Bennelong Papers

The Cure for Aboriginal Grievance Syndrome

The original inhabitants of Australia were dispossessed of their land and way of life by British colonists. No fair-minded, intelligent Australian of whatever extraction would dispute that assertion, although attitudes concerning the morality of it, or the lack thereof, vary widely. Nevertheless, it is grossly dishonest to pass judgement according to current standards and values on events of two centuries ago. Had Captain Cook not claimed Australia for George III, then French, Dutch or other explorers would most certainly have claimed it for their own kings. That is indisputable by any reasonable standard. It must be noted here that the attitude and conduct of British authorities towards colonised peoples are widely acknowledged to have been far more benevolent than those of other colonising nations.

The preposterous condemnation of events of a bygone era according to prevailing criteria is exacerbated beyond all reason by assigning the hurt and blame to descendants of the original participants, now many generations removed. Not only is this attitude unforgivable due to the glaring injustice to those held culpable in perpetuity, it is also the principal reason why the majority of contemporary Aboriginals continue to suffer the effects of colonisation centuries after it occurred.

Australian society at large can not be accused by any measure of uncaring hardheartedness toward the conditions and circumstances of the descendants of the original inhabitants. Undeniably, the attitudes and actions of colonists, at both individual and government levels, were at times reprehensible, even cruel. Regrettable as those failings were, considering the frailty of human nature, they were all but unavoidable. Those early stains amount to naught compared with the abundance of goodwill towards Aboriginals right from the beginning, rising to ever greater heights over recent decades.

Program after program has been established to improve Aborigines’ lot, costing many billions of dollars over the years. Some were partly or wholly run by Aboriginals for Aboriginals. Some achieved some benefits, but most failed completely. The result to date? Apart from assimilated Aborigines who live their lives much the same as most non-Aboriginals, the lot of the rest has steadfastly failed to improve. Why this complete and never-ending failure? The answer is staring us in the face: the key to the solution is in the hands of the activists, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. What follows is addressed to them.

The foundation to eliminating the disadvantages plaguing contemporary Australian Aboriginals is the full and uncompromising acceptance that the continent was colonised – accepting it without extolling romantic myths and quixotic endeavours to reverse that long-ago, unalterable occurrence. Rephrasing that in the colloquial: get over it. Failing to do so is irrational — indeed, it is insanity — and does great harm to those whom it supposed to help.

Relinquish the notion that it is the responsibility of present day non-Aboriginal Australians to remedy the adverse effects of British colonisation. Such remediation is an impossibility by any and all means due to the utter falsity of the premise on which it is based. It is in the realm of fantasy, together with the concept of a time machine, which would be the piece of essential equipment for its implementation.

Abandon the notion that Australian Aboriginals are entitled to exclusive and perpetual rights and privileges on account of their ancestors living here before white colonists’ arrival. There is neither logical nor moral justification for that stance. Most importantly, it normalises the intolerable concept of there being different classes of Australians with different rights and privileges. That is a malignant cancer eating away at Australian society, rendering truly harmonious coexistence impossible  so long as that mindset prevails.

Cease the glorification and incessant promotion of Aboriginal culture, much of it confected. It is obvious that the culture was perfectly suitable for the life of Aborigines up to the First Fleet sailing into Botany Bay, but what is presented today is a grotesque caricature which fuels a quiet resentment in many non-Aboriginal Australians. The ubiquitous “welcome to country” opening dialogues at almost all public events, usually delivered by professional spruikers for a set fee, are utterly meaningless for most audiences. Smoking ceremonies, performed for fees of up to $8000, are redolent with irony. Is it not bizarre that self-proclaimed atheist social justice warriors, who routinely ridicule Christianity, attend with reverence these celebrations of animism? Worst of all, the relentless exaltation of Aboriginal culture fosters a disproportionate sense of social importance in Aboriginal Australians as distinct from other Australians, enhancing their feeling of entitlement to the benefits and privileges available to them. Their sense of righteous victimhood is also fostered by it. That is hardly the recipe for social harmony. It is also very likely that people with only a smidgen of Aboriginal blood are further motivated by it to flaunt their Aboriginality in order to enhance their eligibility for the advantages that come with the distinction. 

How, then, might we begin to solve the problems afflicting Aborigines. The example of how immigrants to Australia coped with leaving their ancestral lands and cultures in order to join our society is well worth considering. Italians, Greeks and numerous other nationalities established clubs based on the culture of their old countries. Historical commemorations, annual balls, literary events and the like were organised; there were language and religious classes for youngsters whose parents their old culture and heritage. But in everyday life they are mostly regular Australians. Their cuisine might be largely from their native culture, but they are grateful to their adopted country for the opportunity of a better lives. There is no reason why Aboriginals could not successfully emulate that example by creating Aboriginal clubs in cities and towns where there might be sufficient numbers of them to make it viable. The Australian government could be counted on to enthusiastically and generously support the idea which would provide unlimited opportunity for Aboriginals to practice their culture to their hearts’ content without imposing it on the general public. Non-Aboriginals wishing to widen their acquaintance with that culture could attend club events to indulge their interest. Such an arrangement ought to satisfy all legitimate cultural needs of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

A little more needs to be said about those immigrant clubs. They were established following the arrival of a significant number of immigrants from particular countries and endured in proportion to the volume of additional people arriving from the same countries. In the absence of such continuity, most of the clubs diminished or disappeared altogether after the dying out of the first and perhaps the second generation of immigrants. In other words, succeeding generations of immigrants, left to their own devices, usually assimilate seamlessly into Australian society without a pang of yearning for the culture of their forebears. Exceptions to this trend have been rare.

