Monday, January 22, 2007

Genocide - the Australian Labour Party way.

You know it's bad news when the press release goes out on the Friday before Xmas. Certainly the Western Australian Government knew what it was doing by announcing that it appeal the Federal Court ruling on the grounds that "The Nyoongar claimants had not provided evidence of a single society at the time of white settlement..."(West Australian, p.4 Saturday December 23,2007)

The appeal says
"There were important differences within the alleged 'Nyoongar'...There was conflict and enmity between Aboriginal groups within the claim area and that Aboriginal people were fearful of dying in the land of another group lest they spend the afterlife among people not of their own kind" (ibid)

The State Government solicitors go on to chastise the Judge, Justice Wilcox,
In plain language , his honour has confessed his own aspirations for a determination in the first respondent's(claimants) favour."

Which is really irrelevant and uncalled for, but understandable after what he said about the lawyer's behaviour! Whether and how such comments might influence the Full Court of the Federal Court next April is something the State Government lawyers might consider.

IMHO, the grounds for appeal are despicable, dishonest and bound to inflict grievous damage upon the Noongar community. What's being played in the courts is only half the story. Labour Governments in this state (and in Queensland) have never supported Aboriginal rights despite their socialist pretensions and this is our Palm Island.

"The Bibbulmun Nation occupied(sic) the line of coast between Jurien Bay and a point somewhere east of Esperance Bay, toward Point Malcolm. Its inland boundary(approximate) stretched diagonally from about Watheroo to about Mt Ragged. Its widest area was between Augusta north east to about Kalgarin; its narrowest area was in the Esperance district" (Daisy Bates p.46 "The Aboriginal Tribes of Western Australia",A.N.U.,1985, published posthumously)

Daisy Bates probably wrote those words sometime in the 1920's, after unsuccessfully smoothing the dying pillow. But she knew what she was talking about as did the rest of the white population at the time. Her popularisation of the word Bibbulmun to describe the Noongar people was in fact a source of considerable friction in recent vernacular history. It was during the 1950's and right through to the 1980's that Nyoongar objections to the term Bibbulmun were heard and finally heeded. There was no question about what the term described - the debate was about which term to use.

By the 1840's white fellas had established that the linguistic differences between Albany and Perth were basically dialectical and apart from a particular incident at the time of the Pinjarra massacre, Noongar people could make themselves understood and had family ties across the territory. This enabled them to be used for mail runs.

You can tell that the state Government lawyers have read the next bit of Daisy Bates as well when they claim "Nyoongar people had at least two separate societies at the time of white settlement".

"Although the Bibbulmun Nation throughout its whole area had but one fundamental language, and possessed similar customs, laws, etc., there were two forms of descent within its boundaries, the tribes dwelling on a narrow line of coast from about Augusta to Jurien Bay following the line of maternal descent, white the rest of the tribes had paternal descent."(Bates,ibid. p.46)

But perhaps they didn't read this bit

"Ngarndil[from Busselton] has been 'adopted' by his father's relatives who lived in the Kojonap and Belgarap area(paternal descent). Ngarndil's boy and girl therefore enter the class of their father. This system is called "ngulingbara" or "walangalang" changing from one side to another."(Bates,p.24(typescript), MS365(NLA listing) Section III 2B)

Yep, not only did they have both paternal and maternal descent running side by side, they even had ways and means and words for moving from one to another. The real problem with this argument is that it ignores the real issue. Geneological descent is irrelevant to a traditional Australian conception of ownership which is firmly rooted in the spiritual importance of one's birth place.

And yes, indeed, as the bright young lawyers note, traditional people want to die in their birth place. Their birth place being a very particular and individual place that was, not surprisingly, within their home range. The suggestion is demeaning and quite frankly racist in its studied ignorance of widespread custom and practice, not just in Noongar territory but throughout Australia. These lawyers should know this as they made great play of people's birth places during the testimony that I heard in Albany.

