Please note, confronting themes are discussed.
Before delving into the details, this essay acknowledges that the land being referred to as Australia, is Aboriginal land – and as the truth stands, sovereignty was never ceded.
For all the atrocious acts carried out on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for centuries, it would only be respectful to acknowledge that this land is rightfully theirs.
Australia was declared Terra Nullius, or empty land, by James Cook upon initial discovery in 1770 until 1992. This meant that the British legally declared the land as being unoccupied waste land, using this as a justification to take over Australia as it was then. They brought themselves and their own laws to colonise this country.
This was for two major reasons which would reap benefits for them, and traditionally be at the expense of others. The first reason was to expand their real-estate portfolio, and the second, to rehome their felons as they had run out of space in their own homeland.
On 26 January 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Australia and the British established their claim by raising the British flag on Australian soil. This was the first mark of the invasion.
For this reason, the occasion celebrated as Australia Day is a horrific event for the Aborigines, hence referred to as Invasion Day.
In adherence to their terra nullius narrative, the British did as they wished in order to maintain their power over the land and the existing population in Australia.
To understand the complexities around the livelihood of Aborigines in Australia even today, it is important to know about the truth of their history – Australian history, our history.
It is important to understand that they were fundamentally stripped of everything they had and knew, including their environment and their dignity.
Where does one begin to describe the brutalities executed by the British on Aboriginal peoples?
The colonisers not only took over the land and resources without the consent of the native inhabitants, but also violated them in unspeakable ways.
Australia’s First Nations peoples were deemed as being racially incurable by the British, and seen as savages who ought to be civilised in alignment with Western principles of civilisation through their assimilation policies.
The invasion laws by which the British operated, enabled them to deprive Aborigines of their homes and natural living environments, and build their own dwellings. The laws also allowed them to shoot and kill the locals, as a sport. Aboriginal women were sexually abused and raped. Children were forcefully taken from their families and sent to white families as slaves.
All the dispossession, massacre, abuse and sexual violence undoubtedly left the remaining Aboriginal peoples in despair, and feeling stripped of their identity to say the least. Their connection to their people, their culture and land was severed.
The British did their best to obliterate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander races.
It was not until 1967, that the Constitution recognised First Nations people to be a part of the Australian population.
As a result of all this, the impacts on the physical, mental and spiritual health of Australian First Nations peoples are indescribable. The many forms of trauma they faced then, they continue to grapple with, and are passed down from one generation to the next, haunting them to this day.
This explanation does not by any means cover the magnitude of effects of colonisation on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It merely scratches the surfaces, but does attempt to paint a picture of the revolting realities of Australian history.
Healing and recovering from everything the British did to the people, simply cannot occur without sincerity in apology, acknowledgement and reform. An apology must be heartfelt, acknowledgement must come with acceptance of wrongdoing, and reform must address the return of power over their own lives to the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
An official apology was made to the First Nations people by Kevin Rudd in 2008 who was serving as Prime Minister at the time, as an attempt to reconcile. This was seen to be a preliminary step towards righting the wrongs of predecessors.
Without actions to follow-through however, an apology will not suffice in any case. Those actions can only be achieved through awareness and recognition by every individual who is currently involved in the making of law.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a development which came to existence through an iterative process involving hundreds of Indigenous Australians in 2017. This Statement is a display of consensus among the First Nations people in how they wish to see recognition of their past, present, and future in the Australian constitution. There are three components to the Statement: Voice, Treaty or Makarrata and Truth. These components have been designed as enablers of justice and self-determination for Indigenous Australians, in this sequence.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice (the Voice) is a proposed advisory body which would independently provide input to the Government and Parliament.
A Treaty would follow, and bring the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in agreement, to provide authority and legal instruments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to influence decision-making.
Truth-telling of the dark history will then be considered for what it really was.
The Voice as a committee, is a tool which can be used to politically empower the literal voices of those who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. A means to demonstrate and prove that the only right way to go about decision-making, was to always involve the people in their own decisions. The people of this nation who have been subject to irreparable injustices for so long, by the very people who have control over them till date.
