December 31, 2003 | Peter

Aboriginal Culture and Its Critics

The continued predicament of Aboriginal people in Australia is a festering sore that sooner or later must be healed. There appears to be a growing contingent of mostly right/conservative people that wants to deal with this issue by completely discounting the Aboriginal experience in the past and therefore now because it alleviates white guilt.
Aboriginal culture, like all cultures, is not beyond criticism. But such criticism must be based on rational argument and evidence, not a desire to wipe away the extraordinary facts of 60,000 years of Aboriginal history in this land and 200 years of white occupation.
So I get annoyed when such criticism simply trots out the same old ignorant crap. Hence a letter I recently wrote to in response to a speech made by Pauline Hanson’s ex-advisor, David Oldfield in the NSW parliament:
Dear Crikey,
Oldfield’s comments in relation to Aboriginal culture reflect a profound ignorance on this issue. Such sustained ignorance is unacceptable in a paid political representative.
So, in refutation of his key points:
1.Aborigines are estimated to have lived in Australia for some 60,000 years. This is an extraordinary achievement for any culture by any standards.
2.Aborigines are thought to have wiped out existing megafauna (as humans did all over the globe), but then settled to a highly successful system of environmental management (utilising managed fires, amongst other things). Again, this is seen as an unusually effective response to environmental crisis in this particularly dry and arid land.
3.Aboriginals were certainly dispossesed illegally of their land under extant British law (ie the Terra Nullius issue), a point that was discussed much at the time and afterwards.
4.Aborigines have developed such a deep understanding of the Australian environment that they are increasingly seen as a repository of special knowledge and good sense.
5.There was a great variety in Aboriginal culture when whites arrived. Indeed, some have argued that certain groups were moving into an agricultural phase.
6.Many of the cultural concepts of Aborigines are unique and tell us much about how humans can live differently to current mass-industrial society. Their social structures are marvellously complex and suited to their specific circumstances, and their spiritual ideas are wonderfully rich.
Given our manifest failure to effectively manage the Australian environment (in fact,it is in crisis), our social problems and spiritual lack, I would have thought we have plenty to learn from Aboriginal culture.
I just wish those who so fulsomely criticise Aboriginals and their culture would bother to find out a little about it.
Peter McMahon
When I was teaching the introductory Australian Studies unit at Murdoch University, one of the most rewarding experiences was to be told by students how much they had changed their minds on Aboriginal issues once they found out a bit about them. I strongly believe that Australians would get behind genuine land rights reform etc if they understood the issues. I am afraid our current political leadership and mass media do not want this understanding to arise.

Posted by Peter at 12:37 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. Mate I respect your opinion of the Aboriginal race.I also think that think that the aboriginal race should have evolved more than just throwing boomerangs and rocks in 60000 years. They deserved to be overthrown by a far more moderninised british body. Survial of the fittest. I also live on a property and am embarresed by their poor work ethic and inability to appreciate the 15% of Australia’s land mass which has already been allocated to the aboriginal race ( makes up only 2% of Pop). It enrages me when city do gooders campaign for aborigiinal reconcilliation when they have no actual assosiation with them and their current way of life. I also have plenty of aboriginal mates but I think that they should fit in to our way of life and people should stop encouraging aboriginal and white apartheid.

    Comment by Digby — May 28, 2004 @ 1:18 pm

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