LETTER TO THE ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
It is good that a debate is emerging on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is going to dominate politics for most of the current term of Parliament.
So please, everybody, do some more basic reading. There is a lot of material. A starting point could be this link.
What follows are a few extracts from that.
“In 1788 a vast, potentially wealthy continent was seized on a vague legal basis promoted by a handful of writers who never left Europe and knew nothing of the societies already living there.
British officials did not consider this question before 1788’s settlement but, in 1819, Britain’s paramount Crown Law Officers advised that NSW had been “possessed by His Majesty, not having been acquired by conquest or cession, but taken possession of by him as desert or uninhabited”.
Three years later, Captain Cook’s royal instructions were that, if he found New Holland to be inhabited, he was to “take possession of convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Britain” and “with the consent of the Natives”; but, “if you find the Country uninhabited, you are to take possession of it for His Majesty … as First Discoverers and Possessors”.
Although noting regularly in his journal the land was “inhabited” and “not without inhabitants”, Cook asserted it “was never seen or visited by any European before, and, in a later deleted phrase, “therefore by the same Rule belongs to Great Britain”.
No one in London quibbled over the discrepancy between his instructions and reports. So, the king’s commission of 1786 appointed Captain Arthur Phillip governor of “our territory called New South Wales”.
The point I am making is that when Captain Cook arrived the country wasn’t Terra Nullius, it wasn’t empty, vacant, unoccupied, and Captain Cook didn’t follow instructions. And then the Grandees who drafted our first Constitution added a massive insult by failing to acknowledge the prior occupation of the country.
This history hasn’t been passively accepted by First Nations people. Agitation has been constant. And since Prime Minister Hawke’s grand announcement of a Treaty at Barunga in 1988 there have been countless Inquiries and Parliamentary Committees examining and reporting on a way forward. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the culmination of all that effort. It can’t be easily dismissed. Simply put it calls for a Voice, a Treaty, and a Truth Telling Commission.
For those readers who continue to believe Australia was peacefully settled, you might find this link informative.