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Stateless Nations

With debates on the Constitution, Recognition and a possible Treaty ramping up in the mainstream media it’s time to expose the lies that have conveniently masked Australia’s history. Indigenous people farmed, managed and governed the continent for millennia. In this three-part series JD Anthony reflects on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth, Melissa Lucashenko’s The First Australian Democracy and Abdullah Ocalan’s The Roots of Civilisation to ask “Is it possible for us to see that the past was not more primitive and savage than the present, and that the future need not be barbaric?”

We never studied Australian history at school. Maybe we never actually “studied” at all, but we were schooled if not educated. Either way, there was no such subject as Australian history. We did British history and later a sort of general world narrative focussed on heroic leaders and imperial wars. The template for this grand narrative was a map on the wall showing the whole British Empire upon which the sun never set.

Being a Catholic boys’ school, we also learnt Latin, mainly by reading Virgil and Cicero. We scanned the Roman republic and empire and were led to believe that the Romans, great as they might have been in ancient times, were really just a prototype for the British. The latter of course brought civilisation to the far reaches of the globe, not just the circumference of the Mediterranean. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, Britons never, ever, ever shall be slaves. As my mother sang to me all those years ago.

Australia’s place in this god-given colonial schema was the destination of brave seafarers and a tabula rasa for explorers and doughty settlers. Exploration, discovery and hard work were the main themes, but to be honest it was all a bit boring. Some stories teased me – the little girls who snuck out before dawn so they could watch the sunrise over the Blue Mountains, or the drover’s wife sitting up all night with a shotgun to protect her children from that scary snake, or the bushrangers. There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name, of poor but honest parents he was born in Castlemaine … As we sang in the car on those long drives to relatives down the coast.

But this version of our history contained no overview, no discursive sweep of time and space, little mention of previous European exploration (just Dirk Hartog and the Dutch marooned on the WA coast, something about Van Diemen, nothing about the French), and almost no geography or understanding of soil, climate or plants. And it never occurred to me that we were closer to Asia than Europe.

The Victorian Education Department’s “Eight Book” (a text for Intermediate English, first published in 1928 and reprinted until 1940) celebrates Australia as the happy land (Australia Felix) waiting thousands of years for the settlers to arrive. It’s a sort of cultural fairy tale starting with the southern sunrise (The Morning Star paled slowly, the Cross hung low to the sea) and ranging from The Magpie’s Song to The Lights of Cobb and Co. Stories of the Empire include Kipling’s Grand Trunk Road of India, and some reference to Europe, Rome and other parts of the world. Seven pages on the Anzacs and the Great War. And only the barest mention of Indigenous Australians – just four and a half pages from CEW Bean’s The Old Inhabitants and a melancholy poem The Last of his Tribe. The Bean excerpt, taken from his early book The Dreadnought of the Darling, acknowledges the “black man” as the original occupier of the land, a stone age nomad who lived in “poor remains” not even deigned as ruins, wandering “the blank utter darkness before Australian history began,” wearing “elementary clothes” but who still “managed to work out two or three wonderfully efficient instruments” for hunting and fishing. There’s a grudging tone of admission here that more could maybe be said, but – as Thomas Mitchell wrote in another excerpt – the land “lay before me with all its features new and untouched as they fell from the hands of the Creator. Of this Eden it seems that I was the only Adam.” (On Pyramid Hill, Victoria, 1836).

"The Last of his Tribe" from the Eighth Reader

“The Last of his Tribe” from the Eighth Reader

Texts like these formed the opinions and mapped out the discourse for generations of urban Australians, not just for me. They provided the ideological basis for terra nullius, a term from Roman law meaning “nobody’s land” which asserted that a particular territory had never been subject to the sovereignty of any state. As far as we were concerned, at school in those days, the “aboriginals” were a stone age people with no government, without law, mere nomads and savages. This was reinforced by the publicity surrounding Blainey’s Triumph of the Nomads (1975) which praised them as successful and triumphant in their discovery of the land, in their adaptation to it, and their mastery of its climate and food reserves. But just by its title kept them trapped within a nomadic status with numerous connotations of primitive, unsettled, ancient children who were simply not as good as us.

White Australia learnt a little bit more about, and from, the First Australians, during the turbulent anti-war era – the dispossession, the resistance, Jandamawra, the massacres, the denial of human rights. On a camping holiday in northern NSW, having laughed at the sign to Bogan Gate and driven all day through the Pilliga, my partner and I stopped at Myall Creek and listened to the wind in the trees, and I think we wept. Around that time the Indigenous nations protested at the Bicentenary and the Tall Ships and Invasion Day, and we supported them, passively at least.

But in my own understanding these were all bits and pieces, just colonialism and politics mixed with fairness, and to some extent posturing to position myself on the “right side.” I still knew nothing.

