Identity Games

colourful collageIs the point of extolling Aboriginal identity to remind others of past trauma suffered by Aborigines? Is it to assert Aborigines’ contribution to the nation? Or, is it no more than to be recognised as different from others? Each of these is an unsound reason to trumpet difference. After all, past trauma has been well documented and understood and apologies have been granted for long-ago wrongs. There is little point in continuing that conversation and no compensation will be forthcoming. And the historical contribution of Aborigines to the nation is modest and certainly insufficient to remark upon. Although the contribution of many contemporary Aborigines is the same as other citizens, it deserves no less and no more recognition than others. It certainly does not justify any claims on the body politic, but it seems to soak up an inordinate amount of public discussion. But most of all, the desire to extol Aboriginal identity raises the question: How different is different?

A fair skin should not disqualify a person from identifying as an Aborigine. It may cause the person to be subject to ridicule, but identifying is a matter for the Aboriginal identifier and their “identity community”. No sensible person would care, unless, of course, the declaration is an attempt to claim an unwarranted privilege. An unwarranted privilege would be one where the person granted the privilege is not in need relative to others in the community. Many Aborigines are not in need, especially the hordes of “designated” public servants and “black­ademics” (as one of my Aboriginal colleagues calls them). Clearly, many Aborigines are in need, but that is not a matter that requires identification per se. The welfare state is identity-blind, or, at least, should be.

Only unwarranted claims to privilege require Aboriginal verification. In some circumstances, Aborigines agree with this proposition. For example, Aborigines have little interest in having Aboriginality measured where taxpayers foot the bill. The more, the merrier. Where, however, identification may diminish the share of the benefit or the power of those who dispense benefits, Aborigines contest Aboriginality. This can occur in native title cases and elections for Aboriginal corporations and associations.

Clyde Mansell, chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, has recently been in conflict with Rodney Dillon, former commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, over who is an Aborigine. Mansell claims that “wannabe” Aborigines “falsify their identity, their culture and use whatever they can to gain acceptance”. Mansell argues for a test of “continual connection” with the Aboriginal community over generations. He wants history to count. Dillon accuses Mansell of trying to “control” Aboriginality to protect the power of established groups. Dillon’s solution is for “Tasmanians claiming Aboriginality to undertake DNA testing”. Dillon wants blood to count. He may get his wish because it is now possible to measure exactly how much “Aboriginality” is in an individual.

A recent genetic study of thirty-eight participants (thirty female and eight male) from the Riverina in western New South Wales calculated, through DNA testing, a single European versus “Australian” (Aboriginal) ancestry fraction for each. The Australian component ranged from 28 per cent to 100 per cent. One person only was “full blood”. Those involved in the study had maternal Aboriginal ancestry with some Aboriginal, European (Scottish), and other non-Aboriginal paternal connections. Presumably, Dillon would allow a claim for Aboriginality provided any fraction of “Australian” DNA was present. Mansell would require both DNA and longevity in the community.

Nevertheless, as science makes identification possible, the desire for the science of identification has disappeared. Apart from the Tasmanian stoush, there has been little call for measures of “blood” to determine Aboriginality because Aboriginality is now a “cultural” construct. And who would care if one had Aboriginal blood? Is it any more than a curiosity, much as I like to trace my Cornish (and other) antecedents? It is as if, as the bloodlines thin and historic continuities fade, the identity game needs a new story.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that there were 60,000 Aborigines in Australia after the Second World War. The number has now risen to more than 500,000, mostly through identification—that is, by those for whom their Aboriginality may not be obvious from their appearance or behaviour and indeed who may have no longevity in the Aboriginal community. Nevertheless, it has been the policy of the ABS for some decades to encourage parents to count every child of a mixed marriage as being of Aboriginal descent. Most Aborigines have mixed marriages, ergo growth in the number of “identity” Aborigines.

The difference gambit feeds off “DNA” and “historical” Aborigines, typically those living on “country”. Indeed, such people are urged by city advisers to reclaim their “culture”. Of course, they cannot, because they have not lived it for generations, and in any event, much of their culture—bigamy, under-age betrothal, payback and sorcery—is illegal. Recourse to welcome-to-country statements and ceremonies at the commencement of public events, conducted by governments, universities and the like, is a pale attempt to assert legitimacy. There is little that is genuine about such pro-forma demonstrations of Aboriginality.

As for reclaiming identity through land rights, especially native title rights, this political movement has created enormous conflict in Aboriginal communities, turning clans and families against one another. On the island of Mer, where Eddie Mabo lived, 400 locals are involved in “more than eighty disputes over which families have full ownership or occupational use of various lots”.

