BY ROGER WATSON
I am not Australian and what happens there is probably none of my business. But that won’t stop me having an opinion and expressing it. I have had a long love affair with Australia having worked there, and with many relatives residing there I have made countless visits. There has been an Aussie branch to my family for as long as I can remember.
Courtesy of one of my relatives I was sent the Your official YES/NO referendum pamphlet recently with the reminder—as with many things in Australia—‘VOTING IS COMPULSORY’.
I can predict with certainty, but in the hope that I am wrong, that the proposals for an indigenous voice will be approved. The Indigenous Voice, to all intents and purposes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parliament, has long been demanded by Australia’s indigenous people.
The outcome will be ‘yes’ because, having read the pamphlet, the case against is made with logic and facts whereas the case in favour is made with rhetoric and passion. The latter will inevitably swing the vote among Australians long used to being shamed about their history with regard to the indigenous people.
On a visit to Queensland University School of Nursing I met aboriginal nursing students. They had been invited to participate in a quality assurance process along with some classmates. An assessment team asked the nursing students to answer a few questions.
In general, the students were confident and garrulous, but I noted some young ladies, notable from their appearance as different from the rest, made no contribution. I remained behind to speak to them. They told me their culture, as aboriginals, discouraged them from speaking in public. They were also afraid anything they said might get back to their elders who would then discover they were studying at university. They were studying in secret. This was an interesting, but not endearing, insight into aboriginal culture.
I interviewed a Torres Strait Islander who, having qualified as a nurse and a health visitor, took his pilot’s licence and ran a health visiting service across the Torres Straits Islands. His people were so proud of him. You see, the indigenous people of Australia are far from homogenous. I was told not to describe him as ‘aboriginal’ at all. Torres Strait Islanders do not identify with the aboriginals.
Australia has long been on the back foot regarding its indigenous people. They were treated appallingly by the original settlers and by their descendants. However, they now have an infrastructure which they do not eschew. None of these things existed prior to the arrival of the settlers.
Aussies have long been used to apologising for the past, making reparations and trying to improve the lot of indigenous people. Conference speakers are required to preface their presentations with the ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ (“I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today…”).
Australia is held to ransom by its aboriginal population for whom the correlation between the mineral richness of land and its sacredness seems to be high. Moreover, it is remarkable how that sacredness takes second place when the spondulix appears. There are few notable landmarks in Australia except Ayers Rock. Guess who that belongs to now, and why?
The Australian aboriginals look enviously across the Tasman Sea, where the ‘indigenous’ people have long had the rest of New Zealand by the ‘short and curlies’. The Māoris only arrived early on in the last century and what happened to any indigenous people they encountered is not recorded. The New Zealand Prime Minister dons the Kahu huruhuru, a Māori cloak ‘out of respect’. Visitors to their meeting places (a Marae), including senior politicians and royalty, are subjected to the pōwhiri which involves a hideously tattooed warrior threatening them with a spear. I have been to New Zealand but never visited a Māori settlement as I swore any spear wielding warriors would be met with such a kick in the knackers they would never leave the Marae again. Don’t get me started on the All Blacks Haka!
But back to poor old Australia which is on the verge of making a massive mistake.
Before voting, citizens should at least read the pamphlet; both sides. The case ‘for’ contains proposals, the details of which remain to be worked out. The case ‘against’, including statements by indigenous people, warns that the very vagueness of their opponents’ proposals could hold the rest of Australia to ransom forever.
I warn you as a Scot, if ever the thin edge of a wedge, it was in the creation of the Scottish Assembly in 1978. Inevitably that became the Scottish Parliament in 1999. If enough referenda are held, Scotland may eventually gain irreversible independence. Independence that is, except in matters of finance on which they are and will remain utterly dependent on the rest of the United Kingdom.
In Australia ‘The Voice’ will most probably lay the tracks for an enormous gravy train from the coffers of the Australian taxpayers into the pockets of the most vocal and charismatic indigenous leaders. If decolonisation of Africa by the British Empire is anything to go by, that always goes well.
Roger Watson is a Registered Nurse and Editor-in-Chief of Nurse Education in Practice.