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After day of shame, we must stand by yet

| Culture Heist

TWEED HEADS - Yesterday should have been a day when we all walked a little taller as Australians. When we took a step towards healing with First Nations peoples, and a reckoning with the colonial past. Instead we have a day of pain and shame that many will struggle to overcome. Instead, it was day of pain for all of us who voted Yes, but far more so for Indigenous Australians who generously offered the hand of reconciliation, only to have it rebuffed.

Judith White
Judith White

Elders who lived through the 1967 referendum. Survivors of the Stolen Generation. Families whose children are incarcerated at 20 times the rate of the non-indigenous. Leaders who have traversed the country speaking out with a vision of a better, more inclusive society.

It was a day of shame, when history called and Australia turned its back, when Indigenous people asked for a Voice and this country refused to listen. When we were left among the world’s most backward nations in terms of Indigenous rights.

We’re not going to sit in silence now. The shame is on those in politics and media who spread the lies and disinformation that sullied the campaign. Coalition leaders turned the Uluru Statement from the Heart into a political football from the start.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott (now a No) gave the green light to the process of dialogues among Indigenous people that resulted in the 2017 Statement. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (now a Yes) rejected the Statement, starting the lie that the Voice – a very modest request – would be a third chamber of parliament.

The right-wing media, with Murdoch’s Sky News darling Peta Credlin in the lead, ran consistently with the lie that Yes would be divisive, and fostered yet more outrageous lies. Even some ABC programs muddied the waters in their pursuit of so-called ‘balance’. Even though 83% of First Nations people supported Yes, they trawled indigenous communities for a No voter in response to every Yes voter interviewed.

On the campaign trail we found ‘hard No’ voters clinging to absurd fabrications: that they would lose their homes and have to pay levies, that Parliament would lose its powers.

Social media of course played a part in spreading disinformation. But it has to feed on something, and as elsewhere in the world it feeds on social division and uncertainty. One of our most active volunteers here in Tweed, on the border with Queensland, pointed out weeks ago that ‘hard No’ voters are generally not happy people. They are fearful of losing the Great Australian Lifestyle. They look for someone to blame and don’t want to confront the historical roots of the issue.

Most people would not consider themselves racists – but they are vulnerable to the dog-whistle, perfected by John Howard and taken up by Peter Dutton, with its underlying racist, colonialist assumptions. So how do we shift them?

In the last week of the campaign Mick Gooda, former chair of ATSIC, was asked on the 7am podcast whether he would continue to fight for change if the result was No. “We’ve got no option,” he said. Indigenous people have had no option for 235 years. The rest of us must learn from them. A new era of truth-telling begins here. We must listen, and we must take part.

There is no lack of knowledge about the disadvantages faced by First Nations peoples, or about the history we need to confront to move forward. Indigenous people have never stopped telling their stories.

For more than 50 years historian Henry Reynolds has documented the frontier wars, and given the lie to the myth of peaceful ‘settlement’ by Britain. Lyndall Ryan and her team at Newcastle University have drawn the map of massacres. Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu, Bill Gammage in The Biggest Estate on Earth and Margo Neale’s in the First Peoples books have shed light on the sophistication and complexity of pre-colonisation society.

Stan Grant and other Indigenous writers have told us what it was like for them to grow up confronting racism. Drawing on many hours of talking with dozens of elders, Melissa Lucashenko in her new novel Edenglassie has given us a compelling picture of life under colonisation.

This is not only the oldest continuous living culture in the world, it’s the most resilient. Driven to the verge of extinction, in the past 50 years it has had an extraordinary renaissance. Indigenous artists make our greatest, most original contribution to the world’s art. Musicians, dancers, film-makers and playwrights find a thousand ways to tell stories that matter to us all. Literature is immeasurably enriched by First Nations writers.

Every day of the campaign we learned something about the history and culture that can enable us to cherish Country. Even in conservative Tweed Heads, we shared unforgettable moments. We walked 400 strong down the main street on the day of the National Walk, in the company of elders from the 1967 referendum and with unexpected support from bystanders.

At the rally afterwards you could have heard a pin drop as Uncle Victor Slockee, in his welcome to Country, told us of the 30 Bundjalung families dumped during white ‘settlement’ on Ukerebagh Island in the Tweed, with no housing or resources, among them the family that would produce the first Aboriginal Senator, Neville Bonner. And of the Bundjalung leader the British misnamed ‘King Johnny’, whose grave on the road to Uki was desecrated by bulldozers.

The learning must continue. We can start by drawing on the strengths of the Yes campaign. With their vision of inclusion and knowledge-sharing, Megan Davis, Noel Pearson, Thomas Mayo, Rachel Perkins, Patrick Dodson, Marcia Langton and many more have proven to be leaders not only of First Nations peoples but of us all. They have had the support of sporting and cultural heroes, from Cathy Freeman and Evonne Goolagong Cawley to composer Deborah Cheetham Fraillon, from Adam Goodes and Johnathan Thurston to musician William Barton and Yothu Yindi.

