This Land is (y)OUR land…


Go to pretty much any public event in Australia these days and there’ll be a ritualistic incantation from the balanda (white person) in charge that they acknowledge that the meeting is being held on the land of the local peoples and that… well, I could and shall make a list of the variations, but so far I think they’ve included that the elders of those tribes are revered as sources of wisdom/information about how to live in harmony etc.

I’m not criticising the people for doing it. Doubtless most of them are sincere in what they say. And at least it is a recognition of the historic theft of the land and some of the consequences (though that tends to get soft-pedalled). But I think rather than being the beginning of a discussion of what we all do next, it functions to shut that conversation down.

Here’s a couple of quotes from a recent Arena (issue 108) article called “Ways to claim a country” by Gillian Cowlishaw

… we Australian settler descendants are so confident in our ownership that we readily admit the limits of our historical connections. Indeed, our ability to recognise the deep spiritual connections of Aboriginal people with the land confirms our benign intentions and our legitimacy here. Acknowledging the depth and power of Indigenous spiritual connections with the land enhances our virtue while posing no threat to our mundane political and legal ownership.

And her next point is one I first was challenged on by a white South African during the apartheid years. It’s a valid one…

We Australians plead guilty but feel innocent of the dispossession our forebears perpetrated. When a Jew asks us about oppressed Aborigines today, we are nonplussed; we are building houses for them, not tearing them down! We are expressing admiration and care for ‘our Aborigines’. But the question leads me to wonder, were our white place in our Australia threatened by millions of Aborigines refusing us legitimacy in the land, would ugly emotions arise and overwhelm our desire to recognise their equality and their cultural rights? The answer must be yes, as evident in the secreted seam of fear and hostility that emerged when the High Court of Australia pronounced that Native Title still exists and must be recognised in Australia.


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