Listed below are the design principles of the Voice:
- The Voice will give independent advice to the Parliament and Government
- The Voice will be chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people based on the wishes of local communities
- The Voice will be representative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, gender balanced and include youth
- The Voice will be empowering, community-led, inclusive, respectful and culturally informed
- The Voice will be accountable and transparent
- The Voice will work alongside existing organisations and traditional structures.
- The Voice will not have a program delivery function
- The Voice will not have a veto power.
With growing awareness of cultural sensitivities and considerations of inclusivity increasingly improving, there are great chances that the advice provided by the Voice will be taken into account by lawmakers. This, along with the public pressures on the government across physical and virtual platforms are sure to push legislators towards the right decisions.
As such, establishing and driving the Voice would be a step closer to achieving something of equilibrium in terms of Indigenous representation and reclamation of power.
Australia has generally been considered as a land of opportunities, advocating for freedom of choice and abundant in its resources. We are known for welcoming migrants, and providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. It is also the reason for which many people willingly leave their homeland, to have a chance at a better future in what is thought to be a more progressive society.
It would be like preaching to the converted, to remind those who have broken free from the shackles of oppression and fled the discrimination caused by racial differences in their so-called homelands, in search of a better, more stable and just second home.
Our welfare system here is set up in such a way that those who earn more, must contribute a greater part of their earnings through income tax to larger pool of resources, which is theoretically distributed to those in more need. Whether or not there is consensus on this amongst the population, the economic infrastructure is built to appear as being an equitable one. That is, allocating resources based on circumstances and ensuring that the underprivileged are catered to. These are systemic attempts to show progression towards equality for the population.
Progression and equality however, are concepts driven by political bias. If equality really was achieved through the progressive ideals of modern Australia, there would arguably be very little socioeconomic disparity. This would lead to similar outcomes for all individuals.
It is questionable how equitable or fair the system really is, in making opportunities available to those who require it. Perhaps the only people benefitting are those who already have more than enough to go around. Discrimination and bias are systemically entrenched, leading to the privileged growing into excessive consumers, and the disadvantaged left fighting to survive. The gap between the two ends of the socioeconomic spectrum only seem to widen further.
It is true that the majority of our Aboriginal people are still sitting at the bottom end of this spectrum. The Closing the Gap was only established in 2007, after a number of reports were released to show how far behind we had left our First Nations people. In comparison to the rest of the Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are known to have significantly poor outcomes in the areas including health, education, employment, justice, housing and more. They experience a lower life expectancy, lesser school completion rates in turn affecting employment rates, more deaths in custody, and instability in housing compared to their non-aboriginal counterparts. All this, due to negligence and the lack of importance on the lives and livelihoods of indigenous Australians.
It is the Australian Government’s moral responsibility to show attempts in achieving the goals to close the gaps, and is undoubtedly something which is owed to the indigenous communities. As an act of comradery and empathy, it would go without saying that migrants such as ourselves should support initiatives such as the Voice which will expedite the process of closing the gap in inequality with the support of public money.
The Voice’s pursuit is to make our First Nations people seen and heard. This can bring a world of change to the community, as they continue to work tirelessly in the background to ensure all efforts are made to liberate the Aboriginal population, whilst not affecting the remaining population.
After all, this can be the only way to even attempt to override the injustices they were put through by the colonisers (if that is even possible); and the only way for the rest of us to offer thanks to them for permitting us to live, breathe, earn and play on these unceded lands.
Always was, always will be.
Aboriginal people, First Nations people, Aborigines – terms are used interchangeably to refer to this cohort.
Terra Nullius – The Latin term for the doctrine which was used in International Law to acquire land.
felons : felonies included trivial acts such theft of food and similar supplies by those experiencing great poverty, as well as more morally questionable and unjust acts.
Self Determination : Self-determination refers to the exercising of one’s own choices to determine their outcomes. In this context, for Aboriginal and TS Islander communities, this allows them to determine their social, cultural and economic development and growth on their own without the Government making a decision for them which is likely to be inappropriate and even contribute to their detriment. A concept which perhaps requires an explanation of its own in the essay itself.
Uluru statement: https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/view-the-statement/
Uluru Design Principles: https://ulurustatement.org/education/design-principles/
Closing the Gap : https://www.closingthegap.gov.au/