Saturday, July 05, 2014

Abbott Clings to Colonial Myth of Terra Nullius

Australia was “unsettled” before the British arrived and owes its existence to Britain’s “form of foreign investment” in the land, Tony Abbott said.

Sydney Morning Herald 5 July 2014
Professor Michael Dodson, director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, said Abbott’s comments were “an unfortunate slip of the tongue”.

“It’s a typical European colonial thing to say and it probably has its origins in the way in which history, for too long, has been taught in this country,” Dodson told Guardian Australia.

“The British view that the place was terra nullius and unsettled still lingers in the minds of people like our prime minister, I’m afraid. It’s very disappointing. I mean he corrected himself, but even ‘scarcely settled’ isn’t quite accurate either because some areas were heavily settled,” he said.

Dodson, who was also Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, said the lie of terra nullius as the foundation for colonisation is still being perpetuated, despite the high court overturning it in the historic Mabo ruling in 1992.

Dodson said he did find the other portion of Abbott’s comments – that the British arrival was a “form of foreign investment” – highly offensive.

"Foreign investment of troops who slaughter the bloody populace," he said.

"The first encounter James Cook had with Aboriginal people was to shoot this ancestor of the Sydney people in the back. This hankering for a mythical past is disturbing.”

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