The lawyers, it is reported, also claim that "the Nyoongar people could not show any claimant had genealogical origins in the Perth area..." which is actually quite irrelevant since the Court made no decision about the minutiae of the claim - all the court decided was that the claim should be heard as a single claim. The lawyers concluded that they could not show "that their traditional laws and customs survived". Which is a bold claim to make without actually contesting any of the general evidence tendered, but is made nevertheless on the apparent hope that the court will agree that what we are talking about is "Perth area" and not Nyoongar territory as discussed by the Court. But it also is irrelevant because no decision has been made as to what Native Title rights may or may not exist in the Perth area let alone any other part of the south west.

But the real damage will be done outside the court. It took a good 10 years to get the Noongar claimants to agree to hear the claim as one. This occurred because of constant politicking by bureaucrats and lawyers championing one or other family over the rest and by the fact that every Noongar family is in a state of chronic pain and crisis. There is a funeral every Friday. Not to put too fine a point on it, blood has been spilt and lives have been lost because of the tensions that this claim has generated.

For the State Government to turn around now and tear up this hard fought and painful consensus that was demanded as a pre-requisite for even hearing the claim is a shameful act of bastardry. I'm sure that they will sleep well when they see the consequences in riots, feuds, murder and mayhem. Will they have enough space in the jails? Will they need to reintroduce leg irons? Now that they have set the scene to set family against family to revive all the individual claims - do they think that it will make things better?

The sheer pity of this is that most Noongar people understand that even under the most favourable outcomes their will be precious little in it for them. Most people have endured the last 10 years of being sidetracked by questions of who is entitled to claim what. Most people would rather get back to more immediate problems like getting their culture respected in schools, keeping their kids off drugs and out of prison, or being able to pay the rent on their own land in the midst of a mining boom.

But no - from the party that bought you Inspector Neville and the White Australia Policy - you can only expect more pain.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Gifts from the past

I spent this morning as a guest of a group of Noongar elders at a little ceremony to mark the return of some stories. The stories were returned to the descendants of the story tellers after an absence of 77 years. Its a long time for a story to go wandering.

It's not that these stories had ever been forgotten or not recorded elsewhere but it was how these stories were recorded that made all the difference.

In January 1931 Gerhard Laves, a graduate student from Chicago was half way through a 2 year study of Australian Aboriginal languages when he ended up at the White Star Hotel in Albany on the south cost of Western Australia.

Albany Advertiser 31 Dec 1930

A couple of weeks before Moses Waibong and Yorkshire Bob had organised a traditional corroboree.It was a gesture of solidarity with the town's working poor as the depression had started to bite. They probably had also heard on the Noongar telephone that Gerard was on his way.

In two weeks, Gerhard recorded, in phonetic shorthand, 100 stories from a dozen men and women in his room and in the back bar of the White Star Hotel. He did a similar thing at 5 other places around the Australian coast.

But it was the depression - and he had to give up thoughts of linguistics and his notebooks and cards and boxes of slips of paper, dictionary entries, went to the attic, to gather dust and to survive flooding and forgetfulness.

Until 1983, when another graduate student remembered or discovered these notes and after a slow and gentle journey copies then the originals were returned to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra.

It wasn't until about 1998 that serious efforts began to be made to return the stories collected in Albany. The University of Western Australia became involved 4 years ago and a young post graduate student there completed the arduous task of transcribing and ordering all the material.

The University has worked alongside a committee of descendants of the story tellers who have provided them with a constant source of inspiration and urgency - as the value and importance of this gift from the past has gradually been realized. 2000 slips of papers, a dozen notebooks of heiroglyphic symbols have been ordered into bound volumes for each story teller.

There were tears shed today as something was returned without attachments.

Each family will decide for themselves what will become of the stories. Some will surely be published, others may never see the light of day.

A small but valuable word list has been compiled which will add to the general knowledge of the southern Noongar dialect.

There were no young people there. Our high schools still don't recognize Noongar culture, they seem to prefer gang violence and drugs.

Still, it was one small step today - in the right direction.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Farewell Flamingo - Welcome 2007

Flamingos at Lake Ngongorongo (Source:Wikipedia)

As the last of the flamingos flies off into the sunset, their home overwhelmed by the stench of human garbage, perhaps we shall look forward to the year 2007 in which we humans start to realize the enormity of our sins. Baghdad is our world, spiralling into poverty, ruled by violence, waiting for the next catastrophe as we tighten our belts and pretend that there will always be enough to eat.

