Reframing the Debate in Aboriginal Affairs

Integration works. Just ask the vast majority of Aborigines who have integrated into the modern Australia. They read, write, and speak English, they have jobs, they pay taxes, they vote, and they support their families. Anything else is not a matter for public policy, although, of course, they are free to make their voices heard on any matter of public policy.

By contrast, elements of Aboriginal culture that prevent integration are a burden. The Aboriginal industry, those people who are tutored to promote Aboriginal culture, almost always undefined, stand in the way of successful integration. If the goal is to support Aboriginal culture the result will be precisely the same as it has been for generations. Those who escape culture succeed. Those Aborigines who remain captive find culture a burden.

The industry has to come clean on culture – payback, humbugging, sorcery, and violence. These are present among Aborigines who live in remote places, especially discrete Aboriginal communities on Aboriginal land. These people are the poster children of the industry. City academics need these poor souls to justify their city voices, and their jobs.

The way to re-frame the debate in Aboriginal affairs is to make integration the explicit goal. Where Aboriginal identity clashes with integration it must be challenged. Lives depend on it. Aborigines trapped by identity politics need an exit strategy.

The first step in the exit strategy is to distinguish policies from strategy. Policies for education, health and employment that swim against the tide of history are likely to fail. Policies for education, health and employment that swim with the tide of history are far more likely to succeed. Two prime examples are the advertisements in 1952 for scholarships for Aboriginal boys to Sydney University, and the present-day nearly empty pre-school centre on Croker Island, Northern Territory. The 1952 scholarship program shows Australian society has been open and encouraging for Aborigines for several generations. Most Aborigines have succeeded in adapting to that society. Unfortunately, as the Croker Island pre-school illustrates, some have not. They refuse to participate. The last fifty years have seen policy failure because of a refusal to acknowledge that some behaviours are not consistent with establishing the foundation for a good life.

As Thomas Sowell has observed, ‘While it is possible to hire teachers and buy books, it is not possible to purchase a cultural past that will prepare and orient all people toward the acquisition of the skills, habits and attitudes that are decisive for human capital.’

Aboriginal colonisation, the attempt to engineer a reverse takeover of Australia through a language of untouchability, reconciliation, spirituality, recognition and acknowledgment, does not address the needs of the minority of Aborigines, perhaps 20 per cent of the Aboriginal population, who are living in despair. They have been asked to build a New Jerusalem with depleted human capital on poor lands and with ancient political and cultural habits. This captive minority needs to reach out, literally, but their leaders are preventing them from doing so. The Aboriginal industry aims to isolate their captives more than 230 years after the rest of the world discovered Australia and changed it forever. This is a cruel neo-colonial endeavour as destructive as the colonial endeavour, but without the payoff of a better life. The industry hides the bigger truth – that most Aborigines have integrated.

There are numerous parts of the reframing strategy. Here are four:

First, pull down the charade that there are large numbers of Aborigines in Australia. The only growth in Aboriginal numbers is from city Aborigines who tick the box. The main strategy to oppose recognition is to stop ticking the box. Do not fill out any form that asks, ‘Are you Aboriginal?’ Whether the Census or a hospital surgery, or a government benefit, do not identify. Why play the game? It is an insult that anyone should be asked for their background.

Second, acknowledgments (and Welcomes to Country) which are fashionable in the cities, must stop. Before the next unthinking speaker reaches for their little slip of paper to read out an acknowledgment, they should consider the following. The recognition of ‘emerging leaders’ or ‘emerging elders’ is a contrivance in a ‘gerontocracy’ that even Aborigines do not like.  Related, not all elders are really elders. They are most likely people who pushed to the front in the politics of government preferment for Aboriginal organisations. Just as the rest of society chooses its leaders from among egoists, there is nothing particularly elder or impliedly ‘spiritual’ about it, as the Victorian government found to its dismay when looking for elders to consult in its treaty process.

Great weight is placed on traditional owners in some contexts, and elders in others. Traditional owners are a small subset of the Aboriginal population. Should elders be drawn only from the pool of traditional owners? If not a ‘traditional owner’, is the Aborigine a ‘project’ Aborigine – signed up for the project, or used for preferment in a contract bid, an ‘historical’ Aborigine – with memories from mission stations, or a ‘tick-the-box’ Aborigine – emotional identifiers with few connections to culture? Aborigines crossing into another tribe’s territory commenced a negotiation that may have started by offering women for use and ended in warfare or commenced with a deadly raiding party. Not all welcomes are the peace-and-love kind, the latter-day versions are part of the mythology of the noble savage, and they deliberately cover up the savage.

