In Victoria at the present time, as in the near future, a “truth-telling” commission, officially known as the Yoorrook Commission, has been at work to present the real facts about the experiences of the Aboriginal people in Victoria. It was formally established in July 2020, and recently, in April-May 2023, held a second round of hearings. According to its website, it was founded to “establish an official record of the impact of colonisation on Traditional Owners and First Peoples in Victoria”, to “develop a shared understanding among all Victorians of the impact of colonisation, as well as the diversity, strength, and resilience of First Peoples’ cultures”, and to “make recommendations for healing, system reform, and practical changes to laws, policy, and education, as well as to matters to be included in future treaties”. To accomplish these ends, it will “hear stories and gather information from First Peoples in Victoria on their experience of past and ongoing injustices and how their cultures and knowledge has [sic] survived”, and will “seek information that is already available and seek new information in areas where there are gaps in our knowledge”. This body “has five commissioners, of whom 4 are Aborigines and 3 are Victorian First Peoples”. The Yoorrook Commission has received surprisingly little publicity in the media; it is likely that other states will establish similar commissions.
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It should be obvious that this commission is deeply biased in a way which presents every sign of advancing and advocating anti-white and anti-British racism. Concerning the “impact of colonisation”, no one alive today can present a first-hand account of harm allegedly done to the Aborigines before, at the very earliest, the 1930s; it is impossible that anyone alive today can present personal testimony about the colonial period. There is no way of knowing, without further testimony and research, whether any “evidence” presented to this commission is true. This body apparently has no mechanism in place which would allow anyone to present accounts or statements which contradict the “evidence” heard by the commission.
More broadly and of even greater concern, the stated aim of the Yoorrook Commission is to indict and attack the white population of Victoria for its alleged crimes against the local Aboriginal population. No witnesses will be called, or testimony presented, to show any positive aspects of the interaction between whites and Aborigines, nor of the positive effects of white settlement on Aboriginal society and mores. The deliberately and pervasively one-sided purpose of this body thus constitutes (as it were) a kangaroo court and a show trial worthy of a dictatorship, whose outcome has been largely decided before its proceedings have begun; its preordained outcome is, indeed, an explicit part of the commission’s mandate. It is also not difficult to foresee it turning into a witch-hunt against white Victorian farmers and businessmen, missionaries and school teachers, public servants and the police, in which mendacious and defamatory claims are made by witnesses, but those attacked by these witnesses, or their present-day representatives, have no right of reply, much as in a Stalinist show trial of the 1930s. All of this, sadly, is fully recognisable as part and parcel of Aboriginal “truth-telling”, especially in bodies created and empowered by left-dominated federal and state governments, and by institutions such as universities and—needless to say—the ABC, whose commitment to neutrality is enshrined in its charter, but is violated every day.
It ought to be kept in mind that pre-contact Aboriginal society was a pre-literate society. In part for this reason, even the most basic facts about Aboriginal society, either before or after 1788 down to recent times, are known only in an approximate way and are subject, even among scholars, to extremely wide ranges of estimates. For instance, the Aboriginal population of Australia in 1788 has been estimated in many sources as 300,000, but also up to one million or more, while the number of Aborigines killed in “frontier wars” has ranged in various accounts from 20,000 to 100,000 or more. No good estimates at all exist for the number of Aborigines who died from diseases introduced by the Europeans for which they had no natural immunity or known medical treatment, a factor generally recognised as a major element in indigenous population decline.
Possibly the most deceptive aspect of the Yoorrook Commission is that its legally defined purpose is to ascribe any and all blame for any negative events or outcomes to “the impact of colonialism”, rather than to any endemic and persisting deficiencies in traditional Aboriginal society. A failure to take note of, let alone examine, these gross societal shortcomings—which are glaring, although today regularly and deliberately obfuscated in virtually all mainstream discussions of Aboriginal life—will automatically result in a deeply flawed picture of the actual, often horrifying, malaise in traditional Aboriginal society.
