This page allows us to maintain a continually updating view of Australia’s First Peoples, including stories about their treatment in the past and about their aspirations and demands today. We are particularly interested in how Australians deal with the Frontier Wars and the related issue of the involvement of Indigenous Australians in our defence forces. Below there are links to recent posts and to earlier archived material.
Suggestion that police are targeting Indigenous people (11 November 2017)
In October, researchers from the University of New South Wales and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre released a report which showed the STMP [Suspect Target Management Plan] was overwhelmingly aimed at young people and Indigenous Australians, and resulted in “oppressive policing”.
Victorian Indigenous massacres, Indigenous health, differing standards (9 November 2017)
An exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre on massacres of Indigenous Australians in Victoria (New Daily). Ranjana Srivastava in Guardian Australia on how Indigenous Australians come off worst on all health statistics. Paul Daley in Guardian Australia about how concern over a wind farm being built near the Bullecourt battlefield is not replicated for Indigenous killing grounds in Australia.
The cultural cringe should be so last century (8 November 2017)
Alison Carroll writes in The Conversation that overcoming that traditional and persistent Australian ‘cultural cringe’ really depends on making more of the oldest continuing culture in the world – which is also Australian.
Getting Indigenous Australian biographies into the Australian Dictionary of Biography (1 November 2017)
The ADB’s Malcolm Allbrook writes in The Conversation about a project to redress the massive imbalance between white and black lives in this national institution.
Volumes One and Two of the dictionary were published in 1966 and ’67. Of their 1,182 subjects, only eight were Aboriginal. The early colonial years were portrayed as overwhelmingly the domain of powerful white males.
The balance has improved since but there is still a long way to go.
A book about frontier conflict in Tasmania (29 October 2017)
Government knocks back referendum for Uluru Statement from the Heart ‘Voice to Parliament’; Truganini and Wooredy; Indigenous disadvantage despite increased expenditure by government (27 October 2017)
The Turnbull Government has carefully considered the Referendum Council’s call to amend the Constitution to provide for a national Indigenous representative assembly to constitute a “Voice to Parliament”. The Government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum. Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national Parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate. A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly for which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle …
The Council’s proposal for an Indigenous representative assembly, or Voice, is new to the discussion about Constitutional change, and dismissed the extensive and valuable work done over the past decade – largely with bipartisan support. We are confident that we can build on that work and develop Constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only …
The Coalition continues to aim to work in a bipartisan way to support Constitutional recognition.
ABC report, including comment from Senator Pat Dodson and others. Michelle Grattan in The Conversation. Calla Wahlquist in Guardian Australia, with comments from Indigenous representatives. Gabrielle Appleby in Inside Story.
The plan [Appleby argues] is not to create a “third chamber of parliament” in which new legislation is introduced, publicly debated, and potentially voted down. It is far more modest: to create a representative body that will ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views are sought on proposed legislation that that will affect their interests. Once this is understood, it is clear that the proposal does not undermine the equality of our constitutional system or the notion of “one vote, one value.”
Cassandra Pybus (from Griffith Review 58, here extracted in The Conversation) on the journey of Wooredy and Truganini – Indigenous Tasmanians who ultimately ‘lived through a psychological and cultural transition more extreme than most human imagination could conjure’ – across Tasmania with George Augustus Robinson in 1830.
Nicholas Biddle in The Conversation asks why increased government expenditure does not seem to be making a dent on Indigenous disadvantage in its various manifestations. He looks at the most recent Productivity Commission report (linked) and concludes:
We are spending more than we would like on reacting to disadvantage (for example, A$4.1 billion on “public order and safety”) compared to activities that reduce disadvantage (for example, only A$1.3 billion on tertiary education or A$411 million on early childhood education).
What we still don’t know (and can’t extrapolate from this report) is whether the money we are spending on Indigenous Australians is having any positive impact whatsoever. This report certainly doesn’t provide the data or the level of policy rigour to answer that much more important question.
