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Entitled to sympathy but not to an apology

By Brian Holden - posted Friday, 6 July 2007

Our Indigenous people were described by the early navigators as being exceptionally primitive and, by deduction, stupid. But, they had all the technology they needed. Necessity is the mother of invention and their low-tech did the job. The Dreamtime also exerted a powerful inhibition to experimentation.

This continent had no herding animals which could be corralled and domesticated, so the human inhabitants had to seek elusive game while picking up wild vegetation on the way. Before any society can become complex it must have domestic animals and agriculture to be able to stay in the one place so that trades can then evolve.

By 1788, Indigenous Australians and Europeans had the same intellectual potential but their brains had some very different neural networking. As this continent’s occupants were tribal, a tribe moved over a loosely defined range of land. In stark contrast, the colonists had a strong concept of an individual’s title to a measured allotment of land.


Gradually, the process of dispossession was seen as something unjust. This led to Aboriginal land rights. There was a fatal flaw in this reasoning. It was not recognised that the preservation of a culture in its original form has no validity after the loss of the original environment it evolved out of.

From the Sydney Morning Herald on June 16, 2007 - “Our people are out there going quiet mad and turning in on themselves”. The alcohol-fuelled sexual abuse of children and the bashing of women within Indigenous communities is rampant. Medical officers are describing the inhabitants of Aboriginal outback communities as being among the sickest people in the world.

There is not just a black and white story - there is also a yellow and white one

During the latter half of the 19th century, there were about 35,000 hard-working Chinese in this country. They were depicted in cartoons and on posters with coolie hats, pigtails, buckteeth and evil grins as they hid in the shadows conspiring to do something sinister. There was a popular xenophobia that the government did little to curb. The Chinese lived in fear and humiliation which continued into the early 20th century.

These days staging a Sorry Day for Chinese doesn’t fit in with that race’s understanding that to survive you must adapt. They follow a proven formula: you get a job, you then get a mortgage and you then hang on like grim death to your job to pay off the mortgage. Eventually you become a stakeholder in the nation. We live in a competitive economy to which Aborigines will never belong while there is talk of self-determination and a treaty. Every effort to have them treated differently simply puts more lead in their saddle bags.

A problem most of non-Aboriginal Australia has is the number who have identified themselves as Aborigines but who are in fact 50 per cent or less Aborigine. Only a minority today look anything like those in photos taken in the 1890s. Who would we actually be making a treaty with?

At a time when Aboriginal children attend school for two or three days and then disappear for weeks, the top performing 10 per cent at our high schools have mostly Asian names. One might joke that two centuries from now we Caucasians might be pleading for a treaty for ourselves.


Aboriginal activism has been off the mark

The January 26, 1788 is referred to by some as Invasion Day. That label is potentially divisive. There was no invasion. When Hitler’s armies crossed into Poland under orders to destroy every trace of the administrative infrastructure: that was an invasion.

Throughout history, people have been on the move displacing animals and other people in the process. It is absurd for activists to claim that the Aborigines once here (and driving the megafauna to extinction) should have been left alone forever. It is unimaginable that spacecraft could be passing over the continent today with the astronauts wondering if dinosaurs occupied the big brown island below.

There had to come a time when the Aborigines’ sole occupation of this land was going to be challenged. They are claiming 50,000 years of unchallenged settlement of the one place. That is a world record. By 1788 they already had more than their fair share of undisturbed time.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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