Imprisoned in the Oldest Continuous Culture

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.   
                       —C.P. Cavafy, Waiting for the Barbarians

The frequent claim that Australian Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuous culture on Earth, measured at 50,000 years, is a curious one. First, it is incorrect. This title belongs to the San people, who have existed for at least 150,000 years in southern Africa. Second, it is curious that this claim is used as proof of the value of traditional Aboriginal culture. Curious indeed, since the claim, which is a claim of conservatism par excellence, is frequently made by those who themselves subscribe to a view that culture should be dynamic, embracing change, in other words progressive. The question arises of how this strange alliance between white political progressivism and indigenous cultural conservativism came to exist and how it continues.

The favourable view of indigenous peoples has been an old companion of progressive politics. It arose after the discovery of the New World, with ideas such as Rousseau’s “noble savage” fascinating the intelligentsia of his day. This fascination extended to the reading public, who developed an insatiable hunger for stories of the otherworldly virtues and vices of people untainted by civilisation, as found in, for example, Melville’s Typee and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These texts attracted readers not only by their descriptions of a people utterly unlike those in the Old World but also as means by which these authors placed their own civilisation in a new light. To this day, this hunger for the exotic continues, albeit under conditions of severe scarcity—those untainted by civilisation only exist in isolated pockets and the people once featured in those famous novels adopted modern lifestyles long ago.

I count myself among those hungry for the exotic. This hunger led me in 2015 on a tour to visit the indigenous Embera village deep in the Panamanian rainforests. After arriving by canoe, I did not encounter the earnest charms of a Friday or witness the pure beauty of a Fayaway. I found a collection of unanimated-looking people moving into a tired routine where they demonstrated their ancient cultural practices from 11 a.m. to 12 noon, provided a catered lunch at noon, and had a faux tattooing session from 12.30 to 1 p.m. It was all very punctual; several tribe members wore Casio watches alongside their traditional garb.

I was disappointed, especially as they appeared bored with us as visitors. This disappointment revealed to me a secret hope I had not acknowledged before but which I now believe is latent in all those like me who grew up reading exotic novels. Seekers of the exotic enjoy not only a view into a world unknown but also revel in being transformed ourselves into something exotic and extraordinary in the viewpoint of the noble savage, suitably astounded by our pale skin, soft hair—the hope that we will be perceived as white gods like Cortés. Our group, instead of running from the prospect of being ignobly tattooed as Melville describes in Typee, lined up for our tattoos that would later wash off as we canoed back to the dreariness of civilisation, feeling rather as if we had never left.

These same anachronistic hopes run through intercultural relations between indigenous and white Australians, forcing the former to either conform under the weight of a 50,000-year-old way of life or else feel they are betraying their authentic self by assimilating to mainstream Australian culture. This kind of binary is unique in the progressive discourse, which prides itself on its romanticisation of spectrums, especially in the fields of sexuality and gender. Perhaps the trans-racial is an impasse for progressivism, or perhaps a logical leap in waiting. Either way for now the binary remains and is a kind of spectre haunting both mainstream and indigenous Australian culture. Evidence for this can be found in political issues that plague indigenous communities such as problematic attitudes towards education and women. These issues are caused in part by traditional Aboriginal culture, as Aboriginal politicians such as Jacinta and Bess Price argue, rather than being solely the fault of colonisation as is so widely believed. The African-American economist Thomas Sowell has made similar observations in the face of the scapegoat of slavery regarding issues within black communities. He regards current social problems not as the remnants of the institution of slavery but rather as the result of the southern “cracker” culture that blacks adopted and later the welfare state that destroyed the integrity of black families in the 1950s and 1960s.

Perhaps, in Australia, we might also one day be given a similarly nuanced view into the cultural causes of issues in Aboriginal communities that extend beyond the old tagline: colonisation was bad. However, rather than try to dissect political issues, I believe that the hamstrung nature of intercultural dialogue in Australia is more clearly displayed in the arenas of life that are more purely cultural, namely language and the arts. One episode from Australian history is emblematic in this regard.

