What’s to celebrate on Australia Day?
January 26 is the celebration of the start of one of the great crimes of capitalism: the brutal and continuing process of genocide and dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people write the editors of Socialist Alternative.
To mark this occasion of mourning, and of resistance, we here reproduce selected sections of the pamphlet Aborigines claim citizen rights! written by Jack Patten and William Ferguson of the Aborigines Progressive Association. The pamphlet was circulated prior to the first Day of Mourning protest held on 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of invasion. The full document is available here.
The pamphlet, unfortunately, still reads true in so many regards. Its appeal, in such blistering tone, to take “pause in the midst of your…rejoicings” is well worth repeating on this, the 225th anniversary of invasion.
Aborigines claim citizen rights!
One hundred and fifty years
The 26th of January, 1938, is not a day of rejoicing for Australia’s Aborigines; it is a day of mourning. This festival of 150 years’ so-called “progress” in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country. We, representing the Aborigines, now ask you, the reader of this appeal, to pause in the midst of your sesqui-centenary rejoicings and ask yourself honestly whether your “conscience” is clear in regard to the treatment of the Australian blacks by the Australian whites during the period of 150 years’ history which you celebrate?
The old Australians
You are the New Australians, but we are the Old Australians. We have in our arteries the blood of the Original Australians, who have lived in this land for many thousands of years. You came here only recently, and you took our land away from us by force. You have almost exterminated our people, but there are enough of us remaining to expose the humbug of your claim, as white Australians, to be a civilized, progressive, kindly and humane nation. By your cruelty and callousness towards the Aborigines you stand condemned in the eyes of the civilized world.
These are hard words, but we ask you to face the truth of our accusation. If you would openly admit that the purpose of your Aborigines Legislation has been, and now is, to exterminate the Aborigines completely so that not a trace of them or of their descendants remains, we could describe you as brutal, but honest. But you dare not admit openly that your hope and wish is for our death! You hypocritically claim that you are trying to “protect” us; but your modern policy of “protection” (so-called) is killing us off just as surely as the pioneer policy of giving us poisoned damper and shooting us down like dingoes!
…We do not ask for your charity; we do not ask you to study us as scientific freaks. Above all, we do not ask for your “protection”. No, thanks! We have had 150 years of that! We ask only for justice, decency and fair play. Is this too much to ask? Surely your minds and hearts are not so callous that you will refuse to reconsider your policy of degrading and humiliating and exterminating Old Australia’s Aborigines?
…No “sentimental sympathy”, please!
We do not wish to be regarded with sentimental sympathy, or to be “preserved”, like the koala bears, as exhibits; but we do ask for your real sympathy and understanding of our plight.
We do not wish to be “studied” as scientific or anthropological curiosities. All such efforts on our behalf are wasted. We have no desire to go back to primitive conditions of the Stone Age. We ask you to teach our people to live in the Modem Age, as modern citizens. Our people are very good and quick learners. Why do you deliberately keep us backward? Is it merely to give yourselves the pleasure of feeling superior? Give our children the same chances as your own, and they will do as well as your children!
We ask for equal education, equal opportunity, equal wages, equal rights to possess property, or to be our own masters – in two words: equal citizenship! How can you honestly refuse this? In New South Wales you give us the vote, and treat us as equals at the ballot box. Then why do you impose the other unfair restriction of rights upon us? Do you really think that the 9,884 half-castes of New South Wales are in need of your special “protection”? Do you really believe that these half-castes are “naturally backward” and lacking in natural intelligence? If so, you are completely mistaken. When our people are backward, it is because your treatment has made them so. Give us the same chances as yourselves, and we will prove ourselves to be just as good, if not better, Australians, than you!
Keep your charity! We only want justice.