Bennelong Papers

Rousseau Has a Lot to Answer For

As the drama over the Wuhan flu subsides, expect to see the question of Aboriginal sovereignty re-emerge as a topic du jour among the luvvies.  My purpose in this essay is to toss a few caltrops in the path of the relentless march of the increasingly fantastical myths that buttress this aspiration.

Let’s start with Marcia Langton, who says, “Sovereignty, as I see it, is the legal personality of the Aboriginal polity ― and that social complex that is sometimes called sovereignty should be recognised.” I’m not sure what the second part of that sentence means but the first part is instructive. What Langton terms the Aboriginal polity (and what she herself represents) – a vocal, self-appointed convocation of activists educated in the Western tradition – did not exist in 1788, particularly if you consider that this polity is increasingly dominated by strident women, a situation that would not have been tolerated in traditional and infamously misogynist Aboriginal culture. And the sovereignty that is now claimed – the sovereignty now exercised over the entire continent by the nation state of Australia – simply did not exist in 1788 nor anything like it.

Aboriginal clan groups exercised a form of governance that was roughly, very roughly, equivalent to the local councils of today.  That is the sovereignty which was ‘never ceded’.  Aborigines never exercised sovereignty over the geography of what were any of the original colonies, let alone the whole continent. A very small percentage of the Australian population is arguing for a special status that would allow Aborigines to set their own rules, the rationale being that their ancestors were here first and/or that they were the targets of “invasion”.  The first proposition (‘we were here first’) is specious and most Australians would reject it out of hand, even while accepting terms like ‘First Nations people’ — nicked from Canada, just by the way —  the now ubiquitous Aboriginal Flag, and being welcomed to their own country.  By the same logic, descendants of the First Fleeters could also claim some special status over those whose antecedents came later.

The ‘invasion’ theory is a complex and contested topic that I don’t intend to deal with here except to reiterate my point that colonisation did not supplant Aboriginal “sovereignty”, such as it was.  In fact, the initial policy was to live and let live.  Aboriginal Protectors were appointed to further this aim.  But, eventually, interaction between the two societies – not all at the instigation of the colonists – rendered this approach futile. Colonisation superimposed an overarching sovereignty that was (a) inevitable and (b) incapable of being developed by Aboriginal society. 

Demand for decolonsation and the ‘restoration’ of Aboriginal sovereignty is now almost deafening, at least in the breadth of its advocacy by the mainstream media. It defies belief that a significant proportion of Australians (as yet unknown, but probably less than activists would have you believe) would go along with this notion. The reason they do is because they are wallowing in a guilt trip laid upon them by virtue of an incessant recitation of the twin evils of “systemic racism” and “colonial atrocities”.

To begin with, let’s dispense with the idea of ‘systemic’ racism.  Systemic means embedded within a system i.e. integral to it, in this case, presumably, the Australian system of governance.   There is just no way our system of governance could be described as systemically racist.  If it were, why would we accept the ingress of thousands of people from non-European cultures to our shores, let alone encourage and welcome them?

So do we have racism at the individual level?  Undoubtedly, as does every other society on the planet.  It is part of the human condition. But is it endemic in Australia?  I would argue emphatically that it is not, for the same reason that I outlined above.

Well then, are Aborigines the targets of a special racism reserved only for them?  Again, I would say not.  There is no doubt many Aborigines and people of Aboriginal descent have suffered discrimination over the years.  But how much of it is based on their Aboriginality and how much on behaviour and lifestyle?  Aboriginal disadvantage is due more to socio-economic factors than racial ones, and the toxic factor in this disadvantage is that, too often, it is intergenerational. In this respect, Aborigines are like any other marginalised group.  The way out of this vicious circle is education — and Aboriginal communities have demonstrated that school attendance is not a strong suit.

Racism is not prevalent or even expanding in Australia, but I suspect antipathy towards Aborigines as a group is increasing, thanks almost exclusively to those entitled demagogues who harangue us at every opportunity. It is hardly an endearing act to proclaim on Australia Day that the country needs to be burnt to the ground, a comment made by a Melbourne blacktivist Tarneen Onus Williams, who was at the time serving on a consultative committee established by the Victorian Labor government to craft a treaty with the state’s indigenes.

I disapprove of Ms Williams and other grievance mongers — playwright Nakkiah Lui and Greens senator Lidia Thorpe spring immediately to mind — not because they are Aboriginal but because I find them strident and intolerant. At the same time, I have great admiration for Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine, for example.  And, although I differ from Mundine in regard to his support for constitutional recognition, I am fully on board with his and Price’s aspirations for Aboriginal people in the areas that really matter.  I suspect I am typical of the vast majority of Australians. Inevitably, this perfectly human reaction is represented as racism and, regrettably, too many people unthinkingly accept it as such.  It is no more racist than the disdain in which conservatives hold, for example, Malcolm Turnbull or Kevin Rudd.