The concept of terra Nullius was legally amended by the High Court’s 1992 Mabo decision, which led to the possibility of Indigenous Land Rights being claimed in some parts of Australia, but it was only a partial victory. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation explain:

“The (British) colonisers acknowledged the presence of Indigenous people but justified their land acquisition policies by saying the Aborigines were too primitive to be actual owners and sovereigns and that they had no readily identifiable hierarchy or political order which the British Government could recognise or negotiate with. The High Court’s Mabo judgment in 1992 overturned the terra nullius fiction. In the same judgment, however, the High Court accepted the British assertion of sovereignty in 1788, and held that from that time there was only one sovereign power and one system of law in Australia.

“The traditional English view of sovereignty was described by William Blackstone in the 18th century as deriving of necessity from one ‘supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority’. . . Australian governments and courts have not accepted the existence of remnant Indigenous sovereignty, and Australian Aborigines have not gained the status of domestic dependent nations, as bestowed on the Indian tribes of North America.”

The legal sticking point seems to be the concept of the Sovereign State, as important now to Australia as it was to the British Empire and indeed to Roman Law two thousand years ago.

The imperial and colonial viewpoint was still being echoed by the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, as recently as November 2014 when he said during a breakfast for British PM Cameron:

“As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush. The marines and the convicts and the sailors that straggled off those 12 ships, just a few hundred yards from where we are now, must have thought they had come almost to the moon. Everything would have been so strange. Everything would have seemed so extraordinarily basic and raw …”

Around the time of the Mabo decision, at the old State Museum in Melbourne, I saw a display of eel traps and rock diversions constructed by Aboriginal people to catch fish in the streams of South West Victoria. This blew a lot of cobwebs away – the Aborigines were clearly not hunter-gatherers but settled and productive people who constructed feats of engineering to ensure a regular and predictable supply of food. Was this an isolated case of social and technical progress I wondered? Why had we never learned of this before? Was there more we did not know?

To be continued: Tomorrow … Pieces of the puzzle.

This article was originally published on


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  1. Spotty

    Cannot overstate how important Bruce Pacoe’s “Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident” is for a rounded historical discussion, it should be a compulsory read.

  2. townsvilleblog

    Perhaps the time has arrived to compensate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for their land and their stolen wages. Wages in Queensland have been reliably estimated approximately 10 years ago to be roughly $500 million, add some inflation to that for the decade and there you have it. The people and/or descendants of those people could really be helped if that money was paid to them from we European Australians or paid by the wealthy farmers who used their labour.

  3. Matt

    There have been a couple of legal decisions that have led me to believe that Australia’s official legal system cannot be used to evaluate itself. The twisted logic of the Mabo decision – rejecting Terra Nullius (the basis of applying British law here) whilst asserting that British law should still apply – is a masterful way of accepting the undeniable reality of the Aboriginal presence here, yet allowing the (illegal) system of white law to continue relatively unhindered.

    Others have explored related questions over sovereignty in Australia (how can we change our constitutions, without referendum, specifically the sovereign/head of state from “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” to “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”).

    Lawyer John Waugh explains attempts of people to question the validity of our laws as follows:

    “Among them is a belief that somewhere there’s a legal argument that will, like a magic key, remove the burdens that the parties are suffering under, whether they are rates, taxes, bankruptcy or anything else that the state demands of its citizens. It’s as if the key can be found by anyone who carefully studies legal sources for themselves, and it can be made to work by formulating documents with the right permutations of legal terminology.

    The magical element in all this is its detachment from the way law actually works”


    I think the problem is not so much the lack of a ‘magical element’ in the questions, but rather the failure to understand the actual ‘magical element’ of our legal system, which is that it is impossible to invalidate any constitution in Australia (state or federal) using the legal system – the system itself simply cannot and will not ever allow or approve of any litigation which questions its own legitimacy. (think of the consequences of it doing so). That is why it is irrelevant whether any arguments against the legitimacy of our constitution, such as those presented in “Australia The Concealed Colony” ( are true or not – they would never be accepted regardless.

    Thus the use of legal means for those who would dearly love for modern Australians to be given the opportunity to produce a new constitution for Australia are entirely barred, and since there is no way our politicians would allow a process for a popular new constitution (eg one including Community Initiated Referenda), we must wait for that time in the future when the current constitution becomes so unworkable that somehow those with power and influence in Australia are forced to allow such a process to proceed.

