We have been discussing for nearly two hundred years, now, how best to repair the injustices caused by colonisation, but we have not yet found the right solution – or if we have, we can never be sure that if we go to the polls there will be sufficient support in the country for it to be implemented, and short term governments have other priorities anyway.
In the meantime, life goes on. Some manage to struggle through and make a decent go of it. Others don’t and fall by the wayside. Those who make it tend to live in urban areas and those who don’t are generally to be found in the outback. The large majority of indigenous people (about 75%) live in urban areas and their numbers are growing almost three times as fast as those in remote areas. It’s a young, vibrant population that’s simply not prepared to wait for some miraculous solution that never comes.
They are taking their future into their own hands and trying to do something with their lives, just like most other Australians. They have no time to waste in sterile discussions.
According to Joe Lane, a regular commentator on the excellent forum of Online Opinion and close observer of indigenous participation in higher education, the percentage of indigenous university participation and graduation in Australia is roughly equivalent to that of Europe as a whole. He notes that in 2014, more than two thousand indigenous students graduated from universities across the country, raising the total number of graduates to more than thirty-six thousand.
However, he observes that since the late nineties, indigenous education at university level has become an urban phenomenon. While it has risen by a healthy 7-8 % per year in the cities and major urban areas, rural, remote and outer suburban participation has seriously declined.
The indigenous people living in these areas no longer have access to even the modest form of sub-degree university education which had previously been made available to them and are largely dependent on welfare for their subsistence.
Lane writes that he now sees, not just one, but two gaps, both of which are widening: the first between indigenous and non-indigenous people and the second between well-educated, work-oriented indigenous people and less well-educated, welfare-oriented indigenous people.
But life goes on. Not only are both indigenous and non-indigenous populations evolving fast, they are also merging. According to an Australian National University census in 2011, mixed marriages are on the rise: 56.5% of partnered Indigenous males had a non-Indigenous partner and 59.0% for Indigenous females. Again, this is almost exclusively an urban phenomenon.
With a fertility rate 25% higher than the national average, the Indigenous population is projected to continue to grow at a much faster rate than the non-Indigenous population over at least the next 20 years, with the children of these partnerships tending to be identified as Indigenous.
Not surprisingly, the key issue with tribal elders is the question of sovereignty but, alas, it is totally unrealistic to imagine that the 250 independent aboriginal nations at the time of colonisation could possibly survive in today’s aggressive world of thermonuclear weapons and technological warfare. It is not in Australia’s best interests and it is certainly not in their own people’s best interests for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ sovereignty to be reinstated to its pre-colonisation status.
It is, however, in everybody’s best interests that we facilitate matters and do whatever we possibly can to assist those of our indigenous peoples who, of their own free will, wish to maintain their traditional cultures and life-styles, and remain as autonomous as possible in remote and very remote areas.
British sovereignty was officially extended to cover the whole of Australia in 1829. Everyone born in the country, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, became a British subject by birth. Nevertheless, in a number of early decisions of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, it was held that Aboriginal people were not subject to colonial criminal laws for crimes committed by themselves upon themselves. In that same year,1829, in R v Ballard Justice Dowling held: