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Australia Day shenannigans

By Legal Eagle

Lukas Coch via Associated Press Australia

I have to say that I am pretty unimpressed with the actions of the activists who forced Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to flee the Lobby Restaurant yesterday, where she was attending an Australia Day function to celebrate emergency services. For non-Australian readers, yesterday was Australia Day, a public holiday which falls on the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet in Australia. It is an emotionally charged day for many indigenous people, many of whom believe that it should be regarded as Invasion Day, and see it as a day for sorrow, not celebration.

The whole thing started when, earlier on Australia Day, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was asked about the significance of the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside Parliament House. Abbott said:

“I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian. I think a lot has changed since then, and I think it probably is time to move on from that.

Although some have seen Abbott’s comments as deliberately inflammatory, personally, I do not think he would have intended them to start a riot. Later, The Australian reports, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard were attending an event celebrating Australian emergency services at the Lobby when a version of Abbott’s words filtered through to the people gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the Tent Embassy. Elder Barbara Shaw told the audience that Abbott wanted to tear down the site. About one hundred protestors ran to the Lobby Restaurant and started banging on the glass walls, shouting slogans. Gillard and Abbott became concerned that the glass walls of the restaurant would break, and Gillard’s minders arranged for them to leave the restaurant. In the confusion, Gillard tripped and lost her shoe – the picture above shows her fleeing to her car.

The Tent Embassy leader, Michael Anderson, admitted that he had not heard Tony Abbott’s exact words before the protest began, and that the words had been misinterpreted, but remained unrepentant:

The protesters had misinterpreted those [Abbott's] comments, Mr Anderson said.

However he said the only people that owed an apology to the Prime Minister after yesterday’s drama were the police.

“No I don’t owe the Prime Minister an apology. I’ll tell you what though, the security guards do,” Mr Anderson said.

“Because we were after Tony Abbott and not the Prime Minister and I think the security people overreacted and let’s put things into perspective here. Tony Abbott wasn’t even invited there, he invited himself. I think he came here as an agent provocateur deliberately.”

Other Aboriginal leaders have condemned the actions of the protesters in no uncertain terms:

…Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda condemned the protest and accused the activists of showing disrespect to Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott.

“I think the issues they raised 40 years ago are as relevant today . . . (but) I’ve got to condemn the behaviour in the strongest possible terms,” Mr Gooda said.

“People are allowed to protest and raise issues but it’s disrespectful to our Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. I think it was absolutely appalling.”

Former ALP president and indigenous leader Warren Mundine labelled the activists a “disgrace”, said the embassy had long ceased to be relevant for most Aborigines and had been “hijacked by a motley crew of people” from outside the indigenous mainstream.

“No human being, let alone the Prime Minister of this country, should be treated in such a manner,” Mr Mundine said.

“It’s a disgrace and anyone who was involved in it should be prosecuted as far as the law can take it.”

Sue Gordon, the former chairwoman of the Northern Territory intervention, said the right to protest did not include the right to be violent.

“Regardless of what people might think of the Prime Minister, she’s still the Prime Minister,” Dr Gordon said. She said the views of tent embassy activists did not reflect those of indigenous people in remote Australia.

Mr Anderson has responded by criticising Mr Gooda and Mr Mundine:

They do not represent us. …They were not elected by us, they were just appointed by the government not Aboriginal people. They’re just interested in representing the middle to upper-class indigenous Australians and paying off their mortgage.”

(What’s wrong with wanting to pay off your mortgage, I have to wonder? – showing my own bourgeois prejudices… :-P ) The incident has received widespread coverage in overseas media.

Now, I understand that some indigenous people regard the Tent Embassy as sacred ground, and that they would be upset and distressed at reports that the Embassy was being disbanded. Personally I would not endorse Abbott’s comment: obviously the Tent Embassy is important to many indigenous people, and it provides a constant reminder of ongoing issues for indigenous people in Australia.

However, my concern with activism is always how best to get the message across to the majority of people. (Perhaps it is because what persuasion is what litigators and academics are all about, and I am both). I do not think that this incident will help the Tent Embassy’s cause or profile in any way. As this article in the Guardian points out, people often regard the perpetrators of mob violence as “mindless and irrational”, although it is really more complex than that, and often riots represent an indication that a group has “a sense of illegitimacy about how they are treated by others…they see collective confrontation as the only means of redressing the situation.”  Nonetheless, if the members of the Tent Embassy want to achieve their aims (Aboriginal sovereignty, a treaty with the Australian government, increased land rights etc) they will have to convince mainstream Australia of the necessity of these things. The behaviour we saw yesterday is very unlikely to help their aims, as I suspect most Australians were appalled. In fact, I suspect that it will do the precise opposite of what the protesters wanted to achieve – it may well add credence to Tony Abbott’s claim that the Tent Embassy has had its day, and should be disbanded, as the protesters came across in media reports as violent and disrespectful troublemakers. And that’s a pity.


