The beginning of this semester has been marked for me by visits to the Redfern Tent Embassy, and hearing stories from friends who travelled on the 50th Anniversary Freedom Ride. With first hand perspectives and experiences giving myself and others a greater understanding of Indigenous land issues and the constant disadvantages these groups face at the hands of our government, it was infuriating to hear Tony Abbott recently say that Indigenous Australians were making “lifestyle choices” to live in remote communities.
This ill-conceived statement underscores the ongoing struggle to prevent the forced closures of remote Aboriginal communities. It highlights the contradictory attitudes of state and federal governments to native title. It raises serious concerns regarding the ability for a group to retain their ongoing, inherent connection to the land. And it limits a group’s capacity to observe the same traditional laws as they always have.
In other words, closing these communities severely limits these traditional and intrinsic practices, and hence the ability for an Indigenous group to achieve native title.
This is so much more than losing the opportunity for a white man to inform Indigenous groups that the land is traditionally theirs. Indeed, it’s hard to sum up in an editorial what Indigenous peoples will lose if their communities are closed. The deep and damaging loss of an essential connection to their land, and the resulting practices and belief systems that will be wiped with these closures, is traumatising. But this is something that won’t just happen from this alone; it’s been happening since white Australians arrived. Racism is the lifestyle choice here.
This is an issue that my white privilege can only begin to explore. But on pages 14 and 15 this week, Honi attempts to look into some specific issues to do with land management and Indigenous communities to investigate this topic further.
A white property owner would rarely, if ever, be told they are not allowed to live on the land they own. Indigenous Australians shouldn’t be stripped of theirs either.