“Oh my poor race … what have I done?” exclaimed Fanny Cochrane Smith (atop this page) in despair upon hearing a recording of herself singing on an Edison phonograph. Born in December 1834, Smith was the last fluent speaker of the indigenous Tasmanian language, and the recordings of her songs made by Horace Watson (on behalf of the Royal Society of Tasmania) represent the only record of the now-extinct language. But why despair after rescuing your language from cultural annihilation? Could Smith not take comfort in cementing a small portion of her language into the annals of a 50,000-year-old culture? Considering that cultural extinction has been a central topic of concern in indigenous affairs, Smith’s despair seems not only odd but absurd. Should she not have celebrated at this moment? Perhaps Smith sensed something less than wholesome behind Horace Watson and the Royal Society of Tasmania’s philanthropic mission: “the advancement of knowledge”.

A comparable case is a fear once held by Native Americans that photography would take one’s soul. This curious fear might be a well-known tidbit but it does, along with Smith’s grief, point to a somewhat sensible fear of representation by another. Whether derogatory or complimentary and patronising, representation of the indigenous has often lent itself to caricature. This apprehension towards the intercultural arena, such as representation in media, is what I believe explains Smith’s grief and many other peculiarities about Aboriginal culture in modern Australia.

Another example occurs about a century after Smith’s recording, when the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) began attempting to reconstruct the “Palawa Kani” language as a composite language (a process which is far more invention than reconstruction). Several linguists had previously given up the project due to the scant remnants of the language, namely a few fragments and a verbatim translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Despite the dubious prospects of the project, the real dubiety begins in 2012 when in response to Wikipedia publishing an article on this composite language’s progress the TAC launched a copyright claim and takedown request of the page.

The TAC language program co-ordinator, Annie Reynolds, is quoted as saying that the language’s use should be restricted “until Aborigines themselves are familiar and competent with it”. The claim and request were denied, since languages are by definition part of the public domain. This raises the question of what true value a language can have when it is neutered by an authority being far more restrictive than even the Académie Française. The usage manual created by the TAC for Palawa Kani dictates that if the non-indigenous want to use the language they must make a formal request. Assuming their request is accepted they will be allowed to use “words and simple phrases in several categories including but not limited to natural objects such as flora and fauna, features of the landscape and natural environment”, but not for “farms, office buildings, educational facilities, homes, streets, etc. which have no connection to collective Aboriginal values”. This attitude, produced by progressive discourse, imprisons Aboriginal culture, frozen forever like the Embera tribe in a cultural stasis where they act out an eternal prehistoric utopia.

We find an identically withheld and uncooperative character in Aboriginal art. For even where white Australians believe they are participating in Aboriginal Australian culture they are most likely receiving a partial, censored or withheld experience.


TAKE DOT PAINTING, which is considered the quintessential Aboriginal art form, but was in fact developed in the 1970s in an art school in Papunya run by a white teacher, Geoffrey Bardon. Under Bardon’s guidance, Aboriginal artists first depicted sacred stories on canvases, which began to sell in private auctions and exhibitions. However, issues began over the subject matter of the paintings, which included sacred stories and secret symbols now accessible to whites and Aborigines of other tribes. The dots were a method of obscuring the content and censoring sacred objects, a method that did not exist before in Aboriginal rock paintings or etchings. These dot paintings became enormously popular and sold across Australia and internationally. What did they represent? What did they mean? No one knows, but dot painting is still well regarded despite being the indigenous equivalent of a redacted document. In the end, it was fortunate for those Papunya artists that Western art and its curators had long given up on meaning, even if they had not.

I think dot painting has had a net positive effect. It has a unique cultural place in Australia and has changed the lives of many artists for the better while affording Aboriginal art a unique kind of branding that is recognisable around the world. However, I do think that the intercultural in this success could be better emphasised. Bardon’s role in the creation of dot painting should not be a “gotcha” for conservatives nor an object of shame for progressives. The success of dot painting need not be decided for one race or the other, but rather as an Australian achievement. Unfortunately, the very opposite attitude predominates.

