Ethnic identity and the law

By Legal Eagle

A long time ago, I was having a debate with some Jewish friends as to when a person could be entitled to call themselves a Jew. One friend claimed that the important factor was self-identification as a Jew. The other claimed that the important factor was recognition of one’s status as a Jew by other Jews. “Actually,” I opined, “I think it’s a bit of both.” I explained that I had a friend who was “technically” Jewish, but who did not identify as a Jew. Even though other Jews might consider him Jewish because of his mother’s background, he did not self-identify as Jewish, and he had been raised in a different tradition. By the same token, there had to be some acceptance of one’s Jewish status by other Jews to be regarded as Jewish. Of course, there’s degrees of acceptance. If one converted to Judaism under the rules of Reform Judaism, one would not be regarded as halachically Jewish according to Orthodox Jews. So you would be accepted as Jewish by some, but not by others. If one converted to Judaism according to the requirements of the Orthodox Beth Din, by contrast, one would be more likely to be accepted as Jewish by a wider range of people.

Later, when I studied indigenous law and culture and tutored a range of indigenous students from different backgrounds, I realised that there were similar issues of identification as in the Jewish community. Similarly, I think identification as an indigenous person requires a measure of self-identification and identification by the wider indigenous community.

However, identification as indigenous cannot simply depend upon skin colour. My indigenous students were mixed race (primarily Irish-Aboriginal mixtures). If one’s parents are Irish-Aboriginal mixes, one could end up on the Irish-looking end of the spectrum (like one of my students – a blue-eyed blond), on the Aboriginal-looking end of the spectrum (like another student) or in the middle of the spectrum (like a third student – much more tanned skin than I, but with lots of freckles – she looked Turkish, Northern Indian or Afghan, perhaps). The student who looked traditionally indigenous said to me, “I’d love to go to Ireland and see where my forebears came from, but I’m afraid people might laugh at me if I say that I’m half-Irish.” I pointed out to him that he was actually more Irish than I am, despite my freckles, pale skin and red-brown-blonde hair. I told him sternly that he had every right to say he was Irish. He could equally well have turned out looking like me, and he would have an equal right to say he was Aboriginal in that case.

Anyway, given my interest in ethnic identification, I was interested to read that some indigenous people are suing Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt over some articles he wrote about indigenous identification and skin colour. In one piece, White fellas in the black, Bolt says:

…Mellor and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you’d never have imagined we’d have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are “white Aborigines” – people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that’s contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Aboriginal one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

Let McMillan himself describe the torture he’s faced as a result – the shocking pain of having not been discriminated against for being black.

“I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Aboriginal Australian . . .

“As a child, I grew up expecting everyone to be like me, to look like me – with the blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Clearly, my naive ideas about how Aboriginal people were ‘supposed’ to look were wrong. But being Aboriginal and fair and blonde was normal to me and I grew up in a world where I was treated ‘normally’ . . .

“Impeding my growth from that young person into the adult I wanted to become was the profound issue of identity. I was a white black man . . . I was becoming a victim.”

He has written other columns, It’s so hip to be black and White is the new black which are in a similar vein.

The Age reports that up to nine plaintiffs are suing Bolt in the Federal Court:

Up to nine fair-skinned people will testify that they were hurt, humiliated and offended by newspaper columns that questioned their right to claim they were Aboriginal, the Federal Court was told yesterday.

Ms Knowles [counsel for the plaintiffs] agreed there was an objective test for Aboriginal identity that looked at genealogy and whether the person was accepted ”communally”. But she said it was also a deeply personal choice that had ”subjective elements”.

She said, ”Mr Bolt says the named persons have falsely claimed their Aboriginality, and whether or not that is false is a relevant issue in terms of whether or not there’s a breach [of the law]. It’s also relevant to whether or not there’s likely to be insult or humiliation.”

The applicants claim the publications breached the Racial Discrimination Act. They want an apology, legal costs, and a gag on republishing the articles and blogs or anything else with substantially similar content, as well as ”other relief as the court deems fit”. They are not seeking damages.

Neil Young, QC, for Bolt and The Herald and Weekly Times, said the applicants should explain ”with some precision” what factual errors were alleged.

