The Constitution

Dot-Painting a Moustache on the Constitution

The recent controversy concerning the alleged corruption of artworks by APY Aboriginal artists by interfering white hands has prompted me to again visit the topic of Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people.  It seems this has now become a given, even among conservative commentators, who should know better. It seems they are jumping on ‘recognition’ as a consolation prize following the hopeful defeat of the Voice referendum. It’s almost like a guilt trip.  ‘Look,’ they are saying ‘even though we oppose the Voice we are not really racists.’  Most of these supposedly conservative commentators say, ‘If it was just about recognition, it would be overwhelmingly supported by the Australian people’.  That remains to be seen.

I have covered this issue before but it doesn’t hurt to revisit these issues from time to time, especially as the capitulation to the woke concept of ‘constitutional recognition’ now appears to be almost complete. Best to commence the fight back as early as possible.

As I have said previously, I would guess that, like the rest of the population, the overwhelming majority of Aborigines have never, and will never, read the Constitution.  They would not give a fig if Aboriginal people are mentioned in a preamble to the Constitution.  It would not empower them and it would not contribute even a scintilla towards eliminating the dysfunction that plagues remote Aboriginal communities.  It might make some white Australians feel a virtuous glow.  But it would cut no ice with the cabal of hard-core activists who want constitutional empowerment, such as they see accruing to them through this Voice.  Having to settle for symbolic recognition only would, if anything, be seen as a provocation. 

Following a successful ‘recognition only’ referendum, those well-meaning Australians, who haven’t been paying attention, will find that their virtuous glow dissipates faster than an Albanese promise. They will be asking themselves, ‘What more do they want?’  Well, we at Quadrant know, because we have been paying attention.

Since the original Constitution never mentioned British people, Aborigines or immigrants – and has functioned perfectly adequately in the absence of such words – there is no practical purpose to be served by inserting them now. And the Constitution is, above all, a practical document. This type of recognition will not enhance its practical effectiveness one iota. The Constitution is about governance and nothing else. As such, the term ‘constitutional recognition’ necessarily implies a distinct place in our governance, whether or not it is in a preamble or a chapter in the main body.

But back to the art controversy.  Apart from the question of putting a cloud over the provenance of these unjustifiably (in my view) expensive paintings, the real objection seems to be that this interference desecrates the spirituality of the story being told in these artworks. Greg Bearup, who broke this story, noted:

The problem was that the grassroots of the industry, the artists and the arts centres, saw things differently. They looked at the video of a white person painting sacred and ancient stories and were outraged and appalled. They saw black artists being exploited.

And, it seems, even suggestions by white mentors to insert objects or use different colours to achieve some sort of aesthetic balance is also unacceptable.  That, too, violates “the sacred cultural tradition”.

Fair enough. 

So, what about the Australian Constitution?  Yes, I earlier described it as a prosaic document.  Nonetheless, it is also an important cultural artefact of our Westminster system – and the values underpinning it – towards which Aboriginal culture and tradition have contributed precisely nothing.  Why, then, should it be amended to include a special reference to Aboriginal people? I would call this constitutional graffiti. In art terms, a bit like daubing a dot painting on the sandstone walls of the NSW Art Gallery.  Or putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa to acknowledge transgender people.

28 thoughts on “Dot-Painting a Moustache on the Constitution

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    “the real objection seems to be that this interference desecrates the spirituality of the story being told in these artworks”. Such an interpretation is one of the pillars of woke (what matters are my feelings) and can therefore be ignored. Spirituality is in the eye of the beholder. Where one person sees something, another sees something else. Weaponizing such subjective feelings about what is, at worst, impoliteness has no validity in a free society, and certainly not in our constitution.
    As I pointed out in comments to Peter Purcell’s recent contribution here (The Art of the Sacred and Spurious) there is nothing to stop anyone from painting in a similar style to that of the artists in the APY controversary. It is perfectly legal to do so if you are truthful when you sell the painting. Afterall the now ubiquitous dot painting was developed by white art teacher Geoffrey Bardon at Alice Springs in the 1970s to allow aboriginal artists to redact secret parts of their images with dots. This was essentially pointillism repurposed from French Impressionism, so it turns out that not only are the canvasses, frames, oil paints and brushes used in modern Aboriginal art developed by Europeans but also elements of the image.
    The real objections in the APY controversy should be fraud in that paintings have been sold as painted by an Aboriginal artist but have in fact been contributed to by another non-Aboriginal person or persons, and coercion in that paintings have been altered without the artist’s permission. Just as fraud and coercion shouldn’t be part of the art world, nor should they be part of the debate on changing the Constitution.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Yes, Ian, I believed that Bardon had suggested the dots but when I looked at a couple of Indigenous art websites, as I was writing this article, they only attributed to him the idea of putting stories on canvas. I suspected the omission might be deliberate but didn’t have time to purse the issue further. Thank you for confirming my impression.

