Treaty, recognition and the Australian constitution

Today, the South Australian minister for aboriginal or indigenous affairs announced that a committee would be set up to draw up a treaty between the forty aboriginal nations of SA and the state govt. This is a great day in Australian history, although Victoria has already thought along these lines, as has WA. We Australians are the last nation not to have entered into a treaty with the indigenous inhabitants; Canada, the USA and NZ have all done so, to varying degrees of success. In the USA, for instance, an oil drilling company went ahead and laid down a pipeline through a Dakota burial ground. Protesters had to be discouraged by army personnel. A friend on her visit to London gained the impression that Europeans think of us as quite uncivilised; although that might as well relate to our treatment of refugees in Manus and Nauru.

As a visual artist I am attracted to the character and health that the facial features hold; I was always horrified by the obvious years of ground in misery and suffering that older indigenous people showed to the world. By comparison, a younger generation, admittedly a group of stellar quality AFL players: Adam Goodes and his ilk bode well for a future where Australia can become a united culture and all its components feel that they are able to contribute.They are a generation of happier people; I am happy for them.

I think it was strange that a section of the Melbourne AFL ground reacted badly by booing when Goodes did his war dance, although it seems to show more their insecurity than any aggression on his part. Making him Australian of the Year bears this out, that the majority support him. Anyway, any number of sportspersons will do a dance of triumph at a great moment in their game.

A number of people, both indigenous and Anglo-Australian, agree that treaties and constitutional recognition will not result in division and ill will. Like the Dakota situation, it may mean that local industry will have to take indigenous interests more seriously; this can only result in land, water and air quality being improved. In my head, I’m doing the war dance, even as I write.

Finally, an anecdote from the past: a yoga teacher in the 1970’s would take a group of us for an exhaustingly long hike along the coast; at the end of the hike we passed close by a pool which our teacher explained contained ochre, with which the original local people painted themselves during ceremonies. We dived in nude and covered ourselves with the reddish pigment. I surfaced and suddenly the red sandy powder had dried into the most magical golden colour. I looked around me at the tall gum trees; before, they had seemed harsh but now they had a soft, mellow appearance; I felt as if I belonged. It was inexplicable. The NT indigenous man Gulpilil, who acted in the Movie Walkabout, once said that anyone who was born here, whose umbilical blood was spilt on this earth, could inherit indigenous citizenship, with, however, all its obligations and claims.



About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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