First Peoples

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.

windjana-gorgeWindjana Gorge, Bunuba country, WA (Treaty Republic). The illustration on the thumbnail leading to this page is of Wiradjuri warrior Windradyne.


Closing the Gap – latest iteration (14 February 2017)

The prime minister’s speech referring to the full report. Bill Shorten’s response. Michelle Grattan. Guardian Australia report. ABC report. A comment from Amy McQuire, one from Paul Daley, and one from Melbourne University academics.

Treaty can deliver outcomes that individual policies cannot (13 February 2017)

Steve Bunbadgee Hodder Watt writes in Guardian Australia. ‘Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are still affected by the racist policies of previous Australian governments.’

Two differing perspectives on educating Indigenous children; learning language (10 February 2017)

In The Conversation, Tony Dreise on the need to recognise the educational challenges facing Indigenous children, and Elizabeth McKinley on the importance of focusing more on opportunities than ‘the problem’. Also Lea McInerney from the latest Griffith Review, ‘State of hope’, on learning Ngadjuri language in South Australia.(Honest History will have a review of the complete GR issue soon.)

Bigotry in medical treatment of Indigenous Australians; new Indigenous playwrights (6 February 2017)

Wakka Wakka woman, Colleen Lavelle, who has an inoperable brain tumour, says in Guardian Australia, ‘the medical profession is full of bigots and people who might not consider themselves racist, but have preconceived ideas on race and hold outdated beliefs in racial stereotypes. In The Conversation, Maryrose Casey writes about a new wave of Indigenous playwrights – ‘joyous, comic and grim’.

A long trip around Australia produces some reflections on our relationship with the land and with Indigenous Australia (1 February 2017)

Monica Tan in Guardian Australia makes some points which resonate with contributions to The Honest History Book, coming soon.

We are Australians yet strangers in a foreign land [says Tan] – a nation in limbo yet to reconcile with our own history. To reconcile with history is to begin to reconcile with Indigenous Australia; to reconcile with Indigenous Australia is to begin to reconcile with the land. Then, and only then, might we truly know how to proudly and unequivocally call this place home.

Invasion Day viewed by a new arrival in Sydney; everyday racism in Northern Australia; forgetfulness at Cullin-la-ringo (26 January 2017)

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia writes of finding his way around his new home suburb in Sydney, with particular reference to Indigenous landmarks. He says that Invasion Day will come to rival Anzac Day in years to come. (Paul Daley is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. He has a chapter in The Honest History Book, being published by NewSouth in April. His chapter is called ‘Our most important war: The legacy of frontier conflict’.)

Claire Smith, Jordan Ralph and Kellie Pollard of Flinders University write in The Conversation about the experience of everyday racism confronted by Indigenous Australians. ‘Minimum standards of courtesy, safety and equality should be maintained for all Australians’, the authors conclude write. ‘The systematic discrimination of everyday racism diminishes us all.’ The pictures are illuminating. (Another chapter in The Honest History Book is by Larissa Behrendt, Eualeyai-Kamillaroi woman and academic at UTS, and it is called ‘Settlement or invasion? The coloniser’s quandary’.)


Talking of pictures, here is one posted by Ben Wilkie on Twitter. It ‘commemorates’ the Cullin-la-ringo incident in Queensland in 1861. What is missing from the wording on the sign? A contemporary newspaper account might help. More from the Queensland Historical Atlas.

Artwork from Indigenous prisoners in Victoria (18 January 2017; update 9 February 2017)

A collection from Guardian Australia. Paul Daley in Guardian Australia on the inclusion of Warlpiri drawings in a UNESCO collection.

Megafauna and Indigenous Australians; the fish-traps of Lake Condah (12 January 2017)

Westaway, Olley and Grun write in The Conversation about the evidence that Australian megafauna lived alongside Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. The authors examine various hypotheses for co-existence, focusing on the Willandra Lakes area of New South Wales. Calla Wahlquist writes in Guardian Australia about Gunditjmara efforts to get world heritage status for 6000 year-old eel traps in Lake Condah. According to Monash University professor, Ian McNiven, the Lake Condah evidence ‘allows a new conception of Aboriginal people as active environmental manipulators and managers for thousands of years’. There is more on this history in Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu.