    • pmprociv says:

      All true, Ian, but it goes even further. Many of the colours now being used were not available traditionally, e.g. modern, synthetic pigments allow the depiction of intense blue, purple and green symbols. The art centre managers are critical to the entire project, for they not only provide all the necessary materials, but also interact with the potential market, and tweak production according to its changing tastes and fashions. Such feedback no doubt explains the occasional interference of white staff with the artists’ works. I’m still having difficulty in seeing how “spiritually important” works can be produced expressly to satisfy a commercial market — could it be comparable with the Vatican selling souvenirs?

      • mrsfarley2001 says:

        Did you know that the preferred “dotting tool” of one female producer of these highly dubious paint-works was a satay skewer- stick?

        That, and tins & tins of acrylic paint.

        Stark nonsense.

  • Ceres says:

    You really are such a sane voice on aboriginal matters Peter. Wish everyone would read your lucid articles and come to their senses.
    However we live in weird times and all things aboriginal demand preferential treatment and to be treated with huge reverence and adoration like the dot
    paintings, etc.
    The naive thought a few sweet words in the constitution would keep the indigenous elite happy and shut them up, but the authors of this referendum had obvious monetary/power aims and so it has come to pass, an attempt to usurp democracy.

  • brandee says:

    There is so much insight here in your words Peter O’Brien. How to get a politician to lead an awareness campaign? What a lost opportunity when PM John Howard, apparently with no critical analysis, agreed with Noel Pearson that he was supportive of constitutional recognition. Other conservative leaders, politicians and commentators, have also acquiesced even though, as you say Peter, most Aborigines would not give a fig about symbolic words on paper.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Thank you Ceres and Brandee,

    I can’t tell you how chuffed I was to have read your comments. Makes me want to keep going.

  • Paul W says:

    Another winner from O’Brien. You really do write well.
    Let me add one thing “Since the original Constitution never mentioned British people, Aborigines or immigrants…”
    We can add “Australians” to that list: a great many people want to be nothing else, but between multiculturalism and Aboriginal nationalism it’s getting harder and harder. Never stop writing mate.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Thank you, Paul

    • pmprociv says:

      All true, Paul, but increasing numbers of Australians like to call themselves “First Nations”, whatever that means. But effectively, that makes the rest of us “Other Nations” (which could be split up further, into Second, Third Fourth etc, depending on how you’d like to define them). I’m not sure going down such a path helps us all think of being “one” (certainly, “many”), but how good would that be for “reconciliation” (whatever that is)? However, it certainly would be a big step in the right direction for those intent on breaking up our nation.

      • mrsfarley2001 says:

        First Nations is a nonsense term, by which no-one should refer to anyone Australian. If these particular divisive types want to be called anything but Australian, then the proper term is “Aborigines”.

  • vickisanderson says:

    I really can’t agree with the comments on the “dots” in Aboriginal paintings. In my view, they are an intrinsic aspect of the way Aborigines view the land or landscape – or “country” as they say. It is almost as though the artist “sees” what he paints from above. Meeting places and animals and bush tucker (like bush tomatoes) are seen as from above. I have a painting of Emily Kame Kngwarreye which illustrates her “country” with white dots against a dark brown background. Some years ago I flew over such an area in spring when the little white daisies proliferated and it immediately evoked that painting.

    Bardon’s encouragement of what became the Papunya art of the Central Desert was one of the most wonderful avenues of understanding just a little of the relationship of Aborigines to the land.

  • vickisanderson says:

    BTW re the controversy about “assisted” painting by art dealers: this is most definitely a deceptive practice.

    On the other hand, it is quite common, and quite accepted by families of artists that some family members assist in the larger paintings.

    • pmprociv says:

      If the artwork is purchased mainly for its aesthetic qualities, say to be hung in a foyer of a large corporation’s offices, who cares how it was produced, or what its “spiritual” meaning might be? If all the symbolism is secret, then no outsiders viewing the work will understand its meaning anyway. It’s little more than a decoration, as well as a symbol of the wealth and wokeism of that corporation.

  • Daffy says:

    I thought Aborigines were ‘recognised’ in the constitution. They, like all other adult citizens, can vote for members of parliament, as long as they can so vote in their state of residence. QED.

    • Peter OBrien says:

      Daffy, there is no requirement that Commonwealth electors must be able to vote in their state of residence.

      • lbloveday says:

        Legalese is not a strong point of mine, but I could take this to mean as Daffy says.
        Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives shall be in each State that which is prescribed by the law of the State as the qualification of electors of the more numerous House of Parliament of the State.

