Saturday, October 1, 2011


The Other has sent me a few flash mob video links which have been quite interesting, not just for the quality of the music but for opportunities for armchair travel, such as seeing just how much natural light reaches into Copenhagen’s main railway station.

I’m not planning to flog the flash mob thing to death, but have decided to share the following because the sound is surprisingly good. I always avoid food halls because the total lack of any soft furnishings produces an unbearable level of noise [deliberately designed, of course, to facilitate churn].

Hallelujah Chorus


More than a year after the right wing journalist Andrew Bolt published an article about ‘professional Aboriginals’, a Federal court has decided he was in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. It took Justice Bromberg 175 days after the hearing before he handed down his carefully worded judgment.

What I inferred from the tone and content of the original articles was that several people, who appear white and therefore only have a teeny tiny bit of Aboriginal blood, have exploited their genetic history and claimed to be Aboriginal in order to advance their careers or gain other benefits. 
The people who took him to court were saying that other people would take the same meaning from his words as I did.

Justice Bromberg did not give Bolt a dressing down for being politically incorrect, he gave Bolt a dressing down because what Bolt wrote amounted to defamation. Bolt could not use truth as a defense because he made errors of fact in his articles.


Not surprisingly in this era of news as football, the Herald-Sun newspaper likes to publish the sort of opinions its readers hold, while The Age prefers to publish the sort of opinions its own readers hold, so the two papers are now sniping at each other [presumably on behalf of their readers] about whether the result of this case is a threat to freedom of speech.

The Herald Sun has taken the 'your rights are next' moral high ground approach to to the decision. They've resurrected the past mistakes of one of the Aboriginal litigants - a past which is not pretty but has absolutely nothing to do with the case or the 'professional Aboriginals' accusations. Dirty.

It’s the sort of thing that is such fun to watch it almost makes up for Essendon not reaching the Grand Final in the footy this year.

Bolt claims that far from being a racist he simply hates any kind of discrimination at all.

He also, incidentally, totally refutes any claim that Aboriginals were ever 'stolen'. 
In his mind, when Aboriginal children were taken away it was for their own good, just as non-Aboriginal children are taken away from their families for their own good. This belief of his is not just a casual ‘agree to disagree’ belief, but an obsession he pounds away at every chance he gets.

There is no way to deny race – and worse still, racial composition – was a big factor in deciding which Aboriginal children were taken ‘for their own good’ and which weren’t. 
Nonetheless, it could be argued that children were taken - no matter how selectively - with the best of intentions.
Without asserting that the western way of life is morally or spiritually superior to traditional Aboriginal life, I suggest the cloud which always hangs over policy-makers is that it’s hard to imagine Aboriginals being better off living a purely traditional lifestyle now that everything has irrevocably changed. 

Whether one respects or simply romanticises a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle, for many Indigenous Australians the traditional life was a bloody hard life. 
Which is more important today, the physical quality of life or the right to self-determination? 
If we can allow Indigenous adults the right to self-determination, at what point should we intervene to protect Indigenous children from the physical consequences of living a purely traditional lifestyle?

As just one example, we know that without vaccination Aboriginal children would succumb to white diseases at a disastrous rate, no matter where or how they were living.

And yes, one of our agreements with the UN is the right of people to choose which ethnic lifestyle they prefer, but children with no taste of a whitefella life or education will not be in a position to make a very informed choice. 

A parallel argument might be made against the tradition of a very small number of 20th Century migrants, of practising female circumcision. 
Some of might like to say Aboriginals were here first so they should be free to do what they like, including raising children in an exclusively traditional way.
Does this mean those of us who are not Aboriginal have no right to say to more recent immigrants they should not be free to choose female genital mutilation?

Can we give absolute self-determination to one group but not another? Should we allow Aboriginals the absolute right to dictate the terms on which all non-Aboriginals are to live?

For me, the ideal and practical approach would be to go for the best of both or all worlds. No 'way' is perfect, and most incorporate some rubbish that should be jettisoned, but let’s not throw out the good with the bad.

With respect to the stolen generations, what Bolt fails to see is that children of any background, when institutionalised or separated from their parents at a young age, are damaged by that separation whether they are better off in every other way or not.

Whitefellas have done some hideous things to whitefella children over the years, and whitefella children have suffered. This was the whole point of Rudd's apology to Forgotten children.

Given the enormous contrast between the Aboriginal world and the whitefella world, the difference in physical appearance, and the tendency of some whitefellas to be smug about race, Aboriginal children have unquestionably suffered more than whitefella children when separated from their families.

Bolt does not discriminate on this score, he holds that regardless of colour separation has NO adverse impact on anyone of any colour, and will slap down any person who dares to suggest otherwise. It’s no surprise then that he cannot allow for the notion that even if Aboriginal children were not ‘stolen’, Aboriginals have every good reason to see it that way.

I’m sure I would have trouble convincing any sane person that we have ripped off Aboriginal stockmen, gone n--- hunting, fed people poison flour, taken the land, and sent body parts to museums in jars of formaldehyde [etc], yet insist “but when we took the children, that was different; it was because we really cared about them.”