Past and future: the 1966 equal pay case; progress on treaties (20 December 2016)

Barrister Hal Wootten recalls the lack of involvement of Indigenous people in the 1966 case on equal pay for Indigenous stockmen. The Inside Story article has many insights into the attitudes of the barristers involved in the case.

What appalled [Sir Richard] Kirby was not “deliberate ill-treatment” or the conditions on the cattle stations in particular (he had visited only a carefully selected few), but the condition of Aborigines in the Territory generally. As much on the missions as on the cattle stations, Aborigines were “degraded.” “Even when treated kindly they seemed to be regarded as a mixture between dogs and cattle and sub-human beings.”

Harry Hobbs in The Conversation looks at moves under way in jurisdictions for treaties with Indigenous peoples.

They [treaties] offer the potential to revitalise – but also overtake – a flagging process to recognise the First Australians in the Constitution … [Treaties] could represent a break from a system that for many years has disregarded the views of Indigenous Australians and reinforced their feelings of powerlessness.

Indigenous women artists at Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne, till April (16 December 2016)

Brigid Delaney writes in Guardian Australia about the Who’s Afraid of Colour exhibition. ‘Many people assume Indigenous art begins and ends with dot paintings, but there is an incredible variety of artistic styles on display in this exhibition.’

Human Rights Commission report shows lack of progress on Indigenous deaths in custody (3 December 2016)

This report is here. Speaking about the report, Social Justice and Native Title Report 2016, the commission’s Robynne Quiggin said

the lack of action was disrespectful to the work the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people put into the commission, which ran from 1987 to 1991. “It’s really unforgivable, I think, that we have seen the failure to commit to implementing the recommendations of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody,” she told Guardian Australia. “We were starting to see change after the royal commission and that has just fallen away and fallen away until we have the shameful statistics now.”

The Indigenous imprisonment rate has doubled in the years since the royal commission handed down its final report, from 14.4% in 1991 to 28% in 2016.

First Contact: critical reviews from Amy McQuire in New Matilda, Jack Latimore in Guardian Australia and Celeste Liddle in Fairfax; what’s really happening in ‘Indigenous affairs’; Stan Grant (2 December 2016)

Darumbul woman Amy McQuire has a detailed analysis of the SBS series First Contact. There were more than 30 comments.

[T]hat’s what Australian racism thrives on – the dehumanisation of Aboriginal people, it is given new life through painting Aboriginal people as ‘victims’, as degenerates, as incapable of agency and control. That dehumanisation helped justify the colonial project – the stealing of land, the attack on culture, and the slaughter of our people. All of this is tied up in the founding of this country, and the wealth it enjoys.

All of these ‘well-known’ Australians are successful, and they are successful because of the oppression of Aboriginal people. They live in the ‘lucky country’, precisely because there are those who were ‘unlucky’.

Goori man Jack Lattimore in Guardian Australia said First Contact catered to the voyeurism of non-Indigenous viewers. ‘It was extremely difficult to watch five celebrity types and a squinty former political adviser perpetuate Aboriginal stereotypes and cultural falsehoods on a magical mystery tour of black Australia.’ Arrerrnte woman Celeste Liddle in Fairfax says, ‘If there is one thing Australia needs more of, it’s bigots telling us all about Aboriginal people on TV’.

Also riffing off television shows (ABC this time) but going further was Elise Klein in The Conversation, as part of a series triggered by a recent call from Larissa Behrendt for more publicity to be given to Indigenous initiatives that counter negative stereotypes, the contrast being with the recent Productivity Commission report which emphasised gaps. Both the Behrendt statement and the Commission report can be found by scrolling down (22 November and 17 November). Larissa Behrendt has written a chapter for the Honest History book.

Stan Grant’s new Quarterly Review is also relevant on the range of Indigenous experience. There is an extract here. He also makes some points directly relevant to the Honest History project (and the Honest History book).

Anzac Day, Invasion Day: are they not each, in their way, our attempt to make the world intelligible? We render these memorials as quasi-myths to make a devastating loss more bearable. History, myth, memory and forgetting: these are the things of identity.

First Contact; Indigenous art in the face of a hostile culture (29 November 2016)

Tom Ballard on insights coming from his participation in the First Contact series on SBS.

We reckoned with the realities of alcohol abuse, suicide, tradition, culture and lore, constitutional recognition, housing and poverty, incarceration rates, the stolen generations, education, language and symbolism.