Third, on May 27, 1967, at a Commonwealth Referendum, Australians assured Aborigines that they would be counted and treated as equals. The anniversary of this day is an important marker on the road to equality, but contradicts the messages of Stolen Generations, or deaths in custody, or NAIDOC week, or national ATSI children’s day, or international day, which are anything but markers of equality. To the industry it matters not, the more chances to beat the drum the better. The list of commemorations is a testament to unresolved directions in Aboriginal policy – separation from modernity and acceptance of it.

None of the argument in my book, The Burden of Culture, disagrees with John Hirst’s observation in his 2006 essay ‘How Sorry Can We Be?’ of the liberal fantasy that dispossession could be achieved without bloodshed. A peaceful relinquishment of land may have been preferable, but that would have diminished Aborigines’ attachment to land, which was no doubt strong. Wishing it were different does not change history. To achieve the nation that was unachievable in Aboriginal hands, and to arrive at a form of reconciliation whereby all are regarded as equal, is surely the crowning glory. Any less would be unacceptable, any more would be fantasy. The best day to resolve these differences and to unite around one day, with all its emotions, is May 27, when the journey to equal citizenship was formally commenced.

Fourth, intermarriage has been a significant theme of the adjustment of Aborigines to their new world since 1788. There is no greater measure of reconciliation between two races than that people choose to share their lives. The intermarriage rate in Australia between Aborigines and non-Aborigines is very high. Aborigines in Victoria marry outside of their community in very high numbers – 82 per cent for men and women in Melbourne and 72 per cent for men and 75 per cent for women elsewhere in Victoria. Across Australia, almost 60 per cent of partners involving an Aborigine are with a non-Aborigine. It seems that deeply ingrained prejudices can be overcome when people are looking for life partners.

The white missionary Ethel Reeves (nee Gribble) married Fred Wondunna, a trainee preacher and Badjala man of Fraser Island, on December 30, 1907. This day should be declared a celebration of reconciliation and known as Intermarriage Day, as intermarriage is after all the most common form of relations between black and white in Australia. Much more common than a death in custody or a stint in jail.

On May 26, 2021, three Aboriginal leaders received the Sydney Peace Prize on behalf of those who drafted the Uluru Statement from the Heart: Noel Pearson, Megan Davis and Pat Anderson. Each speaks, reads and writes English, lives in a city, or is employed in a city and more than fully engages in public life, with their articulate voices. Similarly, there are eleven members of the Commonwealth Parliament and twenty-two members of parliaments in Australia of Aboriginal descent. There are many Aboriginal voices. Few speak an Aboriginal language, and all read, write and speak English. Each has a story that would inspire a child presently trapped in a remote settlement or in a regional centre who struggles to be free from foul relations and people behaving badly. These successful integrators made it without the extensive agenda promulgated by the industry. Indeed, as the agenda grows, it becomes less likely that a child will break free.

Gary Johns newly published The Burden of Culture, from which the above is excerpted, can be ordered here.

30 thoughts on “Reframing the Debate in Aboriginal Affairs

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Great and concise article Gary. Ordered your book yesterday and looking forward to reading it.

  • Michael says:

    Well said again, Gary. I read your earlier book Aboriginal Self-Setermination : The Whiteman’s Dream and look forward to reading this one too.

    The only way to ‘close the gap’ is to let go of dysfunctional ‘culture’.

  • john.singer says:

    And what a brilliant exerpt it is.

    Let us just examine one word HUMBUGGING. “Humbugging” is an Aboriginal term used in the Kimberley to describe when someone demands. money that belongs to someone else with no intention of repaying it. ‘Resource-sharing’ is a cultural practice commonly seen among Aboriginal people. However, “humbugging” usually has a negative connotation. Yes it means to demand your share of the “tribal” resource.

    However, the “Aboriginal Industry” loves to adopt meaning and practices from the United States wher Humbugging means “You can refer to a person as a humbug when you think they are being dishonest, insincere, or pretending to be someone who they are not.” Phineaus T Barnam was known as a great Humbug (liar and cheat).

    The City elites who control the “Aboriginal Industry” behave like Oscar Wilde’s “Importance of being Earnest” They American Humbug when ever they get a platform while (most) not ever sharing the proceeds with the Aboriginal tribe to which they claim to belong.

    By 1967 90% of Australians recognised all Aboriginal People as “one of us” just as they had recognised French, Latvian, Greek, Hungarian, Estonian Chinese, and former enemies German, Italian, Japanese, Russian etc as “one of us” when they chose to live like one of us.

    More than 20% of us where born overses (nor one of us) but came here and became “One of Us” let us not throw that away on a false narrative.

