We need a new life design in the NT

Malcolm Fraser implemented Self-Government for the NT in 1978 as, his words, “an experiment” in the Territory of the Commonwealth of Australia.

This experiment was done without the slightest preliminary study of social and environmental impacts, nor any examination of the moral and ethical considerations in relation to First Peoples.

The culturally one-sided form of government was imposed on First Peoples by the Commonwealth Governmemt without the freely given consent of First Peoples. There was no plebiscite regarding this crucial aspect of self-determination.  

The Paul Everingham CLP government, from 1978 on, wasted no time in getting stuck in to “black-bashing”. That set the “white master” tone for the last  4 decades, notwithstanding ALP governments and a number of indigenous people occupying government positions within the non-indigenous power structure.

The time to take a long hard look at the impacts of this experiment on the well-being of First Peoples, and to ask them what needs to be done to improve their well-being, was some decades ago.

I feel we have passed the stage of calling for an inquiry into Fraser’s experiment. It is a neo-colonial arrangement which, if it belongs anywhere, belongs in the past.

Of course, no such real reform action has ever been contemplated by any Australian Government. I doubt if it ever will – without a real peoples movement forcing them to catch up with life’s realities.

That’s us.

New Peoples Movement

We need to design, in a genuine spirit of cultural partnership with First Peoples,  a new model of governance for the well-being for the whole of life in the NT.

This peoples movement for change will not originate with the Commonwealth Government, nor the Northern Territory Government. Nor can those on the payroll of the state act as spokespeople or leaders of a peoples movement. They speak a familiar master narrative all to well.

This new peoples movement starts with us and can only be maintained by us (despite the apparent odds being stacked against us).

New forms of representation,co-existing sovereignty, two-laws, recognition of indigenous law, proper management of country … there is a long backlog of issues which a lazy political  system, grown fat and seeking to buy more time for its outmoded ways, consigned to the “too hard” basket.

New – and leaner – times are upon us.

So, my question is “What next?” in this 21st century real life challenge?

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

July 2016

NT Aboriginal organisations call – dissolve NT Government

Media Release.

A coalition of Northern Territory Aboriginal organisations today called for the federal Parliament to step in to dissolve the NT Government, following the exposure of the NT Government’s barbaric abuse of children in detention.
“Any government that enacts policies designed to harm children and enables a culture of brutalisation and cover-ups, surrenders its right to govern,” said spokesperson John Paterson.
The federal Parliament has ultimate control over NT matters and can act to dissolve the current NT Government and bring on an urgent NT election.
“We also urge the Prime Minister to ensure the NT Government plays no role in the development or oversight of the Royal Commission.
It must be entirely independent of the NT Government, and chaired by an appropriate independent expert and must have Aboriginal representation from the NT.
Local organisations and those working in this sector must have input into the terms of reference.

The terms of reference must:

• Encompass the entire NT youth justice system, not just issues relating to detention facilities;

• Examine all previous enquiries relating to youth justice in the NT for cover ups and uncover why the recommendations were not implemented.

• Not limit how far into the past the Commission can inquire.

We also call for further immediate interim actions:

• The Commonwealth must appoint an alternative provider of youth detention and child protection/out of home care for the NT. The NT Government cannot continue to deliver these services while our kids remain at risk.

• The youth currently on remand should also be removed from the Darwin and Alice Springs detention facilities immediately and placed in appropriate secure accommodation.

• The office of the NT Children’s Commissioner must be appropriately and adequately resourced to perform her statutory duties.

“That harm is being done to our children and our community in our name is unacceptable. Those responsible, including ministers, advisers, bureaucrats and corrections employees need to be held to account”, spokesperson Olga Havnen said.

“The NT Government has led a concerted and sustained campaign demonising young people and to pass draconian laws inconsistent with recommendations made by successive inquiries, including those of the NT Children’s Commissioner.

“We are seeking urgent discussions with the Prime Minister to ensure this Royal Commission actually meets the needs of those most affected, and ultimately creates the momentum for reform of the entire youth justice system in the NT.”
Source:  www.amsant.org.au

Time now to move to secure our best futures

Rather than arguing about past mistaken methods British used to colonise here, better now to take serious action to redress the serious problems caused by those mistaken methods.

