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Jan 8, 2009

Aboriginal people; Where to from here?

Cartoon by Nicholson, Click to enlarge.

I have long held concerns about what is to become of our Aboriginal people. For as long as I can remember there seems to have been an eternal string of policies to solve the seemingly never ending problems associated with this section of the Australian population, none of which ever seemed to achieve the intended result. My great grandfather was brought up among Aboriginals, and could speak the local language owing to having been raised on a property well out of town, so I grew up with an open mind on them.

Working out in the far-flung regions of the country, I have come in contact with them on numerous occasions and had many dealings with them and always had good relations with them. I have often despaired over just what seems to be happening to them, it seems to me sometimes that the majority of them seem like a population of lost souls. It is not that white Australia has tried to destroy them, we always wanted to do the right thing, but we have in the main proved the old adage, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Today I received an Email from Ron Kitching pointing out an article in Quadrant magazine titled “Back to Coombs or Forward” by Peter Howson was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1971-2 and is Vice-President, Bennelong Society: -

“The essay deals with how Coombs and the far left of Australian politics, ably assisted by an ignorant, arrogant and mindless media, wrecked the assimilation of the aboriginals into the Australian society. Coombs, influenced by the Rousseauean belief in preserving the cultural aboriginality of the natives, condemned them to a pointless existence many of them are leading in today’s society.”

It is a long article but one that makes a hell of a lot of sense, which is something we are going to need right now if we ever hope to bring the Aboriginal people into our society with true equality. Back in the 70s I had the last paragraph of an article I wrote edited out as inappropriate, as I railed against the policy of the government condemning these people to a state of living museum pieces and tourist attractions. I may have been closer to the mark than I realized at that point.

What follows is a selection from it. For the full article see “Quadrant Online.”

Under the McMahon government, and during my time as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Left took control of Aboriginal policy in Australia. The Great White Elder who drove Aboriginal policy from 1979 until the 1990s (he died in 1997) was Nugget Coombs, whose meteoric career in the public service dated back to Curtin, whose preference for socialism was manifest from his earliest days, and whose distaste for Western civilisation, as capitalism triumphed in the West, became increasingly irrational.

The Left policy of separatism based on self-determination, and from self-determination to Aboriginal sovereignty, was based on the belief that all cultures were equally worthy of respect, except for Western culture which was stained by the indelible taint of imperialism, the oppression of women, the exploitation and oppression of native peoples, the pervasive cruelty of capitalism, and so on.

Once this doctrine had replaced the civilising and assimilating doctrines of Paul Hasluck (and his generation) the work of destroying the authority structures which the missions and the various colonial, state and federal governments had created over the preceding century, proceeded apace.

Following the advent of the Coombsian era, steady educational advancement turned to rapid decline. Land rights legislation, beginning with the Commonwealth’s Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976, began the process of turning Aborigines from ordinary Australians into members of an hereditarily-privileged, racially-based class of rent-seekers, whose lives were to be maintained from the rents obtained from the mining industry, or perhaps the pastoral industry. All of the Land Rights acts gave Aborigines collective rights over access to land for exploration permits and thence to royalties for any mineral discoveries that became commercially viable.

To make this process more credible the policy made it very difficult for Aborigines to do other than sit on their land, communing with nature and performing the ceremonies which were argued by Coombs and his disciples to be essential to the Aborigines’ spiritual and social well-being.

In the days of hunter gathering all religious and ceremonial life was connected to food. As soon as food became available, on demand, at the missions or at the government out-stations, all of this ceremonial life lost its meaning.
The authority of the old men, the tribal elders, was maintained because they knew the secret ceremonial formulae, which guaranteed successful food supplies. Authority moved from the elders to the missionaries and to the government officers as the new guarantors of freely available food. The elders were as much the beneficiaries of this new arrangement as everyone else, so they did not complain.

In 1961 I was appointed one of the seven members of the Parliamentary Voting Rights Committee, established by the Commonwealth parliament to decide whether the Aborigines should be eligible for voting in federal elections. …..

The main advantage of our hearings was that we spoke at length to a number of Aborigines who themselves had been hunter-gatherers, or whose parents remembered very well what the life of a hunter-gatherer life was really like, and who realised that Australian civilisation (as it was in the 1960s) offered a life that was far more enjoyable and abundant than the life of hunter-gathering from which they had only recently escaped.

Since Coombs’ ascension to Great White Elder status, Australians have been subjected to a relentless barrage of Rousseauvian fantasy about the lives which the Aborigines lived before European contact. …….

