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Wednesday, 1 December 1976

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - I have a small amendment which I very earnestly ask the Government to accept. I move:

At the end of paragraph (b) add 'in so far as such can be done without breach of Aboriginal usage '.

I think that this is a matter of some practical importance to traditional Aboriginals. Some sites are known and some sites are made known by Aboriginals. Other sites are not known and not made known by their traditional owners. There are sites whose secrecy is part of their sacredness. This does not apply to all sites. In many cases the site referred to is not an artifact, a painting on a wall or anything like that; it is simply a natural feature. The fact that this natural feature is sacred and is a site of significance means that it has to be concealed from everybody except the traditional people who are entitled to that knowledge. This is really fundamental to the nature and structure of Aboriginal society. By making it mandatory for these sites to be disclosed and put in a register we are violating one of the canons of Aboriginal society.

Mr Kelly - It is sacred. It cannot be described.

Mr WENTWORTH - In many cases the sites can be described but not in every case. It is a real affront to Aboriginals to require them- as this clause does- to put sacred sites upon a register. It might be said that the register itself could be kept secret. Anybody who says this would not be really in touch with the nature of Aboriginal usage. Bad though it might be to disclose a site to a European, in Aboriginal eyes it would be far, far worse to describe and identify a site to another Aboriginal who was not entitled to know about it. It would be much worse to let another Aboriginal know than to let a European know. Until quite recently ceremonial murders have been committed in the centre of Australia just to protect the sacredness of this knowledge. This is something we may laugh at as some people would laugh at masonic secrecy or something of that character.

It is absolutely fundamental to Aboriginal society that some things should be kept secret especially from other Aboriginals who are not permitted to know about them. This incidentally, is one of the main coherent forces which has kept Aboriginal society together in the past. It is a fact that Aboriginal society has remained together because the knowledge which is the authority has been kept compartmentalised. This is a matter which does not have any practical significance for anybody except Aboriginals. I am not suggesting that, where sites can be disclosed by Aboriginal usage, they should not be disclosed. But because apparently this aspect has not been sufficiently considered, I most earnestly ask the Government to add after the words 'disclosure of the sites for a register' the words insofar as such can be done without breach for Aboriginal usage'. It is for the Aboriginals themselves to say from time to time what their usage and traditional customs are.

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