Review: It’s Our Country

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Wantharra. Yurra Ngay ngani yinii manathi.

Hello. What are you afraid of?  Harold Ludwick.

It’s Our Country is a collection of essays from Indigenous writers about the proposed referendum to change the Australian Constitution and the way our Indigenous peoples are placed within it.

our country

Anything is ambitious for the Australian polity given the current era of non reform. Megan Davis.

So here’s a bit of basic groundwork  if you aren’t sure why this should be a thing:

Australia’s constitution was bedded down by a bunch of white guys in 1901. Section 25 of the constitution allows for an entire race of people to be banned from voting. Section 51(xxvi), now referred to as the Race power, was initially included in order to keep some control of the unskilled migrant workforce at the time. This section has had its powers expanded in recent years in order to refer to Indigenous peoples. Section 127 (struck down in the 1967 referrendum) forbid that the Indigenous peoples be used to calculate the country’s population.

Ergo, there are some massive issues within our constitution, aimed directly at the Indigenous peoples.

The 1967 referrendum brought about some positive changes for the Indigenous peoples, but there is a long way to go. Especially when you consider:

a) the Mabo ruling found against the British idea of terra nullius, but made no comment about ‘settlement’. This is still a festering wound in the country’s psyche.

b) The existence of the Race power in the constitution overrules the Racial Discrimination Act, meaning that the government can decide to put racist laws in place (the NT Intervention being the most recent of these. And we’ve seen very recently some of the awful backlash of this action.)

Meaningful constitutional recognition and reform can only be achieved if all Australians understand the value of it. Josephine Bourne.

This collection of essays is important and timely. Is another referendum the answer? At this point probably not. It’s very hard to get any constitutional change passed by referendum in this country. Especially when there is no clear cut view as to the way this very important question should be tackled and what question should be posed.

Merely asking for some vague reference in the constitution is intellectually shallow and politically short sighted. Michael Mansell.

Most authors call for other steps as well as a change to the constitution, such as provisions similar to those that have been put in place for the Indigenous peoples in New Zealand and Canada. All are wary of charging forth into the territory of recognition rather than taking the time and developing the genuine constitutional reform needed.

Indigenous Australians have now waited for 228 years for our Godgiven and constitutional rights. Noel Pearson.

There is a lot of work that needs doing to improve the relations between white Australia and our Indigenous peoples. Even without constitutional change, this collection of essays contain workable solutions and suggestions that can start right now. Of course, one of the biggest challenges is that, with out Indigenous people representing about 3% of the population, we also need support  Australia wide for these things to happen.

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and the wide range of ideas and opinions therein. I just hope someone in government is paying attention.

5 out of 5 acknowledgements to the Turrbal people, the Gubbi Gubbi people and the Wakka Wakka people, traditional custodians of this land, of elders past and present, from where I write.