Numbering Our Peoples


Sir: Hardly a day goes by without reading or hearing of Australia’s “First Nations” or “First Peoples”, terms so pervasive now they’ve even crept into the pages of Quadrant! While not an original observation, this is definitely a logical one: you can’t have a “first” without at least a “second”. So, who makes up our “Second Nations/Peoples”? It wouldn’t be right simply to lump together all those motley swarms whose ancestors arrived here after 1788, so my suggestion: everybody descended from arrivals among the convict-era fleets. The influx subsequent to the mid-nineteenth-century gold rushes was a distinct, polyglot bunch (although it did include a few escaped or emancipated convicts), so its descendants might comprise a “Third Nations/Peoples”. But why stop there? The mob that arrived after the Second World War, which included my Russo-Ukrainian war-refugee parents and eighteenth-month-old, Austrian-born self (and older brother), might be considered the “Fourth Australians”, or “Nations”. I’m not sure if that’s a sufficient sub-classification, but it makes for a solid start.

Now, why go to this trouble? Well, it’s necessary in order to allocate victimhood arising from historical injustices, to highlight proxy and vicarious ancestral suffering, and to apportion blame and guilt among present-day survivors. It goes without saying that the First Nations folk were the supreme victims, and their descendants now bear the inherited brunt of all that injustice and suffering, and so deserve reparations for all the ancestral trauma that refuses to go away (as a form of ingrained PTSD, perhaps transmitted epigenetically?). While a recent start has begun on compensating the victims of the “Stolen Generations” and all their relatives, it obviously can’t stop there: clearly, each and every one of them suffers appallingly from our colonial past, which can never be erased, so that entire group should be compensated in perpetuity. This would fit nicely with their traditional cultural practice of humbugging, by which better-off friends and relatives are obliged to hand over their belongings to those with less. Australia could become a proud world-exemplar in mega-humbugging.

Who should pay? Obviously, the Second Nations/Peoples, those who inflicted all the injustices of colonialism, then later stole all those generations (albeit without too much success). It’s unclear what proportion of blame later Nations/Peoples should carry, but since most of them were of white ancestry, they would have been privileged exploiters, no doubt with slave-owners among their ancestors, so it would be reasonable for them all to contribute the main share. As for more recent arrivals, and their descendants, perhaps anyone of colour, and hence also historical victims, might be exempted from paying such reparations. (Indeed, some of our more recent immigrants, as descendants of victims of colonialism themselves, might consider applying for their own compensation, say from the British government? It’s less likely that the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch or French would come to such a party, although one never knows these days; it might be worth testing them as well.)

It’s high time we stratified our population accordingly, before it grows out of hand—although India, with a population fifty times that of ours, seems to have had no difficulty sub-classifying its people (and, as the likely source, or transit zone, of Australia’s first invaders, also happens to host another of the world’s Longest Living Cultures, treating its women-folk accordingly). Of course, it’s too late to stop miscegenation, for there’s already been too much cross-breeding between all these different Australian Peoples, so every individual should decide exactly to which group they wish to belong. Clear guidelines will be essential to enable allocation to correct groups; this will help parents, soon after their child is born, to label it correctly. Group identity (NP1, NP2) could then be stamped in documents, such as passports and drivers’ licences, maybe even credit cards, or a special personal ID pass. Personal tattooing (or ID implants) would be expeditious, but might seem a little extreme at this stage; it might be considered further down the track. Allowing individuals to chop-and-change between groups would complicate matters, so perhaps legislation could be enacted to discourage such practice (although circumventing this wouldn’t be beyond the ability of inventive lawyers). Given the racist nature of this country, it would be understandable if few of its citizens chose to be allocated to Group NP1, with all the discrimination and disadvantages that would arise.

Perhaps we could allocate suburbs, or even towns, to distinct groups, with street names in their own languages, to prevent cultural extinction. Children could then be taught at special schools in their own ancestral languages, even when a written form of these never existed. Why, some groups might even prefer to have whole regions set aside, just for them, along the lines of South Africa’s famed bantustans. And, to ensure that the different groups have input into laws that affect them specifically, each should be given a “Voice to Parliament”: an elected committee that forwards advice to governments, but doesn’t actually have any powers, either to make laws, or change anything, just passes on its group’s views, opinions, complaints and special requests. Such a system, by demonstrating our generous, thoughtful and sensitive goodwill, could be a big step towards true Reconciliation, combining it beautifully with perfect multiculturalism.

