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Friday, 1 May 1987
Page: 2418

Dr THEOPHANOUS(10.19) —Madam Speaker, you will be pleased to know that I will speak about the Aboriginal Land (Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest) Bill and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill. It is a very sad day when we come into this House and we see the Opposition opposing the granting of the first major land rights in Victoria. Honourable members opposite get up and say: `If the legislation were put in a different way we might support it'. But they do not support the general concept of land rights for Aborigines in Victoria. The shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), presented the most convoluted argument against the legislation that one could imagine. He tried to say that the Victorian Government had instructed the national Government to legislate. Why did the Victorian Government say to the national Government that it should legislate? It is because it was very clear that the Liberal and National parties in Victoria were going to knock this legislation out in the upper House. It became necessary, if this land were to be granted to the Aboriginal people, for that to be done through the powers of the Commonwealth. That is the truth of the matter.

The attitude of the Opposition is not new. It is the kind of attitude against Aboriginal people which unfortunately was prevalent in the last 200 years. It was based and continues to be based-one has only to hear the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) to recognise that it continues to be based-on myths and misrepresentation of what Aboriginal culture is about and what the Aboriginal people are about. For example, one white spokesman made these comments about Aborigines in Victoria at the time land was taken from them:

The Aborigines of Australia had no property in the soil in the shape of improvements-the labour of their own hands. Priority of occupation gave them a right to the game on the land, but it conferred no right to hold the country against a civilised nation who could turn it to better account.

The spokesman also said:

. . . the Aboriginal had no clearly recognisable claim to a particular area of land; his more subtle relationship with his country ignored or not understood. He lacked the organisation which could have enabled effective warfare in defence of his interests . . . He had neither the obvious right to a certain area . . . nor the organisation to defend any part of his traditional hunting and gathering area.

If we analyse that argument we see that it says that, because the Western concept of fighting over land was non-existent amongst Aboriginals, therefore, it follows that they did not have the same attitude to the land that we have and had no rights to it. But this was an utter misrepresentation especially, I might say, in relation to the Aborigines of Victoria because Victoria was the most populated area, in terms of Aborigines, when the white man came to Australia. Indeed, the Aborigines there were not nomadic as they were in other parts of Australia and there were very significant numbers of them. They used the land very intensively and were agriculturally sophisticated. In fact, they were attached to specifically designated areas-something that was determined later after the white man had taken the land from them. Victoria was more densely populated than any other part of the continent and the people were more highly developed agriculturally and technologically than in other regions. They were certainly not nomadic. Let me quote from a book entitled The Australians. It states:

. . . the society, technology and economy of the well-peopled basalt plains . . . challenges the popular European image of nomadic hunter-gatherers, few in number, moving camp every few days and living largely from hand to mouth. The people of south-western Victoria and their neighbours were more numerous, more sedentary and far more ingenious than we ever imagined.

What happened to those people? How was their land taken from them? Let me quote from a book entitled Select Documents in Australian History. It states:

The Henty family occupied without authorisation land at Portland in November, 1834. Many others followed, similarly without authorisation. John Batman was one of them, and acting as a syndicate called the Port Phillip Association. He devised a contract with the Aborigines to `cede' 600,000 acres to him on 6 June, 1835. This was in exchange for sundry articles of hardware and merchandise. However, as the British Government had long since declared sovereignty over the whole of Australia, this `treaty' was null and void from the beginning . . . the land in Victoria was subsequently parcelled out by the government to so-called `selectors', who paid nominal sums for huge parcels of land, or given away as grants as reward for feats of exploration or public service.

Thus, the Aboriginal people of Victoria had their land taken from them. Indeed, as early as 1842 there was considerable conflict over the taking of land from Aborigines. The Portland Mercury reported:

The country might as well be in a state of civil war, as few but the boldest of the settlers will move from their home stations.

The resistance by the Aborigines to the spread of white settlement was described in 1842 to 1844 as `rising resistance'. We have subsequent documentation of what happened. Numerous massacres took place. For example, on 25 February 1842 at Mustons Creek in the Portland district the bodies of three Aboriginal women, one of whom had been pregnant, and a male Aboriginal child were found, dead from gunshot wounds. In the same year a considerable number of Aborigines had been poisoned at a station near Port Fairy after eating flour into which arsenic had been mixed. In 1846 it was reported:

. . . a Government survey party nearly exterminated the Cape Otway tribe, in reprisal for the murder of a white man . . . it is said that men, women and children . . . were shot down indiscriminately, and few escaped.

The exact number of Aborigines killed by Europeans will, of course, never be known. However, the 1858 select committee of the Government of Victoria reported to the Government in England that of the original Aboriginal population of Victoria, estimated at several thousands:

. . . there were not more than a few hundred remaining, and most of them being in a state of abject want.

This had occurred within 25 years of the first white arrivals in the southern part of the country in Victoria. The committee decided:

. . . to allow this to continue would be to tolerate and perpetuate a great moral wrong.

The committee nevertheless stated:

Victoria is now entirely occupied by a superior race, and there is scarcely a spot, excepting in the remote mountain ranges or dense scrubs, on which the Aboriginal can rest his weary feet.

This was 25 years after the white man's coming. In 1860 the Government set up a board to watch over the interests of the Aborigines. Victoria was the first of the Australian colonies to set aside reserves for the tribes remaining, and establish missions in order to protect, Christianise and educate them. It was out of this situation that the areas we are talking about, Framlingham and Lake Condah, came into being.