They won massive backing from non-Indigenous musicians, artists, writers and other professionals. Writers for Yes, Artists for Yes, Doctors for Yes, Unions for Yes, even judges for Yes joined the campaign. The most highly educated, creative, ethical people in our community all voted Yes.

Let’s build on this. Let’s stand with our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the long, patient work of educating the Australian public, unmasking the lingering lies of colonialism and ensuring that the true history of this country seizes the imagination of the people.

This is what’s required for Australia to be truly independent, to be the nation that the Statement from the Heart asks us to be – a nation, as Noel Pearson puts it, that weaves together the triple strands of 65,000 years of Indigenous culture, the democratic society developed since Federation and the rich influences of multicultural immigration.

Yesterday must be not an end, but the beginning of a wave of truth-telling to sweep away ignorance and fear.

We stand, now and forever, with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Voice, Treaty, Truth!


Judith White was executive director of the members’ organisation, the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, from 2000 to 2008 and again in 2014 and 2015, and is author of the Society’s history Art Lovers.

Born in Lancashire, England in 1948, she holds two degrees from Oxford University, has worked in publishing and journalism and speaks Spanish, French and Italian. Her memoir, Children of Coal: A Migrant’s Story (2021), is the story of growing up in a North of England working-class community, moving to Australia and discovering the pain inflicted on lives across the globe by an empire built on coal.

Judith lives on the Tweed River in northern New South Wales with her partner, the journalist and author Alex Mitchell.


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William Dunlop

Philip - Re Republic of Ireland.

Found it, although haven't used it for some time. A tad dotery these days.

My An Taontas Eorpach, Eire.
Pas PT3041710 William Dunlop, Eireannach.
Complimentarily issued to me by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2008.
Baile Atha Cliath Passport Office Dublin.

Dunleavy, Dunlop and Livingstone in Bonny Scotland is the anglicised version of O'Dunnislhebie or MacDunnislhebie, the ancestral name of Mourogh of the Redneck who was the father of St Thuan of Tamlaght in the upper Mourne, Cairioll,

From the Mourne to Dalradia with 500 odd retainers, settled in the Mull of Kintyre and ruled for 23 years, passing in AD526. Slantie.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Making sense of the overwhelming No vote in the recent referendum on the Indigenous Voice is difficult because the water has been so terribly muddied.

On the face of it the failure of the referendum appears to have been caused by multiple factors.

Among those factors three seem to stand out.

The first was the unexpected strength of the undercurrent of racism running in the Australian community.

The second was the deliberate tactic of the referendum’s opponents to “flood the zone with shit”.

This term, courtesy of Donald Trump’s erstwhile ally, Steve Bannon, means to put out so much false, meaningless and absurd information that the public can no longer tell what is real and what is false.

The two main mediums for this “flooding” was social media and the conservative press, particularly that owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The third factor was the deliberate politicisation of the referendum by the LNP Coalition.

Their hope was to simply score a hit on Anthony Albanese regardless of the merits of the question or the ramifications of the outcome.

Some pundits have also suggested that Albanese’s mishandling of the referendum process also contributed to its failure.

This is plausible but when you consider the simplicity of the question and the simplicity of Labor’s undertaking to take it to a referendum it is a difficult argument to sustain.

Although calls for an audit of Indigenous funding are beginning to echo in the conservative press no one seems to have mentioned this as a factor in the failure of the referendum.

The innate distrust that non-indigenous people in Australia have about the systems overseeing how the large amounts of government money expended annually on the welfare of Indigenous people is worth considering as a factor however.

While the Voice was specifically designed as an advisory body without any funding powers people still managed to conflate its purpose with the ineffectiveness of past funding programs and the Indigenous people involved in running them.

It’s a point that the Yes campaign failed to anticipate and counter, probably because the system failures are indefensible.

A large amount of money has historically been poured into Indigenous welfare programs with very little to show for it, especially at the grassroots level.

The inference is that the so-called elites who run the programs cream most of the money off the top before it has a chance to reach the people who need it.

Creaming money seems to be a frailty of welfare organisations whether they are black or white.

It could be argued that this incorrect conflation of purpose with the Voice is what killed it in the end.

Put in simple terms the Australian community seemed very willing to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the constitution as our first peoples but misunderstood or mistrusted the purpose of the Voice as an advisory body, particularly in a form that would require another constitutional change to undo it.

The framers of the Voice wanted the advisory body enshrined in the constitution so that future hostile governments could not abolish it but the people of Australia mistrusted that idea because of the sorry record of such advisory bodies as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Commission (ATSIC) in the past.

The irony is that if ATSIC and its predecessors had been effectively run by honest and dedicated people the Voice may not have been deemed necessary.

William Dunlop

Keith - Your Gaelic note: You don't understand what I'm saying about NB.

