Two settler perspectives on Australian racism



Jim Duffield
Monday, September 1, 1997

Reposted here with permission of author

Australian racism is somewhat different to the U.S. experience, and I do say this with respect for all victims of this cancer of Christendom. In Australia the agenda of the racist is not contemporary or simple, in black/white terms...

It is not a question of difference that is visible - "race," or difference that is invisible - culture, language and living etc. It is not about disenfrachisement alone, though god knows this is an Australian reality with Western Australia seeking to disenfranchise Aborigines as late as 1982 by a literacy test for enfranchisement. It is about denial. The denial of even an Aboriginal presence in this country. You'd be surprised how many non-Aboriginal people have been the "first person" to go here, there or over yonder in this country.

The denial of theft, the denial of rape, the denial of history - and here is a Britannica sized digest alone. The denial of a genocide based on numbers alone holds no water as a position, the first guess at an Aboriginal population of 300,000 was an error of magnitude by a factor of ten. New anthropological work in eastern Australia suggests an indigenous population at "contact" of not less than one million, perhaps even three to five million. Yet in 1901, at the birth of this federation, only some 60,000 indigenous people had survived. Were we South Africa's and Germany's test tube?

Australian racism has this peculiar element about self denial in identity that necessarily must flow from denying the Aboriginal occupation and ownership of this land. The denial of the fact that all land on which non-Aboriginal peoples have settled was stolen from its original owners, without even subterfuge. Australia is not like the US where treaties, as corrupt as they may have been, were negotiated with indigenous peoples and native title and indigenous nationhood understood and even accepted by some from earliest colonial times. Australian racism is Aboriginalism (Oz anti indigenous ethnocentrism), and therefore self denial.

Australian Aboriginalism would exist even if there were no Aborigines remaining. The mind of the settler is conditioned from its earliest cultural replication experience in primary education. The manifest destiny of Australia has been to deny an indigenous presence by the application of a colonial papal invention - terra nullius, literally unoccupied land. Simply put the land was/is perceived as unoccupied by humans. If it was occupied, then this was an occupation only of animals, only sub-humans. Thus, if they are not present, what matter. Even the curse of Ham matters not in these terms, for the original occupants were not like us, they were only counted in census as part of the fauna! Indeed, the classic "nigger hunting" license that station (ranch) owners obtained from the local police was to permit them to eliminate Aborigines by hunting the local fauna, Aborigines were fauna by constitutional definition, kill them and feel not the retribution of law for murder. I have interviewed men who say this genocide continued into the 1950s when they had to get more subtle about the disposal of the remains, so they'd slit open a steer and slide the corpse inside. Mutual decomposition took care of the rest.

This mindset even permeates the present government of Australia in its political posturing. I invite you to my homepage, in particular:

Just two and a half years ago, the following comments were made by the following people:

Hugh Morgan of Western Mining Corp: "...Mr Morgan told the Victorian Returned Services League conference that Aboriginal culture was doomed because it was inferior to European culture..."
- The Courier-Mail, 2.7.93, page 2

Tim Fisher - now Deputy Prime Minister: "'At no stage did Aboriginal civilisation develop substantial buildings, roadways or even a wheeled cart.' Dispossession was bound to happen, he said. 'Those in the guilt industry have to consider that developing cultures and peoples will always overtake relatively stationary cultures'."

- The Australian, 22.6.93, page 8
BOTH were defended against accusations of bigotry and racism by none other than John Howard - now Prime Minister (see The Courier-Mail, 9.7.93, page 2).

When the Aboriginalist attitude of my nation is entrenched to such a high level, where do reasonable people turn, and where do Aborigines turn? I attempt to facilitate voices.

Please do not misunderstand me, I fought for my nation and proudly wore its uniform for 25 years, including Vietnam, and as bad as that war was I am proud of most of my country's history. But the portion remaining of which I brook no compromise is its treatment of its first peoples.

Jim Duffield's home page can be viewed at:


Bruce Reyburn
July 18, 1996

Reposted here with permission of author


People overseas need to become aware of that Australia is the land of Oz - where pretences have substituted for reality for a long time. The day arrives when pretences have to make way for truth.

Deaths in custody, high rates of imprisonment, suicide, alcoholism, a low life expectancy, living at the bottom of the socio-economic scale are all signs of a great weight which is very much still being imposed on First Peoples.

