Government is recruiting for the national Aboriginal art gallery


By KIERAN FINNANE

Jobs ads were placed about a week ago for a “senior director” for the NT Government’s proposed national Aboriginal art gallery. Applications close December 6.

The role is to “lead the delivery” of the project, working with “a diverse group of stakeholders, including Federal Government, key philanthropic organisations and corporate Australia to facilitate partnership opportunities and investment models”.

Facilitating “meaningful partnerships with Traditional Owners” and ensuring “social, cultural and economic opportunities for Aboriginal Territorians” are also mentioned, but not as a first priority. The successful applicant will, however, have to “display a high degree of cross-cultural competency.”

“Knowledge of the Arts” and of “the arts and museum sector” will assist; a tertiary qualification “in Social Policy, Arts Executive Management, or Public Policy, and membership of a relevant professional organisation”, will be viewed favourably, as will a “sound understanding of collections of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists with cultural, historical and social significance”.

A video promoting the project online says it will be “one of the defining experiences of Central Australia, especially as we work together to recover from the impacts of Covid-19”.

It claims that the gallery will be led “by Aboriginal experts” and that the site in the Alice Springs CBD is supported by “many Aboriginal custodians”.

It says work is underway to acquire Anzac Oval, for the project’s green space; to relocate rugby, and to develop a detailed design brief. 

It refers to “extensive community consultation” which found “majority support for the gallery to be built at Anzac Hill precinct” and cites a “comprehensive business case by Ernst & Young”, painting a glowing picture of its prospects.

See our analysis of the consultation (in reality an exercise in persuasion) here and the business case (far from “comprehensive” by its own definition) here.

Images at top and below, screen captures from the government’s promotional video.

 

 



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Remains of up to 80 Aboriginal people could be buried near Tasmanian roadworks site


A heritage investigation is underway near a roadworks project in Tasmania’s south-east amid revelations there could be the remains of up to 80 Aboriginal people buried there.

The Department of State Growth has been granted a permit by the Aboriginal Heritage Council to conduct test pitting — excavations — at a site off the Arthur Highway at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania’s south-east.

Road-widening construction was due to start later this year.

Tasmanian Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor told budget estimates hearings about the site on Tuesday.

The broader area is already recognised as having significant Aboriginal heritage values, but a second piece of land is potentially the burial site of dozens of Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Heritage Council Chairman Rodney Dillon says it’s not yet know how many bodies are near the roadworks site.(ABC News)

Aboriginal Heritage Council chairman Rodney Dillon said there were definitely remains there, it was just a matter of how many and exactly where the graves were.

“We know there are some bodies there in different places, you don’t know how many are there until you do some work in that area,” he said.

Mr Dillon said the council had been working closely with State Growth since the testing began earlier this year and he praised its approach to investigating the area.

The road-widening project was part of the State Government’s multi-million dollar package to improve roads frequently used by tourists.

The section of road concerned had not been upgraded for 35 years and roadworks would cost $3.7 million.

A beach at sunrise viewed from sand dunes with native grass in the foreground.
The broader area at Eaglehawk neck is already recognised as having Aboriginal heritage values.(ABC News: Katri Uibu)

‘First time’ site has been investigated

Elena Macdonald, director of the Parrdarrama Pungenna Aboriginal Corporation (PPAC) which includes the Tasman Peninsula, said her people had oral history about the area, but wanted to wait for the investigations to be concluded.

Parrdarrama pungenna woman Elena Macdonald poses for a photo.
Elena Macdonald, from the Parrdarrama Pungenna Aboriginal Corporation, wants the community to be fully informed of what is found.(ABC News: Lucy MacDonald)

“For our community, we think it’s important we wait until we’ve heard what these investigations produce before we extend any of our knowledge that’s been passed down through the years because this is the first time an investigation has been done,” she said.

“When some conclusion is produced, we need to be informed of that and involved in the process of what happens from there because regardless of whatever’s found, it is our country and it’s important we be included.”

Ms Macdonald said she had been told there would be ways to build the roadworks “without damaging the site too significantly”, but Mr Dillon said it was too soon to tell if the works could go ahead.

Wooden markers with blue tops line a pathway next to a timber fence and a road.
The road widening at Eaglehawk Neck was due to start late this year.(ABC News: Katri Uibu)

In a statement, a State Growth spokesperson said the investigation of potential archaeological sensitivity (PAS) would be completed mid-next month and the current design did not affect existing identified Aboriginal heritage.

The sun rises over a beach with cliffs in the distance.
The Department of State Growth says the area of Aboriginal heritage has always been known.(ABC News: Katri Uibu)



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Potential Aboriginal Burial Site Might Be Subject To The Road Widening Projects In Tasmania

road work

The Department of State Growth has been granted a permit by the Aboriginal Heritage Council to conduct test pitting, or excavations, at a site off the Arthur Highway at Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania’s south-east.

This was following the road-widening construction project that was due to start later this year. Cassy O’Connor, Tasmanian Green leader, told budget estimates hearings about the site on Tuesday.