Look at the recent Australian film Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife. Purcell’s film is a postcolonial revision of Henry Lawson’s story presented through a feminist First Nations lens. Predictably, it has transposed the evils of nature in Lawson’s story onto white males. Unfortunately for Purcell, this kind of old-hat subversion of legacy media will not be effective on my generation. We have scarcely heard of Henry Lawson, let alone read him, and so the film is likely only to please an older generation of leftists. In any case, Leah Purcell gave the latest example of this kind of divisive tone while talking about her new film on Radio National. When asked about her writing process, she replied, “When I write, I write two stories. One for my non-indigenous audience and one for my indigenous audience. So when [the indigenous] come to see this film they have the power.” So much for unity.

Who can blame Purcell? This is par for the course for postcolonialism, whose raison d’être has been the supposed impossibility of intercultural understanding. This has been the case since the inception of the field by thinkers such as Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said. According to postcolonialism, whenever an indigenous person, or “subaltern”, attempts to make intercultural dialogue they are either implicit in their oppression or else they are using “mimicry” as a kind of subterfuge. In either case, the dialogue is futile and can only result in servitude or rebellion. Accordingly, one of the founding documents of postcolonialism, Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, concludes that the subaltern cannot speak. It is no surprise that power is the only substance with ontological priority in this field, considering it was inspired by the work of critical theorists and postmodernists such as Foucault. Despite the obvious undemocratic colourings (or perhaps because of them), postcolonialism has had an enormous effect on the attitudes to intercultural relations in Australia through our universities.

As Professor Emma Kowal describes in her book Trapped in the Gap, progressive whites affected by post-colonialism find themselves trapped by endless ambiguities, contradictions and double binds when they attempt to help the indigenous. At the heart of the issue is a contradiction between, on the one hand, the desire to see Aboriginal Australians become statistically identical to whites in health, wealth and education, and on the other, maintaining their separate cultural identity and resisting cultural erasure. For those Aborigines who need assistance, the choice presented to them is a Faustian one: betray your culture and gain the benefits, or remain authentically impoverished. The progress towards the Close the Gap targets has been agonisingly slow (and in some cases, no progress has been made at all) which is no surprise when you consider the attitudes and philosophy behind those endeavouring to help.

Literacy rates have been especially bad. The Close the Gap and NAPLAN reports paint a grim picture of education inequality between non-indigenous and indigenous students, with gaps of 25 to 30 per cent in literacy rates. From 2008 to 2018 the Close the Gap campaign decreased the gap by 5 to 10 per cent in two year levels but in others had no impact at all. In the remote communities of the Northern Territory, there are adult illiteracy rates of nearly 70 per cent, and 61 per cent of students fail to meet minimum literacy standards. This is remarkably little progress considering the campaign has run for over a decade and that state and territory government per capita expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is approximately double the per capita expenditure on non-indigenous Australians.

To put into perspective how ineffective we have been, we might take a comparable example from history. After the Cuban Revolution in 1960, Fidel Castro embarked on a war against illiteracy and after an eight-month campaign succeeded in raising the literacy rate from 70 per cent to nearly 100 per cent by teaching over 700,000 people to read and write including the various indigenous groups spread across Cuba. The success of this campaign seems miraculous in the face of our difficulties in remote communities which house some 50,000 indigenous Australians. The brigadistas or literacy brigades which accomplished this campaign were run in a regimented fashion according to military protocol, with the teachers required to wear military fatigues. This literacy campaign was carried out with a consistent, unified and entirely didactic focus—a far cry from the paranoia and neuroticism spawned by progressivism. What the brigadistas had and what we lack is a true calling, a mission.