We met some extraordinary Indigenous people who were gracious enough to welcome us (and our cameras) into their homes and tell us about their lives, their culture and their view of history. Some of them are proud leaders in their community, dedicated to improving their people’s lot. Others are still recovering from and are furious about the impact that Australia’s structural racism has had on their lives. Others, like so many of their fellow citizens, are just trying to get by.

Eugenia Flynn on how Indigenous art and culture are forms of resistance to racist white Australia.

[D]espite it being 2016, mainstream Australia still does not want to engage with Indigenous stories. As reported by the Australia Council for the Arts, the understanding is that “… audiences wanted to be entertained, not lectured or told “how guilty I should be for being white”.

In sharing this perspective, once again, racist Australia proves that Indigenous culture is viewed by them as threatening. However, with more and more Indigenous Australians practicing culture and sharing stories through art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to resist. We will resist this perception and negate the stereotype.

Indigenous culture and urban planning; Indigenous women and domestic violence (22 November 2016 updated)

Guardian Australia has: Paul Daley’s review of a new book on Australian and Canadian experience of dealing with the claims of Indigenous people in urban environments: Larissa Behrendt on the work being done by Indigenous women to reduce the levels of violence against them. Behrendt’s article is one of a series, which also includes Lilly Brown on the need to educate journalists about domestic violence in Indigenous communities. (Both Daley and Behrendt have chapters in the forthcoming Honest History book.)

Productivity Commission report on overcoming Indigenous disadvantage; Indigenous domestic violence (17 November 2016)

The Productivity Commission report reveals a mixed picture and a lack of evaluation of the success or otherwise of programs. Professor Marcia Langton and others call for action on domestic violence in Indigenous families: ABC; Fairfax; Guardian Australia; News; Huffington Post.

Another report on Indigenous suicides; Aboriginal boarding school for girls (15 November 2016)

Anthony Dillon in The Conversation on a Commonwealth report on the factors contributing to Indigenous suicide and to better prevention. The report looks at the links between sexual abuse and suicide, the importance of locally-run solutions, and the need for ‘”upstream approaches” which include improving such social determinants of health as sense of belonging, stability, and hope’. Plus employment and empowerment.

Suicide results from feeling hopeless and helpless, and employment plays a significant role in restoring hope and creating opportunities for a meaningful life …

The report stresses the need to “acknowledge and understand the devastating and enduring impact of the colonial legacy on Indigenous people’s contemporary lives”. While it’s fine to acknowledge historical injustices, it’s disempowering to let this form the overarching narrative of our lives.

Jane Cowan’s photo essay on the ABC website on the work being done by the Worawa Aboriginal College to empower young Indigenous women.

Treaty; archaelogy; Abbott; Arabana Country (6-8 November 2016)

An article in the Age wonders if the site has been found on which to agree a Treaty. A significant archaelogical find in the Flinders Ranges. (More on this from Giles Hamm.)  Paul Daley doubts the credentials of Tony Abbott to be Indigenous Affairs minister. Some nice photographs of Lake Eyre (one of which is below).

adam-williams_kati-thanda-lake-eyre_2016_003(The Monthly/Adam Williams)

Arguments for Treaty (31 October 2016)

White journalist Jeff McMullen in New Matilda presents arguments for Treaty.

Around this country I have sat with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for some 50 years. I am certain that I share their deepest belief that rather than minimalist and near meaningless incremental change, Australia needs a bold and hopeful Treaty with its First Peoples.

Indigenous children’s health (including speech and hearing); incarceration inquiry (27 October 2016)

Tom Calma in The Conversation on how discrimination and stress impacts on the health of Indigenous children. NACCHO on an encouraging project to improve speech and hearing among Indigenous children. Attorney-General Brandis announces an inquiry into rates of incarceration of Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous social media; early boomerang fatality (18 October 2016)

Bronwyn Carlson in The Conversation reviews a dozen Indigenous social media wranglers, quoting Luke Pearson about the importance of the medium:

[D]igital technologies, and in particular social media, can be a significant tool for connection, empowerment, education, employment, the ongoing struggle for social justice, and Reconciliation. In fact, whatever issue is being addressed (or is not, as the case may be), I believe the digital world can assist.