It must be further noted that a sizable proportion of immigrants during the second half of the 20th century were not economic migrants in search of a better life, but desperate refugees following the horrors of World War II and the momentous upheavals that followed over ensuing decades. Their experiences were no less traumatic than those of the Aboriginals following colonisation, although of a vastly different nature. The point being made once again is that the only effective treatment of PTSD begins with the unreserved acceptance of past events without indulging a persistent desire for the reversal of such events.

This is an appeal to Aboriginal Australians at large but especially to their leaders and other prominent persons in their ranks. They, of all people, well educated as they are, would understand perfectly well what is expressed here. Some of them very likely have reached similar conclusions. Others would fiercely oppose the concept on “principle”, also pointing to the achievements of vigorous activism in the past, delivering results such as Mabo, native land title and similar, insisting that the solution to the disadvantages of their kinfolk lies in more of the same, but ignoring the fact that those achievements were not matched by much, if any, improvement in the circumstance. Is that attitude the result of honest conviction or of wishful thinking? Or perhaps of blatant self interest at the personal level? Considering that the lives of the most prominent Aboriginal Australians and their non-Aborigine comrades revolve around Aboriginality and its problems, that last proposition is not without foundation. Should the apparently insoluble problem of Aborigines be solved, the current exaggerated importance of these leaders and others would be drastically diminished. That would have to be a most unappealing prospect for them, wouldn’t it?

15 comments
  • brandee

    How good is this presentation by Bill Martin. So much to agree with.

    The full blood aborigine David Unaipon, pictured on the $50 note, was a stand out in embracing modern culture.

    Any one of mixed race is a biological example of reconciliation!

  • Biggles

    Aboriginal Clubs my foot! Remove your European blinkers, Bill, and take a trip around the outback.
    In my opinion there are three types or classes of aborigines:
    – Tribal (‘full-blood’) blacks living as they have for centuries but gradually disappearing,
    – Integrated (usually less than ‘half-blood’) living in ‘white’ society,
    – The poor shambling buggers living on welfare you will see in countless towns such as Alice Springs and Halls Creek.
    The problem for the latter group is that the other two don’t want to know them.

  • ianl

    Yet just today the Morrison Govt through Minister Ken Wyatt announced a referendum to add specific Aboriginal advisory legislature to the Parliament. Precisely the opposite of: “Relinquish the notion that it is the responsibility of present day non-Aboriginal Australians to remedy the adverse effects of British colonisation.”

    Nor will detail necessarily be forthcoming prior to this referendum. I noted some time ago that lefty lawyers were publishing opinions advocating that such detail be decided by the Parliament, with the referendum vote then being simply categorised as progressives vs racists.

  • PT

    I suspect that much of this “soverignty” stuff comes originally from HC Coombs. He promoted this “Treaty” idea, which would give aboriginals collective ownership of the land the rest of us would “lease back”. The upshot was to transfer about 9% of GDP to the “aboriginal people” and transforming them from “the poorest people in Australia to the richest”. Not sure how he squared creating a permenant landowning caste with his socialism but there it was. But what was in it for the rest of us? We’d all be poorer and clearly second class citizens under this arrangement, so what is the gain for us to want to sign such a treaty? Well Coombs claimed that we “needed” a “treaty of cessation” with the aboriginals (these people seem obsessed with the Treaty of Waitangi – somehow forgetting the Maori Wars were AFTER the treaty). He raised the spectre of invasion (the old Australian fear of being overrun), as our position is apparently “illegitimate” without one, and supposedly makes us vulnerable to a foreign power this deciding the country is up for grabs. This is nonsense of course. There isn’t a country in the world that doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the Australian Government. But Coombs needed to show what the rest of us had to gain from such a document. This “cessation of sovereignty” stuff is really a “negotiating position” to get a huge economic gain. What he probably didn’t bargin on is that Aboriginal activists would take it to heart and keep spruiking their alleged “sovereignty”. Clearly they won’t sign it away. They’ll demand all the benefits of said Treaty (if ever seriously promoted) but will never “surrender their sovereignty”. The Mabo case was an attempt by Coombs et al to use the courts to “demonstrate” and “establish” that aboriginal “sovereignty” was not extinguished (but even the Marbo High Court wouldn’t go that far – they’d actually be saying they had no jurisdiction in the case if they did).