Given that Bolt has made a great deal of noise about his attitudes over time, no matter how much he protests he meant well it should have been no surprise his ‘professional Aboriginal’ slur provoked a little legal action.


In the two offensive 2009 articles in question [and some related blogs] Bolt accused some people of choosing to be Aboriginal even though they look and could pass for white. His tone suggested this was wrong of them.
This attitude alone implies white is what one ought to choose - even if the idea of ‘passing for white’ doesn't itself amount to incitement to commit a ‘justifiable fraud’.

One of the complainants in the case against Bolt was former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark who, let’s face it, doesn’t warm the cockles of many hearts.
But the person Bolt really got stuck into was Larissa Behrendt, and it was in sticking it to her that he really came unstuck:

     blah blah blah …”demanding special rights for ‘my people’. But which people are ‘yours’ exactly, mein liebchen? And isn’t it bizarre to demand laws to give you more rights as a white Aborigine than your own white dad?”

This is extraordinary stuff, including his defence that he Googled the people he mentioned to check his facts because that is what journalists do [excuse me while I laugh up my sleeve]. 

Google lists, for the first few pages of an enquiry, nothing to suggest Behrendt's black father might have been a white German.
Behrendt has done very well for herself, graduating from Harvard Law school - with a doctorate no less. She has long been active in Aboriginal affairs, and has published a wide range of influential papers on topics pertinent to Aboriginal Australia’s past and future.


One of the things I believe Bolt was suggesting is that if someone Aboriginal is healthy, has a sufficient grasp of the white world to know how to dress, and behaves well in mixed company, then perhaps they should pay for their own Harvard education and let some more disadvantaged Indigenous person[s] use the money. Did Behrendt prevent other, more needy Aboriginals from getting these funds?

There are several possible answers to this suggestion":
  • If it’s legal, why not take the money?
  • Only Larissa and her community really know whether she has always identified herself as Aboriginal or not [though I’m voting for ‘of course she has’].
  • Perhaps the good she has achieved – as a person who knows better than to wipe her nose on her sleeve in public – far outweighs what it has cost in terms of Aboriginal dollars
No, this judgment against Bolt does not sound the death knell for freedom of speech. It was simply a request that he get his facts right and stop being a personal, sarcastic bitch when discussing reasonable questions about the politics of race.

And what has the white colour of anyone's skin to do with racial identity? 
If I were Aboriginal and appeared white and heard someone trashing my family - many of whom were dark and conspicuously Aboriginal, should I feel nothing? Say nothing? Just get on with life thanking the good Lord that I was lucky enough to inherit white skin?

One’s cultural and ethnic upbringing is not a matter of choice. Behrendt was raised by Aboriginal people, and her family and community are Aboriginal. Should she turn her back on them?

I can only judge this by looking at how my own upbringing influenced my own identity. [Given that many Anglos are genetically mongrels, this seems a valid way to approach the issue.]

Only 1/8th Irish, I was raised as an Irish Catholic. The Irish part meant genealogy was as important to my family as it was to the Celts a thousand years ago, and I place specific values and expectations on my relationships with members of my extended family [including second cousins twice removed]. 

Being raised to think of myself as Irish Catholic meant viewing the English occupation of Ireland a certain way, colouring my opinion of British royalty and the British class system. 
It’s probably why I would rather listen to Irish music or the Hallelujah Chorus than to Chinese Opera.

With each successive generation of the Fruitcake family, the red hair and freckles are fading, but my colouring has nothing to do with anything I feel or believe or the rules I live by, nor does it change the very Irish names in my family tree. 

Raised within an extended and exclusively Greek family, my niece has children who are Greek Orthodox in religion, and think of themselves as Greek Australians. 
In truth, many Greek whitefellas place their own interpretation on the importance of family, and the western world's cult of the individual. 
Being culturally Greek, my nieces and nephews will have slightly different personal aspirations from their Anglo-Irish relatives.

For many Aboriginal Australians, the importance of family and communities is more than slightly different from whitefellas. Their traditions relating to mutual obligation, for example, have an enormous impact on whether there is any incentive to work hard and acquire the trappings of success.
For many Aboriginal Australians whitefellas are not just different but are, in accordance with real living memory, the enemy. 

Although I am only an Irish octoroon, praties are on my list of the essential food groups [though I’ll pass on the jellied pigs’ trotters, thanks].
If I claimed to be English or Scottish or Welsh I would be a fraud and it would show.

As an Irish Catholic, even if I don’t believe in God it doesn’t stop me from finding peace and solace inside a Catholic Church. I am comfortable with the Catholic rituals that allow me to express myself, and inside a Catholic Church I have access to a sense of shared belonging with a very large number of strangers. 
Not believing in God does not stop a very thorough religious education from informing all of my values and views.

Colouring and bloodlines are irrelevant, or if they are not, they should be. We are what we live.

