A white construct- Australia Day

This is an excellent article by Henry Reynolds explaining historical facts around British colonisation of Australia. It proves that Anglo Saxon sovereignty in Australia was built on lies. The issue today though is not that things ought to be reversed. It is that the truth ought to be acknowledged and a standard of governing that ought to be corrected. I and so many other Australians benefit from the colonisation of the country, the rule of law and the general safety of the place. My blog has never challenged this but it does challenge the right to include and exclude people from the national identity when those in power are here on a lie. Listen White Australia- you don’t get to exclude me when you yourselves stole from others and WERE NOT the rightful owners of Australia. Your tenure of this land was built on a lie so when you say ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’ well you have no grounds for this. No you don’t John Howard. No you don’t. Your power and sovereignty was built on a lie. You and your fellow kith and kin are hypocrites at best. What you can do right now, is swallow some humble pie, and make the effort to do the things that will set things right in Australia. Not going to happen if we keep voting in pale, male and stale politicians.

Henry Reynold’s Article:

The problematic nature of January 26 has been apparent for a long time. It was clearly displayed in 1938 when Sydney commemorated the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the First Fleet. While crowds watched a replay of the British arrival, leaders of the Aboriginal communities in Victoria and New South Wales held a Day of Mourning.

Fifty years later, Sydney was again immersed in celebration, this time for the bicentenary of the founding of white Australia. A huge procession, of what was calculated to be more than 40,000 Aboriginal people, stormed along Elizabeth Street for a rally in Hyde Park. They carried banners and wore badges that read: “White Australia Has a Black History – Don’t Celebrate 1988”.

The overwhelming theme of both march and meeting was for the return of Indigenous land and reparation for two centuries of brutality and injustice.

Opinion polls on the subject are clear about a number of things. A large majority of people want to have an occasion to commemorate our history and celebrate our way of life. This does not necessarily mean they are wedded to the present day. Nor is there evidence to suggest that those who would prefer a change of date are opposed to the idea of a distinctive national day.

A flyer advertising the 1938 Day of Mourning at the old Australian Hall - Australia's first civil rights protest.
A flyer advertising the 1938 Day of Mourning at the old Australian Hall – Australia’s first civil rights protest.

There is widespread confusion as to why January 26 was chosen in the first place. A national survey reported in The Age in March 2017 found that while more than seven out of 10 respondents declared Australia Day was important to them, many did not know which event it commemorated. Only 43 per cent correctly identified the first arrival of a First Fleet ship at Sydney Cove.

There is a degree of perversity on display among the passionate defenders of January 26. It made sense in the past for those who wanted to commemorate the founding of Sydney. That was when the decision was made to move the whole expedition from Botany Bay to Sydney Harbour. It makes less sense as a day of national commemoration.

There are two other dates that would be more appropriate. The first is the 20th of the month, when all the ships had arrived in Botany Bay. It was the successful conclusion of a remarkable expedition, bringing a fleet of 11 ships and over 1000 men and women from the other side of the world. It was a significant achievement of logistics and seamanship, but one of British imperial rather than Australian history.

The second date is February 7, when the formal ceremony of annexation was conducted before the whole population. The public commissions were read and, as [marine officer Lieutenant] Watkin Tench explained, the British took “possession of the colony in form”. Once the documents had been read, the officers joined Governor Arthur Phillip “to partake of a cold collation”, at which “many loyal and public toasts were drank in commemoration of the day”.

As officers toasted the formal establishment of New South Wales, the future of relations with the local Aboriginal bands appeared propitious. The governor had good intentions and his instructions suggested he “conciliate their affections” and enjoin “all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them”.

Things did not turn out the way Tench expected. That had become quite clear by the time he left the colony in December 1791. A disastrous smallpox epidemic ravaged the local bands in April and May of 1789 and then spread outwards across much of south-eastern Australia. Violence increased around the fringes of settlement until, in December 1790, the governor ordered Tench to lead Australia’s first punitive expedition towards Botany Bay and use terror to bring resistance to an end.

Frontier conflict became a permanent feature of Australian life for 150 years. It was predetermined by the fateful decisions made in London before the First Fleet set sail. The documents read on February 7 did two things. They concerned sovereignty and property. The imperial government asserted sovereignty over the eastern half of the continent. It was a vast and audacious claim that would have been found illegitimate in international law. And there were already clearly understood protocols among the European nations about the extension of sovereignty.

What provided the British with a thin cloak of legitimacy was the assumption that no prior sovereignty existed. The First Nations had been judged from afar to have neither government nor laws and customs. And so the British officials turned their back on the tradition of treaty-making that had been alive in North America for 150 years.

It is simply not possible that educated officials were unaware of already deeply entrenched policies concerning the Native Americans. The decision to regard New South Wales as a terra nullius was not the result of forgetfulness or inattention. The likely consequences were understood at the time. Without any means or machinery for negotiation, violence would stalk the land.

