Horrified barely scratches the surface of how I felt the day I learnt what is defined as genocide. After being directed to the United Nations 1948 Genocide Convention website. My heart sank reading Article II.
(Excerpt from the Article II of UN Website) In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Australia has a genocidal history
Looking through the eyes of my own Aboriginal ancestors, genocides were abundant in my personal history. My family line descends from the Stolen Generations, more than 60-years of what is considered the last definition of genocide. Like most First Nation People, my clans were victims of poisoned water holes massacring dozens at a time. Plus, retaliatory mass murders after colonial violence such as women raped resulted in a payback spearing or killing. Watching ABC’s The Pacific in the Wake of Capitan Cook, I heard a Maori woman describe herself as both coloniser and colonised. The line stuck me deeply. Having grown up knowing my ancestors oppressed my ancestors, was a hard place for a child let alone an adult. This statement was another take on my own words.
The founding of Australia was dark and unpleasant to say the least. Those who continue to deny the history, please read some of my other articles on The AIMN. Relevant topics can be found here, or here, or here. Colonialism has been determined to portray a nomadic people whom were dying out naturally. Considered from the Indigenous perspective this was a means of justifying the conquering of the people and illegal seizure of lands. Phrases such as ‘punitive expeditions’ and ‘disperse the natives’ frequent Australia’s history books. A means of disguising the actions of mass murder used against the Indigenous Peoples. Currently, the world is up in arms at China over the fourth item on the description. But Australia is ignoring the implications of what constitutes genocide enacted within our own shores. We always have!
On the 8th July 1949 Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The last ‘officially sanctioned’ act of genocide against the Indigenous People occurred in the 1930s. Sadly there are records of unsanctioned acts occurring much later than the official records reflect; covered up for fear of punishment. Historians are researching historical records in an attempt to bring more of these to light and improve the records of Australian history.
Whilst the majority of Australians believe genocide is not something Australia would participate in today, there are those like me who feel we cross the line when the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations are concerned. Yes, even today in 2021! Historically the treatment of Indigenous Peoples was one of traumatic extremes. Australia’s history books belie this truth. But the words ‘war’ and ‘extermination’ have been used together to describe the treatment on more than one occasion.
“While Bathurst with its surrounding vicinity is engaged in an exterminating war, peace reigns around the ever verdant valley of Wellington.” And, When martial law had run its course extermination is the word that most aptly describes the result. As the old Roman said, “They made a solitude and called it peace’. The last effort of a doomed race thus ended.” (Excerpt from Aboriginal Sovereignty, Kevin Gilbert).
This is where the story of the Myall Creek Massacre provides the evidence not only of the massacre of the twenty eight Aborigines killed at Myall Creek but also of countless other massacres. Following his inquiry which he conducted in the Big (Gwydir) River district around Myall Creek, Police Magistrate Edward Denny Day reported to Governor George Gipps, “There is a war of extermination against the blacks in that part of the colony.” Additionally on 18th December 1838 on the morning seven of the perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre were to hang, the Head Gaoler, Henry Keck reported to Governor Gipps that all the men had confessed but they had said they “didn’t know it was against the law to kill blacks because it had happened so often throughout the colony.” Quite clearly those two quotes provide irrefutable evidence of just how common and widespread massacres of Aboriginal people were at that time so much so that any sceptics who choose to deny it are simply “burying their heads in the sand.” (Excerpt from the Myall Creek Massacre Website).
Today’s genocidal identity
Looking through the eyes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today, I argue the genocides against us never ended. The White Australia Policy and some of the others that outrightly disadvantaged First Nations Peoples were abolished. Sadly, many of the values remain in the hearts of some Australian’s today. We have had the same beliefs displayed by government and media identities today; fuelling the divide drawn in the line 233 years ago.
Racially driven profiling stems from the historic values founding the “Lucky Country”. Systematic racism exists because of the beliefs at the core of the country. Foundations that have never been addressed since they were established. Whilst they are no longer legally viable in the open, many disappeared beneath the surface layer. Our populations have always been unfairly targeted by the colonial system since invasion. In many ways we still are.
Genocide is not merely described as mass murder. Personally, I focus on the second item on the definition list. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group. But because the definition states “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Australia has been able to get away with actions that should be classed as genocides upon the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Laws preventing murder and upholding human rights have enabled the ‘Lucky County’ to refuse the truth about Australia’s current day acts of genocide.
Deaths in Custody
1991 saw the release of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report. Sadly, First Nations People are still the highest incarcerated demographic in the world. Statistically, 23% of the population in March 2021 were imprisoned. Accountability of deaths in custody is lacking while investigations are conducted by internal forces. Occasions when failures in duty of care are directly responsible for deaths, little is changed to prevent similar occurrences.
Australia has the tools to reduce the incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Instead of enacting the steps needed, political willpower is used on other means such as creating further punitive measures.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die in custody 11 times more frequently than other nationalities. Whilst some consider this comparative under certain conditions, facts are the demographic make-up 3% of the overall population: Meaning these statistics are much higher than the rest of Australian society. If one person a month died behind bars it would take 39.5 years to reach the 474 deaths recorded on the 30th anniversary. Over the months either side of the anniversary a further seven First Nations People died in custody. Proving the system is failing yet still the remaining recommendations have not been implemented over state and federal levels.