More targeted information and higher-quality evaluations are urgently needed. Crucially, Indigenous peoples need to be involved at all stages to provide more meaningful answers.
Another look at a two-decade old book on the Stolen Generations (26 October 2017)
The Whispering Gums blogger has another look at Carmel Bird’s (edited) 1998 book, The Stolen Children: Their Stories. The book, says the blogger, ‘contains a history that needs to be told – forever, alongside all those other histories taught to Australian students. It needs to be as well (if not better) known by our students as the story of The Gold Rush or Our Explorers. We need to know it, we need, as a nation, to know our dark side, our failures, as well as our big adventures and achievements.’
I think that perhaps imagination is one of the most important and powerful factors in the necessary process of reconciliation. If white Australians can begin to imagine what life has been like for many indigenous Australians over the last two-hundred years, they will have begun to understand and will be compelled to act. If we read these stories how can we not be shocked and moved …
There is a link to the full Bringing Them Home report.
The significance of the battle over the copyright in Albert Namatjira’s paintings (18 October 2017)
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia writes that the copyright has, after a long battle, been transferred to the artist’s family.
It is a wonderful result for Namatjira’s legacy and, of course, his people. But it is also a salient reminder of just how oppressive post-colonial Australian society was for Indigenous people less than an average (white) lifetime ago, how pitifully slowly things have changed and of the enduring inequity between black and white Australia.
For more on Namatjira, scroll down to 22 July item below.
Indigenous people and horses: the colonial hierarchy (16 October 2017)
Jane Lydon in The Conversation explores the attitudes of colonial settler-artist George Hamilton to horses and to Indigenous Australians.
On the violent frontier, Hamilton was typical in defining the white colonist as victim and Indigenous Australian as persecutor, declaring in 1845:
“We may soon look forward to the time when murders perpetrated by the savage on the settler will be considered something more than a peccadillo, and we may hope to see the settler at liberty to protect his life and property without the fear of escaping the blacks’ tomahawk only to run his neck in the hangman’s noose.”
Here we see the emotional logic of Hamilton’s imperial cultural hierarchy and his political deployment of compassion. Suddenly, the seeming incongruity of Hamilton’s scorn for threatening Aboriginal people alongside his sympathy for the faithful horse makes perfect sense.
New Warwick Thornton movie; Dove and skin whitening (11 October 2017 updated)
Lucino Crispino writes in The Conversation about Indigenous film-maker Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, on frontier violence in the Northern Territory in the 1920s. The fuss over allegedly racist Dove soap commercials brings back memories of Australian cosmetics and soaps which claimed whitening powers and used Aboriginal caricature figures to make the point. Honest History distinguished supporter, Liz Conor, writes in The Conversation.
Kimberley massacre evidence? (2 October 2017 updated)
Archaeologists and forensic scientists report on possible evidence of burning of bodies after a 1922 massacre in the Kimberley area of Western Australia. Local land council director, Wayne Bergmann, said, “It is really important for Aboriginal people to have the truth told, and I think it brings a level of relief to confirm that the stories passed on through generations and being retold in paintings has a factual base. This is real.” The full report will be published soon.
Update 1 November 2017: archeologists Pamela Smith and Keryn Walshe write in The Conversation, following the publication of their report in Forensic Science International (linked from the article).
We believe our research confronts a significant cultural boundary that – apologies aside – political leaders have failed to address. We cannot undo the past, but we can acknowledge that these events are part of both Aboriginal and white histories – they are real and Aboriginal people still suffer the pain of the past.
Dr Joe Gumbula and Indigenous knowledges; Seven Sisters and songlines (29 September 2017)
Aaron Corn writes in The Conversation about the legacy of Dr Gumbula relating to the Manikay song tradition which ‘perpetuates a body of knowledge that has enabled the Yolŋu to live in Australia for untold millennia’. A little earlier, we put together this collection provoked by the Seven Sisters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.