The time for pretence in this regard is long over, as it is for the divisive politics of previous centuries. 

It is only when we attend to redressing the damage done to First Peoples lives, well-being and living countries by British authorities, and their colonial heirs, that we can secure a sound foundation for all life in this country.

This had to be done in a genuine and healing spirit of cultural partnership with First Peoples.

The time for pretence in this regard is long over, as it is for the divisive and adolescent politics of previous centuries. 

Fully mature people are required to fill our vital decision-making positions.

Those who aspire to lead us must demonstrate a commitment and proven ability to healing life.  We look to incoming Senator Pat Dodson in this regard. 

There will be plenty of rear-guard forces seeking to maintain their priveleges rather than adopting a more elightened approach. Their outmoded methods are divisive and manipulative. We need to rise above them.

A wider peoples movement is required to provide support so we can have the real healing resources needed to accept and tackle this major life challenge. But how?

Could this be a role for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples?

It is now time to move to secure the best for all our futures.

Cabinet Papers 1988-89 The Treaty, ATSIC, Deaths in Custody

Cabinet papers 1988-89: lost in the space race; Aboriginal treaty; body searching; tax file numbersDate

SMH January 1, 2015

Damien Murphy

The treaty that never came

Bob Hawke attended the Barunga festival in the Northern Territory in June 1988 and promised an historic treaty with the Aboriginal people.

The Hawke government had been promising to improve representation of Aboriginal interests and issues, but by 1985 attempts to frame a “national model” for land rights had stalled in compromise, amid farmer and miner opposition and distrust from Aboriginal groups. So Hawke’s treaty had more than a touch of the sun about it.

In 1987 the new minister for Aboriginal affairs, Gerry Hand, had proposed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established.

The commission’s workload had first been estimated as 44 reported deaths requiring investigation, but already that number had increased to 120 (99 cases were finally selected for investigation). But in February 1988, Hand and the Minister for Justice, Michael Tate, told cabinet that it would be “unacceptable” to limit the set limits to thenumber of cases to be investigated, just as it was similarly politically unwise to significantly delay the release of the commission’s findings.

The expense of additional commissioners and staff was justified by the imperative of concluding a full report as soon possible. Cabinet agreed to four commissioners; a fifth was appointed in November 1988. The terms of reference were widened.

In April 1989, when Commissioner Hal WoottonWootten had weighed whether the practices he was examining amounted to “genocide”, the cabinet was persuaded that thehandling of “public perceptions” must be a particular focus.

Whatever the prospects of a treaty, various issues were brought to the cabinet’s attention, including ranging from mining on traditional lands; the lack of any progress since the 1970s in excising “living areas” from Northern Territory stock routes; and through to the basic, entrenched and widespread social disadvantage of Aboriginal people, were brought to cabinet’s attention.

The 1988-89 budget included a 23 per cent increase in spending on within the Aboriginal affairs portfolio, with a focus on in the provision of essential services for communities.

Hand argued strenuously against the Expenditure Review Committee’s concerns that the Community Development Employment Projects scheme – by then reaching urban communities in New South Wales and Victoria – enabled recipients to “double-dip” into Family Assistance Supplements.

Hand insisted CDEP was a labour market program, not a welfare oneprogram. Though he won While winning his case on the day, Hand was on the losing side of the scheme’s longer-term assessment of the scheme.

He also Meanwhile Hand argued also for more money for ATSIC. “If ATSIC starts its life under-resourcedHand advised cabinet, we doom it to failure,” he warned the cabinet.

ATSIC finally first met the following April. John Howard closed what opponents called “the experiment with indigenous self-government” in 2004.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/cabinet-papers-198889-lost-in-the-space-race-aboriginal-treaty-body-searching-tax-file-numbers-20141218-129vzl.html#ixzz42GcAr2WT 

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“Nowt more outcastin” – digesting Louis Nowra’s play “The Golden Age’.

Last Thursday night (28 January), as we walked back to our accommodation after the Sydney Theatre production of Louis Nowra’s 1985 play ‘The Golden Age’, my wife asked me what i made of the line ‘Nowt more outcastin’.