While I cannot regard the Marxist mission as anything more than crude utopianism which has caused enormous suffering across the world, I can respect that Castro’s literacy brigades believed in what they were doing. It is a pity we cannot say the same in Australia. However, more than simply having a mission, I believe that all intercultural missions must include a dimension that transcends culture. Our pluralist society and the secular moral edicts of social justice that underpin it, in which relativism is held paradoxically as the highest virtue, have replaced our traditional sources of moral guidance. Critical-theory schools like postcolonialism have stripped us of our grand narratives and left us in a world where the only rule is that of mediocrity and all truth is mere opinion. Here, like endangered species, all cultures are valuable and all cultures need to be preserved, no matter the damage it does to the people concerned. In our world there is no truth beyond culture—truth is cultural. This strange circumstance has led our staunchest believers in cultural progress to champion a culturally conservative cause—as long as it’s for a culture other than their own.


BEFORE the secularisation of the world, our Christian heritage was the gold standard in intercultural dialogue and provided people with a transcendent mission to bridge cultural differences. Whereas Hinduism supported the segregation of society into castes, and Islam could only unite people through the force of the sword and the imposition of Arab culture, Christianity has had a remarkably peaceful record for intercultural relations. By adopting and adapting local festivals and cultural practices Christians have exercised a cultural flexibility partnered with an uncompromising commitment to the mission of Christ—which exists higher than culture. This is all quite predictable in a theological sense since we do not consider the Truth to be a way of life or a set of rules but rather believe Truth is a person. This belief allowed Christianity to provide the basis for community across the Roman empire when belief in mere civic values became an insubstantial centre point for communities.

We can observe this clearly in that arena of life that is most purely cultural, the arts. While both Islam and Christianity abhor idolatry as per their Jewish roots, Christianity provided the freedom and expression that gave today’s art world its creation. As far back as the Middle Ages, Christians found justification in Christ not only regarding the eternal state of their souls but also for the world and its representations. Just as Christ boldly stepped forth into the mess of the world, so did those early Christians boldly put forward the sacred into art works, such as the Biblia pauperum, a famous picture Bible for the illiterate, and icons that became an essential part of worship for the Eastern Church. Education in local languages was first initiated by the Jesuits, which was an enormous change from the previous forms of education that used Latin or Greek. This is all in stark contrast to the Islamic attitude to representation, as demonstrated in the Charlie Hebdo attack and the brutal murder of a French secondary school teacher over depictions of Mohammed.

It is this Christian heritage that we should draw on in our intercultural endeavours with indigenous Australians. After all, 55 to 60 per cent of indigenous Australians identify as Christian and no more than 1 per cent identify with traditional indigenous beliefs. Here is common ground before us with far greater opportunity rather than a long-dead past. Perhaps the wisdom of this has even been noticed in the intelligentsia. Aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton have begun to wax nostalgic about the Church missions that came before the hell of the “free determination” era in which “culture” was allowed free rein in indigenous life, leading to the problems we have today in the remote communities.

As a final note, I believe the decision to change the wording of the national anthem from young to one was a mistake. For we are a young nation and the birth of our nation should be seen as an opportunity for Aboriginal Australians. The birth of Australia constitutes, if nothing else, a break with the prehistoric past—precisely the break that allows Aborigines to escape from their cultural prison and enter into the fabric of Australia as Australians where there is plenty of room for redefinition, leaving behind atavism and apprehension. But this is a lot to ask of indigenous Australians when we have become incapable of making the leap beyond the merely cultural ourselves.

Conor Ross is a writer, poet and school teacher who lives in Melbourne

20 thoughts on “Imprisoned in the Oldest Continuous Culture

  • rosross says:

    The reality is that since all humans alive today are descended from the same distant group of ancestors, then every culture is as old as the next. What is also overlooked by the ‘oldest living culture’ fantasists is that there is no Australian alive today whether 100% Aboriginal in ancestry or less than 1%, who lives a life or culture remotely like that lived by Aboriginal peoples in 1788 and prior to that time.

