Colonisation has failed us all

25 Jan 2020

With the urgency we have now to not only represent our First Nations and peoples but for the Australian nation holistically, it’s time to #ChangeTheNation our way. If Australia is genuine about listening to Indigenous voices then the power imbalance has to shift urgently

Gununa, known colonially as Mornington Island is situated at the southern central edge of a 300,000 square kilometre shallow sea in North-West Queensland that is the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Gununa recently had a visitor come and stay with us, lets call him ‘Ned.’ He rocked up pretty much uninvited, with no suggestion as to how long he’d stay and in a short time made some observations and unconvincing ‘promises’ about how much better things could be, for Aboriginal people in general but specifically for us on the island. Sound familiar?

Ned proposed working with our community to facilitate projects that benefit kilmu (family) directly, rather than served on other ‘white platters’ via Centrelink, CDP and Canberra-centric formalities. His pitch sounded like it could be a win-win but he was reminded by a Dulmada (traditional owner-custodian) to take it step by small step first.

Ned admitted having a chequered past. The fact that he had been to prison was not shocking, it is not uncommon on the island too when police can enter any premises without search warrants and you can get fined for possession of alcohol. To be honest, I was less worried about his ‘chequered past’ and more concerned about his white-sovereignty and possible flat-earth theories not to mention his hypocritical racism.

One Saturday night after we’d finished our maximum 10 mid-strength drinks at the tavern (opened under special occasional licence) Ned told us about one of his fishing sagas. He recounted a journey he had in a small dingy back to a shore near Fraser Island but they had to pass in between a sandbar and a reef but it was pitch-black at night. They could barely see, Ned said he started to worry and let old fella know about it but then he exclaimed, “I hear the birds and see the lights”. Ned didn’t have a clue what that meant and what he was referring to was the sea-birds squawking on the rocks and phosphorescence from the waves crashing illuminating the sand-bar.

It was as if he was sharing his own quasi-fable, what he considered his ‘Dreaming’ story. Ned has since left the island and I wonder how much he actually took away that informed him about the complexities of life in our First Nations community and on our sea-country homelands.

I can’t even guess how it works for ‘born again’ racists trying to find a place for them, not even to own, just to be a part of. This is what Australia has become; discounting the savage massacres, the cultural and physical dispossession and continuous genocide to fight for the right to barbecue.

When I think of what is happening in this country, I think of ‘Goorialla,’ The Rainbow Serpent children’s book and others from the Roughsey-Trezise series. Sourced Creation knowledge from Kuku-Yalanji and Kuku-Bidiji First Nations featuring lush rainforests of Cape Tribulation to the undulating rock escarpments near Laura in Cape York. There is some conjecture around development of the book version illustrated by Kardu Goobala, so I’ll acknowledge Kuku- Yalanji and Kuku-Bidiji knowledge that has been appropriated.

Thuwathu Lardil knowledge localises the Rainbow Serpent account details, discounting the children’s book version where Goorialla the Rainbow Serpent convinces the local Kuku-Bidiji tribal nation to provide shelter before he consumes two young men that are then transformed into Rainbow Lorakeets. Enraged when provoked by the tribe, Goorialla destroys Narabullgan and turns all the people into animals and birds.

Colonisation continuously fails Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as it has for many (if not all) First Nations worldwide. But colonisation has also failed Australia as a nation.

A supposedly prosperous country is left to burn, then accept donations from its own and abroad, including literally wheelbarrow-loads from Papua New Guinean villagers (each only earning barely a dollar an hour). This, following calls for even more tightening on Foreign Aid to ‘focus on our own’. This also while our colonial-settler ‘leaders’ are getting drunk and dancing in Kirribilli, unable to see the smoke and fire, blinded by the fireworks over the harbour, drowning in entitlement and privilege but still clinging to an identity of colonial ghosts.

As First peoples, we have read the land, seas and air for so long and we’re listening when it says there is change and we need to be ready for that too. We can’t sit by and let the vessel that is the continuation of colonisation, perpetual paternalism dressed as proactive policies and programs that are rebranded as co-designs, endlessly feeding the Ouroboros ideology until Thuwathu has consumed us all.

We can read the signs, we can ‘hear the birds and see the lights’ so there’s no more waiting, no more sitting down. We won’t wait for permission, we NEED our lands, our seas, our resources and we need to be in charge of them for ourselves so if you STILL won’t entertain our requests, our pleas then get out of the way and let us show you how we take care of it for ourselves. We don’t ‘want’ just a seat at the table and nor should we have to cower and beg when it ALWAYS WAS our table, in what will ALWAYS BE, our house.

I don’t pretend to be a Policy expert or academic but I’ve witnessed various Indigenous political arenas so what possible answer is there? Is it the Treaty model or Voice To Parliament, or is the first Aboriginal federal Indigenous Affairs minister Ken Wyatt right to take his ‘small step first’ with Voice To Government?

Whatever the solution may be, and this is nothing new for experts of Indigenous Policy, it will need to be coordinated with inclusive input and guidance from the grassroots, it will have to be multi-pronged like our our Maarn, a contemporary fishing spear and must not fall into the ‘too hard, underfunded or completely ignored basket’.

As part of the NITV multimedia team covering the Uluru Convention 2017 revealed, like most political issues, there’s never going to be unanimous consensus on every aspect of policy-framework development. I was also a community member attendee at the Cairns/FNQ Dialogue workshops that were a preamble to the Uluru Convention. For all the criticism of how all-encompassing it should’ve, could’ve been and perhaps was knowingly underfunded to be, I noted that there were few occasions when that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives from broad regions got to sit in a conference room together and consider proposals on our future. Too few (if any) since the ATSIC days.

With the urgency we have now to not only represent our First Nations and peoples but for the Australian nation holistically, it’s time to #ChangeTheNation our way. If Australia is genuine about listening to Indigenous voices then the power imbalance has to shift urgently and my view is that a viable option to be considered is #VoiceToParliament. That can in turn still drive for Treaties for our First Nations locally.

Champion for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Indigenous constitutional lawyer, Professor Doctor Megan Davis points to this stage as a critical opportunity for Indigenous knowledges and leadership to be a beacon for the nation.

“We are at a crossroads. The structural reform is URGENT. The climate crisis won’t abate and the door is shutting for us to get anything other than being passive to bureaucrats who dictate how things run in our communities. And people need resources. The Voice (To Parliament) structure was intended to take back IAS (Indigenous Advancement Strategy) funds and create a kind of autonomous administrative arrangement. It would be good for the Voice and Treaty mob to come together or we will end up with nothing.”

Perhaps it is Voice, maybe Treaty processes, but if there’s one thing our First nations people know all too well, it’s never a single ‘well-intentioned’ Canberra-controlled silver bullet that produces beneficial long-lasting and sustainable outcomes for our communities. Extrapolating Kuku-Bidiji ‘Goorialla’ knowledge with a colonial context; if the serpent takes advantage of the people and betrays their trust, it ends up wrapping itself around the rocky mountain and inevitably leads to the destruction of everything and our peoples once again become nothing more than flora and fauna.

Kerwee, Our Lardil farewell dance that I’ve seen performed as a final send-off to kilmu (family) at so many funerals in the few years I’ve resided back in our secluded island-homeland community refers to bushfire’s natural cleansing process, how the destruction of fire is followed by the nurturing waters, that life can be reborn and the cycle continues again.

Not unlike the legacy of colonisation for us, we know life can re-emerge from the ashes but perpetuation of this legacy is still killing our kilmu and it’s damning on all of us.

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