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Sir Douglas Nicholls (wikipedia.org)
55 points by adrian_mrd 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments

As a New Zealander, it pains me to see how Aboriginal Australians were (and still are) treated. In NZ, we're not perfect, but holy moly Australia is 50 years behind us.

As a white Australian who grew up in a country area (close to Moree, which was the first stop of the Australian ‘Freedom Rides’) and having spent a lot of time in NZ in the last decade, it really pains me that we are so far from the level of race relations that NZ has. It truly is a blight on what is otherwise a really good country

Aussie here (white). One of the few things I am proud of is the 1967 census when Aboriginals were given the right to vote. (I was a young child at the time and don’t remember it.)

One of the challenges is that almost everything white people do to help ends up making things worse in some way.

> the 1967 census when Aboriginals were given the right to vote

I've just been reading about this—it seems that's not what it was at all.

The referendum question was this: "Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled— "An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population"?"

"Voters were asked to approve, together, changes to two provisions in the Constitution section". One was to delete the phrase in italics from the constitution:

"The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws"

From Nicholls's wiki page: "The movement took 30 years to coalesce and achieve anything like its stated goal, but it soon made its focus the Constitution of Australia which, in its original form, prevented the Commonwealth from making any law that would benefit the Aboriginal people." Unbelievable!

The other was to delete from the constitution the sentence "In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted."


A consequence of the referendum (I used the word "census in my earlier post, incorrectly) was the that the aboriginal people gained the right to vote, among other significant rights (welfare, etc). Until then they were not considered "Australians" at all.

"It is frequently stated that the 1967 referendum gave Aboriginal people Australian citizenship and that it gave them the right to vote in federal elections; however this is not the case."[0]

"It was some five years before any real change occurred as a result of the referendum"—change thanks to Whitlam in 1972, I suppose.

It seems aborigines had the right to vote since at least 1962:

"The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962 received assent on 21 May 1962. It granted all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the option to enrol and vote in federal elections."[1]

But the history goes much further back:

"In the 1850s under the constitutions of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, Aboriginal men had the same right to vote as other male British subjects aged over 21. ...

In 1895 South Australia became the first electorate in the world to give equal political rights to both women and men. Aboriginal women shared these rights.

However, laws specifically intended to deny the vote to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were enacted by Queensland (1885), Western Australia (1893) and the Northern Territory (1922).

The first federal electoral Act, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, granted men and women of all states the right to vote. Indigenous people were excluded from this right unless they already had the right to vote before 1901. ...

In March 1949 Prime Minister Ben Chifley introduced an amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. This extended the right to vote in federal elections to any Indigenous person who had been a member of the defence forces."[1]

[0] What the referendum did not do: Give voting rights https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_Australian_referendum_(Ab...

[1] https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/indigenous...

> ... everything white people do to help ...

Achieving success is a very complicated dance, where success is partly given and partly taken. Part of the problem is active malice where some parts of mainstream Australia, but another part of it is a passive malice where the people who are willing to help have cripplingly low expectations and just don't differentiate between people who are and aren't willing to help themselves.

A thriving Aboriginal community isn't something that should be "achieved" by white people via their policies. The Aboriginals need to do most of the grunt work on that front.

> Nicholls' predecessor as governor, nuclear physicist Mark Oliphant, confidentially wrote to the state government expressing concerns about the appointment. He said there were "grave dangers" involved, as "there is something inherent in the personality of the Aborigine which makes it difficult for him to adapt fully to the ways of the white man".

That opinion is not nuclear physics. Or science.

Is it?

What force propels that meme, and why or how does it endure?

Oliphant's wikipedia page says about that quote:

The authors of Oliphant's biography noted that "that was the prevailing attitude of almost the entire white population of Australia until well after World War II"


(Sydney here.) I've known two aborigines well, one was a dear friend for many years[0]. I'd have to say, and they would no doubt agree, that their whole culture–or whatever fragments of traditional culture they've inherited–"makes it difficult for [them] to adapt fully to the ways of the white man". Impossible to adapt very far or very well at all, let alone fully. Just as western culture, I imagine, would make it difficult for white people to "adapt fully to the ways" of aboriginal people if they tried, or to prosper in an aboriginal world, if it still existed. The whole "go to school, get a job, live in a house" thing was very foreign to my two friends, they had nothing of that in their lives. Aborigines didn't do that before white people came here, now that's what you have to do to be considered fully human, or to live decently in a city or town. Aboriginal culture was horribly assaulted for 150+ years, often with genocidal intent.. It's a huge tragic situation, with no easy answers. Australians no longer call it "adapt fully to the ways of the white man", it's just life in modern Australia, but it comes to the same thing.

p.s. Thanks to OP for posting this, I hadn't heard of Nicholls, sounds like an amazing guy and an amazing life.

[0] That was in the last 20 years, in Sydney. I grew up in the 80s in a country NSW town, lots of aborigines in the area, but I don't think I ever even talked with one. There were some at my high school but we never came in contact, at all. They lived in an aboriginal village separate from the main town; white people never went there.

With over 67,000 years of culture and heritage - the worlds longest-running mine operation (Wilgie Mia), its oldest known still-extant school (Gabarnmung), the longest successful oral traditions of any culture, ever - the original land owners don't need to adapt to us: We need to learn more about them. And it can't happen a moment too soon.

> We need to learn more about them. And it can't happen a moment too soon.

Ok, does that include you? Go! I looked up Wilgie Mia. Apparently a 20-metre deep hole in the ground, an ochre source. Hmm. Couldn't find anything online resembling a school by that name, assuming you don't mean the rock art site whose "existence had been forgotten until its 2006 rediscovery". I'm not sure what "longest successful oral tradition" means exactly. (What does "successful" mean there? Are there unsuccessful oral traditions? And what does it come to besides "no writing system"?) ...And don't we all have "over 67,000 years of culture and heritage"?

On the plus side immigration has been absolutely stellar for the Australian economy.

I don't think it has endured. Oliphant said that in ~1976, and said later he regretted it. (see the source article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Nicholls#cite_note-Bla...).

Oliphant himself had an interesting life. He discovered the structure of Tritium, was involved in the development of the cavity magnetron (radar) during WW2, and kick-started the Manhattan Project. If you're interested in physics and haven't heard of him, give his Wikipedia page a read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Oliphant

I guess my grandfather would have met Oliphant when they were working on radar. There is a family story of my grandfather sleeping with a prototype cavity magnetron under his pillow to keep it safe from air raids.

>What force propels that meme, and why or how does it endure?

the force would be the xenophobia present in some large percentage of every human society, the thing that allows it to endure would the framework of racism.

> framework of racism

In basic terms, race describes physical traits, and ethnicity refers to cultural identification.

The physicist simply said that "white man" culture is difficult for natives to adopt or even want to adopt. It is a fairly reasonable statement.

Clearly it would be prevailing attitudes of white supremacy.

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