The following quote comes from Gary Johns’s November 11 article in The Australian. Johns is a former Keating Labor government minister, but after leaving politics has headed right, working for several years at a neo-conservative think tank – the Institute of Public Affairs. Since 2009, he’s been the president of another conservative think tank, the Bennelong Society, whose main purpose is to promote the view that Indigenous Australians should not be done any favours.
Aboriginal identity and culture is a matter for those who claim its ownership, it should not be force-fed to the rest of the nation. If children are to be taught Aboriginal culture, I want for them the full unexpurgated version, not the pretty commemoration of recent invention that one can pick up on the bookshelf at the ABC shop or a university politics department.
When reading Gary Johns’s vitriolic attack on Indigenous Australia it is worth remembering another and perhaps more thoughtful piece of journalism from Paul Briggs, ‘We’re Aborigines too’. The Age August 23rd 2006. In this article Briggs suggests that an individual’s sense of identity comes from a shared tradition and shared cultural values that they can “hold on to and celebrate”. This celebration is almost impossible when the dominant culture refuses to recognise the existence of the marginalised group — except as figments of a remote historical past.
Over the Easter/ANZAC long weekend I was taken by a Wiradjuri Elder from Cowra to visit the site of a massacre, one Keith Windschuttle denies ever took place. Within a barren ravine situated within the lush sheep grazing lands of Cowra, Young and Yass walk the ghosts of my ancestors, denied their Dreaming, their lives and now their rightful place in history, because of the ongoing marginalisation of my people all in the name ‘white’ Christian progress.
Who you are is defined as much by how society sees you as how you see yourself. Society judges me as being Aboriginal, so I am Aboriginal in my response to society. Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”, to my mind at least, comes from a similar mind-set. “The Pianist” describes the survival of Wladislav Szpilman in World War Two. Like many Jews, his income was “managed” and he was forced to wear a yellow Star of David, before being rounded up with other Jews and relocated and restricted to a Jews only locale. The Jews in Warsaw did not realise they were building their own ghetto, walling themselves in, until it was too late. The people in Ampilwatja in the Northern Territory walked off their mission in protest of similar incursions upon their rights.
Many Indigenous children – the Stolen Generations – were removed from the care of their parents because they were believed to be unfit carers. In doing so, the children themselves were designated as Indigenous, whether they wished to be or not. Purely on the basis of the colour of themselves and/or their parents, children were removed. Purely on the basis of colour they were separated from their siblings, fracturing familial and cultural bonds that could never be effectively repaired. Years later, as the castes and skin tones developed, those of pale pate were expected to simply “blend in”, assimilate. Those who were not so fair were still seen as Aboriginal by those in authority.
Gary Johns’ doesn’t know what he is talking about when he argues that:
… Aboriginal identity and culture is a matter for those who claim its ownership, it should not be force-fed to the rest of the nation …
I wonder how Mr Johns would feel if he was told by one of his subordinates on his arrival at work each day that he was:
… nothing but a fucking white cunt, who only got his job because he is a white cunt…
My guess is that Mr Johns would be crying racism as loudly as he could and rightfully so. So how do you think an Aborigine feels when they arrive at work to be greeted with:
… you’re nothing but a fucking boong cunt, who only got his job because he is a boong cunt …
I have personally experienced this type of vitriol in the public service and was unable to have anything done about it, because in the eyes of many we are nothing more than the refuse of white society.
I had no choice in the matter of ownership of my Aboriginal identity. Society foisted that ownership on me when it removed me from the care of my father when I was a young child. From that day forward I wore the ‘Mark of Cain’, a mark that justifies any number of human rights violations, from being stolen as a child (as I was) to being locked in a prison van and ‘cooked’ while being driven for several hours through the sweltering deserts of Western Australia, as was Mr Ward.
Did I want to wear the ‘Mark of Cain’? As a child I had no choice, society branded me with its ‘stain’ when I was stolen from the care of my father. As an adult I again have no choice because society marked me as Aboriginal as a baby, meaning that I am somehow in society’s eyes less than human, a forgotten branch of human evolution. At the risk of offending my ‘white betters’ such as Mr Johns, I have to inform you that this is no so. We are your equal.
What was it that got Mr Johns so riled in the first place? Well, it was nothing more than the results of a recent Constitutional Values survey conducted by Newspoll which showed that 75 per cent of Australians believe that Indigenous Australians should be appropriately recognised in the Australian Constitution.
This poll may have been the factor that gave the Gillard Government the confidence to launch its recent proposal on Indigenous recognition, since 75 per cent is normally seen as about the level going in that is required to achieve a successful referendum. Unfortunately, contained within the other 25 per cent are many who vehemently oppose this idea. We as a people will have to struggle to ensure a referendum on this issue is successful – each gain we have made in our struggle for equality since invasion and settlement has always been bitterly fought and resisted. Gary Johns’s November 11 article is but one example of the type of vitriolic hatred some Australians still harbour for those Indigenous Australians who demand recognition and equality in our own land.
Back to Johns extraordinary broadside against our culture, it would appear that as far as Johns is concerned, Aboriginal culture has gone and what’s left is wrong, and none of it should be taught to our children, at least not in a positive way:
Aboriginal culture, in any sense in which the original inhabitants practised it, is long gone. Elements of the original that remain, such as polygamy and underage sex, are illegal or, in the case of sorcery, re-emerging around places such as Yuendumu and Groote Island, is just plain evil. Aboriginal identity and culture … should not be force-fed to the rest of the nation … If children are to be taught Aboriginal culture, I want for them the full unexpurgated version, not the pretty commemoration of recent invention that one can pick up on the bookshelf at the ABC shop or a university politics department.
Johns proceeds to revive the prevailing 19th and early 20th century view that Indigenous Australians will either die out or be subsumed by the larger population. He indicates that all the gains made over the last 40 years by Indigenous Australians have been meaningless and that Aboriginal leaders are corrupt, with a subversive overarching agenda:
The long-run trajectory for Aborigines in Australia is integration. The experiment with separate development in the past 40 years has been a dismal failure … To make up for this failure of separatism, the Aboriginal lobby, led as it is by wholly integrated Aborigines of mixed descent, is desperate to have every Australian recognise their culture.
Firstly, saying “mixed-descent” as if it was something to be reviled, is completely beyond the pale. Secondly, anyone with a scant knowledge of Aboriginal culture can easily dismiss any attack on it being “evil” or promoting anti-social practices. In fact, for Johns to even make this comment is irresponsible since it actively encourages the latent prejudice already existing within the community – I would even go so far as to suggest that it is an incitement to racial hatred!
As for Indigenous culture being totally different from that which existed at the time colonial settlement – of course it is. Just like white culture is also completely different from what it was in 1788. It’s not as if non-Indigenous Australians are walking around in tricorn hats and pantaloons singing sea shanties in log cabins and using rum as legal tender, is it? All cultures change and adapt with new influences and Indigenous culture is no exception. This doesn’t make it any less worthwhile, valuable, meaningful and unique!
White Australians like Gary Johns have been predicting the demise of our people and our culture almost since the day they arrived on our shores, but we and our culture are still here, growing. And our people’s pride in our culture is greater now than it has been in many, many, years.
Sorry Mr Johns, the dreams that you and your fascist mates in the mining industry might still harbour about our ‘passing from history’ are premature. Hopefully the international, if not, the Australian community will see through ‘white’ Australia’s thin veneer of civilization and spot the stain left by their forebears who were nothing more than the criminal refuse of the British Empire.