As the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 referendum approaches, and the debate on the Recognition referendum intensifies, it was interesting to read an article in the Australian about ‘myth-making’ (Myths about the 1967 referendum should be discarded) by Sydney University Constitutional Law Professor, Anne Twomey. Professor Twomey writes:
… But the myths continue to be destructive and need to be removed. A decade or so ago, the prevalent myth was that the 1967 referendum gave Aboriginal people the right to vote and citizenship. While most now accept this was wrong, as such rights were already held by Aboriginal people, other myths have supplanted it.
The most common is that the 1967 referendum allowed Aboriginal people to be counted in the census for the first time due to the repeal of section 127 of the Constitution. It is exacerbated by the further myth that before 1967 Aboriginal people were treated as fauna under the flora and fauna act. No such act existed.
There’s four myths debunked in just the opening paragraphs.
But of course, myths don’t disappear just because they are exposed as myth. They double down. Expect to see these referendum myths resurface and printed as news by what was formerly known as the Mainstream Media, but now the Fake Media, as it struggles for circulation and credibility.
On ANZAC Day this year I had the misfortune to witness another episode of myth-making when Kaurana elder Katrina Ngaityalya Power performed a ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony. Tony Thomas, in his own inimitable style, covered the mythical status of ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies for Quadrant in April, 2016 (Brand New Timeless Traditions ) but even readers of the Australian will be aware that this ‘traditional’ ceremony dates back to about the 1970s (Ernie Dingo claims the first welcome The Australian 17/3/2010 – O’Neal and Hall). The ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies are still enacted whenever a funding body can be found to pay for it, so in spite of its mythical status, it still refuses to lie down and die. Little harm in that, perhaps. Despite it being wholly inauthentic, it serves to mark respect. But not any longer. It has now, it seems, despite its inauthenticity, become a tool of the Aboriginal grievance industry and their collaborators in officialdom and now challenges any demand for respect.
The mythical status of the ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony to one side, on the 2017 Adelaide ANZAC Day commemoration, this particular ‘welcome’ ceremony was extraordinary for its creation of a new myth – that of Government-endorsed ‘slavery’ on South Australian missions. Katrina Ngaityalya Power informed us that her Indigenous ancestor returned from fighting on the Western Front in France, only to be sent back to ‘slavery on the mission’. Michael Owen, Bureau chief of the Australian in Adelaide reported (Anzac Day 2017: Dawn service politicised by activist):
(ANZAC Day) Service MC (Master of Ceremonies) Ian Smith, who is the Anzac Day committee chairman, told The Australian that the committee knew what Ms Power was planning.
Mr Smith defended Ms Power’s version of welcome to country, saying ‘the facts of what happened historically … are uncomfortable for some to hear’.
‘I think what she said made people think,’ he said. ‘It’s not a political point I don’t think, it’s a factual point.’ …
He (Ian Smith) said the Anzac Day committee ‘certainly were aware of what her (Ms Power) intentions were as to what she was going to say’.
Apparently, the ANZAC Day committee were not only comfortable enough for Ms Power to politicize the ANZAC Day ceremony, but more, to endorse her assertion of ‘slavery’ as ‘a factual point’ which ‘happened historically’. Interestingly, various Government spokesmen contacted by Owen for comment on the day, at best were upset by the politicisation of the event, but none would go so far as to contradict her on this point of fact. As Katrina Ngaityalya Power asserted:
I am interested in truth-telling.
