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Terra Nullius in Australia

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11. Posted by phileas (Respected Member 67 posts) 10y

It always amazes me that raising a controversial topic such as this invokes such strong opinions - you could almost feel the emotion flowing from the page and after reading through the thread my palms were sweating ;) It's great that people feel so strong about the subject and shows to me that people, especially the Ozzies, have a lot to say on the subject. That makes me feel happy about a resident of Oz, albeit temporary.

For the record, sarcasm never really works in forums so I should leave it out - I have no intention of leaving for this reason, stay and make something positive I will or atleast try to understand.

And one more, please don't think for one minute that I believe Britain to be exempt from responsibility for what happened here. Britain has a deep and dark history and seemingly everywhere I go in the world people have something to say about the wrong doings of the empire (apart from Fiji it seems who absolutely love us - one success out of a few thousand can't be bad ). We've done a lot of bad things but I like to learn about it, understand and try to show people that the Britain of old is not me.

erino - thanks for the detailed comments, especially the great recommendations on my responsibilities as a Brit and sorry day.

Maba - I appreciate your comments about enjoying life but I'd hate whilst I was looking up at the night sky and feeling how lucky I am to be on this earth only to have my country snatched from beneath my feet whilst I wasn't looking.

(from stevieh) Your indignation is well intentioned, but use it constructively rather than just walking away. With your reasoning nobody would ever have visited Germany since 1945 would they?

One significant difference between Germany and here is that the holocaust is mandatory in the curriculum. Does Australia have a similar approach? it appears to be brushed under the carpet?

(HafJafMark) Im not being racist, but

Alarm bells ring for me when I read a sentence that begins like this. Segregation and isolation is not a cause of the problem, it is usually an indicator that something isn't working as it should. Another interesting fact whilst we're throwing them around is that Britain also tested chemical weapons on troops in Wiltshire during the 2nd World War - we have no quarms.

wotthefiqh - that was funny :)

I digress.

Perhaps the question I am asking is this:

How can I make my time in Australia contribute to supporting and developing Aboriginal culture and the people rather than making he situation worse?

12. Posted by grasshoppa (Full Member 202 posts) 10y

i read your comment and then your veiwed your profile, you have surfing listed under hobbies, beaches and anything untouched by the human hand under favourite places yet you didnt really want to come to Australia????? Possibly its three greatest assets

13. Posted by HafJafMark (Respected Member 291 posts) 10y

Alarm bells ring for me when I read a sentence that begins like this. Segregation and isolation is not a cause of the problem, it is usually an indicator that something isn't working as it should. Another interesting fact whilst we're throwing them around is that Britain also tested chemical weapons on troops in Wiltshire during the 2nd World War - we have no quarms.

Of course Segregation is a part of the problem! The wrongs of the past cannot be undone, better to concentrate on improving the plight of aboriginals today, which I beleive the Aussie government is trying to do. Im just not sure that positive discrimination is the answer.

One aboriginal man I spoke to told me that he is an alcoholic. but when he tries to get help they just give him money and he buys more booze with it. The government seems to believe that the problem can be rectified by throwing money at them.

One positive step I did see was a University Proffessor from Darwin in Docker River (aboriginal community) was teaching the younger members of the community how to set up a radio station. It is being funded by the University, but once its up and running, they will hand the full responsibility to the aboriginals. I believe projects like this are a more constructive way of improving their lives.

White Australia is not going to go away, and Aussies feeling guilty about the past will not make matters better for aboriginal Australia.

14. Posted by phileas (Respected Member 67 posts) 10y

Quoting grasshoppa

i read your comment and then your veiwed your profile, you have surfing listed under hobbies, beaches and anything untouched by the human hand under favourite places yet you didnt really want to come to Australia????? Possibly its three greatest assets

great, I'm in the right place then. there's also tonnes of other places in the world offering the same, I can't list them I'd be here too long. whatever, I don't have to justify myself to an insect.

This discussion is about the aboriginees not me, we're beginning to sound like bickering politicians not wordly travellers so please comment on the subject if you can...

[ Edit: Edited on Feb 14, 2007, at 5:14 AM by phileas ]

15. Posted by mojorob (Moderator 1047 posts) 10y

Quoting HafJafMark

The reason that Australia hasnt apologised is a legal one. Under Austrlian law, if the government apologise, thery are admitting fault - which would lead to thousands of compensation claims. The governments position is that they cannot be held responsible for the crimes of a past government - the same position incidentally the British government take with Northern Ireland.

I seem to remember, in about 1999 I think, Aboriginal elders made a trip to the UK and met with the Queen - during this meeting the Queen apologised for the way their ancestors had been treated. So effectively the (ceremonial) head of state for Australia has apologised, though the government has not.

16. Posted by HafJafMark (Respected Member 291 posts) 10y

It all depends upon her specific words.. If she said 'One regrets the way your ancestors where treated' - it does not amount to an admission of guilt (legally anyway).

Thats why Blair said that he 'regrets' the slave trade and 'regrets' the Irish Famine. Its a political way of apologising without opening yourself to compensation claims.

If she actually used the word 'apologize' , then there might be legal grounds for compensation.

I suppose it all depends upon whether the Queen has the authority to speak for the Australian government, which as head of state, she may well do.

17. Posted by samsara_ (Travel Guru 5353 posts) 10y

Hi Phileas

I recommend the Songlines by Bruce Chatwin and the movie Rabbit Proof Fence.