An even more egregious decision was made in relation to property. In one apocalyptic moment, all the real estate over half the continent became the property of the Crown. It was an appropriation confirmed in Australian courts for 200 years. It became so central to national life that it was rarely questioned. And it cannot be distinguished from the foundation of British Australia and the commemorations of January 26.

The scale of the expropriation was without precedent, and once again only made sense if it was accepted that the First Nations had never been in actual possession of their homelands and that over vast stretches of land there were no settled inhabitants and that there was neither land law nor tenure.

Everything changed in 1992, when the High Court handed down its judgment in the Mabo case. The judges overthrew 200 years of legal precedent, deciding that before the arrival of the British invaders the First Nations had both settled inhabitants and land law. They were the legitimate owners of their ancestral homelands.

The implication was inescapable. The British had expropriated the land without compensation. It was a land grab almost without precedent. How this expropriation could have happened under the aegis of the common law is hard to explain. Because at the same moment, and by the same legal instruments the land was expropriated, the Aboriginal peoples all over New South Wales became British subjects, so-called beneficiaries of the King’s peace.

Australian judges have often dated the assumption of ownership from either 1786, when Phillip received his first commission, or from the formal annexation on February 7, 1788. Is that when the incorporation occurred? Both at the same time? Or did one precede the other? These seemingly arcane questions matter because they bring us to the much broader question of the sanctity bestowed on private property by the common law.

One of the central themes in the history of the common law was the centuries-long struggle to defend the property of the subject from appropriation by the Crown. Statutes of the 13th and 14th centuries were designed to restrain the arbitrary power of kings to confiscate the property of their subjects.

It is important to remember that New South Wales was regarded as a colony of settlement. British law arrived with the First Fleet. Early legal and administrative decisions made it clear that the prerogative power of the Crown was no more extensive in Sydney than in Britain itself.

So how had the Crown acquired the landed property of First Nations across vast stretches of territory without their permission and without providing compensation? It had been stolen from people who were subjects within the King’s peace. And how and why was this outstanding anomaly allowed to determine what happened to tens of thousands of men, women and children for 200 years? Ultimately it was the responsibility of the British Crown, which made no attempt to protect the First Nations from the inundation of the prerogative.

Another astonishing anomaly that the proponents of January 26 as our national day often assert is that the First Fleet brought with it the rule of law. It is less than obvious how such a claim can be sustained. In 1788, the law was profoundly subverted. Hundreds of years of tradition were overturned. For anyone to lose their property as a result of being incorporated into British society was, as Locke had insisted, too gross an absurdity for any man to own. Do the flag-wavers have any idea what they are urging us to commemorate? Do they not know? Do they care?

If Australia had a founding principle, it was the sanctity of private property. The imperial government had a number of motives when it decided to plant a settlement on the east coast of Australia, but punishment for crimes against property was central to the whole operation. The convicts were wrenched from homeland, community and family, in most cases for theft. Their punishment was designed as a deterrent against future transgression.

‘It is pointless and gratuitous to tell Indigenous Australians to get over it and to look to the future.’

The full force of laws against theft was imposed from the moment the expedition arrived in Sydney. At the end of February 1788, five men were convicted of theft and condemned to death, illustrating that property was more sacrosanct than life itself. The sentences were carried out at public hangings, which the whole convict population was forced to watch. Just three weeks before, half a continent had been declared Crown land in one of the most remarkable acts of plunder in modern times.

There are so many reasons not to commemorate the nation on January 26. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made their feelings plain since at least 1938 and continue to do so. It is surely extraordinary that their opposition has been disregarded. And it is not as if they didn’t have a strong case. The arrival in January 1788 did not merely presage disasters that were to follow.

It is pointless and gratuitous to tell Indigenous Australians to get over it and to look to the future. An argument frequently heard in the testy debate about Australia Day is that what happened to the Aboriginal peoples resulted from what was regarded as acceptable behaviour at the time. That is just what happened in the 18th century, the argument runs, and it is pointless now to make judgments using the ideas and sensibility of contem- porary times.

On any measure, the First Nations suffered grievously as a result of the British annexation. They were the victims of profound injustice. Even now, many Australians find it hard to accept that white Australia does, indeed, have a black history. Their desire to commemorate January 26 arises from the felt need to focus on both our British heritage and the ongoing story of successful nation-building. John Howard was fond of saying that our history had a few blemishes. Scott Morrison remarked recently that colonisation did produce “a few scars from some mistakes and things that [we] could have done better”. These comments may have been made in passing, but they are symptomatic of problems that are much more than skin deep.

How are we to explain this singular failure of empathy? Why is the profound injustice visited upon the First Nations not treated with the appropriate gravity? Why continue to commemorate a day that takes the nation back to where it all began? Why have Australian leaders never asked for an apology from the British government or from the Queen herself in the manner pursued by the Māori? And why not suggest that some form of reparation would be appropriate for a land seizure completely at odds with the common law? The apostles of our current Australia Day expect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be loyal members of the Australian state and would react strongly against any hint of separatism.

