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Will Sahul’s First Nations Recognise Australia?

Part One of a history of European occupation, rule, and brutal imperialism of Indigenous Australia, by Dr George Venturini.

Introduction: Head of will Sahul

In the Pleistocene-era what are modern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste on a single continent: Sahul.

Some 80,000 years ago, the water having receded, the Indigenous People began to arrive.

After some 40,000 generations the English came, bringing their cargo of unwanted victims of their decaying system of privilege and their overflowing gaols.

It was a fatal encounter of two civilisations: one animistic/shamanic inspired by a sense of communal sharing, the other obsessed with possession of ‘real’ property and determined to assert the blasting influence of insane monarchical ‘principle’ on a country until then free.

‘To clear the land’ the invaders reified at first, branded as fauna later, and then attacked the Indigenous People: they proffered them poisoned food, gave them infected blankets and began the systematic massacres.

By a seeming change of mind, they offered ‘protection’, supplied Christian missionaries, concocted ‘assimilation’, and all that with the mental reservation and the arrogant hope that ‘the race would die’.

It was a grand manoeuvre choreographed in ‘the Westminster System’ and its imposing, frumpish wigs and jabots.

In the process the new English – Englanders, to boot – made sure that the Indigenous People should be excluded by the federal pact called the Constitution.

The same sclerotic, Imperial piece of ‘horse-and-buggy’ rag is now claiming the successors, banksters and their courtiers – all ‘second-rate people’ – broadly speaking con-artists all. And killers: they got rid of Whitlam – the dangerous class-traitor – in a truly ‘royal’ operation.

Out of what were once regarded as fauna came some bright young people who gained dexterity in the many aspects of the English language – and in the process trusted that that could make them free participants. Freire, Fanon, Camus and others – many others – were not accessible to tell the old, dangerous story of such illusion/misconception of the colonised who would end up talking about the “sovereignty of the Crown.”

The same highly-educated fine minds fell into the traps of endless talks, committees, consultations, conventions, and reports, some of them to be relied upon because released by Royal Commissions – actually intended as pourparlers among ‘gentlemen’ – and some ladies, too.

But the Blacks? Oh, tell me something! The deceivers still had an eye on the Black victims of old-fashioned plain genocide, with the help of time – and winked to each other. As a diversion, contemplating the derelict, they tendered ‘charity’ and ‘compassion’ for the desperation that ‘the system’, ‘the market’, the ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’, fate had caused.

Yet, since 2007, Indigenous People of the world – 370million of them – have a chance: it is contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

That is also a serious opportunity by an undeserving ‘society’, which remains largely in the hands of shysterish politicians ‘Coalescing’ against Labor – more accurately and historical against the working people.

Whether the present second-class clients of the ‘master of the two places: Wall Street and Buckingham Palace’ deteriorate even further or not, the Indigenous People could spearhead a movement toward the liberation of Australia: for a secular, peaceful, democratic, progressive, humane republic, truly representative of all the people living in Australia.

* * * * *

“Tu sol” pensando “o ideal, sei vero.”

for Giuseppe Mazzini

Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907),

Nobel Prize in Literature (1906)

From the beginning

The venue was one of the newest Australian universities. The gathering was the customary visit to the ‘tea room’ – as it was known in the name of tradition. Most of the law teachers and quite a large number of social sciences people would frequent the room, twice a day if possible. The date? Early April 1982.

Argentina’s invasion of Las Islas Malvinas/the Falkland Islands had begun on 2 April. The islands are some 1,521 kilometres from Argentina.

Sovereignty over the windswept and sparsely populated islands had been a source of tension for decades – at least. Britain has ruled the Falklands uninterrupted since the middle of the nineteenth century and the vast majority of the island’s small population – fewer than 3,000 at the 2012 census – are descendants of British occupiers.

However, the Argentine Government maintains that the country inherited control of them from Spain in the 1800s and points to their proximity to South America to bolster their claim of sovereignty, as will be seen further.

In 1982 Argentina’s military Junta, from the beginning in 1976 sponsored by the duo Nixon-Kissinger, and towards the end headed by General Leopoldo Galtieri, was facing a very serious economic crisis and the Junta hoped that a ‘patriotic’ diversion like an external war would bolster its already limited, and then even more so fading, popularity at home.

The British Government was in the hands of Margaret Thatcher, soon to be known as the Iron Lady. She too was facing ‘political’ difficulties and might have preferred a military solution to possible diplomatic solution of the crisis.

