Bennelong Papers

Aboriginal Achievement: Positions Available

For a demographic that claims to be marginalised and victimised, our ‘First Nations’ people are certainly front and centre. 

Obnoxious demagogues like ‘Senator’ Lidia Thorpe and Tarneen ‘Burn down Australia’ Onus-Williams, have carte blanche to excoriate the very society in which they flourish.  And well-heeled organisations, like Their ABC, give them free rein to do just that, suggesting, for example, that we should ‘burn stuff’.  Most rational people dismiss this rhetoric as fringe element ratbaggery.  

But more subtly, we are being constantly bombarded with less offensive memes, such as ABC announcers telling us they are broadcasting from, for example, Gadigal country.  Well, it’s offensive to me but unfortunately not to most.

I would like to offer two examples of this trend.

Associate Professor Duane Hamacher has released a book titled The First Astronomers – how indigenous elders read the stars.  Predictably, it has been endorsed by Professor Marcia Langton, who is always the first to leap to the support of any spurious proposition that patronizes Aborigines by claiming for them knowledge and accomplishments that they did not possess:

This book marks a profound paradigm shift in our understanding of Indigenous scientific traditions, how they are transmitted, and their relevance to life today.

The very title of the book is oxymoronic.  ‘Reading the stars’ is not astronomy. It is mythology.  Astronomy is defined as

a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution.

I imagine not even Langton would claim that Aborigines were masters of mathematics, physics and chemistry, certainly not to the extent that they could apply those disciplines to a study of the stars (although I wouldn’t bet my house on it).  So how does Leftist academia overcome this apparently insuperable disconnect?  Simple.  By doing what they always do. Moving the goal posts to redefine astronomy.  Or at least establish a new branch of it, as Melbourne University did with agriculture when it created its chair of Indigenous Agriculture and gracing it with the august person of Uncle Professor Bruce Pascoe.

In this case we have a new field of study called ‘cultural astronomy’.

Duane Hamacher is associate professor of cultural astronomy in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne. Where else?  Is it just me or is there a pattern emerging here? How do anthropologists feel about having their discipline co-opted into the School of Physics, I wonder?

Surely, we can acknowledge the genuine accomplishments of Aboriginal societies without resorting to that most heinous of woke offences – cultural appropriation?  Or are those genuine accomplishments (essentially surviving in a harsh continent with the expenditure of as little effort as possible) so underwhelming that they are not particularly noteworthy to people whose own ancestors left that lifestyle behind thousands of years ago?  That is what Hamacher and Langton seem to be suggesting.

This trend doesn’t confine itself to the sciences.  It also extends into the social sphere. We are constantly being bombarded, particularly courtesy of the ABC, of Aboriginal memes.  As just one example, I was recently approached by a non-indigenous organisation wishing to be involved in our local ANZAC Day commemoration – and good on them for that.  Part of their contribution involved handing out to the local kids a short precis of ANZAC.  Here it is:

The Story of our ANZACs

Anzac Day, on 25th April every year, is the day Australia and New Zealand remember the bravery of our soldiers who served in the First World War, and the service of all the men and women who have served for their country since then.

At dawn on 25th April 1915, during the First World War, the Australia and New Zealand Army

Corps, known as the ANZACs, landed on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. This was the first time they had seen battle. Our ANZACs fought bravely for eight months and suffered thousands of casualties before withdrawing in December 1915.

Over 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander soldiers were among those who fought at

Gallipoli. Aunty Marion Leane Smith was a proud Dharug woman who is the only indigenous

woman known to serve in WW1 as a nurse.

We also remember our brave ANZACs, who, in WW1 helped to liberate the French town of Villers-Bretonneux on the Western Front. To this day, French children sing the Australian National Anthem at school and a large banner that reads “Do Not Forget Australia” hangs at the entrance to the school.

Good on them for this initiative but I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the fact that Aboriginal soldiers had been singled out for mention in this very short precis.  In fact, the number of Aboriginal soldiers that fought at Gallipoli is estimated to be about 70.  The figure of 1,000 refers to the whole of the war. Their contribution was welcome but insignificant on any but an individual level.  In other words, they did what thousands of other Australians did. They should be honoured in the same measure, but no more, than all other Australians who served.

However, the reference to Nurse Smith is even more inappropriate.  I doubt very much that Marion Leane Smith was a ‘proud Dharug woman’ – the formulaic prenominal now applied to any and every woman who identifies as Indigenous. 

How do we know she was a ‘proud Dharug woman’?  Good question.

