Can a leopard change its spots? The National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra can’t. From inception it was captured by the Left’s social justice warriors and they’re still cementing their long march through the joint today.
The original design for a wall included some irregular dots and bumps. As an in-joke, the NMA crowd organized some of the dots to read, in braille, “Forgive us our genocide”, and “Sorry”. These were stealthy insults to then Prime Minister Howard, who was scheduled to open the NMA in 2001. The plot was exposed and the braille words were made illegible.
I happened to visit the NMA last weekend, including the Aboriginal rights display.
It includes a 1997 poster featuring a hideous caricature of Pauline Hanson with “Pauline’s Menu of Truth” concocted by the cross-cultural “Campfire Group” of Brisbane artists. The pompous NMA caption says the group
“harnessed satire as a means of addressing issues negatively affecting Indigenous people in order to maintain a dialogue and challenge the veracity of information disseminated as fact. Fish ‘n Chips is a commentary on the policies and personalities of the late 1990s.”
The NMA has adopted here the ABC trick of deriding and insulting Hanson (e.g. as “Redneck Emperor”) using the pretext of “comedy”, as in the ABC’s “Pauline Pantsdown” shtick or an earlier ABC stunt of broadcasting filthy and defamatory songs about her.To spot the agenda, try to imagine the NMA letting rip with comedic and insulting exhibits from a right-wing group about Julia Gillard, Penny Wong or The Green’s Sarah Hanson-Young.
Nearby in the NMA show, one of the larger (if not largest) historical posters was from the Communist Party of Australia, circa 1982. It included the party’s red flag and the wording, “You’re on aboriginal land…Pay the rent…Land rights now!”
The NMA-written caption reads
“At the time of the 1967 referendum, the Communist Party of Australia gained support from indigenous rights campaigners for their vocal stance against racially discriminatory policies.” The poster was “donated by Mr Peter A Murphy, Sydney District Committee, Communist Party of Australia.”
Bravo the Communist Party of Australia, except that its Soviet parent and financier had a habit of murdering racial minorities en masse. Mongolians (100,000 out of 2.4m), Chechens (up to 200,000 or 33-50% of the total), Volga Germans (160,000 dead) and Cossacks spring to mind. I’m not saying this NMA caption was inaccurate, just that it seems a bit unbalanced – other, larger groups – Christian lobbies for example – were also campaigning for Aboriginal causes.
I took a few more steps and another NMA caption literally stopped me in my tracks.
“Growing up on ‘the mish’ was hard and life was tough. The way my family were treated is heartbreaking – especially the kids. That anyone could think that missions were about ‘protecting’ or ‘benefiting’ Aboriginal people is unbelievable.”
The main text reads:
“Between 1860 and 1978 there were over 200 registered government-controlled missions and reserves across Australia. These were compounds established to contain or control Aboriginal people and restrict or prevent their movement across their traditional lands. Originally, missions differed from reserves in that they were established by church groups rather than secular authorities, but later the word ‘mission’ came to refer to both.
“Those living on missions had their lives controlled by government officials. This could result in residents being unable to leave the mission without written permission, having little or no control over their money, and having their mail censored or withheld, for example. Often they faced the fear of having their children removed. The mission experience was so pervasive that it affected lives and families well after the dismantling of missions in the late 1970s.” [My emphasis].
I am deeply suspicious about the NMA’s attempt to conflate government-run settlements (mainly oriented to welfare distribution) and church-run missions with a philanthropic emphasis on education, protection of vulnerable girls and boys, job-training and Christianising. This mixing-up of the two types implies that the worst paternalism and neglect at the government-run establishments (e.g. at Moore River Settlement in WA’s south-west) were just as prevalent in the church-run stations.
Also, note the sheer bastardry of the NMA in wiping off the generations of self-sacrifice and charity of those church stalwarts who dedicated their lives to Aboriginal protection and betterment. NMA people drawing their fat public service salaries in Canberra (and many of the staff seem to be on the gold-plated public service super schemes) would find it hard to identify with earlier Australians living for decades amid the heat, flies and isolation of the outback. These missionaries and helpers were ministering to people suffering frightful diseases and disadvantages. The indigenous girls rescued by missions were saved from violent cultural practices such as rape by mature and old men, including sexual tearing of girls hardly beyond toddler stage.