This ‘outcastin’ has been a theme running through the play.

The play was still too fresh in my mind to be able to make any informed comment’ except to say that Nowra is clearly playing with several inversions in a play which, being set in Tasmania, has the treatment of First Peoples there as an unspoken context and subtext.

While indigenous actors were part of the play, the story itself concerns interactions between two groups of people of British origin – one a small group of descendants of people who had become isolated in the bush (outcasts?) and the other consists of people who part of mainstream social life in Hobart. It is set just before the start of WWII. (see https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2016/the-golden-age )

Nowra’s play poses a question in relation to a large pile of earth which occupies center stage throughout his play – which people and which culture best fits this pile of earth? He graphically contrasts war in Europe with life here.

Seeking help to digest Nowra’s very solid work i have now done my quick google search.

The following analysis by Donald Pulford struck a chord (Francis and Betsheb are two of the main characters male and female respectively):

“… Francis gives voice to one of the most important ideas in the play, that in refusing to squarely face their past Australians are condemning themselves to a lack of identity, an inability to be at home in their own country, a rootlessness. The Golden Age provokes its audiences to face Australia’s colonial past, and its deconstruction of elements of imperialist discourse promotes the ‘effective identifying relationship between self and place’. Betsheb’s is the final statement of the play, ‘Nowt more outcastin’, no more exile, and it affirms the possibility of unity between people, and between people and their environment.

(from “Counter-imperialism in Louis Nowra’s The Golden Age” by Donald Pulford, La Trobe University. For a much fuller account of the play read his article http://www.nla.gov.au/ojs/index.php/jasal/article/viewFile/2716/3137)

Pulford’s words resonated with something i read only a day or two ago as part of background reading regarding Australia/Invasion Day on 26 January.

It was on the 7 February 1788 (not 26 January) that Governor Phillip actually had time to stage a large public ceremony where the proclamation was made establishing New South Wales. Part of the ceremony included an address to the convicts.

Governor Phillip made it explicitly clear that the people we call ‘convicts’ have been exiled from their home society. Instead of being sacrificed (in the name of the greater good) by being hung in Great Britain they have been sent to this country on the other side of the planet where – provided they shape up by embracing the same norms which have exiled them – they can be ‘redeemed’.

Having invoked the relevant ceremonial powers and thanking the ‘private soldiers’ Governor Phillip

“… then turned to the convicts, and distinctly explained to them the nature of their present situation. The greater part, he bade them recollect, had already forfeited their lives to the justice of their country; yet, by the lenity of its laws, they were now so placed that, by industry and good behavior, they might in time regain the advantages and estimation in society of which they had deprived themselves. They not only had every encouragement to make that effort, but were removed almost entirely from every temptation to guilt.” (Entry 7 February “The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay” (via www.gutenberg.org).

The Governor continued by outlining how those convicted people who conformed with the European norms (including marriage) would be rewarded while those that erred could expect no mercy. The Governor had the power of life and death over them.

The full account of that day (see below) is well worth a read. The flag was the Jack of Queen Anne, not the Union Jack. We can picture the British arrivals in their inappropriate ‘skins’ for this country – the semiotics of dress as display – in the costume of Officers and gentlemen, the Redcoats of the military and, perhaps, the coarse fabrics of the convict uniform.

There was no act of ‘settlement’ with the First Peoples when the new system of government was proclaimed. The original peoples were excluded from the proceedings and all that followed from that formal establishment of the new British colony.



Exiles? Yeah.

What the conjunction of Nowra’s play and the report of the Governor Phillip ceremony made clear to me is that – culturally – and, to a large extent, Anglo-Australians remain exiles from Europe.

Despite all the rituals which should connect Being with Country, since the official culture does not connect with country, nothing else can either. The official ‘Australian’ culture still floats over the land like a layer of heat shimmer on a red hot summer day.

Culturally, non-indigenous Australians do not yet fully ‘belong’ here. The failure to establish proper diplomatic relations with the original peoples in 1788 became the norm in non-indigenous practices. And yet it is First Peoples who hold the real keys to this country – in, for example, the life-poetry we know as ‘Dreaming’.