You see, she was the granddaughter of an indigenous woman married to an Englishman successfully farming on the Liverpool area.  As such she was no more than one quarter, probably only one eighth, indigenous.  That certainly makes her indigenous, but she was only two years old when her parents migrated to Canada, where Marion grew up and then studied nursing in the US.  She returned to Canada at the start of the war and served with the Canadian forces in France.  She returned to Canada after the war, married a Canadian and eventually moved with her parson husband, who was a school principal, to Trinidad.  They returned to Canada in 1953 and Smith died in 1957.  So, it is also unlikely she was ever known by the honorific of ‘Aunty’, which is applied to elders of an Aboriginal community.  If she ever thought about her ethnicity, I am sure she would not have been ashamed of it.  But I rather think it would have been only incidental to her psyche.

These sorts of gestures are well-intentioned and I have no problem with Aboriginal people being proud of their culture and accomplishments, but I am becoming ever more fed up with having them thrust down my throat at every conceivable opportunity, particularly those that are questionable.

You can read more of my take on this issue here.

23 comments
  • Daffy

    I always recognise the traditional custodians of the land I live on: I live on the County of Cumberland, the parish of Concord, care of King George III.

  • lbloveday

    “….I imagine not even Langton would claim that Aborigines were masters of mathematics, physics and chemistry…”
    .
    Cindy Berwick, President of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultation Group, was on her ABC’s Q&A 8 October 2018.
    .
    Here is what Ms Berwick had to say about the lessons she delivers on her ancestors’ pioneering work with chords, cambers and dihedrals:
    .
    “We actually look at mathematics and science and technology through a cultural lens, and so we actually teach aerodynamics through the boomerang, ‘coz the boomerang actually led to the invention of propellers, which then led to flight, then led to, you know, the invention of drones, which now patrol our coastlines, and save us from sharks…”
    .
    I could not believe the quote could be accurate when I read it, even if said on her ABC, so checked the archives, and there it was, verbatim (and unchallenged of course)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPpkjk9781g

  • Tony Thomas

    Nice piece Peter. As for who or what, exactly, the Dharug/Darug are/were, see here
    https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2016/04/brand-new-timeless-traditions/

  • Ian MacKenzie

    “the number of Aboriginal soldiers that fought at Gallipoli is estimated to be about 70. The figure of 1,000 refers to the whole of the war.” Perhaps the missing 930 at Gallipoli were Pascoes with Aboriginality based solely on wishful thinking.

  • Adam J

    You can’t be ‘one-quarter indigenous’. Indigenous is not a race or ethnicity. It means originating in an area. The correct word here is either Aboriginal or Dharug.

  • Michael

    “I have no problem with Aboriginal people being proud of their culture and accomplishments, but I am becoming ever more fed up with having them thrust down my throat at every conceivable opportunity, particularly those that are questionable.”

  • Stephen Due

    This is not exactly on topic, but I think it is about time that young people were told that a significant proportion of Australia’s finest young men not only “fought” but also were massacred in the bloodbath at Gallipoli. Thousands were blown to bits by shellfire, impaled on bayonets, riddled with machine-gun bullets at close range.
    The Wikipedia entry for the Gallipoli campaign notes “The Allied campaign was plagued by ill-defined goals, poor planning, insufficient artillery, inexperienced troops, inaccurate maps, poor intelligence, overconfidence, inadequate equipment, and logistical and tactical deficiencies at all levels”. Which is putting it politely.
    Gallipoli was a national calamity. The official narrative has been that this was Australia’s “baptism of fire” – as if the wholesale slaughter of young men was a necessary ritual in the formation of our national identity. One might imagine that presence of Aborigines in this blood-soaked national initiation process was significant in some way, but ideally nobody would have been there in the first place.

  • NFriar

    Great work Peter.
    Thank you for speaking up for we quiet Australians suffering in silence.
    “ABC announcers telling us they are broadcasting from, for example, Gadigal [Gumbayngirr] country. ”

    and

    ‘ I am becoming ever more fed up with having them thrust down my throat at every conceivable opportunity, particularly those that are questionable.’

  • Helmond

    I hardly ever watch The Drum, but I did see the one in which Cindy Berwich made that ludicrous claim about Aborigines inventing the propellor. The Drum is usually chock-a-block with Lefties, Greens and other assorted rat-bags, but there are often one or two token moderates to give the illusion of “balance”. But no one questioned Berwick’s assertion.

    It seems that on the ABC and in Fairfax publications there is not the slightest chance of seeing claims about Indigenous achievements challenged.

    I’m hoping that The Drum panel didn’t swallow Berwick’s absurd claim, but were too polite to say “Sounds like bullshit to me, Cindy”.

    Also by chance, a few years ago I stumbled on Bruce Pascoe on The Conversation Hour with John Faine. Pascoe gave his piece on Aboriginal agriculture, towns, trade, govenance, etc. From Faine and the other guest, it was golly gosh and gee wizz. Not one probing question!

    I was going to write “astonishing”? But sadly I’m no longer surprised at this sort of crap. Quadrant seems to be one of the few forums where Indigenous matters can be questioned.

