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Wednesday, 16 April 1980
Page: 1520


Senator BONNER (Queensland) - I raise a matter this evening in the adjournment debate which has troubled me for quite some considerable time. Before I do so, I think I should take the opportunity to say that the previous speaker who was speaking on the boycott of the Olympic Games was less than honest in many of the things that he said. He mentioned a lot of countries but, unfortunately for him, none of those countries was the host country for the

Olympic Games at the time that he was talking about. What we are talking about is a boycott of the Olympic Games when the host country is the aggressor -


The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Bonner, you cannot continue a debate on a certain matter which has just been adjourned prior to 1 1 o'clock.


Senator BONNER - I will continue with the matter that I intended to raise, that is the matter concerning -


Senator Button - You cannot remember what it was.


Senator BONNER -Senator Button should not worry about my remembering what I was about. I intend to talk on a matter that I hope the honourable senator would be supporting me on. The honourable senator and his Party are supposed to be the champions of this particular cause. I hope that at some future date I might hear the honourable senator raising his voice in defence of the people about whom I am going to speak this evening, rather than continuing his defence of the communist country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that is involved in the invasion of Afghanistan at the moment. The matter I raise tonight is one that has received quite a considerable amount of publicity.

I want to make it quite clear at the outset that what I have to say this evening is in no way a criticism of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) who, I believe, has shown a great deal of sensitivity in regard to the subject that I wish to speak about this evening. At the same time, I also want to congratulate the Australian which has carried articles on this matter for some considerable time with a great deal of sensitivity and has reported it quite faithfully throughout the debate. I refer to the Noonkanbah Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting-


Senator BONNER -It is always rather amusing to me that, when an honourable senator on this side of the chamber speaks about matters like this, we hear the inane bleating from members on the other side of the chamber who consistently claim to be the alleged champions of the underdog.


Senator Walsh - Who do you think it isCharlie Court?


Senator BONNER - You would not even have a clue as to what it is all about.


The PRESIDENT - Senator Bonner,you should address your remarks to the Chair. Senator Walsh will cease interjecting.


Senator BONNER -Mr President,the person who is interjecting from the other side, Senator Walsh, would not know the first thing about an Aborigine. As a matter of fact, I do not think he would know an Aborigine if he happened to fall over one. It is fortunate for him that he happens to be sitting on the opposite side of the chamber with an Aborigine on this side. He can probably identify an Aborigine when he sees one, only because I happen to be on this side of the chamber and am a constant reminder to people like Senator Walsh that -


The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Walsh will cease attempting to interject. Senator Bonner has the call.


Senator BONNER - Thank you, Mr President. Whilst I appreciate your intervening on my behalf, I do not need any protection from people such as Senator Walsh, none whatsoever. I am quite capable of holding my own against him or any honourable senator on the other side of the chamber. I come back to the subject that I intended to speak on; that is, the case of the people of Noonkanbah in Western Australia. On many occasions I have stood up in this chamber, and many Aborigines throughout this nation have stood up, to talk about Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal land rights and what land rights mean to the Aboriginal people. Very few people have really listened to us. It is a great thing to me that finally a non-Aborigine has come out to speak on this matter. I intend to quote from the statement which was attributed to him in the Australian of 8 April 1980. Perhaps at last the non-Aboriginal people of this nation will start to take note because one of their own is laying out quite concisely what it is all about when we talk about Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal affinity to the land and what the land means to them- their sacred sites and their places of spiritual significance.

A report in the Brisbane Courier-Mail on 8 April 1980 was headed in large black type 'Western Australian Blacks not to get Land Rights'. The Noonkanbah dispute does not concern land rights in the sense of the land rights legislation of the Commonwealth Parliament as we have brought about in relation to the Northern Territory. We are talking about a pastoral property that was bought with government funding for a group of Aboriginal people. The Courier-Mail article reads:

Perth- There was no chance that the present Western Australian Government would grant over-riding land rights to Aboriginals, the Cultural Affairs Minister, Mr Grayden, said yesterday.

Such a move would be contrary to the Government's philosophy of one Australian family with equal rights and equal opportunities.