Just because someone has white skin does not necessarily mean that they are not indigenous. It is perfectly possible for a “mixed-race” couple to have a white child and a black child. See, for example, these adorable twin sisters from the UK whose parents are mixed race: one is a blue-eyed blonde with pale skin, the other is curly-haired girl with black hair and brown skin.

I would be interested to know, however, how other indigenous people regard the people mentioned in Bolt’s article. Self-identification is only part of the picture: are the people mentioned in Bolt’s article accepted by other indigenous people as indigenous? If so, is that sufficient?

The case raises interesting questions of identity and choice. I shall be fascinated to see how it unfolds.

[UPDATE by SL: Somewhat tangential to this, but still relevant, Lorenzo reviews an excellent study of the origins and history of racism].

Update: Former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark is one of the plaintiffs suing Bolta.


  1. desipis
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure Bolt’s complaint was primarily focus on issue of identity, rather the impact that various criteria of identity have on special treatment.

    So when a privileged white Aborigine then snaffles that extra, odds are that an underprivileged black Aborigine misses out on the very things we hoped would help them most.

    I don’t think Bolt really has an issue with a white skinned person identifying with an Aboriginal cultural heritage. I also don’t think many people (not sure about Bolt specifically) have an issue with acknowledging that a disproportionate number of aboriginals are disadvantaged, or that disadvantaged people deserve help. The problem is that systems designed to help disadvantaged aboriginals are being (or at least appear to being) used by people who have the privilege of growing up white and in a suburb, just like many other Australians.

    Shouldn’t such awards or systems be set up based on some form disadvantage, rather than genetic heritage?

  2. Phillip W
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Even if the complainants are proved to be aboriginal, Bolt’s comment appears to be permitted under an exclusion to the Racial Discrimination Act which allows discussion and debate of public issues and policies such as special measures for particular groups.

  3. Posted September 30, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Can is open and worms are now wriggling about everywhere…

  4. Jacques Chester
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Hell of a can. Like most things it’s easy to categorise in the bulk but very difficult at the margins.

    Part of the skepticism is from people who feel that the programs aimed at the disadvantaged do not reach their target. Rather they reach people who are good at arguing that they are disadvantaged.

    When I was living in Sydney I didn’t see many Arnhem Land kids getting the scholarships. It was mostly kids from Sydney and having moved from Darwin I was darker than a lot of them. Being in Sydney meant that they were, in a sense, the most advantaged of the disadvantaged; the whole paraphernalia of activism is strongest in the cities where it is needed least.

  5. Peter Patton
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink


    I have thoughts on these issues, but I don’t find Bolt’s framing at all interesting.

    Here is my take: Any individual who comes into my orbit is accorded the courtesy to be called by any identity tag they request I use. I will also assume that their claim “I am indigenous, Celtic, Persian, whatever” is the end of the matter, and from that point on they shall be in my company.

    However, once that person takes that request/demand for accepting their identity tag at face-value into the public sphere, the dynamic begins to shift.

    Wrt the Australian Aboriginal situation, I have encountered articles published in academic journals by academics who identify as “Indigenous”. In these articles – on highly volatile political issues, such as Sovereignty, self-determination, land rights, etc. – these academics will strongly slant their academic articles to rely on their self-identification as “Indigenous”.

    One, for example, starts off with “Indigenous people define ‘Sovereignty’ this way, wheareas non-Indigenous people follow the imperialist white european definition”. Before launching into all sorts of arguments from Indigeneity.

    Now, I am no stickler for academic pretension to “objectivity”, the third person, and so on. However, once your argument – its structure, logic, rhetorical methods, data – starts relying heavily on your self-identification as “Indigenous” (or indeed any identity), and you demand your academic arguments is based on privileged knowledge, then you have made yourself the argument. And thus, it is you we must interrogate.

    In that context, somebody who look svery “white” who has 7 out of 8 great-parents who were white europeans, and who grew up in white middle-class urban suburbia, etc has no right to demand the same sort of no-questions-asked respect they could expect in the private sphere.

  6. Posted September 30, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Whatever the outcome, I don’t think Andrew Bolt has the right to decide who is Aboriginal and who isn’t.

  7. Peter Patton
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink


    I don’t either. I don’t read Bolt, but even from all the bile I read on blogs about him, I have not gathered that Bolt claims to do that.