Mungo Man to go home; the issue globally (20 September 2017 updated)
Mungo Man, 40 000 year old remains unearthed 40 years ago at Lake Mungo, are to be returned home in November. (And they were.) The remains have been in the custody of traditional owners in Canberra since 2015. Paul Daley on repatriation of remains generally.
Removal of remains in 1974 (Welcome to Country)
Prison populations and Closing the Gap (12 September 2017)
A handy link from The Briefing to recent reports on Australia’s relatively high prison population, including a critique from the UN of Closing the Gap.
Recognising and respecting Indigenous heroes (8 September 2017)
If monuments to colonial folly and violence are allowed to stand they must be interrogated in a manner that ensures that a more informed story is told. Complexity, though, is not the purpose and role of nation-building commemorations. Statues are erected to tell a simpler story; a story of uncomplicated hero worship. If we are to recognise heroes, then where are the stories of Aboriginal courage?
Gary Foley talks about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander archives (7 September 2017)
‘The teaching of Australian history is, still to this day, in most universities and high schools, superficial, nonsensical and wrong. Most Australians don’t know their own history, let alone the history I’m talking about’, says Professor Gary Foley from Victoria University.
Professor Foley talks about the (digital) Aboriginal History Archive and there are links to other relevant material.
Paul Daley recalls the saga of the return to Australia of Yagan’s head, 20 years ago (31 August 2017)
Body parts belonging to thousands of Indigenous Australians still languish in Australian and overseas (mainly British and European) archives – a shameful reminder of colonialism’s traumatic, generational legacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Twenty years after Yagan’s head was reunited on country, far too little is being done to repatriate and respectfully keep Indigenous ancestral remains.
Amy McQuire, Darumbul-South Sea islander journalist, takes Australia Day issue apart (23 August 2017)
Buzzfeed‘s Indigenous Affairs writer looks at why the date is not the point – it’s the day itself.
January 26 marks the arrival of the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788, but symbolises not only the invasion, but the atrocities perpetrated against Aboriginal nations by the colonial project, from the stealing of land and children, to the demeaning of Aboriginal men and women as violent savages, incapable of love and worthy of extermination.
Aboriginal History has 40 years of issues indexed and searchable; Indigenous health programs; lessons of Charlottesville (21 August 2017)
The ANU journal Aboriginal History has posted an index to 40 years of work. Are Indigenous health programs delivering results? (Tim Carey in The Conversation.) Stan Grant on Pearls and Irritations (and the ABC) compares Australia’s tendency to leave its racist history in place with the American current preference to remove it.
Garma speeches from Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition (8 August 2017 updated); Q&A
Three Indigenous icons (26 July 2017)
Amy McQuire in Buzzfeed notes the death of musician Dr G Yunupingu, activist Yami Lester, and Kuarna cultural leader, Stephen Goldsmith. Guardian Australia (Robin Denselow) obituary on Dr Yunupingu.
Indigenous deaths, poetry and documentary-making (24 July 2017)
Chris Graham in New Matilda discusses Indigenous deaths in custody and at the hands of settler Australians, including police. The poetry of Steven Oliver and the most recent film by Warwick Thornton.
Indigenous Australians reject symbolic recognition; Namatjira and Indigenous painters (22 July 2017 updated)
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia argues that the Recognise push has probably died and whitefeller politicians have to come to grips with a new possibility – an Indigenous voice to Parliament.
The [Referendum] council’s recommendation was, ironically perhaps, the end result of a broad government-designed consultation that was conceived to streamline the desired outcome – yes or no to recognition and, if yes, well what should the amendment be? Instead the council consulted widely enough to demonstrate there could never be significant Indigenous support, let alone consensus, at the grass roots level for Recognise amid so many more priority questions.
Colin Tatz in The Conversation (3 August) is sceptical – on the basis of the history of previous similar exercises – that White Australia will let the proposed voice to Parliament be effective.