Oh, my God! The Aboriginal people question whether it is right that since 1788 this country has been one family with equal rights. All the rights of the Aboriginal people of this entire nation were just non-existent. The whole nation was taken over by the non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal rights were just crushed into the ground by the right of might and the right of force. And we have a Minister of a State who says:

Such a move would be contrary to the Government's philosophy of one Australian family with equal rights and equal opportunities.

We are anxious to protect Aboriginal rights and all places of significance to them, but consistent with the needs of the Australian community' . . .

This was never given one single thought by the non-Aboriginal people when they invaded this country and took over the whole country. There was no thought of this for the Aboriginal people- none whatsoever. When a section of people in the Aboriginal community are talking about their rights and demanding their rights we say: 'Oh no. It is one Australia. We are just one big happy family'. If somebody had told me when I was living under lantana bushes on the banks of the Richmond River that we were one big happy family with equal rights I would have looked at him with a pretty queer look on my face. When I walked down the streets the little white kids used to say: 'God made the little nigger, he made him in the night, he made him in a hurry and forgot to paint him white'. That was one big happy family? What a lot of nonsense. The same Mr Grayden is the author of a book entitled Adam to Atoms in which he showed great sensitivity. He was the chairman of a select committee which was looking into the plight of the Aboriginal people in Western Australia. I would totally support some of his recommendations. He said that something better and something more must be done for the Aboriginal people in Western Australia by the Western Australian Government. At the time that Mr Grayden wrote that book he was a back bench member of the Western Australian government. He was not the Minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs. But now that he is a Minister he sings a different tune altogether. I think what he says is worth repeating:

We are anxious to protect Aboriginal rights and all places of significance to them, but consistent with the needs of the Australian community.

What is Noonkanbah all about? It is about a struggle by Aboriginal people for rights, for the protection of their sacred sites and for the protection of places of spiritual significance to them. That is what the struggle is all about at Noonkanbah. It is not about land rights as such. It is about a group of people who, through the goodwill of the Government, were able to obtain sufficient finance to purchase a station property, a pastoral property, so that they could live on it with the hope of rebuilding and rejuvenating their own ideas, their own philosophy, their own culture, and so that they could protect themselves from the encroachment of the pressures of the white society. That is what Noonkanbah is all about. The Australian dated 9 April 1980 has a great headline: 'The sacred fight'. It is nothing about owning a piece of land. It is not about making a great deal of profit by selling and raising cattle and making a great deal of money. It is about sacred sites. Even the author, Mr George Blazevic, says in his article:

The trouble at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberleys is a /ire right about land and mineral rights and political manipulation.

When Aboriginal people are fighting and struggling for recognition and for justice, it always seems to happen that political manipulation arises. We recall the debate about Aurukun and Mornington Island. We recall the debates about the people who were investigating eye diseases in Queensland. Their report was not accepted. The Queensland Government was not prepared to accept what the people of Aurukun and Mornington Island were asking for because a couple of Aboriginal people who were working for the trachoma treatment scheme were allegedly telling Aboriginals to vote for the Labor Party. When Aboriginal people are trying to do something for themselves, when they are trying to find justice and somethimg for themselves, that is when we seem to find that political manipulation is involved. I ask the question: Political manipulation by whom? The article continues:

According to one of those in the centre of the dispute, the Western Australian Minister for Cultural Affairs, Mr Bill Grayden, it has nothing to do with protecting sacred sites.

That is what the Minister said. The article continues:

Mr Graydenis a long time student of the State's Aborigines. He even wrote a book on the plight of traditional Aborigines, called Adam and The Anl.

I do not have a copy of that book. I have only Adam to Atoms. Apparently Mr Grayden has also written another book entitled Adam and The Ant. He was probably talking about the Premier of Western Australia or of Queensland when he was talking about the ant. That is another subject altogether. The article continues:

There is absolutely no question about it, the Aborigines at Noonkanbah are being manipulated for political reason,' he said

The present dispute has been caused by their so-called "white advisers" all for political reasons.

This theme comes in again: Every time Aborigines are asking for something or are wanting something authorities always hide behind this cloak. It seems that the States of Western Australia and Queensland are always able to hide behind this cloak of so-called political manipulation. The article continues:

Now here is an instance of it. I had to have a television debate the other day, in front of a live audience, with two Aborigines from Noonkanbah. The idea was that they would get a chance to answer any questions and so would I as the representative of the Government.