The broader area is already recognized as having a significant Aboriginal heritage value, but a second piece of land was potentially the burial site of dozens of Aboriginal people.

As per chairman of Aboriginal Heritage Council Rodney Dillon’s statement, there were definitely remains there. It was just a matter of how many and exactly where the graves were. 

“We know there are some bodies there in different places, you don’t know how many are there until you do some work in that area,” he said. “It’s got a lot of cultural and spiritual connections for Aboriginal people and we need to make sure that the connection we’ve got there stays there.” The chairman added.

It has been revealed that the council had been working closely with the State Growth since the test pitting began earlier this year. He even praised its approach to investigating the area.

The road-widening project was part of the State Government’s multi-million dollar package to improve roads frequently used by tourists. The section of road concerned had not been upgraded for 35 years and road works would cost $3.7 million.

Parrdarrama Pungenna Aboriginal Corporation (PPAC) Director Elena Macdonald stated that her people had oral history about the area. Having said that, people still wanted to wait until investigations will be concluded.

“For our community, we think it’s important we wait until we’ve heard what these investigations produce before we extend any of our knowledge that’s been passed down through the years because this is the first time an investigation has been done,” she said.”

Should conclusions be formulated, the communication flow is deemed necessary as the need to be informed and involved in the process of what happens from there is imperative. Regardless of whatever’s found, they are entitled and important to be included.

Admittedly, Ms Macdonald said that she had been told there would be way in building the road works “without damaging the site too significantly”. However, Mr Dillon emphasized that it is too soon to tell if the works could actually go ahead.

In a statement, a State Growth spokesperson said the investigation of potential archaeological sensitivity (PAS) would be completed mid-next month, with test pitting to be conducted by qualified archaeologists prior to commencing the work.

Prisoners in Western Australia are being taught Aboriginal languages to aid rehabilitation


It’s early in the morning at Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women in the south of Perth, and prisoners dressed in grey and black uniforms are filing into a classroom.

Written on a whiteboard at the front of the classroom are the words moort, ngangk and koorlangka, from the Noongar language of Western Australia’s southwest, meaning ‘family’, ‘mother’ and ‘children’.

The centre, which prepares women for re-entry into the community, has been chosen as the trial site for the Western Australian government’s new Aboriginal Languages in Custody program. 

The program was launched earlier this month during NAIDOC Week, and the first class was held at the centre a week later.

Noongar woman Denise Smith-Ali is a senior linguist.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

“They learn about Noongar words that relate to kinship … they can tell stories or sing songs in-language that relate to their families,” senior linguist and Noongar woman Denise Smith-Ali, who runs the class, tells SBS News.

“At the same time, we look at how kinship structures work, being separated from family, and try to link that back together.” 

Any prisoners can take part in the five-week program, regardless of background, and different languages will be taught in other regions in partnership with local language centres when it is rolled out further, first to Hakea Prison in January 2021, and then across the state. 

This class of about 20 students are of all ages and will all soon be released after completing varying sentences.

Emily* is a Yamatji woman in her 20s, who will be released next year after serving nearly six months in prison. She is enthusiastic about being able to take part in the program. 

“Just learning your connections and your roots from where you came from and the changes that our Aboriginal people have been through,” she says.

About 20 students are taking part in the trial program.

About 20 students are taking part in the trial program.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

Ms Smith-Ali has researched the Noongar language for 20 years and been a qualified linguist for a decade. She has authored 58 books and worked with many senior elders across the 14 clans of the Noongar nation.

She says the Noongar program has been designed not just to teach a language, but to use culture to address intergenerational trauma. Many of the women at the centre have a history of trauma. 

“When they are out of prison later, they can teach their own individual families about how to do that research, which is a very strong connection to their own land and their own identity.” 

“They will also find out their totems, their heritage names. They will know the place names of where they come from.”

The course integrates language learning into the rehabilitation process.

The initial Noongar language course runs for five weeks.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

The Languages in Custody program has been created and delivered by the Perth-based Noongar Boodjar Language Cultural Aboriginal Corporation (NBLCAC).

“Language is your culture, it’s your identity. It’s your spiritual connection to country,” NBLCAC manager George Hayden says.

“We teach community members, and the ladies are seen as community members here in the prison, so it’s the first time for us to actually get into a prison and teach languages.”

George Hayden

George Hayden says those in prison are part of the community.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

Mr Hayden, a Ngadj Ndadji Noongar man, was raised on a reserve near the WA mid-west town of Merredin.

“When I go back home to country, I’ve got to speak language to my ancestors. That’s why I think language is important to all Indigenous people across this nation,” he tells the women in the Boronia class. 

“But for us in southwest WA, our language was taken away. Our elders weren’t allowed to speak our languages or practise culture because of past policies.

The program will expand to all WA prisons in 2021.

The program will expand to all WA prisons in 2021.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

WA Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan says the idea for the Aboriginal Languages in Custody program was first proposed by Kimberley MP and Gija woman Josie Farrer.

“She came to me and suggested that we have many Indigenous people locked up in Western Australia and a lot of them don’t know their language. Why don’t we use their time productively, as part of the rehabilitation process?” Mr Logan says.

