MUNGO MacCALLUM. Will the forgotten people be heard at last?

The crusaders of the far right have already delivered their sentence: the Uluru statement is to be dead, buried and cremated before it can infect the fairness and decency of the ignorant masses.  

The elitists of the Murdoch press, the Institute of Pubic Affairs, the coalition rump and the other usual suspects tell us that the consensus for an indigenous voice in the constitution and moves to implement a treaty between the original inhabitants and the immigrants of Australia is utterly unacceptable to the majority and would be soundly defeated at any referendum, so it should be abandoned forthwith.

What they actually mean is that the proposals are utterly unacceptable to them, and that they will move heaven and earth to spread enough doubt and fear to their captive audiences, so their prediction will be self-fulfilling. And, given the history of referendums in this country, they may well be correct. But that does not mean that their arguments, such as they are, have any real merit.

Take the idea of a treaty – hardly a new one, it has been around for over a century, and has been taken seriously by those who are interested for about forty years, when the great public servant H C “Nugget” Coombs and others started working for what they called a Makarrata. As we have since been informed, the concept from the Yolgnu people of eastern Arnhem Land can loosely be defined as a ritual symbolizing the restoration of peace after a dispute – reconciliation, in fact.

The Tories insists that a treaty cannot be agreed by two groups within one country, despite the obvious fact that such countries as the United States, New Zealand and now Canada have managed to do so quite satisfactorily. But beyond that, their objection is based on denial. They like to pretend that there was no real dispute in the first place – Australia was not invaded but settled, or at worst colonised, so a treaty of any kind is superfluous.

Well, it depends who you ask. It is true the white Australia never actually declared war on black Australia, although many early proclamations went very close to it. But for that matter Japan never declared war on the United States before bombing Pearl Harbour.

Large numbers of Aboriginal Australians thought they were fighting various wars: after all the insurgents were taking their lands, their cultures and in some cases their people and it was clear the aim was to drive them into submission.

If that wasn’t war, it certainly wasn’t peace, so when it was over a Makarrata was the only appropriate conclusion. The refusal of the white reactionaries to acknowledge this reality and instead run a scare campaign about division, apartheid, even separate nations, has been predictable enough, but it still dispiriting and frustrating.

And of course the other bit – calling a constituted advisory body to parliament a third house of parliament – is either deeply ignorant or deliberately deceitful. A generous and courageous Prime Minister – a Gough Whitlam or a Paul Keating for instance – would have slapped down the Neanderthals and got on with negotiating in the determination to reach mutual agreement and understanding.

Malcolm Turnbull, as always, temporised. The fear is that his government will offer a token recognition (the equivalent of a few beads, mirrors and bolts of brightly coloured cloth), that the Aboriginal delegates will indignantly reject it, and we will be back where we a started or even further behind. But of course, that it just what the crusaders of the right want.

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2 Responses to MUNGO MacCALLUM. Will the forgotten people be heard at last?

  1. Colin Cook says:

    In a piece published by The Guardian on 3 December 2014, George Monbiot wrote of UK, ‘Here the Remembrancer of the City of London sits behind the Speaker’s chIR IN THE House of Commons to protect the entitlements of a corporation that pre-dates the Norman conquest’.
    Is it time for us to update ‘our’ Westminster system by instituting an Aborigine Remembrancer to sit behind the Speaker in the House of Representatives to protect the interests …….

  2. Ted Egan says:

    Excellent, Mungo. Eloquent and elegant as always.

    It seems that the word “makarrata” is to be re-introduced into the vernacular. If so, please let us at least pronounce it correctly. It is not like the name of a gangster, Mack A’Rata, with emphasis on the first and third syllables. It is more correctly pronounced like the surname of the famous American General, but with a “rolled “r”. Makarrta. Emphasis on the second syllable. Perhaps we should spell it thus?

    It is certainly an appropriate word for “treaty”. Makarrta is a trial by ordeal in Arnhem Land. “Makarr” equals “thigh” and “makarrta” literally means “into the thigh”. An offender is required to stand on a spot about thirty metres from a group of spearthrowers. They are usually top marksmen. But as all boys (I have only ever seen male involvement) are trained from infancy to stand and dodge spears – “you run, you die” – the dodging is usually (not always) accomplished without any wounds. I once saw an offender ask for five spears to be thrown simultaneously. So good was he that he could break spears as they whistled past his ears. But honour must be satisfied. Eventually the offended party dances to the offender, he is ritually speared in the thigh and blood is let. Makarrta. Peace is restored. The commendable “treaty” aspect is that a mortal wound is not sought.

    A National Treaty? I think forget it. We keep looking for Mandela style leadership and thereby national unity among First Australians. But the moment anybody starts to talk detail “on behalf of all of us” he/she will quickly be told: “You don’t speak for me, mate”. In any case there was nothing like a “Waitangi” situation in Australia before 1901.

    But regional treaties? Yes, bring em on, with State and Federal co-operation, asap. In which case there is probably a local word that equals “Makarrta”.

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