In the 21st Century we do not belong, either, in Europe (or any place overseas). There is a gap between our geographical and cultural location. Where are we? In “Australia” – but where is “Australia” if not a limbo land of exiled European souls?

The very word ‘Australia’ does not belong here. It refers to a Southern Land – south of the Northern Hemisphere. An exonym (southern land) means, in effect, “Not here, somewhere else”.

The intense feelings which some people clearly feel when, for example, a cafe owner in Bermagui makes a reference to ‘National Dickhead Day’ – and his reasons for feeling compelled to characterize it in those terms – points to a deep insecurity in terms of our identity.

There is much in modern Australian life which can be explained in terms of that deep sense of insecurity. Various forms of interest have been invested a particular form of identity – that which sustains an Anglo-Australian system of patronage and control over life in this country. But, in the absence of genuine recognition of First Peoples, it is a hollow sense of identity.

How very different are the initiation rituals of First Peoples in Central Australia which tell newly fashioned men which Dreaming they are part of – where they fit into the whole of life here. They feel no need to wrap themselves in the flag as an excuse to impose obnoxious behaviours onto others.

The subsequent two centuries+ from February 1788 can be described as a systematic process of an official and unofficial ‘unrealisation’ of First Peoples, their languages, their cultures, their ways of relating – and a propping up of privilege and pretence for Anglo-Australian people, the English language, the European ways of dominating life. I think Nowra makes this distinction clear in his play.

By a curious twist of fate, the systematic un-realisation of First Peoples – the over-exaggeration of European practices for those of us in this part of the world at the expense of learning something of the Ways of First Peoples – has resulted in an under-realisation of Anglo-Australian identities – a failure to properly adapt.

I often say that First Peoples are captive in a modern Anglo-Australian nation-state. This is correct in as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough. To complete the picture it has to be acknowledged that non-indigenous peoples here are also captive in this arrangement, a vast conceptual prison-house.

We do not yet ‘belong’ here. I am not saying we should ‘go home to England’. I am saying we should come home to this place – whatever the First Peoples names for this country are.

It is not a matter of ‘Australia – love it or leave it’. Modern Australia – modern monoculture Australia as founded in 1788 – needs to come to maturity and begin to really connect with this country. Time to grow up.

It is a matter of enriching our cultures – the very stuff our souls are shaped by – the means by which we better relate and can connect to our surroundings.

“Australia” – an exonym, a Latin-based name from a different place – is the name for the land of European exiles.

This situation will remain so until real steps are taken, by those in positions of authority (and those in a movement of peoples) to enter into genuine exchange relations with surviving First Peoples.

And, it has to be said at this time, in the absence of a through-going transformation of Anglo-Australia, simply empowering the existing elites with an Australian republic is likely to lead to even more abuses.

For this reason alone – to re-earth the elite – dealing with the backlog of the need for negotiations with First Peoples over the terms of ‘settlement’ must be dealt with prior to the need for a republic. This was proven by the support of both major political groupings for the Northern Territory legislation, and the ongoing push by members of the political elite to use First Peoples country to store the world’s radioactive waste.

We new arrivals need to come home to this country (for which, in contrast to Aotearoa/New Zealand, we still have no official indigenous name or names).

But make no mistake – as necessary as this next stage of our development is, there is no utopia waiting at the end of it.

New challenges are certain for life is a cosmic balancing act and, as part of the dance, keeps us moving as required. The advantage of re-aligning life in this country is that it makes us better placed to deal with these challenges.

Ultimately, Life decides whose collective Being – that best informed by the right spirit – is the best fit for this living earth. It does so in curious ways.

But we have to make real choices if we are to properly Earth our Being.



Much good work has already been done in this regard – from the Land Rights Act, the Mabo High Court Decision, the Native Title Act, the reconciliation movement, the many articles and plays and songs and dances by cultural craftspeoples …. All steps in a positive direction.

As mentioned, there have also been completely abhorrent official deeds in recent time too – such as the Federal Government’s Northern Territory Intervention legislation which treated First Peoples in that Commonwealth Territory as mere objects of an obsolete imperial will embodied in the 1901 Australian Constitution.