  1. Adrien
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t gone into this too deeply. I wonder to what extent the violence was exaggerated and all. But it seems to me that a real leader would have the courage to directly address such a crowd. The sight of them all bolting was, I’m sorry, funny.

  2. Patrick
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    My arse they would Adrien. Maybe a Putin would (or personally shoot them with his shirt off, whatever), but in normal countries it just doesn’t work that way if it ever did.

  3. Posted January 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Adrien but I think that just plays into the kind of macho bs that is finding some traction on the news threads as we speak ie ‘Abbott is a better leader because he looked less frazzled’.

    Don’t see why an event for emergency workers should be turned into an event for indigenous campaigners by rule of force, either. And you know I would agree with 2/3 of their political positions, in substance.

  4. Posted January 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Bob Carr agrees with Tony Abbott.

    The notion of a common Aboriginal sovereignty is purely a creation of interaction with British law and institutions. I also find the notion that Aboriginal territories were established by 50,000 years of peace naive at best.

  5. Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Things may be getting a bit murkier.

    Whatever the truth of alleged misinformation, violently reacting to things not actually said never looks good.

  6. Moz
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I find it distressing that regardless of the behaviour of the protesters people always chime in with “I would support you but you drew attention to yourselves, and that is always wrong”. That’s annoying in its own right, without your Abbott apologia.

    From my point of view Abbott issued a deliberately inflammatory dogwhistle to his racist base, and the intended victims of that reacted as you would expect – they were vigorously unhappy. I’m sure Alan Jones didn’t intend to start a riot either, but one happened, directly as a result of his remarks having the obviously intended effect. In this case, less inflammatory remarks had a lessor effect. Sure, a few police officers were violent, but you get that every day in Redfern so the only real shock is that they were attacking the media as well.

    I think it’s well established that asking politely for someone to please grant you the basic rights that other citizens get does not work. To the best of my knowledge it hasn’t ever worked. Instead, the powers that be eventually sit down with the least inflammatory leaders they can find and negotiate the smallest concessions that they can get away with, then dress it up in pretty language. So we get the “granting of suffrage” (three times so far in Australia) rather than “a successful fight for suffrage”, and so on.

  7. Mel
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink


    “But it seems to me that a real leader would have the courage to directly address such a crowd. The sight of them all bolting was, I’m sorry, funny.”

    That’s because you are a goose, Adrien. A true leader doesn’t unnecessarily put other people in harm’s way, which is what would have happened if Abbott or Gillard *ignored the advice of the security detail* and addressed the mob.


    “From my point of view Abbott issued a deliberately inflammatory dogwhistle to his racist base”

    Abbott’s comments were very mild. He didn’t even call for the Aboriginal “tent embassy” to be sent packing, even though a range of indigenous figures think its time these people were sent packing.

    What isn’t mild is the hysterical and disingenuous shite emanating from the usual talking heads on the far left, including but not limited to the empty vessels over at Larvatus Prodeo.

  8. Posted January 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just read Abbott’s comments, and I know what Alan Jones said before Cronulla went up. There is no similarity (and I say that knowing that there was more to Cronulla than met the eye as well, including very significant violence from the so-called oppressed group, much of it gendered in a way the violence by the ‘mainstream’ group (itself very racially mixed) was not).

    And Pinker does indeed put paid to the ‘indigenous peace’ theory. Finding out that it was better – much better – to be conquered by the Aztecs than live as free hunter gatherer communities in that region is probably the most depressing social science statistic I have ever read.

    If anything, Abbott was praising Kevin Rudd’s achievements as PM, while making it clear that he disagreed with much of what Rudd had done on issues not to do with Aborigines.

    And finally: what a lovely spectacle for all the Indian tourists in Australia for the Test series. Jan 26 is India’s Republic Day, too.

  9. Mel
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Watkin Tench on the happy Indigenes of Port Jackson:

    “But indeed the women are in all respects treated with savage barbarity Condemned not only to carry the children but all other burthens, they meet in return for submission only with blows, kicks and every other mark of brutality. When an Indian [Aboriginal] is provoked by a woman, he either spears her or knocks her down on the spot. On this occasion he always strikes on the head, using indiscriminately a hatchet, a club or any other weapon which may chance to be in his hand. The heads of the women are always consequently seen in the state which I found that of Gooreedeeana. Colbee, who was certainly, in other respects a good tempered merry fellow,
    made no scruple of treating Daringa, who was a gentle creature, thus. Baneelon did the same to Barangaroo, but she was a scold and a vixen,
    and nobody pitied her. ”

    I also note that the historical Port Jackson figure, Bennelong, was never happier than when recounting tales of his rape escapades. According to some, Aboriginal society lacked any concept of rape.