“[It] is such a simple and obvious idea, but one that has never been tried.” 

After the idea was proposed, the state’s Department of Justice held stakeholder sessions with language centres and prisoners.

Rhodessa Krakouer helped to develop the program.

Rhodessa Krakouer helped to develop the program.

Aaron Fernandes/SBS News

Rhodessa Krakouer, a Noongar woman and projects directory with WA Corrective Services says: “Initially, it was about having conversations with the community … culture is really important, but at the heart of culture is language.”

“When a person learns the language of the lands they’re on, it’s powerful.” 

The program has been funded for two years at a cost of $300,000, with a pledge by the state government to provide ongoing funding for what it says is a first in Australia.

“This program will continue, it will exist, and hopefully, it will get the benefits for the individuals that we hope for,” Mr Logan says. 

*Not her real name



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Budj Bim Aboriginal site in Victoria reveals more ancient wonders


It is among the oldest examples of aquaculture in the world and dates back more than 6600 years. The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation campaigned for more than a decade to achieve international recognition from UNESCO.

Gunditjmara traditional owner Denis Rose said the scans were conducted from a plane flying in multiple directions over the landscape.

The Gunditjmara people engineered their land by building a complex system of weirs, channels and lakes upon the lava flows that run from Budj Bim to the sea.Credit:Country Needs People/Rodney Dekker

The information will be used to preserve cultural heritage, and for land and water management and restoring koala habitat and wetlands.

Mr Rose said understanding more about Budj Bim would mean its traditional owners were better equipped to protect parts of the site that had been hidden.

“First of all, it’s really just important to know where they are and then look at management requirements,” he said. “It’s great that we can use this technology to improve our management of these important places.”

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Mr Rose said the latest discoveries would lead to a deeper understanding of Indigenous settlement at Budj Bim.

“It’s a great lesson about sustainable development,” he said. “You can modify the natural landscape, [but] not to the point of destroying it. That’s exactly what these systems were about.”

The Gunditjmara people created a complex feat of engineering, using weirs, channels and holding and growing ponds that allowed them to harvest eels and provide food year round.

Mr Rose said the newly discovered 115-metre section would be among the longest individual channels in Budj Bim’s aquaculture system, which includes dozens of fish traps. The newly found stones hut foundations were scattered across the site, whose unique landscape was created by a lava flow eight kilometres wide and 18 kilometres long.

Tyson Lovett-Murray and Denis Rose at a yereroc (fish trap) at Tyrendarra, near Budj Bim, in 2015.

Tyson Lovett-Murray and Denis Rose at a yereroc (fish trap) at Tyrendarra, near Budj Bim, in 2015.Credit:Justin McManus

Environment Department local infrastructure deputy secretary Terry Garwood said the scans had penetrated thick scrub and bush to determine what lay beneath.

“We’ve been able to extend our knowledge and awareness of quite a lot more about the site in terms of stone hut bases,” he said.

The department handed the mapping data to Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, which now also owns the associated intellectual property.

Mr Garwood described Budj Bim as a cultural jewel that debunked the notion Aboriginal people were only nomadic.

Melbourne University Indigenous agriculture professor Bruce Pascoe said it was crucial that Aboriginal people retained ownership of the data gathered in the latest scans.

“Now that Aboriginal people have the intellectual property, it’s a more equal relationship,” he said. “In the past it’s been totally unequal.”

Professor Pascoe said advances in archaeological technology would help Australians appreciate the significance of other sites.

“I think the archaeological future in the country is going to be fascinating,” he said.

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However, he said it was “a little sad” that society appreciated Indigenous history and culture through Western archaeology.

“But if that’s what it takes to make a better Australia, that’s what we have to do.”

La Trobe University archaeology emeritus professor Tim Murray said light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR) had been developed by the military, then commercialised for broader use.

“Use of LiDAR has helped us understand a great deal more about the size and complexity of settlements,” he said.

Professor Murray said the latest discoveries indicated there was much still to learn about Budj Bim.

“The critical thing is to keep everyone focused on the need to preserve it. The way you’re going to preserve places like that is understanding them and exploring more about them,” he said.

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Aboriginal flag rights debate prompts deeper discussion on Indigenous identity


Indigenous Tasmanian photographer Wayne Quilliam has lugged his camera across the country for almost 30 years to capture significant cultural events.

Throughout that time, he has seen the many nuances of cultural expression and identity throughout different communities — and their relationship to the Aboriginal flag.

“In no way am I speaking on behalf of everyone. But some of the mobs I’ve spoken to up north and in the west [of Australia] acknowledge the flag but don’t use it as much as some groups — including my own — down south and along the east coast,” he said.

“Some groups tend to be more personalised in the ways that they represent themselves, and I think a lot of it comes down to the impact of dispossession and whether you have access to things like language, totems and deities.”

What’s the debate?

For the past 50 years, the Aboriginal flag has been a symbol that unites First Nations communities across the country under one banner.

But as tensions rise over who owns the rights to the flag, some community members have found themselves conflicted by its meaning and wondering how it represents their identity in 2020.

