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Foolish myths

The aboriginees camping at King’s Domain near Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens are asserting ‘sovereignty’ over a ‘sacred fire’ that has been lit there. They originally camped during the Commonwealth Games to embarrass white Victorians.

The area, they claim, is a ‘sacred site’. It contains five painted eucalypt poles, adorned with the spirit people, the Rainbow Serpent and red ribbons, above a granite ‘burial rock’ honouring the aboriginees of Victoria. The skeletal remains of 38 aboriginals are buried here. The burial was a tribute to the people whose long relationship with the land was destroyed by Europeans.

A judge, Justice King, has told told the aboriginees to decamp by Thursday but the fire itself can remain. The fire can be maintained by Melbourne’s traditional owners without the need for ‘camping paraphernalia’. The aboriginals claimed this as a significant victory although, tomorrow at least, they will have to keep the fire alight in cold temperatures and pouring rain. Good luck, my friends.

This reminds me of the Hindmarsh Bridge affair. Building a bridge to Hindmarsh Island was supposed to reduce the fertility of aboriginal women. Much was said about the genuiness of claims on this occasion but this is irrelevant. It is false to claim that building bridges anywhere has an effect on women’s fertility. Nor is King’s Domain a ‘sacred area’. Nor are fires lit a few weeks (or indeed 10,000 years ago) ago ‘sacred fires’. Thinking back to the injustices done by white men to aboriginees should not suggest perpetuating mythsaboriginees must get smart – what is needed are more aboriginal doctors, lawyers and politicians. Better aboriginal heath and education. Aboriginees should discard myths and face up to the very real difficulties of, for example, alcoholism and child abuse that confront their communities.

It is, of course, somewhat inconsistent to point the finger at superstitution among aboriginals when many Australian whites base their existence on equally silly myths. We eat and drink the blood of a defunct Christ when we drink wine and eat wafers in a Church. No we don’t! It is again nonsense but, in its favour, it is nonsense that wealthy white Australia can afford while aboriginees cannot. Forget sacred sites, fertility-reducing bridges and so on. Aboriginees should concentrate on the issues of health, education, employment and full-integration into mainstream Australian society. Don’t waste time on irrational protests based on irrational beliefs.

5 comments to Foolish myths

  • Ros

    While the Heritage Act, Indigenous heritage, refers to “places that are significant for more contemporary uses.” the origins of this fire and camp are clearly political not spiritual. Presumably Vicki Nicholson-Brown is a cultural heritage inspector appointed by the Minister, and hence has the authority to act as she has, but that she is using this event for political aims has to raise questions about her understanding of her role and the purpose of the Act, or at least how it is being used. Is this an aberration or are there many other less prominent events where the powers of the Act are being abused for the agendas of political or economic elements.

    In the end it is surely about capturing public space for private use, and that it is an indigenous organisation doing the grab makes it no less unacceptable than if it was a commercial organisation for example.

  • Not my real name

    What do you think about the issue of control in this case? As in, is it relevant that aborigines probably find it very difficult to ‘control’ something like health or education? These then probably flow on into domestic violence and further substance abuse.

    It seems that aborigines go for issues they can control, and that this sacred fire, whilst we may say is a load of bunk, nevertheless may be the only weapon available?

    I’d be interested in your thoughts as to how aborigines can go about that goal of more doctors, lawyers, politicians, because I absolutely agree with you. I just think they don’t have a whole lot of options, that’s all!

  • hc

    nmrn, No-one ‘controls’ health or education outcomes. Like others aboriginees may feel powerlessness in this situation. The issue is to try to get power and to exert pressure on health and education issues by pointing out concerns, joining political parties and lobbying politicians. The action occurring in the park is just counterproductive. If you want a protest then at least direct it at issues of concern.

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