    Many Aboriginal women today are little more than punching bags and fuck toys (check the crime stats for details on rape and assault of Aboriginal women combined with the reports on serious underreporting of the same crimes in Aboriginal communities), nonetheless they are undoubtedly better off than their sisters of yore.

    Tellingly, 80% of Aboriginal women chose a non-Aboriginal partner.

    For Aboriginal women, at least, Australia Day is arguably Liberation Day.

  10. Posted January 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Also, I hope the story in Lorenzo’s link @7 is not true. One of Gillard’s staffers has already fallen on his sword over contacting the tent embassy, but what he said to them is not known.

  11. Posted January 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    SL, it is true. It’s been confirmed and a media advisor has resigned. He actually tipped off someone at the tent embassy that Abbott was at the restaurant.

    And here’s my take on this

  12. Posted January 27, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I would really like to know what the clueless numpty said to them. I suppose it will come out eventually. Talk about crowning moments of stupid.

    Both Gillard and Abbott looked pretty spooked in that footage, too. You wonder what else was going on behind the scenes.

  13. Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s well established that asking politely for someone to please grant you the basic rights that other citizens get does not work. To the best of my knowledge it hasn’t ever worked.

    Genuine chant from genuine protest march against removal of Radio 4 from the AM radio band in the UK.

    “Whadda we want?” – FOUR ON AM
    “When do we want it?” – NOW!
    “What do we say?” – PLEASE

    (Worked too. :-) )

  14. Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Actually I am presently reading a lot about violent protest and revolution. In order to get real change at a governmental level, my understanding is that you have to have convinced a certain level of ordinary people that you have a genuine issue, otherwise it just goes nowhere.

    Many of my friends on Facebook who were decrying the nationalism displayed by “bogans” on Australia Day were strong supporters of the Tent Embassy. Actually, both phenomena are motivated by the same basic impulse: a nationalist, separatist ideal. Let’s undergo a thought experiment:

    A group of “bogan” white Australians are having a celebration outside Parliament House on Australia Day. They are told (by one of Tony Abbott’s media advisers) that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that the Australian flag should be replaced with the Aboriginal flag, and they are outraged. In fact, she just said that she thought personally that the time for the Australian flag was over, and that it’s a bit dated in this present day and age. They run over to a restaurant where Gillard and Abbott are giving awards to indigenous people, and start banging on the glass walls, shouting “Shame!” and “Our flag, always our flag!” Gillard and Abbott are shaken and have to flee the restaurant.

    Can you imagine? The group of Left people who are presently defending the Tent Embassy would be having a go at the ugly side of white nationalism. Some on the Right who are presently decrying the conduct of the Tent Embassy would be defending the actions of the protesters: Gillard inflamed tensions by attacking the traditional flag under which many Australians died, and it is close to their hearts.

    Why is this any different to what actually happened? Surely the actions of the protesters are equally unpleasant regardless of whether they are a minority group or a majority group?

  15. Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Ah, but you’re thinking like a lawyer ™, LE, which involves the first principle of the rule of law:

    Treat like cases alike.

  16. Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I thought that was just part of thinking like a cognisant human being™.

  17. Adrien
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    That’s because you are a goose, Adrien. A true leader doesn’t unnecessarily put other people in harm’s way

    Who’s talking about other people? And the list of true leaders who put other people in harm’s way is endless: Lincoln, Roosevelt…

  18. Mel
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Notwithstanding what I said at @11, I think Australia Day should be changed to a less provocative date. If I identified as Aboriginal I’d feel angry about the arrival of the First Fleet being chosen as the day of celebration.

  19. Posted January 28, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I think that’s a good suggestion, Mel, but also suspect the window of opportunity for doing so may have passed. Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, people would have been amenable – Australia Day was always a fairly anaemic holiday. ANZAC Day was the national holiday.

    But, over time, remembering the military was delegitimized and a more pacific alternative had to be found, and Australia Day emerged to fill the void.

    I actually hate all the empty arguing over symbols in Australia, to be honest. I like how the Scots can celebrate St Andrew’s Day and remember William Wallace (or whoever) while at the same time being well aware that Wallace was actually a nasty piece of work whose biopic (Braveheart) was related to history in the same way as Caesar’s wife — only by marriage.

    It’s something Australians could learn.

  20. Adrien
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I reckon I first saw the Indigenous Camp when I was first inflicted with a trip to Canberra at the age of nine. Catholic boy’s school (second class). The highlight of the trip was a Mad Max spin-off featuring the a sex scene. It wasn’t the movie but the facial expression of the white-collar monk in charge of us that I remember.

