Pay the Rent!

If we are to survive, let alone feel at home, 
we must begin to understand our country. 
If we succeed, one day we might become Australian. 
                              - Bill Gammage
Pay the Rent
“You Are On Aboriginal Land”, 1981. Poster production in support of Mimi Aboriginal Arts and Crafts, PO Box 318, Katherine, NT, 5780, Australia.

You are on Aboriginal Land

Pay the Rent‘ is a political demand for land rights over property never ceded.

Aboriginal society has very careful rules about the ownership of land – there are distinct property rights held by clans and tribes and this has been worked out over many thousands of years.

The establishment of property rights is a feature of human society generally, these are the rules whereby land was acquired with the spread of human society out of Africa. It defines human civilisation.

Aboriginal cave paintings depict people coming by boat to Australia.  From that time a sophisticated process of land acquisition developed. Aboriginal management of the land on this continent survived an ice age, megafauna and beyond.

Archie Roach said it very well in Musgrave Park during the 2015 NAIDOC concert yesterday:

“People do not realise the ground they walk on here, we must tread softly on this place and be gentle with it cos we don’t know what has come before. We must respect the land because we come from it.”

Another, Adrian Burragubba is curently fighting to protect the land of the Wangan Jagalingou people from Indian coal company Adani. Adrian told me he and his family have moved back Clermont in Central Queensland’s Galilee Basin to protect the land and particularly the water from the ravages of coal mining.

Adrian said:  “We want to link up with the pastoralists to defend the land against the coal miners.” So the Wangan Jagalingou people are prepared to form an alliance with pastoralists whose predecessors took their land in order to defend it against transnational businesses like Adani.

So sacred is the land. It has always been thus.

My neighbour, Cosimo, quotes his father, a peasant farmer from Calabria:

“ If you do not eat the earth, the earth will eat you.”

Thus describing the importance of land to our survival.

The core dispute between the colonisers and the aboriginal people is about how property was acquired from the original owners, the tribes and clans that walked this earth for thousands of years.

When Captain Logan came to Brisbane and squatted with his troops and convicts on the south bank of the Brisbane River they displaced the Jagera people from their land.

For thousands of years, the Jagera people celebrated the sunrise at Kangaroo Point, a special place. Last Sunday, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane can claim to celebrate the building of the Story Bridge from Kangaroo Point only 75 years ago.

In an instant Jagera were driven from their land by the British interlopers. They were pushed from their place onto the lands of others, Turrbul, Djindubari, Dalla, Manunjali, Gubbi, Undanbi and others.  They became refugees from their own country into the country of other tribes.

When Dundalee fought for land rights uniting the Dalla, Djindubari and other tribes together to fight Captain Logan and his troops that resistance was a recognition of the injustice that had been done to all by displacing people from their land without negotiation and without treaty.

The tribes never ceded the land despite the brutal hanging of Dundalee in Post Office Square in Brisbane city on 5 January 1855. But they did lose it. It is little wonder that to this day you hear ‘Pay the Rent’ from the descendants of these tribes.

‘Pay the Rent’ is used more broadly to apply to other things that are not property. For example it is incorrect to apply it to manufactured goods and devices that have come from the labour of workers using a variety of designs and raw materials. The term ‘Pay the Rent’ does not apply to the labour that produced commodities, that demand is for land rights not for commodities.

Commodities are the product of workers labour. Some of these workers are aboriginal people whose parents had their wages stolen. So the union movement on behalf of workers, recognizing this injustice, have demanded the repayment of stolen wages to aboriginal workers and their families.

The property system that did exist in this place, exists no more; yet injustice remains.

To resolve this matter requires a recognition of prior ownership and compensation for its loss providing an economic base for the survival of traditional owners.

View from Mistake Mountains. Photo: Ian Curr, 2004

Until the political process deals with that issue, there can be no progress from a colonized state to a society that shares its wealth with original owners and workers alike.

Ian Curr,
July 2015

24 thoughts on “Pay the Rent!

  1. – Video messages from Mungo traditional owners

    (an excerpt) “Mungo means a lot actually, it means recognition, to me it means a lot because over the years growing up in Australia, a lot of people come up with a lot of different ideas that we didn’t come from here, we come out of Africa, or we come out of Asia, but Mungo is putting us here in Australia and its given us the opportunity to talk about Aboriginal Australia”

    – “Message from Mungo”

    note – “Mungo Lady” is in a keeping place in the Mungo National Park under the control of traditional owners who ban tourists etc. from going near her and there are no photos in national parks guides and promotions. However, scientists are still allowed access to her.