Nicholas St Fleur writes in the New York Times about the discovery on the Darling River of the skeleton of an Indigenous man from perhaps the 13th century AD who may be the earliest known victim of a boomerang attack. Archaelogists led by Michael Westaway of Griffith University investigated.

It was clear that Kaakutja [the name given to the skeleton] was killed by a traditional weapon, but the team was puzzled by what that wooden weapon could have been. No one had ever seen trauma such as this in Australia’s archaeological history, they said. They started reading into the ethnohistory of the Aboriginals and looking at cave paintings for clues.

Generations are still being stolen (9 October 2016)

Michael Lavarch writes in Guardian Australia that Indigenous children are being removed from their families at a higher rate than at the time of the 2008 Apology.

The separation of Aboriginal children from their families during the assimilation period of public policy caused enormous harm to Australia’s Indigenous community. Successive federal governments have endeavoured to respond to the consequences of the policies but it is a fundamental misconception to believe child separation on a wholesale basis is an experience of the past.

Indigenous culture is something for all Australians to share and be enriched by (8 October 2016)

Rhoda Roberts writes in Guardian Australia to mark the Homeground cultural festival in Sydney.

As Australians, when we think deeply about our connection to the land, we can only be led by Australia’s first people. Spirituality is intrinsic in our songlines and in all the ways that these are expressed – yes in song, but also in dance and through visual arts.

See related articles by Larissa Behrendt, Chris Sarra and Paul Daley.

Learning Indigenous language online; Indigenous rights recognition in cities; Indigenous citizenship’s history (6 October 2016)

Greg Dickson in The Conversation on a new online interactive documentary about learning the Marra language of the Gulf Country. There is a link to the doco. Libby Porter, also in The Conversation, on issues surrounding recognising of Indigenous land and cultural rights in urban areas. Alison Holland (The Conversation again) on the history of moves towards Indigenous citizenship.

The need for a keeping place for Indigenous remains (27 September 2016)

Paul Daley argues in Guardian Australia that we need a place to keep Indigenous remains, particularly those that are repatriated from overseas museums.

Increasingly, museums that supposedly serve as portals into Indigenous worlds must re-evaluate whether their primary purposes rest in collecting or repatriating, keeping or returning. These vexing questions are challenging some of the world’s oldest collecting institutions with significant Aboriginal holdings, including theBritish Museum, which has some 6,000 Indigenous Australian pieces in its collection.

Indigenous ‘health care”s brutal history; DNA tells a story; death of John Mulvaney, archaeologist of Indigenous Australia (22 September 2016 updated)

Melissa Sweet, Kerry McCallum and Lynore Geia look at the history of lock hospitals of the Western Australian coast. More from these authors. Michael Westaway and colleagues use DNA to take a new look at the origins of Aboriginal Australians and how their population has changed over 50 000 years. ABC report. Larissa Behrendt on traditional culture as another way into thousands of years of Indigenous history.

John Mulvaney died yesterday aged 90. He would have been following the DNA story closely.

ABC does a number on Recognition (21 September 2016)

Paul Daley and Jack Latimore write in Guardian Australia about an ABC TV program which has Linda Burney MP and Andrew Bolt sparring about Recognition, which the former supports and the latter opposes. Both reviewers found the format – and the choice of Bolt as a protagonist – bizarre. On the issue, Daley writes: ‘They [Indigenous opponents of Recognition] are concerned Recognise will impede a dramatically re-energised treaty movement and the ongoing fight to have sovereignty (and not just the people to whom it belongs) rightfully recognised and appropriately – finally – reckoned with’.

‘New racism’ surveyed in the Northern Territory (20 September 2016)

Report of a survey in the Territory which ‘shows most Indigenous people feel judged, stereotyped and disregarded by white people’. The authors look at how ‘new racism’ is manifested in ‘everyday disregard’. ‘While it is essential to maintain programs to tackle Indigenous disadvantage, what is missing from the picture is an understanding of the problems caused by white attitudes.’

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy’s Maiden Speech in the Senate (16 September 2016)

Really worth a listen and a read. ‘My kujika [songline] has allowed me to see both worlds—that of the Western world view and that of the Yanyuwa/Garrawa world view. I am at home in both. I am neither one, without the other.’

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s book reviewed; Indigenous children’s trachoma neglected (15 September 2016 updated)

Brenda Walker in The Monthly reviews Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir, The Hate Race. ‘Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir is likely to precipitate the kind of conversations about racism that Australia badly needs.’ Yet Clarke is of West Indian descent. Does her story have resonance for settler-Indigenous relations also?