These facts fall within the description of both the first and second definition of genocide: Killing members of the group and causing serious bodily and mental harm. The circumstances of history have imposed upon First Nations People the conditions that calculated their deaths. There are many who would suggest not enough has changed with the system to justify not meeting the terms of the third description of genocide too.
My argument is that Australia has enacted decades of genocide resulting from the lack of health care as per the standards of Australian citizens. We have breached the conditions of the first three definitions. Indigenous People in remote communities have been unable to access medical treatments, and preventative measures have been outright denied. These health issues have long-term effects resulting in serious bodily and mental harm to a large population of the Indigenous Populations. And part three; deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical death, due to the lack of preventative measures and treatments not made available to remote Indigenous communities.
Decades of reports have shown the First nations People die on average 10 years earlier than other Australians. Directly caused by the third, fourth and fifth world conditions of our communities covered below. Health disparities have been noted for generations, as have recommended solutions. Many have been left without action. Creating with numerous acts of wilful blindness by Australian governments. Preventive measures have not been enacted and the treatments are inaccessible to the communities in need.
- Diseases at epidemic levels (Trachoma, Acute Rheumatic Disease, Rheumatic Heart Disease, Diabetes, Kidney and Heart Diseases, Iron Deficiencies etc). Preventative measures regarding overpopulation and the need for more housing has been ignored for decades. If Australia established adequate housing conditions, many health issues directly resulting from overpopulation (Acute Rheumatic Disease, Trachoma etc) would not be experienced at epidemic levels.
- Lack of health services in communities means First Nations children are born with comorbidities. As per Closing the Gap these will not see any visible improvements for another 50 years. Treatments are not made readily available resulting in health disparities to be present. If training for health care workers was more easily accessible these communities would have a better chance of supporting themselves.
- “Aboriginal Australians are arguably one of the most traumatised people in the world” yet mental health and trauma have been overlooked within the First Nation Communities. Suicide rates within our demographics are higher due to the circumstances of communities and traumas that have never been adequately addressed within our populations.
This section is highly focused at the third definition: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in par.” Wilful blindness plays a part in the conditions intended to cause the death of the First Nations People.
- Housing circumstances: as previously stated; the housing conditions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are dire! They have been in need of immediate attention for generations. But blind eyes have been turned away from the issue of overpopulation and poor inadequate quality. In 2020 the NT government were condemned by the current Indigenous Affairs Minister before some progress was made. Many feel it is too little too late. Hundreds have already had their health impacted by the poor circumstances. Minimal work being undertake will not improve the disadvantage caused by the inadequate housing conditions.
- High levels of Uranium found in the drinking water at Laramba has been left for the community to resolve. If this was in Sydney the local, state, and federal governments would be in an uproar flying into action. Sadly, the Aboriginal community has been left to find solutions to the uranium on their own. Australians don’t need scientists or doctors to tell us that uranium kills, yet Australia has enacted more wilful blindness in this situation.
- Lack of fresh & healthy food at reasonable prices. Again, if the prices experienced in rural areas were seen in Canberra an uproar would ensue and changes would result. Over the past decade three inquiries into the prices and conditions of foods available to remote Aboriginal populations has resulted in no changes. I have spoken to many who have to decide if $10 a lettuce is something they can afford to budget for only to get to the shops and find the ‘fresh food’ is half rotted, forcing individuals to make less than healthy choices in their weekly shopping. The lack of access to fresh, healthy foods has caused a wide array of health disparities. These contribute to the overall poor health, short life expectancies, and many of the higher-than-normal suicide rates. Creating both serious bodily and mental harm. Plus, part three of the genocide act, conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction.
- Birritjimi – situated near Nhulunbuy – contains houses that were abandoned when a Rio Tinto mine site was closed. These houses were built in the 1970s and have received minimal upkeep since then. Residents of the area describe being able to ‘feel’ electricity running through the walls.
Racial discrimination is classified as a hate crime by many societies. Conducted upon a national scale within Australia, it is a breach of both domestic and international human rights standards. Systematic racism exists within most of the colonial systems of Australia, resulting in a high level of disadvantage experienced at the expense of the First Nations. Police, Corrections and Child Protective services have arguably always heavily persecuted the Indigenous Peoples at a much higher rate than any others within Australia. Generations of advocacy has highlighted many of these issues, but they have often been refuted or deflected and dismissed. Inadequately addressing problem areas does not make them go away; they prevail in the background.
While Australia persists in disregarding the existence of systematic racism within the constraints of the society, we will continue seeing the deep racial divide we have experienced since the invasion.
Racism creates a feeling of terror, when committed on a national level for generations it creates intergenerational traumas. Meeting the definition for the second definition of genocide; causing a high level of mental harm. Suicide and domestic/family violence levels as a result of homelessness/overpopulation could be applied to category three; deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction. Due to the repeated wilful blindness perpetrated against these problem areas from Australian Governments and citizens.