    However “Mungo Man” is still in a box in the ANU – after decades of fights about repatriation. He was due to be returned this year, to be beside Mungo Lady as the TOs have demanded, but I have not heard of it happening yet. The university has been stalling for years.

  2. I’m not really that interested in where we came from, I don’t think there ever will be or can be an answer and trying to find that answer seems quite futile. What I am interested in is the extent to which cultural myth determines what we believe to be scientific fact.

    Bourgeois European (so-called) enlightenment society in an era of industrialisation and imperialism considered the white “race” to be supreme over other races and the human “species” to be supreme over the whole of nature. It is no coincidence that this cultural assumption is reflected in the science of the time including Linneaus’s taxonomy, Darwin’s tree of life and Engels’ stages of human development (savagery, barbarism, civilisation). The ideology of the dominant social structure determines the nature of science.

  3. Thanks John for your input, disclosure and interest in the great mystery of who we are and where we came from.

    As that small probe passes Pluto and leaves our solar system who knows what discoveries await future generations?

  4. And just a final point of disclosure. I really am a creationist. The pre-cambrian explosion of life, from which almost all species today emerged from, is what the bible in Genesis describes as elohiym (collective of creator spirits) breathing animating life into the world. The scientists say the most probable cause was the development of an atmosphere.

    Genesis 1 “In the beginning when God (Elohiym) created the heavens and the earth,  the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (also translated as breath of God) swept over the face of the waters.

    Charles Darwin in “Origin of the Species” says that his theory cannot explain the pre-cambrian life explosion.

  5. “Evolution: Charles Darwin was wrong about the tree of life”

    The substantive article is in the New Scientist that has a paywall so I can’t get it, but here is a report of it.

    “The great naturalist first sketched how species might evolve along branches of an imaginary tree in 1837, an idea that quickly came to symbolise the theory of evolution by natural selection.
    But modern genetics has revealed that representing evolutionary history as a tree is misleading, with scientists saying a more realistic way to represent the origins and inter-relatedness of species would be an impenetrable thicket.”

  6. Don’t take the kangaroo stuff too seriously, it was just a rhetorical exercise but this is still pretty interesting –

    “And they’ve found the Aussie icon has more in common with humans than scientists had thought. The kangaroo last shared a common ancestor with humans 150 million years ago.
    “We’ve been surprised at how similar the genomes are,” said Jenny Graves, director of the government-backed research effort. “Great chunks of the genome are virtually identical.”

  7. “Mitochondrial DNA sequences in ancient Australians: Implications for modern human origins”

    “This finding does not imply that all living people originated in Australia, any more than previously described deep lineages in Africa demand a recent origin of humans on that continent. Deep lineages in Africa and our finding of an even deeper lineage in Australia are consistent with a number of possible models of the demographic and evolutionary history of our species.”

  8. p.s. “epigenics” – the genetic hardware/software I spoke of probably wasn’t in your 1957 textbook either. While this field has become accepted in the new genetic science, the new idea on the block (based on research data of course) is that DNA can be transmitted horizontally – that is from one organism to another through viruses and bacteria and things (the virus etc. being the transmitting organism, not a carrier of some other organism).

    Epigenics and horizontal DNA transference have huge implications for the theory of evolution of any and all species, yet they cannot be incorporated or reflected in 19th century Linnaean taxonomy and evolution theories based on it.

  9. There has been a big controversy about “Mungo Man” DNA – it is a big part of the recent out of africa debate..

    “…… Australian National University graduate student Greg Adcock and colleagues, who analysed the mitochondrial DNA from bone fragments and found that Mungo Man had a genetic lineage that is both older and distinct from the common ancestor that originated in Africa in the female line of all living humans, the so-called “Mitochondrial Eve”.”

    As the second link indicates, various hypotheses can explain why he might be related to Africa without the DNA link but, just like my Kangaroo hypothesis and the Darwinian missing link, they are speculation.

