesis ‘Last Nesting of Djarrugan) on the world of the Gungganidji (Yarraba mob) their Bulurru (law, spirituality and philosophy roughly speaking) and Bulmba (world, time home, camp, lifestyle roughly speaking). It is not easy to walk in the shoes or think with the brain of such exotic and tribal culture. However, I find having grown up in multicultural and very tribal Switzerland has some advantages. Also being from the highlands with very old Celtic roots (the lowlanders could not understand our dialect which still used old Celtic terms. Also the monumental landscape around me was imbued with ancient stories and myth which still had relevance and were revered or put bad vibes on a place. It is one reason for my interest in the local language here to be able to read the stories or songlines (here they are called storywaters/bulurru) in the landscape.

    Further, Brians comment re rainforest people vs plain people. To the contrary often resources were shared amongst the Bama. there were conflict with other nations, like the Djirbal south of Babinda, but I suspect these were not more or less than in any other society from time to time. Your story may have been connected with the false claim perpetuated in the Quadrant about the Cairns mob wiping out the local pygmy tribe in the hills, which proved to be humbug. There are still very short statured Bama living in Kuranda area who are part of the Djabugay mob and they have no significant genetic variation from the rest of the Bama.

    Finally, for us Gadja (europeans) it is hard to get our head around Bama identity and perception of themselves as an individual and as multi layered society, hence it is also difficult to draw distinct lines on a map of territory or determine ownership of land. simply speaking a Bama did not own land, the land owned them, they had very strict obligations and rules how to care for the land. It was a very complex society for which we don’t give any credit. Today, even though our ‘civilisation’ knocked the stuffing out of traditional culture, the Djabugandji are still a very complex people in many ways.

    Btw. Timothy B is currently rewriting his book “Djabugay Country” and renaming it ‘Bama Bulmba’ (world/country of the Cairns indigenous people. If you see him tell him that I suggested to see him and if you like you can find me under Ootz on Facebook. Btw took Prof Quiggin to Walba bada badjigal/Turtle head rock on the weekend.
    Garu
    Ootz

    1. Ootz! Thanks for a lovely and very thoughtful response. Really great. This week is the end of the semester and I hope to be reborn next week. I like the Kuranda idea. Maybe I can get some dig lessons too.
      I’ll be in touch on FB.
      Cheers

  18. “Obligation driven sharing meant there was no word for thanks.”
    John that is very much my experience in Djabugay to. The closest you get to please is “muku” or “muggu” (with the u spelled like oo), but it really leaves you no choice but to give. Conventionally nowadays you would just acknowledge with gurii/good.

    There were many laws in relation to obligations too. Bottoms describes when a younger person with a bounty of fresh caught fish encountered an elder on his way back to camp, would have to drop some fish on the ground for the elder to pick up if he wishes. Further, unmarried men were not allowed meat only seafood. Bandicoot was only for old people because they are easy to catch. Old age brought many privileges. A far cry from today when one in three pensioners live below poverty line.

  19. Ootz: We found learning a bit of the language interesting because it highlights some of the concerns in society.
    For example it is important to be sure who is being talked about because a mistake may lead to someone being killed. (During our time Hazel knew a number of women who had been killed by husbands who thought that their wives had been playing up.)
    The language reduced this risk in a number of ways:
    Women’s name’s started with D, men’s with N.
    There was something like 100 personal pronouns to reduce the risk of mistakes.
    Sometimes people’s names were recycled after they had been dead for some time – but giving a child the name of a living person was unacceptable stealing!!!
    Dogs were treated grammatically the same way as people in recognition of their special status.
    Using people’s names tended not to be used directly because of singing concerns. It was more OK to refer to someone by their relationships.
    When people in a small community died it was important to drive the dead spirit away (= forget) so that they would not hang around causing trouble. Ceremonies started with remembering and then guiding the spirit to the place of the dead and using smoking ceremonies to encourage the spirit to get on with it. It did occur to me that things like smoking and moving camp would make sense in terms of reducing the risk of disease spreading.
    Doing the ceremonies right also reduced the risk of someone being accused of not caring=suspected of singing. (Hazel once managed to get caught in the middle of a spear fight that someone proving that he really cared and starting before he arrived would suggest he didn’t care unless he threw an axe into the middle of the ceremony.

  20. Ootz: I never got into conversations about Aboriginal spirituality.
    However, I do tend to have a spiritual feeling for the land I live in at the time.
    The most spectacular place was the Pilbara. The locals had been killed off by the Hamersley mob so there was no interaction with local Aborigines.
    However, there is a feeling of enormous age. The banded iron rock was about 2.5 billion years old and was laid down at the stage photosynthesis started to oxidize soluble ferrous iron to the insoluble ferric iron that the rock was made of.
    There was also a lot of old signs of Aboriginal people. At one place at the start of some of my walks there was a life sized outline of a flat faced kangaroo. (The went extinct about 40,000 yrs ago.)
    Time to stop dreaming and finish the tax.

  21. FYI: 50 years of Aboriginal Tent Embassy
    It was started in response to “On the eve of 26 January 1972, the McMahon government announced the implementation of a new system that rejected granting independent ownership of traditional land to Indigenous people in favour of 50-year general purpose leases for Indigenous communities, provided they could demonstrate a social and economic use for the land and excluding any mineral and forest rights.
    Photo by Noel Hazard, courtesy SEARCH Foundation and State Library of NSW.
    After the announcement, many protest groups sprang into action, including a group from Redfern in Sydney. Four members of this group – Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey – drove to Canberra and set up a beach umbrella on the lawns opposite (what is now Old) Parliament House. This was the start of a 50-year legacy of protest and support for grassroots campaigns for the recognition of Land Rights, Aboriginal Sovereignty and addressing the injustices of the genocide against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a critical part of the history of the struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in this country. The campaigns and the activists who ran them are too many to list here and many of the advancements gained for our people have been poorly recorded in mainstream media.”
    1972 was well after the Groote Eylandt agreement was reached.