So am I, and therefore it is important to establish exactly where this ‘slavery’ on a mission was taking place. I’m sure every decent Australian would like to know too. And here is the point at which the facts become blurry. Firstly, it is necessary to identify just what ‘mission’ station was involved. On a balance of probability and from what I understand it would appear that her ancestor may have returned from the war to Point Pearce Station, north of Adelaide. However, as a point of fact the Point Pierce Mission, run originally by the Yorke Peninsula Aboriginal Mission committee, had been taken over by the South Australian Government in 1915 prior to the end of the war and was renamed the Point Pearce Government Station. A likely alternative is that it was Point McLeay, the only other mission station close to Adelaide, but which was also put in Government hands in 1915. The implication one can draw from this is that if ‘slavery’ had been involved, it was not the missions who were involved, nor was it simply government sanctioned, but ‘slavery’ actually administered by the South Australian Government itself. Such an accusation requires a certain level of proof. Now, by their silence, this notion of ‘slavery’ has been implicitly endorsed as fact by South Australian Government officials. An uncontested accusation made in front of the Governor of South Australia in person. I cannot see how a Government who will not defend the honour and integrity of its former citizens and officers for the sake of political expediency, can be trusted to defend the integrity or honour of its current citizens and officers in the face of political expediency
At this point it is timely to look at a few real points of fact. Recently, a colleague Joe Lane and myself published a book of extracts from the Annual Reports of the various Protectors of Aborigines in South Australia, dating from 1836 until the abolition of the post in the 1940’s (Voices from the Past : Extracts the Annual Reports of the South Australian Chief Protectors of Aborigines, 1837). In a naked plug for this book, a few extracts are reproduced here to demonstrate the clear distinction between fact as reported in official Government documents of the time, and the mythology which is being created now with respect to the treatment of Aborigines in the past.
At least as far as the State of South Australia is concerned, the idea that Aborigines were routinely confined to stations or missions is one of the most widely spread myths that one encounters. In the Chief Protector’s Annual Report of 1919-20, the very time Ms Powell’s ancestor would be returning from the Front, the Chief Protector reported to Parliament on the conditions at Point Pearce:
At present situations are continually being found for them (Aborigines), especially for the girls, on neighbouring farms, but authority is needed for keeping them in their places. The liberty to return to the station whenever they wish is harmful to their best interests. It is very necessary that this condition of things should be remedied.
At another Government Station south of Adelaide, Point McLeay, he reports.
Employment of Natives.—Employment on the station has been found for a large number of natives, who seem indisposed to leave the station to find work. Could this be overcome there would be little or no unemployment of natives, as the settlers are badly in need of labor (sic).
As indicated, the Protectors were explicitly struggling unsuccessfully to encourage the Aborigines to find work off station and become part of the general community. The idea that they were wholesale confined against their will is pure myth. Also, one would not expect ‘slaves’ to be paid wages, and yet, even under the missionaries, as indicated in this 1908 report, the workers at Point Pierce (Point Pearce) were paid wages as an introduction to the money economy:
The natives are all supplied with free rations, consisting of 7lbs. flour, 2lbs sugar, 10lbs. meat, tea, pepper, salt, and tobacco. In order to give the able-bodied natives an opportunity of purchasing further necessary goods, clothing, boots, &c., are stocked, and the store opened at stated times during the week and goods retailed, which they pay for out of their wages.
So ‘difficult’ were the conditions at Point Pearce that the Government building works, reported in the 1937-38 Annual Report, included the construction of garages for the Aborigines cars!
Other building improvements effected are:—Three stone tanks, walling to stop sand drift at Gerguthy well, 4 sheds for natives’ vehicles, a bathroom and lavatory at the farm overseer’s residence, a stall for the stallion, and a seed and super shed was commenced in Jericho paddock some miles from the settlement.
Ten years later, in another report on the conditions at Point Pearce, the Chief Protector reports in the 1931-32 Annual Report:
Crime has not been prevalent, most of the offences dealt with being on account of liquor. One man, after repeated warnings, was expelled from the station for misconduct, and this should have a restraining influence on the others, as of all punishment they dislike expulsion the most. ( my emphasis)
Clearly, there is something of an incongruity here, that Aborigines were supposedly being held on these stations against their will, and the idea that expulsion was being used as a punishment.
But maybe Ms Powell’s ancestor did return to one of the few remaining missions in South Australia. Conditions there were no different. Koonibba Mission, on the west coast of South Australia, reported in the 1924-25 Annual Report:
Our natives still have the wandering instinct strongly developed, and will, at times, leave just when they are mostly needed for farming operations. Especially does the deep sea port Thevenard attract them during the wheat season.