For this and other reasons, everyday people have to ensure that the task of reforming the 1901 Australian Constitution is not merely a matter for elites whether non-indigenous or indigenous.  We need a Peoples Constitution in order to give it a new and living heart.

This may not be possible without real sacrifice of some kind. Putting soul into such a document will not happen simply by itself.

Now the question in 2016 is this – have we formed a sufficient critical mass of people who are ready to make the next move in a long process of the maturing of our Being? A move, a shift of position, which genuinely embraces – as cultural partners – this country’s First Peoples and their Ways in some form of official Act of Settlement?

It is only by genuine acts of exchange of things of value between Peoples that non-indigenous culture can be enriched in relation to the original cultures. There is no short cut. The alternative is to continue to remain on the outside – as inauthentic Beings in this country.

There will only be

“Nowt more outcastin”

– an end to exile –

when we have truly arrived

and are really at home in this country.

We are in the land of Rainbow Serpent sprits.

Now is the season to shed

those constricting neo-colonial skins

(pin-striped or otherwise.)

Time, in other words, to get real.

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

1 Feb 2016

A New Identity – Moving Beyond a European Southern Cross

26 January 2016

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this country a.k.a. Northern Suburbs of Wollongong, NSW.

There is much debate about the role of the Union Jack in a future Australian (and New Zealand) national flag. This short piece raises a question about the role of the Southern Cross.

I learnt about the Southern Cross and the Pointers as a Boy Scout in outback Longreach, outback Queensland, where the stars are part of an electric black night.  This was about 1960. We learnt how to find South and always know our orientation from the Southern Cross and the Pointers. I always feel somehow secure and know my orientation when I see them.

We were being formed into the true sons of the British Empire – Baden-Powell, God, The Queen and Country – and also running free in the Australian bush whenever we could get away from the adult world.

But boyhood securities – I was briefly a server in the local Church of England as well – give way to more mature doubts about figures of authority. Some things just don’t add up. A search for answers to some of life’s puzzles lead me, in my 20s, to study anthropology (and thus into the worlds of First Peoples).

I spent a good part of last year reading about the cosmology of Western Arrarnta people (aka Aranda) who live in Central Australia.

Jumping to Central Australia –

T. G. H. Strehlow, who was born and raised at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission/Ntaria in Western Arrarnta country in Central Australia – and who wrote about how First Peoples Dreaming ancestors are to be found here in sacred sites on Earth – provides the astute observation:

“… the aboriginal Central Australians had not been forced by recent migrations to transfer their earth-born supernatural beings into the sky, in order to continue to enjoy the protection of these sky dwellers after moving to new areas.” (Personal Monototemism in a Polytotemic Community, 1964? fn 29, page 748)

By way of total contrast, Mircea Eliade has written, in his “Cosmos and History. The Myth of the Eternal Return” (1954?):

“It was in the name of Jesus Christ that the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores took possession of the islands and continents that they had discovered and conquered. The setting up of the Cross was equivalent to a justification and to the consecration of the new country, to a “new birth,” thus repeating baptism (act of Creation). In their turn the English navigators took possession of conquered countries in the name of the king of England, new Cosmocrator.” (Elaide – ebook ref on Kindle Loc 269)

The truly genocidal dimensions of this mistaken European ‘new birth’ are now well known and acknowledged.

A new healing approach is called for in order to restore full well-being to First Peoples – and to restore something important to us Neo-Europeans living in Southern Lands. There is a major debt to be paid if we are to become grounded and return to, at least, our better selves.

The image of European Conquistadors – holding on to their Crucifix – forcing their way into the lives of people in what we now call the Americas comes to mind. Crosses, saving souls … plundering, murdering. There is an aspect of deep bad-faith inherent in that Cross.

In this respect, the Southern Cross, which was interpreted by some northern Europeans as a divine cosmic sign affirming their version of an Indo-European God, can also be seen as a symbol of imperialism, colonisation and the imposition on existing indigenous peoples of the arrival of dominating and expropriating peoples who lack the fundamental respect for long established human law.