The Aboriginal flag has become a powerful symbol in the fight for civil rights.(ABC: Mitchell Woolnough)

The Aboriginal flag was designed by artist and Luritja man Harold Thomas in 1971 during the rise of the land rights movement.

But in 2018, Mr Thomas granted exclusive rights to the non-Indigenous company WAM Clothing, who has since issued infringement notices to several organisations who use the flag.

The move has sparked campaigns around the country to ‘Free the Flag’, and it even prompted the Senate to launch a federal inquiry in September.

As the country celebrated NAIDOC Week, the Coalition rejected a motion to hang both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Senate.

So, has politics detracted from the flag’s core intention to unify?

‘I actually belong to a mob and different countries’

For Gunai, Gunditjmara and Yorta Yorta artist Dixon Patten, the Aboriginal flag and its colours have been consistent tools he has used to express his identity.

But recently, Mr Patten said he had struggled to marry politics with his culture.

Man stands on road in front of tram with a possum skin cloak around his shoulders
Dixon Patten says having a different flag to represent each Indigenous clan-group could help to educate Australians about the distinct cultural differences between mobs.(Supplied: Dixon Patten)

“I just feel like the politics has kind of tainted the whole feeling around what the flag means to me and I just don’t have that same feeling that I once had in terms of pride and connection to it,” he said.

Mr Patten said while the flag served its purpose in the fight for justice and land rights, he felt that it had often taken away from the complex differences between traditional owner groups across the country.

“This debate has put these things into perspective and made me think about how I actually belong to a mob and different countries … the flag was only something that was adopted in the 70s whereas Aboriginal culture has been around for millennia,” he said.

He said creating clan-based flags could encourage broader discussion on the diversity of Aboriginal people.

“It would instil a sense of pride for mob and it would ensure that the broader community understand who the traditional owners are, and that Aboriginal people aren’t just one big homogenous group,” he said.

Clan-based flag supports Taungurung pride

The idea of individual flags for each nation has turned to action in central Victoria, where the Taungurung people last month adopted their own flag, designed by Taungurung woman Loraine Padgham.

Ms Padgham said the flag was designed to reflect the rivers and mountains across Taungurung land, which encompasses the regional communities of Mansfield and Alexandra.

A flag with ochre brown at the top and the Seven Sisters constellation, and black underneath an ascending yellow line.
The new flag will be used to represent the Taungurung nation in central Victoria.(Supplied: Taungurung Land and Waters Council)

“We describe ourselves as the first peoples of the rivers and mountains, and, accordingly, I chose to represent this with a symbolic silhouette of a mountain and river in the lower part of the flag,” she said.

The brown colour of the flag was matched to the ochre found near the Goulburn River and used in ceremonies, while the line moving across the flag represents the upwards trajectory of the Taungurung people.

The flag also features the Pleiades constellation, also known as the Seven Sisters, which features in Dreamtime stories across Victoria and Australia.

Loraine Padgham stands wrapped in a possum-skin cloak outdoors, in front of rolling green hills and bush.
Loraine Padgham is a descendent of John Franklin, the first known Taungurung person to attain freehold ownership over 80 acres of his own traditional lands in 1913.(Supplied: Loraine Padgham)

Ms Padgham is glad the Taungurung people own the rights to the flag and hopes her design, which was selected by her community from a host of entries, will become a symbol of cultural pride.

“The happiness that I felt on being told that my design had won was compounded by the knowledge that so many of my clan felt that it could be a meaningful representation of the Taungurung for future generations,” she said.

Fostering allyship through design

Tahnee Edwards is a small business owner and descendant of the Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Boonwurrung and Mutti Mutti nations.

She has used the Aboriginal flag to identify her brand as a black-owned clothing business.

Her niche designs usually feature a small Aboriginal flag as well as phrases and jokes that she said only most Indigenous people would understand.

“The flag is such an obvious and recognisable symbol of our culture … and when you see it somewhere you kind of feel and hope you’re around good people in a culturally safe space,” she said.

Woman poses behind a counter with her merchandise
Tahnee Edwards says the Aboriginal flag has helped to identify her brand as an Aboriginal owned business.(Supplied: Tahnee Edwards)

Ms Edwards also designs clothing appropriate for non-Indigenous people to wear in hopes of fostering allyship among the wider community.

“It’s a lot for us to fight for the flag rights by ourselves, we need allyship, and we need people to help us with this. However, it takes a lot more than wearing a T-shirt to be an ally, and I hope my designs can spark these constructive discussions,” said Ms Edwards.

“As an Aboriginal person who grew up with a non-Indigenous mother, the flag has been one of my main connections to my culture. So, I’m still going to continue to put my flag on T-shirts regardless of copyright laws because it’s my form of resistance.”

Behind one lens: a myriad of observations

Wayne stands in the middle of two men holding spears
Mr Quilliam with the Wirrpanda brothers in Arnhem Land. He says the relationship with the Aboriginal flag is different in communities across the country.(Supplied: Wayne Quilliam)

Mr Quilliam agreed that having one central flag joined the many Aboriginal communities together, but felt it was “different for remote and rural communities compared to urban mobs”.