Ah - but there are still plenty of Canute's and Midas’s out there - ready to fight their way to the top for the riches and glory. While the rest of us know, it’s only ‘money and pain’. The famines will start soon, not so much from carbohydrates but protein will become an increasing problem for many people from now on. By 2008, it will be too late, it is already too late. We have used up half the pond and all the fish. The thing is, if your doubling time is 30 years and it’s taken you 100,000 years to cover half the pond, then it will only take thirty years to cover the last half of the pond. We are well into our last 30 years.

What happens to the pond is not pleasant – all the oxygen gets used up and everything chokes to death. In our case, it will be all the fresh water and everybody dies of thirst.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom. Some will become more efficient – like the Nazi’s did – running their death camps on time – exploiting every last square inch of their patch of earth. Perhaps, with sophisticated permaculture designs, some of us will stave off the inevitable. For some, stupidity will offer many millions of people an early grave and their land may recover on it’s own. But most of us will be somewhere in between, fighting for our sanity and our family’s survival.

For all our technological know-how, we seem to have lost sight of the facts of reproductive life. We can’t survive without reproductive goods like air, water and food and we need these in a time compulsory manner. We are just another animal in the face of these demands.

The folly of fertilizers is all too clear to those who can read their land, they can increase your yield in a good year, but destroy it in a bad year. The 19th Century chemist Berthollet, praised the development of chemical science as overcoming the ‘thousand disasters of nature’ when it guaranteed a supply of purple dye from coal tar rather than from Indigo. But he did not see that we are, ultimately, still captive to the ‘thousand disasters’ of living. Not for him, or any 19th Century man, to acknowledge the vicissitudes of daily living, so far removed from the perfection of their scientific world.

But feminism and famine have put paid to Berthollet’s vision. Today, the gene merchants have supplanted Berthollet and his fellow chemists. They offer not much more than a plank to sink on with their transgenic monocultures. Mind you we will need every one of their tricks before we’re through, we just won’t want to put up with the hubris.

The point about plagues, is that they kill the wrong people, or at least the people who we don’t expect to get ill. Plagues increase the stupidity factor almost as much as religion and war. Communities can often deal with plagues, but it really does depend upon the strengths and weaknesses of the community. We can decrease the stupidity factor by talking to one another and helping each other to identify these strengths and weaknesses. But again it will require humility rather than hubris. Have no doubt that as pollution and poor diets weaken our collective immunity, the coming influenza epidemic will be but a harbinger of things to come.

George Orwell recognized in 1948, the commencement of ‘eternal war’, the ‘cold war’, the ‘war on terror’ as being nothing more than the stick to subdue a society, to guarantee the rule of violence and privilege over the rule of law. Nothing much has changed. Karl Marx recognized that a decent society would have to wait for a global revolution. Well, that time has come for good or ill. While revolutions can be bloodless or quashed with extreme violence, they all share a similar phenomenology. Discontent is crystallised by some event and personal discourses, suddenly become social discourses and in today’s age they become global discourses and revolution will follow.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

A jet stream powered cyclone

cyclone animation203kb
Indian Ocean Cyclone loop (203kb) (Copyright Eutmetsat 2007)

This little movie of new year's eve in the Indian Ocean - shows you what those birds were on about (give it time to load if you're on dialup). Streaming south east from Africa is a band of cloud that bridges the gap between the tropical zone and the poles. Similar bands of cloud are often seen over Australia but they don't usually connect up with the polar front quite so spectacularly.
If you look in the middle at the bottom you will see an impressive jet of clouds squirt out from the polar front in a north westerly direction. This jet goes on to provide the angular momentum which drives the creation of the cyclone forming to the south west of Western Australia.

'impossible' jet stream forecast for 3 Jan

The jet stream in the stratosphere is driving this jet of cloud, it's streaming in this quarter at close to it's maximum speed. I think we've about to see the drought break. Exactly what's going to happen is a bit of a mystery the forecast stratosphere for 48 hours time is I suspect physically impossible. As you can see it is what meteorologist might term 'extremely meridional' over the west coast. The question is going to be how it interacts with the west coast and how far north it goes. At the moment the low has stopped but the air behind it is driving up from a long way south and a secondary low seems likely. I don't know how windy it will get but it's sure gonna rain!

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