What is my identity? And, how do I learn more about it? As an Aboriginal person, what do I want to contribute? What do I want to be known as? What makes me Aboriginal….?
I have been a barrister now for five years and I have worked in various courts for over a decade. I’m one of only about a dozen Indigenous Australians practicing as a barrister in Australia and during my career I have defended a number of Indigenous children in criminal matters.
The Treaty vs Recognition debate is an interesting one, although it probably still hasn’t received the attention and scrutiny that it deserves.
The push for Treaty is older than any of us, but it has risen to prominence again largely from the frustration felt by many with how the Recognise campaign has been rolled out. People feel that it is a top down campaign blindly promoting a ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum that still doesn’t have a question for us to say yes or no to. In this sense, it comes across like government asking us to sign our names to a blank piece of paper that they will fill in later. Such a request is entirely reliant on a goodwill between government and Indigenous peoples that doesn’t really exist.
By now everyone is or should be aware that RDH left Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu to die from a chronic illness he has suffered since childhood. He had vomited blood, had internal bleeding and required immediate surgery and yet he was forced to wait 8 hours before he was attended to in which time he could have quite easily died. There are allegations that he was either racially profiled or that the hospital is completely incompetent. “The racial profiling allegations were “completely ridiculous”, said hospital spokesman Professor Dinesh Arya.” So we will have to assume that the professor while dismissing the racial component is admitting to the complete incompetence because no hospital in Australia should be leaving any person vomiting blood to wait 8 hours to be cared for.
But there are signs Professor Dinesh Arya’s denials about racism being involved are also wrong, Gurrumul’s long time manager Mark Grosse sighted the notes made by hospital staff that essentially stated he was a “drinker” and well you do the math. Professor Arya claims he visited Gurrumul, although this is denied by his manager as Gurrumul does not remember the visit, nor do the ward’s staff and Gurrumul’s Specialist also sighted the suspect notes. Mr Grosse paraphrases those notes as “It clearly says to me that he is Aboriginal, as a result of heavy drinking his conditions has developed. He’s unlikely to survive, therefore not sure really if any action is needed, that’s the message essentially in his notes”.
That slogan is decades old, and it’s meaning hints at white Australia’s long standing reluctance to meaningfully acknowledge Aboriginal people and perspectives in the telling of our national history. Earlier this year a person wearing a shirt with this slogan on it was forced to turn it inside out before being allowed to enter Parliament House. Apparently this seemingly obvious concept is still perceived as threatening to the white Australian ideal of this land being ‘settled in peace and not war’.
Earlier this week, our most recent former PM went to great lengths to rewrite his own history in an article for Quadrant, and although he didn’t mention the words ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Indigenous’ whatsoever in his article, he did manage to include the line that ““Unlike France or Britain, we lack a colonial past to complicate the present,” – this was just the latest in a long line of similar comments from Abbott in denying the existence of Aboriginal people (“Nothing but bush”) and the realities of invasion (“a form of foreign investment”).