Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Yesterday this photograph

Until the mid-60s, the Aborigines came under the Flora And Fauna Act, which classified them as animals, not human beings. This also meant that killing an Aborigine meant you weren’t killing a human being, but an animal. — 

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appeared in my Facebook timeline. It came to me via two very well respected authors of children's books - one I know and one I do not know. I hasten to say that the one I know had issues with it, just as I did. I am not able to comment on what the other author thought although I was surprised she "shared" it.
The caption is absolute nonsense and it is a disgraceful piece of misinformation. Although there were some appalling acts of violence committed against them they were never able to be killed as animals.
Indigenous Australians have been able to vote in Federal elections since 1949 - if they were on their state roll or were a member of the armed services.  It should, of course, have been much earlier than that - especially given that there were men from indigenous communities who fought in World War One. If you are going to fight for your country then you should have every right to vote in the elections of that country. 
In 1967 there was a referendum which recognised the need to count indigenous Australians in the census and required them to be on the electoral roll like all other Australians. Many people confuse that referendum with "giving Aborigines the right to vote". What happened was that they ceased to be under the protection of the Crown and became subject to the Crown. Yes, it should have happened sooner. My paternal grandfather was one of those who had fought for the change.
The photograph has apparently been "shared" more than 6,500 times. It will have been seen by many thousands more. The vast majority of them are going to believe that caption.
It reminds me of another issue that is often raised in relation to indigenous Australians, that of the "stolen generation". This is the idea that hundreds - even thousands - of indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in orphanages and elsewhere to be brought up away from the influence of their own culture. There was a long and very expensive inquiry into whether this actually happened. The conclusion was very different. No evidence was found for the claims which were being made. Yes, some children were removed - but for the same sort of reasons that other children in the community would be removed. They were considered to be "at risk".  My personal view here is that, like anywhere else, there is a possibility that a small number of children were removed through cultural misunderstanding. Mistakes were made.
I don't like the idea that mistakes were made. I feel for immense sympathy for those involved. It does not however make for a "stolen generation". Despite that the term is still used. It is used in the media. It is used by members of the indigenous community who still believe it happened. It is used by those who want to feel outraged.
The photograph was probably first shared by someone who wanted people to feel outraged - and I do. I don't like the idea that the photograph was taken. It distresses me. I don't know the circumstances under which the photograph was taken but nothing makes it acceptable.
But "sharing" it like that with information which is so misleading does nothing to help or heal. It hurts.

4 comments:

Wendy said...

I despair of the human race at the best of times. And to compare humans to animals is an insult to animals.

Miriam Drori said...

There's plenty of misinformation about my part of the world. Anyone who doesn't know believes it. Why wouldn't they?

catdownunder said...

I despair of the human race too Wendy - any wonder I prefer to prowl through internet as a cat?
And, I know Miriam - what is sometimes said here on the news is extraordinary - and it is presented as absolute fact!

virtualquilter said...

Flash back!

That photo looks like one in a book I read when I was about 12. A group of men were arrested and escaped, recaptured. There were only a couple of men plus trackers to take them to Darwin and the only way to hold them was chains. There were killings involved, at least one of them was a policeman, and I sort of remember a station owner or worker was another ... but I will not sign a statement unless it is very vaguely worded!

I do remember reading the book and feeling that it was a real life crime story, and I think the author wrote from first hand accounts, including how Aborigines lived before white man arrived from tribal elders, and not just in this case.

Cannot remember the name of the book ... author was Ion Idriess. I learned a lot of history and a lot about life in the outback, and gained a healthy respect for both black and white people who lived that life.