Many Aborigines suffer terribly, often at their own hand. An extract from a recent criminal case in the Northern Territory, R v Duncan, makes the point. The respondent, an Aboriginal woman, and the victim, her partner, lived at Kalkarindji, a remote Aboriginal community between Katherine and Halls Creek:

They were in a domestic relationship and have a one-year-old daughter. On 14 April 2014 the respondent, the victim and some of their friends were drinking alcohol at a drinking spot seven kilometres from Kalkarindji, and they got drunk.

After drinking for some time, the respondent asked the victim to return home with her. He refused. She became very angry and they had an argument …

The respondent … asked her friend for a knife which the respondent had brought with her. As the victim started moving away, the respondent raised the knife to shoulder height, closed her eyes, and stabbed him once in the back. The knife handle broke off in her hand and the full length of the blade remained embedded in the victim’s back …

The respondent was 19 years of age … She is an Aboriginal woman who speaks Gurindji … She has never been in employment.

The respondent lives with the victim, their child, and her brother and sister-in-law. She receives a Centrelink parenting payment.

This woman is suffering from trauma entrenched by clumsy and cruel policies such as land rights and “embracing culture”. Why would she want to embrace that culture?

Such violent drunken assaults by Aborigines upon Aborigines are prevalent in the Northern Territory. As a recent report from the Menzies School of Health Research concluded, “There is an epidemic of alcohol-fuelled assault which is frequently the result of family violence.”

The source of assault in Australia tells the tale. As an example, in New South Wales in 2014, in 68 per cent of assaults the victim knew the assailant. For non-Aborigines the figure is 65 per cent; for Aborigines the figure is 89 per cent. For Aborigines, the assailant is a family member in 54 per cent of instances; for non-Aborigines, in 33 per cent. For Aborigines the assailant is a stranger less than 8 per cent of the time; for non-Aborigines the assailant is a stranger 28 per cent of the time. It seems as though Aborigines need to stop hanging around with Aborigines, it is too dangerous.

If asserting, capturing, recapturing, or just plain old inventing an Aboriginal identity were a solution to endemic Aborigine-against-Aborigine violence I might even consent to pay for it. As it stands, there is no proof that asserting Aboriginal identity solves anything. It is just as likely that it is either delaying Aborigines’ entry to civility or driving them farther from it. Why should I pay someone to convince me they are different?

Fortunately, most Aborigines are not that different from others. Neither historical nor DNA Aborigines are any longer Aborigines in any real sense. They are citizens with needs and contributions similar to other Australians and should be treated as such.

Gary Johns’s books include The Charity Ball, Recognise What? and Aboriginal Self-Determination: The Whiteman’s Dream.


7 thoughts on “Identity Games

  • dchawcroft@yahoo.com says:

    It is my opinion that the aborigines are completely lost. Completely.

    As a fundamental, native peoples they have, I think, something very pure, good, necessary, valuable to give to our society.

    Something that restores to our society basic human qualities.

    But we don’t recognise they have such a thing.

    And they are so dazzled, bemused, hoodwinked, indoctrinated by us that they don’t know they have such a thing, either.

    The problem is: we are totally lost, too.

    We have forgotten any concept of basic human-ness. We are just economic units now. Wage slaves. Money miners.

    We can only succeed now by getting rich. Or fail by not getting rich.

    We cannot succeed by becoming full, complete human beings. We never even think of such a thing. It is nowhere at no time offered, presented as a goal, not in primary school, secondary school, college, university, the corporate world, the parliament.

    So there it is. They have what we need and they don’t know it – and we don’t even know we need something.

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    Reconciliation has long been a ‘buzz phrase’ when talking about the ‘aboriginal problem’ for leftists in the media. But could somebody please inform me who I am supposed to be ‘reconciled’ with, and why? I have never knowingly done anything to harm any person, let alone any Aboriginal Australian. Does their ‘reconcilliation’ thus imply some sort of ‘racial guilt’? My father and two of his brothers fought in WW2 to oppose this sort of civilisation destroying rot. One of Dad’s brothers was a prisoner at Changi [and is still alive]. Did my father and his brothers risk their lives in vain? Or is there some other reason [that I am unaware of] to explain why I should be ‘reconciled’ with a particular section of Australia’s population?

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    Here is a comment diametrically opposed to that of “bullockornis” above and one that is politically extremely incorrect.

    We know of many splendid cultures which thrived and declined over the centuries of recorded history. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Phoenician, Aztec, Mayan to name only a handful from a long list. All of them can boast of remarkable achievements in various fields of human endeavour, even if not all aspects of their various ways would be acceptable by contemporary standards.