It is no coincidence that the Southern Cross features on the flags of four Southern Hemisphere ‘Neo-European’ nation-states – Australia; New Zealand; Brazil; Papua New Guinea and Samoa. The first three are countries where a northern life model has been forcibly imposed on indigenous peoples in ways which do not provide a spirit of cultural partnership in relation to matters of two systems of laws and two Ways of Being.

Papua New Guinea and Samoa may represent highly artificial post-colonial forms of representation which are grounded solely in top-down European notions of the modern nation-state rather than indigenous concerns regarding culture, cosmology and the place of balanced exchange relationships and respect for land.

Many of the suggested new flags for a presumably new maturity in both New Zealand/Aotearoa and Australia feature the Southern Cross as a symbol of pride in place.

See, for an Australian example, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-26/alternative-australian-flags-ranked-by-university-survey/7113992?WT.ac=statenews_nsw

That ABC story, by Kate Higgins, notes:

The design, dubbed the Southern Horizon, was voted most popular in a survey of 8,140 people conducted by Western Sydney University.

The survey offered respondents a choice of six alternative Australian flag designs. Of those who took part, 6,427 chose a favourite flag.

Dr Benjamin T Jones, who oversaw the survey, said the Southern Horizon garnered 31 per cent of the vote, followed closely by the Reconciliation Flag, with 28 per cent.

Other designs included in the survey were the well-known Eureka flag (15 per cent), the Golden Wattle (12 per cent), the Sporting flag (7 per cent) and the Southern Cross flag (6 per cent).

Dr Jones said the two most popular designs showed that respondents fell into two categories: those who wanted a neutral design with a link to the current flag, and those who wanted a flag that recognised Australia’s Indigenous heritage.

“In many of the comments [from supporters of the Reconciliation Flag], an Indigenous element was an absolute must,” he said.

“But there were many who said it must be a neutral flag, inclusive of all ethnicities.” (ends – emphasis added- BR)

We are clearly in search of a new identity, and unsure which way to go. Balancing the tug of the past, the dreadful legacy of how this country was colonised, and who and what we wish to become.

The Southern Cross features in many of the new flag designs. There is a view held that the Southern Cross is also of significance to First Peoples. In a recent (December 2015) Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, Allan Pidgeon, president of the Australian Flag Association, expressed the view that

“It is important to remember a flag is not a logo, but heraldry. Thus, the history of our flag symbolises so many things about Australians – our egalitarian spirit, scepticism of authority, and willingness to “have a go”. Its three elements all play a part in speaking to our past, present and future.

The Southern Cross not only references our place in the world, but it is highly significant in Aboriginal mythology.

The Union Jack acknowledges European settlement came from Britain, reflected in our national language, system of parliamentary government and the rule of law.

The “Commonwealth Star” symbolises our shared democratic future, formed by the “ballot rather than the bullet” following a peaceful vote by residents of the former colonies.” (emphasis added – BR)

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/why-australia-shouldnt-rush-to-change-the-flag-20151212-glm5zv#ixzz3yJfghLh5


Well the indigenous significance of the stars which are grouped together as the Southern Cross is worthy of a comprehensive study in itself. First Peoples night sky knowledge has been a much neglected area in both Australian life in general and in modern anthropology.

One of the authoritative studies, carried out by B. G. Maegraith amongst Western Arrarnta people in Central Australia found that they did not group those stars together at all, but they formed two different ‘constellations’.

Working with senior Arrarnta and Luritja men under the clear night skies of Central Australia in 1929, Maegraith found, for “Stars in the Region of the Southern Cross”:

“The rather obvious grouping of the four principal stars in the constellation of the Cross has not been appreciated by either the Aranda or the Luritja.

The aborigine has selected the bright second- and third-magnitude stars Gamma and Delta Crucis and arranged them along with the less prominent stars Gamma and Delta Centauri … This irregular, quadrangular arrangement of stars is termed Iritjinga, the Eagle-Hawk.

No other organised grouping of stars in the region of the Southern Cross seems to have been made, but it is in this region that a complicated system of marriage classifications is most in evidence… The stars Alpha and Beta Crucis are believed to be the Luritja parents of another star, the upper Pointer, Alpha Centauri. Beta Crucis is a male belonging to the class corresponding to Knaria, and Alpha Crucis is his lubra, a woman belonging to the class Ngala. Their child, the upper Pointer, Alpha Centauri, is a Paltara boy.”