Shaftsbury owns the rights of the Lough Neigh's Bed 'bottom', and he's offering to sell it to the Northern Ireland government for 10 Million Sterling.

It was probably an Edit of James VI Scotland & 1st Great Britain, Who was very adept at revenue creation. Slantie

William Dunlop

Republic? Phil, the Dunlops experienced their share of British tyranny in Ireland.

Captain William Dunlop, a comrade of Wolf Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and General Caldwell, was hanged in Coleraine for being a United Irishman.

The United comprised 60% of the Protestant faith and 40% Roman Catholic.

These troubles were the forerunner to, a century later, the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin.

Ironically, ancestry has us Dunlops related to James the IV's Queen Consort Matilda, the sister of Henry VIII.

By the way, Philip, it's the mare's piss you have to watch out for. And I'm not, as the saying goes, 'taking the piss'.

Philip Fitzpatrick

According to my book of Irish legends, Lough Neigh is largely filled with horse piss not water, so a bit of excess sewage is no matter.

The origin of the lake and its name is explained in an Irish tale that written in the Middle Ages and is likely pre-Christian.

According to the tale, the lake is named after Echach, who was the son of Mairid, a king of Munster.

Echach falls in love with his stepmother, a young woman named Ébliu. They elope on an enormous horse that can carry all their belongings.

After reaching Ulster the horse stops and urinates, and a spring rises from the spot.

Echach builds a house there and covers the spring with a capstone to stop its overflowing.

One night, the capstone is not replaced and the spring overflows, drowning Echach and most of his family, and creating Loch Echach (Lough Neigh).

Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm glad he told us this too Keith.

At least the republic has got its shit together.


I'm glad someone has - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Time to join the republic, William?

William Dunlop

NB Keith, The Lough bed rights are what is owned by Shaftsbury. Slantie.

Tá áthas orm gur inis tú sin dom - KJ

Lindsay F Bond

William, would lough not be butt well spread.

William Dunlop

Dear Bernard, Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I wonder what Paisley, 'Lord Banside', would have come up with or yet his fellow Bible thumping mate, The Rev Wyley.

However, The Voice was handled abyssmaly by all concerned.

Beware of pollies appearing to bear gifts.
Northern Ireland is in dire straights. The assembly hasn't sat for yonks.
The pipsqueak seat-polishing public service is in disarray.

As a consequence, Lough Neigh is full of untreated sewage after 400,000 tonnes of shite is discharged annually into it. It's the primary source of drinking water.

The owner of the Lough, Lord Shaftsbury, is offering to sell it for 10 million pounds sterling.
Augres not well, perhaps, for, Lake Burley Griffin.


Bernard Corden

My dear William - The Blenheim pisstank and former member for Oldham proclaimed that the greatest argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

'Blenheim pisstank' appears to be a reference to British icon Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill - KJ

Bernard Corden

Anne Pattel-Gray offered a theologian worldview on Monday evening's edition of The Drum on ABC and provided an extremely thought-provoking commentary covering reconciliation and justice:

Bernard Corden

It does not come as any surprise that Queensland recorded a resounding NO vote:

The leader of the opposition was a former member of the Queensland Police Service and a recent inquiry provided plenty of substantive evidence relating to systemic racism throughout its ranks:

William Dunlop

Australians have voted. My views I have previously stated. I spoiled my vote.

Australians will not tolerate the possibility of hidden agendas interfering with or altering our Constitution.

Turnball and the CLP, as with Albo and Labor, got NO. The YES supporters appear to be the elite, highly educated latte sippers of the great inner city concrete jungles of the state capital cities and the ACT.

Albo's thought bubble of starring on the world stage and history has failed, leaving us Australians to pick up the pieces and get on with it.

Perhaps it can be addressed bipartisanly, with the vocal spruikers in the cloakroom.

Bernard Corden

"There are invisible banana skins" - John Barnes

He was affectionately referred to as 'Tarmac' (The Black Heighway) by many Liverpool Football Club supporters.

Lindsay F Bond

Two weighs, nay-ed either,
too sways there lie,
true many thither
rued those who cry
tho falter and wither
to looks on the aye
to ways most dither:
too many die.

Keith Jackson

Albanese showed he could not read the room. Did he not see his error in initiating a referendum, especially when Dutton politicised it.

That flaw, plus hubris to be a great man in the steps of Whitlam and Hawke, pushed Albanese a step too far.

He let free a referendum from which Australia’s Indigenous people had little to gain and which let Australia’s racist genie come roaring out of its bottle.

This now disgraced referendum has starkly revealed to the world the underlying racism that Australia has been too lazy to address; the racism that people of colour have long recognised in our post-colonial culture.

The big question now is whether Australia will do anything about this revelation.

Two more points. Opposition leader Dutton has proven that you should never give a racist an even chance.

And the ABC has again badly let down Australia. In a campaign where the No side regularly lied and smeared, the ABC sought a balance between ignorant prejudice and moral duty. There cannot ever be such a balance.

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