    Personally, I find identity politics as interesting as the Leyland P-76, and I hope they leave us as quickly.

    But hypothetically, why should Andrew Bolt have any less of a say than anybody else?

  8. Peter Patton
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Something that not even Bolt has raised is the fractious conflict even within/among those who call themselves “Indigenous” about who is and who is not. Anybody who grew up with and/or hangs out with Aborigines today knows there is a tonne of ill-feeling and animosity about “white” Aborigines who “choose” their “Indigenous” identity over all their other genetic inheritances. One source of resentment is that the “white” Aborigines can “choose” to opt-in because they know they can opt-out and no-one will ever know. Those Aborigines who have no such choice are the ones who have to live with the disgusting and vile racist venom, even if it is rapidly dying.

    I don’t endorse that conflict or any position on it. But trust me, Andrew Bolt is a pussy-cat, compared to what goes on among Aboriginal people themselves.

  9. Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Well, between folk albums, Neil Young is not the most expensive barrister in Australia. I think he’s about number 3 or 4, probably no more than $12,000 a day.

    So let there be no sense that Bolt’s seeking to out-resource his opponents.

    This being said I think their prospects of succeeding in the claim may not be all that great, although I respectfully DO “think Bolt really has an issue with a white skinned person identifying with an Aboriginal cultural heritage”, he has hidden behind arguments about public expenditure that, despite me finding them pretty rude and gratuitous, I’d accept are probably legitimate arguments to have.

    To put it another way, it would be surprising if racial vilification laws operated to prevent critical discussion of public expenditure, particularly that which of its nature is inextricably linked to race.

    Damn, SL, should have taken your warning. Up to my armpits in those dang worms…

  10. Posted September 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    To play lawyers for a moment and take up Youngy on his challenge, I’d query the accuracy of:

    “out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands”

    This asserts that the strand is not only minority, but also ‘thin’. You couldn’t, for example, hide behind the notion that it might have meant 45% or even 40%, it implies (clearly your honour…) a far smaller percentage.

    If in fact this is not the case, because some people’s colour is not an accurate way to divine their genealogical mix, then this assertion may be false (entirely down to evidence).

    Further, he accuses them of making a subjective ‘choice’:

    “decide to identify with”

    Which may or may not be true, however he made the assertion with no knowledge of how they came to that point. If, for example, a plaintiff can show they came to identify that way because ‘anglo’ peers found out they had aboriginal blood and labled them with racial epithets, this accusation of subjective choice made for convenience would be false.

    Who knows what the evidence in fact contains?

  11. lilacsigil
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in a regional area with a lot of Aboriginal people for Victoria; I now live in a different area with a lot of Aboriginal people for Victoria. Whatever the colour of their skin, everyone in town knows who the Aboriginal families are, and there is most certainly discrimination. Some of it is positive (get the Koori kids on the sports teams!), much of it is negative (harsher legal treatment, less interest from teachers, negative stereotyping as stupid, thieving, violent drunks) but there is certainly singling out of Aboriginal people no matter how fair-skinned they are.

  12. Posted September 30, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Three points:

    1. I dislike the legislation being used in this instance intensely and consider it an impediment to freedom of speech.

    2. I also disagree with any sort of preferential state funding based on race. This is not something that governments ought to do, thanks to all the cans of worms it does open.

    3. Private endowments, however (like the Fullbright Scholarship) can set up their funding in any way they like, and the concern then is the far more specific one of ensuring that the terms of the trust have been complied with. As I have commented elsewhere (on attempts to alter the terms of the Miles Franklin Award, which was established under her will), there are very good reasons why courts seek to give effect to the testator/testatrix’s intent.

    [Disclosure: I have been in receipt, at various periods of time, of significant funds from two private endowments, one directed solely at students who study at Oxford, the other directed at students who study what can broadly be described as ‘jurisprudence of liberty’].

  13. Henry2
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Gday All,

    LE thank you so very much for this topic!!

    Similarly, I think identification as an indigenous person requires a measure of self-identification and identification by the wider indigenous community.

    Self-identification is only part of the picture: are the people mentioned in Bolt’s article accepted by other indigenous people as indigenous? If so, is that sufficient?

