Immunity

Australia needs a new narrative that binds all who live here.

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.” Uluru Statement of the Heart

At present I fear the Australian nation is headed for an oblivion of political mediocrity. The non-Aboriginal community is fatigued by the many different directions that reconciliation has gone and the many attempts by different governments at Federal and State levels to reach agreements with, and forms of representation for, the many Aboriginal nations of Australia. There is a growing impatience with the complexity of Aboriginal life. There is also the effect of the ongoing conservative commentary which insists that Aboriginality is invariably “illegitimate” or wrapped up in some form of welfarist fraud.2

The non-Aboriginal champions of Aboriginal causes then do battle with the right wing ideologues and the result is a short circuit of sensible, interesting, inclusive discussion. Debates are blood curdling, bitter and divided.

We need a new narrative. Non-Aboriginal Australia needs to see clearly the new stature and power that will come from including the Aboriginal story as part of our national foundation.

What could such a narrative be? How could it cut through the complacent mainstream political discourse that puts Aboriginal issues into the too hard basket?

Sorry was necessary, but it separates us. Sorry was not an end in itself nor was it supposed to divide us. It was meant to be a beginning not an end. We need to think about what unites us now. There is something that Aboriginal Australians have that non-Aboriginal people need. The Uluru Statement of the Heart expresses it, as above, a deep spirituality that underpins Aboriginal sovereignty of lands and seas. Non-Aboriginal Australians do share this deep spirit.

Every Australian new or old needs to belong. Patrick White and every major writer has discussed this feeling of being a stranger on the land. Aboriginal Australians, generous to a fault, against all odds and probability, want to give all Australians a renewed capacity of belonging. Part of what we have to do is to give Aboriginal Australia the capacity to allow non-Aboriginal Australia “to belong”. How can Aboriginal Australians do this when according to the founding document of our nation, Aboriginal belief systems and their timeless knowledge do not exist?

Non-Aboriginal Australians need a renewed sense of identity in the world beyond the great deeds of our colonial history. It is not just that there is a “whispering in the hearts” of white Australians wanting to end the lie that the British government colonized terra nullius –  a land without people in 1788.  There is a yearning to understand what it means to be born of the materiality of Australia’s lands and seas. This overwhelming feeling floods the hearts and minds of anyone who lives here for any length of time. There is also the need to tell a myriad of stories and cheeky nuances that are not possible while we extend and live the lies of the colonial world of white suits and pith helmets. The theatre needs to be de-segregated. The tyrants and thieves and murderers need to be held to account. The crying needs to begin. The sun needs to rise.

 “Australia” demands its narrative and the people who truly sing and dance the land itself are our first nations Aboriginal peoples. They are the oldest living continuous culture on earth. Beyond all of our attempts to understand this place and to build edifices, parliaments and constitutions, the first nations peoples hold the secret to Australia’s future in the world.

This new narrative we are building is something stronger than law or constitution. It is about the inclusion of strangers and of belonging to each other. The beautiful little girl with blonde hair embraces her adoption by her Aboriginal family as something as important as a passport or marriage certificate or even a family home. She feels new love in her heart. She has new names. She has new dances to learn, new obligations and traditions that run back to the beginning of time itself.

Australia needs this new narrative because in the words of  Paul Foss’ beautiful essay Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum (Unrecognised Theatre) : “The whole of Australia is pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people.”

We need to stand the current discussion of Aboriginal inclusion on its head. To have any credibility the Australian nation and its constitution need to be adopted and included into law by Aboriginal first nations peoples.  To do this the  constitutions must be amended to their satisfaction. How can we know when it is satisfactory? It is up to the Aboriginal communities themselves to tell us and I believe the Uluru Statement of the heart is an important step in this process. In the traditional world there would be no vote of hands. There would be a unanimity of hearts and minds and this would be clear because there would be no dissent. Of all the recent statements and sentiments the Uluru statement has received a degree of consensus amongst the many Aboriginal nations that is significant.

