In days gone by, I would have celebrated Australia Day like most other people. Oblivious to the scale of the horrors inflicted upon the indigenous people of this Great Southern Land, I would have consumed my Vegemite toast listening to the iconic Men at Work, gone to a barbeque, had a few drinks, got burned at the beach, all the while grateful for the blessed life in which I found myself. In days gone by, I was ignorant that my modest upbringing was in stark contrast to the indigenous people elsewhere in the country.
My indigenous compatriots are forced annually to remember the traumas that have decimated successive generations. Australia Day commemorates the ascendancy of British law over that of Australian indigenous lore and law. It is somewhat akin to the marches held by the Orange Order in Northern Ireland on 12 July each year, commemorating the victory of William of Orange over James II at the Battle of the Boyne and the ascendancy of Protestantism in Ireland over Catholicism. Is it any wonder that the celebration of a day that marked the end of humanism for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people is viewed by their descendants as distasteful?
Like Stan Grant, a proud Wiradjuri man, the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue , also Wiradjuri, was born at a time when he was not counted in the five yearly census. Section127 stated:
In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.
This latter clause excluding Aborigines from the count of people by the Commonwealth (and hence influencing the number of seats each state occupied in the lower house of the parliament, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland), effectively denied Aboriginal Australians their citizenship. If not people, then what law covered them? In an era when eugenics still held sway, the black man was still considered incapable of the reason required for such advanced decision making as voting. If not a person, if not human, then he must be fauna.
Further, section 51 of the Australian Constitution stated:
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:—
(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws:
Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 9 July 1900
In taking such a decidedly “hands-off” approach to indigenous oversight, the Commonwealth left each of the states to manage Aboriginal affairs as they saw fit. Driven by the eugenics theories of the day, each saw Australia’s first people as troublemakers who would die out. Murder of entire families and tribes was condoned in the nineteenth century prior to Federation until the blacks were so beaten as to be unable to rise to independent and autonomous power again. As each generation of superior settler to his European descendent was born, so subsequent generations of Aboriginal Australians were denigrated and belittled, forced to live in poverty. These provisions in the Australian Constitution were not removed until the Referendum of 1967.
Every person who identifies as an indigenous Australian has struggled against such disadvantage. Grant is spot on – the Australian Dream excluded the indigenous people of Terra Australis and discriminated against them and their sometimes white-black blended families. The Australian Dream ignored Aboriginal Dreaming and set up an exclusive white mans’ dream.
Stan Grant is the exception to the rule. In his own words, “I have succeeded in spite of the Australian dream, not because of it …” (27 October 2015, IQ2 Racism Debate, The Ethics Centre). Every indigenous person who has succeeded has done so despite someone else who denigrated them; but for every successful Aborigine, there’s five who have been broken, despite their best efforts to meet the standards demanded of the non-indigenous majority who refuse to acknowledge that a black man could reach the same heights of achievement and depths of moral profundity as those of non-Aboriginal heritage. The former Commissioner for ACT Revenue was one such man. Having met every bar set for him, accepted the conditions set down by the Establishment, he was denigrated and mocked within his workplace and private life by others both below and above him as demonstrated in this letter:
For no other reason than his Aboriginal heritage, this man who had met the requirements of his overseers was attacked and racially vilified repeatedly and mocked in the media, who were complicit in papering over the racism that made the ACT Government’s new Bill of Rights a farcical act of legislation. The system failed the most senior indigenous ACT public servant of the day and nobody cared what it meant for the newly enacted bill.
Much has been written and said about the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue in various forums. Little of the substance behind the issue has been published; what has, has been redacted, as with the letter above. However, in the past several months, the cause of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue has been the subject of scrutiny once again, not at his behest, but that of the overseers. In doing so, crucial material previously unable to be published will be legally available in the public domain; we will not be silent or impotent to watch destruction yet again. The truth cannot be hidden. The truth will be told. It’s time this wrong perpetrated by a regime that allowed racism to run rampant was righted. It’s time that this man’s reputation is restored, that his family’s pain and suffering are acknowledged and that the majority, for once, are forced to know the truth about the darkest underbelly of racism in this country, in the deepest corridors of Canberra. Perhaps then, Australia will understand better what Stan Grant was saying when he spoke of the illusionary and racist Australian Dream.