    There are three ways in which Aboriginal people are recognised legally as Aboriginal. The first is colour and looks. The second is that they are accepted by the local Aboriginal community. The third is by genealogy. Any one method is acceptable.
    Self-identification is not acceptable.

    I am not Aboriginal, but my children are. They are recognised as Aboriginal by two of the above methods. If you look at their noses, by three of the above methods.

    You have to look back at least 4 generations to find a traditional Aboriginal person. At that point you find many.

    Talk of percentages, parts, quarters, halves, whatever is distasteful to Aboriginal people.

    One story that I frequently reflect on is that when my nephew (with the same genetic makeup as my children) was in school, he was taunted with ‘… ya big fat boong. Maybe we should rely on the schoolyard to determine aboriginal ethnicity.

    I like Bolts work. I am unashamedly decidely sceptical of what I see as a new religion of AGW. I often wish I could sit and chat with him about and let him meet my Australian family.

    I am not sure that racial identification should be sufficient criteria to establish disadvantage or alternatively to establish advantage.

    the fractious conflict even within/among those who call themselves “Indigenous” about who is and who is not. Anybody who grew up with and/or hangs out with Aborigines today knows there is a tonne of ill-feeling and animosity about “white” Aborigines who “choose” their “Indigenous” identity over all their other genetic inheritances.

    Peter I agree with this comment but it is nothing compared to the distaste Aboriginal people have for the white do-gooders who take it upon themselves to speak for them.



  14. Peter Patton
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink


    I agree. I was very loathe to comment at all, for as you would know far more than I could even imagine these issues are so very fraught, particularly when people unambiguously [and uncomplicatedly] white dare to pop our head above the parapet.

    The alternative to totally disengage from the issue is no good for anybody. Basically, I am now comfortable that disengagement by skin color/race/ethnicity/cultural identity in 21st century Australia is not an option. Having made that peace, I will continue to pipe up.

    Hopefully, those who might ordinarily – no doubt with justification – prepare to maul the presumptuous whitey colonizer will start gaining confidence that there really is more goodwill out there than ill; that these issues will not go away; and when the identity issues overflow into the broader national debate, then the more squeamish and quick to take offence will have to learn to suck it up! 😉

  15. Posted September 30, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I am in Greece, LE, so cannot comment properly. This one deserves a full response because the issues are quite complicated. As you might expect, there is no absolutely right answer.

  16. mel
    Posted September 30, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m in general agreement with #12 SL, although I’d allow things like land rights but I suppose you could argue the fact that these rights accrue to people of a specific race is merely incidental.

    I used to support affirmative action but not anymore as it can create some perverse outcomes as well as genuine grievances from those who aren’t in the target group but have a nonetheless genuine claim to disadvantaged status.

  17. Posted October 1, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Here comes the conspiracy …

    True story: The wife of a friend of mine is a sister of an aboriginal activist. My friend was visiting the sister one day and happened to hear some of the activists speaking. Their stated goal was to “out breed” whites, rather comical given their childhood mortality and life expectancy rates but there you go.

    Don’t matter if you’re black or white just be on the aboriginal roll call. More people = more power. Consider the long term trend of allowing all those people to be identified as aborigines. Those people will have children and in time … .


    Aboriginal people were first counted as citizens in the 1971 Census. Since then,
    censuses have shown a significant increase in people identifying as Aboriginal and/ or
    Torres Strait Islander peoples:
    ?? Between the 1991 and 1996 Census there was a 33% increase recorded
    in the numbers of Indigenous peoples.
    ?? Between the 1996 and 2001 Census there was a 16% increase.
    ?? Between the 2001 and 2006 Census there was an 11% increase.6
    The increases in the Indigenous population cannot be accounted for by the birth rate
    alone. The ABS attributes the increase to a growing propensity of people to identify
    as Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander, and the greater efforts made to record
    Indigenous status in the censuses.M
    Because of the recorded increases in the number of Indigenous peoples, the ABS has
    warned that comparisons made between two censuses must be made with caution.
    They recommend comparing percentages from two censuses, rather than directly
    comparing counts or numbers.8
    Despite the increases in the numbers of people identifying as Indigenous in censuses,
    however, there are still believed to be significant undercounts occurring.

  18. Peter Patton
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 5:00 am | Permalink


    Before worrying about white people being initiated into tribes, remember that only a handful of BLACK people are initiated into tribes.