And from Koonibba Mission in the 1925-26 Annual Report:
Another evidence of modern times is furnished by the number of cars owned by the natives.
Neither confined nor slaves. And so on and so on. The Protector’s Annual Reports are a wealth of information about the living conditions and policy shifts, written in a clear, pre-bureaucratise language – and our book (Voices from the Past – if you didn’t catch it the first time) contains a wealth of extracts of Government-sourced, first-hand information. Particularly what one notices is how very much the past so closely resembles the present. Not unexpectedly, at least for me, one finds innumerable references to decent people doing their best for the Aborigines. Given that many of us are the direct descendants of these people, it is difficult to imagine that modern Australians would be as virtuous as some like to think they are, if all our ancestors were so monstrous as to sit idly by while Aborigines are enslaved. True, in the Annual Reports, we find references to unfortunate behaviour on the part of members of the white population, but there are also plenty of references to ‘do-gooders’ some of whom queered the Protector’s pitch with impractical advice and poorly thought out schemes. Two examples, the first from the Annual Report of 1899-1900, of the Protector attempting to hold back the pressure from well-meaning Christian lobbies for increasing the risk of welfare dependency:
At the annual meeting of the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association, in the Town Hall, Adelaide, on the 8th of October instant, His Excellency (State Governor) Lord Tennyson, who presided …
The Minister of Agriculture and Education, (Hon. E.L. Batchelor), said—‘…In South Australia the public funds, so far as the natives were concerned, chiefly went in providing rations and clothing in depôts scattered about the colony, and also in assisting missions like those under this association [the A.F.A.]. He had heard criticisms—he was not referring to His Excellency’s that evening—that they did not do enough in the way of providing food and clothing for the natives. He was personally quite convinced that it was possible to do more harm than good by indiscriminately providing food and clothing all over the place, and so leading the natives to think there was no necessity for them to work. They might spend four or five times as much money as at present, and do a great deal less good than was being done. Idleness among whites or blacks bred all kinds of trouble, disease, and finally death, and if they took care that the assistance rendered by the public always went in the direction of helping those institutions which aided in providing work for the natives, they would do far more good than by public or private indiscriminate charity to the aborigines. He had seen natives in a good many places.’
To this example from nearly forty years later, in the Annual Report of 1936-37:
Rations are issued to all natives camped near Port Augusta and because of this and the lure of the picture shows and betting shops, the native population of Port Augusta is steadily increasing. They require a lot of police supervision as sailors and others visit their camps with liquor and are suspected of going there for immoral purposes. The work of the police in trying to discourage natives from remaining at this town is increased by the interference of well-meaning folk who claim to protect the rights and liberties of the natives.
Life for the Protectors was a constant juggling act between the provision of appropriate welfare relief and preventing welfare dependency. How modern is that!
Having read one hundred years of the Protectors’ Annual Reports and established the rather benign if haphazard conditions that the Aborigines lived in during that period from 1836 to the 1950s, it is now necessary to step forward to the present day, and compare the situation then with the current situation which has evolved post the 1967 referendum. To be sure, a lot of Aborigines and part-Aborigines have done very well before and since 1967, thousands of University graduates for example, and all power to them, but the effect in the remote areas of the flow-on policy of self-determination has been demonstrably catastrophic:
- pre the ‘67 referendum, alcoholism was under control and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome unheard of. If we can believe Noel Pearson’s figures, as published in the Australian, (Noel Pearson calls for inquiry saying state failing one in four Cape York kids) about 25 per cent of students in some remote Cape York communities are now ‘intellectually disabled’ and not receiving the required help at school, while a further 42 per cent of children in the same communities fell into the borderline intelligence category. Reading between the lines this suggests that perhaps two thirds of students in these schools are now FAS affected.
- back before the referendum Aboriginal incarceration rates were close to zero. The Sub-Protector of Aborigines reported to Parliament in 1875:
There is one other point to which I would give prominence, and that is the utter absence of crime. The aborigines are well disposed, and peaceably inclined. For months past there has not been a single aboriginal offender brought before any of our local Justices.
