Editorial June 9th 2023
Welcome to this week’s editorial, Beware… what follows may be controversial but I need pursue it so that I might bring the elephant in the room to the table. The issue I have is with the opening official explanation of The Voice by the Australian Government: In late 2023, Australians will have their say in a referendum about whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. (https://voice.gov.au/) “The First Peoples of Australia?”. Having had a life long interest in anthropology I took particular interest in the stories told to me by my partner’s Uncle Nick, way back in the 1970’s when I first arrived in Australia. Uncle Nick, being a direct descendent of the Knox sugar family who established CSR had long heard of a northern Queensland people he referred to as “pygmies. He told me he had read many a report of the “pigmies” and said that they were in fact the FIRST PEOPLES of Australia, having lived on this continent for quite a few thousand years prior to the taller tribes who arrive some time much later. He was adamant that the simplistic history books that offer little more than a regurgitated overview of aboriginal history to our school children was written in such a way that it glossed over the anthropological facts and findings that remain, to this day, in archives unread, and out of eye sight. I must admit that I didn’t undertake my own further reading of the subject. Back then it was far more difficult as it was pre-internet. However, Uncle Nick’s anecdotes of the pygmies, passed down from father to son, remained at the back of my mind until The Voice and now the relentless references to First People. “Hang on a minute, Uncle Nick was more than convinced by what he knew already that the “Pygmies” were the First Peoples of Australia. Yet here we were in 2023 having a referendum and there isn’t a skerrick of information about the “pygmies”. Were they an Uncle Nick tall story? No. Fortunately we now have the internet and can search for the fabled pygmies. Within an hour I can assure you that you will find yourself being pulled down a rabbit hole that takes us all back to our collective roots, being that we are the all homo sapiens, the First Homo Sapiens, the only homo sapiens, and that before us there were the other lines that take us back to Day One, somewhere arguably in Africa. It turns out we are all directly related to each other. We are one, but we are many. Yet we do our level best to divide ourselves. I grew up in a country that has 45% of the world’s languages. The island of New Guinea, that includes Nuigini and West Papua, is comprised of hundreds of tribes that developed in near isolation of each other. Other than by war or by trade the tribes rarely collectively joined in to enjoy a wider benefit and exchange of ideas. The country today, at its grass roots, is still incredibly tribal, and as such, also incredibly volatile. Some might call it tribalism but when you see the irrationality behind many of the disagreements it boils down to pure racism. Having seen the latent racism of our species, that sets out to always divide, I wonder if the referendum ahead should be reworded to deliver an all inclusive voice to all Australians, each and all of us. Maybe: The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government. It will be chosen by all people based on the wishes of local communities and will be representative of all communities, gender-balanced and include youth.
It will be empowering, community-led inclusive, respectful and informed. It will be accountable and transparent and will work alongside existing organisations with a program delivery function and not have a veto power. Each and all of us deserve an equal voice, and our constitution should reflect that, without division. My understanding is that, under Australian laws, we are all the same. Maybe I am wrong. As yet I still don’t understand why we are being asked to vote on a clause to be added to the Constitution that may further divide us. I shall press on to understand the issue further, knowing I have to be well informed before I cast my vote. Until next—lei