In 1900 Alfred Deakin agreed to write anonymously about political life for the London Morning Post. He was a man who had been involved with indigenous affairs for many years, a trained lawyer and a Parliamentary member, holding office as many did during the years of 1879 to 1890 and was one of many who consulted to draw up what is now known as the Australian Constitution.
He was also a man whom aboriginal leaders considered was a fair man, a man who would represent their needs in the new world they in which they were struggling to survive; he was also a man who was out to recognise Colonial rule, rights and requirements above all other, considering that the indigenous peoples, of which he included the class of ‘half-caste’, would of its own and other volition die out and therefore was a diminishing responsibility!
He was wrong and since the official census has been taken correctly, and includes people of all nationalities, the growth of the indigenous Australian population has increased considerably, largely due to better living and health conditions, better education and to some extent the work of some people who moved against the early trends and campaigned for better rights for these hapless peoples.
Tim Rowse has written this very timely book which details firstly the fall and almost extinction of an ancient race of peoples, then follows their slow but steady recovery to become a race of peoples who have become, along with the Torres Straight Island peoples, an educated presence and ever growing strong voice within the Parliamentary system of today’s political world.
He presents the history of a country which in some ways, in relation to Indigenous Affairs has changed considerably; much of this has occurred since 2000 where Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders as a culture, had to look within to the peoples they had become and set a pathway or a charter, which would herald positive change. It also helps to clarify a complex history of which many struggle to comprehend, that has led to the current political and historical situation of very murky water indeed.
But as with all of the many issues that have occurred over the years, change has been slow coming in respect to mineral rights, land issues, and the understanding of a culture which spans more than 50,000 years; a culture which had, and still has its own laws, traditions, and land management systems which although complex, worked and worked very well. Interestingly some of the practices used by these people for land management are now being adopted into modern day land management practice.
Sadly though, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders have not achieved recognition in the Australian Constitution and therefor remain a political embarrassment, as they as a race and culture demand to be recognised and rightly so, as is pointed out by Rowse, which is backed by undeniable facts, recorded throughout the bloody and interesting history of what is still a relatively new country.
With the debate over the date of Australia Day continuing to grow in strength, the political pressure being brought to bear on Constitutional recognition gaining strength, and the Government of the day continuing to put its best interests first as far as mining tenures, land use and much more, many consider the Government is still carrying out the mandate of the Colonials, at least as far as land use and acquisition of country is concerned, therefor it will make for an interesting and challenging time ahead in Australian politics.
For those who have very little understanding or knowledge of the recent, as in the past 250 years of Australian history, this is a must read as Tim Rowse is considered an authority on Australian Indigenous Affairs. He has been writing, researching and teaching about this issue since the early 1980’s making the plight of this minority group his life’s work.
Provocative, fascinating, horrific, detailed and ambitious, this work has presented a document that should be considered as a must read by all peoples who advocate for change in modern day Australia, whether it be via the Constitution, Australia Day or through the highly complex network of politics, as it delivers a clear and unbiased understanding of an extremely complex situation, made more so by the politics of the day and the emerging understanding of and by indigenous peoples of their culture and their rights.
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