    And the same goes for Africa’s San people. Aborigines and San have been influenced, affected, and changed by the cultures which arrived with colonisation and anything existing today is in essence a new culture, a hybrid of Aboriginal or San and Anglo-European in the main, if not in some places, Asian.

    All humans once lived stone-age hunter-gatherer lives and all cultures existing today are sourced in those ancient origins and are the sum of all experiences since. That is simple logic and reality.

    Quite how anyone could believe that the culture of a stone-age nomadic hunter-gatherer equated with, or represented continuity, with the lives of those living in houses, albeit squalid, in remote communities, using cars, telephones, televisions etc., is the question. It is delusional to even talk about ‘continuous culture’ since all are and are not because all continue to evolve which is the only continuous aspect to any culture.

  • Tom Lewis says:

    It’s interesting how the argument has been for a long time – there are references in the 19th century – that all cultures are equally valuable. The celebration of the Renaissance seems to have taken a back seat.

    I can’t see this is valuable. My ancestors – the Welsh – lived a far less pleasant existence than the Romans. While being invaded is not nice, most people in the British Isles had little contact with the sharp end of the Roman Army. And what they brought was most valuable. Similarly living in a nomadic existence on the plains of America was a less pleasant existence than having access to heating, electricity, sewage, and built houses.

    Anyone who thinks the life of a noble savage is preferable to modern living isn’t thinking it through.

  • rosross says:

    I wish those who talk about a Gap, make it clear that the Gap exists only for a small minority of Australians with Aboriginal ancestry and they are the ones least assimilated into the modern world, and who remain trapped in backward tribal cultures.

    The vast majority of those registering Aboriginality, are minimally Aboriginal in ancestry, fully assimilated into the modern world and have been for generations and are doing fine, as well, if not often better than anyone else. For them there is No Gap.

  • wdr says:

    Very useful. It should be required reading.

  • March says:

    Hard to say how long some cultural traditions are. At Ayers Rock the creation myths of the group of locals that included Paddy Uluru include the dingo as part of the story. So no older than 5000 years, and maybe a little younger to take in the time for dingos and their Indian owners to migrate to the central desert. This 50k fantasy does not stand up to any scrutiny yet we are fed it endlessly.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    Aboriginal Australians have been subject to one of the most telling cultural experiments of modern history. There have been two pathways tried – assimilation into the modern world, and separation into a halfway house between modernity and antiquity. It is very clear that the earlier policy of assimilation had much better outcomes. Those who left remote communities and settled in modern towns and cities are now indistinguishable from the rest of the Australian population. The have the same health, education and job prospects as the rest of us. Those left behind in remote communities are caught in a hellish socialist Catch 22 of poor health and education, resulting in an inability to function in the modern world. Those who embraced modernity are free to make their own choices. Those caught in antiquity have their choices severely limited by their environment. This has been obvious for generations now and it is difficult not to conclude that the outcomes suit those paid to look after the mess they keep perpetuating.

  • STD says:

    Spot on, Ian MacKenzie.
    Slightly off context – interestingly all the children in the orphanages, during the progressive Dreamtime of the so called stolen generations (misleading lie) all have large happy grinning smiles above their full bellies .
    Question, has the left failed the test of integrity in relation to the concepts of stolen and stealing and have they or are they in the throes of perpetuating this taxpayer funded fraud?
    By the way on their Australian story – I think it was last week- we were told that Aboriginal culture is the worlds oldest culture- this is a blatant lie, except of course if you view the definition of Aboriginal cultures through the deceitful prism of the globalist social agenda in relation to all this First Nations bilge.
    Cease all this Aboriginal privilege, the black fella should be the equal of the white fella in regard to taxation receipts ,or is working considered an abuse of First Nations peoples basic rights and in contravention of the intended discrimination of the Australian Human Rights Commission – it’s socialist charter and manifesto.