  • RB

    What value can one place on a degree earned at Melbourne Uni? Not much if their employment policies are a guide.

  • DougD

    “Surely, we can acknowledge the genuine accomplishments of Aboriginal societies without resorting to that most heinous of woke offences – cultural appropriation?” Don’t worry Peter; only whites can be guilty of that offence – look at the now widespread use of “First Nations” here. It was plagiarised from the invention of the term by Canadian indian chiefs in 1980.

  • Doubting Thomas

    It was a reasonably accurate term in the context of the Americas. It’s ridiculously ahistorical and deliberately deceptive nonsense here in Australia.

  • rosross

    Once academia decides it is fine to make things up then people will keep making more and more things up and, free from the inconvenience and shackles of facts, well, the sky is the limit, nay, the cosmos and all of eternity is the limit.

  • rosross

    @DougD,

    What accomplishments of Aboriginal societies? All humans once lived stone-age nomadic hunter-gatherer lives and the fact Aboriginal peoples failed to evolve beyond that level is hardly an accomplishment. Neither is the fact that they managed to endure in what is called a harsh environment, but, compared say to the Eskimos, was not so harsh, an accomplishment given the levels of infanticide they used to keep their population/ratio at convenient and comfortable levels. So, what accomplishments were there in Aboriginal societies which did not exist in any other human society at the same level of development? I would say none, absolutely utterly none. In a land of metal riches and plenty of clay they failed to even work out how to smelt ore or make pottery. I am not saying their societies, myths, etc., were not of value, but, even here, none of it is exceptional compared to other human societies at similar levels of development.

  • Peter OBrien

    rosross,

    spot on. Every society on Earth today did exactly what the Aborigines did and then went beyond.

  • 27hugo27

    rosross, you naughty boy! You have pulled back the curtain, noticed the naked Emperor on this subject! As my 20 something work colleague a few years ago quipped, “They invented the stick!”. Harsh but not far from the truth.

  • 27hugo27

    Peter, the only station i listen to, ABC classic is now infuriating me. The morning presenter in particular, Russell Torrance, so blithely and matter – of – factly saying so and so from Adelaide, Kaurna country etc as if we’re supposed to nod agreeingly with respect! And my taxes support this drivel.

  • Peter OBrien

    Hugo, yes I listen to Russell and quite like him but the Gadigal country stuff really jars.

  • lbloveday

    In a school essay about 15 years ago my daughter wrote of “amazing inventions such as the waddy…”.

  • Peter Marriott

    Concerning Aboriginals now discovered to have fought at Gallipoli etc. The official policy was that not one, i.e. zero, aboriginal would be sent to fight in the first world war ( and probably the second as well ) because we were worried that with the casualty rates as they were, too many would be killed and the fear was that the entire race could be severely reduced. So none were sent, although I think there was an effort made by a white mission manager to get some of his flock to join up, but when they arrived at the recruiting station they were sent home. I’m referring of course to the original interpretation of aboriginal, which was always fullblood, with no white ancestry whatsoever. I saw a picture recently of a man killed on the western front who was claimed as an aboriginal, who had distinguished himself and been decorated. When looking carefully at his features he looked Malay, not aboriginal. In my opinion of course.

  • nfw

    Aboriginal astronomers? I am waiting to see Pascoe et al’s proof of the complex from which space flights were made. Not to mention the replacements for planes, trains, motor vehicles, mobile/video phones (or even cameras with phones), modern surgery, modern medicine, clean water, supermarkets, food refrigeration in the hut, warm modern clothing, chain store restaurant chicken (ever been on a flight from Cairns to Horn Island?), etc, etc… You know, all the things a backward stone age “culture” would create.

  • Brian Boru

    I am a proud first nations person. Australian, English, Scottish, Irish and probably some Viking in there too. If you like you can call me Uncle Brian Boru.
    .
    I want all Australians, whatever their ancestry, to have the same rights, responsibilities and privileges I have, no less and no more. Anything else is racial discrimination and is to be condemned.

  • gilmay97

    The Absolute Baloney Crew and ‘The white Emu’ clearly have never done any real forensic anthropology, or they would have learned a lot more about how primitive aboriginals were 200 hundred years ago, they had no concept of numbers, or any concept of measured time, they did have a concept of ‘a long time ago’ but not the mathematical capacity or concept of 50,000 or 60,000 years ago — until other genetics entered their gene pool. When history keeps changing clearly someone is doctoring it.
    As National Geographic wrote decades ago ‘They are the world’s last remaining stone age people’, their highest level of technology was a stone and a stick. We still ask what have they invent that has contributed some advancement or benefit to Australia, they are happy to take what we have but what have they contributed? One aboriginal Chappy, was boasting of how he had English, Scottish, French and Aboriginal heritage given to him by his mother — How jolly sporting of her! He missed it.

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