  • Tony Tea says:

    You’re only allowed to use “aborigine” if you are on the right side of the debate, Gary. That is to say, the left side. Righties get in trouble; lefties get a pass.

    • Tony Tea says:

      Oh, and there are those who say “Only right wingers say ‘aborigine’.”

      • NarelleG says:

        @Tony Tea

        So it is up to us to resist.
        You and I.
        Just as Gary has done.

        Except – I use ‘A’borigine as a noun and ‘aboriginal’ as an adjective.
        I write ‘aboriginal land’ or ‘aboriginal cave art.’

        So I really cop it on sm – but I will not be bullied from correct grammar.
        Nor historical fact.

        • lhackett01 says:

          Absolutely correct, Narelle. I speak the same way. I never refer to Aborigines as ‘First Nations People’ because Aborigines never had a nation of nations in the real sense and which of today’s Aborigines are descendent from which of the at least three waves of early Australian immigrants. Anthropologists Tindale and Birdsell (1941) found three ethnic elements in the Australian aborigines, which they called Southern, Northern and Tasmanoid. Later,the first two were renamed Murrayan and Carpentarian, and the last, Berrineans. Tindale and Birdsell reported what they saw. Later anthropologists tended to discredit their findings perhaps because political correctness had become prevalent.
          You may be interested to read about this and much more in my Paper, “Aborigines, the Constitution and the Voice” at https://www.scribd.com/document/458064355/.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    And only ignorant fools and blatant liars say “First Nations”.

    • DougD says:

      No. using “First Nations” is not foolish. It’s a deliberate attempt to con the population into thinking that the activists claiming to be survivors of the 500 or so separate tribes that were spread over the continent in 1788 are members of separate groups that each have the status of a “nation” in international law and so can make treaties with the Australian nation state.

  • rosross says:

    Excellent article Gary.

    What is not addressed is that what is called Aboriginal culture is the hybrid remnants of primitive, backward, misogynistic, violent, tribal stone-age culture which has no place in a modern world, a Western democratic culture.

    The choice is between backward stone-age tribal and the modern world. Those who encourage remaining in the former are dooming children to death, suffering and misery.

    Those few Australians with Aboriginal ancestry still struggling are only doing so because they remain trapped in the dregs and dross of a stone-age tribal culture. Those who have succeeded have assimilated into the modern world and their lives and outcomes are no different to other Australians.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    I lived for a while in a suburban street opposite a row of government houses, a few of which were rented out unfurnished to Aborigines. An Aboriginal woman, her mother and her children moved in and lived in the house opposite my own. They were very neat and tidy, the kids went regularly to the local primary school, and all was fine.
    Then the menfolk of the tribe or skin-group arrived. Soon enough, there were grog parties, drunken brawling and damage to the house (windows smashed, a fibro wall kicked in) and empty bottles and other rubbish scattered all around it. The women lost their tenancy, and the last I saw was a truck loaded with the remains of their furniture, some clothing, kids’ toys and so on getting ready to depart.
    I asked the driver: “Where are you taking all of that?” He replied: “To the tip of course. Where else?”
    Which has led me to the conclusion that taxpayer support of Aborigines should be focused on Aboriginal women if it is to have the best and most long-term effect.

  • Alistair says:

    As long as the “Industry” seeks to achieve the polar-opposite objectives of “Closing the Gap” and “Preserving Culture” progress is impossible. The two objectives cannot be achieved simultaneously. They are mutuially exclusive. Any advance in one direction will be at the expense of the other. Only our elites in the “Industry” with access to unlimited government funds will see any point in allocating millions (billions) to Closing the Gap while allocating more millions (billions) for Preserving Culture. – because they can take their cut out of each, safe in the knowledge that but pursuing both objectives they will never be putting themselves out of a job.

  • rosross says:

    The Gap exists because they are preserving backward, primitive cultures. All humans once lived in such primitive tribal cultures but most moved on. These remote communities should be closed down and parents should be fined if their children do not go to school.

    • lbloveday says:

      A problem with fining such parents can be the less disposable money may lead to even more neglect of essentials for the children.

    • geoff_brown1 says:

      How do you deal with the mindset where parents won’t send their children to school for fear of “losing their culture?”

      • rosross says:

        What culture? Violence, abuse, addiction, illiteracy? Some culture.

        I do not believe that is why they do not send children to school. In the 19th century many Aboriginal parents, real ones, made a point of ensuring their children were educated by Missions. They were living traditional culture and many saw the importance of education.

        Today kids do not go to school for the same reason they wander the streets at night – the parents do not care and/or are too drugged or drunk to know.

