Part Seventeen of a history of European occupation, rule, and brutal imperialism of Indigenous Australia, by Dr George Venturini.
The dangers of appeasement
“‘Caucasian race’ is the name of the white minority that sits at the summit of human hierarchy. This christening occurred in 1775 at the hand of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.” [Emphasis added]. Thank you, Eduardo Galeano, and the word in Italics is quite appropriately emphasised.
Blumenbach was a German physician, naturalist, physiologist and anthropologist, whose teachings in comparative anatomy were applied to his classification of human races, of which he determined there were five.
Five years after Cook’s ‘discovery’, and three before Phillip’s ‘settlement’, Blumenbach “saw humanity as a five-story pyramid. On top, the whites. Over the next three floors, the races of dirty skin marred original purity.”
There followed – it seems – the Mongolian or yellow race, including all East Asians and some Central Asians, the Malayan or brown race, including Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders (and presumably the Indigenous Peoples of Sahul), the Ethiopian or black race, including sub-Saharan Africans, and finally the American or red race, including American Indians.
Actually, Galeano did not follow that order. He wrote: “Underneath them all, deformed without and within, were the blacks of Africa,” in Mirrors, (Stories of almost everyone, Nation Books, New York 2009 at 44). He might not be totally correct, but his final observation fits the purpose; “Big S Science has always put black people in the basement.” Old god-fearing, real-Australians would go along with that ‘science’.
Galeano is instructive: “In 1865, the Anthropological Society of London concluded that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, and only Europeans had the ability to ‘humanize and civilize’ them. Europe dedicated its best energies to this noble mission but did not succeed. Nearly century and a half later, in 2007, an American, James Watson, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, confirmed that blacks were still less intelligent.” Id.
Goodly, real-Australians are prisoners of some dates: the faux discovery, the ‘peaceful settlement’, the development of ‘orderly government’ – interrupted only by some colonially-owed ‘interventions’ against the Maori, the Sudanese and the Boers – and finally the Constitution, granted but not conquered and so actively defended now by soi-disant republicans, even of the ‘Elisabethan’ kind. (What kind of Elisabeth one is not told, though: is it No. 1, who ate with her hands and partnered with ‘venture capitalists’ like Francis Drake, or Elisabeth No. 2 who was concerned about a Royal Paradise in Bermuda for her investments?)
Was Ms Munroe, the Wiradjuri woman and well-known political activist from Redfern, New South Wales, correct, or simply another ‘agitator’ like Mr Neal?
Ms Munroe’s question “how does our sovereignty remain intact when we go into the white man’s constitution?” remains un-answered, at least since the Royal Ambush of the Whitlam Government in 1975.
When Edward Gough Whitlam rose to deliver the policy speech for the Australian Labor Party at the Blacktown Civic Centre, in Sydney, on 13 November 1972, he took a solemn pledge:
“We will legislate to give aborigines land rights – not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us as Australians are diminished while the aborigines are denied their rightful place in this nation.”
The Whitlam Government delivered.
In December 1972 Indigenous People in north-east Arnhem Land were reeling from the Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd (1971) 17 F.L.R. 141, the Gove Land Rights case, in the Northern Territory Supreme Court, which found that they had no sovereign rights to their land.
The government of Robert Gordon Menzies had in the 1960s granted Nabalco total rights to mine bauxite on the tribal lands of the Yolngu people, without the consent of the traditional owners, whom the court later deemed did not exist in Australian law.
In 1973 the Whitlam Government appointed the Woodward Royal Commission, which recommended the recognition of land rights in the Northern Territory.
Long before then, the Gurindji Indigenous People had been working at the Wave Hill Station, located approximately 600 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory. A privately-owned conglomerate based in London, England, the Vestey Group Ltd – formerly Vestey Brothers – ran the Station. The working and living conditions for the Indigenous People were very poor. The wages of Indigenous workers generally were ‘protected’ – that is to say controlled – and not equal to those paid to non-Indigenous employees.
An attempt to introduce equal wages for Indigenous workers was made in 1965, but in March 1966 the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided to delay until 1968 the payment of award wages to male Indigenous workers in the cattle industry.
In August 1966 Mr Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji spokesperson, led a walk-off of 200 Indigenous stockmen, house servants and their families from the Station as a protest against the work and pay conditions. The strike was part of a widespread campaign begun by workers on Brunette Downs Station and supported by non-Indigenous people, including unionists and the author Frank Hardy.
The protesters camped at Daguragu, Wattie Creek and sought the return of some of their traditional lands to develop a cattle station. They petitioned the Governor-General in 1967, and leaders toured Australia to raise awareness about their cause. In 1972 the newly elected Prime Minister Whitlam announced that funds would be made available for the purchase of properties which were not on reserves, and Lord Vestey offered to surrender 90 square kilometres to the Gurindji people.
Daguragu was acquired by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and, on 16 August 1975 at Daguragu, Prime Minister Whitlam transferred leasehold title to the Gurindji, symbolically handing soil to Vincent Lingiari.
This is what Gough Whitlam said at the Gurindji Land Ceremony:
“Vincent Lingiari and men and women of the Gurindji people.
On this great day, I, Prime Minister of Australia, speak to you on behalf of the Australian people – all those who honour and love this land we live in.