Racism is the “sport” of schoolchildren; in some cases it is seen as “teasing”. She is rightly angry “that the school did little to combat the insidious racism I dealt with on a daily basis, but was happy to … parade me and the rest of their ‘multicultural contingent’ around when the circumstances suited”.

In the other piece, Hugh Taylor, Emma Stanford and Fiona Lange in The Conversation ask why is trachoma still blinding Indigenous children when white Australia eliminated it a century ago. The article links to two forthcoming pieces on rheumatic heart conditions and otitis media (middle ear infection) among Indigenous children. More on ear problems in Indigenous children.

Language, counting and Native Police (5 September 2016 updated)

Monica Tan in Guardian Australia on reviving the Pakana language of Tasmania, earlier articles from Monica Tan and Helen Davidson, and Jakelin Troy today. (Guardian Australia has had a series on language.)

Ray Norris (The Conversation) busts some myths on the limitations of Indigenous counting. He asks: ‘So why do some people believe the generalised view that all Aboriginal people can’t count beyond four when there is abundant evidence to the contrary?’ Claire Bowern responds.

A seminar in Queensland looked at the role of the Native Police there in the 19th century. There was a report in Guardian Australia from Joshua Robertson which attracted 322 comments. ‘It’s blatant war and genocide’, said Indigenous activist Sam Watson of the history of Indigenous-settler contact in Queensland. ‘It’s cold-blooded murder. And these stories were handed down through grandparents, uncles and aunties. We lived through that. So you can dress it up all you like.’ Words like ‘colonisation’ and ‘settlement’ were euphemisms.

It is 150 years since the first regulations empowering Queensland Native Police to ‘disperse’ any ‘large assembly of blacks without unnecessary violence’. Professor Megan Davis traced Indigenous youth distrust of law enforcement to the legacy of the Native Police. More broadly, she said,

One of the big obstacles or roadblocks I suspect to having the nation understand the kinds of problems that occur in our communities is the nation doesn’t actually understand what happened … It is impossible to have a conversation about this, there is just this continual denial and resistance to having conversations about our history.

Watson summed up: ‘Until white Australia acknowledges that fact that they’re on this country [that’s] drenched with the blood and suffering of our mob, and this land is stolen … then don’t even bother having reconciliation marches’.

Professor Mark Finnane acknowledged the estimate of Indigenous deaths in Queensland at the hands of Native Police was somewhere between 10 000 and 60 000. The work of Raymond Evans and Robert Ørsted-Jensen is relevant, as are the articles of Paul Daley linked from the Honest History website (use our Search engine or the author list).

‘Noongarpedia’ is Australia’s first Indigenous Wikipedia (2 September 2016)

Monica Tan writes in Guardian Australia about efforts by the Noongar people of south-west Western Australia to preserve their language. The front page of the website has a welcome to country, seen as a subtle departure from the traditional Wikipedia.

Kaya wanju gnullar NoongarPedia. Gnullar waarnkniy kwop kwop birdiyah wiern, maaman, yorga, koorlinga. Gnullar waarnkiny noonar yoorl koorliny waarnkiny nidja NoongarPedia. / Welcome to our Noongarpedia. We speak in good spirit of our ancestors, spirits, men, women and children. We hope you come and contribute to our Noongarpedia.

New edition of Australian National Dictionary includes many more Indigenous words (23 August 2016)

The new edition is launched today and editor Bruce Moore, writing in The Conversation, describes the influx of Indigenous words, now up to more than 500 words from 100 languages.

Linda Burney recalls the Wave Hill walk-off 50 years ago (17 August 2016); Felicity Meakins tells Gurindji stories (19 August 2016)

Australia’s first female Indigenous MP in the House of Representatives talks to Michelle Grattan about this historic moment in the fight for land rights. More from Felicity Meakins, with stories back to 1911. The concluding paragraphs make the links between then and now.

But for the Gurindji, the walk-off wasn’t just an industrial or land dispute with their cattle masters. It was a pivotal moment where they chose to wrest back control of their lives after the culmination of 80 years of fear and brutality.