  • Daffy says:

    What’s to celebrate with the claimed oldest continuous culture that failed to notice iron ore or to do anything about it (due to the spooks who they think lived where it was, is my guess) and seem to have only grown in expertise in child abuse while they busily invented the stick.
    I don’t ‘celebrate’ my early tribal ancestors, who had similar practices…although they did figure out what to do with metals, so I don’t see why Aboriginal Australians need to do so.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    Perhaps the trans-racial impasse might be overcome by a significant majority of Australian citizens self-identifying as being Indigenous by one of three alternatives now provides by Federal bureaucracies. The rump could then agitate for special conditions including representation.

    A relative of ours witnessed in 1947, at the then Ernabella Mission, dot painting being offered as a starting point of creative outlets for Aboriginal women.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    A most pertinent essay.
    There are many people of diverse origins who live in the ‘Outback’ with conditions part way between city life and what is imagined to be aboriginal traditional life. These outback people are able to exist happily without much guidance or financial assistance, to I guess, maybe wrongly, that the few remaining traditional aborigines should be able to adapt as needed and get on with life, Examples are all around them unless they choose to isolate.
    In my past mineral exploration work, we interacted with a number of senior traditional guys in the 1970-80 era around central Arnhem Land. They knew quite enough to make the switch to outback life settler style and often poked fun at us as whiteys who did not understand the best ways to an easy life. In their cases, this meant more about how to extract money and grog from the system than how to achieve inner peace and contentment. However, my limited exposures should not be extrapolated to overall cases.
    No solution to the clash of cultures was evident then and I can offer no social contract suggestions now.
    A contract used to require a willing buyer, a willing seller and a benefit to both parties. Geoff S

  • Macspee says:

    It is hard to believe that today the ABC and SBS still warn aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders that they may be about to see pictures of persons who are deceased.

  • myrmecia says:

    @Macspee “Trigger warnings” are flourishing on the ABC and every report which the journalists feel could possibly upset or offend minority groups is preceded by a trigger warning. Even White Australia has its trigger warnings too, often followed at the end of the report with the telephone number of Lifeline. This is all process to infantilise us, disempower us, direct us away from our families and other traditional supports into the hands of “trained” 9-5 professionals.

  • myrmecia says:

    Apropos the opening paragraph, does anyone else here detect the beginning of a new rule whereby the term Aboriginal will be (must be?) replaced by the imported Canadian term “First Nations”?

  • PT says:

    The “worlds oldest culture” is really another way of saying the most “backward” and “primitive”. Aboriginal people still lived in the Palaeolithic (not the “Neolithic” as falsely claimed in “Rabbit Proof Fence” – the Neolithic was agricultural), with no bows and arrows and nothing more advanced than the spear thrower. The San had (have) bows and arrows: hence Aboriginals are “older” by this mentality!
    In truth I strongly suspect that attitudes and practices changed quite significantly over the many thousands of years Aboriginal people have lived here. Even if their material culture didn’t advance. And if there was no development of any kind and they were purely like flies trapped in amber they’re actually saying that Aboriginal people are inferior to all other people in the world: especially by “progressive” standards!

  • Brian Boru says:

    Assimilation and egalitarianism is the only real way forward. Ian MacKenzie above in his comment shows that.
    The problem is how to overcome the “industry” that profits from degradation and apartheid.

  • gilmay97 says:

    PROBABLY — The unknown word — Now written as — Can be – Could – Definitely – Proven’
    Professor Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and his colleagues found that different indigenous groups within Australia are genetically quite distinct, but that they are all descended from a single, founding wave of people from Africa (By the time of his research there had been centuries of mixed genetics). We found evidence that there was only really one wave of humans who gave rise to all present-day non-Africans, including Australians. (It appears a wave of migrants went into Africa from Eurasia and migrated out 200,000 years ago — the problem with his theory is there were other human populations they encountered and bred with picking up their genes — The original base of the out-of-Africa theory has now been disproven)