“I think every day I slide from one side to the other and still can’t make my mind up as to what my stance is so, I think it’s important that we’re having this conversation,” he said.

“I believe we’ll never agree on one particular flag again because we have so many different visions of what it could be. But it’s important for us to be respectful other people’s opinions and not denigrate one another along the way.

“We are one people made up of many peoples.”



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The hopes for a Tasmanian Aboriginal treaty focus on a diary entry from 1831


August 6, 1831, may turn out to be a key date in Tasmanian history, but most people don’t know why.

It was on that day that some say a treaty was struck between the government of the day and Tasmania’s first people — a treaty, they say, that was never rescinded or revoked and is still in place almost 200 years later.

Controversial figure George Augustus Robinson was travelling across the state having been tasked by the powerful Aborigine Committee to “confer with the hostile tribes and explain the humane and kind disposition of the Government towards them”.

The committee was made up of the ruling elite of Van Diemen’s Land and included governor George Arthur.

Minutes from a committee meeting said Robinson must “… if possible, negotiate with the chiefs either to proceed to the establishment, or to bind themselves to commit no further outrage on the condition of receiving food and clothing and protection from all aggression”.

Robinson had to give the chiefs of Tasmania’s Aboriginal tribes a choice — go into exile at Wybalenna on Flinders Island, or stop fighting.

It was on the August 6, 1831, that Robinson wrote in his diary he made that offer to Mannalargenna, elder of the Plangermaireener clan.

“I informed him in the presence of Kickerterpoller that I was commissioned by the Governor to inform them that, if the natives would desist from their wonted outrages upon the whites, they would be allowed to remain in their respective districts and would have flour, tea and sugar, clothes, etc. given them; that a good white man would dwell with them who would take care of them and would not allow any bad white man to shoot them, and he would go with them about the bush like myself and they could hunt. He was much delighted.”

Aunty Patsy Cameron wants the Government to acknowledge the treaty.(Supplied: MJ Anders and Natalie Barnes)

Aboriginal elder and Mannalargenna’s ancestral granddaughter, Aunty Patsy Cameron AO, said he was offered protection and freedom if his tribe and others agreed to temporarily go to Wybalenna.

Importantly, she said Mannalargenna was promised he’d be able to return to country permanently after some time on Flinders Island, which she said was definitely a treaty.

“It’s interesting that Robinson says this agreement was made in the presence of Kickerterpoller because to me, he was a witness to this agreement,” she said.

“Any one of them could have driven a spear through Robinson at any time, but their word was their bond.

By 1835, Mannalargenna had died at Wybalenna, along with about 150 Aboriginal people, who all became very sick under the horrific conditions.

“When the boat arrives at Big Green Island near Whitemark, Mannalargenna cut off his beard and his hair and that’s so symbolic of the anguish and the sadness of his heart,” Aunty Patsy said.

“He was symbolically preparing himself for death.”

How important is history in a treaty?

History is a complicated beast and interpretations of records differ.

Historian Ian McFarlane, who’s spent his life researching and writing about Tasmania’s Aboriginal history, said there was a solid basis to the argument the agreement is a treaty, but it’s not that clear-cut.

“‘Treaty’ probably is the right word, as it was an offer from the government to chieftains of independent tribes, so I’d regard that as a treaty offer,” Dr McFarlane said.

Mannalargenna, the leader of Tasmania's Pairrebeenne clan
Mannalargenna was key to convincing Aboriginal Tasmanians to leave their country and move to Flinders Island.(Supplied: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)

Dr MacFarlane said Robinson used trickery or armed force to get other tribes on-side, so the treaty would only be with Mannalargenna and his people, not everyone else.

“It would appear Mannalargenna is the only chieftain Robinson made that proposal to, not the others like he was directed to,” he said.

“In my view, he was given orders to make a treaty, he said in his journal he did, and what he describes in his journal were the instructions he was given, so hopefully there are strong grounds for those people.

“But for everyone else, there’s no evidence at all.”

Dr McFarlane said caution was needed though, as there was only one reference to the treaty offer in history, and Robinson was prone to contradicting himself throughout his diaries, even previously advocating for exile as the preferred option.

Sophie Rigney, Senior research associate at the University of New South Wales’s Indigenous Law Centre, said in legal terms, history plays an important role in formulating modern treaties.

“Because Australia was claimed under terra nullius, the British could say this land was empty and so we therefore don’t need to enter treaty negotiations, but we know from the Mabo case terra nullius was a legal fiction and was never true,” she said.

“In other parts of the world, treaties were made at early points of contact, but obviously that hasn’t happened here so a treaty has to deal with the legacies of colonisation and invasion.

“It’s really important to have that knowledge of where those historic agreements have been and what’s been in them and why they might have fallen over.”

Renowned international law scholar and former dean of the University of Tasmania’s Law school, Tim McCormack has also previously outlined his support for the agreement being recognised as a treaty and how it could be used as a springboard to modern negotiations.

So where does that leave us?