    I guess the point I am making in all this is that your attempt here to support land rights has included a public dismissal of the Aboriginal sacred knowledge on which land rights is based – you have published the opinion that Murris come from Africa. That might make sense to you but it is a repackaging of the situation to conform to your own world view and mode of knowledge.

    This is a similar dilemma to the Wave Hill strike. Aboriginal people were demanding their land because it was their dreaming. White supporters were demanding equal wages in accord with their own ideologies and world views and the land rights struggle was repackaged into a white frame of reference. Same with reconciliation, native title and recognition that repackaged the struggle into white democratic liberalism.

    The task is to listen and adapt to Aboriginal knowledge, law and ceremony, not to dismiss it or reduce it to a matter of personal faith amongst equals in a pluralistic multicultural society. The dreaming is the dance is the law is the sovereignty of this land. This is the songlines paradigm I mentioned earlier as antithetical to colonial property rights. Reducing the struggle to issues of property fees while negating the dreaming is, I suggest, not really that supportive of Aboriginal struggle on its own terms.

  10. I have heard dreaming stories that people evolved from, amongst other things, kangaroos – which is why I investigated that particular hypothesis.

    How can you so strongly support Aboriginal claims to land yet dismiss the basis on which those claims are made – the dreaming? Are you suggesting that white people who have been in Australia for many generations and know the landscape intimately, have a similar claim to land rights? Or is the Aboriginal claim something more than just occupation and geographic knowledge?

    1. Iraqi Maralinga says:

      Hello John,

      did you know that “Mungo Man”, 
      described by scientists as a modern human, 
      has no DNA from African humans?

      Where did you get that statement from?

      Not sure you are understanding what DNA is or you may just be using shorthand?

      Anyway readers may be interested.

      The Double Helix
      DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid which has a helical structure that enables it to be self-replicating when two strands are intertwined. DNA is present in nearly all living organisms. There is great similarity in DNA between humans and the simplest organisms. DNA is the main constituent of chromosomes, the strands that carry genes. The human genome is the complete set of nucleic acid sequence for humans. There are four possible nucleic acids in DNA and they can be arranged in different sequences giving almost endless possibilties when arranged on the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome.

      Even though the human genome has been described it is not fully understood.

      When I did the biochemistry of genetics in 1972, it was even less understood because Watson & Crick had described the unique helical structure of DNA less than 20 years previously. So we are talking about a science that is still in its infancy. And a pretty paternalistic science it was too, cos the actual helical structure was discovered by one of their colleagues, Rosalind Franklin, who died before Watson & Crick got the Nobel prize for DNA research in 1962. Would the Nobel committee have given Rosalind Franklin the prize if she were alive?

      Putting DNA science in another light, in 1981, forensic scientists mistook a sticky liquid on the floor of the Chamberlain’s car for Azaria’s blood and it was this that helped persuade the jury that Lindy had killed her baby and not a dingo. So I’m sure you will agree that we should be little skeptical of science.

      So you asked why do I support land rights?

      There is one sure way to upset human DNA … increase radiation as the U.S. shelling in Iraq did in the first Gulf War. Uranium was used to harden the shells to penetrate Saddam’s tanks and these shells lie around the desert. Lancet, a British medical journal, researched still births and deformities caused by this increased radioactivity and reported it in the 1990s. The researchers were pilloried for their work by U.S. and U.K. governments. This led the British Medical Journal, a more conservative rival, in an uncharacteristic move, to come out in support of the researchers and their competitior, The Lancet.

      I just look at the good sense shown by the traditional owners of Muckaty in comparison to such Governments.

      Or as Kev Carmody puts it in ‘Thou Shalt not Steal’:

      Your science and technology 
      Hey you can make a nuclear bomb
      Development has increased the size 
      to 3,000,000 megatons
      But if you think that's progress
      I suggest your reasoning is unsound
      You shoulda found out long ago
      You best keep it in the ground

      The Sydney Morning Herald National – The case that split the nation
      Watson and Crick describe structure of DNA 1953

  11. “Linnaean”, not linear (sorry I spelt it different ways)

    Darwin certainly was Linnaean.

    Here is a more considered and more widely googled hypothesis as to why there have been no primate fossils found in Australia. In short, we evolved from kangaroos not apes. Apes evolved from kangaroos too, but not in Australia.

    I write this not to convince you of its probability but to offer a logical, scientific challenge to the out of Africa assumption and Linnaean genus classification as a definition of humanness and human ancestry.