Regarding atrocities, yes they occurred and have been acknowledged, with apologies made, for decades.  But the number of living Aborigines directly affected (either personally or through parents/grandparents) is vanishingly small.  I might deplore the way in which the British treated my Irish ancestors, but I can let it go.  I am not traumatised by Oliver Cromwell’s ruthless military campaigns and the Potato Famine of 1848, just as I doubt that many Aborigines are genuinely and personally traumatised by events that took place long before they were born. By the same token, I am also one-eighth German and feel absolutely no guilt for the actions of the Nazis regardless of how much I deplore them.

The ‘First Nations’ guilt trip deployed by the woke brigade is augmented by an emerging narrative that takes Rousseauian notions of the ‘Noble Aborigine’ to a new level.   An example of this is the idea of Aboriginal spirituality and ‘connection to country’.  I do not wish to belittle Aboriginal spirituality, but realism and balance is required, meaning we need to separate the aspects of genuinely held beliefs, the religious element, and the preservation of cultural knowledge and traditions, the anthropological element.  There is nothing inherently unique or virtuous in traditional Aboriginal animism.  All primitive cultures developed animistic religious beliefs which aided their understanding of and survival in their environments. But as scientific knowledge advanced, and temporal explanations for observable phenomena emerged, Western religious belief was fine-tuned to accommodate such advances — for example, the efforts of French Jesuit Pierre Tielhard de Chardin to reconcile scripture with the evidence of paleontology and other disciplines. Arguably, believers who can cite, say, Noah and his ark as a Divinely ordained metaphor for preserving species are no less spiritual than Aborigines referencing the Rainbow Serpent.  There may be some Aboriginal people who maintain a literal adherence to traditional religious beliefs, but why would we accord them any greater respect than we do modern Druids? That is not to say that Aboriginal people should not strive to preserve these traditions, to incorporate them into their ceremonies and to present them to the world as aspects of an ancient and proud heritage.

As to ‘connection with Country’, much the same consideration applies. Presumably, ‘Country’ applies not only to the natural bush but to the communities themselves.   Aboriginal caring for Country seems to consist largely of leaving it alone – the only serious intervention being the use of fire – and extracting from it what bounties it bestows from time to time, much as has been the case for millennia. Certainly, there are educated and articulate Aboriginal people who are knowledgeable about their local ecology and work to maintain it, as we see in almost every outback travel documentary – and good on them.  But, as it is in the white community, these people are the exception rather than the rule.  To put it simply, they are conservationists who happen to be black and whose spirituality owes as much to modern Western theory and practice as it does to traditional culture.

Need it be said that Aboriginal people are no different in essence to white people, sharing the same strengths and weaknesses, virtues and faults.  Most of those calling for ‘decolonisation’ would not exist, either physically or intellectually, without colonisation.  Most blacktivists reside in modern cities, raise families and have paying jobs.  They are doing quite well, thanks very much.  However, the popular meme insists that even the merest scintilla of Aboriginal blood is enough to confer some special spirituality and connection with Country, to saddle the owner with the trauma of past atrocities and to do this while simultaneously granting absolution for black-on-white misdeeds.

I accept that my observations above are somewhat abrasive and will offend some people.  I apologise for being the bearer of unsettling tidings, but it serves no useful purpose to perpetuate patronising myths – such as those of a sophisticated Aboriginal agricultural society, as propagated by Bruce Pascoe in his book Dark Emu, or painting James Cook as fascist invader too obtuse to see the reality of Aboriginal accomplishment, as recently misrepresented by Sam Neill in the ABC series In the Wake of Captain Cook – and all the while ignoring the real issues that plague genuine Aboriginal communities. It requires a particularly noxious brand of sophistry to rationalise the sexual abuse of infants and children as a consequence of the arrival on January 20, 1788, of ships loaded with convicts and guards who, we can only assume, didn’t want to be there in the first place. Some ‘invasion’!

By all means move heaven and earth to bring remote and disadvantaged Aborigines into the 21st Century but let’s not elevate myth almost to the point of deification. 