    Their research has shown by their DNA testing (limited) there was little gene flow into Australia and New Guinea by tracing ancestry back to Africa where great public claims were made of the Australian Aborigine being ‘One of the oldest races that could be traced back to Africa’ (based on their ‘Out-of-Africa-theory’ every ancient race can be traced back to Africa) — and claim that ends the story

    But it does not, it only just begins the story of migration: For they never separated early migration of the older people — from later migration from Africa to India, Eurasia and other countries, where they settled and occupied the land for thousands of years: Where several migrations from India to Australia whose original Indian ancestors could be traced back to Africa producing the same ancestral gene identification — a true but generalised analysis that does not identify waves of migration over different time spans from similar areas of India. On this basis all people in every country could be traced back to Africa claiming ancient continuous race traceable back to Africa — Their hypothesis is overly simplistic.
    Prof Eske Willerslev, stated of the Australian aboriginals; “They are PROBABLY the oldest group in the world that you can link to one particular place”.
    (We are not sure if he was referring to Africa as the ‘one particular place’ or Australia; Did he forgot about all the other races across other lands who also supposedly originated from Africa?).

    The above claim based on a probability: “PROBABLY” has now been rephrased, highlighted, and changed into ‘Can be – Could – Definitely – Proven’; and “The Australian aboriginals are THE OLDEST group in the world that you can link to one particular place”. Now quoted with gusto and fervour by many and the aboriginal industry, they either deliberately lied and twisted facts or are unable to understand what was written in simple words — either way it is totally incorrect blown up out of all proportion to suit their propaganda, knowing that the average person would accept such simply because they do not have the time nor interest to spend hours away from their family life doing research in this subject. They are not the oldest race on earth are reportedly the San people of Africa.
    The first paragraph of the national ‘Apology’ by PM Kevin Rudd: 13 February 2008.
    “That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history”
    Exactly as Lenin said – “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”

    The word used was PROBABLY, nothing else — So reuse it, be put it back into the wording — but it won’t because to do so admits to either ignorance or deceitful manipulative lying.
    This is now taught in schools and quoted in an advertisement run for ‘NITV’ by the ABC TV spoken by former employee Kerry O’Brien (Nov-Dec 2021) who says the aborigines are “The oldest living civilisation on the planet”, another nonsense extension of the aboriginal myth now being quoted as ‘fact’. We expected better from Kerry O’Brien an experienced reporter, journalist, and investigator — he never investigated the facts — they were available; but then again, he is retired so accepted what was published as the easy option.
    They use an all too simplistic approach, on the out-of-Africa theory every race on earth can be traced back to Africa, their genetic distinction is what Prof Satish Kumar found they came from the ancient tribes of India. After they left Africa, they made many stops for millennia in different countries eventually reaching India, where they later migrated to Australia over long periods of time in different migrations of different groups with genetic variances, of height, body shape, body hair, skin colour, etc. Endo cast skulls, Homo erectus, Pygmies, Murrayians & Carpentarians.

  • wstarck says:

    The idea of the noble savage is entirely a fantasy of the comfortably civilized. Every shred of available evidence confirms the accuracy of the characterization by Hobbes of primitive life as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. That isolation has permitted a few cultures to remain relatively unchanged is simply an interesting fact. It is not an achievement that somehow erases the simultaneous age of other cultures which at the same time made huge advances in government, art, clothing, shelter, technology, food production, medicine, and a broad understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

  • PeterBalan says:

    A most useful article and very interesting comments.
    This theme underpins one of the key arguments for the Indigenous voice proposal, namely, recognising the “original” people of this country, eg as stated by Chris Kenny (“A cringe-worth slam dunk for the voice nay-sayers”, “The Australian”, September 3-4, p.21)
    I suggest that many find the issue of constitutional recognition of the original inhabitants of this continent hard to understand. As stated in Ross’s article, human history is one of constant movement and displacements of one group by another, usually using violent means. This country was not a nation when the 1788 settlers landed. They were followed by a stream of people from around the world who have together created a wealthy and peaceful economy. They came because Australia is indeed a land of opportunity. For example, over 108,000 Vietnamese boat people arrived in the 1980s. They escaped real suffering and the UN estimates that more than 200,000 boat people died on their journey. They looked different and many did not speak the language, but their children today include medical and legal practitioners, business managers, and are valuable contributors to our society and economy that benefits all, including Indigenous people – and the Vietnamese did this without government assistance.
    Why should these people, as well as the 30 percent of our population born overseas and who are successfully assimilating, care about Indigenous ancestors who are long dead and who handed over this country with a hunter-gatherer economy?