Australia’s politicians and statesmen and women ruminate about the formal constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples. If things were put up side down if Aboriginal nations had to decide whether to adopt our constitution into their law and culture things might change. There are many within the Aboriginal community who are rightly skeptical about the formal recognition of Aboriginal people by the politicians and by a formal national constitutional referendum. Why is it needed? We were always here! We will always be here.

The Uluru Statement calls for the creation of a “voice” that is recognized through the Australian constitution. To some extent this answers the questions within Aboriginal Australia about why it is necessary to inter-act with the mainstream constitution. A voice is not bound by mainstream politics it is the expression of the first nations that changes and flows with the moods of the people. After the voice is established the work of creating long standing agreements and treaties can begin.

The Uluru Statement describes Aboriginal sovereignty as spiritual consisting of the ancestral tie to the land and “mother nature` which exists through life and death and continues on into the future. The depth of Aboriginal sovereignty goes back longer than any known civilisation on earth. It is un-surpassable and being a part of this spiritual belonging is what needed by us new comers whose backbones are too buried in the earth since 1788. I believe that this desire for a deep spirit of belonging is a force more powerful than any nay sayer or sceptic, it binds us and makes us one, and it is something that we need to hold onto in our thinking about the future. The good will of wanting to be spiritually linked to each other and the land creates a kind of immunity from the selfish and narrow debates that have come to dominate our political discussions.

1.     Thanks to B. Ross for ideas and thoughts as ever.

2      I am thinking of the disproved theories of Keith Windschuttle, the devisive journalism of Andrew Bolt and the general tenor of articles and commentary in The Australian and on Sky News.

References

Henry Reynolds, The Whispering in Our Hearts, University of NSW, 2018

Paul Foss,  “Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum” in The Foreign Bodies Papers, Local Consumption Press, 2006

Peter Botsman, Wakuwal, Valentine Press, 2017, http://valentinepress.com.au/?page_id=2836

 “Seeds of Reconciliation” https://garlandmag.com/article/wakuwal/ 

Jane Goodall, “What Stands to Reason” Review of Wakuwal, Sydney Review of Books, https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/wakuwal-another-science-is-possible/

 

 

Australia needs a new narrative that binds all who live here. It is not just that there is a “whispering in
the hearts” 1 of white Australians wanting to end the lie that the British government colonized terra
nullius – a land without people in 1788. There is a yearning to belong and to understand the majesty of
Australia’s lands and seas. This overwhelming feeling floods the minds of anyone who lives here for any
length of time.
It was from this place of longing that I imagined an Irish fairy, a mokoy, looking over the trials of her
country men and women sent so far from home, trying and finally succeeding to make a connection
between worlds.
Beyond the diasporas of culture and language that have pondered the antipodes, this place we call
“Australia” demands its narrative and the people who truly sing and dance the land itself are our first
nations Aboriginal peoples. They are the oldest living culture on earth. Beyond all of our attempts to
understand this place and to build edifices, parliaments and constitutions, the first nations peoples hold
the secret to Australia’s future in the world.
This new narrative we are building is something stronger than law or constitution. It is about the
inclusion of strangers and of belonging to each other. The beautiful little girl with blonde hair embraces
her adoption by her Aboriginal family as something as important as a passport or marriage certificate or
even a family home. She feels new love in her heart. She has new names. She has new dances to learn,
new obligations and traditions that run back to the beginning of time itself.
Australia needs a new narrative because in the words of Paul Foss’ beautiful essay Theatrum Nondum
Cognitorum (Unrecognised Theatre) : “The whole of Australia is pure invention. There is no such
country, there are no such people”. 2
To have any reality the Australian nation and its constitution need to be adopted by Aboriginal first
nations peoples. Australia’s politicians and statesmen and women ruminate about the formal
constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples. But in the eyes of the wise it is the reverse that needs
to occur. There are many within the Aboriginal community who are skeptical about the formal
recognition of Aboriginal people by the politicians and by a formal national constitutional referendum.
Why is it needed? We were always here! We will always be here. While the practical reality is that the
sooner constitutional recognition of Australia’s Aboriginal nations is achieved the better, it is a moot
point and I think we do need to turn the question on its head.
Wakuwal (Dream) 3 was my attempt to turn things on their heads. The old world of Ireland became a
new world, and the new world of Australia became the old world with a living culture 30 or more times
the history of Islam and Christianity. I wrote the book for my Aboriginal family who adopted me into
their world. The book is asking for Aboriginal Australians to bring our world and culture into their
dominions and to forgive us for our breath-taking ignorance. 4
1 Henry Reynolds, The Whispering in Our Hearts, University of NSW, 2018
2 Paul Foss, “Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum” in The Foreign Bodies Papers, Local Consumption Press, 2006
3 Wakuwal, Valentine Press, 2017, http://valentinepress.com.au/?page_id=2836
 
