Traditional Aboriginal Culture Ended Long Ago

Traditional Aboriginal Culture Ended Long Ago. By Keith Windschuttle.

The narrative forces in Australia are gearing up to give Aboriginal Australians special recognition and rights under the Constitution. That way lies racism and, as under apartheid, government racial identity cards. Their arguments are based on falsehoods, as is so often the case. Historian Keith Windschuttle lays out the reality they pretend didn’t happen. Some excerpts:

We did not take the Aborigines’ land and their law. The great majority of them gave up their previous culture and beliefs willingly. They “came in” to the new white society and its economy.

Aborigines in Australia today do not inhabit the world’s oldest living culture. They gave that away long before the activists who now recite this mantra were even born. …

In SE Australia, traditional culture was gone by 1900:

Traditional or pre-colonial Aboriginal culture came to an end in the south-east of the Australian continent as long ago as the late nineteenth century. By the 1890s traditional tribal law, cere­monies and rituals were no longer preserved in the Aboriginal communities of New South Wales. …

For his major work The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (1904), anthropologist Alfred W. Howitt recorded the last ves­tiges of traditional culture he learned from old men living on New South Wales mis­sions and Aboriginal welfare stations before 1889. “Since then,” he wrote, “the tribal remnants have now almost lost the knowledge of the beliefs and customs of their fathers.” The few cultural beliefs and practices remembered by Aboriginal elders had not been passed on to the younger gener­ation, Howitt found.

In New South Wales, a clear majority of people of Aboriginal descent had already integrated with white society. The remaining non-or partly integrated Aborigines inhabited camps and welfare depots. At best, their culture at these locales was a combina­tion of old family loyalties and the patriarchal rule of missionaries who governed them with a daily timetable. At worst, it was a violent, disorderly, binge-drinking, sex­ually abusive, heavy-gambling lifestyle, little different to the abysmal remote communities in central and northern Australia today.

Traditional culture lasted longest in the Northern Territory, but was gone by 1950:

Traditional culture lasted longer in the central and northern reaches of the continent, but little of it survived beyond the Second World War. In the 1950s, the venerated anthropologist W.E.H. (Bill) Stanner found traditional laws and social hierarchy in the Northern Ter­ritory had largely broken down. …

Through his fieldwork, Stanner found a widespread conviction among Aborigines on the Daly River that their own culture-hero, Angamunggi, the All-Father, a local variant of the almost universal Rainbow Serpent, had deserted them. Moreover, he observed, the material preconditions for revival of the cult were long gone. …

Stanner explained the Aboriginal groups were driven by a “sound calculus” they made of the effort required to gain daily food from the whites compared to the difficulty of getting it from their natural surroundings:

The blacks have grasped eagerly at any possibility of a regular and dependable food supply for a lesser effort than is involved in nomadic hunting and foraging. There is a sound calculus of cost and gain in preferring a belly regularly if only partly filled for an output of work which can be steadily scaled down. Hence the two most common characteristics of aboriginal adaptation to settlement by Europeans; a persistent and positive effort to make themselves dependent, and a squeeze-play to obtain a constant or increasing supply of food for a dwindling physical effort. I appreciated the good sense of the adaptation only after I had gone hungry from fruitless hunting with a rifle, gun, and spears in one of the best environments in Australia.

Stanner also observed that the young of both sexes were not interested in pre­serving traditional Aboriginal ways. Young men openly derided the secrets of traditional culture and dared to seduce and elope with the young wives of grey-haired Aboriginal elders, esca­pades that would once have cost them their lives. Both they and the women they courted preferred the life offered by the new, white society. …

By 1932, some of the old, initiated men of the Arrernte people confided in Strehlow that they were selling their sacred objects to the whites and giving up their old customs. None of them had sons or grandsons responsible enough to be trusted with the secrets of their sacred objects, chants and ceremonies. Believing their secrets would die with them, they confided their knowledge to this white anthropologist and missionary, but for him they would be “ceremonially dead”. …

The relevance to today’s politics:

The dominant Aboriginal culture that remains today, and the only version that any constitutional amendment could possibly hope to preserve, is the post-colonial culture that emerged after Federation. This is a series of attitudes and assumptions, much of it hostile to white Australia, that emerged first in the 1930s, but primarily in the 1960s, the latter under the influence of the American civil rights movement and the anti-imperialist theories of the New Left.

Its authentic Abo­riginal content is marginal, even in the remote north. Stanner described the remnants as a “Low Culture” — “some secular cer­emonies, magical practices, mundane institutions, and rules-of-thumb for a prosaic life” — in contrast to the rigour and profun­dity of traditional society’s High Culture.

If today’s Aboriginal culture is not the authentic derivative of the culture that was here before the First Fleet arrived, and if, as Stanner says, it is merely a low culture, then this has dire implica­tions for the constitutional recognition of Aborigines as the traditional owners of the Australian continent. This is because “the lost secret life” of the High Culture whose passing Stanner found so tragic, was, as he said: “fundamental to the local organization, the conception of descent, the practices of marriage, residence and inheritance”.

In short, Aboriginal notions of ownership and inheritance of country and water sites are tied inextri­cably to the traditional High Culture.

If the latter no longer exists, it would be improper for Australia to amend its Constitution to “acknowledge the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters” or to “respect the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”, as the original panel of academic and political advisors on this question recommended to the Commonwealth government. We would be acknowl­edging an inauthentic, artificial entity, and professing a respect that was inherently insincere.

We are going to be bombarded by the usual bundle of lies by omission built on half truths, by the usual suspects, that will deliver more political and economic power to members of the left’s coalition, at the expense of the majority of us without special rights who live by the rules of the market and do most of the real work in society.