  • Peejay says:

    A good essay but alas I just don’t have the time to fully analyse it for a comprehensive reply.
    I have a few comments below

    Regarding the Closing the Gap program. Are we at all surprised that in remote communities it has had little impact?

    IMO the problem is with the parents and their lack of desire/resolve to change their ways and make sure their kids attend school. I fear that some parents don’t want their children to be educated and grow up looking down on their parents. These attitudes exist in white Australian culture as well.

    I know it’s a very complex problem but with all the chronic reports of child abuse (physical and sexual)), wife/partner bashing and general brawling and mayhem that exists in some (not all) remote communities we’ve got the added grog problem that fuels the flames of social distintergration..

    With residents captive in their own country where they choose to live with nothing to do, no work no education (adults) and no future they have only alcohol and petrol sniffing to help them through each day. Is is any wonder that children and adults are running amok, and bashings and stabbings are common (not in all communities).

    The urban aboriginal elite want these remote communities to remain rather than be integrated into wider Australlian culture. They want these poor souls held captive by their primitive mindset and culture in a living museum for their (the urban elite) benefit so they have an on going reason to whinge about little and all.

    These museums of misery are there to show the white fella and gullible government visitors and those around the world how dreadfull the post colonialists are treating their people. Everyone’s to blame except the black fellas. They want more money spent but we all know that much of this money will be eaten up by the elite and so called ‘elders’ who are happy to put out their hands when there is a fistfull of dollars to be had. Never forget ATSIC!

    These communities need to be there to justify the well fed, well educated middle class part aboriginals masquerading as messiahs for their people. They need to be there to give them someplace to go and visit ‘country’ and observe culture and rituals maybe eat some Bush Tucker. They can then go back to their comfortable integrated Australian homes feeling all warm ang fuzzy and aboriginal. I suppose the latter is fair enough for most of these elite are part aboriginal trading off the fact the Government is too gutless to require more stringent requirements to prove aborginality.

    This criterium of “identifying as aboriginal’ MUST go because it allows all kinds of wannabees and cranks to put up their hands because they know there could be some rich pickings out there. Perhaps for loners it could be an opportunity to become part of a welcoming community and maybe actually find some aboriginal heritage in their DNA! It appears you don’t need much under present conditions.

    Remember the stories of the American wild west where children were taken from their parents during the many skirmishes with the settlers moving into native territory. Many years later most of these children who were taken very young and were found by whites, profoundly believed they were indians of whatever tribe had taken them. Some of them could not be reconciled with their real parents.

    So just because you identify as aboriginal is no reason to move onto the next question of the silly form you have to fill out.

  • Patricia Wiltshire says:

    I HAVE read The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson and it is what it is and is unique of its kind – a classic in the development of Australian literature and in the short story form. I am getting quite old but – sorry – can’t fit the full description above.
    Lea Purcell, by her own admission in an interview with Prof Laarissa Behrendt, stated that she appropriated the story because the well known name would attract attention. She is not alone and joins a number of Australian writers, musicians and film makers who are making their name by this means.
    Neither she nor Professor Larissa Behrendt mentioned that the Lawson story includes an incident where a black man is the only person to come to the aid of the drover’s wife in a way that she recognises and for which she’s grateful. Neither displayed any further knowledge or interest in Lawson or the subtleties of the short story form. Prof Behrendt referred to it first as a poem and then a novel. I did write to, respectfully, correct her mistake. Needless to say, there was no response.

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