    I saw it again years later and was surprised it was still there. It belongs there, it’s traditional. There’s something very appealing about the state architecture of Canberra that seems completely absent otherwise, (fashionable restaurants and addresses excepted.). We can walk on grass that sits atop the Houses of Parliament and nearby across a large campus there’s the High Court, the National Library and Gallery. All very 21st C sci-fi and open. And in the midst of this a red, black and yellow shanty. The architecture speaks of a country that deserves a better national anthem.

    Not too long ago it was those who lived in tents or even did without were all there was to write about here. To travel thru the Australian Bush without pause or complaint requires a rare toughness and ever-present pragmatism, it is at the heart of the spirit that Australians came to realize they shared on a little bit of the Turkish coast not too far from the site of a much longer, long ago war. We’re losing it.

    Alright yesterday was ‘Straya Day. Down here in Melbourne the indigenous people conduct a festival in a park. All over this country it gives them a bitter taste and for good reason. And on this day someone heard a rumour that John Howard’s heir said tear down tent city. Cooked up by bad leaders I shouldn;t wonder. And they went ballistic.

    And our leaders punked out.

    And the best we can learn from this is: charge them with treason or change the date of Australia Day. We don’t live up to our architecture. We don’t deserve a better national anthem.

  21. conrad
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    “Surely the actions of the protesters are equally unpleasant regardless of whether they are a minority group or a majority group?”

    I think the general argument against that is that majority groups get to oppress people via the democractic system, whereas minority groups don’t. So there is asymettrical pattern of protection/opression via government (and hence authoritarian) means. Whether that means that when minority groups have a silly protest it is less bad than when majority groups do is another story. My preferenance in this case is that there isn’t much difference. I imagine possibly incorrectly most Aboriginals do also. Alternatively, I think it’s probably reasonable to have some differences in things like the tent embassy, which might be pulled down if, say, you or SL decided to start one for some reason. Being the majority group in Australia, it would be far simpler for you to try and band together and just vote for things you want (obviously this has been going on to some extent since the 70s), and so a middle-class white female tent embassy (sorry if you’re a broke student at the moment SL :) ) really would be just whinging.

  22. kvd
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    A@22 I don’t think “our leaders punked out” as such. They were just being protected (inelegantly) by the people paid to do so. Apart from the indignity (ours in the eyes of the world) of the situation, my main regret is that Mr Abbott is once more handed a free pass to say “look over here” instead of being held to account for his other rantings – most recently the “tow the boats back” nonsense. I mean – how many laws would that negate/contravene?

    I’m beginning to think there may be something to this Christian thing; how else can you explain his charmed passage? And please don’t say “intelligent design”.

  23. Adrien
    Posted January 29, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    A@22 I don’t think “our leaders punked out” as such.

    They both showed their fear. It’s understandable but, let’s put it this way, both of them missed an opportunity to prove something both to Aboriginal people and people in general. If one of them had faced the crowd, which does entail a risk, and had performed well, they would’ve drawn national and indigenous respect.

    As it is all the young lads out there whose philosophy is a cocktail of fragmented tradition, lumpenboganism and Malcolm X as strained thru Tupac Shakur are just gonna get off on ‘our mob’ chasing chickenshit white c##ts down the stairs and it won’t exactly engender respect for the law. Knowumsayin’?

  24. Mel
    Posted January 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink


    “Who’s talking about other people? ”

    If Abbott/Gillard overrode the advice of the PM’s security team they would have put the security team and innocent bystanders in harm’s way if the crowd turned feral.

  25. Posted January 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    How feral was the crowd and was it likely to turn?

    I mean taking the story right back to the start (well not to 1788, but at least to earlier in the day) – not just starting it with the footage I’ve seen of some people thumping on the plate glass of the Lobby restaurant.

    As for Mel @ 11, I’m a bit shocked but not entirely surprised at Mel’s recourse to what is almost a traditional Australian knee-jerk reaction.

    Where, incidentally, does that 80% figure come from? This is what I found in the ABS archive:

    “Mixed marriages of Indigenous people
    Although it is not possible to identify marriages involving Indigenous people on marriage registration forms, the extent to which Indigenous people have been forming mixed marriages can be obtained using census data. Census data gives information about all couples (including registered and de facto marriages) in Australia. Indigenous people are those who have identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin in response to census questions.

    In 1991, 57% of all couples involving an Indigenous person were mixed (that is, only one partner was Indigenous). However, the extent of mixed marriages for Indigenous people appears to be increasing. By 1996, this proportion had increased to 64%.

    In over half (55%) of all Indigenous couples in 1996, in which only one partner was Indigenous, that partner was the woman.”

    I know those figures are 15 and 20 years old, but I can’t readily reconcile them with the 80% claim.

