Aborigines

Noel Pearson’s ‘Nations’ and the Nightmare at Aurukun

Today more than 300 residents of the normally 1200 individuals who live in Aurukun have fled the community. This exodus began in early January due to an alleged murder on New Year’s Day, and the destruction of properties by fire and riots. Many of the people who have left Aurukun still refuse to return to the community two months later, and are instead camping out in the bush or have retreated to nearby towns or gone further afield to Cairns. There was a resurgence of civil unrest in Aurukun in late February — including rioting, an attempted break-in and further damage to homes and police cars — which has done nothing to encourage people to return. After this most recent incident, dozens of people who had stayed in Aurukun resorted to sleeping in the foyer of the police station for safety.

This was part of a report in July 2020 by human rights lawyer Shannon Maree Torrens, making her second visit to investigate conditions in the remote Aboriginal community of Aurukun. The community is located on the western edge of Cape York in Queensland, in the traditional country of the Wik people. Torrens’s report continued: “Aurukun is a deeply unsettling and at times dangerous place.” It suffered a range of troubling issues: domestic violence, sexual assault, alcohol abuse, child abuse, riots, destruction of property and continued community violence and exodus. She also noted:

We should not view the deteriorating situation in Aurukun in isolation, as an issue solely with this particular community. Aurukun is an illustrative microcosm of the Indigenous experience in Australia as a whole, which is a tragedy affecting the entire country.

She did not mention demands being made at the time for recognition of Aboriginal people in the Australian Constitution that would give them the power for self-determination. However, any proper discussion of that topic should include the indigenous experience as a whole which, as she rightly says, at the level of remote communities is a tragedy affecting the entire country. 

Although it was touted as a collective statement by representatives of all the Aboriginal communities in Australia, the Uluru Statement from the Heart originated in the mind of one man, Noel Pearson, who successfully put it to those assembled at Uluru in May 2017. Before this, the several committees of Aboriginal identities appointed by both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to enhance the constitutional status of Aboriginal people, had not come up with anything so dramatic. Pearson had been on some of these committees but dismissed their recommendations, such as acknowledgement of Aboriginal people in the preamble to the Constitution, as merely symbolic forms of recognition.

Instead, he proposed something far more substantial: a constitutionally entrenched representative body to advise the Commonwealth Parliament on behalf of all Aboriginal Australia. The concept itself did not originate in Australia, but was part of the international debate of recent decades on the status of native peoples colonized by others in the modern era. The Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway and Finland had established parliaments for the Sámi people of Lapland in the Arctic who gained powers over land and water rights as well as self-management of their institutions. Canada had also done much the same by giving the administration of its former Northwest Territories to the Inuit people, under the new state name of Nunavut. Even though the Australian situation was quite different to all these — the indigenous people of Australia were not geographically concentrated like the Sámi or Inuit people but spread across the continent, living mainly in the capital cities and large regional centres —the idea appealed to the majority of the Uluru delegates, and the Voice emerged as their principal demand.

What also originated at the time was the notion that Aboriginal communities constituted First Nations who, it was commonly claimed, had never ceded the “sovereignty” they once supposedly enjoyed before colonization by the British. The term First Nations was also borrowed, in this case from North American activists. Thanks to its repetition throughout the Uluru Statement, the notion that each small remote community constitutes a nation has now been implanted in the range of national political demands.

But what was deliberately omitted from discussion at the time was the intractable problem of the violence and chaos embedded in almost all these communities in the northern half of Australia. You don’t need to be a human rights lawyer to see that the ability of these communities to govern themselves well is non-existent. Most of them have been formed by bringing together various clans who speak different languages, have different cultural backgrounds and who now hate each other more than they ever did in past lives as nomadic hunter-gatherers or mission inhabitants.

The troubles at Aurukun are typical of these communities. The riots there are not quite as bad as the appalling violence at Wadeye in the Northern Territory, which Quadrant has detailed in recent weeks, but are not far behind. This is despite the fact that some of the loudest voices calling for more self-government via the Voice have been those in charge of the communities during their worst periods.

Noel Pearson is well qualified to speak on this topic because in the past decade he has been responsible for one of the most expensive and one of the most notorious of these failures. The Uluru Statement’s call for a “truthful relationship with the people of Australia” and “truth-telling about our history” should start with Pearson himself, who should tell all there is to know about the so-called sovereign state of Aurukun.

Aurukun is one of four communities in Cape York (including Pearson’s home town of Hope Vale) he targeted in a joint corporate/state/Commonwealth welfare reform program backed by $200 million of government funding between 2007 and 2015. Yet six years after the program began, an investigation for the Queensland government found the settlement was suffering an epidemic of violence and child sexual abuse. More than 200 children under sixteen years old, including twenty-nine under ten years old, were being treated for sexually transmitted diseases, some fifty-six times the rate of infection among the wider Queensland population.