Paul Prociv


The Greatest Books

Sir: Apropos Paul Krause’s article  (September 2021). Studying English and History (and Philosophy) at Sydney in the early 1950s I learnt nothing of Dante (whose 700th anniversary some remembered on September 14), nor of Milton, and I have read little Shakespeare since. As for classical Greece and Rome, there was no study of these at high school, and I regrettably chose German instead of Latin then, and at university modern history rather than ancient.

But I have long studied what I think the most important part of our Western cultural heritage, the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible, and Coverdale’s Psalms, more elegant if a little less accurate than those of the AV/KJV (and with them the 1662 Book of Common Prayer).

I wonder if the AV is found in any school English syllabus. For too long it has been “cancelled”. I dare to think it should have pride of place! For English studies, the AV and especially its narratives and poetry are mostly more accessible than Shakespeare. And more accessible too is even its chief English fons et origo, Tyndale’s translation of much of the Bible, readily available in Daniell’s edition with modern English spelling. At university I should have profited much more from Tyndale than Chaucer. The former work, incomplete as it was, and the AV have influenced our culture and civilisation, our arts and literature far more than any other works in English.

Now in my Caleb year but without Caleb’s vigour, I shan’t redress my educational deficiencies, and it is old favourites and fine new books that occupy me, but the Bible always. An earlier project, for example, was my little book of 112 Coverdale psalms with unobtrusive annotations, Sing Heart and Mind. I wrote about that in a chapter in The Free Mind: Essays and Poems in Honour of Barry Spurr, edited by Catherine Runcie. A Quadrant reviewer referred to its “sheer erudition”, a surprise to this plain vanilla parson whose mind has rarely been “peer reviewed”. (I can post my book free, and free of postage.)

My last idiosyncratic initiative, I hope before any perch-falling, is Around the Broad Land: Prayers and Readings for the Christian Year. Of the varied scriptural books in what an Isaac Watts hymn called “a broad land where springs of life arise”, this work prints over 400 passages. About two thirds are from the AV (the standard 1769 form) with minor corrections, about one third based on the Revised Standard Version. The latter, although out of print, is still regarded by some of the best scholars as the most accurate modern translation while reflecting some of its AV grandparental beauty.

Added are 200 short prayers (“collects”), many from the Book of Common Prayer and Thomas Cranmer. That book of 1662 remains constitutionally the one “standard of worship” for “use” in my Church of Australia although neglected, here much more than in England, and much “cancelled” by Sydney’s radical neo-puritans.

But, to return to the “broad land”, the compilation has been created first for those who find parts of the Bible obscure, irrelevant or unethical, and second, it is intended for some, inside and outside of the Church, and inside humane academe, literate but who rarely if ever read the Bible, including the culturally conservative minority. By its arrangement, by what it contains and by what it omits, and with its indices, this book might provide just one practical, accessible path towards an initial or a deeper appreciation of both the literary beauty and the spiritual truths (and they are not unrelated) that can be found contained within the English Bible—and within the English Prayer Book.

John Bunyan


No Salvation

Sir: My copy of the Macquarie Dictionary vilifies Pope Pius XII as one who “kept silent concerning the extermination of Jews during WWII, wishing to preserve Vatican neutrality”. In fact, Pius XII in pursuing a policy of impartiality (rather than indifferent neutrality) established the Vatican Information Service to provide aid to thousands of war refugees and instructed the Catholic Church to provide discreet aid to Jews which quietly saved thousands of lives.

I was reminded of this when reading John Moses’s review of Heart to Heart: Thriving in a Post-Christian World in the July-August issue. His assertion that the “dung-heap of ultra-montane theological intransigence” as typified in the Pius XII-era doctrine of extra ecclesium non salus (outside the Church there is no salvation) has long been abandoned by in his eyes a non-authoritarian, ecumenism-embracing and enlightened Catholic Church is extremely problematic.

Despite the apparent indifferentism of Pope Francis, extra ecclesium non salus is still “on the books” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Lumen Gentium and I Timothy 3:15). This teaches that it is normatively necessary to be a Catholic to be saved but there are exceptions. It is possible for people to be saved who through no fault of their own were or are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. However, to refuse to enter the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church knowingly and deliberately or to separate from it is a grave sin.

