|Photo credit: Wayne Quilliam, Courtesy of Manningham Gallery|
So what is ‘reconciliation’ and what does it look like? After decades of talking, advocating, and taking concrete steps towards ‘reconciliation’ between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, the question has to be asked, ‘what is the goal or end point we are striving for?’
The unspeakable answer to that questions is that reconciliation has been achieved. We know that because:
- There are no legal or institutional discriminations against Indigenous people but there are a raft of positive discrimination measures in all States, Territories and the Commonwealth.
- Indigenous people have privileged standing before the law. They have, collectively, more rights than white people. That includes land rights, cultural rights, resource rights, and a certain status among opinion leaders.
- Indigenous people have access to the riches of two ancient cultures – their own, and the Judeo Christian Western culture.
- Australia has a land rights legal regime that would be the envy of any other nation.
- Australians have apologised in many and varied ways over a number of years both generally for the wrongs done to Indigenous people, and for specific actions such as abducing children (note that white children were also abducted for similar reasons and this nation was founded on white slavery).
- Uniquely among all the countries on earth, the Australian government has issued a formal and specific apology.
These are unique national achievements that should be widely acknowledged and celebrated. While racism will always exist (you may as well try and stop prostitution) Australia as a whole is one of the most accepting places on earth; it’s one of the reasons I live here….and yes, when I arrived here as a child I was called a ‘pommy bastard’ and told to go back to my own country, but I got over it.
So why are we still talking about reconciliation and made to feel guilty? Ostensibly it is because Indigenous people as a whole score very low on all the socio-economic indicators and this is assumed to be the fault of ‘white Australia’. Since it is presumed to be the fault of ‘white Australia’ it is assumed to be something the government can fix. This is a shockingly shallow analysis that owes a great deal to white cultural assumptions about the ‘noble savage’ who enjoys some kind of inherent moral superiority having enjoyed an Eden like state of blessedness before 1788. This is of course just latent racism dressed up in PC garb, but it is the reason why we are told to genuflect before one of the world’s most primitive cultures – one that spent 40 thousand years not inventing the wheel, written language, buildings, sail, the paint brush, and whose contribution to music consists of a hollow log. This view has now reached absurd proportions demonstrated by obligatory ‘welcome to country’ statements at government conferences where Aboriginal ownership and custodianship are acknowledged. That would make sense in, for example, Arnhem land. It is laughable in Melbourne. Sorry, but Indigenous people don’t actually own Melbourne. We stole it and we are not going to give it back. Move on.
Very little of this comes from Indigenous people themselves. It is a white middle class fantasy projected onto them (which fact is also insipidly racist). However, as natural opportunists Indigenous people are not above milking our stupidity. I have a colleague who has worked extensively in Aboriginal communities who assured me that there exists a whole class and strata of ‘leaders’ who are not truly community leaders but who get good salaries from various government agencies for perpetuating Indigenous welfare.
Which brings us to the real issue: the lousy living conditions of many Aboriginal Australians, which brings us to the next unspeakable truth: if you matched one for one every disadvantaged Aboriginal with a Dutch or Jewish person and put them in exactly the same circumstances, the Dutch or Jews would be fully employed and prosperous within a decade. Disadvantage would be negligible. Why?
We are all basically the same. What make some individuals, communities, societies, and cultures successful and others lousy, are cultural values and moral norms. These developed in Indigenous societies to adapt to circumstances completely different to today. Any improvement in the Indigenous situation therefore requires the abandonment of some beliefs and values in order to adapt to the new reality. Concrete examples:
- Indigenous people insist on living in communities so remote that they will never have jobs, services, health care or opportunity. By living in these communities they choose to condemn their children to a future with no hope. Any other cultural group would pack up and move. Indigenous elders choose to ruin their children’s lives because their belief in ancestor worship prevents them from leaving their ‘country’.
- Indigenous (some groups) tradition that elders can choose brides, and girls can marry at 14 is ..um… shall was say ‘not helpful?’
- Collective ownership of resources makes perfect sense in a nomadic tribal society. In a sedentary capitalist society it makes saving and investment impossible, rewards sloth and punishes productivity and enterprise. The practical outworking is that working Indigenous people often cannot save enough to buy property or start businesses because they are being bled by their unproductive ‘relatives’.
- Tribal obligations trump work obligations. Would you employ someone who turns up to work regularly and on-time or someone who has to disappear from time to time for indeterminate lengths of time to attend a cousin’s funeral ‘up country’ or do ceremony?
Those unwilling to acknowledge reality cannot adapt to it. Parks Australia for example employs Indigenous rangers and pays them on the same day as everyone else. That is hugely problematic because having that amount of money on one day obliges the Indigenous rangers to share it with their ‘relatives’ leaving them broke by next pay day and hence unable to buy a house and struggling to make rent. The obvious answer is to pay smaller amounts more often but that would be discriminatory so Parks Australia won’t do it. The Indigenous rangers refuse to tell their useless relies to get lost. Consequently they experience lifetime financial disadvantage. According to the social left this is all the fault of white Australia (who actually gave them the job in the first place).
Ditto with welfare cards and grog. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that alcohol is devastating Indigenous communities. This problem can be largely solved through a welfare card system which allows purchases of anything except alcohol, drugs, and gambling. This has demonstrably worked and would save the lives of many children, but it is discriminatory and therefore racist so we have to let the children suffer. Actually, having grown-up in the rougher end of town a similar scheme for white people would be a good thing but the Left will never allow it.
It is this kind of insipiently racist non-thinking that is the real problem; and if we really care we need to leave PC politics in the bin where it belongs and have the kind on authentic conversation that Noel Pearson is talking about.
So is there hope? I believe there is but only if well-meaning white people get out of the way. It is high time we stopped thinking of Indigenous people as possessing a superior culture and high time we held unhelpful beliefs up to scrutiny. In that context it is highly ironic that the Left are now beating up on Indigenous elders for voting against same sex marriage because it contradicts their traditional cultural values. Apparently they now have to be cultural Marxists as well as noble savages, but we digress….
As noted above, Indigenous Australians are uniquely advantaged and many of them are doing just fine. They are uniquely placed to pick and choose those values that will be most helpful to them from two extraordinary cultures. First their own culture which enabled them to adapt and survive in a very challenging environment, to navigate a vast continent without compass, and to remember ancient hunting grounds that have been flooded since the last ice age ended. Secondly, they can adopt values from the Western culture which developed written language and mathematics, explored the whole world, came up with the concept of human rights and democracy, created industrial civilisation, and put man on the moon.
Those best positioned to make the cultural translation are probably those who worked with the original translators. Those translators were not pastoralists or archaeologists but missionaries who lived with Indigenous people, taught them to read and write, translated the Bible into their tongue, and taught them the white man’s ways without booze and violence. While the Left find this an embarrassment, it is remembered with gratitude by many elders. It is from this legacy that, I suspect, lasting change will come.