On 5 April the British Government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control. In total, 655 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.

Not many in the ‘tea room’ would have known that the most ardent Argentine ‘patriots’ had invoked a 1494 treaty to substantiate Buenos Aires’ claim. A social scientist revealed that and explained to a fairly incredulous audience what that treaty was about.

In 1493, after reports of Columbus’ discoveries had reached them, the Spanish rulers king Ferdinand and queen Isabella enlisted papal support for their claims to the ‘New World’ in order to inhibit the Portuguese and other possible rival claimants. To accommodate them, pope Alexander VI, the Spanish born Rodrigo de Borja, and incidentally one of the most debauched and corrupt of absolute monarchs, issued bulls setting up a line of demarcation from pole to pole 100 leagues – a league which was then just over three nautical miles and a historical unit of distance equal to about 5.5 kilometres – west of the Cape Verde Islands, 570 kilometres off present day Senegal. Spain was given exclusive rights to all newly discovered and undiscovered lands in the region west of the line. Portuguese expeditions were to keep to the east of the line. Neither power was to occupy any territory already in the hands of a Christian ruler – that being a paramount condition.

No other European powers facing the Atlantic Ocean ever accepted this papal arrangement or the subsequent agreement deriving from it. King John II of Portugal was dissatisfied because Portugal’s rights in the ‘New World’ were insufficiently guaranteed, and the Portuguese would not even have sufficient room at sea for their African voyages. On 7 June 1494, meeting at Tordesillas, in north-western Spain, Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors accepted the papal division, but the line itself was moved to 370 leagues – some 1,935 kilometres – west of the Cape Verde Islands, or about 46’30’ W of Greenwich. Pope Julius II finally sanctioned the change in 1506. Thus Spain was to exploit all of the Pacific and America except Brazil, which fell to Portugal along with Africa and Asia. On the other side of the world the demarcation line was determined by continuing longitude 51’W through the North and South poles where it becomes longitude 129’E. The new boundary enabled Portugal to claim the coast of Brazil after its discovery by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500. The remainder of today’s South America fell under Spanish invasion.

What the audience in the ‘tea room’ was facing was a quick reference to a country born between 1810 and 1816, claiming sovereignty over the Falklands in 1982 on the basis of that 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas.

Is it any wonder that the short lecture was met with laughter and guffaws?

One participant, let us call him Outsider, was sitting quietly next to, and to the curiosity of, the lecturer. “What do you think of that?”, he was asked.

The reply came, fairly loud for several people to listen: “I am wondering what our colleagues in, say, Buenos Aires would say of good Lieutenant James Cook landing on an island, later to be called Possession Island, off the tip of Cape York, at the extreme north of the east coast of Australia, and just before dusk on 22 August 1770 declaring the coast from there to Point Hicks, Victoria – about 3,000 kilometres away – British territory in the name of (the already mentally ill) king George III. As Cook wrote in his journal:

“Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken possession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast … by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast.”

The second page of the ‘Secret Instructions for Lieutenant James Cook Appointed to Command His Majesty’s Bark the Endeavour 30 July 1768’ commanded Cook to take such possession “with the consent of the natives.” And Cook, during his voyage north, had recorded signs that “the coast was inhabited … a great number of fires on all the land and islands about them, [which was] ‘a certain sign they are Inhabited’.” Little he knew, that humans had existed on Sahul some 80,000 years ago, and that on his time there were about 750,000 Indigenous People, sorted into some 600 communities and speaking more than 250 languages, different from each other but belonging to a similar linguistic stock. Just over one hundred years after Cook only 60,000 such people had survived the white man.

Neither mirth nor laughter met this reminder.

What is below dispute is that there is little understanding of the manner in which the British took possession of eastern Australia and how their actions related to both international and common law as they were understood in the late eighteenth century.

The British? Hold on!

If fussiness be permitted, ‘Britain’ comes from Latin Britannia/Brittania, through the Old French Bretaigne and Middle English Breteyne. As a matter of historical record the early written reference to the British Isles derives from the works of the Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia. Later Greek writers such as Diodorus of Sicily and Strabo who quotes Pytheas’ use of variants such as Prettanikē: “The Britannic [land, island]”, and nesoi Brettaniai, “Britannic islands” and all of them with “Pretani” being a Celtic word which probably means “the painted ones” or “the tattooed folk”, referring to body decoration. Woad was the most important blue natural dye, used by the Celts.