Opinions regularly expressed by News Commenters on shows such as SkyNews are extremely racist. In 2018 Channel 7 released a segment on the Sunrise show suggesting it was appropriate to begin another Stolen Generation. Something they offered an apology for in early January 2021 as a voice over reading the words on the screen. Even with such an unacceptable apology, the damage has already been done. The all-white panel has influenced the beliefs of the wider population; many who have never even met an Indigenous Person in their life. Those views have been passed onto friends, family and children. This flow on of a misrepresented opinion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will only continue the racism and oppression we face as nations daily.
Homelessness has always been a crisis within the Indigenous communities of Australia. Ignored by the wider community and governments for generations. These rates of homelessness impact a wide range of areas within the nations. From health and education through to domestic and family violence and the substance abuse often used to undermine our peoples.
Noted on Twitter by an acquaintance I have a great amount of respect for @TiddaPage, she wrote to me “Great thread Jen also First Nations People experience homelessness at 14 % higher than non-Indigenous counterparts a large number are children between 10 and 16 yrs.”
Great thread Jen also First Nations People experience homelessness at 14 % higher than non-Indigenous counterparts a large number are children between 10 and 16 yrs.
— Tidda (@Tiddapage) April 29, 2021
Over the years many Indigenous Communities have been closed. Many were shut due to the costs associated with providing water and other essential services, but these closures resulted in further dispossession of cultural connections causing mental harm. This could arguably be a case for part three of the genocide definition. As these measures disconnect the cultural aspects of the belief system, resulting in high levels of depression and other mental illnesses.
The lack of houses for the population has created a huge discrepancy in homelessness. Community do not have enough houses to provide for the people and squeeze two, three sometimes four bodies into single beds so everyone has a roof to sleep under. This level of homelessness causes even higher rates of overpopulation results in higher-than-normal health complications.
Australia’s wilful blindness regarding the levels of homelessness within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples could be considered under definition two and three of the genocide act.
Serious Mental Harm
- Destruction of Sacred Sites and cultural heritage, combined with a lack of action towards language and culture retention. Colonisation has wiped out so much our history and knowledge. These days our Elders are crying out for assistance in retaining what we have left. Minimal work has been done to ensure our cultures and way of life survive into the future. Forcibly assimilating people into a culture is a violation of human rights. It also erases the people in a way, meaning the way of life is being killed.
- Intergenerational trauma has not been addressed and is often denied by Australians.
- Fights for stolen wages are demeaning while cause for a great deal of anxiety & depression.
- Impacts of the higher suicide rates.
- Denial of Aboriginal history, for example: sovereignty, dispossession, genocides, slavery. The constant favouritism towards the colonial history tells the oldest living cultures in the world they are not valuable.
- The anthem was written in 1878 when we were literally in chains, slaughtered by the dozens, or left to starve when our food had been eradicated and water sources poisoned. This for some are open wounds still causing agony. Promoting small steps as a positive creates as much harm as the past has. Many welcomed New Year’s Eve 2020 with tears of pain, our voices once again overlooked. Scott Morrison altered a single word in an action considered further assimilation. Enforcing colonialism over Indigenous Cultures is traumatic, it causes trauma.
- Australia Day is highly polarising. Invasion Day is merely one of the titles we apply to 26th January. We have voiced how much pain celebrating on this day causes us. For what we would count as a lifetime; this pain has been ignored or ridiculed by the wider Australian population.
- Representing Australia’s Flag with the Union Jack causes many in this country to feel sick to their stomach. The symbol pushed into our soil and proclaimed British property. Our own flags are refused by governments which tells us we too have been refused as included in the term Australia.
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Child Protective Services released data in 2019 showing 15.6% of First Nations children are living in out of home care. This statistic increased by 39% in 2020. Times extended family members have come forward to ask for the children of their family they have been denied with barely even an assessment to determine their suitability. These children are instead handed to other people who do not have the same cultural beliefs, language, or values.
Statistically, First Nations People are the highest demographic involved with Child Protective Services in Australia. Many suggest these relationships have not improved (nor have the interactions reduced) since the Stolen Generations occurred, meaning they feel this act of genocide never ceased.
Australia’s history with genocide may not be as far behind us as many would choose to believe, the facts speak for themselves. If government departments honestly wanted to see these truths change, initiatives such as Closing the Gap would not consider fifty years a suitable time frame to stop infants being born with comorbidities. Actively work at resolving the level of health disparities seen within the First Nations communities.
Without systematic changes across the board, my opinion will always be that acts of genocide still occur in Australia on a daily basis. Unless Australia actively works at preventing the genocidal identity within our own shores, it is hypocritical to accuse others of the same crime.
Until such a time, we rightfully deserved to have more than 30 countries point their fingers at Australia in February 2021 and accuse us of human rights violations. We are much worse than a violator of human rights. We have spent 233 years covering up acts of genocide against the oldest living cultures in the world! Shame on the Lucky Country. It truly is only lucky for some.
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