A couple of traditional Aboriginal people from a tribal situation are being asked to appear on a television program to debate this question with a sophisticated and educated man, a man able to write a book. He is no dill. He has had a reasonable education. It is almost a David and Goliath situation, except that on this occasion the Aborigines probably did not believe they had God on their side, so they did not appear on the television program with Mr Grayden to debate this question. When a Minister or someone in a responsible position comes at that kind of caper it is a time that we had a second look at where we are going in this country. The article continues:

According to Mr Grayden, to give Aborigines special land and mineral rights would place them in a unique and privileged position. This would be to the detriment of the rest of the community and 'quite unacceptable in this day and age '.

To me, as an Aborigine, this has a very cynical ring to it. What about the Aborigines from way back, my forefathers, who had their tribal land taken away and their sacred sites completely destroyed, from Cape York Peninsula down the eastern seaboard to Wilson's Promontory?


Senator Wriedt - And Tasmania.


Senator BONNER - Yes, Senator Wriedt. One can go right across the water to Tasmania. Everything that the Aboriginal people had, not by the right of government, not by the right of the people but by the right of Almighty God, was taken from them. Their culture and their tribal grounds were destroyed. The land was used for farming and grazing purposes. Roads, towns and cities were all built on those tribal lands. If we give some small sections of this vast nation back to the Aboriginal people and we say that they have the right to determine whether mining should take place on their land, on their sacred sites or on sites which have a spiritual significance, does that make them a privileged class? We have to take a second look at ourselves. The article goes on:

If they owned the mineral rights to these vast areas it could only be to the detriment of the community, ' he said.

He fears that if Aborigines were given such land rights, they would then start negotiating with any mining company, Australian or foreign.

What will the Aborigines do? Aboriginal people will start dealing with the yellow hordes which will come down and take over because the Aboriginal people will make mining deals with them! It is all right for mining companies to deal with foreign companies and to exploit the minerals and resources of this land, but for Aboriginals to do it is a different proposition altogether. So much for what Mr Grayden and the Western Australian Government have had to say.

As I said in the beginning, I and many other Aborigines have been talking about Aboriginal culture, our attachment to the land, what the land means to us, our spiritual attachment to certain sections of our land, our sacred sites and that sort of thing, but I do not think that anyone has really listened to us to a great extent. They say: It is just those blacks going off again. Why should we listen to them? It is all superstition and this type of stuff'. But now an article about the views on this subject of an eminent anthropologist has been published in one of our national newspapers. I would like to quote from that article as I feel that if it is read into Hansard people may start to listen, appreciate and understand what we, the Aboriginal people, have been saying for so long. The article states:

Anthropologist Professor R. M. Berndt, of the University of Western Australia, one of the Government 's most articulate opponents and a world authority -

I emphasise the words ' a world authority '- on traditionally oriented Aboriginal society and the problems associated with socio-cultural change said: 'It is so rarely that members of the wider community are informed about what is in fact happening in what I call Aboriginal Australia. To say the present tensions are being whipped by outsiders is a facile explanation of the situation.

That is Professor Berndt 's summing up. The article continues:

It is true that there are a number of Europeans who have been outspoken regarding Aboriginal-European relations, but as far as manipulation of a sacred site is concerned, this is not possible.

You can't put meanings or distortions about the meanings of sites to Aborigines. They have a very full understanding of their own situation.

From an Aboriginal point of view the whole land was regarded as sacred and they saw within the land particular features that were created and were even part of the great mythic Being, the mythological Beings who are in fact the deities of various Aboriginal religions throughout Australia.

The Dreaming period, and one must remember there are so many concepts that one has to deal with, is an eternal situation. It is something that happened at the beginning of time and continues to happen, and is continuously relevant to the whole situation.

All of Aboriginal Australia and the whole continent before the arrival of Europeans was criss-crossed with trails of these spirit Beings and it is almost like a road map. Everything was named, everything had meaning and was signposted.

The whole country was dense with meaning. This is the thing we must get to understand.