In the end, οί Πρεττανοί – Prettanoi, Priteni, Pritani or Pretani were early Scots, not British. And the invaders of Sahul – ‘New Holland’ – were Englanders.

Doubtlessly, the claim of sovereignty over half of the continent was unsurprising, but it was a land grab of gigantic proportions. These questions require closer and more detailed consideration, observed yet again and quite recently the eminent Australian historian professor Henry Reynolds: “ … what is not understood is that such a claim related to external sovereignty and was projected outwards to competing European powers and not inward to the Indigenous people.”

Furthermore, the ancient black societies were firmly based on the sanctity of sharing. Translated into modern language that means: communal or public property. One hundred years before the arrival of the First Fleet, William Dampier had observed the Indigenous People of the other side of the continent. He noted that “They live in companies – twenty or thirty men, women and children together.” (William Dampier, Dampier’s voyages, A.E.M. Bayliss ed. (Sydney 1945) at 143-144.

Over a century ago, it was ‘scientifically correct’ to characterise the people of such societies as ‘primitive communists’ or – better still at the time – ‘savages’. ‘Savages’: it was an appellation which would suit perfectly the invaders. Yet, it should be remembered, that Cook wrote admiringly about those ‘savages.’

In his Journal he wrote:”From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland, they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we (sic) Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquillity which is not disturb’d by the Inequality of Condition: the Earth and the sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life. … In short they seem’d to set no Value upon anything we gave them, nor would they ever part with any thing of their own for any one article we could offer them; this in my opinion argues that they think themselves provided with all the necessarys of Life and that they have no superfluities.” (The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery: The Life of Captain James Cook, J.C. Beaglehole ed. (Hakluyt Society, London 1974), vol. 1 at 399).

On the other hand, the white invaders’ society was much more firmly based on the ‘sanctity’ of private property. Indeed, the white invasion of Australia was launched in the first place to punish those who violated private property.

Three hundred years ago the so-called Great Powers of the time had a rather simplified and broadly self-serving view of international law.

Under international law a distinction was drawn in governing a colonised ‘wasteland’ – or vacant land – and a land acquired by treaty or cession, which had already been cultivated and organised. If an uninhabited country was discovered and planted by British subjects, the English laws were said to be immediately in force there – for the law was ‘the birthright of every subject, carried wherever they went’. However, the entire body of English law was understood to have application to these new circumstances only to the extent that it was found to be applicable to the occupiers’ – the so-called ‘settlers’ – new situation and consistent with their local comfort and prosperity.

A different rule applied to conquered and ceded countries which already had laws of their own. In such cases, the English Crown had a right to abrogate the former laws and institute completely new ones. Until such new laws were promulgated, the old laws and customs of the country remained in full force to the extent that they were not contrary to religion or morals.

The eminent jurist Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vol. (1765–69), took the position that American colonies were to be deemed principally conquered or ceded countries. He wrote: “Our American Plantations are principally of this later sort, [i.e. ceded or conquered countries] being obtained in the last century either by right of conquest and driving out the natives, (with what natural justice I shall not at present inquire,) or by treaties. And, therefore, the common law of England, as such, has no allowance or authority there; they being no part of the mother country, but distinct, though dependent dominions.” (Blackstone, Commentaries, vol. 1 at 107).

According to Justice Joseph Story, an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845, in a conquered country, where there were no existing laws, or none adaptable to a civilised community, or where the laws were silent, or were rejected and none substituted, the territory must be governed according to the rules of natural equity and right. Englishmen settling there must be deemed to carry with them those rights and privileges which belong to them in their native country. (Blankard v. Galdy (1692) 4 Mod. Rep. 215; 2 Salk 411, 412).

“Moreover,” said Justice Story, “even if it were possible to consider the case, as a case of conquest from the Indians, it would not follow, if the natives did not remain there, but deserted it, and left it a vacant territory, that the rule as to conquests would continue to apply to it. On the contrary, as soon as the crown should choose to found an English colony in such vacant territory, the general principle of settlements in desert countries would govern it. It would cease to be a conquest, and become a colony; and as such be affected by the British laws. This doctrine was laid down with great clearness and force by, Lord Mansfield, in his celebrated judgment in Hall v. Campbell (Cowp. R. 204, 211, 212). In a still more recent case it was laid down by Lord Ellenborough that the law of England might properly be recognised by subjects of England in a place occupied temporarily by British troops, who would impliedly carry that law with them.” (Rex v. Brampton, 10 East R. 22, 288, 289).