Moreover, the NMA’s caption does its best to liken the missions to closed compounds (or even a mild form of concentration camp), supposedly forcing Aborigines to stay there despite the alleged appalling conditions inflicted by monstrous white overlords and overladies.
What bunk! First, the norm was that groups drifted in seeking better food and lifestyle than the bush offered (especially during drought). Missions, often staffed by a bare handful of people, were keen to return them to their own lands rather than have them idly consuming mission resources. Second, when a group felt like returning to their lands, they just went. Who or what could prevent them?
To the extent women and children were in locked dormitories at night, it was for protection against the male black marauders, especially young men whose normal sex partners were monopolized by polygamous elders, with powers of witchcraft and payback to enforce their authority.
The would-be young marauders included David Unaipon, 25 at the time and whose portrait in suitcoat, winged collar and tie now graces our $50 note.
I include this anecdote thanks to the wonderful researches of Joe Lane in Adelaide, who spent years patiently re-keying and posting on-line at www.firstsources.info hand-written early documents from SA’s missions and archives.
On May 27, 1898, the superintendent of Point McLeay Mission on Lake Alexandrina, Thomas Sutton, wrote to the Rev. Dalton, secretary of the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association in Adelaide, the mission’s agent. Sutton’s letter concerned Unaipon, who was Point McLeay-born:
“We have had a rather startling experience with some of our young men, and I regret very much that David Unaipon has been the ringleader of it all.
Last Monday night, about 11 o’clock or later, voices were heard in the dining room of the Dormitory but before it could be ascertained who they were, they made their escape. I set to work at once to investigate the matter, which resulted in proving most conclusively that David was the leader of three others, viz., Willie Butcher, Pat Williams and Mansell Tripp; first of all David persuaded P. Williams to leave his bed in the young men’s room to join them, then he tried to persuade Tom Lawson to do so but he refused; and subsequently led the above band; we found that he had a key that would open the young women’s door – (that is why I have sent for patent locks) – and if they had not been surprised and hindered, I don’t know what would have happened.
“I can only hope that no entrance has been previously made. I tried them on Wednesday morning and sentenced David to 6 months banishment from the station and from subsequent revelation am going to make it 12 months; and the other two who, I believe, were foolishly led into it but did not go to the extent of the others, I gave them the option of one month’s work without pay or 3 months’ banishment. I think they will choose the former. It has been a great worry to me especially the part that David played, but I believe the prompt punishment will be a good lesson to others.”
Sutton’s discipline didn’t prove very effective, as Unaipon and his co-conspirator simply camped just outside the station boundary. Three weeks later (June 18), Sutton was writing again to Dalton:
“D. Unaipon & W. Butcher I regret to say that these two fellows are now camping on the reserve just outside our ground; if we cannot get control of reserve, it is no use trying to carry out our regulations; the natives will only laugh at us.”
This Unaipon episode is just-by-the-way. The missions generally had far more serious issues to deal with. For example, a prime purpose of many missions was to save children from infanticide, or save half-caste girls from the vilest prostitution, leading to rapid death from disease.
As mentioned, the NMA caption starts with the 2008 quote from Gracie Bond from Cherbourg, which is now a self-governing Aboriginal community (population 1300) three hours’ drive north-west of Brisbane. In that very year – though the NMA doesn’t mention it – Cherbourg was so dysfunctional that one in ten inhabitants was bashed severely enough to be recorded on police statistics. (The next year the rate fell to “only” 7%). Police rated 60% of the assaults in the “serious” category. The rate of hospitalization from assaults was more than 30 times the Queensland average.
I’ll repeat Gracie Bond’s allegation in the NMA but now in this black-on-black Cherbourg context:
“That anyone could think that missions were about ‘protecting’ or ‘benefiting’ Aboriginal people is unbelievable.”
Moving along the NMA walkway, one gets the full “stolen generation” message, including that children were still being removed and traumatised as late as 1970, to be “better off raised as whites”, alleges the NMA. In other words, Prime Ministers Chifley, Menzies, Holt and Gorton presided over racist child-stealing regimes (federally); as did such decent state individuals as WA Premiers Bert Hawke (uncle of Bob) and Dave Brand (Lib).