  26. paul walter
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    LE, 16, but they have had a similar incident re righties, with the Alan Jones Truckie incitement toward the end of last year when a bunch of goons later bailed up Albanese.
    That apart from the hateful garbage spewed out against Gillard, by the likes of Jones and Abbott…

  27. paul walter
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Recent Aussie Days seem to have become tacky, I was wondering beforehand what example of bad taste or worse this year’s observations would throw up. There was already a sense of “stale” after Gambaro’s crass example of a couple of weeks ago and the Pokies antic has dragged on, also involving elements of the Australian character that aren’t of a especially edifying standard.

    The thing with the Aborigine Embassy seemed to me to go to the heart of I’d call tabloid politics: Abbott’s comments seemed a bit inflammatory, why couldn’t he just have left it be and concentrated on some thing positive, for once. Then what the newspapers described as, a staffer sacked for leaking the location of the PM and Opposition leader to the testy crowd just up the road. Finally so much to do with the MSM’s treatment of the whole issue being discussed since, the annual Australia Day beat up on an otherwise weak newsday.

    Just, yuk… To me this is the sort of urk at the back of Anne Summers’ mind, writing of the Pokies events, just out.

  28. Posted January 30, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink


    I too haven’t much time for violent protest, but I think it is quite easy for heavy-handed steps to control demonstrations to quite quickly produce a situation where things look a lot more violent than they otherwise were likely to be.

    To say things were “out of control” carries a big set of assumptions about what sort of “control” needs to be maintained. Police tend to like to keep a lot. I’m not sure if “out of control” = “violent.” Selective footage on TV can be particularly misleading.

    Geoff Davies, a geophysicist at ANU who was there, said this:

    The most dramatic images were not of violent protesters, but of a rattled security man dragging the Prime Minister, quite unnecessarily, as Mr Abbott’s less undignified gait makes clear.

  29. Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    LE, SL @ 16 and 17 – depends whether the characterisation of ‘like’ is accepted, for to treat unlike as like can also be an impermissible discrimination (Castlemaine Tooheys). Would the bogans in fact be found to be in the same position as the tent embassy protesters?


    That said, I facebooked against both dickheaded bogans and went against the grain of my left-leaning friends to suggest the conduct of the protest in the shoe affair was an own goal.

    Worst of all I have seen an image of Socialist Alliance with their flag up in the middle of it. Shameless.

  30. Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    May I just second PW@31 about tacky Australia Day celebrations? I know I haven’t been in the country since mid-2007 (so feel free to start calling me an ex-pat) and was back and forth a lot before then, but I remember when Australia Day was a pretty anaemic affair. It seems to have acquired a dose of American-style razzle-dazzle that isn’t really in keeping with the laid-back bbqs I remember from my childhood.

  31. kvd
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    LE@36 funny you mention the flags. In my small village I bumped into the local policeman the other day. Asked if he had enjoyed a day off on Australia Day, but got an earfull about ‘cars with flags’. These are my words, but it seems they are avoided if at all possible “because the drivers are mostly racist, and aggressive, and ready for a fight”.

    A land of sweeping claims…

  32. paul walter
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It was interesting to read Nicholas Gruen on a related subject, sports coverage and media – much of what used to be seen as ok in more Anglophile times has been passed off as old fashioned, now we have to have everything big brash and bright like the Statesiders, something that offers “opportunities” involving advertising.

    Gaudy pyjamas for cricketers, tanties from luridly attired tennis players, commentary now conducted by offshore imports rather than “uncool” retired local legends and worst of all flags and obstentation, flags having become mandatory since Pauline Hanson.

  33. Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    PW @ 31

    Abbott’s comments seemed a bit inflammatory, why couldn’t he just have left it be and concentrated on some thing positive, for once.

    What on earth was inflammatory about Abbott’s language? He was asked a question and he responded in a dignified and reasonable way. Would you have been happy if he had ignored the reporter’s question? I think you might be happy if the Leader of the Opposition had little to say and didn’t have the popularity that he has in the electorate.

  34. paul walter
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Personally, I was in admiration of him for the way he spent his holidays in the Philipines on the Magic Mountain, displaying solidarity with the masses of Manilla down to drinking septic water and eating the dregs out of cockroach- infested spaghetti cans.

  35. Adrien
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    It shouldn’t depend on where one’s personal sympathies lie.

    It shouldn’t but it does. Witness John Howard’s cautionary statements after the Cronulla riots.

    The phenomena I have witnessed is that people are far more likely to excuse the violent actions of protesters where they believe that the fundamental reasons for the protest and for the anger were valid.

    Indeed. And the only excuse for violence against the State is if the State has lost its authority because it no longer serves the people but simply steals from them. If you’re aboriginal you may make this claim with a certain legitimacy. People accused them of treason but they may retort with the question: Why do we owe this country loyalty? And the answer to that must either be a whitewash or concessionary. That’s why we have the Tent Embassy; that’s why it’s been there so long. No-one other group of citizens could set up a shanty on Canberra campus and last 40 years.

