One of the most insidious aspects of the Voice referendum is the treaty process promised by the Prime Minister in line with the Uluru Statement, which the Makarrata Commission would seek to impose on Australians. One ground for treaty-making is the alleged “intergenerational trauma” suffered by descendants of the original settlers, even by those who were distant in time from traumatic events, including those with distant Aboriginal heritage.
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Marcus Stewart is a member of the Commonwealth government’s referendum working group and a good subject for a comparative trauma study. He bills himself a “Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation”. He was, until very recently, a member of the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria and active in the Victorian treaty process.
Marcus Stewart, indeed, the entire Aboriginal leadership, is very keen on self-determination. Part of the treaty process in Victoria is the establishment of a self-determination fund. Phase one of the plan is to receive an “initial state contribution”—that is, the Victorian taxpayer gives the fund $30 million. In the second phase, the self-determination fund will distribute what is politely known as “government donations” to who knows who. There does not seem to be much self-determination in this little process. And that is just to start the “conversation” about a treaty.
Stewart’s only ancestral link to Aboriginal people is one great grandfather, who was either full or part Aboriginal. Stewart is of very distant Aboriginal heritage. The remarkable thing about his great grandfather is that from a barefoot boy wandering the bush he successfully integrated into the wider society. I wonder what trauma Stewart has suffered because of the successful integration of his great grandfather. Is it loss of culture, one that he never knew, just as I would never have experienced my forebears’ culture?
Victoria seems to specialise in remote ancestor worship. The Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation situated immediately west of Melbourne, for example, has 228 members and one apical ancestor, John Robinson, who was born in 1846 and died in 1919. This group has an attachment to south-west Victoria. My attachment is similar—one great grandmother, on my father’s side, born in Barrabool in 1849 and one great grandfather, on my father’s side, born in Casterton in 1843.
Much greater than my mere attachment to land across generations, I think that I too may have a claim to “suffer” from intergenerational trauma. Michael Garvey was my great grandfather, on my mother’s side. He was born in Galway in 1846 and came to Australia, landing in Launceston in 1867. He and his wife Kate had five children. She witnessed him cutting his throat. He was jailed for attempted suicide and later died in custody. The Argus reported his death on December 28, 1892:
The city coroner held an inquest at the Melbourne gaol yesterday on the body of Michael Garvey, 42 [actually 46] years of age, a prisoner detained during the governor’s pleasure, who died on the previous Sunday. The medical evidence showed the death was due to disease of the brain. Garvey was in custody on a charge of attempting to commit suicide, and had formerly been a fellmonger, but lost his employment when the fellmongery [preparing animal skins for leather] was destroyed in the flood of July 1891, and afterwards showed signs of a deranged mind.
Michael Garvey was under the care of Dr Shields in the jail hospital until his death, the same doctor who had found him to be insane and unfit to plead at his trial: “He would have been removed to the asylum” but was “unfit to be removed owing to extreme wasting as he refused food and had to be fed artificially”. His hospital record showed that he was five feet two and a quarter inches tall, was bald and had hairy arms. That makes my skin crawl, especially my hairy arms.
So, what is my cause of action? To sue the state of Victoria (whose record on victimology is second to none), or sue the Melbourne jail for the death in custody, or the estate of Dr Shields because he failed to save my great grandfather by not sending him to the asylum? Or perhaps his employers at the fellmongery for not making adequate provision for flood mitigation, or failing to reopen the factory in a timely manner and provide employment? Or the Commonwealth for failing to pay unemployment benefits? Oh, that’s right, there was no Commonwealth, and no unemployment benefit at the time. History is such a harsh critic of the present generation of cosseted benefit seekers.
Anyway, I continue to ponder Michael Garvey’s fate and why my life has turned out how it has, without the guidance that, no doubt, he would have provided my mother’s side and passed through the bloodline to me.
One of Marcus Stewart’s great grandfathers, on the other hand, led a long and successful life, despite the fact that he was not Irish. He was of Aboriginal descent, either full-blood or part. Stewart’s claim to Aboriginal descent and his entire “identity” and employment and political persona stems from one man, John Franklin. Franklin, born circa 1837, was orphaned when a young child and found wandering near Healesville.
Stewart’s great grandfather was raised by a couple who owned the local estate. He later worked as a servant at another estate in the district. He met Harriet Tull, born in Williamstown of English parents, who also worked as a servant at the estate. John and Harriet had twelve children between 1874 and 1897.
Their opportunity for advancement came when the Land Act was amended in 1878 making it easier for small farmers to apply for a lease of Crown Land. In 1879 he applied for a selector’s lease of eighty acres in the Yea district. His adoptee father Donald Ferguson was on the council and probably led the support to their application. The local newspaper reported:
It will scarcely be believed that this true son of the soil had great difficulty in obtaining his selection. The officials were against him, the red-tape system was against him, and, had it not been for the energetic action of the shire council on his behalf, John Franklin would have had to live a Government pauper in the land which a little more than half a century ago was every foot of it owned by his race. There are others at Coranderrk that might be advantageously transformed from paupers to farmers.
Franklin, the abandoned Aboriginal boy made good. In 1887, a farming expert from Melbourne was invited to visit and write a series of articles about the future of farming in the district. He was taken to see Franklin’s farm, and said:
One of the most interesting small farms I have met with in my rambles throughout Australia is owned by a Victorian aboriginal who has taken to himself the name of John Franklin. He has about 250 acres in two blocks, and has formed a comfortable home for himself … John Franklin has taken unto himself a wife of pure European blood, and has a numerous young brood growing up. He is much liked by the people in the neighbourhood, is honest, sober, and industrious and takes great pride in the success of his children at the local school.