In Queensland the policy was to corral Aborigines away from the white community, not to integrate them. From 1908 to 1971, separations of Aboriginal children in Queensland from their parents averaged four per year – and that was for all reasons, including neglect, incapacity etc.
In South Australia the law explicitly forbade child removals without parental and judicial consent. The Victorian government from 1996-2003 ran six investigations seeking “stolen generation” evidence and individuals and found none, other than 300 informal adoptions and fosterings-out in the 1960s, which earlier governments had discovered, condemned and corrected.
In the Northern Territory, two “stolen generation” individuals sued for compensation, these being the best examples out of 550 prospective cases that phalanxes of lawyers could turn up. Both claimants lost – one case had involved possible parental consent and the other, re Peter Gunner, evinced the horrific evidence that his mother, Topsy, had abandoned the baby Peter on an ants’ nest or stuffed him down a rabbit hole, the finer details vary.
In NSW, of 2600 children removed between 1912 and 1968, two-thirds were simply teenagers boarded out for apprenticeships (as also occurred with white teenagers) and the other third were largely welfare cases, such as orphans, destitutes and abused children. The NSW cases that involved weakly ambiguous support for the “stolen” thesis totaled three persons.
The NMA display strongly features PM Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the “stolen generation”, in which he said,
“We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.”
Tragically, since Rudd’s 2008 pledge, the number of indigenous children in out-of-home care has actually risen by two-thirds, to 15,455, as of June, 2015, such that these children represent 35% of all those in out-of-home-care and 5.25% of all indigenous children – and the rate is rising. Even SBS TV wonders if there are more of these removals now than at “any other time in Australian history”.
Historian Keith Windschuttle estimates the total removals nationally (for all reasons) from 1880-1970 at about 8250, an annual rate of about 90 that is totally dwarfed by removals today. The NMA could mount quite an interesting display on this contrast, if it chose.
I wasn’t intending a critique of the NMA, which is chaired by business man David Jones (VGI Partners; Kudos Energy) and run by Dr Mathew Trinca, costs taxpayers $41m a year and gets 1.35m visitors annually . Just for the rcord, Trinca had this to say about his institution when interviewed by the ABC:
“The one thing good about the cultural institutions of Canberra and elsewhere around the country is that they can be sources that people can trust.”
I just wanted to enjoy myself before my plane took off for Melbourne. Instead, I found myself choking on the NMA’s hotbeds of identity politics, notwithstanding that most of the NMA stuff is pretty good.
I notice that conservative columnist and Institute of Public Affairs board member Janet Albrechtsen is on the NMA’s council, along with gender-Valkyrie and journalism academic Catharine Lumby. Surely Albrechstsen needs to rock the NMA boat a bit?
Tony Thomas’s book of essays, “That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print” is available here.
 “Before the Chamber Judge, [Hanson] contended that the broadcast material gave rise to imputations that she is a homosexual, a prostitute, involved in unnatural sexual practices, associated with the Ku Klux Klan, a man and/or a transvestite and involved in or party to sexual activities with children. The [ABC] essentially contended that the material amounted merely to vulgar abuse and was not defamatory.”
 Another caption does refer to “academics, Christians, trade unions, peace activists, women’s suffrage groups…A broad range of political interests and parties, including the Australian Liberal and Labor parties, the Communist Party of Australia and the Socialist Party of Australia, also offered support.” Note that ‘Christians’ are listed second behind ‘academics’.
 NMA expenses last year for the gold-plated defined-benefit and the defined-contribution super were roughly the same.
 Put Unaipon’s shenanigans down to youthful indiscretion. Wiki says he was later employed by the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association as a deputationer, in which role he travelled and preached widely in seeking support for the Point McLeay Mission
 A child involved in multiple notifications was counted only as one case
 I was a reporter in Perth from 1958-69 and from a household active on Indigenous causes, but recall no such allegation of child-stealing ever being raised, let alone creating any controversy.
 This data is from the Qld Govt’s own submission to the “Stolen Generation” inquiry.
 Details from Keith Windschuttle’s “The Stolen Generations 1881-2008” or my “Pocket Windschuttle” summarizing his 660-page book.
 Ronald Wilson’s Bringing Them Home report (1997) implied up to 100,000 forced removals of half-caste children. Rudd’s apology halved that to “up to 50,000”. Neither cited any documentation for their wild estimates.