    Mr Abbott is wrong, we haven’t moved on from there. Mr Rudd’s apology is all very well, but finally it’s a cosmetic solution (like moving the date of Australia Day). It doesn’t address the underlying problems one of which is that we don’t listen.

  36. kvd
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    LE 45,46 I support both your comments completely. While I’m no fan of Mr A. I do accept his engagement over many years with the Aboriginal community. He’s one of the few pollies that actually do seem to ‘walk the walk’ on this part of Australian life, and I choose to applaud that – without examining his possible motives.

    And I think (hope?) Adrien misunderstands what he said. I took him to mean that it was ‘time to move on’ from the embassy as symbol; not ‘time to move on’ from the issues still needing to be addressed.

  37. Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Actually, Australia Day has become crass and higher-profile, while another day much loved in my youth has all but disappeared, yet celebrates a sentiment to politicians I reckon the majority would agree with – Nov 5 – the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions, as they say.

  38. Adrien
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    But Adrien: do actions like the ones the other day address the real problems in many Aboriginal communities?

    No they don’t. It just makes things worse. Understanding it, isn’t the same as condoning it. Given their frustration, especially on Australia Day when so many people are out in public enjoying the fruits of a rich country and they are reminded of their fringe status, I can understand it. And when so many people just respond by calling for them to be charged with treason, well…

  39. Adrien
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    And I think (hope?) Adrien misunderstands what he said.

    I’m not sure Mr Abbott understood what he said. It could well be interested as a signal to remove the embassy.

    I don’t think that’s what he meant. But I think he was wrong in that it’s not time to move on from that because we haven’t actually moved on from that.

  40. kvd
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure Mr Abbott understood what he said

    I’ve yet to read any Abbott-speak which wasn’t what he ‘meant’ – at the time. And please note the qualifier.

    That said, I do agree we probably have not ‘moved on from that’ anywhere near as much as we might have. A great pity – hence the word ‘hope’.

  41. Adrien
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    L’eagloe- But I cannot condone their actions, which, as you note, is an entirely different question. My non-tempestuous, logical, legal side thinks that this kind of stuff ought to be deterred, no matter that the motives and frustration are understandable to me personally.

    Fundamentally I agree, but there aren’t too many people advocating understanding amidst all the calls to try this lot with treason. So I’ve got to be a bit of ratbag, sorry. :)

  42. Mel
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink


    “In the Major Cities and Regional Areas, Indigenous people in couple relationships were more often than not partnered with a non-Indigenous person. In almost nine out of ten couples (88%) in Major Cities where at least one partner was Indigenous, the other did not identify as Indigenous in the 2006 Census. In Regional Areas, the proportion was 77%. In contrast, in Remote Areas only around one-quarter (24%) of couples where one partner was Indigenous, the other was non-Indigenous.”

    Other studies have repeatedly demonstrated outparenting is stronger amongst indigenous women, so the figures for indigenous women will be higher than the figures stated above.

    Less than one quarter of indigenous persons live in Remote Areas. As the figures above are 6 years old and the trends are strong in respect of both movement to urban areas and outpartnering for indigenes in all but remote locations (where choice is presumably limited), I stand by my 80% figure although I cannot find the original source for that figure.

  43. Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the update. It looks to me that there is a trend and things have changed since 1991 and 1996. Two complicating factors for assessing that trend however would be the increased rate of identification as indigenous over this time. Obviously, also, many people identifying as indigenous are the children of only one indigenous-identifying parent – probably more likely, incidentally, to be a mother than a father.

    I’m still troubled by the conclusion you draw that this establishes a strong preference by indigenous women for non-indigenous men.

    To take the capital city figures as the strongest example: if 9 out of 10 indigenous women in partnerships are with a non-indigenous partner, that still means one in ten of is with an indigenous partner. This is three times their 3% representation in the population as a whole [even assuming "indigenous" is a relevant ethnic descriptor for these purposes: we don't say, for example "Asian" and expect Indians to marry Chinese], which is surely a preference – albeit a weaker preference multiple than many other groups.

  44. Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    @marcellous 57.

    I’m still troubled by the conclusion you draw that this establishes a strong preference by Indigenous women for non-Indigenous men.

    That statement bothered me too. (As have others of Mel’s that I am not about to get into because frankly I get tired of of non-indigenous people telling me the -often misrepresented, misconstrued and twisted- history of my own Mob.)

    But here’s something many may not have considered when it comes to Indigenous women partnering up with non-Indigenous men.

    I come from a very large Indigenous family. All the Indigenous people I know I am related to in some way or another. Either by blood or by certain cultural connections that would make a relationship something to be frowned upon. Though some of the cultural bounds are lessening over time, there is also still the echoes of the stolen generation that makes intimate relationships between Indigenous peoples complex. We often don’t know who we are and aren’t related to.