But do they really think they are part of the nation? Are they white Australians’ countrymen and -women? If so, why can’t all Australians identify with them and feel their pain?

January 2021

Waleed, I get what you’re saying but don’t expect the Whites to…

Why are all our dual citizens white?

New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Especially the United Kingdom. These are the countries that define the dual citizenship crisis that claimed five more of our politicians this week.

Nothing more exotic seems to have turned up, and even when this rolling mess tried to incorporate Italy via Matt Canavan, it failed on the grounds that Canavan probably wasn’t an Italian citizen anyway. It’s not Penny Wong under a cloud. Even Sam Dastyari had to find another way to eject himself from the Senate. I’m far from the first to observe it is those of Anglo-Celtic or Anglo-Saxon stock who are caught in this mess. And it’s worth considering why.

Perhaps there’s a clue in the fact that, by and large, few Australians seem to care about this. It certainly didn’t harm Barnaby Joyce or John Alexander in their bids for re-election.

Truth is we’re generally more inclined to see this as an annoying technicality than any genuine crisis of divided loyalties in our Parliament. But what if instead of being kicked off by Scott Ludlam’s New Zealand citizenship, we’d discovered Dastyari was Iranian?

Would the underlying principle of section 44 of the constitution – that dual citizenship implies divided loyalties inconsistent with the job of sitting in the Australian Parliament – have seem quite so quaint? What if instead of New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom, we were talking about, say, China, Indonesia and Afghanistan? Is it possible we’d be more disposed to seeing section 44 as a wise and important protection against foreign infiltration?

I suppose it’s a hypothetical and there’s no real way to know for sure. But for what it’s worth, my hunch is that there’d be a section or two of the electorate in a modest panic about it.

Gallagher decision triggers mass resignations

In the space of a few hours, the Australian parliament lost five MPs after the High Court ruled Labor’s Katy Gallagher ineligible to sit as a Senator.

I can easily imagine the odd talkback caller (and host) intoning about the importance of putting Australia first, demanding these people be thrown emphatically out of our Parliament and maybe being sceptical of how much they could be trusted even after they’d renounced their other nationality. I suspect the reason we regard our current situation as a technicality is at least partly that we still think of New Zealand or Britain as places that are only technically foreign countries.

When we think of our migrant communities, we’re not imagining Kiwis and Brits, which is why while it is common for Australian politicians to insist that migrants assimilate and pledge their loyalty to Australia in citizenship ceremonies, no one seems to notice that Brits in Australia adopt Australian citizenship at a remarkably low rate. No one seriously thinks of Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard as migrants who rose to the highest office in the land. For all the banging on about Australian multiculturalism, their backgrounds are ones of continuity rather than conversion. And to be fair, that’s the way the law saw it for a long time.

Australian citizenship didn’t even exist before 1948, and when it did, Australians were still legally considered British subjects until that was finally undone in 1987. But while the law moved on, and while Australian society has changed dramatically, it’s clear our most deeply received notions of Australian-ness haven’t quite.

The giveaway is that so many of the politicians ensnared in this are genuinely surprised to learn they hold these other citizenships. Sure, some of this is down to the legal quirks of citizenship that exist between nations of the British Empire. But it’s bigger than that.

Put simply, there is barely any cultural reason for these people to have thought about it. If you’re white, from an Anglophonic background and an Australian citizen, then you face no questions. Your Australian-ness is presumed and uncomplicated. It never needs to be proven and never needs to be justified. Why should anybody be surprised that when it comes time for them to nominate for Parliament, they overlook their foreignness when they have never been scrutinised in that way in their lives? Their national loyalty is, well, written all over their faces.

That’s not a luxury Penny Wong enjoys. For that matter, it’s probably not one Mathias Cormann enjoys either. If you’re from a non-English speaking background – and especially if you’re not white – you experience Australian-ness in a much more conspicuous way.

If you’re from a non-English speaking background – and especially if you’re not white – you experience Australian-ness in a much more conspicuous way.

You cannot simply claim it, you must proclaim it. Every day seems to require a declaration – even a demonstration – of loyalty. Your life becomes one of constant renunciation because that is the shortest route to countering suspicion and establishing your Australian credentials. You carry something with you that must always be either abandoned or explained. Either way you will be reminded, again and again. And after all that, if for some reason you decide to try your hand at federal politics – and as one glance at our Parliament reveals, most people in this category don’t – what are the chances you’ll simply overlook the possibility you’re a dual citizen? How likely is it that this thing for which you’ve been held to account your entire life, will catch you by surprise?

We’ve heard much in the past 10 months about how section 44 is anachronistic in our multicultural age, how it doesn’t capture the reality of modern Australia. But the truth is it is not multicultural Australia that has been caught out by it. It is those who see themselves as free of other cultural attachments altogether. Sure, you could amend section 44 to bring it into line with Australian society. But this saga shows it’s our unspoken, daily-experienced notion of Australian-ness that needs amendment, too.

Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist and a presenter on The Project.