Aurukun hit the national headlines in 2006 when a ten-year-old girl was gang raped by seven juveniles and two adult men. The case came to media attention when the trial of the men in Cairns was told they had previously raped her when she was seven years old in 2002, but Queensland child safety officers had decided to return her to Aurukun, where she was again raped by the same men.

But rather than opportunistic crimes like this that make the news media from time to time, there is a structural problem in Aurukun that embeds the violence as perpetual. The 1200 people within Aurukun Shire are culturally divided into five clan groupings: Wanam, Winchanam, Puch, Apalech, and Sara. Generational vendettas based on “payback” have regularly flared into street fights among fighting aged males from 16 and 49, armed with bows and spears. They not only target other clans but also the white employees brought into the community by Pearson’s funds.

In 2012, a surge of incidents against employees of community service agencies led to four of the agencies fleeing Aurukun. Employees targeted included nurses, building contractors, probation officers and even the head of the community “safe house”. A former school teacher said this level of violence had been going on for ten years.

In May 2016, all twenty-five members of the Aurukun teaching staff had to be evacuated from the settlement after a mob of 100 Aboriginal youths, some wielding axes and machetes, attacked the homes of several teachers and car-jacked the school principal and his wife from their vehicle. These youths did not attend school, were unemployed, and their anarchic, lawless lifestyle had caused years of unrest.

And, as noted at the start of this article, in January 2020 one quarter of the population fled the town because of another epidemic of violence that threatened them. Many are still hiding in the bush from other clans who retain their grievances against them.

Yet when Noel Pearson responded to media reports of the situation, he attributed no blame to his own efforts. He ascribed the violence to sly-grog running, illegal gambling and drug dealing, and blamed the Queensland government for not responding to his appeals for more police.

In short, like most self-governed remote communities today, Aurukun fails the most elementary test of what it takes to be a well-ordered society. It cannot provide its own security against gangs of hoodlums. Normal life can never resume while such intergenerational violence remains uncontrolled.

Yet Noel Pearson not only wants the Australian nation to grant this community equal status as a state in its own right, he also wants us to perpetuate this status through a constitutional guarantee. While he struts across the national political stage, his own people, and all the other inhabitants of this failed political experiment, are descending into bedlam. If the referendum for the Voice is successful, it will only guarantee Australia’s Aboriginal people will suffer more of the same.

22 comments
  • Michael Lodewyk

    Your comments on cedeing sovereignty hit a raw nerve with me. On Saturday I viewed a performance at the North Australian Festival of Arts at Townsville and to my shame discovered that I lack moral fibre. The show commenced with a welcome to country that included a statement to the effect that:- “Sovereignty has never been ceded. It always was and always will be, Thul Garrie Waja and Gurrummbilbarra land.”
    This statement is wrong. Queen Elizabeth is our sovereign and we live in the Sovereign State of Australia. Sovereignty may not have been ceded but it was not maintained. Posession prevails and proof of this is manifest in the acceptance of ‘manna from heaven’, welfare . I was not brave enough to shout this to the Tent top.

    • Roger Franklin

      Michael, one of the problems is that, for the most part, conservatives are polite and well-mannered. I have sat in a seething silence at the footy as a woman in possum-skin regalia and sufficiently fair-skinned not to have raised an eyebrow at a whites-only Deep South lunch counter in 1952 welcomed me to the city of Melbourne, which one side of my family has called home since 1837 and the other since 1852. Thanks, sweetheart, now stick your welcome in the dilly bag and go away.

      Given the dislocation of Aborigines from traditional lands, the herding together of different language groups and the likelihood her indigenous bloodline originated elsewhere, I should have been welcoming her.

      But I said nothing, other than a grunted ‘harrumph’, and let the charade of reconciliation-by-hectoring continue uninterrupted.

      And that is where the Left enjoys a tactical advantage. They can send out the ferals and ratbags — Blockade Australia being the latest — as frontline skirmishers. They are simultaneously rude and self-righteous, get arrested, hit with token fines and they’re back at it again. Meanwhile, the comfy, think-tanked Left Establishment plays the good cop with a line of patter that goes like this: “Yes, it disrupts everyone when they block the Harbour Tunnel/King Street Bridge, but we have to recognise their sincerity in combatting the looming climate crisis.”

      And then we get more wind turbines, Scott Morrison signs up for Net Zero, the rent-seekers get richer — and Australia takes another step down the Argentina Highway.

      Australia, best country in the world (with the most appalling political/managerial classes)

  • rosross

    Aboriginal remote communities are disasters and should be closed down. The levels of violence and child sexual abuse would see any other community dismantled in an instant.

    To promote such horrors in the name of the delusion that primitive tribal beliefs and practices could or should have a place in a civilized world, is the greatest betrayal of people, and particularly children, which could ever exist.