Tasmanian Aboriginal academic Emma Lee
Emma Lee says the treaty is an idea worth revisiting.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

Emma Lee, a Trawlwulwuy woman and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research fellow at Swinburne University, said regardless of the legal standing of the agreement, it was an idea worth revisiting.

She said telling this story was an important part of moving forward with a 21st-century treaty.

“The process of colonisation isn’t just about Aboriginal Tasmanians, it’s also that other Tasmanians have been denied the opportunity of knowledge about what happened in their part of the world.

“Until we get that education and broader awareness, we’re going to get tangled up in arguments and discussions about ‘Aboriginal people are trying to take from us’ and instead we need to be walking together because everyone benefits in agreement making.”

Aunty Patsy is urging the State Government to acknowledge the 1831 agreement.

“In order to honour it we need to bring Aboriginal people from all around this island into a dialogue with the Government to talk about what a 21st century treaty would look like.” she said.,

A brick church behind a timber fence
The site of unmarked graves of Aboriginal people who perished at Wybalenna is a short distance from the chapel on Flinders Island.(Supplied: Rachael Rose)

Reconciliation Tasmania co-chair Bill Lawson said the organisation was actively pursuing the treaty argument.

“We have regular briefings with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, and the leader of the Greens,” he said.

“We don’t want people thinking that anyone’s going to take over their backyard, or all that other rubbish, because this is about a fair go for the descendants of the first people.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Roger Jaensch said the Government was open to having discussions on treaty with Aboriginal communities.

“In the meantime, our continued focus will be on practical measures that support stronger outcomes for Aboriginal people in Tasmania, through our multi-faceted reset approach to continue to invest in our relationship with Aboriginal communities and to achieve some of the outcomes that a treaty might address.”



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Victorian Aboriginal communities urged to ‘keep the faith’ as treaty process hits bumps in the road


When Natarsha Bamblett is searching for inspiration in her life, she turns to her grandmother, Napurrula.

A Walpiri woman, Napurrula was taken from her mother and family at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory when she was two years old, and ultimately sent thousands of kilometres away to Victoria.

“She was actually born under a birthing tree, which is so beautiful and sacred,” Ms Bamblett said.

“And where we live today in Victoria, there’s not many of those traditions that happen.”

Despite suffering the cruelty of being torn from her family, Napurrula survived and is now a proud great-grandmother to a family that knows its culture.

“I continue to take her fierce strength and courage, bravery and resilience, and I’ve got to continue to remember — these are the people that come before me,” Ms Bamblett said.

“We are not defined by the trauma and the pain that has been inflicted by other people, from the disconnection … the strength of Aboriginal people is in our culture, it’s in the country, it’s in the bloodline.”

Ms Bamblett says her grandmother Napurrula’s advice guides her through life’s challenges.(Supplied: Natarsha Bamblett)

A proud Yorta Yorta, Gunaikurnai, Walpiri and Wiradjuri woman, Ms Bamblett is a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly, which is working to set up the rules and structures under which treaties can be negotiated between the Victorian Government and Aboriginal nations or clans.

One of its first big projects is setting up a truth and justice commission, to lay down the facts on Victorian colonisation and its ongoing impact on Aboriginal communities.

It’s a process that has been undertaken in dozens of other countries grappling with the painful legacy of colonisation, including South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.

Ms Bamblett hopes the process will create a shared understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians that will allow them to work together more closely.

“Because Australian history is my history, and my history is everyone’s history,” she said.

“We’re actually able to empower each other when we can share and listen to the messages that we have to offer as Indigenous people, then we can learn to unite and work together.”

A possum-skin quilt built from squares etched with messages about the promise of the treaty process.
The Assembly held its inaugural meeting in December last year at Parliament House.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

And once treaties are formed, she hopes to see a society where people understand they can be “responsible together”.

“We all have the right and the role to be here,” she said.

“So if we can all take on the responsibility to do the right thing, to call things out when they’re not right, to say the right thing and use your voice and stand up, or stand with somebody, to follow the right path … then this will make the change, the difference, that we’ve been needing and wanting for a long time.”

Bushfires, pandemic and Djab Wurrung tree’s destruction mark a tough year

The Assembly’s final meeting in December will cap off a year that’s not been without some speed bumps in its planned path to treaties.

It started with bushfires that devastated the country of traditional owners in the east and north-east, before the coronavirus pandemic sent the treaty consultation and deliberations online.

Then last month, the controversial destruction of a majestic fiddleback tree on Djab Wurrung land to make way for the duplication of the Western Highway sparked a fresh political firestorm.

It was an outcome that had been negotiated by the traditional owner group, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, and one which saved 16 other culturally significant trees, including two birthing trees.

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As 7.30 explored, the tree’s destruction highlighted systemic concerns on cultural heritage protection laws.

While there was some disagreement amongst traditional owners around the tree’s technical cultural heritage values, its loss was deeply painful for Djab Wurrung protesters who had created a protest camp at the construction site in a bid to save the tree.

Those protesters included Djab Wurrung woman Sissy Austin, who announced she would resign as an Assembly member for the south-west in the wake of the tree being felled.