Most of the Protectors’ Annual Reports contain crime statistics which are equally as lacking in references to serious crime. It might be interesting to note that the last Aborigine hung for murder in South Australia was in 1862
- pre-1967 literacy rates were very high. Chief Protector W. G South reported as early as his 1908-9 Annual Report :
The State schools and those formerly conducted by the missions have worked wonders, and it is now seldom in the settled districts that one meets a native who cannot read and write. 
Surely literacy is a prime metric for empowerment?
- pre-1967, rates of sexually transmitted diseases in children were very low; reports of sexual abuse of children, unheard of in the Protectors reports. Pre-1967 there was no need for ‘Little Children are Sacred’ Royal Commissions.
- domestic violence was low
- youth suicide was unheard of in the South Australian Protectors’ reports
- and other substance abuse was low
Clearly, since the 1967 referendum and the flow-on granting of self-determination, Aboriginal Australians have suffered a catastrophic turn-around in all of these statistics in recent years. This has nothing to do with white settlement or missions or the like, but can be attributed directly to the sudden imposition of self-determination on a people ill-prepared for it. As Professor Peter Sutton reported in his 2009 book, The Politics of Suffering, writing of that same turn-around at the end of mission era when when the Protectors of Aborigines had responsibility for the direction and implementation of policy:
It wasn’t heaven, but it certainly wasn’t hell. That came later.
That is, after the referendum. He also reported that others had noted the same thing:
… Colin Tatz made the important point about recent violence in Aboriginal communities that it was ‘decolonisation, rather than colonisation’ that was the root cause. (Tatz’s emphasis)
Essentially, what appears to have happened is that without realising it, with the 1967 referendum vote came a new cohort of public bureaucrats and anthropologists with a bold, new, well-intentioned, but obviously flawed set of policy solutions. They abandoned the practical and pragmatic policy decision-making process of the Protectors, a process based on a long experience of tried and failed, tried and partially working, policies.
I cannot help thinking that many modern Aborigines’ advocates and their friends in the media are engaged in a massive program of misdirection – trying to minimise the total failure of Aboriginal polices now, i.e. since the 1967 referendum, by inventing a mythology of past failures – stolen generations, massacres, genocides, slavery, confinement on missions; there’s little evidence for any of these in South Australia – but the myths persist. They overstate past failures in pre-referendum Aboriginal policy simply in order try to blame-shift onto those past workers who have no platform to defend themselves. They vilify people who tried their best, in order to cover for their own insidious brand of noble cause corruption.
Even as the catastrophe of fifty years of self-determination lies in all its glory in front of them, these same classes of policy makers cannot see the damage they have done and want only to double down with more bureaucracy – recognition, treaties, parliamentary representation, nations, sovereignty. The very class of people who oversaw and implemented those failed idealistic policies of the past fifty years are the same ones who expect us to believe that new pie-in-the-sky bureaucratic fixes will all work out better the second time around. Surely the real crises are FAS, sexually transmitted diseases in children, youth suicide rates and ice epidemics, but all they can offer us is a gabfest on a new referendum to create new bureaucracies.
After the 1967 referendum, a large number of city people, most of whom had never met remote area Aborigines, got a large dose of feel-good factor at the ballot box. However, it is the Aborigines of remote areas who have paid in blood for all the policies that flowed after this 1967 watershed, and a generation or two of Aborigines who have been destroyed. How can any community with two-thirds of its children with preventable intellectual disabilities look forward to the future with anything but dread? Is Constitutional Recognition going to help these communities? Explain to me how?
And now we have another referendum. Are we going to tackle problems created for remote area Aborigines when we blindedly accepted the ‘expert’ advice flowing from the last referendum, without realising it was just a Trojan Horse for a whole new policy agenda? Or will we have the courage to see through simplistic, warm and fuzzy platitudes, see the dissimilation, and vote NO this time. Aborigines don’t need an “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. They need one from the head.