  19. Peter Patton
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    This is another huge fault-line among those people who identify as Aboriginal.

  20. conrad
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    “2. I also disagree with any sort of preferential state funding based on race. This is not something that governments ought to do, thanks to all the cans of worms it does open.”

    It’s not just funding — it’s a whole raft of things, some of which make it almost impossible to deal with these groups, even in positive ways. Where I work, for example, we have clinical mental health people that might want to do projects with some of these groups, and they’d certainly be of help. However, almost everyone that thinks about it ends up not doing it because it’s almost impossible, even if both sides want it, due to the thousands of rules.

  21. conrad
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    “If one’s parents are Irish-Aboriginal mixes, one could end up on the Irish-looking end of the spectrum (like one of my students – a blue-eyed blond), on the Aboriginal-looking end of the spectrum (like another student) or in the middle of the spectrum”

    This is even more complicated than most people realize — people’s mental processing of the structural features of faces and bodies tends to lead to classifications that are much more dichotomous than if you measured the actual differences, and so you tend to get classified as one group or another, even if you are in between. This means it is not uncommon to get these mixes of siblings even if the actual physical differences between them are not large. There is also a bias against including people into the most common race category, so if you are in between, you will inevitably get classified as the “other race”, no matter where you are (This happens to me everywhere except Hawaii, where I seem to pass off as a local until I speak!).

  22. Peter Patton
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Henry 2

    If you are reading, your perspective on this issue would be extremely worthwhile.

  23. Henry2
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink


    It really depends how close (in generations) somebody is to initiation. My wifes mob are all enough generations away from traditional practises, that any attempt at initiation would be a postiche.

    Having spent a year working with some young Aboriginal blokes on a cattle station in the territory in my youth, I think that the generation who break the initiation cycle probably feel a bit lost.

    Just a story to lighten the mood.
    We were on stock camp and had been tailing cattle for a feed and a drink through the afternoon. It was pretty cold. I was camp cook and after we had yarded up and sitting around with a plate of steak and vegies, Alan and Peter started to get a bit concerned. Over by the creek they could see a small fire. These blokes were sure that it was probably some elders come to commence initiation. After 10 minutes of talk about what might happen, etc. they persuaded me to take a ride over there on the work bike… just to see.
    As I said, it was cold. It was the fire that they themselves had lit to keep warm while tailing the mob. 🙂



  24. Patrick
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    My pure-bred Irish brother passes for Spanish, Greek and Indonesian (literally, in Indonesia, he passed for a non-local Indo all the time).

    His pure-bred Irish brother (me) passes for French or Swiss – go figure!

  25. Posted October 1, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    @ Peter

    As far as I am aware Andrew Bolt meets none of the three requirements for being Aboriginal. Therefore I think that his right to question the identification of people who do meet one or more of those requirements to be non existent. Also, having white skin and being able to pass as white does not undo generations of discrimination against Aboriginal family members.

  26. Posted October 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Attempts to get racial definitions in law are inherently fraught, since ‘race’ is not inherently exclusive. All the “strains” of homo sapiens interbreed perfectly. Given that ‘race’ is not inherently exclusive, attempts to define ‘race’ in law end up in similar spots — the definition of race used in apartheid South Africa being much the same as attempts to define Aboriginality under Australian law.

    Indeed, this inherent difficulty is a sign that you should Just Not Go There. The idea that “race” is a significant distinction is a highly historically contingent one: it is only important if people make it so. We shouldn’t.

    The well-known problem (among statisticians) with Aboriginal counts in the Census is precisely because people can “blend in”, for race is not inherently exclusive. Under the “protection” regimes — when Aborigines were effectively not legal adults, but wards of the Protector of Aborigines — there was a strong legal incentive to identify as “white”, so as to be treated as a legal adult. This without considering any social stigmas.

    But that people could and did just demonstrates how not inherently significant “race” is.

    Once you get past not permitting discrimination based on “race”, the real issue with Aborigines is culture. One of the ways the ABS justified the massive increase in the Aboriginal population count from 1991 to 1996 was pointing out that the demographic profile remained consistent. This was deeply depressing — i.e. the add-on’s had the same disastrously lower life expectancy as the previously counted population.