Wurlurturr-warla pani ngumpit ngaliwuny-ma ngumpit-ma Gurindji-ma. Nyawa-ma-lu yuwani marru-nganyju-warla. Nyawa-ma-rla ngurra karrinya ngumpit-ku-rni. Kula wapurr pani kaya-ngku-ma lawara. Nyanuny maramara-rni ngunyunu. Ngumpit-tu-rni nyangani-ma murlany-mawu-ma kayirrak kurlarrakkarra. Yumi-ma-rla karrinyani.

Whitefellas massacred our Gurindji ancestors. Then they put up their station houses, yards and stock camps. But this land is Aboriginal land and whitefellas haven’t succeeded in getting rid of us. Aboriginal people still recognise each other as the traditional owners all ‘round this area. The law has always been here. – Pincher Nyurrmiari, interviewed in 1978.

When (and if) to have a recognition referendum – and does it matter? (14 August 2016)

Paul Kildea in The Conversation discusses the implications of the decision by the Referendum Council to extend the period for consultations into next year. It will need until mid-2017 to deliver its report. This probably means no vote before 2018.

Amy McQuire in New Matilda says labouring the issue of when to hold a referendum is missing the point. The point instead is to understand what Indigenous Australians want.

Treaty and recognition or treaty instead of recognition? (8 August 2016)

George Williams and Peter Brent on the above question, following a conference of First Australians representatives in Melbourne.

Indigenous exclusion in the North: from water; from wages (3 August 2016)

Liz Macpherson and others in The Conversation document the long history of water allocation in Northern Australia, which has often been to the detriment of Indigenous Australians living there on country.

Indigenous people deserve commercial water rights too, especially given that they have been sidelined from agricultural expansion for so long. Righting that historical wrong will mean giving Aboriginal people the same water rights that have been given to non-Indigenous users ever since colonisation.

Cath McLeish on New Matilda reviews a new documentary, Servant or Slave, in which five Aboriginal grandmothers describe

their own childhoods without knowing family. Stolen as small children by Australian governments, they were raised by institutions, deprived of the love of parents and siblings.

They did farm labour and trained as domestic servants for white families. They suffered harsh discipline and all variants of child abuse. The women’s stories are told with the perspective of survivors: hurt but also wisdom; pain but also pride.

They were not paid or paid very little: hence ‘stolen wages’.

Why are we shocked at revelations of Northern Territory abuse of detained teenagers? (26 July 2016 updated)

Note: this post is not just the Chris Graham article but links to more than 30 other resources (as at 5 August). HH

Chris Graham writes in New Matilda after the Four Corners program. ‘Yet another Royal Commission will not achieve justice for Aboriginal people, but it will shine a light on the behaviour of people in power. And it will vindicate Aboriginal people, who’ve been saying this for decades.’ The article leads in to a collection of links relating to this issue.

Indigenous DNA testing; NSW curriculum changes (22 July 2016)

Waanyi and Jaru geneticist, Gregory Phillips, writes about the complexities of proving Aboriginal descent. ‘Aboriginal peoples must use Aboriginal knowledges balanced with science for the benefit of all, rather than white people using science to categorise and control us and our lands.’

Proposed changes to the HSC History syllabus in NSW will see students learning about Pemulwuy, Faith Bandler, Eddie Mabo and Charlie Perkins, as part of a broadening of subject matter.

Illicit love and the secret of a nation (19 July 2016)

Ann McGrath writes in Inside Story about her recent book on aspects of love across barriers.

By the 1960s, when I was growing up there, Queensland had become skilled at burying the Aboriginal past, and Queenslanders spoke about its traces in hushed tones. As a child, I wondered why. I recall a particular day when my grandfather Joe whispered that some of his neighbours had a “touch of the tarbrush.” “What does that mean?” I had no clue.

Calls for Royal Commission into Indigenous suicide (14 July 2016)

ABC report of petition signed by 21 000 Australians seeking Royal Commission. Spokesman Gerry Georgatos reckons ten per cent of Indigenous deaths are suicides (twice the official figure) and remote communities in Western Australia are suffering from ‘funeral fatigue’.

[Wes Morris], coordinator of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC)] said a major part of why current efforts were not working was the focus on treating Indigenous suicide prevention as a mental health issue, rather than an issue that should be addressed culturally.

“We can’t change the 200 years of Australian society, and in the next 50 years we will make some changes in improving the outcomes for Aboriginal people,” he said.