    According to DNA research, primates diverged from marsupials about 85 million years ago. (the oldest primate fossils are about 50 million) At this time Gondwana was breaking up and Australia was connected to antarctica which was connected to South America and Africa.

    Marsupials have been in Australia for over 100 million years.

    The dominant theory of Australian Marsupials appears to be “out of South America”, via antarctica which I also dispute and suggest it is the other way around, but that is another story and I will accept the consensus for now. The point is, Marsupials travelled between Australia and the other continents before the emergence of primates.

    The hypothesis that we evolved from apes is based on 19th century science, the simple observation of the physical similarities between humans and apes.

    21st century DNA science has identified a strong similarity between human and kangaroo genetics including large identical sections of the genetic spectrum, providing new insights into the human evolution from marsupials. (a wallaby DNA has been recently sequenced)

    DNA does not mutate much, genetic mutation is a very small part of evolution. The primary force of evolution is environmental changes that (through natural selection of course) causes pre-existing dormant genes to awaken and irrelevant or dysfunctional genes to turn off. This is why there is such a strong genetic correlation in all animals – most of the difference is a matter of genetic software, not hardware.

    If marsupials can turn into primates in Africa, why cant they turn into primates in Australia in the same timeframe too?

    Or, what if marsupials did turn into primates (or post-marsupial-proto-primates) in Australia, some of whom followed the Marsupial tracks through antarctica and South America to Africa where they evolved, from the same genetic blueprint adapting to different environments and circumstances, into apes and humans?

    Now, obviously this hypothesis lacks weight without evidence of the missing link. The ape hypothesis suffers exactly the same lightness.

    What more evidence for ape ancestry is there than for kangaroo?

    (If a missing link of any sort is ever found it will come through DNA research not superficial observations such as measuring skulls as per Linnean taxonomy.)

    1. The 'Missing' Link says:

      hello john,

      “In short, we evolved from kangaroos not apes.”
      I wonder what aboriginal dreaming stories say about that?

      Regardless of how aboriginal people got here, there is one thing not in dispute, when the aboriginal woman in the screen print (see article above) says you are on aboriginal land, she means you are on her land.

      Her land is defined, it is not vague; she knows which trees and which streams fall on her land. When she says that she does not want a nuclear waste dump on her land like Dianne Stokes did at Mukaty, her claim carries weight.

      Diane Stokes convinced most of her people that ‘a rent’ of 11 million dollars would not pay for the damage done to the land near Tennant Creek. Dianne told me that she did not wish to be the granddaughter who gave Manuwangku land away. When science minister, Brendan Nelson M.P., claimed the site at Mukaty was in the “middle of nowhere”, he showed his ignorance of how strong Warlmanpa and Warumungu connection to that land was.

      So strong was the connection to that land, they fought for 7 years to save it from being a waste dump.

      It was Warlmanpa and Warumungu who made sure the gas pipeline was fixed after an earthquake occurred near Tennant Creek. It was Warlmanpa and Warumungu who, after long consultation, had allowed the gas pipeline in exchange for jobs and money.

      So when the Northern Land council lawyers tried to convince Warlmanpa and Warumungu to accept the nuclear dump, the women rolled 44 gallon drums onto the highway and painted them up like this:

      The Mukaty fight joined others into the fight, but it could not be subsumed under the notion of ‘aboriginal land’ and so when neighbouring clans who had no direct claim to Mukaty signed the deal, that the Northern Land Council wanted, it was null and void.

      So when the federal court judge and the Commonwealth came to Mukaty and saw Dianne Stokes living on her land and protecting it, and how much support she had built up over 7 years, they realised how baseless the contract signed for the nuclear dump was.

      The judge ordered that the case be dropped and the Commonwealth withdrew.

      I tell this story, so we can understand how colonisation using torrens title has weakness in the face of people who were not dispossessed and still have culture, language and who know who they are … and how aboriginal connection to land is still powerful and strong.

      When Dianne came and stayed at our house, she was teaching her daughter-in-law language, she had been to China to study medicines and to Mexico to learn about indigenous struggles there and knows more than most about the world at large. But her commitment to her grandfather’s land is unshakeable.