You can order the new edition of Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest by clicking here

25 thoughts on “Rousseau Has a Lot to Answer For

  • Harry Lee says:

    Singing and dancing while daubed in coloured dirt is no necessary indication of spirituality, let alone useful spitituality.
    The incidence of atrocities and general violence inflicted upon themselves and upon others is no less within Aboriginal communities than within other groups -and that has always been so.
    “Voice” will not bring on greater spirituality, or peaceful behaviour, or productivity, or any aspect of flourishing human life.
    The push for “Voice” is a smokescreen for unsolvable problems, as was “Sorry”, and the 33Bn pa.
    It is time for a new conception of The Problem.
    That is, if there is actual desire, among Aboriginal leaders and concerned others, to save Aboriginal kids from neglect, abuse, violence, let alone if there is actual desire to help those children progress to living a decent life in C21.
    Clinging to an imagined Utopia, imagined to exist prior to 1788, is destructive to human flourishing.

  • Steve Moore says:

    We’re not special, we’re not even different. We’ve just got a nice tan.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Start here:
    With the very rare obvious exceptions, Aboriginal leaders and spox, and their non-Aboriginal ideological enablers, are:
    1. Determined to remain in utter ignorance of the actual causes of contemporary Aboriginal plight
    2. Very, very frightened by the consequences of acknowledging the reality of these causes
    3. Malign.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Some Aborigines are no different, in essence, from some Whites, some Chinese, some black Africans, some Middle-East desert-dwellers, some etc.
    Emphasis on the “some”.
    Now think in terms of distribution curves of propensities to certain behaviours, and consider the variations in the ways individuals perceive, think, feel, act, across the various human groups.
    And apply principles of evolutionary anthropology.
    Over the many millennia, adaptation to physical environments, and the tribal/cultural rules developed for and as result of such adaptation, and the existence/non-existence of external threats and opportunities to learn from groups that developed in a very different environment-
    -and how these factors have produced vastly different group norms/distributions in human capability.
    Now, here we are.
    Must accept reality…or not.

  • padraic says:

    Excellent summary, Peter, of the situation. Hopefully the activist goal will never be achieved. What is their end point and how to get there?
    1. First – Obtain special land tenure for exclusive use. Done.
    2. Oops! That came from an Act of Parliament which can be changed or deleted. So what to do?
    3. That Act came about because of Section 51 (xxvi) enables Parliament to make laws “with respect to – The people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.” ???
    4. So if you can combine exclusive land use tenure to a separate political entity you can split Australia into two with an “Embassy” in Canberra and issuing passports from Redfern. But if Parliament can cancel the land tenure Act then it falls apart. So what to do?
    5. Make out that Australia was not settled but invaded instead and taken by a formal war so you can have a treaty under international law?. But to have a treaty you have to have large fixed settlements attacked and resistance from those settlements – hence the need to invent them as per Bruce Pascoe’s efforts.
    6. Having achieved that, the next step is to have “recognition” in the Constitution which puts the Aboriginal social group in the category of a separate polity whose land tenure can be derived from the Constitution (by activist lawyers plying the High Court) instead of Parliament, resulting in a separate apartheid type independent country within the country.

    The above may appear fanciful, but what is behind all this living-in-the-past activity we are witnessing? To me it is a smokescreen for something else. Perhaps some contributor with a better understanding of the Constitution and the legal activist strategy can shed some light. I find it hard to believe that Aborigines have to be “recognised” in the Constitution so we can all live in harmony. How does that work? As Peter has pointed out, Australia is a very harmonious country (despite the best efforts of the ABC).

  • Harry Lee says:

    padraic, the harmony here is purchased at massive cost:
    Consider the cash transfers, as “community grants” some of which goes to private pockets and some is passed on to foreign anti-Westernist forces; costs of security surveillance in several anti-Westernist communities here; the very expensive “task forces” that are tasked to encourage non-Western teenagers not to engage in random violence against Whites and amongst themselves; the Centrelink welfare payments to certain groups on a very non-proportional basis; the school classrooms that are operating under severe stresses due to presence of children from families who do not accept Western education and who revile Western ways -while governments pretend that that does not exist; the censorship of all this and more via 18 C and the complicity of the mainstream media; the appeasement of Muslims by permitting Sharia to be used, fgm to be performed, and ISIS women and ISIS children to re-enter here…and much, much more.
    And to say again:
    Censorship and assorted BS from politicians and public servants to pretend that none of this is happening and that all is harmonious.
    Well, many Actual Australians do know that all of this is indeed happening, and this knowledge is destroying their belief in the worthwhileness of their contributory citizenship.
    Resignation, despair and apathy ain’t harmony.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    Not abrasive in the slightest Peter. Does anyone honestly believe that Aboriginal Australians would persist in some mythical ‘Noble Savage’ world in perpetuity when man walked on the moon over 50 years ago now! Their intersection with the modern world was an inevitability that could have been so much more brutal (based on the vast swathe of similar interactions right throughout history ) than it was, notwithstanding some atrocities that did transpire. And why stop at disgruntlement with the 18th century potato famine Peter? If one was from predominantly Briton (Gaul) hereditary then there is the invasions from Romans, Normans, Saxons, Vikings etc to perpetually claim ones victim status against. And as with Pascoe, that connection becomes so tenuous that it would seem mere self appropriation will suffice. Like so much of post modernist, leftist, wokeism the whole debate perpetrated by privileged elites is an intellectual fraud. The likes of Langton, Grant, Williams, Thorpe, Burney and their insufferable cheer squad at the ABC, are about as far removed from the traditional hunter/gatherer society of Aboriginal Australia as can one can possibly be. These people are in outrage mode if they loose their phone connectivity let alone a life without toilet paper and tampons. Nor would they return to anything that even closely approximated that way of life. Just like the concurrent feminist rancor it is nothing to do with equality and preservation of a particular culture and everything to do with unfettered power. In this regard, not only are their arguments an intellectual fraud, they are a moral fraud to boot!