(From – B. G. Maegraith 1930;29 “The Astronomy of the Aranda and Luritja Tribes” Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia v.56 accessed via the Biodiversity Heritage Library www.biodiversitylibrary.org )

Maegraith continues in his study to link the other Pointer as a cousin to Arrarnta parents:

“The other Pointer, Beta Centauri, is a cousin of the Paltara man Alpha Centauri, and belongs to the class Mbitjana. He is an Aranda man, and is the son of Aranda parents, Alpha and Beta Trianguli, who belong to the Ngalaand Knaria marriage classes respectively…) (ibid).

For a fuller study of the significance of this complicated system of marriage classifications see my piece – https://onedrive.live.com/redir?page=view&resid=7A4D9B74955D2F57!1755&authkey=!AFbERi0hehvp-Eo

There may well be many other groups of First Peoples in this country who see those stars in other arrangements, including as a cross of some sort (e.g. as a ceremonial headdress of a Dreaming ancestor – and not that of European master narratives).

However, the Western Arrarnta evidence provides an important case to disprove the position taken by president of the Australian Flag Association.

And while Luritja and Aranda people interpret stars in that region in terms of important exchange relations linking them together, this lack of Anglo-Australian understanding of the indigenous significance of stars points to the missing exchange relationships between two Peoples in this country.

That said, we live in hope, the recent addition of the name of Koiki to a star in Crux (in recognition of the role of Eddie Koiki Mabo in the collective struggle for First Peoples recognition in this country) may also come to signify new heart being added to the Southern Cross. (This naming is limited to the Sydney southern sky catalogue, not that of the official International Astronomical Union.)

The Southern Cross is a most striking feature to my eye – I was imprinted with it as a boy in outback Longreach, probably when I joined the Boy Scouts and we spent time under the inky dark night sky. Mateship, love of the outdoors … at home on this planet.

But i do not know the extent to which First Peoples on the mainland of this country group see Crux as a constellation, or otherwise.

The significance of the stars in the ‘Southern Cross’ part of the night sky in Torres Strait (and other First Peoples here) is clearly different to that of Western Arrarnta, who (according to Maegraith) do not cluster those stars into a cross.

As indigenous people within the modern Australian nation-state, Torres Strait Islander peoples, with gardening, are clearly different from First Peoples Ways on the mainland of this country, and (I feel) closer in their practices to those of New Guinea. Their inclusion in ‘Australia’ came about, I understand, via the actions of colonial Queensland. They provide an important ‘mediated’ position between European and continental indigenous practices.

It was the presence of those Torres Strait gardens (with boundaries of a kind more visible to European eyes) which allowed the High Court Justices, in the Mabo No 2 case, to ‘see’ what they found difficult to understand in relation to ‘Aboriginal’ title on the mainland.

Those selecting the Southern Cross as a place to honour the champion of the struggle for recognition have – perhaps unknowingly – also placed him with an existing (and probably long standing) family grouping of Luritja and Arrernte peoples in Central Australia.

They will share one thing in common. In my study of Western Arrarnta cosmology it appears that a kind of ‘original sin’ was to hunt without permission on the land of others. I found this to be a basic norm when I was mentored by Warumungu and Alyawarra people in the Northern Territory during the 1980s.

(That is the short story. For a longer version of the story see https://onedrive.live.com/redir?page=view&resid=7A4D9B74955D2F57!1694&authkey=!AL91lsRf06h3CIM )

British authorities committed exactly this original sin when they occupied this country without the permission of the original First Peoples. That ‘sin’ remains part of non-indigenous Australians legacy.

It is worth quoting from a recent Mabo Oration (2011) by Terri Janke – appropriately entitled “Follow the stars: Indigenous culture, knowledge and intellectual property rights.” (full text http://www.adcq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/2289/2011-Mabo-Oration-booklet-tagged.pdf )

“Bill Lowah, a Torres Strait Islander social commentator, said that there was one universal aspect of the law for all cultures that was understood, and for Torres Strait Islanders it was this basic principle that lead to the High Court’s decision in the Mabo case:

Tag Mauki Mauki

Teter Mauki Mauki

“Your hand can’t take something that does not belong to you unless you have permission.

