What to write about PM Tony Abbott’s recent comments regarding remote Indigenous Australians and his view that being connected with country and living on ancestral estates is a ‘lifestyle choice’? I will let the rest of this blog (the archive of stories about Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s deep connections with country) speak for itself on such matters. I would prefer to highlight some of the perspectives from Indigenous peoples on this issue; why they affirm that they must be allowed and supported to maintain their ancestral connections with the land and the entities that they are custodians of.
Yuin elder, Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, who is also the Director of Culture for Life, said this about Abbott’s recent comments:
By dismantling the Communities of remote Australia this Prime Minister is attempting to make the current generation of Elders the ‘Last Generation’. This is not about money and so called ‘lifestyle choices’, it’s about cultural genocide and destroying the linkages our communities need to maintain our connection to country and title over our ancestral lands. Abbott’s colonialist mentality and obsession with a foreign monarchy is widening the gap. Hold tight – it’s going to be an ugly ride until he is gone.
Indigenous educator Chris Sarra makes some very pertinent points in his recent article , Without connection to country, Australia is a shallow nation. That’s what Abbott doesn’t understand, (The Guardian), including:
If we cut or stifle this tremendously deep human connection to country we will be left with something so incredibly shallow.
The best way for all Australians to forge a deeper sense of belonging to our country is to enable such ancient human connections to be sustained. With that, all of us are better placed to respectfully embrace those descendants and the ancient rituals they offer us to be a part of something that has been occurring here for many thousands of years.
As Uncle Max suggests, there is a broader agenda underlying WA Premier Colin Barnett and PM Tony Abbott’s moves to centralise service provision for Indigenous peoples to larger town centers and cities. Getting traditional owners off their ancestral estates and into larger towns and centers (see ‘Outstation message: Closing remote communities with ‘finish Broome”) will have huge ramifications on people-country connections: how and whether these can be maintained, people’s health and wellbeing post-dispossession, the health of the country without its people living with it, social fracturing in communities that would receive dispossessed peoples, housing shortages, the list goes on.
In my view, inherent in Abbott’s comments is a blindness towards the ancestral connections maintained by Indigenous peoples on this continent, how those connections shape people’s realities and why they are so necessary for cultural survival.