As whitefellas, one of our greatest fears ought to be adopting a 'weren’t we horrible we should feel guilty' approach to history, instead of adopting a 'this is how we went wrong and this is how we can avoid repeating our mistakes' approach. 

We ought to be very afraid of a ‘we said we were sorry now shutup’ attitude.

If we do not allow Aboriginals ownership of their own history, why should they allow us ownership of ours?

Indigenous Australians are, for the most part, rightly suspicious of whitefellas. This is not something that will change in just one or two generations. If we want the trust of Indigenous Australia, we shall have to earn it. Indigenous Asutralians will not grant us absolution until they truly believe we can be trusted. 
Aboriginals – even the obnoxious ones – are not creating division or reinforcing difference by identifying as Aboriginals, they are simply responding to their version of reality.

But every time we breach whatever trust there might be between our two communities, we exacerbate and validate their sense that they are "other".

To even consider that someone might identify as Aboriginal for selfish reasons, or to even suggest that the colour of one person's skill should determine how they are to behave around white or Aboriginal people, or even towards their own families, is as ignorant as it is preposterous.


In the 70s, many people explored a whole range of theories about why women were not allowed to drive trams or be bank tellers or receive equal pay. 
Many of those theories revolved around a gender imbalance of physical, political and financial power. Had I decided the system that was stacked against me could not be changed, I would have become a victim of my own truth.
The schism between black and white Australia today is compounded by exactly such a sense of powerlessness. Thankfully, activism is now advancing to a stage where Aboriginal people are rejecting the notion of passivity and victim thinking.

Every Indigenous Australian who does not give in to the perception that the system is stacked against them is a success story. Let’s not give anyone a reason to think the past must totally determine their future, that they have no options and should have no hope, or that they are powerless to achieve anything within the system.

Instead of taking a swipe at Aboriginals who, light or dark skinned, embrace whitefella ways by going to Harvard or working for their community or becoming doctors or politicians, we should be breathing a sigh of relief, not criticising them. 

Just as those in the already developed world cannot help everyone in developing countries without reducing us all to a state of penury, Aboriginals should not be expected to aim for equality amongst themselves at the expense of Aboriginal quality of life.
At the end of the day, some successful 'white Aboriginals are no doubt giving a great deal to their people and communities.

Who of us knows what any Australian gives to others, if they do not make a fuss of the giving?

Colouring and bloodlines are irrelevant, or if they are not, they should be.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I think that when the day arrives that we can live out the dream of judging people solely on the basis of character, political correctness won’t be an issue: People will know we see each other for who we are, not how we think they should be.

In recent times, multiculturalism has been declared a failure.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism has become confused with plurality. Multiculturalism allows my Greek relatives to enjoy an Australian lifestyle without surrendering important traditional values. Multiculturalism allows us to live in harmony, each group celebrating differences which are special but not incompatible.

Plurality, on the other hand, assumes that significant or excessive differences - such as a tradition of female genital mutilation - must be ignored. 
It is the support of such extremes, in the name of political correctness and tolerance, which people fear and find abhorrent, not tolerance and an agreement on the most important issues.

I do not support the notion of limited rights to speak. Discussion and a constructive exchange of ideas are essential to the maintenance of freedom. On the other hand, English law has a very long history of protecting people from character assassination. 
Bolt is not guilty of speaking freely; he is guilty of reckless defamation. Far from encouraging equal treatment he has simply hammered one more nail in the coffin of that trust we so sorely need from Indigenous Australians.


  1. Hello Cloudia,
    Thanks for dropping by :)

  2. I am happy to adopt my Irish heritage when it suits even though I have never even been to Ireland. We do have a rouge english ancestor but I am sure he wanted to be Irish.

    In truth I am a Kiwi and a product of my enviroment as we all are (products not Kiwi's your not all that lucky).

  3. LOL Big Dog,
    on St Patrick's Day the whole world is a 'rogue Englishman' a tautology? for being lucky to be a Kiwi, I can only say I have no idea what I'm missing. [But then, I have met so many top Kiwis here... there must be something good in the water.]

  4. The OZ Gov't legal definition of 'Aboriginality' (for the purposes of accessing Indigenous-specific benefits) is that the person a) is of Aborginal descent AND b) identifies as an Aboriginal AND c) is accepted as such by the community. If these 3 conditions are met, then the benefits and programs that attempt to address the many inequalities suffered by many Indigenous people can be accessed. It's legal. And easy to check, if checking is warranted. Whether or not it's considered 'fair' or not is irrelevant, as it's law!

    Wonderfully thought-provoking and balanced. Who says the best writing isn't in blogworld!!!

  5. Hi Red,
    thanks for your kind words. I agree with you about the importance of the law being the law. One day when I am a gazillionaire I plan to drive buses through tax regulations. Until then, I will allow the Mokbels oops Murdochs of this world to keep the gates open.

    Note to self: financial clock ticking. Get rich soon.

  6. Haha! I too can hear the Big $$ clock ticking - not sure whether or not it sounds the same as a biological clock as I never heard that one!!