I wonder if Marcus Stewart was traumatised by this successful integration. It seems that the Franklins “melded fairly seamlessly into life in the small town of Yea, although later generations told of petty acts of discrimination that the Franklin children sometimes experienced”. Despite this, three of Franklin’s boys played in the Yea football team in 1914 and two sons, Leslie and Walter Franklin, enlisted and fought in the First World War.
In subsequent generations the children found partners and started to move away from their family home in Yea. One child married a resident of Kensington, the inner-city Melbourne suburb. My mother was born in Kensington, Marcus. Perhaps our forebears’ paths crossed amicably?
WHAT have we learned from this little excursion in history? Marcus, you are kidding yourself that you have any standing to make claims on the wider society for some wrong that allegedly befalls you. You had the chance of a good upbringing, as did your great grandfather, not to mention, indeed you do not mention, your other seven great grandparents. What is it about the eighth that is so special? It seems that whatever trauma befell John Franklin he overcame in spectacular fashion.
Marcus Stewart, rather than extend your hand into the pocket of the Victorian and Australian taxpayer for retribution and reparation, perhaps you may care to look at the unfinished business of Aboriginal children who are yet to make John Franklin’s journey to integration.
This week, Aboriginal children will walk into the store at Warburton in Western Australia and purchase the typical fare of an Aboriginal diet. On the same latitude as the border of Northern Territory and South Australia, Warburton is as remote as it gets. But cake, Coca-Cola and energy bars are all available, and expensive. For adults, throw in smokes. These are typical purchases. Week in and week out. Eating and drinking junk foods, not working, and having no purpose in life, other than consumption, is a death sentence. No amount of government intervention can save this. No Voice, no committee, no treaty, no “truth-telling”, no Makarrata can save these people.
As my local source at Warburton texted recently:
The local residents “humbug” for money (beg), yet there are multiple jobs available in the town, which nobody wants to do.
Another day in Paradise. Warburton shop closed now because of a violent, drunk man with a crowbar, smashing up things in the shop. Just now and three days in a row.
Latest news. Three six year old boys just ran out with arms full of ice creams and confectionery. Never stops.
They complain about how they live but they put the houses into disrepair. I met a builder 13 months ago who told me he was contracted to build 40 houses in and around Alice Springs and in 3 years he had to go back and repair them all.
8pm at night here and 6 year olds are wandering the streets throwing fireworks into our and other yards. Why? Because the 6 year olds today told us to Get F….d because we were F…..g white trash C…s. 6 year olds. What hope is for them?
Aboriginal people are a modern people. In Warburton, mobile phones are commonplace. Electricity keeps the food and drink cool. Without the paraphernalia of the modern world there would be no Warburton, it would have closed decades ago. Aboriginal people rely on modern means to survive. Most have no idea how it is made. This is cruel.
The task of leaders like Marcus Stewart is to have every child understand how it is that the mobile phone and the electricity that makes their food and shelter available come into being. Government may be the provider, but it is not the maker. Government makes nothing, it merely covers the indignity of woeful ignorance. Why do governments refuse to teach their citizens how their lives have been degraded to the point of begging?
This referendum with its “simply about recognition” meme is no gracious gift. It masks the huge Uluru agenda. That agenda is stealing the future of people at Warburton and hundreds of other places. Recognition is not the same as reconciliation. There is no reconciliation in this referendum proposal—it is, as a result, an abandonment of leadership. Aboriginal parents face an awful choice. If they keep their children “safe” on country, away from the worst of modern life, grog and drugs, they condemn their children to restricted lives, with poor education, a poor diet, and few prospects.
The great lie of this referendum is that choices can be avoided. Somehow, twenty-four select delegates in Canberra will solve the parents’ dilemma. They will not; they will continue to mask the choice and, in default, make the choice for them. A slow death on country, rather than to break free, with the help of their families and guidance from outsiders on how to handle the wider world.
JOHN Franklin made an extraordinary transition three generations ago because it was an accepted path. Now, that path is blocked for children at Warburton and across northern Australia because of the ideologues whose mindset belies their experience. Aboriginal leadership and the ideology of self-determination have trashed the legacy of John Franklin.
There is no love for Aborigines in this referendum proposal, just ego. The Aboriginal people at Warburton are radically disabled. They are self-determining all right, sitting on country, speaking language, and dying early. And Aboriginal leaders, CEOs and the Prime Minister think this is a good idea. They must do, because their solution is to change nothing. Not to learn how to create value, not to adapt, but to wait. Government money as a permanent way of life is poison.
Some thousands of naive supporters of the Yes campaign think it’s a good idea. Think again. Emotion and faux morality are no substitute for a steely focus on what a person needs to make it in this world. A world not of their making, but one they inherited. Wishing it were otherwise is no substitute for action. Would any leader in the eastern and southern capitals tolerate the behaviour tolerated in Warburton, and a hundred other failing communities in northern and western Australia, in their backyard?
And one last thing. How does Marcus Stewart have a treaty with the other seven-eighths of himself?
The Hon. Gary Johns, a minister in the Keating Labor government of the 1990s, is president of Recognise a Better Way and the author of The Burden of Culture (Quadrant Books), which can be ordered here