    In other words, the ABS was saying “the extra folk we have counted are indeed Aborigines, because they also die much younger than the rest of the Australian population”. Trying to move from hunter-gatherers to industrial economy in less than two centuries (sometimes well less) when our European ancestors took about 7,000 years to make the same journey (with quick a few problems on the way) is A Big Ask. It is a Really Big Ask when their societies and cultures are disrupted by disease, dislocation, welfare etc. But that is not a racial issue, it is a cultural issue.

    And it is not a “have you preserved your original culture?” issue. It is a “have you fully adapted to industrial society?” cultural issue. Which can be an emphatic NO! even if they only have smashed remnants of their original culture left. Perhaps particularly so.

    Once you start looking at it in cultural terms — by which I mean patterns of behaviour, outlooks, preferences, etc — then a whole lot of things become clearer (which is not the same as easier).

    Generally speaking, I have an antipathy to cultural explanations, regarding them as the last refuge of the analytically bereft. But evidence is evidence.

    And nothing annoys me quicker in this field than folk who burble on about preserving Aboriginal culture and yet talk as if culture has no implications. Or talk of Aboriginal culture as if it there is a singular Aboriginal culture: 40,000 years is a long time to develop cultural differences.

    I am reminded of an attempt to re-create the Tasmanian aboriginal language based on a Western Victorian language. The two languages had been separated longer than English has been separated from Iranian.

  27. Catching up
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    50 or 60 years ago, if the white community knew you were 1/16 Aborginal, you were not considered white. The same type of person has no right to complain today.

  28. Posted October 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Catching up: oh, I don’t doubt that much of this silliness has its origins in a local version of the ‘one drop’ rule. However, the ‘one drop’ rule was wrong then; it remains wrong now.

  29. desipis
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes, we’re all mongrels in one way or another, and we’ve all inherited a mix of social/cultural baggage.

  30. Posted October 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Yes, we’re all mongrels in one way or another, and we’ve all inherited a mix of social/cultural baggage.

    Yet aborigines could have quite unique cultural and biological heritages. Very much isolated for 60,000 years, I cannot think of another human group so isolated for so long. 60,000 years, even 10,000 years, is ample time for significant genetic divergence.

    Some months ago I was exploring the issue of diabetes in aborigines. I went looking for genetic data, it is very sparse. That reminded me of comments I had read years earlier suggesting aborigines were actively discouraged from providing DNA samples. I consider such a move to be very detrimental to aborigines and suspect it arises directly from political correctness considerations.

    As to that other great political correctness demand: cultural preservation, very damaging to the individual aborigine. It is a psychological absurdity to presume that any individual of any race can simultaneously promote two cultures and flourish in both. We do aborigines a great disservice and place an impossible demand on them when we suggest they should both work hard to preserve their traditional culture and work hard to prosper in our culture. That is idealism gone mad.

  31. conrad
    Posted October 2, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    “Yet aborigines could have quite unique cultural and biological heritages. Very much isolated for 60,000 years”

    Yes, you can have unique cultural heritage emerge very quickly. Just ask a Tibetan, although that’s hardly worth worrying about given being culturally unique is already apriori true of aboriginies.

    “even 10,000 years, is ample time for significant genetic divergence. ”

    That’s true in terms of physical characteristics (skin color) and some genetic adapations to immediate environmental conditions (e.g., ability to process oxygen for people that live at high altitudes), but I’m not sure people would agree on more complex characteristics — the evidence is really on the person claiming the difference to provide that (and these days that would need to be DNA evidence).

  32. Posted October 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Somehow I missed this post.

    Whilst I don’t like what Bolt said, the idea of him being censored for his opinion doesn’t sit well with me. Offence is not a good enough reason to censor somebody IMO. Let him speak.

    As to identity. You’ll find the spike in those identifying as Indigenous stems from evolving acceptance. It’s very slow, but there is a lot less stigma attached to being Indigenous now than there was when I was kid. (I am only in my 30’s).