  • Macspee says:

    rosross, you’re spot on. Best example- the clans of Scotland that eventually moved on to conquer the world with their engineers, philosophers, and lawyers. They had to fight the English and made it (but now those who think life in the 17th century was the best are hell bent on destroying everything in the search for woke and its benefits).

    • rosross says:

      And the British/English were colonised a dozen times and managed to get over it and make something of themselves. The vast majority of Australians with Aboriginal ancestry are doing fine because they are assimilated into the modern world and have been for generations.

      This idiotic veneration of people sitting in the dirt pretending to live traditional lives while fully funded and set up with power, water, facilities and homes is ridiculous and destructive to those who live it.

  • lbloveday says:

    Excellent article by Chris Mitchell 31/10 in The Australian (pay-walled, but The Australian allows multiple log-ons – I tested it by logging on 100 times simultaneously a while back, so a group could subscribe for cents each).
    I particularly liked this comment:
    “Every time I hear the obligatory acknowledgment of traditional owners with respect to leaders past present and emerging I feel ashamed that we pretend to respect a group that has such horrific and tragic internal cultural issues”.

  • ianerskine says:

    Just started reading, the format supported by evidence is great well done Gary. Suggestion can this be turned into a “Pod Cast” as every Australian needs to be made aware of what is actually happening to our Country.

    Our country yes “Our Country” lets not allow the Minority “Elite” and the Corrupt Political class take over “Our Country” Time to stand up Australia the NSW Government has just handed over another Parcel of land this time near Newcastle this is on top of the National Parks in our State. Gary your book rings the alarm bells and is a must read.

    My late father Tom fought in the 2nd world war as as his son I am a truly proud Australian this book ensures the facts are put out there and again totally debunks the notion of the Voice. Together it is time ti fight as if not our “Freedoms” will be further eroded.

    I would love to see this made into a series of Pod Casts and released to the Wider Community, Yes I would expect it to be censored or even forced not to be allowed to be published, as we know what Face Book did with the IPA presentation on the Voice it was removed.

    Consider this we have allowed those in “Big Tec, Elites and Corrupt Politicians” in this country “Australia” to prevent one of our elected Politicians Jacinta Price to be heard, Damn them this is my Country and now its time for us all to stand and fight for our freedoms.

    Well done Gary you are a wonderful Australian, my late dad would be truly proud of you as I am cheers from Erko.

  • Michael Waugh says:

    Prior to 1972 was there not a policy of “Assimilation” ? My recollection is that by 1972 or shortly thereafter it was thought “assimilation” was racist because it assumed the western dominant culture was superior. Hence the prevailing policy was renamed “Self-determination”. Under this policy numerous Aboriginal bodies were set up which were controlled by Aboriginal people and funded by the tax payer (and I suspect came under the control of radical activists, largely young and silly or worse). Over the 50 or so years since then there has been a deterioration in Aboriginal living standards in remote communities because of the idea that “self-determination” is the correct policy and it is the antithesis of “assimilation”. I have no doubt that the ordinary sensible citizen would agree wholeheartedly that all citizens need to have a proper modern (best not to say “western”) education. I would be astonished if Senator Price did not agree. The so-called policy of “self-determination” has failed. It is time to return to the sensible policy of “assimilation” ( or call it “integration”). And emphasise the points made by Dr Johns above : the overwhelming rates of intermarriage and the overwhelming success of the large majority of Aborigines with modern education and modern jobs and that they regard themselves as Australians and have no truck with modern racist desires of the so-called “left” to promote racial divisions.

    • rosross says:

      The British had a policy of assimilation throughout the 19th century, as did the Missionaries. However, it was optional and those who opted to remain in a tribal lifestyle came under different regulations and were supported in their choice.

      The British considered someone half Aboriginal and half European, to be European, unless they chose to remain in a tribal lifestyle. They did continue to provide support for quarter and eighth-caste but their view was that Aborigines should join the then modern world and become self-sufficient. This is why we spend millions today trying to help people in less developed countries do the same.

      Assimilation was encouraged but it was not forced.

      When people talk about reconciliation they are ignoring the most powerful evidence for reconciliation, intermarriage across more than two centuries at very, very high rates.

    • rosross says:

      Self-determination on welfare with everything provided by Government determines only misery and dysfunction for Self.

  • Clive Bond says:

    I am Indiginous. I was born here and my parents were born here. Why does the ABC continually refer to them as Indiginous ?

  • Daffy says:

    @Ian MacDougall. I concur. I’ve worked with a number of Aboriginal organisations over the years and must say, generally it is the women who are the bright sparks. Dedicated, usually wise, always canny…but fair and good to work with. Some men were too; but I was struck by the preponderance of good thinkers and doers amongst the women-folk.

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