Your feet cannot walk in, or through someone else’s land unless there is permission.”

She continues:

“He advised me that this law is about the land and all things connected with it. The tangible and the intangible, the spiritual and cultural. This principle is as strong as it is for land, story, and for culture.” (2.3 Tag Mauki Mauki, Teter Mauki Mauki – page 12)

“The long established cultural practice of seeking consent, and not taking what is not yours, and continuing to be cultural respectful” (page 13) can be read at the very core of Western Arrarnta cosmology. But those missionaries who came to the core of the continent in the name of the Cross were not seeking to learn from First Peoples.

Similarly for secular ‘naturalists’ in the form of early modern anthropologists – the First Peoples who taught them so much were not recognised as ‘mentors’ but, rather, as primitive savages; remnants of a doomed race; living fossils from a prior Stone Age and so on.

The non-recognition – by European colonists – of the core value in the Ways of First Peoples in the Southern Hemisphere has not only denied due acknowledgement of the place reversed in life for those First Peoples, it has also delayed the much needed transformation of modern Western Ways both in these southern ‘Neo-European’ countries and in the northern hemisphere.

The chronic turmoil in Greece, as the birthplace of European democracy, supports the view that the age of life in this part of the world being dominated by Northern Hemisphere world-views is over. The spirit of cultural partnership is the new game in town as we seek permission to be on country.

Terri Janke writes:

“For me the [Mabo] case had great repercussions. True, it set a legal precedent. True it took away a lie. But for me, it was a shining star. Like the stars have always navigated Torres Strait Islanders, a seafaring people, Eddie Koiki Mabo’s light illuminated the night sky. It was a new pathway for Indigenous people, and a personal inspiration for me. It gave me a belief that the Australian legal system could deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s peoples’ justice.”

Eddie Koiki Mabo was a star within a larger collective cluster.

For full recognition of First Peoples Ways, we have to avoid making a fetish out of one person in the collective struggle and acknowledge that the 1992 High Court decision was only possible thanks to the long hard work – against the odds – of a great number of other people, crafting their work and lives according to values then denied by the modern nation-state formation. Perhaps the surrounding clusters of unnamed stars in a peoples’ movement which made Eddie Koiki Mabo possible will come into better focus.

A useful concept here is that of “conceptual craftspeople”.

Unlike the conceptual craftspeople who consistently fashion works which comply with the norms of the modern nation-states and their commercial masters – and who are ‘rewarded’ accordingly – alternative conceptual craftspeople accept that life is a cosmic challenge and our task is to fashion new ways of Being. Life itself is our only true master.

The High Court’s 1992 Mabo No 2 decision was made possible by the hard work of a great number of people. It demonstrates what we – collectively – can achieve. We need all the conceptual craftspeople we can get – to fashion new forms of representation which comply with notions of order from this country which long predate 1788.

How we see the stars on our flag is part of that. As someone who loves the Southern Cross as much as the Pleiades/Seven Sisters, by what means can we incorporate First Peoples values into such arrangements? How can we transform the very worst form of bad-faith into a genuine and enduring form of good-faith?

The Western Arrarnta configuration of balanced exchange relationships certainly speaks to me – good faith between two peoples written in the stars overhead.

And to achieve that outcome, there is a major backlog in terms of exchange of things of real value which needs to be cleared before we can find our new bi-culturally balanced identity in this country.

To recognise – and restore – a new life spirit in this living country we need new ‘ears’ to hear what First Peoples – as cultural partners – have to say on these vitally important issues.


If our elected representatives are unable to provide us with leadership on this fundamentally important issue, new 21st Century representatives must be found. Either way, we must have a new spirit in this countries affairs. What can we do?

There are Federal elections coming up this year. We need to insist that these crucial issues are part of the ‘discussional agenda’ for all those who seek to represent us. That is one positive and constructive thing we can each do.

For the good of our own souls – to walk on country with genuine and informed permission.