“But whilst we’re doing all of that, what we need to ensure is that we’re working on the protective resilience factors that make young people strong.

“The number one resilience factor is culture — if people understand where they fit into the world and their place in the world and are proud of their identity, then that is the number one protective factor.”

We Indigenous people are stronger than we believe, and smarter than we know (11 July 2016)

Speech by Dr Chris Sarra on winning the NAIDOC Person of the Year award. He links Indigenous Australians’ position today with thousands of years of history. ‘[H]ealing cannot happen while ever we believe the lies that we are a weak, desperate people, devoid of humanity and incapable of helping ourselves.’

Songlines in NAIDOC Week (7 July 2016)

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia writes about songlines, a key part of Indigenous Australian culture and the theme of NAIDOC Week 2016.

Indigenous MPs, unregistered births, domestic violence (5 July 2016)

Amy McQuire in New Matilda notes the election of the first Indigenous woman to the House of Representatives but calls for a strong and independent First Nations representative bodies. Meanwhile, one-fifth of Indigenous births in Western Australia are not recorded and rates of domestic violence against Indigenous women are many times higher than the average.

Indigenous voting, retreat since 1967 (30 June 2016)

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia discusses why only 58 per cent of Indigenous Australians are enrolled to vote. Patrick Sullivan in Inside Story finds that Indigenous progress has retreated since the 1967 Referendum.

Important material on election eve (27 June 2016)

Links to articles in The Conversation and The Monthly on Indigenous suicide, attitudes to violence against Indigenous women, Treaty and recognition, Arrernte songs and Galarrwuy Yunupingu.

Land rights, Treaty, not hearing and family violence (22 June 2016 updated)

Ten days before the election, five articles on a long-running land claim, family violence, how Indigenous Australians are cut out of Indigenous policy – and Treaty. Plus another article (Paul Kildea) on how discussion on Treaty could strengthen recognition moves.

Invasion (15 June 2016)

Both Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition Leader Shorten have used the word ‘invasion’ to describe what happened in Australia in 1788. (They still differ over reconciling, recognising, and whether or not to have a treaty.)

Aboriginal customary law; framing of Indigenous policy; Myall Creek (12 June 2016)

The Conversation had four articles on Indigenous issues: AJ Wood on Australia’s non-recognition of Indigenous customary law; Lee Godden on customary law and the Mabo decision; Harry Blagg on other aspects of customary law; Fogarty and Wilson on how governments negatively frame policies aimed at Indigenous Australians.

Extending the conversation beyond The Conversation, SBS had an explainer about the Myall Creek Massacre, which occurred about now 178 years ago. Honest History has some resources on the same event.

Research on who were Australia’s first inhabitants; lessons in reconciliation come from Myall Creek (8 June 2016)

News reports recent work published in a scientific journal ‘that demonstrates Aboriginal people were indeed the first to inhabit the continent, disputing an earlier landmark study that claimed to recover DNA sequences from the oldest known Australian, Mungo Man’. More in The Conversation from the authors of the study.

Julie Collins writes in The Conversation about the lessons the Myall Creek Massacre offers for reconciliation. More on Myall Creek from Tim Bottoms and in our Online Gems series.

Ways of improving Indigenous employment prospects; Indigenous medicine; heart deaths (6 June 2016)

Nicholas Biddle and others in The Conversation look at eight ways of improving Indigenous employment, including training of both employees and employers. Shane Ingrey tells NITV about his research on Indigenous medicine. Garry Jennings in The Conversation starts a series on causes of death in Australia, noting that Indigenous Australian deaths from heart disease are 40 per cent higher than for non-Indigenous Australians.

25 years of reconciliation (3 June 2016)

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia believes nothing much has changed in those 25 years.

Five articles for Sorry Day (26 May 2016)

Paul Daley in Guardian Australia reckons Indigenous Australians need a treaty. Recognition is optional. Dave Donovan in Independent Australia says saying ‘sorry’ is not enough and recognition and a treaty must come. ‘We must embrace the spirituality and culture of the land, as practiced by the true custodians and make it a vital part of a genuine Australian culture — not some European import, clumsily grafted onto this ancient land.’