I am the great, great, great, great grandson of Honor Hughes of County Galway. Over the long one
hundred and seventy years since Honor and her sisters Mary and Ellen were separated from their family
and children and placed on the convict ship Maria bound for Van Diemens land, members of her family
have never returned to Galway. It has taken all this time to even conceptualise Honor and to imagine
what it must have been like in the famine year of 1848 to be wrenched away from the wild west of
Ireland. She was found guilty of stealing five sheep. In Wakuwal Honor, a survivor of the Irish genocide
lives alongside the great Tasmanian Aboriginal Queen Truganini a survivor of the Tasmanian genocide. I
imagined them on Bruny Island in a post-traumatic state. H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds after
reading of the barbarism of Tasmania, it was almost too much to comprehend and yet from these two
women new possibilities would arise. My story begins from this double trauma.
My Aboriginal family could go back many generations and recite the names of hundreds of their gurrutu
(kinship) relatives with ease and it was they who encouraged me to find my ancestors. My fathers
mother did such a good job of covering up our convict past that she anglicized everything to the point
that I had no awareness of my Irish ancestry at all.
There are now five generations of my ancestors backbones buried in the earth of this land. All my
dreams are of this place and since I was a small boy I have longed to connect and understand. But my
father was the first of all his family to go to university. He wrote of James Joyce’s Stephen Daedelus and
a long silent bell began to ring softly. The city of Melbourne became for me a Dublin muddled with
stories of ancient Maarga (spirit beings) from Aboriginal worlds.
Wakuwal tries to trace the threads of Honor Hughes family alongside what was going on for Aboriginal
people facing the invaders of their land. In this tumult and change and meditating on the best of the
worlds I came to think that the magic of worlds comes together when there are no written words, when
spirts are felt and when food is harvested from wild orchards. There was this common link of magic from
a time when people knew what was in each others hearts, without having to rely on mobile phones or
even books, something organic from the west of Ireland with something from the majesty of Aboriginal
Australia.
I look forward to the day when Australia’s “European” history is seen as one small excerpt in a long
history of time and space that is known through Australian Aboriginal song, dance and ceremony.
Honor’s sacrifice then seems worthwhile. The Irish diaspora finds a new vibration and even Stephen
Daedalus may find it interesting to move on from Trieste and Vienna and come to feel the majesty of
Kangaroo Valley.
 
