Bennelong Papers

What if?

Driving from Melbourne to Goondiwindi, the shortest way is via the Newell Highway. Upon reaching Goondiwindi the highway turns sharply to the right towards Brisbane. Before one gets to Goondiwindi, however, one has to drive through a little town with a predominantly Aboriginal population called Boggabilla. These two towns are separated by the MacIntyre River and about ten kilometres of highway.

Goondiwindi is a prosperous farming town of approximately 6000 people, with the main street filled with shops and pubs, hairdressers, cinema, shire office, and well-dressed, friendly people. There is a well-functioning medical centre and a hospital, which serves the local community, both black and white, with dedication and distinction. The streets are clean, lawns are irrigated and green, and flowers bloom in front of houses. Kids are not on the streets during school hours—they are at school.

This picture is a welcome relief from the depressing scene in Boggabilla. During the drive through Boggabilla one cannot help noticing dilapidated houses, mostly unpainted, with backyards littered with rusty car hulks, old tyres, engine blocks; houses are and idle men, sitting in front of their houses, drink beer or simply stare into nowhere. The unpaved roads and pathways are populated by very young women, pushing prams, looking aimlessly around. Older kids run around on the streets during school hours and the only pub in town is called the Wobbly Boot. Several years ago, Boggabilla was rocked by a scandal, aired nationally by the ABC, about Aboriginal girls, some as young as thirteen, trading sex for cigarettes, alcohol and sweets at the nearby overnight truck stop. The most shocking revelation was that some of them were plying this obscene trade with the full knowledge of their families. The level of violence in Boggabilla is so high that the police regard a posting there as a punishment.

When I worked in Goondiwindi, I thought of Boggabilla (“Bogga” in local parlance), as a Gaza Strip. Of course, there is no dividing fence; there are no suicide bombers and no rockets falling on Goondiwindi from Boggabilla. However, the underlying resentment is there. The thinly disguised racial prejudice and even hatred towards Goondiwindi is there. The overall conviction that the “Gubba” (white) town is occupied Aboriginal territory is there. The openly expressed jealousy and envy are there. The unique culture of dependence and reliance on services and handouts from the hated enemy is there. Except for the missing warfare, the relationship between these two towns is eerily similar to the animosity between Israel and Gaza.

Now, let’s imagine a purely hypothetical scenario: an arc of instability surrounding Australia includes a country the leadership of which has a grudge against Australia. This leader finds a militant Aborigine and supplies him with an appropriately large sum of money (derived from Australian aid) to start an insurrection. Soon, a town called, say, Plondiquandy, somewhere in the Northern Territory, is targeted by insurgents, and crude rockets start falling on it, driving the entire population of 800 people to a hastily arranged shelter. At the same time, a PR campaign by respected academics, black and white, is launched. Its aims are well formulated and easy to understand:

  • They proclaim that it is, was and always will be Aboriginal land
  • They demand a two-state solution
  • They demand the treaty between an Aboriginal and an Australian government
  • They demand compensation for dispossession they say they have suffered
  • They demand that those not born in Australia should go back where they came from
  • They demand rent for living on a land which, according to the prevailing orthodoxy, does not belong to the Australian people

 The rocket attack on the civilian population of Plondiquandy elicits a prompt response from the ADF and the AFP. It includes confiscation of arms and ammunition. Perpetrators are arrested and imprisoned for three months. Their families are threatened with eviction from Housing Commission houses and possible suspension of their welfare payments for two weeks. The progressive community of Australia and Europe decry these Australian government actions as disproportionate and demand Australian withdrawal from occupied territories. ADF and AFP officers taking part in these arrests are reprimanded and demoted for applying excessive and disproportionate force, as evidenced by the dishevelled hair and scratched wrists of all those apprehended. The charge of terrorism is rejected as too harsh and not reflecting the root causes of the crime. The inhabitants of Plondiquandy, afraid of further bombardments, are permanently living under the black stump in the meantime.

Those charged with and imprisoned for attempted criminal damage to communal property are indoctrinated by imprisoned Muslim radicals and convert to Islam in prison. After indoctrination, they change the concept of urban warfare and introduce a new weapon—the stoned taxi driver. One day Melbourne taxi drivers get stoned on hashish and use their taxis as weapons, aiming at the old ladies walking their pooches and young couples crossing the road holding hands. Several pooches get squashed and three young men, scared for their lives, propose to their ladies. Their proposals are enthusiastically accepted. One of the ladies kisses the driver. Drivers explain afterwards that dogs are unclean and holding hands is against the precepts of sharia laws, therefore both offend their religious sensibilities. The state government suspends the licences of the drivers involved. The media is outraged, accusing the government of Islamophobia, racism, climate change denial and pandering to the Jewish lobby. The inhabitants of Plondiquandy are still living under the black stump. The ADF is forbidden to take out the well-known places of rocket launchers for the fear of offending our Muslim neighbour, the UN and the Security Council, the seat on which is a coveted prize for Australia.

In the meantime, Indonesia, learning that the majority of insurgents are converted Muslims, is declaring its displeasure with the “inhuman treatment of Muslims in Australia” and withdraws from the illegal boat arrival prevention program. From now on, all illegal boat arrivals into Australian territorial waters are the responsibility of the Australian Navy, which has totally inadequate resources to deal with them all. The Australian government has no choice but to go back to John Howard policies and re-introduces mandatory detention. This decision triggers an outcry by Amnesty International, Oxfam, World Vision, Care Australia, Uniting, Anglican and other churches, together with the AMA, Colleges of Psychiatrists, GPs, and many others. Indonesia, Fiji, Tonga, Micro and Macronesia, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Libya, China and Monaco all urge the UN Security Council as well as UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution, condemning Australia’s unilateral, irresponsible, heavy-handed and disproportional response to the meagre 3678 rockets which have fallen so far on Plondiquandy. Signatories to this protest have pointed out that there were no fatalities as a result of the rocket attacks and, in any case, the shelter under the black stump is adequately equipped with a toilet and a tap. Authors of the UN resolution have all warned Australia not to attempt an armed response, risking international ostracism and sanctions on its chocolate franchises overseas.

The Australian government, desperate to be seen to be doing something constructive, decides to withdraw the welfare payments from the known perpetrators of the rocket attacks for another week and to deport the most active of them. Some are sent to Adelaide to wilt from boredom there and the rest to Tasmania, where, being black, they aren’t recognised as Aboriginal by the locals. After a marathon session of the cabinet, the decision to use the weapon of the last resort is reluctantly taken. It is resolved that a well-resourced group of social workers, equipped with the life-changing skills of basket-weaving and origami pattern-making, will be sent in. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, will be addressing the root causes of the insurrection. A reserve force of psychotherapists and life coaches is waiting in the C-130 Hercules aircraft, oiling and polishing the ultimate weapon in the fight against terrorism, repeating the magic formula in anxious whispers to themselves: “And how does it make you feel?”

All in all, the outcome is acceptable to everyone, in Australia as well as overseas, as being eminently humane, effective and low-key, except disappointed academics who did not get citizenship of the People’s Republic of Aboriginia, and the people of Plondiquandy, still living under the black stump.

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