      The Commonwealth even took her to Lucas Heights Nuclear facility in Sydney and tried to convince her how safe nuclear is. Dianne told the scientists: “If it is so safe, why don’t you keep it.” When the Commonwealth tried to buy her off with $11 million and the lawyers tried to bully her, she said: “$11M is a lot of money, but you know what, you can shove it up your arses!”

      No rent can pay for land never ceded.

  12. p.p.s. there was never a land bridge to Asia, only to Papua. The space is two continents colliding.

  13. p.s.

    Albert Einstein in “Relativity” –

    “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

    Albert Einstein in letter to friend Besso –

    “…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

  14. What magic happened to suddenly make the hominid a human as distinct from their ancestors who, according to your framework, were not human?

    There was of course no magical transformation. The assumed transformation is simply a product of Linnean taxonomy – an arbitrary and ideologically motivated classification that defines the species – a cultural myth.

    If we are to look at humans as spiritual beings, when and where did the human spirit begin? With the hominids? at the beginning of the first single cell? or even eons before that?

    Aboriginal notions of history are based on dreaming consciousness that sees humans as spiritual beings and time as an illusion. The difference between this perspective and western science that defines humans by taxonomy and time by calibration, is not just a matter of mutual tolerance of diverse belief. The assertion of scientific ideology as fact against Aboriginal so-called belief, even (or especially) by white supporters, is itself a key dynamic of cultural genocide – it assumes the supremacy of white modes of knowledge. Western science, in particular Linnean taxonomy and social Darwinism are pillars of the ideology and power structure of white supremacy – they are the mythology that subconsciously justifies it all.

    The dreaming is central to Aboriginal politics, economy, law, psychology, education, health and so on, the dreaming is the fabric of Aboriginal relationship. The difference between it and Western science is not an argument of interpretation of facts but an existential clash of world views in the context of an imperial war, part of what I referred to earlier when I said – “ The essential problem of migrant society is that it is disconnected, separated and self excluded from the fabric of Aboriginal relationships – it is at its core alien to and alienated from the whole paradigm of Aboriginal people, land and spirit. That is the problem, not just overdue property fees.”

    1. Common humanity ... says:

      The thing that aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people have in common is their humanity. I reject the notion of an existential clash of civilizations. For example, I think the story of the coming in the boats as depicted in the aboriginal cave drawings and the science are in accord. There was no land bridge, i agree. I thought I had made that clear. I’m not wanting to get caught up in a detailed scientific discussion. i am not sufficiently versed in aboriginal dreamtime nor in scientific theories to do that. However I do accept the concept of evolution as put forward by charles darwin. His theory is anything but linear. Taxonomy played an important part in developing theory of the origin of species. Unlike the american behaviorists I accept the notion of human consciousness. Aboriginal notions of the spirit, i think, are not dissimilar to consciousness. I do not think that science and mathematics had its origins in the west. Who invented the idea or concept of 0? Was it europeans? No. That concept came from india. The whole idea of modern accounting was only possible because of this concept. Modern day iraqis claim that mathematics itself came from mesopotamia not from europe. More later …

  15. Current theory ... says:

    Hello John,

    “Humanity is older than scientific instruments can measure”

    If you look at list of fossils relating to human evolution, they date back 6 – 7 million years.

    The earliest human-like (hominids) fossils came from places in Africa like Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. They date back to the late miocene (means earlier) and pliocene (means later) periods which is about 7 million years ago depending on what kind of calendar you use.

    My current theory, for what it is worth, is that a rift valley formed around Ethiopia and became the cradle of humankind. Pre-humans came down from the trees and walked on two legs across the savannah (Homo Erectus). This happened millions of years ago.

    These pre-hominids learnt how to use stone for tools and how to make fire and became (Homo Sapiens). They spread southwards and northwards from Africa to Asia Minor creating human societies and civilization long documented in places like Mesopotamia (Iraq), Palestine, and Persia.

    They developed language and mathematics and art. They spread east to Asia and west to Europe (my theory is not really European). I think Peking man came from the same line not a separate one … note that the fossils of Peking man were lost in World War II.

    The earliest remains of humans in Australia (near Lake Mungo in NSW) date back 40 – 50 thousand years. I think the version given by some aboriginal people that they came here from Asia walking across the land bridge and navigating via boats is a possible scenario to explain the coming of humans (the lack of apes in China and Australia makes me doubt that humans evolved separately in those places). I have always been struck by the similarities of aboriginal people to people from the sub-continent but this is only an observation not a claim of genetic relationship.