        • Peter OBrien says:

          The Parliament provided otherwise when it enacted the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902, which contained no reference to State qualifications. It enfranchised every adult except Aborigines who didn’t
          already have the vote in their own State, viz Qld and WA. In 1962 the Electoral Act was amended to include any aborigine who didn’t by then have the vote. This included those in Qld and WA, who very shortly also removed provisions that disenfranchised Aborigines.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    If, as Ian M writes, there is a reason for dots ” … to allow aboriginal artists to redact secret parts of their images with dots”, the topic of censorship should be raised.
    Here is a photo I took of some aboriginal art near the Ranger Uranium Mine.
    As you can see, we have a couple of bodies of dismembered women, limbs neatly arranged as if a deranged murderer might lust for as part of the craft. Perhaps is not a suitable image for our pre-pubescents to view. How might it be censored? R rating, 18+ or whatever?
    It gets worse in the detail. Notice the large vulva in the genital areas, a topic in art that is not commonly displayed. Too big to censor with dots? Then there is the sado-masochistic addition of a snake biting away. It was explained at the time that this was the way that menstruation started. Was this a quaint error of human biology that evaded cirrection bythe dreamers for tens of thousands of years?

    An aside: One St Patrick’s Day, Sydney call-back radio heard a female caller –
    “You are telling stories about the Irish. Can I please tell a story?”
    “Sure, lady, go ahead.”
    “I have a question for you. How do you make an irish lass pregnant?
    “I dunno, lady. How do you make an Irish lass pregnant?”
    “Aye. And you think that the Irish are stupid.”
    Why is it possible for an Irish view of human biology to be the subject of jokes, while we have to treat with respectful reverence (and a proiposed Constitutional amendmen) the wrong human biology described with this primitive rock art?
    Geoff S

  • Alistair says:

    Just reprinting this comment of mine from Cory Bernardi this morning …

    Im wondering if we shouldn’t be taking more note of what’s happening in Israel at the moment.

    As I see it, if the Voice referendum gets up Australia will have a democratically elected Parliament and a non democratic unelected Voice both of which will have equal status under the Constitution. Therefore the Voice will be able to challenge any decision made by the Parliament in the unelected High Court … and vice versa – the Parliament will be able to challenge any decision made by the Voice. Therefore the focus of government will move away from Parliament and the people … to the unelected High Court. This appears to me to be the problem that Israel is facing at the moment – a shift of power away from the democratically elected Parliament to an unelected judiciary.

    This seems to me it is a change to our Constitution that the electorate ought to be considering very carefully.

  • Alistair says:

    Incidentally, absolutely agree that Abbott’s cop out – supporting recognition in the preamble as a way of absolving conscience while not supporting a full Voice – is a disaster waiting to happen since it leaves the way wide open for activist constitutional lawyers to “interpret” what that insertion actually means … and that will inevitability lead from the acknowledgement of pre-existing sovereignty and nations at the time of settlement … to co-sovereignty … then to treaties and then to reparations. Unless you can find someone with the courage to argue that settlement extinguished Aboriginal sovereignty. I cant believe that there is a Constitutional lawyer who would want to take on that brief! It would be career-ending.

    People might like to be reminded of this …

    • pmprociv says:

      Yep, Alistair: constitutionally enshrined First Nations and Other Nations citizens — first step along the road to a Bipolar Nation. Pick your side early, and carefully, for who knows where will it all end?

    • rosross says:

      My question is RECOGNISE WHAT AND WHY? Recognise that stone-age peoples lived here before the British arrived? Stone-age peoples lived everywhere on the planet. So what?

      Recognise the culture? What? Cannibalism infanticide to keep numbers down so food supplies were not stretched; women as slaves and packhorses; shocking violence toward women, which still exists today in communities which remain trapped in backward tribal systems; child marriage horrific sexual initiation practices for girls with adult men using their own equipment or sticks, which often killed them or left them sterile; little girls getting pregnant and dying in childbirth, buried with their baby whether it was living or dead, or as often as not, both of them eaten; horrific initiation practices for boys, having your penis slit from end to end which often killed or left the boy sterile because semen did not get where it needed to go? ‘

      There is nothing to recognise in any honouring sense. Recognise as part of Australia’s stone-age history but that has always been done.. This fabrication and fantasising began with the 67 Referendum when the lies told then were sopped up by the ignorant and turned into myths by the academic and has become a monster.

  • rosross says:

    Eloquent and succinct Peter.

    While it is important to appreciate spirituality and our Australian history in all its forms, the fact is, as you rightly point out, the Constitution is a working document for Government and not a spiritual artifice to be tinkered with in the name of so-called tradition whether real or recently invented.

    The Constitution mentions Australians and that is enough because we are all included equally. Anyone following this issue carefully knows full well that ‘recognition’in the Constitution is not about being recognised, for God knows we know they exist and have always done so, but about Constitutional power for the abolite radicals who want to control and dictate to our Federal Governments in their own interests.

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