Justice Taney confirmed in Martin v. Waddell’s Lessee, 41 U.S. 367 (1842): “The English possessions in America were not claimed by right of conquest, but by right of discovery. For, according to the principles of international law, as understood by the then civilized powers of Europe, the Indian tribes in the new world were regarded as mere temporary occupants of the soil, and the absolute rights of property and dominion were held to belong to the European nation by which any particular portion of the country was first discovered. Whatever forbearance may have been sometimes practised towards the unfortunate aborigines, either from humanity or policy, yet the territory they occupied was disposed of by the governments of Europe, at their pleasure, as if it had been found without inhabitants …”

The ideological legal foundation for the American colonists’ assertion of the right to English liberties and common law rested upon the validity of the claim that the colonies were vacant lands or “wastelands” settled by Englishmen and subject to English law. It is upon this foundation, in part, that the colonists justified their right to revolt against English acts of tyranny in regard to their liberties and rights.

As to the acquisition of the sovereignty of a country by force of arms, exercised by an independent power which reduces the vanquished to the submission of its empire, it was a general rule that, where conquered countries had laws of their own, these laws remained in force after the conquest, until they were abrogated, unless they were contrary to [Christian] religion, or enacted any malum in se. In all such cases the laws of the conquering country would prevail; for it was not to be presumed that laws opposed to religion or sound morals could be sanctioned. (1 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Brown and Shattuck, Cambridge, 1833, Sec. 150). The right that the English government claimed over the territory now composing the United States, was not founded on conquest, but discovery. (Id. Sec. 152, et seq.).

As to discovery, the nations of Europe adopted the principle that the discovery of any part of America gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority it was made, against all European governments.

Continued Monday with: For a ‘redeeming view’ of history

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


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  1. townsvilleblog

    To my way of thinking the Australian population at large owes Aboriginal Australians a huge debt. The English invaded their country in 1770/1788 and murdered the Aboriginal population until they thought that they could be useful as slaves, then converted their philosophy to that. Aboriginal Australians have never received compensation for the massacres and dispossession that the Aboriginal Nation lived through, and as such is owed by the Australian nation a huge debt.

    Just to begin with Aboriginal Australians provided new land for5 the peoples of the world, in which most of the immigrants could start again, and pursue a better life than the one they had known up to coming to Australia. Aboriginal Australians are the @true Australians the rest of us are merely immigrants. For true reconciliation to occur it seems to me that every Aboriginal Australian should have their standards of living raised to that of the average Australian in health, in education and in opportunities in life. This of course would cost money, and with in excess of three million Australians already paying the price for the policies of this conservative government money is in short supply for many Australians.

    So where does the money to correct a social misdemeanor come from, well you guessed it, the untaxed Australian and foreign corporations who pay little or no tax on their billion dollar incomes. If this one thing changed, and the Australian government levied a surcharge of just 15% on the income of these corporations our lives would change dramatically, these social wrongs could be righted, new infrastructure built, creating new jobs, and a cleaner more modern society with a degree of fairness introduced, so why aren’t politicians promising to do this? Answer because until they are in government it would be political suicide, with these corporations deamonizing anyone who promised to do such a thing as a communist of a dictator.

    We must trust ourselves more and realize that the guff that we are fed as news is more often than not, not worth listening to, get back to basics, understand what is right and what is wrong.

  2. Jack Russell

    All, or at least most, children are taught to share and not to take what isn’t theirs. We build monumental webs of laws and punishments to enforce that concept. The point at which an individual discards that concept is where the focus and reinforcement should’ve been applied, effectively. It obviously wasn’t. Had it been, empire-building, large or small, and the extensive vicious corruption and deceit that enables it would not have occurred.

    Australia’s First People built a continent-wide civilisation on a foundation of sharing … not theft.

  3. townsvilleblog

    Now we welcome theft, we even legalize it, it’s called business, where a person can buy a pencil for 10 cents and sell it for a dollar, and they call that progress…..

  4. guest

    Any talk about the claiming of Australia by the British always raises the hackles of those with political interests. We have seen it in many forums with talk of “black arm-band” politics.

    But more recently the story has been not only about the destruction of the Indigenous people and their culture, but also of the destruction of the land itself.