Australia’s Aborigines were nomadic hunter-gatherers who did not grow crops or domesticate livestock for food, but journeyed in search of whatever food or sustenance could be found on this arid continent. For this reason, the size of every Aboriginal tribe had to be kept as low as possible, consistent with the survival of the tribe. Consequently, infanticide was universally practised throughout traditional Aboriginal society. It was estimated time and again by early white observers of Aboriginal life that around 30 to 35 per cent of all Aboriginal infants were deliberately murdered at birth, including, for instance, any baby born while his or her previously born sibling had still to be carried and suckled by their mother. (All Aboriginal infants were carried by their mothers, who also had to carry all of such goods as were owned by the tribe; the Aborigines had no wheeled vehicles or pack animals.) Throughout Aboriginal society, women did all of the heavy lifting and carrying.
Over the 50,000 to 65,000 years of habitation of Australia, literally tens of millions of Aboriginal babies were deliberately murdered at birth. These mass murders would certainly have continued to the present time, had the Europeans not arrived and suppressed the practice. As well, there are many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of reliable, independent eyewitness reports of Aboriginal cannibalism, many of which involved the eating of their own babies.
Given the reportage, especially by recent historians, of Aborigines killed by white settlers in “frontier wars”, it should also be noted that there are also reports of entire Aboriginal tribes being murdered en masse by other Aboriginal tribes in genocidal wars. It is safe to say that the Yoorrook Commission will not be investigating any of these aspects of traditional Aboriginal society, regardless of how ubiquitous or harmful they were.
Many Aboriginal and other witnesses and researchers have seen many of the dysfunctional features of remote Aboriginal communities, for instance their astronomical rates of violence against women, as continuations of traditional Aboriginal mores, practices with which white society has had no direct connection, apart from punishing those responsible. Instead, at virtually all public meetings, millions of Australians are asked to “acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, [and to] pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging”. In view of the tens of millions of babies murdered by these “elders” down the millennia, this is an odious piece of Orwellian propaganda.
A number of important facts about the post-1788 occupation of Australia by Britain, and its settlement mainly by migrants from Britain, ought to be noted here. First, it is simply inconceivable that, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an area as large as the continental United States would remain outside the sovereignty of any European power; of its possible owners—Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands—Britain was clearly the most humane and sympathetic to the indigenous populations. Second, it is crucial to note that British occupation also brought with it real and immediate benefits to the Aborigines, in the suppression of infanticide, cannibalism and tribal wars, in bringing Western medicine and physicians in place of sorcery, in providing constant supplies of food and sustenance instead of seasonal famines, in building houses and buildings on a continent which had previously lacked any, and in giving at least rudimentary education and literacy to the Aborigines, totally illiterate before the whites arrived.
Because of the wall-to-wall wokeism today in discussions of Aboriginal society, virtually anything that one reads or thinks one knows about the nature of indigenous life is unlikely to be correct and should be examined critically, especially for its racist obfuscation of the positive effects of white and British governance here, or is often simply mythical but unchallenged. To cite three examples. We hear constantly of Aboriginal “sacred sites”, but what does this mean? A “site” can only be “sacred” to adherents of a religion whose adherents regard it as sacred, as, say, Muslims regard the Kaaba in Mecca, or Jews the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Presumably, therefore, only adherents of traditional Aboriginal religions regard such places as Uluru as sacred, not Aborigines who are professing Christians. Information about the number of “adherents of traditional Aboriginal religions” was collected for the 2021 Census. It found that there were 881,600 persons in Australia who claimed that they were Aborigines, of whom exactly 7887 stated that they were adherents of traditional Aboriginal religions, or 0.9 per cent of their population, or one Aboriginal person out of every 110 or so.