    Contrast to that what is commonly referred to as “Aboriginal culture”. No written language, no means of transportation for either people or goods, no method of constructing durable abode, no artwork save some extremely primitive cave drawings, lack of any numerical comprehension or any contemplative endeavour we know of. Yes, they had the boomerang, the woomera and the message stick but little else. Not much to show for some 45 000 years of having an entire continent all to themselves. They did have almost continuous warfare between the tribes; despicable attitude to women of all ages; horrible “coming-of-age” ritual for young males, involving mutilating their genitals and some other, lesser known but equally reprehensible practices.

    So the question is: what is so magnificent and praiseworthy in Aboriginal culture? The dreamtime stories, which have been passed down only by word of mouth, meaning that they must have been changing constantly? Or the attitude of “what’s yours is mine”, rendering working for a living useless?

    While the above is far from comprehensive, it demonstrates fairly well that, as cultures go, Aboriginal culture has precious little going for it. It belongs in the anthropology departments of universities to be studied and recorded for posterity but has no place in contemporary Australia. Only when this axiom is finally accepted by all concerned will the plight of Aborigines come to a permanent end.

    • Lawriewal says:

      The number of times I have been bawled out for expressing almost exactly the same views as yours Bill Martin is legion.
      No I DO NOT HATE OR DESPISE Aborignals, I grew up with them in outback Queensland and as a kid (some 85 years ago) ran and played games with Aboriginal kids. In fact I grew up being most supportive of many of the attempts to help them assimilate into a culture which by any metric would improve their lot. And NO I did not expect the Aboriginals to forsake those parts of their culture (singing and dancing and corroborees, etc) which we could all enjoy.
      But because of the poisonous Left I grew tired of their LIES about a Noble Savage Culture which must be preserved at all costs and the strident loud hateful no-holds-barred opposition to anyone who dared to cling to the truth as expressed by Bill Martin.
      As Homer Sapien states in these comments there are examples where, despite the miserable interfering “luvvies”, some Aboriginals have prospered and indeed contributed to this once proud self reliant Country of mine. In fact I have returned to my home state frequently over recent years and seen for myself how the Aboriginals in Mossman (North Qld) have prospered and what a delight it was to see so many Aboriginal Students at the High School there.
      I will NEVER support the setting up a a racist Constitution there must never be any form of apartheid in Australia it is only another tilt by the lunar left to drag this Country down to the lowest common denominator.
      We cannot build a better Australia on a foundation of Lies and a sick political ideology!

    • Jack Richards says:

      You can’t say that. That’s racist. The Aborigines have a truly magnificent history, civilisation and culture and were steeped in the arts and sciences. It’s just that no-one knows anything about it because they were illiterate and innumerate and never kept any records plus it is taboo to mention the names or deeds of the dead. But there is a great oral tradition and we all know just how reliable is oral tradition.

      It has always surprised me how, when whites were carrying out the holocaust/genocide of the Aborigines and murdering them all over the place in the vicious “frontier wars” and carrying out massacres and stealing the children, there was always at least one who survived and passed down the story as “oral history”. It is truly strange the lengths the murderers went to to cover up their crimes – like removing every spent bullet, every cartridge case, every broken bayonet and cremating the dead with such thoroughness that not so much a minor bone or tooth – or even evidence of the cremation fires – can now be found; but they always left survivors to inform later generations who have managed to remember every detail for which there is zero forensic evidence. But it must have happened. How else do you explain the fact that the Aboriginal population at the height of the genocide – between 1870 and 1940- increased at nearly double the rate of the white population.

      The stolen generation was well covered-up too. As John Pilger told us In “Utopia” thousands of children were stolen over a couple of generations to serve as domestics and gardeners/hands for middle-class whites. And yet my middle class family that has been in this country since 1789 never had a single one and no-one had ever heard of any such thing. They’re all lying of course and the whites have just covered it all up in their “code of silence”. It is strange though that none of the stolen generation stayed stolen for very long and all managed to find their way home. It’s strange how the whites of the 19th and 20th Century wanted black children in such numbers and yet, in my 60+ years here and even my parents and grandparents memories that went back to the 1890s, can’t remember a single example of anyone having one – or wanting one.

      The fact that none of we whites can remember ever having a stolen Aboriginal sibling/domestic/gardener/field hand must be an example of epidemic “suppressed memory syndrome”. Perhaps the guilt was so great that our brains have just forgotten it all because it’s all too painful to remember for anyone not of the political persuasion of John Pilger.

      • choare@bigpond.net.au says:

        The truth does not matter any more and with the current political class of cowards we can really expect no one to push back against their lies. The cult of political correctness means that they are now incapable of doing their job of protecting our society and culture.

  • Homer Sapien says:

    There is a Bible based church in Kuranda Qld. attended by about over 95% of aboriginals (black ones, real black ones) they sing, they play music instruments, they preach, they don’t smoke or drink alkohol, they are neatly dressed. You would be hard pressed to find nicer people. Worth to analyse? Is the answer just too simple not costing billions?

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