  • Dalone says:

    The truth of the matter is that today, it is harder to RECOGNISE Aboriginals than at any time since 1788.
    And at the rate we are going, within another few generations or so it will be impossible to RECOGNISE just who does and who doesn’t IDENTIFY as Aboriginal unless they are wearing something which announces it.
    This is because black men prostituted their women to white men from the very earliest days and the offspring (the ones which survived), half white/half black, became lighter in colour, and as white men generally preferred a lighter skinned female if available the resulting children of these matches, 1/4 black, 3/4 white, were becoming close enough to white as to be accepted as white in many instances.
    And this is still happening today, many mixed race people choose a partner who is a lighter skin colour than themselves, or full blood White.
    One only has to look at mixed race celebrities to see some examples of this.
    I believe this is one of the main reasons why some people who identify as Aboriginal today are in such a hurry to push ahead with changes to give those who IDENTIFY as non White as much power and control as they can manage to get away with.
    Because, at the rate that IDENTIFIERS are ‘lightening up’, pretty soon the rest of us will call out their fakery once and for all and the subject of race in Australia and of special benefits for some but not others will be a quaint memory of how we once let things get too far out of hand by patronising a vocal minority to the detriment of all Australians.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Blame Rousseau?
    I can chuckle at a funny headline.
    But the actual barrier to comprehension of reality and good sense in response to reality resides in the individual human beings now living their lives.
    Since Rousseau, we have learned many truths about the incidence of violence, incidence of ability to perceive reality, incidence of uneducability, and incidence of parasitism within and across various groups.
    And adults with a mind to the survival of Western Civ would be smart to equip themselves with such knowledge-
    -because the reality of it all is being censored/denied in the education systems, in the mainstream media, and in the ideology of the ALP and the Greens which now permeates not only the public services and the law industry, but also the business/private sector.
    Tick, tick, tick…then KAPUT, FINIS, THE END.

  • call it out says:

    I have just attended a Fringe production in Adelaide. There was a recorded welcome to country in Kaurna language and English, with a background of didgeridoo music. My knowledgable Kaurna friend told me once that this instrument was never known to Kaurna people, only to tribes in Northern Australia. And Adelaide is described as the land of the red kangaroo….probably about 300-400 kilometres out, I’d say.

    But let’s not spoil things with that unfashionable thing called truth.

  • padraic says:

    Thanks Peter for those references. I’ll follow them up.

  • Matt says:

    Ah yes, I know all about racism.
    While travelling through Arnhem Land I was once threatened with violence on account of being white. Threatened by someone acting in an official capacity. My companion and I had stopped by a river for a break when two young men drove up. They did not smile or greet us. The older of the two stated: “There is a funeral procession coming. We have been sent ahead to check that there are no white people around. You had better leave now or things might get dangerous.”
    Nor was that the only experience I have had of being subjected to anti-white racism, both in Australia and overseas. Even in the workplace we are subjected to ‘cultural awareness training’ that denigrates and demonises “the white man”. Somehow a lengthy denigration of people of my skin colour and cultural heritage doesn’t fit with the definition of vilification that everyone in the workplace is supposed to be on guard against. Replace “white” with “black” and you would face certain dismissal.
    Hence, as you will well imagine, I have an extremely dim view of those who rant and agitate about racism. They are clearly one-eyed hypocrites with an ulterior racist motive of their own. They can rant and pose all they like. Their divisive Marxist agendas it won’t get any support from me.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Matt -yes, there are very, very few Aborigines who understand that Aboriginal culture (habits accumulated) are actually contrary to living a productive life in the circumstances in which they find themselves.
    That non-Aboriginal intellectuals insist that Aboriginal culture (ways of living one’s life in community) is destructive to human flourishing in the context of C21 Life-on-Earth?
    Just another aspect of the idiocy, ignorance, and malignity of most Australian intellectuals of all colours.
    And so, Aboriginal children are consigned to lives of neglect, abuse and violence.
    This is evil.