Around sites like Pea Hill at Noonkanbah there would be a kind of zone, a small area which would be pan and parcel of the actual site around which there is a kind of protective area.

That is the whole thrust of the argument of the Aboriginal people at Noonkanbah. They are talking about the drilling close to and upon one of their sacred sites. Here we have an eminent anthropologist supporting what they have said, that is, that if one drills or interferes in any way with that area one is affecting something that is so vital and so much a part of the Aboriginal people and that what has happened so often could be done and the whole group of people could be destroyed. The article, quoting Professor Berndt, goes on to say:

You see some sites are of a secret nature which means that certain categories of people cannot enter. There are others that I would call open sacred sites where anyone can come in, but these are still religious and sacred in the real sense.

The point that I have been trying to get Sir Charles and the Minister for Cultural Affairs, Bill Grayden, to understand is that some of these sites we have been talking about are what can be called renewal sites. They are species renewal, natural products renewal, and up in the Noonkanbah its the goanna renewal.

I have even had some people say to me: 'Nev, don't go to Noonkanbah because you will go hungry. There is no goanna there now because the white fellows have drilled over there'. How can people say things like that when we are talking about sacred sites that have such meaning for Aboriginal people? It would be just like me getting together a group of my fellow Aborigines, going to Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney or Perth and walking into one of the cathedrals- an Anglican cathedral, a Catholic cathedral or whatever cathedral it might be- walking up to the altar, kicking the devil out of the altar, grabbing the sacraments and throwing them all around, and spilling out the wines which for the purpose of the sacraments are sacred. What would honourable senators say about that? They would be pretty upset about it. But they can go into Aboriginal land and destroy it and say: Well, that does not matter because the Aboriginal beliefs are only superstition'. But what would happen if they went into a Catholic church and did that? I am a Catholic. When we Aboriginals talk about the things that are sacred to us and the things that we believe in, white people scoff at us. Yet they will go into a church, go up to the altar and take the sacrament. When they take the sacrament in the Catholic church they believe in the transformation of the wine and the bread. The bread, they say, is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ. They believe they are actually eating the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood. But when we speak of those kinds of things in our culture they have the cheek to scoff at us.


Senator Wriedt - Well, most people don't understand.


Senator BONNER - Well, perhaps they do not understand but it is about time we started to understand these things. The sooner people listen to what the Aboriginal people are saying, the better. If a group of Aboriginal people, through the goodwill of a government, acquires a certain amount of money and buys a pastoral property it must be subject to the same laws as any other pastoral property, except where there are sacred sites and places of spiritual significance to the Aboriginal people. They must be protected.

Let us look at the situation at Noonkanbah. I am given to understand that 50 per cent of that pastoral lease is already pegged for mineral exploration. Now, can any honourable senator in this chamber tell me of any pastoralist anywhere in this country who would stand for 50 per cent of his property being used for exploration for minerals? Can honourable senators imagine going up to any pastoralist and saying: 'Look, I am sorry, old boy, but half of your property is to be bulldozed up for diamonds or for bauxite or for something else. You have only 50 per cent of it on which to graze your cattle. Too bad, old boy, but this is the mining law; this is the law of the land; this is the law of the State '. What would a white pastoralist say to that? But at Noonkanbah, because the pastoral property is owned by Aborigines, the State Government says: 'Well, you know, we are one family. We are all equal. If we want to rip up half of your land we are going to do that. If we want to dig up your cathedral, we can do that'. What would happen to me if I bought one of the big cemeteries in Sydney that is no longer used and bulldozed all the headstones out and started to plant wheat? I would be hung, drawn and quartered. We know what happens when white people do similar things on Aboriginal land.

As I stated at the beginning of my speech, nothing said tonight is said by way of criticism of the Federal Government or the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who has done everything in his power, in my opinion, to resolve the situation. He has kept me totally and completely informed on what he is trying to do to bring about a solution to the problem. He has endeavoured in every way to bring about the consultation between the various groups. I give him full credit. I believe that he is to be congratulated for the attitude he has adopted. He has come up against a pretty difficult situation. It is a wicked thing to appoint any person as Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who lives in and represents Western Australia or Queensland. I congratulate the Minister on what he has been able to achieve. I am sure he knows that he has my full support and backing.







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