    Most Australians with Aboriginal ancestry are doing fine because they are fully assimilated into the modern world and have been for generations. Yes, they are also mostly more Anglo-European than Aboriginal but the key factor is that they are educated, employed and fully functioning in the modern world in ways those in remote communities are not and never will be. And in fact those fully Aboriginal or half Aboriginal also assimilated into the modern world throughout the 19th century. Only the idea that a backward way of tribal life, could, or should be preserved, has led to the scabrous misery we see in Aboriginal communities today.

    This cruel experiment with a tiny minority of Australians with Aboriginal ancestry was and no doubt still is, well-intentioned, but it is evil in outcome and should be ended.

    It is not enough to think it sounds like a good idea – it has to work and remote communities do not, never have and never will work for they trap people in backward, primitive, unenlightened tribal communities and prevent them from assimilating into the modern world.

  • NFriar

    @RosRoss very well elucidated.

    Yet the Premier of NSW thinks that the $25million to put a new flag pole on Sydney Harbour bridge – and now earmarked to ‘close the gap initiatives’ is going to fix this!!

    Pouring water into a sieve!

  • rosross

    @NFriar,

    Because they are putting the focus on ‘winning hearts and minds,’ or so they think, doing the easy stuff instead of actually solving the problems.

  • wdr

    The problem is that the remote Aboriginal communities are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest big city, with their employment and educational opportunities. Even if our parliaments enact twenty new laws to benefit the Aborigines, they will still be hundreds of kilometres from the nearest big city. As Keith points out, that is the problem that no one is addressing.

  • rosross

    @wdr,

    Remote communities were an insane idea from very well-intentioned but deluded non-Aboriginal people. To which of course Aborigines said yes – who would not when someone offers to build you a town – and where each community, with modern facilities, cost between $300 and $500,000 to construct.

    Returning them to country was supposedly, going to solve all problems even though country had been left behind two centuries before as the modern world created Australia. But, ‘build it and they will come’ was the mantra and they did and now we see the horrors and misery constructed. Unfortunately as the Aboriginal mythology has become more powerful and more profitable, no-one in politics has the guts to do what needs to be done. Get rid of these communities, return it all to ‘greenfields’ and set up systems to integrate the people in those communities into the modern world. And all that can happen while pigs fly and unicorns munch in our paddocks.

  • geoff_brown1

    rosross, Some years ago, the Western Australian Liberal government of Colin Barnett proposed closing down some of the more dysfunctional of those communities. The “Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance” played the race card loudly and often, closing down the CBD of Melbourne in protest. I doubt that any of said “Warriors” had ever set foot in one of those communities.

  • Michael

    A constitutionally enshrined right, based on a person’s ancestry, enshrined in the Constitution of Australia, is the most backward, regressive, ill-conceived, and wrong-in-principle proposal ever to be proposed to the Australian people.

  • Peter Marriott

    As I see it the heart of the problem is in the politics and the political will, and the power struggle that seems to be going on within, not only here, but in the US and England as well. The conservative liberal cold war alliance concocted to combat the Soviets is no longer needed, or good as Chinese Communism is not the same. Conservatives should become genuine national conservatives again and let the liberals be the international liberals they seem to want to be. The socialism of yesterday is not the same as the new racialist neo-Marxism that is seizing power throughout the English speaking world. It’s this new neo-Marxism using race as a weapon that has to have it’s teeth pulled. How to do it I don’t know, but a start would certainly be to recognise it for what it is….a very rotten tooth… or teeth ?

  • rachaelkohn

    It seems the establishment in Australia is willingly conceding its sovereignty to Aboriginal ‘nations’ , the names of which they wouldn’t know, in every cultural event, every bit of company letterhead, that now begins or contains the acknowledgment to county. It is a shocking abdication of a sovereign nation, Australia, before the forces of cancel culture.

  • rosross

    @geoff_brown1,

    Yes and some of those ‘communities’ had barely six people living in them. I remember it all.

  • john.singer

    The problem starts with the absurd notion (possibly based on the fictional works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the concept of the “Noble Savage” attributed to him). The Aboriginal people were not benign friendly people by nature and they fiercely defended their hunting grounds and peace was maintained by distance. It has been proven that the most peaceful of individuals when crowded together with strangers with a shortage of necessities will resort to violence.

    The concept that you can herd rival clans onto one settlement without an outside authority, then give them food, idleness and sit-down money and not expect violence and drug-dependency to erupt is the height of lunacy. To then claim this is preserving the longest continuing civilization in the world compounds that lunacy.

    The drive to enshrine the “Voice” into the Constitution would only magnify the problem and not solve any of the miseries arising in the self-governing remote settlements.