  • Biggles says:

    There are only four colours necessary to make a map. The multi-coloured map on the Home page is itself propaganda. “Gee, look at how many of them there were”!

  • RB says:

    @Peter O Brien.

    It appears the distortion of historical fact and archaeological evidence is more widespread than one might hope.

  • restt says:

    That is brilliant article.

    As you indicate most Australians must just be getting sick of this. I know I am. Surely there must be a movement to reverse the fakery.

  • JamesBowen says:

    This is an excellent exposure by Peter O.Brien of the attempted deliberate sowing of false “invasion” guilt in the 97.5 percent of Australians who lack any Aboriginal ancestry. A lawyer’s assessment of the the possible disturbing outcomes of implementation of the Uluru Statement, as expanded and refined by the Referendum Council, can be found at:

  • lbloveday says:

    Biggles – “There are only four colours necessary to make a map”,
    Yet so many map, diagram, web-page…. producers use green/red to differentiate despite 10%+ of Caucasian males being, like me and my brothers, red-green (and maybe brown) colour-blind. Normal colour-sighted friends tell me that green and red are used because to them they are vividly different. We’ve long stopped using red-green electrical wiring and red-green coloured hot/cold water taps; time to stop using them in maps etc (try blue/yellow for example). And thus give my wife a break from having to interpret colours for me.

  • Biggles says:

    Dear lbl. Sorry to hear about your colour vision problems. Not sure what it has to do with my remark about there being only four colours needed to make a map, but…

  • lbloveday says:

    What it has to do with your remark is that with only 4 needed and so many alternatives to select those 4 from, why do so many, so often, even usually, select 2 that many people cannot differentiate.

  • Biggles says:

    Dear lbl. Ask the map makers.

  • lbloveday says:

    I know why, as indicated in the previous post (“ and red are used because…” – very clear, no?). I wrote in my next post “..why do so many….” as an explanation in response to your “what it has to do with my remark”, not in search of an answer.

  • Harry Lee says:

    RB -thank you for the link you provided.
    I take the opportunity to express my view on the IQ required for a group to develop beyond pre-stone age existence, as follows:
    It is not a matter of the mean IQ of the group.
    It is a matter of how many members of the group have extremely high capabilities in various arenas of human activity -esp the ability to experiment and learn from experience in the use of material objects, as opposed to having fantasies/dreams about them.
    If we stay with the universal distribution of IQ as a metaphor/proxy for “how well the individual/group deals with their life circumstances”, a group, to advance from nothing to something, requires critical masses of members above the 90th percentile, and indeed above the 99.99th percentile, in various human capabilities.
    And among those capabilities is that of influence over the rest.
    As we see today, all around us, “knowledge of what can be done to improve things for everyone” gets no traction -because “influencers” tend to look at themselves on their iphones -and this simply creates more narcissists who expect to get everything for free from “the government”.
    Along those lines.
    Anyway, the main point is:
    Those human groups/cultures/races that do Well-on-Earth depend on the existence and the influence of individuals/sub-groups who are very, very, very clever at dealing with hard challenges and exploiting positive opportunities.
    Happens that Australia does have some (but not a great many) very high-capability people who can see what’s wrong, and can see what can be done to remedy the negatives, and can see how to exploit opportunties.
    But the masses, of all colours, are too pre-occupied with the excessive use of alcohol and/or other recreational drugs, and with over-eating multicultural food, and with watching TV, or being at the beach, or off sight-seeing, and/or are working to destroy the remnants of our once-good version of Western Civ, to be interested in improving the place.

  • lhackett01 says:

    A well written and pointed comment about the Aboriginal issue, Peter. Likewise, I am encouraged by most of the comments above. We need to get your message, and others like it, to the wider Australian community. Unless the present woke view of Aboriginality is combatted forcefully, they will have their way. Most of our politicians are too spineless and bend to the prevailing wind to create policies to satisfy the activists. The media is largely to blame for this because of the one-sided propaganda it publishes. Dare I say, the majority of Australians do not support the activist’s mantra yet are unable to be heard. Perhaps some group with backbone will mount a well organised counter protest at the next possible opportunity. I believe with sufficient warning and reasons given, such a protest would be well attended.

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