Sasha Grishin in the Canberra Times reviews the Albert Namatjira paintings now in the National Gallery of Australia in an exhibition entitled ‘Painting Country’. Meanwhile, Martin Edmond in Sydney Review of Books has a timely look at Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art by Ian W. McLean, published last year. This long review of a medium length book touches on Namatjira and many others.
Kakadu research rewrites Australian history and pushes back date of earliest humans here to 65,000 years ago (20 July 2017 updated)
Referendum Council report and response (18 July 2017)
Harry Hobbs writes in The Conversation. The central concept proposed is ‘an Indigenous voice to Parliament’, a representative body, with its existence enshrined in the Commonwealth Constitution. ‘And yet, implicit in Turnbull’s and Shorten’s statements that an Indigenous “voice to parliament” would be a “big change” is the notion that it may be too difficult. It will be, but only if Australians refuse to hear Indigenous people.’
Painting ‘The Last Victorian Aborigines’ (15 July 2017)
Myles Russell Cook writes about Percy Leason’s 1930s paintings, part of a new exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria.
Pastor Ray Minniecon’s Redfern Prayer 2009 (13 July 2017)
We came across this prayer by Pastor Ray Minniecon during the online discussion of the Crikey piece below. Others will know it well but we had not seen it before, so here it is:
The Redfern Prayer
God of our Dreaming. Father of all Aboriginal nations in Australia.
You have lived among us since time immemorial. We have always known You.
You gave this land to our Aboriginal nations.
You have not dispossessed us nor destroyed us.
People from other lands, who do not understand our unique culture, our unique lifestyle and our unique heritage have come and destroyed much of our way of life.
Many of these people from other lands now want to understand and reconcile with us.
But for many of us Aboriginal people, we find this reconciliation business a little difficult.
Too many of our children are still in jails.
Too many of our children are still living in sub-standard housing.
Too many of our mothers are living on the streets or in refuges.
Too many of our children are still uneducated.
Too many of our children have no land and no community to go back to.
Too many of our children have not got good opportunities for good employment.
Too many of our children are living in extremely unhealthy environments.
Too many of our children are living among violence and abuse.
Too many of our children are dying to drugs and other soul-destroying substances.
God our Dreaming and Creator of our people, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by these things.
Many of us feel like we are refugees in our own land.
Today we are coming together again on one of our battlegrounds to cry out to You for mercy and justice for our children, for our families and for our land. We pray that more resources will be given to our local community organizations to help us grow healthy and strong.
We pray that the peoples from other lands will be given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone so that they can understand us and support us properly. We pray that your Spirit will help and encourage us to grow good strong Aboriginal leaders.
Father we want to grow strong and healthy again in our own land. We want to take our rightful place in our land and make our contribution to the re-building of our families, our communities and our nation.
Please hear our cries for justice.
We ask these mercies in the name of Your Son.
Indigenous tourism initiatives in the Kimberley (12 July 2017)
Melissa Davey in Guardian Australia on Indigenous tour companies who want to make visitors understand how long Indigenous Australians have been here.
Lyndall Ryan’s work on mapping massacres of Aboriginal people; Indigenous languages (5-7 July 2017)
Calla Wahlquist (Guardian Australia) reports on painstaking research on the Frontier Wars. (Other links added.) Followed up by David Stephens in Pearls and Irritations (republished in Crikey) and Paul Daley in Guardian Australia, both pointing out that the knowledge of massacres is not new but there has been an unwillingness among settler Australians to come to grips with it.
Two articles from The Conversation to mark NAIDOC Week’s celebration of Indigenous languages: a Warlpiri story about the Dreaming (believed to be the first ever article written entirely in an Aboriginal language and published on a mainstream media outlet in Australia); Meera Atkinson on why non-Indigenous Australians should read Indigenous writers.
Review of Kim Mahood’s book about the Tanami and place (3 July 2017)
Kim Mahood has written Position Doubtful: Mapping, Landscapes and Memories about her relationship with a family property in the Tanami Desert. (The property is now owned by the Warlpiri people.) The book is reviewed on the Whispering Gums blog (with a link to another review also). ‘In recent years’, says Mahood, ‘I have made a number of maps with Aboriginal people, designed to reveal common ground between white and Aboriginal ways of representing and understanding country’ but there is a lot more in the book than this.
