By Robert Macklin
Yes, the Covid pandemic is hard to take, but there is a bright side – while the politicians have been occupied spinning their wildly different stands, the broader community has not forgotten that basic Australian precept: the fair go. And it’s found expression in two powerful causes – women’s rights and the honour due to our Aboriginal past, present and future.
The Morrison government has tried its very best to bury them under a blizzard of words and phony inquiries on one hand and empty half-promises on the other. It didn’t work. Women were not silenced; nor will they be. The anger runs too deep. That filly has bolted. And these days they have key positions in the great media groups that help set the nation’s agenda.
The Aboriginal story probably has a tougher road to travel and it’s that which I believe needs even more horsepower to find its way to a truly united Australia. The Aboriginal people have largely pushed the wagon of advancement themselves. The time has come for us whitefellas – male and female – to put our shoulders to the wheel. For it’s not just an Aboriginal issue. Climate change is driving home the lesson that the idea of a Christian God creating the land and its creatures solely for the exploitation of man, is not just silly, it’s a death sentence for all sentient life on the planet.
While the Aboriginal people are naturally gun-shy about the participation of well-meaning white lefties, the movement could benefit greatly from a whitefella group pushing in the same direction, but to a broader constituency.
For example, while the marvelous Uluru Statement from the Heart was an exclusively Aboriginal creation, it would have been more effective in raising public and political support if its action agenda began with the Truth-telling Commission (Makarrata) rather than the Voice to be enshrined in the Constitution before the truth-telling took place.
It’s perfectly understandable that the First Nations leaders were fed up with being portrayed as victims. It’s an insult to their self-perception in the 21st century. But an allied whitefella group would have understood instantly that the only way to get political action was to expose the community to the reality of the attempted Aboriginal ethnocide by the colonial regime. For it’s not just constitutional reconciliation that will bring about Aboriginal justice, it’s retribution and massive reparations to rebalance the economic scales and ‘close the gap’. That can only happen with broad public support.
As well, it’s time to celebrate the lifelong work of some outstanding whitefellas who sacrificed their careers and their health on the altar of Aboriginal advancement. For the last two years I have been researching a biography of the great anthropologist, Donald Thomson (1901-1970) whose work in Cape York, Arnhem Land and the Central Deserts was central to our understanding of the richness and complexity of Aboriginal culture and society.
Thomson was our first home-grown anthropologist and throughout his life struggled against the political, academic and religious establishment with their callous, so-called assimilation policies. For in reality they were intent on destroying every trace of Aboriginal culture that had nurtured the land for 60,000 years. Thomson trained them in World War II to resist an imminent Japanese invasion and fought behind the lines in Dutch New Guinea with 75 headhunters.
He’s but one of a remarkable cohort whose contribution has yet to be recognized. One other stands out as a natural for a Nobel Peace (or literature) prize. But he deserves a column of his own…next week