Two Things I Didn’t Know About Indigenous Australians

As a white Australian, I have been exposed to some of (but nowhere near all) the inequalities Aboriginals experience or have experienced in society. From minor differences to truly horrific inequalities. But two facts in particular have stuck with me:

Aboriginals and Australia Day

Obviously there are heaps of reasons why Aboriginals don’t support Australia Day. The whole ‘we took their land, brought disease to their communities, killed many of their ancestors and have treated them as lesser humans ever since’ thing is largely to blame. But something I learned recently really shook me. Many Stolen Children were taken from their families without having their birth dates recorded. They were given new birthdays; 26th January, Australia Day. I found that particularly horrible and offensive. So you can imagine why Aboriginals feel some animosity towards the day.

I learned this fact from Jimblah, whose grandmother was one of the Stolen Generations who had her birthday recorded as 26th Jan. I wasn’t able to find any information or records but it was a difficult thing to search for and, as Jimblah said, it’s not a good look to have that sort of thing associated with our national day.

Calling an Aboriginal an ‘ape’

Following the Adam Goodes saga recently, a lot of white Aussies have come out in support of Eddie McGuire and the nameless 13yo girl, saying that calling Goodes an ape wasn’t racist since he’s a tall guy with a beard. But it is racist, and here’s why. Apart from the usual reasons why calling a black person a monkey or ape is racist (animal, primitive, lesser human, low intelligence etc.) these words have further offensive potency towards Aboriginals because for many years they were animals, at least according to the Australian government. I learned recently that, until 1967, laws that governed Aboriginals were found in the Flora and Fauna act. They were legally thought of as animals. No citizenship, no voting. To this day some laws relating to Aboriginal culture and heritage are still governed by the Flora and Fauna act. Pretty shameful. I first read about this in an article by Charlie Pickering.

Whether through my own ignorance or a failing of the education system, it took me 23 years to discover these facts. Either way I find it pretty disappointing. It seems a lot of truths regarding the mistreatment of Aboriginals are being covered up due to shame, and while I am ashamed, I think a lack of education is holding our country back from truly being Australia Fair.

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5 thoughts on “Two Things I Didn’t Know About Indigenous Australians

  1. Just seen your blog because of your posting on the Conscience Vote. Re Australia Day I do not understand why the date is January 26th. Australia was not a nation until Federation. In fact only NSW seems to gain by the current date set as our national day. And indigenous people of course would feel offense at how the choice was made. Can we call for a new national day ie celebration of 1st January 1901 with a holiday on 2nd January so as not to lose the existing New Year’s Day holiday?

  2. I just came across your blog after googling Charlie Pickering’s article. If I may quote you;

    “…..these words have further offensive potency towards Aboriginals because for many years they were animals, at least according to the Australian government. I learned recently that, until 1967, laws that governed Aboriginals were found in the Flora and Fauna act. They were legally thought of as animals. No citizenship, no voting. To this day some laws relating to Aboriginal culture and heritage are still governed by the Flora and Fauna act. Pretty shameful. I first read about this in an article by Charlie Pickering.

    Whether through my own ignorance or a failing of the education system, it took me 23 years to discover these facts.”

    Well don’t worry; it is not through you own ignorance nor is it from a failing education system because these ‘facts’ that Charlie Pickering talk about are simply not correct. Before the 1967 referendum the First Australians WERE NOT regulated under the Flora and Fauna Act; in fact there is no such federal act. Each state did have acts specifically for the Aboriginals (eg. NSW Aborigines Protection Act 1909). Australian Aborigines were giving citizenship in the Citizenship and Nationality Act 1948; entitled to vote in 1962 amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962 by the Menzies government – these things could not have happened if Aborigines were classed as ‘fauna’. The 1967 Referendum paved the way for the federal government to legislate with respect to the aboriginal people and also to have them included in the census. At no time in Australian legal history were the aboriginal people ‘classed’ as animals. However, there were many laws that certainly treated them with inequality and no doubt many members of society may have seen them as ‘animals’.

    A number of Australian states did indeed often manage Aboriginal cultural affairs through departments also concerned with flora, fauna, and wildlife. Such legislation did exist, though not uniformly or federally. In New South Wales, for instance, Indigenous Australian hunting and land use rights, as well as their material culture, were managed under a wider National Parks portfolio; this practice only gained attention in 2009 and a process for its reversal was initiated the following year. (ref: http://tracker.org.au/2012/11/no-longer-flora-and-fauna-nsw-govt-commits-to-heritage-legislation/)

  3. I wish that Australia Day were removed and Federation Day installed. The current Australia Day has nothing to do with the formation of Australia. Residents of many of the current states and territories must fine it weird that Australia Day is about certain white explorers from England arriving in New South Wales. To celebrate that arrival is also, of course, offensive to those who already lived here.

  4. I agree Jennifer, the whole idea of Australia Day is very flawed. I’ve been mulling this over recently, stay tuned for a new post when I’ve figured out how to describe how I feel about the whole thing.

    Garreth, it looks like you know more about this area than I do, so I’ll refrain from penning a counterpoint until I’ve done some more research. However I think it’ll be along the lines of – perhaps Australian Aboriginals were never strictly/legally/officially referred to as “animals”, simply that acts concerning them or parts of their culture came under the flora/fauna umbrella. This is still offensive, and I think Aboriginals have a right to be offended. To use another example, there’s no law that strictly says “gay couples’ love is less meaningful than that of straight couples” but the current legal inequality certainly suggests something along those lines.

    • Yes that’s right; certain parts of their culture were administrated by departments that also regulate ‘flora and fauna’. Personally I see this more as an indication of bureaucratic convenience than as a matter of disrespect. However clearly it offended many indigenous Australians, and i can understand why, and so this should be changed. In fact, I think that the need to regulate any aboriginal cultural affairs is offensive (but getting rid of regulation and red tape is unfortunately and impossibility in today’s political climate – no side of the political divide are eager to lose regulatory powers).

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