    This has nothing to do with the stereotype bandied around that all Indigenous men are violent women bashing rapists. That kind of statement just fuels the ridiculous assumption that Indigenous women choose non-Indigenous partners because of course no Indigenous woman has ever been abused or raped by a non-Indigenous man.

    Also in relationships, there are two people. Men make choices about who they want to be with too.

  45. Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink


    It doesn’t address the underlying problems one of which is that we don’t listen.

    Listen to whom? The people on the ground or the professionally angry? I have posted about this, including a story that still makes me angry:

    The Galiwin ’ku fishing industry consisted of several small fishing boats made from local timbers at Galiwin ’ku by the Yolηnu and mission staff. The Yolηu named these boats with holy names from their clain or riηgitj nation alliance. The boats were owned by the mission but were skippered and crewed by different clans. Some small clans would come together in a riηgitj alliance to make up a crew. …
    These clan groups would use the boats and sell their catch to the mission for processing and re-sale to other places. The people clearly understood that what they caught was theirs until they sold it to the mission and they benefited directly from their catch. From the point of sale on, it belonged to the mission. This arrangement satisfied the legal requirements of both the Yolηnu and Balanda systems of law.
    When the mission at Galiwin ’ku handed the fishing industry over to the Yolηnu council in 1974, everything proceeded well for a while because the mission staff also transferred to the council. For most Yolηu nothing really changed. Then in 1975 it was decided to get a loan from the government to develop the industry. The Aboriginal Development Comission ‘decided’ to bring in a consultant to look at the viability of the loan and how it could increase the efficiency of the industry. Following the consultant’s recommendation, one big, modern fishing trawler replaced the small boats. In the dead of night, the small boats were burned on the beach and one was cut adrift, to ‘convince Yolηu of the need to move up to the big boat’. Within six months the whole fishing enterprise at Galiwin ’ku had collapsed and Galiwin ’ku became an importer rather than exporter of fish products.
    … from a Yolηu perspective the collapse happened because the separate clans and nation alliances found it impossible to work under one Balanda boss on the trawler, as the trawler captain now had to be licensed. Moreover, Yolηu were insulted and grieving over the destroyed boats. With no clear lines of ownership the people could not see that any authority had passed to them. …
    To expect all the clans at Galiwin ’ku to believe they collectively owned the fishing company was like telling twenty-six Balanda companies that they collectively owned an industry incorporated as an association. … But this is not how community structures were set up. … The Yolηu fisherman did not see themselves as working for their own gain anymore; in fact, many now thought that the captain of the new trawler would reap the dividends. They had just become wage earners, and the incentive to work and build the industry for their own benefit was gone.
    On top of all this, people had become confused about where these wages came from. In the past they saw a clear trade with the mission—so much fish for so much money. This trade was what the Yolηu were used to. Now they got wages no matter how many fish were caught. The steps in the development of a cash economy, with its system of wages-for-labour, are many. The Yolηnu were catapulted into the cash economy with little preparation.
    With all this confusion, only conflict could occur, and economic development through industries like fishing was lost. (pp47-8)

    This is a pattern that is so entrenched (e.g. the Stockman’s case).

  46. Posted February 2, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    On treatment of women in Aboriginal society, there were 200 or more Aboriginal cultures: generalising about them is a fraught activity.

    One Aboriginal culture where women were appallingly treated and marrying a white man was a huge improvement was the Tasmanian one. As one wit cruelly observed, Tasmanian aboriginal men swapped women for hunting dogs, thereby improving the welfare of both groups. (It also did bad things for the potential survival of the population except as a mixed-race group.)

    But, Tasmanian aboriginal society was a study in vile dysfunction. Loss of technology, lack of trade, living in small hunting groups terrified of meeting a bigger group who was likely to kill the men and seize the women. It was not a paradisical existence.

  47. Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I think the Tent Embassy is important for ALL Indigenous people. The concerns I have as an urban Indigenous person are very different to the concerns of an Indigenous person from a reservation or from an Indigenous person in a rural community or from the Indigenous people who still reside on their country land. The Tent Embassy is symbolic of our land being occupied by some one else, and the issues resulting from that. So I think it is relevant to all Indigenous peoples, but its relevance has a different meaning for each of them. But the embassy alone is not going to produce any form of reform or positive outcome. The problem is the eyes ears and voices who have been charged with improving our lot in life are often seeing, hearing and speaking about these issues from a non-Indigenous stand point.

    Tony Abbott might spend a lot of time in Indigenous communities but he has yet to demonstrate that what he perceives in these communities comes from a place of understanding that isn’t coloured by his non-Indigenous world views.

    In light of the current global environment, that the PM may have felt threatened or worried or even afraid of the protestors is understandable. Riots have been a common global theme on our news as of late so the fear of an angry, loud mob, violent or not is completely understandable.