The Indigenous people of La Perouse, Sydney (29 June 2017)
An extract in Inside Story from Paul Irish’s book, Hidden in Plain View: The Aboriginal People of Coastal Sydney, published by NewSouth.
Together with Redfern, La Perouse become the urban Aboriginal face of coastal Sydney. The two places are linked by intermarriage and half a century of Aboriginal activism. They are also now linked to virtually every Aboriginal community across the country, and new arrivals are constantly being drawn along these threads of connection. We should celebrate this diversity, this survival, and we should be eager to hear the compelling stories they have brought with them, as well as the new chapters that they have added in Sydney.
At the same time, we should be careful not to let their stories drown out the voices of those whose links to coastal Sydney extend back hundreds of generations, whose ancestors met the first Europeans, and who found a way to create an ongoing place for themselves in the oldest and largest city in the country. Theirs is a remarkable story of survival through cultural strength and cross-cultural entanglement that sits in stark contrast to commonly held views of colonial and Aboriginal Australia, and to the experiences of most Australians today.
Australia through American eyes (27 June 2017)
Article in the New York Times by John Eligon, plus complementary ABC Foreign Correspondent episode, following Eligon around Australia talking to Indigenous Australians.
Ten years after the Northern Territory Intervention, the destructive results are clear (21 June 2017 updated)
Melinda Hinkson writes in Guardian Australia that the Intervention has had deleterious outcomes.
In the aftermath of the intervention there has been a profound shift in the terms of national attention to Indigenous affairs. If the intervention was an interregnum, a dramatic moment of flux and chaos between shifting policy paradigms, what is most strikingly displaced in its aftermath is any vision of Aboriginal communities as places that sustain distinctive, valued ways of life and where futures might be optimistically imagined and creatively pursued.
Report in News Limited takes similar line, including interview with former NT Chief Minister, Clare Martin. Similar in The Conversation on 26 June from Diana Perche. Similar in The Conversation on 26 June from Graeme Maguire. Chris Graham in New Matilda updates his scoop from some years ago about how the Intervention came about. Michael Brull, also in New Matilda. CPA-ML comment. More from Jon Altman in New Matilda (28 July).
Chains around grass castles in the Kimberley (19 June 2017)
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia writes about Chris Owen’s book, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty: Policing the Kimberley Frontier of Western Australia 1882-1905, and contrasts it with the stylised pioneering narratives of Mary Durack (Kings in Grass Castles). A repulsive image of dozens of Indigenous men in chains reminds us of our ugly past.
Children’s picture books with Indigenous themes; Indigenous women imprisonment rates (14 June 2017)
The Southern Cross in Aboriginal cosmology (10 June 2017)
ABC Awaye report on a documentary made by Warwick Thornton on the use and abuse of the Southern Cross. More in an ABC News story. The doco is called We don’t need a map and it makes clear that ‘the constellation is a site of power, reverence and secret knowledge’.
Statistics on Indigenous education; Indigenous incarceration (7 June 2017 updated)
The Conversation presents some statistics on progress in Indigenous education, with some series going back a decade or so. The picture is good only in scattered parts. First in a set of articles. Another article.
The Conversation‘s Factcheck service finds that Noel Pearson’s assertion that Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people on earth is … spot on, based on the comparative data available.
Mabo 25 years on; Indigenous culture and climate (3 June 2017)
Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on an important anniversary. Teila Watson, also in Guardian Australia, about how Indigenous knowledge systems can advance our understanding of climate change. Australia is, says Watson, ‘[a] place so entrenched in the blood of colonialism that it has been unable to even consider listening to what First Nations people have been saying about care for country, even when it comes to making decisions that will affect our environment’. Daley compares the secret Admiralty instructions to James Cook, with their reference to ‘the Consent of the Natives’, with what actually happened after 1788.