The largest Aboriginal religion was Christianity (44 per cent of the total), with most of the others stating that they were of “no religion”, or the like. Aboriginal paintings are today a universally known and often admired art form, so much so that much-publicised scandals have been reported about those which were painted by white people. In fact, there were no Aboriginal paintings, apart from bark paintings, before the 1930s, when Albert Namatjira, taught by two white artists, began painting watercolours. Similarly, the origins of the Aboriginal “welcome to country” ceremony go all the way back to 1976 (there was an earlier proto-ceremony in 1973) when the “ceremony” was invented out of whole cloth by two young Aboriginal entertainers at an arts festival in Perth.
The campaign for “truth-telling” is clearly a component of a much wider effort by the Left to delegitimise white, particularly British, history and settlement in Australia per se. Race war has replaced class war as a weapon of the Left against established society. This replacement has many aspects. For instance, fifty or sixty years ago, the convicts, the gold rush and the pastoral pioneers, and the struggle by Australian workers for the eight-hour day and trade union rights would have been staples of all writing and discussion about the alleged dark side of Australian history, but today these battlers are seen by the Left as a section of the oppressors, not the oppressed, or are entirely forgotten and made invisible.
In their place, everything concerning the majestic qualities of the Aborigines and their ancient “civilisation” here is now exalted and praised. The extent of the current perspective, and its accuracy, may be seen in one example which recently came to my attention, the claim that the Aborigines in South Australia knew that the star Betelgeuse was variable, changing its brightness periodically, in this case every 400 days, whereas Western astronomers did not observe or note the existence of variable stars until 1596, while the variability of Betelgeuse itself was not observed until 1838. According to the Wikipedia article on Betelgeuse, citing two published sources, “Aboriginal groups in South Australia have shared oral tales of the variable brightness of Betelgeuse for at least 1000 years”. This claim itself was made with no evidence. The earliest recorded reference to any Aboriginal knowledge of the star’s variability was made by Daisy Bates in 1921: evidence for the existence of this “oral tradition” before then, let alone “1000 years” ago, obviously does not exist. According to an online article from November 2017 in The Conversation by Duane W. Hamacher of Monash University, which “challenges the history of astronomy”, “a Kokatha oral tradition” tells of Nyeeruna, “who creates fire-magic in his right hand (Betelgeuse)” to overpower the older sister of two girls with whom he is in love, so he can reach them. The big sister also employs “fire-magic” in the waxing and waning of the star known to us as Aldebaran. This Aboriginal oral tradition and similar ones “change the discovery timelines of these variable stars, which historians of science say were discovered by Western scientists”.
Even granting that the Kokatha “oral tradition” existed before 1921, a claim which is uncorroborated, and that the reference of this tribal myth actually refers to the variability of these stars, like is not here being compared with like. No attempt has been made to discover whether there are any similar oral folk traditions among European groups, who could presumably observe the variability of stars as well as anyone else, while the science of astronomy simply did not exist before the scientific renaissance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Through their scientific discoveries—not folk myths— the science of astronomy began, encompassing such discoveries as the sun being at the centre of the Solar System (Copernicus, 1543), the telescope (probably Hans Lippershey, 1608), and gravity and the moons of Jupiter (Galileo from 1610 to 1638). Despite opposition from conservative forces, these scientists soon found a ready audience among intellectuals throughout Europe. Galileo published a book explaining his (wholly novel) discovery of the moons of Jupiter in early 1610; by the end of that year, his discovery was apparently portrayed in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, dated by most scholars to the final months of 1610.
These were scientific discoveries in the sense known today, and it is the Western scientific and intellectual tradition—knowledge and free debate rather than fairy-tales—which is being undermined and denigrated. The Aborigines have not yet been credited with discovering the Theory of Relativity or the geography of the dark side of the moon “1000 years” before Einstein and NASA, but no doubt that will come. At whatever the cost, indeed the truth must be told.
William D. Rubinstein held chairs of history at Deakin University and at the University of Wales. He has written several articles for Quadrant in recent years on the nature of pre-contact Aboriginal society and is now completing a book on the subject.