Ms Austin told the ABC at the time that to her, the destruction of the tree marked a break in trust between the Victorian Government and Aboriginal communities.

A towering tree with branches that fan out. The bark down the trunk is very wavy. An Indigenous flag is wrapped around the base
Djab Wurrung protesters camped along the Western Highway in a bid to protect the towering fiddleback tree.(Supplied: Sean Paris)

Assembly co-chair and Taungurung man Marcus Stewart said while the Assembly had not yet formally received notice of Ms Austin’s resignation, their focus was on offering her support.

He said the Assembly had also requested further briefings from the State Government after the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services raised concerns over the force used to remove protesters from the Djab Wurrung protest site.

Questions on representation remain for the Assembly

Ms Austin’s resignation highlights the diversity of views within the Aboriginal community on the treaty process being embarked on by the Assembly and the Labor Andrews Government.

Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, remains critical of the Assembly’s structure, which includes reserved seats for Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs).

Lidia Thorpe, wearing traditional face paint and scarf over a deep red dress, speaks with a crowd of people watching.
Greens senator Lidia Thorpe says issues of clan representation must be addressed for the Assembly to be truly representative.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

These are groups which have been recognised as traditional owners of country in Victoria through either the Federal Court’s native title laws or the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act, which was set up as a less burdensome state-based process to recognise traditional owners in 2010.

There are 11 RAPs with a reserved seat at the 32-member Assembly, although the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation has so far declined to take up its seat, citing a distrust of the process.

Senator Thorpe said the Assembly’s membership must be expanded beyond the RAPs to give voice to clans who have not gone through government processes to obtain formal recognition.

“I think that if you’re real about representation, you need to have the 38 nations represented,” she said.

“It is against Aboriginal lore for people to speak on other people’s country and so the foundation needs to be right, otherwise people will disengage.”

The Assembly has been grappling with the question of expanding its membership for several months, with consultations currently underway on if and how it could expand the number of reserved seats beyond those groups with RAP status.

The First Peoples' Assembly members gather around a possum quilt inside the Parliament's Upper House.
The Assembly is considering whether its membership should be expanded to include more voices.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

As the Assembly’s discussion paper on the issue notes, this throws up a host of further questions, including whether the Victorian Government would recognise, or negotiate treaties with, nations that did not have formal traditional owner status under federal or state legislation.

Senator Thorpe also believes the state-based treaty processes being pursued by Labor governments in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory are unable to properly address the unceded sovereignty of Aboriginal nations.

“It needs to be at the highest level, we can’t talk about crumbs on the ground … we want real change,” she said.

“You can’t treaty at a state and territory level, they’re treaties that are administrative processes hijacked by the government.”

Assembly ‘on the verge of history’ as Queensland, NT watch on

Mr Stewart said it should not surprise anyone that within Victoria’s Aboriginal communities there was a diversity of views on the best way forwards.

“We’re just as entitled to debate and disagreement as every other Victorian, we live in this democracy as well,” he said.

“And that’s the beauty of who we are as an Assembly. We’ll have robust debate, discussion, but we’ll come to a decision on how we move forward.”

Marcus Stewart stands in a park, dressed in an Akubra and t-shirt bearing the message 'Always Was, Always Will Be'.
First Peoples’ Assembly co-chair Marcus Stewart says the Assembly is “on the verge of history”.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

He said after 233 years of colonial oppression, suspicion towards governments was “generational” in Aboriginal communities, but treaty presented the opportunity to shift the power dynamic.

“My message is, keep the faith,” he said.

“We’re on the verge of history with what we’re doing, on Victoria and the country’s first treaty negotiation framework.”

Mr Stewart said Victoria was “leading the way” on treaty, with the Northern Territory and Queensland watching on closely as they adopt similar mechanisms to progress treaty talks in their own communities.

“It’s a credit to our people, the resilience of our people,” he said.

“But we have to get this right, we have to set a good precedent that South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales can follow.”

As the nation celebrates NAIDOC Week, Ms Bamblett said she saw her work on treaty as part of the eternal chain of Aboriginal stories, culture and activism encompassed by the 2020 theme “Always Was, Always Will Be”.

“The stories are here for us to embrace, as they always were and they always will be,” she said.



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Goulburn’s Mulwaree Aboriginal Community Inc. has had a busy first year | Goulburn Post