AFL Indigenous players map (30 May 2017 )
Presumably to mark the recent Indigenous round of AFL comes this map from the AFL Players’ Association, showing mob and locations for AFL Indigenous players.
Uluru conference final wraps – but what happens next? (27 May-11 August 2017)
Official ‘Statement from the Heart‘: ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard’. Post-mortems in Guardian Australia, Guardian Australia again, The Australian, SBS, Michelle Grattan, Inside Story, and from Noel Pearson (gone behind Rupert’s paywall but it is there in The Australian). Comparisons with 1967 from Celeste Liddle, Wayne Bergmann and Gary Foley. Liddle, an Arrernte woman, encapsulates 50 years of history:
Finally though, I believe the need for governments to come to the table, rather than assuming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will happily assimilate into their visions of “Australia” without a framework for justice, was what the 1967 campaigners were driving toward. Their fight for recognition carried the hope that we would be seen not just as equals, but as people who have a distinct connection in this country, which needs to be properly respected.
And to properly respect this, the government must consult, negotiate, make reparations and educate the public — so the atrocities of yesteryear are not doomed to repeat themselves time and time again. This is something mere recognition within a colonial document, written on the false basis of terra nullius, is never going to achieve.
The Uluru Statement (ABC)
The prime minister was cautious, though, about possibilities for constitutional change. (Also Michelle Grattan.) Bill Shorten counselled an open mind as the appropriate response to the Uluru Statement. One of the more conservative – as in stronger on the Coalition side of politics – ‘Recognise’ support groups, Uphold and Recognise, was supportive of what came out of Uluru while the official Recognise website seems not to have noticed. Lots of useful comment – and positivity – on ABC QandA. By 30 May, though, the Institute of Public Affairs and conservative Liberals were muttering.
Gaynor Macdonald in The Conversation argues a treaty should be the next step. Chelsea Bond in The Conversation on the nature of Australian racism. Frank Brennan in Pearls and Irritations on taking time to get things right. Fairfax explainer is useful. Amy McQuire in Guardian Australia. Megan Davis in The Monthly in July. Michael Mansell in New Matilda in August says the Uluru statement does not go far enough.
Uluru conference analysis and outcome; Bringing Them Home anniversary and Sorry Day; Genocide in Queensland; Australian Rules football origins; Defying Empire exhibition (26 May 2017)
More background to Uluru is here and here (with earlier material in 20 May post below) but the first report of the outcome is here, with rejection of constitutional recognition but a punt for treaty and a representative body with power. The Bringing Them Home anniversary is marked by this article about the Colebrook Home memorials, a report on progress or lack of it over 20 years (ABC report, too), and analysis in three articles in Indigenous X in Guardian Australia (one, two, three). Tim Bottoms matches Frontier Wars and massacres against the Genocide template. And a piece about the Indigenous angle on Australian Rules football – to mark the Indigenous round. Finally, Joanna Mendelssohn on the Defying Empire exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.
Uluru conference; Indigenous military service exhibitions; a cave in Western Australia holds 50 000-year-old evidence; smallpox in Sydney possibly not an accident; Mudgee events (20 May 2017)
This brief round-up takes us back a long way but also forward. There is: an article giving the background to a potentially important conference at Uluru about constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; three reviews of three exhibitions about Indigenous military service (here, here, and here); reports in The Conversation and WA Today of an important archaelogical find in Western Australia; a 2014 ABC piece that we just found about a hypothesis that an outbreak of smallpox among Indigenous Australians near 1789 Sydney was not a chance event; and some research on exploration and Indigenous history in the Mudgee area.
Tasmanian move to replace offensive names (6 May 2017)
Rhiannon Shine writes for the ABC about a move by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre to ask state authorities to give palawa kani names to places in Tasmania whose English names commemorate massacres of Indigenous Australians or are in other ways offensive to Indigenous Tasmanians. Some of the proposed names would be the original, pre-invasion names restored.