  22. Ootz, thanks for clarifying the rainforest vs plains Aborigines issue.

    It is a residue of a conversation I had when I first visited the area on official business in 1970, so I’m not surprised it turned out to be disinformation.

    I had been to the far north earlier in 1959. I was in my last year in secondary school. My elder sister after a couple of years teaching experience was appointed as the teacher at the Hope Vale School. My memory says they had 72 students. I think she had one Caucasian teacher to help, plus an Aboriginal assistant.

    I remember the men assembling every morning in front of the church, which was at the end of the main street and dominated the landcape, to be assigned their jobs for the day by the pastor who I think was called a ‘missionary’. He had no special experience as far as I know, and I think came from somewhere in the south of this continent.

    My sister was there for two years. My recall is that there was a kind of rebellion a few years later, and it wasn’t Noel Pearson, because he was born in 1965.

    My mum took me with my younger sister and younger brother on a trip to Hope Vale for two weeks in 1959. My siblings can’t remember me being there, which might mean something.

    We had a wonderful week camping by the sea, which was about 20 miles from the mission. Remember having to walk a mile for fresh water. Remember my mum cooking a damper in the sand.

    I remember one day we all went for a long walk along the beach to a bay beyond the point, which was good fishing. The locals could pull any amount of fish from the sea. The Europeans caught about half a dozen between them. I was sitting under a tree reading Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, which might tell you something about where my head was at the time.

    Hope Vale Shire is very different now.

  23. What I was about to say is that there is no clean air anywhere, nor any water without fragments of plastic in it found in nature.

    We’ve made a mess!!

  24. Aborigines were accepted in other clans land during extreme droughts etc. (The example I think of was a report of Aborigines moving to the Murray during droughts.) One of the Bickerton clans moved to Groote Eylandt and merged with a Groote clan because of a shortage of women’s food.
    Having said that Aborigines understood the limits of their land looked after it and controlled their exploitation of their land and population to keep within the land’s ability to support the clan.

  25. Stan Grant: “We choose our history to suit who we are, but ‘the great Australian’ silence is slowly being broken
    Stan says:

    The Angel of History is a harbinger of doom and catastrophe. Its eyes are forever turned backwards to a time of catastrophe which defines everything that comes after.
    The Angel of History threatens to trap us in its wings, forever binding us to suffering and misery.

    I thought this might lead to an asking whether there were any positives to the invasion from the viewpoint of a modern Aboriginal person or at least recognition of the complexity where short term disadvantage may lead to positives. But the article goes on to calling for our history to say more about the injustice to Aborigines than the advantages people like him have ended getting despite/because of his having an Aboriginal father.

  26. A blast from the not so long past: Six years after the Charles Perkins Freedom Rides, these men were arrested for opposing racial segregation

    It was years after the US civil rights movement, the Charles Perkins Freedom Rides and the 1967 referendum, but taking their families out to a restaurant was still an act of defiance for some Australians in the 1970s.

    Defiance that resulted in suit wearing men being thrown into the back of the paddy wagon.

    The simple act of dressing for dinner that night foreshadowed the arrival of civil rights in Australia’s remote north west.
    In a part of Australia where slavery continued long after it was outlawed in the USA, and Aboriginal people were hunted and massacred by police well into the 20th century, standing up to racial segregation in the 1970s challenged the foundations of society in Australia’s north.

    Even 50 years later, the emotion is palpable as the siblings remember being children and watching the police arrive in a paddy wagon to arrest their father and Mr Barunga.
    “I saw the police jump out … and threw them, they didn’t resist, into the back of the cage,” Judy said.
    “I had no idea … whether my father was going to be put in jail for life, because when you get chucked in the cage as an Aboriginal person, no-one has any idea what’s going to happen.”

    For me it was a blast from the past. In 1964 I chaired a committee that prepared the Aboriginal policy for the National Union of University students. The committee included Charlie Perkins who contributed substantially.
    In 1965 Charlie led a “Freedom ride” up the coast of NSW. The ride got plenty of publicity and uncovered a lot of discrimination against Aborigines. (One of the things that I remember was that Aboriginal kids who lived in Kempsey were not allowed to use the swimming pool – Swimming mad Australians were horrified by this.) Then there was the 1967 referendum which we hoped was going to achieve great things.
    It was a time when ending discrimination was the focus.

  27. Dr Charles Perkins Memorial Oration keynote speech sees Tony McAvoy SC advocate for truth commissions and treaties

    Tony McAvoy SC, the country’s most senior Aboriginal barrister, used the 2021 Charles Perkins Memorial Oration to advocate for the establishment of truth commissions and treaties with Australia’s First Peoples, labelling the often-used assertion that Aboriginal people should “stop living in the past” as “not possible”.

    Charlie Perkins was a stolen generation person and one of the first Aborigines to get a university education. He got into mainstream society via his membership of immigrant soccer teams. Teams that did not have the prejudice against Aborigines that was such a feature of mainstream Australian society at the time. He was a leader in the fight against Aboriginal suppression.
    To some extent we all live in our pasts to some extent. But we change and some of these changes make for better lives. I believe that Aborigines have to think of possibilities.

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