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The recently founded Mulwaree Aboriginal Community Inc. appointed its full executive at its first AGM in October. Monica Bridge was elected as president, Dylan Louden as vice-president, Stephen Dillon as treasurer, Jodie Munday as secretary, Elise Thornthwaite as publicity officer, Jennie Gordon was elected as public officer, and John Louden and Veronica Ford as committee members. The group thanked returning officer Graeme Welsh. The Mulwaree Aboriginal Community was set up to be an inclusive Aboriginal community accepting people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Ms Gordon explained. The organisation’s objects are to give residents choice of membership to Aboriginal organisations; advise government and non-government organisations about Aboriginal culture and information; lead and support Aboriginal projects; and provide support and referral for families. Over the next couple of executive meetings, the Community will develop a draft plan in consultation with its members for what it would like to achieve next year. This year, the Mulwaree Aboriginal Community has been closely involved with the Goulburn 2020 project, which aims to make known some of the Indigenous people who were here when Lachlan Macquarie arrived in 1820, and whom Western histories have overlooked. READ ALSO “There are a large number of names of real people with real faces who were Aboriginal people from here, who are forgotten people,” Ms Gordon said. Mulwaree members want those people to be identified, and named along the river-walks. Some names are recorded in European explorers’ diaries; others in the ‘blanket lists’. From 1814, Macquarie issued blankets to Aboriginal people; the lists record names, ages, numbers of wives, children, tribe, and district. The State Library of NSW considers these lists “powerful primary sources” for family and community history research. A display at the Rocky Hill War Memorial and Museum recognizes the local Aboriginal soldiers who enlisted in World War I. That, too, was suggested by the Mulwaree Aboriginal Community. This is an ongoing project, and will recognize those who fought in World War II, Vietnam, and other conflicts. The Community also want to recognize a traditional women’s ceremony circle in the grounds of the historic All Saints Church, in Emma Street. When Ms Gordon was growing up, a sign commemorated the site; that sign is long gone. “That’s something else that we’d like to have recognized, recorded, and documented in history,” she said. Also as part of the Goulburn 2020 project, Ms Gordon and Ms Lamb led a history walk and talk along the Mulwaree River, around the Lansdowne Bridge, on Saturday, October 31. While Ms Lamb spoke about the colonisers and Macquarie’s visit, Ms Gordon talked about landscape features that still remained and their significance: the hills, the rivers, and the traditional burial ground at Lansdowne Park Estate. The rivers are particularly important to local Aboriginal people. The Community takes its name from the traditional name of this region – Mulwaree; in Gundungarra and Ngunnawal language, the word means “long water”. The meeting of the Wollondilly and Mulwaree rivers at Goulburn, Ms Gordon explained, was one reason this area was a meeting place for Aboriginal groups. Traditional Custodians in the area invited other communities to join them for ceremony at significant times, such as bogong moth season. The rivers are also symbolised in the Community’s logo, designed by local Aboriginal artists Monica Bridge and Jodie Munday. Here, the two platypuses represent the Mulwaree and Wollondilly Rivers. The rain symbolises the area is freshwater country. The Northern and Southern symbols of people gathered represents the Gundungarra and Ngunnawal people, the Traditional Custodians of the area. The symbol in the centre of the logo represents the large population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who now call Goulburn Mulwaree (and region) their home – “An inclusive group representing many Aboriginal nations,” Ms Gordon explained. Goulburn has one of the highest Indigenous populations in the region. According to the 2016 Census, 1190 people 1190 people in Goulburn Mulwaree identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – 4.3 per cent of the local population. (By comparison, Bowral’s Indigenous population is only 1.0 per cent, Canberra’s 1.8 per cent, and Yass’s 3.9 per cent.) Although the traditional custodians are Gundungarra and Ngunnawal people, Ms Gordon said, the population is now made up from many of the Aboriginal nations of Australia. The email contact for the community group is mulwareeaboriginalcommunity@gmail.com.

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Goulburn High School celebrated Aboriginal culture with NAIDOC Week this week | Goulburn Post


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Each year NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate Aboriginal culture. And while this year has been very different in many ways, NAIDOC Week was still an important part of the school year at Goulburn High. Staff and students took part in activities which ran throughout the week. Aunty Veronica said she was pleased they had been able to hold NAIDOC celebrations this year. “It’s good. I like when they come together in schools to celebrate NAIDOC,” she said. “[It’s good] to see the teachers are getting involved and teaching the kids some cultural awareness and having the kids involved in classrooms learning about NAIDOC Week and why we celebrate it.” Teacher Mark White ran an Aboriginal Art workshop where students were able to create their own individual works of art which he said he would turn into a mural for the school. Their works will also be entered in a competition which could see them displayed at Goulburn Hospital as part of the redevelopment. The theme for the competition was Rivers and their significance to the area. This year’s NAIDOC Week theme Always Was, Always Will Be, recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for more than 65,000 years. Year 9 students also adapted traditional Aboriginal games to play at school, including Borna Jokee, Jillora, Kokan and Noongar wana, which they taught to classmates. English students read Dreamtime stories throughout the week and students also took part in different craft activities including rope making with Red Stringybark and felting where they represented the landscape in their artworks. Students also spoke about native foods and used some of them to cook with. Aunty Veronica said she hoped NAIDOC Week would promote cultural awareness and encourage Aboriginal people to be proud of their culture. “They’re really enjoying it this year (the students). Aboriginals being proud of their culture and understanding that we are a group of people and we really cherish our culture – let’s hope they can take that away and more of an understanding of Aboriginal culture.” NAIDOC celebrations will continue at the school next week with an assembly on Tuesday morning. On that day, Djiriba Waagura will visit Goulburn High School and hold workshops with students from Year 7 through to Year 10. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

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