    Over a very long period people had managed to come a very long way to an ancient and harsh land populated by marsupials (mammals who rear young in a pouch) not primates. Famously the megafauna were still here when these people arrived. The survival of aboriginal people through the last ice by living in caves and by the use of fire is a remarkable achievement.

    You suggested I ask my aboriginal friends about their beliefs … and, of course, we have discussed this many times. Many have dreamtime stories that are not consistent with what I have just said. It may strike people as strange but I accept and respect their dreamtime stories as I think my aboriginal friends respect my version.

    Some of these stories reject evolution in favour of creation. I respect that too even though I was trained in science and evolution [When I won the prize for religious knowledge in Grade 9 at St Joseph’s College, the Brothers gave me a book called “The Wonders of Science”]. Somewhere within all of these stories lie seeds of who we are and where we come from. This is important to know and to try to find out cos I think it is wrong to deny our common humanity and that even enemies in war will reach out to each other on the basis of it. It is our common humanity that makes a better world possible during the political struggle ahead.

    But the Warumpi band say it better than me …

  16. An interesting question I had never considered before.

    Firstly, the theory of evolution does not dictate that humans evolved from apes. There has been no fossil evidence at all of this (the missing link). I note that early social Darwinists considered Aboriginal people to be the missing link.

    The theory of evolution also allows for the possibility that apes and humans both separately evolved from a common ancestor.

    Therefore, in hypothetical rhetorical response to your fascinating question – if the common ancestor was in Gondwana when Africa and Australia were still the same land mass, or even earlier in Pangaea, the separation of Africa and Australia in the breakup of Gondwana would explain the absence of ape fossils without negating the ancestral connection of humans and apes.

    But then, it could also be that apes evolved from humans?

    However a quick google of the matter has lead me to the following wikipedia info –

    “There are no fossils known that can be directly linked to the living African apes, nor any that could be considered representative of the last common ancestor between them and humans.”

    It seems there is no ape fossil link in Africa either.

  17. Ask your Aboriginal friends if they think they came here by boat or have always been here.

    I didn’t say anything about creationism. My own opinion is that humans have been migrating for millions of years, in response to climate change.
    During the various ice ages with the continents in their present configuration – Africa, South America and Australia remained habitable during the ice ages. As climate cooled the migration was towards the equator, as it warmed and populations grew the migration reversed away from the equator. There was relative stability in Africa and Australia (taking into account local migrations due to rising oceans and inland seas).

    Evolution theory suggests that human ancestry in some form must go back to Pangaea and Gondwana where Africa and Australia were connected – where else could we have come from, according to the theory? Migrations in the last 100,000 years, such as the migration from Africa to Europe (where there were already Neanderthal humans) give no indication of a genesis point, they are just the most recent part of the journey for some of the people.

    Humanity is older than the scientists’ instruments can measure.

    1. Why no primate fossils in Australia? says:

      If Humans evolved from Apes.

      So if humans came from Australia (Gondwana), how do you explain the absence of primate fossils in Australia?

  18. 'Not a protagonist of any theory of how aboriginal people got here ...' says:

    Hello John,

    A quick note … you raise some interesting questions.

    I did not intend any comparison between imperial property acquisition and aboriginal land acquisition. And I do not subscribe to anthropologists views of aboriginal people. Nor am I a protagonist of any theory of how aboriginal people got here, I merely quoted a story that came not from one cave nor one source, it is a version of history repeated by many.

    I think the jury is out on how aboriginal people got here.

    But I think it unlikely that humans evolved separately in different places and at different times.

    Nor do I subscribe to creationism. I think people should be wary of dismissing the theory of arrival by boats. In doing so, people may be dismissing the possibility of an even greater story of courage, perseverance and survival.

    To get some idea where I am coming from about land management and control, I include below a quote from Bill Gammage in his book, ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’. In case readers are not aware, Edward Curr is one of my ancestors.

    Ian Curr
    11 July 2015

    “The chief ally was fire.

    Today almost everyone accepts that in 1788 people burnt random patches to hunt or lure game. In fact this was no haphazard mosaic making, but a planned, precise, fine-grained local caring. Random fire simply moves people’s guesses about game around the country. Effective burning, on the other hand, must be predictable.