    Both my great grandparents (on my father’s side) were full blood Aborigines. My Great Grandfather lied about his heritage a lot. As an Indigenous man he was treated like scum and had no rights at all. But as an Indian man, he at least had dignity. (Although, given that we do look a little Indian there are some in the family who are starting to wonder if he was telling the truth after all)

    I actually find the premise that someone is more Indigenous than someone else rather offensive. We go to great lengths to have our heritage substantiated and validated. It’s no easy feat either when there are no other Aborigines in your local isolated locale. I’m just lucky my relatives are well known and some of them quite respected.

    I would like to see equality in regards to welfare issues. Get rid of ABSTUDY. There’s no reason for it.

    A personal account. I grew up in an isolated community. As such my mother received Isolated Children’s Fund which enabled me to go to boarding school for high school. (Not an Indigenous thing, just for all isolated kids, my non-indigenous sisters received the same funding. It’s income assessed. )

    It cuts out at age 16 when AUSTUDY kicks in. (Well back then it was 16 I don’t know about now). My Aunt, who is Indigenous, (very long story but the pride I have in being related to that woman knows no bounds) told my mother I could receive tutoring if she switched my payments to ABSTUDY. The rate of pay was exactly the same. I would just be able to access tutoring. (I had vocal tutoring for my music studies) IMO and even back then I felt this way, that tutoring should be made available to all students in need regardless of which “study” payment they receive.

    White kids grow up in dysfunctional and illiterate homes too. And I believe this breeds a certain kind of resentment for those growing up in urban areas.

    This is where I would like to see change and equity. And once we achieve this we may just see the end of “You’re not Indigenous enough” as I do believe it’s this perception of privilege that damages the urban indigenous claim to their heritage in the eyes of those who feel slighted by the special treatment.

    Did any of that make sense? (I am having five different conversations right now….)

  33. Posted October 6, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Pirra: makes perfect sense to me, and lots of good points to boot.

    Posted October 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    re 30, discovered your site and found it really interesting (eg, the potted history of Krajina) and would have commented but your mechanism keeps rejecting my URL as “illegal”, even tho it is offered at your site the same as I offer it anywhere else. Not to worry, the site looks interesting even unique, so will investigate further as to content, to see if my initial pleasant surprise at the site is justified.

  35. Posted October 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I have no idea why Blogspot would be doing that: it is certainly not any intentional setting or action by myself.

  36. Peter Patton
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    This is all gonna backfire. The DJs woman was the beginning of a backlash. Has the statement of claim been posted online?

  37. Peter Patton
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Just reading the remedies they seek. Are these common things judges grant?

  38. Andy McNABB
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Number 1 seems to have distilled the issue. Bolt is not necessarily railing at Aboriginality per se. He is concerned that access to programs and services is being made by people who really are not in need of them, or who have a lesser need.

    Is not it time we abandoned the various Department of Indigenous Services and replaced them with Departments of Disadvantage, with those in greatest need receiving a greater service or amount? Ethnicity or race should not be considered.

  39. Andy McNABB
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    There are various postings about “becoming” an Aboriginal. I come from a long line of Scots, but I am a sixth generation Aussie.

    Apart from liking Johnnie Walker in large doses, and finding the kilt a great piece of men’s attire, I have no connection with Scottish culture. I cannot under any circumstances call myself a Scot, and to do so is fallacious.

    I would insult any Scot to call myself one, however he or she may invite me in for a wee dram (with Dry Ginger please).

  40. Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    No true Scot would GIVE you a wee dram containing Dry Ginger…

  41. Andy McNABB
    Posted April 25, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    [email protected],
    agreed, but they make allowances for colonials like me.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] a great post on this topic here at Sceptic lawyer by Katy Barnett (legal Eagle) […]

  2. […] reason, I’ve been thinking of indigenous politics lately. Perhaps it was because of my post on Andrew Bolt and aboriginality. Perhaps it was also because of the recent debate about Queensland’s Wild Rivers legislation. […]

  3. By Skepticlawyer » Bolta, racism and free speech on March 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    […] A while back I mentioned that certain indigenous plaintiffs were bringing legal action against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. Maybe I’m odd; I don’t have the visceral hatred of Bolt that many among my acquaintance do. I don’t know if my teenage years in the UK with resultant exposure to the Red Tops have inured me to sensationalist journalism? That being said, I’m not in the least a fan of Bolt either, and I very rarely read his columns. Every now and again, though, perhaps on the occasion of a blue moon, I find that I agree with him on something. […]

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