Reflecting on NAIDOC week, it occurred to me months ago when our federal government went against the majority of world opinion and stopped referring to East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’, that I am living in ‘Occupied East Australia’.
When Captain Cook was sailing away from the Australian mainland, he stuck a flag in Bedanug island off the nor’west tip of Cape York and renamed it ‘Possession Island’. Here he laid claim to the entire continent in the name of mad King George III of England. The rest is history… or is it?
It would be like in 1988 when Burnum Burnum stuck a flag in the sand at Dover and claimed England in the name of the Aboriginal people of Australia, if he went on to claim all of Europe in the name of his Woiworung-Yorta Yorta people.
It’s absurd. Australia wasn’t a nation, it was a continent of hundreds of nations. The colonial assumption that made one nation out of many, then claimed ownership and absolute sovereignty of the entire continent, was just as crazy abrogation of natural justice then as it is today.
It is the elephant in the room as we grapple with how we will refer to ‘aborigines’ in our constitution.
Because of the fear of a national treaty acknowledging any claim to sovereignty, nothing more than tokenism will ever come from the federal government.
It will only ever produce a symbolic reference in our constitution. As hollow as saying ‘sorry’ and doing nothing.
Surely it would be more just for we ‘Northern Rivers’ new settlers to forge a treaty with the local aboriginal nation based on shared sovereignty, governance, shared wealth, ownership of the land and mutual respect.
A grass roots regional treaty could set a precedent for similar treaties to be struck with the many nations throughout our continent. And this should be reflected in any
national treaty or constitution.
Australia doesn’t have an ‘aboriginal problem’ – this continent has a European problem. In the length of just three average lifetimes European style land management has deforested, overfished and plundered much of this continent. It’s utterly unsustainable and has to change.
Some people may argue that we’ve ‘moved on’ – that it ‘wasn’t us that stole this land and it wasn’t them we stole it from’. But that’s not true. We are still stealing it.
Most of those 18th century assumptions about property, sovereignty, wealth and ownership – put in place in the late 18th century, are still in place.
And the ‘White Australia’ policies around the time of federation in 1901 didn’t help.
I believe all people on this continent, the oppressors and the oppressed, carry an unconscious wound around this unresolved land grab and relationship we all have with the truth of what happened – and is still happening.
This manifests in our national psyche as blaming the victim, a lack of confidence, deflecting with our eyes, fearing ‘boat people’, the tall-poppy syndrome – all manifesting as a real inability to grow up as a people.
Truth and reconciliation on this continent can never happen until we deal honestly with this stuff.
Michael Balson, Upper Wilsons Creek (Bundjalung country)