    All this, I suspect, is where this “reversing colonisation”, as opposed to pushing for equal legal rights and social standing, and independence from state authorities etc comes from originally. Too many politicians (particularly Hawke) simply see a “Treaty” and the rest as a “symbolic gesture”, and one that will happen to cement their place in history – egotism really. But Aboriginal advocates are going to want something genuinally tangable, and many will refuse to “sign away their sovereignty”.

  • padraic

    Excellent article, especially the “get over it” discussion. If we accept the claim that the present generations of native borns are as “guilty” as the people of the original British settlement where do you stop? Many “older” Australians have some convict ancestry – so what? Are they going to agitate for the present British Government to compensate them because their ancestors were not your classic colonisers and were sent away from hearth and home against their will to what was initially a “hell-hole”. Subsequent generations born in Australia and who never knew Europe have just as much attachment to the land of their birth and their daily lives as did parallel generations of Aborigines.

  • Doubting Thomas

    The inevitable and, I fear, immutable reality is that there is no will (where it matters) to “solve” the real or perceived problems of our Aboriginals, however defined. There are far too many conflicting vested interests involved, and the mischief-making progressives and their running-dog media allies will continue to work tirelessly to use the matter as one of their most effective weapons in their quest for the destruction of Australian society.

  • Peter Smith

    Don’t think much of the clubs idea but the general thrust of the article seems to me to be on the money. Good stuff Bill.

  • Bwana Neusi

    Did not the world fight against Apartheid as an evil segregation of the races. That is what successive governments in Australia have imposed on us starting with Mabo and Land Rights

  • padraic

    Exactly Bwana. We are going to finish up with some kind of sharing and caring Bantustan. With all that land under their control it needs to be supplemented by a change in the Constitution to go down the racist Apartheid road. But of course, with the lefties these days white racism bad – black racism good. I remember reading in the 1980s in the papers here in Australia the fuss over reserved seats for whites in the negotiated Constitution that heralded the post-Rhodesia country of Zimbabwe. I agreed at the time that reserved seats was not a good look for a democracy and was relieved when it was removed and replaced by universal suffrage based on citizenship, rather than skin colour. And now I am expected to believe that parliamentary representation based on race is a good thing??!! It’s a great, wide, wonderful world we live in, folks to quote the late Spike Milligan.

  • Lacebug

    During the mid-1980s, I made a rash decision to attempt to join the NSW Police Force. One of the entry requirements was to answer a series of true/false/don’t know questions, one of which was: Aboriginal People work just as hard as everyone else. I truthfully answered Don’t Know.
    A month later I was called down to College Street and made to stand before a selection committee where I was called out for being a ‘racist’.
    I naively tried to explain that as I wanted to be a Police Officer I thought I should answer truthfully and as I had never even met an Aboriginal person before let alone seen one toil. My answer wasn’t acceptable. I was told the Police Force didn’t employ people with ‘my attitude’.
    That was the end of that distraction. I continued making poor decisions and enrolled for an Arts course at Sydney University. Bahhhh

  • Geoffrey Luck

    Going back to the beginnings…Australia was neither invaded (as the aboriginal activists would have you believe) or colonised, as Bill Martin maintains. It was annexed. It became part of the British Empire, but more important, it was opened up to the fruits and benefits of western civilisation, its culture, history and laws. What was displaced in Australia was a primitive hunter-gatherer society that in sixty thousand years had not learned cropping or housebuilding, let alone a language of wide currency or a wheel. Today we are at risk of elevating a naive fascination with stone-age customs (and some new fake ones) above the benefits of civilised society – all because of a politically-induced guilt for ancient events. Nothing will be achieved by schemes – no matter how well-meant – until the radical political demands for separatist consideration are defeated.

  • ArthurB

    The early settlers (in Western Australia, if not elsewhere) noted how violent “traditional” Aboriginal society was, and how violent the males were to the females. I doubt whether, even if the settlers had not “annexed” the western third of the continent, that Aboriginal society would have remained unaltered after contact with Europeans. Aborigines rapidly developed a taste for the white man’s food, as well as alcohol and tobacco. There is evidence, in fact, that the tribal elders lent their women to the whites in exchange for tobacco and food. Aboriginal culture decayed rapidly. Nobody denies that there were killings, but all this happened a long time ago, and it is time to move forward.

  • saorsa660

    Sound and relevant article, though not so sure about ‘Clubs” in Tasmania at least. The organisational preference here is for non-inclusive Corporations – a form more relevant to their aspirations. The last time I looked there were 26 registered in the State

  • Searcher

    Great article, I agree with it all.

  • glenda ellis

    A genuinely serious but simple argument. Doubtful about the clubs but the idea is sound. Until we get over the guilt bit nothing will change. I am not responsible for what my ancestors thought or did and the more I am preached at the more resistant I become. I am gradually losing interest in any referendum.

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