    People needed to burn and not burn, and to plan and space fires appropriately. Of course how a pattern was made varied according to terrain and climate: heath, rainforest and Spinifex each require different fire. Yet in each the several purposes of fire remained essentially the same. A plant needs fire to seed, an animal likes a forest edge, a man wants to make a clearing. Means were local, ends were universal. Successfully managing such diverse material was an impressive achievement; making from it a single estate was a breathtaking leap of imagination.

    Edward Curr glimpsed this. Born in Hobart in 1820, pioneer squatter on the Murray, he knew people who kept their old customs and values, and he studied them and their country closely in the decades of their dispossession. After 42 years in Victoria he wrote, ‘it may perhaps be doubted whether any section of the human race has exercised a greater influence on the physical condition of any large portion of the globe than the wandering savages of Australia’.

    He knew that linking ‘wandering savages’ to an unmatched impact on the land startlingly contradicted everything Europeans thought about ‘primitive’ people. He deliberately defied a European convention that wanderers barely touched the land, and were playthings of nature.Some researchers still think this.
    They give ground grudgingly on whether Aborigines altered the land. They argue or assume that nature alone made the 1788 landscape, perhaps via lightning fires.

    There is no evidence that lightning caused most bushfires in 1788, nor that it could shape plant communities so curiously and invariably as to exclude human fire impacts. Today lightning fire estimates vary from 0.01 per cent in western Tasmania to 30 per cent in Victoria, the latter an over estimate compared to 7–8 per cent for southern Australia and at most 18 per cent in the north. Only for western Queensland (80 per cent) does any researcher think lightning the major cause of fire.

    Today’s ‘relatively low frequency of lightning strikes in Australia’ was even lower in 1788, because people lit so many fires then, leaving less fuel for lightning to ignite. If lightning fire distributed Australia’s plants, outside towns and farms the distribution pattern should be similar now and in 1788. It is not.

  19. “The establishment of property rights is a feature of human society generally, these are the rules whereby land was acquired with the spread of human society out of Africa. It defines human civilisation.”

    I beg to differ.

    Firstly, the out of Africa theory is falling apart as archaeologists and their developing technologies find older and older societies in Australia and Asia. The consensus now is that there must have been some earlier migrations from Africa to explain the new data. It seems obvious to me that either a) humans migrated out of Australia or b) the human species has more than one genesis point or c) human migrations across the globe have been occurring for much longer than the last age, are equally valid theories – scientifically speaking. The out of Africa theory is firmly rooted in ideology – social Darwinism, not science.

    I understand there are some Aboriginal stories about boat arrivals and a recent TV show featuring a cave with such a painting but most creation stories say people either came here from the stars or came from within the earth itself. This dominant Aboriginal perspective clashes with the “out of Africa” myth and is too often ignored in favour of the “we are all boat people” myth.

    You cannot compare Aboriginal land rights to imperial/colonial property rights as if they were both similar manifestations of the same human condition rooted in the same African exodus. For a start, all imperial/colonial property rights were created through wars of invasion. Aboriginal land rights were not.

    The fences and lines on maps of imperial/colonial property rights represent exclusions, separations and distinctions. Aboriginal land rights, defined by song-lines not map-lines, represents inclusion, connection and relationship. In broad terms, the line between one tribal area and another does not separate the tribes but connects them (even if sometimes in war but the wars were not territorial, the wars were about other business). The complexities of blood lines – 2 or more parents, 4 or more grandparents, 8 or more great grandparents – and so on till the limits of ancestral memory, means that each individual has a broad fabric of ancestral connections to many places that weaves in and out of other individual’s ancestral connections and places. The moiety or “skin” system weaves in and out of the bloodlines, connecting them and their diverse land connections to each other.

    The notion of “tribe” is a European anthropological invention – a classification of Linnaean taxonomy. Property rights based on anthropological notions of tribe, such as Native Title, are illusions of invader consciousness. The reality is extended family and the family extends across the continent.

    The essential problem of migrant society is that it is disconnected, separated and self excluded from the fabric of Aboriginal relationships – it is at its core alien to and alienated from the whole paradigm of Aboriginal people, land and spirit. That is the problem, not just overdue property fees.


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