4 See “Seeds of Reconciliation” https://garlandmag.com/article/wakuwal/Australia needs a new narrative that binds all who live here. It is not just that there is a “whispering in
the hearts” 1 of white Australians wanting to end the lie that the British government colonized terra
nullius – a land without people in 1788. There is a yearning to belong and to understand the majesty of
Australia’s lands and seas. This overwhelming feeling floods the minds of anyone who lives here for any
length of time.
It was from this place of longing that I imagined an Irish fairy, a mokoy, looking over the trials of her
country men and women sent so far from home, trying and finally succeeding to make a connection
between worlds.
Beyond the diasporas of culture and language that have pondered the antipodes, this place we call
“Australia” demands its narrative and the people who truly sing and dance the land itself are our first
nations Aboriginal peoples. They are the oldest living culture on earth. Beyond all of our attempts to
understand this place and to build edifices, parliaments and constitutions, the first nations peoples hold
the secret to Australia’s future in the world.
This new narrative we are building is something stronger than law or constitution. It is about the
inclusion of strangers and of belonging to each other. The beautiful little girl with blonde hair embraces
her adoption by her Aboriginal family as something as important as a passport or marriage certificate or
even a family home. She feels new love in her heart. She has new names. She has new dances to learn,
new obligations and traditions that run back to the beginning of time itself.
Australia needs a new narrative because in the words of Paul Foss’ beautiful essay Theatrum Nondum
Cognitorum (Unrecognised Theatre) : “The whole of Australia is pure invention. There is no such
country, there are no such people”. 2
To have any reality the Australian nation and its constitution need to be adopted by Aboriginal first
nations peoples. Australia’s politicians and statesmen and women ruminate about the formal
constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples. But in the eyes of the wise it is the reverse that needs
to occur. There are many within the Aboriginal community who are skeptical about the formal
recognition of Aboriginal people by the politicians and by a formal national constitutional referendum.
Why is it needed? We were always here! We will always be here. While the practical reality is that the
sooner constitutional recognition of Australia’s Aboriginal nations is achieved the better, it is a moot
point and I think we do need to turn the question on its head.
Wakuwal (Dream) 3 was my attempt to turn things on their heads. The old world of Ireland became a
new world, and the new world of Australia became the old world with a living culture 30 or more times
the history of Islam and Christianity. I wrote the book for my Aboriginal family who adopted me into
their world. The book is asking for Aboriginal Australians to bring our world and culture into their
dominions and to forgive us for our breath-taking ignorance. 4
1 Henry Reynolds, The Whispering in Our Hearts, University of NSW, 2018
2 Paul Foss, “Theatrum Nondum Cognitorum” in The Foreign Bodies Papers, Local Consumption Press, 2006
3 Wakuwal, Valentine Press, 2017, http://valentinepress.com.au/?page_id=2836
 
I am the great, great, great, great grandson of Honor Hughes of County Galway. Over the long one
hundred and seventy years since Honor and her sisters Mary and Ellen were separated from their family
and children and placed on the convict ship Maria bound for Van Diemens land, members of her family
have never returned to Galway. It has taken all this time to even conceptualise Honor and to imagine
what it must have been like in the famine year of 1848 to be wrenched away from the wild west of
Ireland. She was found guilty of stealing five sheep. In Wakuwal Honor, a survivor of the Irish genocide
lives alongside the great Tasmanian Aboriginal Queen Truganini a survivor of the Tasmanian genocide. I
imagined them on Bruny Island in a post-traumatic state. H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds after
reading of the barbarism of Tasmania, it was almost too much to comprehend and yet from these two
women new possibilities would arise. My story begins from this double trauma.
My Aboriginal family could go back many generations and recite the names of hundreds of their gurrutu
(kinship) relatives with ease and it was they who encouraged me to find my ancestors. My fathers
mother did such a good job of covering up our convict past that she anglicized everything to the point
that I had no awareness of my Irish ancestry at all.
There are now five generations of my ancestors backbones buried in the earth of this land. All my
dreams are of this place and since I was a small boy I have longed to connect and understand. But my
father was the first of all his family to go to university. He wrote of James Joyce’s Stephen Daedelus and
a long silent bell began to ring softly. The city of Melbourne became for me a Dublin muddled with
stories of ancient Maarga (spirit beings) from Aboriginal worlds.
Wakuwal tries to trace the threads of Honor Hughes family alongside what was going on for Aboriginal
people facing the invaders of their land. In this tumult and change and meditating on the best of the
worlds I came to think that the magic of worlds comes together when there are no written words, when
spirts are felt and when food is harvested from wild orchards. There was this common link of magic from
a time when people knew what was in each others hearts, without having to rely on mobile phones or
even books, something organic from the west of Ireland with something from the majesty of Aboriginal
Australia.
I look forward to the day when Australia’s “European” history is seen as one small excerpt in a long
history of time and space that is known through Australian Aboriginal song, dance and ceremony.
Honor’s sacrifice then seems worthwhile. The Irish diaspora finds a new vibration and even Stephen
Daedalus may find it interesting to move on from Trieste and Vienna and come to feel the majesty of
Kangaroo Valley.
 
4 See “Seeds of Reconciliation” https://garlandmag.com/article/wakuwal/