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.
Return to Kiangardarup


Post a Comment

<< Home