    I do think there was a massive over reaction, but I believe that the fault lies with the MSM on that front. The footage clearly shows the PM being jostled by her security, however, I don’t think the jostling would have been necessary, or indeed, would have happened at all, if not for the media frenzy surrounding the incident. The people pushing and shoving were the media trying to get the cameras in there and the story. The security detail and the AFP did what was appropriate, but the PM would not have lost her shoe if the media had kept its distance.

    I’m probably not making much sense right now. I am taking five while the kids work on their reading response questions and I have a child in my ear asking if Lady Macbeth’s fear were about whether or not Macbeth had the balls to kill Duncan…(using that exact terminology….13 year old boys…what can I say!)

  48. Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Just on Pirra’s point @58, one thing that does seem to have been common among all Aboriginal groups — on the mainland at least — was almost Roman-levels of horror at consanguinity: remember that rules against marrying your first cousin are culture specific, and that societies that are exogamous (ie, prevent or inhibit cousin marriages) tend to have stronger community and social structures.

    When I was working on the Hurley matter in Townsville, I heard of situations where people who were separated as very young children inadvertently finished up married to or cohabiting with a close biological relative once they’d been sent to Palm Island. In one incident, a half-brother and half sister were involved. Often — as when Europeans lost Roman law after the Empire’s collapse — the only thing to survive complete cultural dislocation was the horror at consanguinity. One of the couple (I think the man) suicided when he found out.

  49. Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    SL @68, yes exactly. But to take that further, in my culture a cousin is classed as a sibling. And a cousin, is actually some one not related to you by blood, by still considered too close to you for a relationship to be appropriate. (ie. My Godfather is my father’s best friend. He is called my Uncle. His children are my cousins. To form a relationship with one of them would be taboo.)

    As a side note to this, a friend of mine is studying her midwifery degree in Townsville and did one of her placements on Palm Island. She had a patient come in for her first time check up (though she was around 5 months pregnant by then.) and when my friend asked her about the baby’s father, the woman cracked up laughing and said “Well, I didn’t actually know he was my Uncle when I slept with him…” My friend’s jaw hit the floor until she realised where she was. And what Uncle actually meant. (Though for some mobs, that kind of connection is still very much frowned upon.)

  50. Posted February 2, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    LE @ 63. I love all the questions, I just wish they could wait patiently and leave them until after mummy has finished typing! (It’s the wee comment box, I sometimes have trouble reading what I have typed. Once I hit post I can see that what I type does make sense, but up until then…)

    There has been some major eye rolling as we read Macbeth. My daughter is 16 and has found her feminist voice and our reading is often punctuated with her outraged spluttering. One of the questions I have for them about Act 1 is to consider Scene 5. We can never really surmise from the play itself wether or not the Macbeths have children. How do they think that scene might have played out if indeed they had? I’m pretty sure her initial response will something along the lines “Dear Mum, why would we care if the Macbeth’s had children? Are you trying to be just another patriarchal parasite that insists on reducing women to the status of their wombs and their ability, or lack of, as baby making factories? How very dare you! Sincerely, N.”
    I’m going to keep all her work so when she goes through her phase of pushing back against feminism in her 20′s (like some of us do) I can pull them out and wave them under her nose and shout “Now who’s pandering to the patriarchy?”

  51. kvd
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    How very dare you!

    Treasure her Pirra – you make her sound just like my daughter at the same age. One comment mine made to me when a couple of years younger was “you’re not the boss of me!”. Cracked me up with both the intensity, and the “rightness” of her world view.

    LE@64 your thought about “some kind of official gathering place” is I am sure well meant. But I’d just agree with Adrien many comments ago that what is, is just about perfect as a representation within the otherwise sterile, manicured, disconnect that is Canberra.

  52. Adrien
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo – And would I be safe in assuming that the Yolηu people are obese welfare addicts these days? Excellent article btw; yet another reason why it’s never a good idea to intervene ion Afghanistan. Unless you wanna know what it was like rolling with Ghengis Khan. The lesson of Vietnam and of all similar rationalist interventions has been well and truly brushed under the carpet.

  53. Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    @kvd, oh indeed I do. (I have never understood the whole teens are ‘teh evil’ mindset that you see splattered all over the place.. )

    Hahaha, we had a similar conversation only yesterday. Re: children as parental property. I quite often tell them that I made them and if they don’t do x,y,or z so help me God I will unmake them. Which is always met with eye rolls of “Sure Mum, you can try but you are the one who taught me that I have bodily autonomy you know.” It’s moments like those I think I made a mistake home schoooling them!

  54. kvd
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s moments like those I think I made a mistake home schoooling them!

    No, it’s moments like those that you know you are maybe succeeding in helping your child towards his or her potential. Said with complete respect, and agreement.

  55. Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    A@63 Yes, they share in the general dysfunction: possibly not quite so badly, since their local culture is still pretty strong.

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