Very interesting post. I'm enjoying your recent blog entries.

Happy travelling

18. Posted by james (Travel Guru 4138 posts) 10y

The aboriginal issue is a true and real "clash of civilisations" that unfortunately, no government of any persuasion in Australia has been able to remedy.

The structure of Australian society, indeed the society of most developed countries, is completely and utterly alien to aboriginal people. Expecting them to "fit in" and function in this society is like sending me into an aboriginal tribe that lives off the land and expecting me to do the same. You'd see the same problems in me as you're seeing in aboriginal people. It really is a "clash of civilisations" and it's not working.

People say things like "they need more money" and "more services". Others say that "they get more money per head of populaton than anyone else".

Some people suggest that the children need to be removed from their dysfunctional communities and families and placed into care. Others say that this was attempted fifty years ago, and then talk of the "stolen generation".

Others still focus on issuing an "apology" as though it will prove to be a magic wand and the problems will suddenly be solved. Others state that an apology will be a "step in the right direction". Personally I'm not quite sure what this actually means in practical terms.

Some people state that aboriginals need to "get of their backsides and become productive members of society", but in doing so they assume that aboriginals want to live like the rest of us. I'm not sure they do.

Some people talk about "halting alcohol sales to aboriginals" and issuing them with food stamps so that they can't "spend their welfare money on alcohol". Other people say that this creates a segregated society, where some people have certain rights that others don't have, and that "the problem may get worse".


My old high school was a private school, and is widely known as one of the most elite schools in Australia. It had all the facilities that a boy could want or need. It provided each student with every opportunity to develop and hone their skills, knowledge and sporting prowess so that the boys entered the community well educated, well adjusted and well equiped to lead a fulfilling life.

I mention this because each year the school would take in small groups of aborignal boys from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the aim to provide these boys with the same opportunities that the other students had. These boys literally had been plucked from the outback, and dropped into this environment.

These boys took time to adjust. A long time. To everything. They had never been to a city, never experienced any "structure" to their daily lives, never really eaten properly, in fact never even washed themselves on a regular basis. A "clash of civilisations".

Over time these boys grew into the school environment, and began to "chalk up successes", whether it was in the classroom, on the sports field, or whether it was just being able to "get by" at school.

Years later, some of these men became doctors. Some became laywers, others became school teachers, others became farmers and yet others became mechanics and moved back to their old "home". In other words, these boys became capable adults just like you and I.

My old school, well, it gave these boys a lot and asked absolutely nothing in return. It provided an education, it nurtured, it encouraged, and it pushed. It provided structure, boundaries and discipline where there was none. It believed in these boys; made them feel valuable, loved and worthwhile. It gave them hope. It gave, and it gave, and it continues to give to this day.

Maybe that's what we should do. Give, and ask nothing in return.

19. Posted by erino (Budding Member 23 posts) 10y

Hi all,

I read your comment, James, and it did sound like your old school has good intentions. Sometimes these sorts of programs are very successful, occasionally, they are not well received or worse, are considered another attempt at forcing Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) to adopt too much of white culture. I am a little unsure about what is the best way forward and congratulate your school on doing what they can.

I wanted to give another example of a program that aims to improve living conditions for Australian Indigenous populations as there has been a call for something practical on this forum.

I work in road safety and have a colleague who has focused his whole career on ATSI road safety (and has received fewer promotions/rewards etc. than he would have in any other area - why is this area so undervalued!). One difficult for people living in communities is that they often have little or no training about road safety. They normally start driving quite young and never obtain a driver's licence. This has some awful consequences, including a tragically high road toll. When talking to the members of communities in our area, my colleague found out why so many young people are unlicensed and untrained. Many of them needed to save for not just the cost of testing but also a flight or 1-2day drive to the closest government offices. They also needed to study a book and pass a test written in English and not available in their own language (as many ATSI languages are only spoken). This booklet and test are normally a statewide publications and focus almost entirely on city driving - something many of these people will never do! The need for a licence is really only thought about when the police come to the community on a surprise visit and fine all the people driving unlicensed.

My colleague saw that not only was forcing the existing laws not working, but it also was not providing the sort of training needed in rural areas. With the consent of our state government he made the following changes:

- the rules that students learn include city driving but focus more strongly on country driving and dangers of rural areas
- instead of the english driving booklet, trained community members use a large road map and toy cars...the lessons are delivered verbally and spatially and the students give their answers to the test questions by demonstrating the correct sequence of movement for each vehicle involved.
-a government offical visits the community to supervise and be involved in testing. a day is organised every so often when there are a few people ready to sit the exam...this way, no one has to save the $100's it would take to get to a testing centre.

This is being trialled in a few areas. I agree that just throwing money at the problem has been our government's tactic for too long. Aimless $ won't make things better. But hopefully this demonstrates a simple idea that seems to be working. It doesn't just force a system on a community but tries to find a middle ground to help those involved. The early reports seem to be positive. The trial communities have higher levels of young people who are trained and licenced. This not only cuts down the number of people who are fined by the police on a regular basis (a process that does nothing to help strained police and community relations) but hopefully will help to reduce road trauma.

anyway, just another idea.

20. Posted by Peter (Admin 5932 posts) 10y

Erin, following on from your post, one idea I quite like is that Australian high school students should be required to learn an Aboriginal language. It would be a great sign of respect and a really good way to help develop understanding between cultures.