James Orrock


An Oversight

Sir: Normally I like reading articles critical of the current state of schools, curriculum and the vacuousness of much academic theory, particularly when it seeps into secondary school classrooms. However, I was a bit perplexed by Raymond Burns’s description (September 2021) of Anh Do’s memoir The Happiest Refugee as “an extremely popular picture-book”. There are pictures, to be sure, but these are photographs of Anh Do’s family and life, sorted in the usual bundles mid-way through books of this type. Anh Do’s book is not a Dr Seuss.

Burns also claimed that: “The Happiest Refugee describes his family’s flight from Vietnam without ever mentioning communists.” This too seemed an extraordinary claim, so I downloaded a PDF version of the book, did a keyword check for the word communist, and found seventeen items. There are six quotes about communism in Chapter One of this “picture-book” alone. Here are three of them:
“The bag of snacks and fruit that she needs to sell to support her mother and five younger siblings, as well as her father and two older brothers who are locked away in communist ‘re-education’ camps, is on that train.” 
“Up until 1975 when the communists took over, it was legal for traders to sell goods on the trains in Saigon. But since the end of the war the communists have made all trade that isn’t documented with government papers illegal.”
“She was supposed to be a nun by now, but the communists had closed down all the catholic churches and convents.”

Burns’s oversight here seems reckless, especially considering Keith Windschuttle’s penchant skill of footnote-checking historians who commit such similar blunders in pursuit of different, but perhaps equally tendentious, arguments in their work.

Jordan Heckendorf


Evidence of Theft

Sir: The editorial “The Never Ending Story” (September 2021), outlining the federal government’s move to use $378 million of taxpayer funds for a “redress scheme” and “healing” of Aboriginal people suffering as survivors of the Stolen Generations, raises several concerns. When claiming “Stolen Generations” status, all individual claimants should have to establish independently corroborated evidence of their
having been stolen. This needs to be the process for obtaining any rightful access to any taxpayer compensation. Failure to follow such an open and transparent process will only serve to further polarise Aboriginal and other Australians, rather than serve to close the gap.

Christopher Collins


Emeritus Professors

Sir: Emeritus professors are usually worth reading. Maybe it is because they know lots from years of study. Maybe it is because they can analyse material well from years of hard work. Maybe it is because they can say what they think because they are not beholden to grant givers or in fear of social media censors.

Wolfgang Kasper’s essay “The Power of Knowledge and the Forces of Ignorance” (September 2021) is excellent for all these reasons.

We are indeed fortunate to be able to enjoy his erudition.

 Peter Fenwick 

2 thoughts on “Numbering Our Peoples

  • NFriar says:

    @Paul Prociv
    Perfect – oh so true!!

    @Christopher Collins – YES!
    People are starting to wake up to the lies perpetuated.

  • rosross says:

    This article is Reason in the face of insanity.

    As to First Nations, there has only ever been one nation on this island continent and that is Australia. We know that because Nation is a European/Western concept and it did not exist amongst Aboriginal peoples. Germany was not even a nation until the mid 19th century and neither was Italy so having nations in tribal Aboriginal Australia would be difficult to argue.

    We also know that because, if you read the definition of Nation it is clear it could not and did not apply to the hundreds of different groups here when the British arrived, many no more than small family clans.
    So, the only nation is Australia of which we are all citizens. And because we are a modern democracy and not a backward tribal system there can be no First, Second or Third. Everyone is a citizen of the one nation, Australia and everyone is equal.

    The concept of First Nations is not only racist it is incorrect because to use it, there should be accuracy.
    For those who believe that it is possible to call tribes, nations, in the late 18th century, you first have to find, which group of the 350 plus had been here longer, i.e. were the FIRST.

    Then we have to find the Second, Third, Fourth etc., arrivals and have a ladder of seniority for all of those groups, descending down to Australians without Aboriginal ancestry ranking how long some ancestry has been here, down to the most inferior, those who became citizens recently. That is not democratic of course but one presumes those who want to believe in First Nations do not care about democracy.

    We then need to have a ladder for each Aboriginal tribal group, identifying who had the most ancestry, i.e. 100% and you are top of the ladder, less than 1% you are at the bottom, with everyone else in between.
    We have to do that for every group, First, Second and onwards, before we then establish a ladder for the lowest rung and most inferior Australians, those with no Aboriginal ancestry and the truly inferior, those who took up recent citizenship. We may need a category for those who might have Aboriginal ancestry but have no proof of it; the limbo-land of worth if you like.

    It all sounds very divisive, utterly racist and makes democracy look much simpler and much fairer don’t you agree?

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