In order to protect the Aborigines, an application by the Church of England in Warrnambool for reserve land was considered by the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines, and on 17 September 1861 3,500 acres were reserved beside the Hopkins River. The estimated number of Aboriginal people remaining in the area by then was little more than 50. In 1876 the board resolved that 73 Aborigines should be moved from Framlingham to Lake Condah where a new station was to be opened. Lake Condah and Framlingham Aboriginal communities retained close links since those days when the missions were established and quickly phased out. The Framlingham settlement was never in favour with the authorities, and the area was sought after by other residents in the area as they wished an agricultural experimental college to be established there. However, Framlingham Aborigines refused to go to Condah. Those who were taken to Condah quarrelled with the Aborigines there and returned home. In 1868 the Aborigines asked for the re-establishment of the station at Framlingham, which was agreed to. In the detailed history of the Framlingham Aborigines by Jan Critchett, entitled Our Land Till We Die, this was seen to be the result of a:

. . . long fight by both the Warrnambool residents initially and then by the Aboriginal community. The amount of activity by the . . . community on behalf of the Aborigines was exceptional. There is no record of another case where the establishment of a Victorian Aboriginal station was preceded by so much effort from the local community. The answer may lie in the fact that the Western District was more closely settled than any other part of the Port Phillip District and the Warrnambool areas was one of the last places . . . to be taken up.

Despite the horrifying details of the slaughter of the Aborigines which can be found in other accounts of the settlement of the area, it was seen that those who pioneered the Warrnambool area did so without the need for violence and were faced by a large group of Aborigines, obviously dispossessed and living near enough to the main settlement for their plight to be obvious.

Framlingham was officially closed in 1889 and no further government support given to the residents, but Aboriginal occupation has continued unbroken to the present day. I mention this because Framlingham is probably unique in Victoria at least in that there is documented history of continuity of residents there which enhances, and indeed establishes beyond doubt, Aboriginal claims to that area. I also mention the matter in this context because I want to nail the argument which has been presented by the Opposition. First, anyone understanding the history that I have presented to this point, anyone with a moral conscience, surely will take the view that we should do something to restore the rights of those people.

Mr Hawker —No one is arguing with you on that.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —No one is arguing, says the honourable member opposite, except that Opposition members do not want to give the Aboriginal people inalienable rights to the land. What do they want to give them? They say that they should be given a freehold title. That means that it becomes possible that if something goes wrong in the organisation of that community at any given point in history, if its members are tricked by other white men, as the original inhabitants were tricked by John Batman and others, their land would be sold off and they would end up not having any Aboriginal land. The whole concept of Aboriginal land rights, the concept of the relation of the Aboriginals to the land, is inalienable. No individual Aborigine has the right to give away the land of his tribe. That is a central and fundamental concept which Opposition members fail to understand. We well understand what those members are up to. They are saying `Let us give these people this land, but allow the possibility that some individual Aboriginal person might sell it off'.

Mr Hawker —Oh, come on! Rubbish.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —That is what those opposite are saying. That is what freehold title entails, and they know it. That is the reason why this legislation has been opposed both in the upper House in Victoria and in this chamber. Those members should be ashamed of themselves. This is a fundamental moral issue. We as a nation have an obligation to look back in our history and to think about the culture that we have destroyed. We must think about what we have done to those people and ask ourselves whether it is not time that we did something to restore Aboriginal culture and the rights to land which Aborigines had and their relationship to the land. Opposition members, and in particular the shadow Minister, having attacked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs for doing nothing more than bringing into being the legislation which would have been able to go through the Parliament of Victoria, if it had not been for the kind of attitudes reflected by the Victorian Leader of the Opposition, Mr Kennett, and others, including the Leader of the Victorian National Party, who are acting on nothing more than the attitudes and beliefs of the new Right.

Mr Hawker —Rubbish.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —The honourable member says: `Rubbish'. He should read the propaganda and literature of the New Right on Aboriginal land rights. The New Right gives no recognition to the Aboriginal people. He should read its documents. The honourable member and other Opposition members applaud members of the New Right and what it is trying to do to Australia. I say this to everyone who is listening: If they read the documents of what the New Right is trying to do to this country, they would see that it is trying to take away all sense of social responsibility and all sense of moral concern for not only the Aboriginal people but also migrant communities and all groups in this community other than the very wealthy. For Mr Kennett and the other leaders of the conservative forces in Victoria to have given in to the extremists who have been trying to take away these rights from Aboriginal people is a disgrace. It is an even bigger disgrace that the honourable member for Bradfield, the shadow Minister, tried to rationalise and justify the absurd and outrageous behaviour of the Victorian conservative parties.

I say to honourable members opposite, especially those who have some moral concern: This legislation could have proceeded uncontested if we had had a bipartisan approach, if as a nation we had finally matured enough to be able to recognise what we have done to the Aboriginal people, to recognise the slaughters that have occurred, the way in which Aboriginals were killed by diseases, and the way in which they were treated when the white man first arrived here-like animals. We should recognise this history and say to ourselves: `We have a moral responsibility and we ought to be doing something about it'.

I urge honourable members to support this legislation. I congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. I look forward to more land rights claims in Victoria in the future so that the Aboriginal people can feel as last something is being done for them.