Australian Aboriginal Cultural Issues

Australian Aboriginal Cultural Issues. By Conor Ross.

The frequent claim that Australian Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuous culture on Earth, measured at 50,000 years, is a curious one. First, it is incorrect. This title belongs to the San people, who have existed for at least 150,000 years in southern Africa. Second, it is curious that this claim is used as proof of the value of traditional Aboriginal culture. Curious indeed, since the claim, which is a claim of conservatism par excellence, is frequently made by those who themselves subscribe to a view that culture should be dynamic, embracing change, in other words progressive. …

Dot painting:

[It] is considered the quintessential Aboriginal art form, but was in fact developed in the 1970s in an art school in Papunya run by a white teacher, Geoffrey Bardon. Under Bardon’s guidance, Aboriginal artists first depicted sacred stories on canvases, which began to sell in private auctions and exhibitions. However, issues began over the subject matter of the paintings, which included sacred stories and secret symbols now accessible to whites and Aborigines of other tribes. The dots were a method of obscuring the content and censoring sacred objects, a method that did not exist before in Aboriginal rock paintings or etchings. These dot paintings became enormously popular and sold across Australia and internationally. What did they represent? What did they mean? No one knows, but dot painting is still well regarded despite being the indigenous equivalent of a redacted document.

I think dot painting has had a net positive effect. … Bardon’s role in the creation of dot painting should not be a “gotcha” for conservatives nor an object of shame for progressives. The success of dot painting need not be decided for one race or the other, but rather as an Australian achievement. Unfortunately, the very opposite attitude predominates. …

The Aboriginal Flag was designed in 1971 by Harold Thomas

Can’t have it both ways, lefties:

As Professor Emma Kowal describes in her book Trapped in the Gap, progressive whites affected by post-colonialism find themselves trapped by endless ambiguities, contradictions and double binds when they attempt to help the indigenous. At the heart of the issue is a contradiction between, on the one hand, the desire to see Aboriginal Australians become statistically identical to whites in health, wealth and education, and on the other, maintaining their separate cultural identity and resisting cultural erasure. For those Aborigines who need assistance, the choice presented to them is a Faustian one: betray your culture and gain the benefits, or remain authentically impoverished. …

Why so little progress by the left’s bureaucracy on Aboriginal literacy?

In the remote communities of the Northern Territory, there are adult illiteracy rates of nearly 70 per cent, and 61 per cent of students fail to meet minimum literacy standards. This is remarkably little progress considering the campaign has run for over a decade and that state and territory government per capita expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is approximately double the per capita expenditure on non-indigenous Australians.

To put into perspective how ineffective we have been, we might take a comparable example from history. After the Cuban Revolution in 1960, Fidel Castro embarked on a war against illiteracy and after an eight-month campaign succeeded in raising the literacy rate from 70 per cent to nearly 100 per cent by teaching over 700,000 people to read and write including the various indigenous groups spread across Cuba. The success of this campaign seems miraculous in the face of our difficulties in remote communities which house some 50,000 indigenous Australians. …


Before the secularisation of the world, our Christian heritage was the gold standard in intercultural dialogue and provided people with a transcendent mission to bridge cultural differences. Whereas Hinduism supported the segregation of society into castes, and Islam could only unite people through the force of the sword and the imposition of Arab culture, Christianity has had a remarkably peaceful record for intercultural relations.

By adopting and adapting local festivals and cultural practices Christians have exercised a cultural flexibility partnered with an uncompromising commitment to the mission of Christ — which exists higher than culture. This is all quite predictable in a theological sense since we do not consider the Truth to be a way of life or a set of rules but rather believe Truth is a person. This belief allowed Christianity to provide the basis for community across the Roman empire when belief in mere civic values became an insubstantial centre point for communities. …

55 to 60 per cent of indigenous Australians identify as Christian and no more than 1 per cent identify with traditional indigenous beliefs. Here is common ground before us with far greater opportunity rather than a long-dead past. Perhaps the wisdom of this has even been noticed in the intelligentsia. Aboriginal leaders such as Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton have begun to wax nostalgic about the Church missions that came before the hell of the “free determination” era in which “culture” was allowed free rein in indigenous life, leading to the problems we have today in the remote communities.

Presumably the Voice proposal will focus attention on these issues again.

hat-tip Stephen Neil