For them I want to say to you:
First, that we congratulate you and those who shared your struggle, on the victory you have achieved nine years after you walked off Wave Hill Station in protest.
I want to acknowledge that we Australians have still much to do to redress the injustice and oppression that has for so long been the loss of Black Australians.
I want to promise you that this act of restitution which we perform today will not stand alone – your fight was not for yourselves alone and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.
I want to promise that, through their Government, the people of Australia will help you in your plans to use this land fruitfully for the Gurindji.”
And here are the key words:
”And I want to give back to you formally in Aboriginal and Australian Law ownership of this land of your fathers. [Emphasis added].
Vincent Lingiari, I solemnly hand to you these deeds as proof, in Australian law, that these lands belong to the Gurindji people and I put into your hands part of the earth itself as a sign that this land will be the possession of you and your children forever.”
It means freehold.
This must surely have been the turning point for the heirs to invasion, those who had ill-suffered a leader in government, too tall, too learned, too sophisticated for their aspirational-Englander taste; who in December 1972 had seen the arrival of a noisy band of clowns who should not stay long in town anyway (“because of an aberration of the system”, as Sen. Reginald Greive ‘Reg’ Withers, a.k.a. ‘The Toecutter’ called it); who in April 1974, “acting as Her Australian Majesty’s loyal opposition behaved more like a gang of fascist thugs than responsible politicians in a democratic country” (Thank you, Russel Ward!); who finally felt threatened in their god-given-sacred-possession: the land. Despite all that the Whitlam Government had survived and started to redress the atrocious treatment of the Indigenous People.
Query: it is almost certain that a Nixon-Kissinger and other ‘masters of the Universe’ had more than a hand in the 11.11.75 Ambush. What may never be proven, because the correspondence between the Queen (the Crown to whom Australia was given by Cook and Phillip) owns the whole country and her puke dipsomaniac agent in Canberra is not available, is what that foreign owner did or did not do in the assault. Still some Australians do not stop trying. (Jenny Hocking, ‘The palace treats Australia as the colonial child not to be trusted with knowledge of its own history’, 7 September 2017, The Guardian; Jenny Hocking, ‘Secret “Palace letters” not so secret after all’ and where is Malcolm?’, 13 September 2017, John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations. See also: Stephanie Peatling, ‘Volcanic’: Evidence of Queen’s involvement in the 1975 dismissal uncovered, 15 October 2017, 15 October 2017, The Sydney Morning Herald; Jenny Hocking, “A Royal Green Light”: The Palace, the Governor-General and the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government, 23 October 2017, John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations; Jenny Hocking, The Dismissal Dossier: The Palace Connection: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975 – updated edition, 18 October 2017, Melbourne University Press, 2017).
Whitlam’s gesture of pouring sand into Lingiari’s hand was intended symbolically to reverse a similar act in 1834, when John Batman, the so-called founder of Melbourne, claimed land in that area from its Indigenous People, and an Indigenous elder poured earth from his hand into Batman’s hand.
By then the Whitlam Government had drafted the Bill for an Aboriginal Land Rights Act. It only became law after the Ambush, when the Fraser government was able to have the legislation enacted almost unchanged. Fraser might have realised that the time for recognition – meaningful recognition – had come. Some of the reforms initiated by the Whitlam Government were continued by the Fraser Government.
The Gurindji campaign was an important influence on the events leading to passing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976.
The process of repossession took time: the Central Land Council applied on behalf of the Gurindji under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 for traditional land comprising the Daguragu pastoral lease and some adjacent un-alienated Crown land. In 1981 the Aboriginal Land Commissioner recommended that the land claim should be granted. The claim relating to the South West Corner was granted in 1985.
Today, in Indigenous communities across Sahul there are people named Whitlam, in tribute to the man who might be regarded as Australia’s first Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
After Whitlam’s delivery, one witnessed the pantomime at the Barunga festival in 1988, when Prime Minister Bob Hawke was presented with the bark Barunga Statement and, in reply, he promised to negotiate a treaty within that three-year parliamentary term. Nothing happened.
Later, on 10 December 1992, came Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Redfern Park speech, memorable for its rhetorical brilliance and because it captured in clear terms the truth about Australian history and appeared as the foundation on which to build new trust in the Australian governments among the Indigenous People. Perhaps for lack of time nothing followed.
What followed were eleven years of government by Prime Minister John Winston Howard: he who abolished the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission; who did his best to undermine the Mabo judgement on the ground that he had a covenant with Australia’s farmers – although, clearly no empathy with the Indigenous People; who berated Indigenous audiences until many of them turned their backs on him; who twice suspended the Racial Discrimination Act; who confected some pretext to proclaim ‘the Intervention’ and military re-occupation of part of the Northern Territory; and who put forward some specious, shysterish really, pretext to refuse an apology to the stolen children; who towards the end, sensing the coming electoral defeat of 2007, would come up in extremis with the promise of a mention of the Indigenous People in the Constitution if he had been returned. He was soundly defeated, he even lost his seat. (Mungo MacCallum, The Uluru Statement, John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations).
After all that came a lacrimoso sorry speech by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – but no compensation, a brief and un-productive interval by a well-meaning Prime Minister Julia Gillard and an even briefer return by Rudd.
Continued Monday with: The dangers of appeasement (Part 2)
Previous instalment: Renewed hope at Garma Festival
Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.