After visiting all these places and sharing our experiences, the members of the Committee, from both sides of the House, recommended that the Aborigines should have the right, but not the obligation, to vote. The Committee, by unanimous agreement, also stated the following:

“The declared policy of the Commonwealth Government towards the Aboriginal people is that they should gradually be integrated into the European community. Over the past five years the majority of the remaining nomads have of their own volition, come to the settlements and missions scattered throughout the Commonwealth, and your committee considers that there are now fewer than 2,000 Aborigines living in their traditional tribal cultures. ….. It was demonstrated to your committee that any policy other than integration of the Aboriginal people into one Australian society would be impracticable.”

In the whole of the 500 pages of evidence that we recorded at those hearings, not once did the terms “land rights”, or “self-determination”, or “separate development” appear. These were all concepts that appeared a decade later, after the Left had seized control of Aboriginal policy at the Commonwealth level. …

The transformation of Coombs the economist and central-banker into the Great White Elder of Aboriginal affairs began under McMahon and continued with greater speed and energy under Whitlam and then Fraser. The missions were dissolved, and the Commonwealth patrol officers were sacked. Under the new regime of self-determination, authority vanished from these places (except for the authority born of violence and intimidation); …..

The “leaders” who emerged at this time were, predictably, the leaders in violence and intimidation. For example, when the police went into Kalumburu in 2007 as part of the Intervention program, almost every member of the council was indicted for child abuse; they are still awaiting trial. …..

A continuing theme is the demand for the preservation of Aboriginal culture, a culture allegedly threatened by the restoration of law and order within Aboriginal communities.

There is an irony here not understood by the Left. What is held up to us as “Aboriginal culture” is, in reality, nothing more than the culture of the concentration camp where brutality and horror are the chief attributes. The dances and corroborees put on for the tourists are manifestations of an ersatz “culture” where anything goes and any story will do. For example, Stephen Davis tells the story of being taken to an Aboriginal community, Corranderrk, near Healesville in Victoria, and listening to what was proudly presented as a traditional wedding song, but which he recognised immediately as a mourning song from Arnhem Land. …..

The Coombsian policies have ensured that two generations of Aboriginal men have grown up not learning to read and write, have not learned any of the skills or habits required to earn a living in mainstream society, and are now committing suicide at an appalling, but not surprising, rate.

A recent article in the West Weekend Magazine (October 11) told the story of Aboriginal suicides in Narrogin, a wheat town two hours drive from Perth, where six young Aboriginal men have recently committed suicide. ….. Steven Davis, corporate geographer for WMC, was involved in assessing the state of the Aborigines in the Western Musgraves, when WMC had a nickel prospect there. He found that there was not a single Aboriginal male in the region between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five. ….

After two days of this humbug Warren Mundine had had enough. Stuart Rintoul, reporting in the Australian (October 31), wrote:

“Ridiculing Mr Dodson’s call for Australia to ‘find love for the indigenous people’ Mr Mundine said: ‘They need to get off the 60s love train and get on with the business of getting Aboriginal people jobs and education and the tools for living in the 21st century.

“‘Our people are dying,’ Mr Mundine said angrily. ‘Report after report shows the abuse that is going on towards Aboriginal woman and children and they are living in poverty. There is no point people loving you, if you are living in dirt.’” …..

Because the Left controls so many opinion-forming institutions—the ABC, the Fairfax media, the non-Catholic churches, the universities—it will not be easy to mount the political campaign required to roll back the Coombsian legacy. But Mal Brough showed how to do it. Andrew Forrest and Warren Mundine have taken up where Mal Brough left off. They need to be given every support. The current shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, Tony Abbott, is said to have complained at not having enough to do. Here is a task which would take up all his energy, all his intellect and all his faith.


  1. Reading this, I sometimes thought I was reading about our aboriginals except that our mistake was made much earlier when they were "given" reservations where they have been stuck in poverty and drunkenness for centuries.

  2. Its a real human tragedy Patrick.

    I wasn't aware that things were the same over there, both of our countries have wasted the abilities of countless indigenous people.

  3. Most of ours live on welfare in "reservations," Jim. The smart ones run tribal casinos but they're what we call "blue-eyed Indians" because they're practically white.

  4. I thought that most of yours had been integrated into society and its disappointing to find different. One of the Aboriginal leaders got into a lot of trouble some years back for trying to get the definition of Aboriginal tightened up as in his opinion there were too many blue eyed blonds among them.

    The guy who trained me as a driller was substantially aboriginal, and was highly regarded and I still think of him as a good mate. His father looked classically Aboriginal but he looked more like Mediterranean. They can and do fit into society when they have the inclination, but I think there has been what has been described as an Aboriginal industry set up around them and that industry does not wish to lose its client base.