  4. Noel

    I do not know what school you went to. I went to Highgate Christian Brothers school and Aquinas College in Perth during the 1940s and 50s and we certainly studies Australian History, including the settlement and exploration of Western Australia and Australian, the impact of the goldrushes, gold discoveries at Bathurst and the impact of the gold rushes at Ballarat and Kalgoorlie and the moves to Federation in the 1890s. We studied the Eureka Stockade and the Gallipoli Landings. We also studied British History (Roman conquest, Feudalism, Industrial; Revolution.etc) and the lives of prominent statesmen, explorers and scientists like Cook, Columbus, Flinders, Macquarie, Sturt, Jenner, Pasteur, Farrer, Marconi, Hargraves, Samuel Morse, Sister Kenny, Hellen Keller, Dr Schweitser, et al.
    We also learned that John Batman entered into a treaty with indigenous people when establishing the site of present day Melbourne. We also studied Latin which engendered in me a great love of language.. We were exposed to a lot of Australian literature and poetry, and asked to memorise quite a lot of the poetry by Lawson, Paterson, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, etc. I am very glad of the education that i received and the attitudes to learning that it gave me. I agree that all Australians need to learn a lot more about Aboriginal history and culture…which of course, is part of our history and culture.

  5. Matt


    It sounds like your education was much more interesting and expansive than mine was in the late 1970’s – 1980’s.


  6. Al Fish

    Constitutional Laugh!

    I’ve forwarded this information to you so please feel free to do what you will with it. For lawyers outside of Australia (and Canada and New Zealand) the information will provide a lot of laughs, even though the joke is sick.

    Back in 1997 a group of dedicated Australians discovered serious and foundational problems with their British constitution – the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (Imp.). These issues were run before all courts in Australia, including the High Court of Australia.

    I forward a link to Joosse’s case in the transcription section of the High Court of Australia and strongly suggest that you read it. When doing so please note the times which are provided on that transcript, the adjournment break and length of the decision.

    Having achieved nothing but having been effectively destroyed by various Australian governments and their agents a decision was made in 2006 to forward that information to the Chinese government as no Australian government and very few Australians were at all interested in rectifying these problems. I forward a link to an archive stored website (which still works, but slowly) and ask that you kindly examine the signatures of Queen Elizabeth II on Australian vice-regal appointment documents. You don’t need to be a handwriting expert and I’m advised that these signatures were forged by Jack Straw.
    Queen’s signatures

    All this and more was forward to the second largest Chinese newspaper (at the time) and was downloaded and copied from seven different places in China within 24 hours of receipt. The Chinese government knows that if they publish the information provided, the Australian dollar and Stock Market would only have about 24 hours life in them – if that. The Chinese government also got legal advice from the Law Schools of Cambridge and California at Berkeley. For this reason the Chinese continue to buy up big in Australia: mines, farms, fisheries, processing factories, shipping ports and airports, whatever they want; because the governments of Australia can’t afford for the Chinese to publish.

    Word from at least one Chinese embassy (no names) is that Fiji will be owned and operated by the Chinese government by 2025 and Australia and its people by 2040. The Australian people are too busy watching televised sport to give a damn and by the time they wake up (if they ever do) our actions have been planned to ensure that there’s nothing left to wake up to. So far we have achieved great results, so Chinese control of Australia and its people may come earlier that 2040. Aussies will be the first people ever to give away the soil under their feet together with their and their future generations lives without a shot being fired or money changing hands.

    Australia a Concealed Colony but soon to be a Chinese Colony

    Here’s a quick summation and this is the first point (there are many others) which the Chinese government have been using to buy out the ground under Australians’ feet.

    The Preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (Imp.) is the only place where sovereignty is spelt out in the Act.

    Here is the Preamble:

    Clause 9 of that Act is referred to as ‘the (Australian) constitution’ meaning that s.128 of clause 9 (the referendum section) only applies to clause 9 and not the Preamble, first 8 clauses or the Schedule to the Act. Therefore the Preamble, first 8 clauses and Schedule to the Act can only be altered by the Westminster parliament which passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (Imp.) into law.

    So who or where is “the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”? This is a UK which hasn’t existed since maybe 1921 but definitely not since 1922. Today it’s ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and Elizabeth II is queen of that particular United Kingdom.

    Without a sovereign of “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” as specified in the Constitution Act, no Governors-General or Governors can be legally and validly appointed. If this is not the case then Australia’s vice-regal representatives could be validly appointed by the Princess of Burundi or the President of America – neither of which are mentioned in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (Imp.). By the way, the Queen of Australia isn’t mentioned in the Act either. So who appoints Australia’s vice-regal representatives, because unless these people are properly, validly and legally appointed no Bills of law can be passed as Acts of law and the Chinese government knows and has been using this for the last twelve years. Imagine what would happen economically and politically to Australia, Canada and New Zealand (all with similar constitutional problems) if the Chinese government published the material they hold.

    As Aussies love their Westminster appointed queen and know nothing about the system of laws – British, European or International – which establish and govern their political system, Aussies will continue in their ignorance to allow the governments which Aussies believe are acting in their interests to divest Australia from Australians and hand it to the Chinese government. Last financial year (2016-2017) the Chinese increased their land holdings in Australia by ten times – 1000%! I’m waiting to see how much more land the Chinese have acquired in Australia but the figures will be released later this month.

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