Tag Archives: Australian Constitution

Noel Pearson is wrong

Noel Pearson is one of the more reasonable ‘indigenous’ people promoting ‘an Indigenous voice in the Australian Constitution’. In article in today’s Australian, Noel Pearson’s lesson is that all Australians can be one as an opportunity to unite the nation, he is reported as long believing:

‘Australia has three stories: Indigenous foundations; British institutions; and multicultural migra­tion. On Friday, he told an assembly of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students – including migrants – that the referendum Australia was heading towards was a chance to reconcile them all.’

But Pearson is wrong on both accounts. A division along racial lines won’t unite anyone. I will defend that claim at another time. Here I am concerned with what he calls ‘three stories’, but more accurately are three divisions or classes of Australian society, the indigenous class implicitly the superior class. It is the alleged foundations that he gets pitifully wrong.

The idea of a nation is not that of a mass of land. A nation is a coherence of traditions, customs, law, manners, and a system of justice, developed over time. Edmund Burke called it a ‘moral incorporation’ . The physical environment of the moral incorporation influences a nation’s growth in a secondary sense.

When Captain Arthur Phillip drove the British flag into the earth of Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 and later read the public commission to the assembly of First Fleeters on 7 February, he signalled the foundation of a new nation with its cultural and political lines going back to the British Isles. This was the foundation of the nation which officially became known as Australia several decades later.

The many local tribes had absolutely no input into Australia’s foundations, let alone those dispersed around the vast continent. Some of these would not see a European until decades later. As I wrote in my book Prison Hulk to Redemption:

‘It is misleading and false to talk about the Aboriginals before European settlement as “Australians.” Indeed, the word “Aboriginal” is a post-settlement term to refer to a group of several hundred distinct tribes with different languages … This is the hard reality, whether one likes it or not. It would make more sense to adopt a collective noun like “Aboriginalia” to refer to the collection of tribes before settlement. After settlement, everything changed—in the same manner it had done throughout history when peoples were on the move. The peoples of Aboriginalia would, in time, become integral members of the new nation Australia and make their own unique contribution. Aboriginalia would drift into the mists of history.’  

All the present talk about First Nations, land rights, justice, civil rights and so on, presupposes the nation of Australia as I have described it.