  • Michael Waugh

    I think Patrick McCauley made the point in his 2007 Wadeye article, recently re-published, that the present generation of students are abysmally ignorant and go to their comparatively well-educated grandparents to, say, read a government form. The discipline of the old missionary schools not only helped the miscreants to knuckle down and learn, but allowed those who wanted to learn to do so. Pearson obviously received a good education. He surely sees its value. McCauley thought the “progressive” attitudes of the teachers adopting the dishonest anti-white civilisation views promoted by the ABC were a major reason for the ignorance and aggression and dysfunction of the youth. The description of the horrors in Wadeye and Aurukun are unimaginable, but there is plenty of disquiet about the lack of discipline and learning in schools generally. When did we decide that youth no longer required discipline to knuckle down and gain essential knowledge , including respect for others ?

  • Clive Bond

    In the 1950s and 60s I served in the RAAF with two Aboriginal men and a woman. One man was a carpenter, the other an aircraft mechanic. The woman worked in the office. These were all responsible positions and they got them and the required training because they went to school. I went to Wellington with the mechanic when we were on leave. We stayed at his parent’s house and I met his brother and sister who were also going to school and who later got jobs. This was a prime example of how parent’s responsibility sets children up for a productive life. The parents must set the example and when they do the children do not rum wild and cause mayhem in their community.

  • Searcher

    Keith Windschuttle is a great leader to help save the nation, and to provide true help and protection for the aborigines and part-aborigines who suffer from the Coombs–Whitlam and suchlike ravages.

  • lajos.halmos

    I agree with most comments. All young people in Australia should have at least the basic education. If the teachers are “competent ” and interesting the way they presenting the subject even ” Mets ” can be interesting. The first thing which missing from the class room is ” Respect ” to the teacher. Why is it missing? Most children trough the past 50 + years not thought at home the proper behavior & respect for there parents and other’s. This is the case today for white & back. It all starts at home. Fifty /sixty years ago you go to school and the teacher was above all. He had the first & last world. Himself & his knowledge was respected. Hi was called ” Mister ” the ladies Mam. You spoke when you asked. Otherwise have boat of your ears wide open and concentrate to gain and retain us much as possible. We did not call the teacher Jeck or Fred. Today you don’t learn disiplen, love of knowledge, respect for the older people & authority.
    Most of the problems get multiplied by the TV & Radio programs. A young person can’t learn a thing from it
    I vas a teacher in industry. My students learned and got a life time education ” secure jobs”
    I vas teaching my own work force & they thank’t me for it. Today to much other subjects “time wasting”
    We trained a boy / girl in two years. better. Then leisurely in 4 years. Unfortunately the so called leaders lost the plot. In all aria. They want to be everybody’s friend but you CANT please everyone.

  • Patrick McCauley

    The problem of discipline and self discipline – across the spectrum of western democracies – is intimately related to fatherlessness – “fatherhunger” fills the jails and the detox centres more than any other sickness – it is being fuelled by feminist politics/ The family Law Courts/ hatred of maleness and a completely over funded and fake news driven -‘Violence Against Women Campaign’. Two generations of over mothered – under fathered children – both black and white.

  • whitelaughter

    Excellent article.
    Excellent comments.
    And Those Who Know Better Than The Peasants(TM) will continue to ignore this.
    And people die.

  • STD

    Thanks to the investigative Journos from the left wing think tank at their ABC.

  • 27hugo27

    A “Tragedy affecting the entire country”? I beg to differ. The only tragedy is the colossal waste of taxpayer money literally going down a black hole to apologists, propagandists and rent seekers on an unfixable problem.How many readers here really think we can civilise the indigenous? And they want to be our landlords. Nothing will change and the transfer of our hard earned money will continue apace.

  • simonbenson65

    Aboriginal people have suffered abuses at the hands of whites and their own people. Aboriginal violence towards their own, including children, continues. But what of other peoples in Australia who have suffered too? Do they get to have a ‘voice’ to the Parliament too? The Jews for example are of course the single most persecuted people group in history. No other race has been stateless for nearly 1,900 years (70AD-1948). No other race has suffered progroms and targeted industrial scale massacre like the Jews in a series of holocausts, including 12th century England. Several hundred thousand Jews call Australia home according to the Census. The Jews are by and large hard-working people who do not call on the government for welfare or handouts nor for a voice to the Parliament. It is outrageous that Australians are ‘buying’ a proposed amendment to our Constitution based on race. In the scheme of human suffering, Aboriginal Australians are not more deserving that Jewish Australians. It is high time we widened the call for a ‘voice’ to the Parliament to include other people groups other than Aboriginal Australians or abandon the whole idea for what it is: making a special case for one racial group when the justification for a ‘voice’ to the Parliament on behalf of another racial group, who are, on any view of history, far more deserving, is overwhelming. This highlights the fallacy of the proposed ‘voice’ when our Constitution is designed to enshrine ‘good government’ and equality before the law for all Australians.

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