Marcia Langton in Guardian Australia calls for investment in Indigenous businesses. Jade Jones-Cubillo in Guardian Australia tells what it was like to properly discover her Indigenous identity as a teenager. Amy McQuire in New Matilda considers the issues raised in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and how they impact on calls for recognition and treaty.

Reconciliation a platform for all of us (20 May 2016)

Another article (see 12 May below) in The Conversation‘s series on reconciliation, this one from Melissa Castan and Kerry Arabena, who conclude that reconciliation ‘provides a legacy platform for our continued growth and prosperity as a nation’. Yet Stanner’s ‘great Australian silence’ about Indigenous history persists and most of the indicators are stagnant.

Dark Emu confronts the ‘disappearing’ of Indigenous culture; Indigenous food; Stan Grant talks to Anne Manne (17 May 2016)

Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu wins a major prize; the book looks at Indigenous farming practices, the history of which Pascoe suggests has been ‘disappeared’. John Newton and Paul Ashton in The Conversation ask whether we can be Australian without eating Indigenous food. Anne Manne talks at length in The Monthly to Stan Grant, particularly about the themes in Grant’s book, Talking to My Country. (Scroll down for more on Grant.)

The trials of reconciliation; world’s oldest stone axe discovered (12 May 2016)

A series begins in The Conversation about issues surrounding reconciliation between Indigenous and settler Australians. The discovery is announced of what is believed to be the world’s oldest stone axe; the implications of that discovery for attitudes towards Indigenous culture are noted.

A new view of Indigenous womens’ art (10 May 2016)

Sandra Phillips in The Conversation reviews an exhibition of the art of Boneta-Marie Mabo, which tries to resist the received definition of Indigenous women.

With secrecy and dispatch: a review of an exhibition about massacres of Indigenous people (9 May 2016)

Ian McLean in Artlink reviews an exhibition in Campbelltown about massacres, particularly the one at Appin two centuries ago. The exhibition raises important questions about the differential commemoration of the invasion at Gallipoli in 1915 and the one that began in 1788 and continues.

Linda Burney’s final speech in the NSW Parliament (5 May 2016)

Linda Burney, Labor MP for Canterbury, gave a valedictory speech on 4 May before resigning to stand for federal Parliament. There was a report in Guardian Australia but the Hansard is better:

My time in this place has been shaped, though not defined, by my Aboriginality. I am proud of this fact … I have been heartened to help create some change for our State’s First Peoples. I was enormously proud to have been a part of the Government in this State that recognised First Peoples in the New South Wales State Constitution. It is a symbol, such as the flag hanging in this Chamber and that we start the day not only with the prayer but an acknowledgement of country. I said at the time this bill was introduced that it was a necessary part of our State’s coming of age—that as a State we needed to acknowledge, understand and embrace our history …

I am also proud to have overseen the legislation of the Aboriginal Placement Principle for children removed from their homes. Aboriginal children deserve to know their culture and we cannot perpetuate the sins of the past. In my inaugural speech I told the House that the core issue for Aboriginal Affairs was to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities, and that the imperative was education. The current state of Aboriginal Affairs has been particularly distressing. Paternalism seems increasingly to be today’s approach. Breaking the cycle of poverty that pervades disadvantaged communities remains the fundamental task of this institution and everyone in it …

Of truth telling I offer a few reflections: as a nation we have recently come together to observe Anzac Day. It is an important day commemorating the sacrifice made by many Australians in the great conflicts of our age. It is time that we speak also of the wars fought on Australian soil. There are dear friends and family in the Chamber whose families served this country. The two Wiradjuri wars, and the many others, have stained the dirt across this great continent with the blood of First Peoples. The Wiradjuri, led by the mighty leader, Windradyne, saw two-thirds of our people wiped out in just a few months through martial law in the Bathurst area. Today the Minister and shadow Minister both spoke of the Appin Massacre. There were countless others. The history of these conflicts is not well kept—if not deliberately to avoid discussion of a difficult topic, then perhaps through a kind of wilful blindness.

What we do know is that at least 20,000 Aboriginal men, women and children died in these wars of resistance. No member in this place represents an electorate that was not the site of some fierce battle or massacre. One day I want to see these conflicts remembered in our national war memorial in Canberra along with the other conflicts our nation has been involved in on foreign soils. This, my dear friends, would really be truth telling.

January-April 2016

October-December 2015

July-September 2015

April-June 2015

January-March 2015

2014 material

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