    A recent review of the book “Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth” by Charles Massy (reviewed by Geordie Williamson, WE Australian, 20-21/1/18) highlights the European impacts on the land:

    “…Massy outlines what can only be regarded as the ecological concomitant to the frontier conflict that marked Europeans’ annexation of the continent. A violence was practised on the Australian landscape – not out of malice or stupidity, but because the agricultural practices they brought, the ideologies of land ownership and land use embedded in them, were not fit for purpose, and therefore inherently destructive.”

    Massy gives numerous examples of the problems, but also writes of those who are working for change.

    Two books from the Aboriginal point of view are:

    “Dark Emu: Black seeds: Agriculture by accident” by Bruce Pascoe

    and “The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia” by Bill Gammage

  5. guest

    Another person – there are many – who looks at agriculture differently is Peter Andrews with his Natural Sequence Farming.

    Meanwhile, what other people say keeps racing through it all. Tony Abbott tells us the founding of Australia was a “very good thing”, but he goes on: but “not for everyone”. Notice how he speaks in three-word slogans – no nuance or details, just skimming over the water like a long-legged fly.

    And Gerard Henderson, trying to draw attention away from institutional child abuse, says Hey, look over there! at domestic child abuse, and specifically at Indigenous child abuse.

    He also makes excuses for the terrible extermination of people in the frontier massacres because the perpetrators were of a different age and of a different morality. But it seems to me that the white supremacy attitude is still with us in the way Indigenous people are incarcerated, neglected in their health and education and exploited economically.

    There are some alarming opinions expressed publicly in this country which praises itself for being multicultural on the one hand, and reveals itself as racist on the other. Somewhere between is ignorance and lethargy.

    Thursday’s child has far to go.

  6. guest

    Just look at some opinions expressed by readers of The WE Australian:

    “If it had not been for the precise sequence from that moment on [26 January, 1788], none of us would be here today.”

    That is a very narrow view of what happened to the people who were here when those boats arrived. And a narrow view of events since, right up until today with still more pain to come. He wonders why people are complaining.

    “…the reason why this party of malcontents can continually make such grand and aspirational promises is because they know they will never be in a position of power where they actually have to fund their plans, or convince the silent majority of the merits of those issues that matter only to the godless hipsters.”

    Graham Richardson has expressed the view that the Greens should restrict their thinking to looking after the environment. He did not like their ideas about gender issues about toys or about celebrating Christmas or about January 26. This correspondent agrees and calls them “malcontents” and “godless hipsters”. Like Richardson, he would like them to shut up, despite the Right’s allegiance to the idea of “free speech”.

    The next correspondent allows the expression of grievance, but wonders why there is so much resentment in “the best country in the world’. He asks if it is a decline in Christianity, or personal character, or being “less well off”. He seems to be getting close to the answer the more he asks questions.

    A female correspondent points to our having women’s suffrage “since the beginning of our nation in 1901 – and 27 years before British women.” She also draws attention to “closing the gap with our indigenous people” as “further evidence of this heritage”. Getting better, but not saying anything about why indigenous people might be unhappy about January 26. It is all about our own person perceptions, is it not? I’m all right, Jack.

    Finally, a correspondent suggests “British settlement most likely saved them [Indigenous Australians] from extinction.” He means those people who were long considered to be merely part of the flora and fauna. No mention of the massacres. He suggests they would have been worse off under some alternative rule. Whom does he mean? The French colonists? Dutch? Portuguese?

    Someone needs to do some History.

  7. townsvilleblog

    Anyone who would read the WE Australian would more likely than not be a tory (LNP) so I wouldn’t give you 10 cents for their opinion. Most would support this ‘extremist’ right wing regime in Canberra that began it’s life with the Abbott/Hockey 2014 ‘horror’ budget, and every following budget thereafter took a little bit more from the working families and gave a little more to the untaxed corporations. It’s time we saw the situation swing back towards the three million plus Australians who survive, living below the poverty line.

  8. guest


    My intention was to demonstrate the echo chamber nature of correspondence in the WE Australian. Most correspondents repeat what opinion writers in this broadsheet have written. Even ex-Labor opinionistas such as Greg Johns, Graham Richardson and Mark Latham spruik the Murdoch line.

    Writing about frontier conflicts in Oz, Richardson describes those who speak of massacres as exploiters of “black arm-band” politics, a claim which we hear also from Right wing writers. Unfortunately the whole matter has become a debate between Right and Left elements of white politics. Start with the Windschuttle controversy, which demonstrates this political binary very well.

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