It is something which is taking place now - a systematic and institutionalised disadvantage which has been going on for two centuries. Part of the solution is to provide recognition of First Peoples as First Peoples, and to stop insisting that they shape up to unreal Western norms about life.


What people in other places have difficulty in coming to terms with is the extent to which First Peoples in Australia were treated as being 'unreal' by the British authorities and by their subjects.

Without the initial act of recognition, First Peoples are systematically stripped of their rights in ways which are not even visible to the Western mind.

Recognition is a fundamentally important part of life. It satisfies a need which is difficult to articulate but people will go without food, water and sex for it - and give their lives for it - so it is clearly a need which ranks with any other.

The present challenge is to provide that recognition. In the Australian context we are not dealing with people who were transported as slaves to another continent as was the case in the United States but with people who insist that a crucial part of their Being is tied to their living countries.

Acknowledgement of that Dreaming relationship is part of the key to recognition.


The failure of British authorities to establish proper diplomatic relations from the outset, and to enter into even the pretence of treaties or land purchases, meant that a whole chain of subsequent exchanges was not triggered off.

These exchanges would have involved not only goods (such as blankets and axes) for land (and a one sided transaction that is in itself) but would have involved social exchanges as well....

With a few notable exceptions, the exchanges which took place were conducted in a one side way. There was some use of the hunting abilities of Koori [Jim Duffield: Koori = Aboriginal from the Southeast of Australia] men to provide meat in the early days of settlement.

But then we come to Macquarie's war, [Jim Duffield: Macquarie = early Governor] which (it would appear) lays down the precedent for the killing which swept out across Australia.

The original law of the land was declared repugnant to British law. First Peoples were to behave like British subjects even though their lands had been taken from them without compensation.

The denial of the reality and validity of the culture of First Peoples was further locked into place in the minds of the settlers.

And off it goes for two hundred years. Want the land of First Peoples - drive them off it. It will all be on terms favourable to the displaced British from now on. No recognition of Koori language in the schools (if you made it to school) as a minor example. No recognition of your law (and you would find yourself in the English style courts for sure)...


I startled a group of legal minds at a seminar at macquarie in 1990 when, unable to accept the smugness of their position, I put it to them that this denial of the culture and reality of First Peoples made Australia the very cruellest of colonisations. This was news to them.

They could not see that the State sanctioned denial of that which is the most real for First Peoples attacks a core part of our Being.

To survive, under such an enforced regime, requires First Peoples to go around pretending that they are not who their own cultural imperatives tell them they are. It's a bloody strain to live under such conditions and the stress is manifest everywhere - once your eyes are open to it.

But since most Anglo-Australian are deeply into maintaining a complex of other pretences, it is difficult to encourage them out of their cage and let them see for themselves. Conceptually, Anglo-Australia is still a vast prison-farm.

[That this is still] a thing of the present can be illustrated in WA by the Court government's attempted unilateral extinguishment of native title rights in 1994. These rights do not exist by simple decree. Fortunately the culture of the judges in the High Court - where they are well aware that Anglo-Australia is increasingly on the nose - overturned the State government's actions.

When will we hear about an international enquiry into that genocidal actions of Australia's Premiers and State Governors who so willing pass and sign such legislation?

Other examples can be made about what is going on at the Commonwealth level in the here and now. For example, the attempts to promote pastoral lease rights at the expense of native title rights.


As I said, the problem with people overseas is that they have bought the image that Australia is 'naturally' represented by men with white faces who speak English as a first language. For them the 'Aborigines' are just an 'unreal' phantom figure on another planet.

Australia is the success story! Britain may have lost India but they did very well with Australia. How lucky they were to find and colonise an empty continent. That image is one which is continually projected by those who understand the importance of managing perceptions. The Olympic Games in 2000 will promote that image.

But, as you know, First Peoples are very much of this planet and of this country. There is a degree of shock involved for the mind when they become 'real' and all sorts of defence mechanism take over. It is, i imagine, similar to the reaction to news of what the Nazis did to Jewish people. It can't be true, is the first response.

But water wears away rock.

Bruce Reyburn was the consultant anthropologist to the Central Lands Council, an Aboriginal Land Council covering a large area in central Australia, for some time.

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