There's no ignoring the fact that the referendum is nearly upon us. And I have decided to add my 20 cents worth to the argument for this month's blog. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the debate; a lot of outrageous conspiracy theories and a lot of weird assumptions. Firstly, let me say that the advice that "if you don't know, vote no" is utter rubbish. For heaven's sake, if you don't know, educate yourself. No, we will not be banned from beaches. We will not be asked to vacate our properties to give back our land. (At least not by Indigenous owners...the same cannot be said for mining companies!).
Having said that, I am aware that there are some indigenous people who will be voting no. That's because they don't think that the Voice to Parliament will improve their lives very much. They would prefer a treaty, but as that is not on the table, in my eyes, the Voice is better than nothing at all. A very large number of indigenous people, though, will be voting "yes" because it is a long overdue step in the right direction. I will be voting "yes" for a Voice to Parliament and here's why:
It has taken me until now (58 years of age) to learn the little bit I know about First Nations history and culture in this country. And what I know is likely the tip of the unpleasant iceberg. That's because history, as we know, is written by the victors. And the victors in this case were most assuredly not First Nations people.
When white settlers arrived in Australia, the indigenous people were immediately at a disadvantage. Europeans, as they have done all over the world, landed in this Great South Land with the assumption that their way of doing things was superior; that the native people were "savages" and that aligning them with the ways of a Eurocentric culture was in their best interests. Europeans brought with them technology such as guns and diseases that aboriginal people had no resistance for. Australia was and still is a land of riches - vast spaces that the white settlers wanted to run to agriculture, and mineral deposits that could drive a global industrial revolution. In order to acquire those riches, it was necessary to drive the indigenous populations from their land, by whatever means possible. Thus followed countless massacres, many of which are to this day undocumented. When I lived in central Queensland, there were older folks still alive who remembered going on aboriginal hunts. So we are not even talking about a very long time ago.
Then there were little gems like the stolen generation. Kevin Rudd's apology for this abomination went some way to healing the scars. But for all the people who like to say that it wasn't us; it was previous generations who perpetrated this ugliness, I say, it's not enough to palm the guilt off onto the shoulders of previous generations. The trauma this caused is intergenerational, and still deeply affects people today. It is not something that they can consign to the past and "just get over". And let's not forget that the whole sad occurrence was caused by a European assumption that indigenous people were bad parents. I grew up with one of those "stolen" children. He was a lovely young man and lived with a very nice family who loved him very much. But not surprisingly, when he reached a certain age, the trauma of his youth, the separation from his culture and biological family meant that he was unable to maintain his mental health or keep up the appearance of being content in the perfectly nice white world he found himself in.
I am ashamed to say that most of what I initially learnt about Indigenous Art was from a Turk who owned a gallery for Indigenous Art in Melbourne. It was not taught about when I went to school. Nowadays, curriculum is supposed to include indigenous history and culture, but it seems to me that most of that is written by white fellas and is often a long way outside what is culturally appropriate. Despite circumstances for indigenous artists improving over time, there has been (and probably still are) virtual slave camps in remote areas where Indigenous people were expected to produce art, a highly sought after commodity on the global market. Those same artists received little or no reward or recognition for their work and were not free to leave or undertake other past times. Intellectual property rights, a problem for all artists in a digital age, is especially problematic for Indigenous Artists. It is worth noting that contemporary artists of all stipes, being divergent thinkers and advocates for social change are adding their strength to the "Yes" campaign.
Australian Indigenous people are documented as the most vulnerable people on the planet in terms of health, mortality, poverty and imprisonment. (Taylor, J., 2018). On the planet! And that, for the most part, is down to white people. Our Eurocentric desire to control outcomes, our neoliberal ideology and disregard for the natural environment has, I believe, been to the country's detriment. Perhaps climate change would not be such a problem if we had bothered to listen to the centuries of wisdom owned by Indigenous people all over the world.
So saying "yes" is the least we can do, I think. If the Voice to parliament is passed, all it will mean is that Indigenous voices will hopefully be better listened to about things that affect Indigenous Australians.
And, if you don't want to take my word for it, perhaps you might take the Australian Law Council's word on it instead. They describe the proposed change as "simple and safe". It won't hurt white Australians, and it just might help Indigenous Australians.
In any case, just as NAVA (National Association for Visual Arts) states, "Sovereignty was never ceded. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land."
Reference: Taylor, J. (2018). Indigenous peoples and indicators of well-being: an Australian perspective on UNPFII global frameworks: Canberra, ACT: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR),