The ultra-right emerges from a swamp of bigotry

A group of heavily armed anti-government militia members, having taken over several government buildings, are currently destroying archaeological sites of critical importance and build their own infrastructure in defiance of the laws of the land.  They have released video footage the artifacts and sites being removed, and a new road being built in their stead. The road traverses archaeological sites that are significant to the local nations of that area. Is this the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS) fanatical militia group? Actually, it is – the responsibility belongs to Vanilla ISIS, the white anti-government ultra-right militia that has taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

The indigenous nations, the Burns Paiute Tribe, have strongly protested to the federal government, but thus far no action has been taken to preserve the lands and sites that are sacred to that nation. A number of endangered species live in the areas occupied by the ultra-rightist groups, and one of their members addressed concerns about the status of those species by stating on social media that: “You know how many endangered species we’re dealing with on our ranch right now? Zero, because it doesn’t matter any more”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with ridiculing these ultra-right fanatics, and indeed they deserve derision for their sheer ignorance. In this case of armed rebellion by a group of gun-crazed fanatics, violent suppression by the forces of the state will only result in more bloodshed and suffering, producing martyrs for their distorted ’cause’, and legitimising the use of state violence when attacking the force of the Labour Left, the African American and minority communities. The federal authorities, namely the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) did respond with lethal force in 1993, when suppressing the fundamentalist and apocalyptic-seeking evangelical cult, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Memories of that fatal engagement still inform ultra-right groups until today. Currently, there are negotiations between the FBI and the rightist militants of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge to end the standoff.

The reasons for the appeal of such groups, and the spread of their ideology, need to be found in the generalised decay of the capitalist system itself and the rightward trajectory of the mainstream political parties. Ideas such as those advocated by Vanilla ISIS do not spring up out of nowhere – they are both a symptom and a disease. As Eric Ruder explained in his article ‘Patriots versus the State?’ for the Socialist Worker online magazine:

The double standard applied to the Oregon protesters is absolutely a reflection of the racism embedded in U.S. law enforcement at all levels. But perhaps even more crucial to explaining the authorities’ polite and patient treatment of the protesters is not their whiteness, but their “right-ness”–that is, the reactionary political views they share with an influential wing of the Republican Party.

The American ultra-right, a nebulous movement with sometimes conflicting ideas, has grown and flourished in a larger political climate of hysteria and bigotry. The New Yorker magazine published an analysis of the revival of far-right groups and ideologies in its January 2016 issue. Entitled ‘The Far-Right Revival: A Thirty Year War?’ the author, Evan Osnos, traces the support of ultra-rightist groups and racist ideology back to support from the mainstream political parties in the United States. The politics of resentment, the portrayal of minority groups as privileged layers increasing their share of the ‘national pie’, drives this layer of political dissonance. Donald Trump, the bigoted, loud-mouthed presidential candidate, is just the latest figure providing a lightning rod to attract the so-called ‘white nationalist’ groupings into a coherent force.

The major political parties have provided a springboard to take radical right ideas into the mainstream. Donald Trump, the most bombastic and media-savvy of the Republican candidates, has built his political career on racism, targeting Hispanic immigrants, appealing to the most belligerent sentiments when it comes to foreign policy, and in December 2015 announced his intention to shut down all Muslim immigration to the United States. Tapping into a long and deep vein of Islamophobia in the United States, that was only the latest in a long series of semi-fascistic proposals from the rightist candidate. Trump is the loudest, but he is hardly alone in his political proposals. The Socialist Workers magazine published an insightful article regarding the support Trump is receiving, entitled ‘Why does anyone support this racist asshole?’ A perfectly valid question. While Trump is the one that garners the most media attention, his campaign has served as a springboard for racist ideas to gain a wide audience. But he is not so far outside the mainstream. As Elizabeth Schulte, the author of the article explained:

Trump may not be a fascist, but he is providing a space for racist lies and far-right ideas to flourish–and for marginalized individuals to become emboldened to take action on these ideas.

Wildly dangerous and not so far-outside the mainstream

The sub-heading above comes from an article by the always perceptive Glenn Greenwald, who wrote that while Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslim immigration is dangerous and leans towards proto-fascism, it is not so far outside the mainstream of political discourse. Trump’s role is poisonous, not so much because of his candidacy per se, but because his rantings help to normalise the expression of racial hatred. He is definitely not some aberration, but the ugliest, vilest expression of racist and semi-fascistic undercurrents in the US ruling class. Republican candidate Ben Carson, the gentle fanatic, suggested during a Republican presidential candidate debate that no Muslim should ever be allowed to become president of the United States, a proposal that openly defies the US constitution and its prohibition of religious tests for political office. Carson’s opposition to a Muslim assuming political office amounts to a complete rejection of the US constitution’s strict separation of church and state, something that a political candidate should know.

Senator Ted Cruz, no stranger to making fundamentalist statements himself, suggested that only Christian refugees from Syria should be allowed into the United States, because Muslims are more likely to commit terroristic acts. This will come as a surprise to the many victims of terrorism in Ireland, Oklahoma City and Charleston, as well as to the thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Muslim victims of ISIS attacks. In many ways, Cruz is more dangerous than Trump – the latter has no coherent ideology to speak of, except making money and bullying bigotry.

Cruz is the fanatical believer, a Christian first and an American second. Cruz said as much in an interview – one wonders about the reaction of the corporate media if a Muslim had made an equivalent statement regarding their faith. In every debate between the various Republican candidates, each tries to outdo the other in terms of their willingness to carpet-bomb other countries and place America on a war footing. Each candidate attempts to surpass the other in their belligerence and use of force – even though the proposals from the Republican candidates amount to war crimes. Trump, Cruz, Carson, Bush – all the candidates expressed their approval of policies that involve drone strikes, carpet bombing, and waterboarding. So Trump, while being the loudest and most bombastic of the lot, is in good company. Trump is not a fascist, but he is providing a pole of attraction for those with fascistic ideas; he presents himself as the populist outsider, the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate who will stand up for the average American.

Let’s not allow the Democrats an easy-ride – in fact, since 2001, with the ‘war on terror’ and the eruption of American militarism on a global scale, the hysteria regarding Islam and Muslim immigration has reached unprecedented levels, under the tutelage of Democrat politicians. Hillary Clinton made no secret of her intention to ‘obliterate Iran’, and proudly states that the Iranian people regard her as an enemy. The Obama administration escalated and refined the use of lethal drone strikes that started under the Bush-Cheney regime. Obama is responsible for unleashing militarist violence in the Middle East, devastating entire countries and creating an outward surge of refugees. Democrat Mayor of Virginia, David Bowers, spoke approvingly about the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, and suggesting that this example could be applied to the refugees of today. The unleashing of such racist sentiment is itself an indication of the putrefaction of capitalist society, increasingly based upon financial swindling, asset bubbles, looting public money for private profit, and war drives overseas.

Symptom, not the disease

Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, wrote a thoughtful column about the Trump issue in Common Dreams magazine. Entitled ‘Trump is a symptom not the disease’, Dabashi makes the point that semi-fascistic egomaniacs like Trump are only the latest symptom of a diseased political culture. As he explains in his article;

Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US, or his earlier remark to single out and profile Muslims, or his fellow Republican candidate Ben Carson stating point blank that no Muslim should ever become president, are only the most obnoxious versions of a much more deeply rooted bigotry and racism against Muslims that has been dominant in the US for a very long time, but particularly since 9/11.

In a system which originates in the mass murder of indigenous people and the theft of their land, the Islamic and Arab communities, with their South Asian counterparts, are the latest scapegoats in a system of racial discrimination. The incessant demonisation and singling out of the Islamic community as uniquely violent and treacherous, is part of a recycled paranoia that serves the political purpose of generating domestic support for imperial wars of conquest overseas. This toxic rhetoric does not just dissipate into thin air – it has real-life consequences, namely, the explosion of violence directed at the Muslim community inside the United States. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has studiously documented the rise of horrific attacks on mosques, Islamic community places and the Muslim people themselves. Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for CAIR, denounced the atmosphere of hysteria and fear in the immediate aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, stating “I have never seen it like this, not even after 9/11.” The American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee reported that their work has increased exponentially, with complaints of harassment and bullying, and discrimination at the workplace for anyone of ‘brown appearance’.

During a drive to war, the ruling class encourages the growth of the most racist and belligerent social sentiments. The war on terror has created a domestic environment where racist appeals are increasingly normalised and regarded as part of the mainstream. As social and economic inequality increases – and it has consistently under Obama – social discontent increases, looking for an outlet. Ultra rightist groups exploit such grievances, and channel that resentment into attacks on ethnic and religious minorities, as well as those aspects of government that serve social needs. There is a constant and increasing flow of money for military purposes, all the while social programmes are being curtailed. While programs such as food stamps and Medicaid face cutbacks, the US military is salivating at the prospect of further increases to its budget, receiving more funding than the rest of the ten largest militaries in the world combined. Meanwhile, homelessness in the United States is reaching epidemic proportions.

Malheur belongs to the indigenous nations

According to the ultra-rightist militia that seized the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, their goal is to restore sovereignty over the land to its rightful owners and oppose federal government tyranny. If that is the case, then we should expect them to relinquish control of that land to the indigenous nation, the Paiute nation, from whom the rapacious US federal government stole the land that now constitutes Oregon back in the 19th century. The post-US civil war administration implemented a policy of encroachment and settler expansion into Paiute territory, and forcibly enslaved the recalcitrant native American peoples.

Indeed, the state of Oregon itself was founded as a white settler utopia, deliberately excluding the indigenous people and people of colour. This is not to single out Oregon as a uniquely racist, segregated state – white America began as a segregated society – but that the land of Oregon has always been regarded as a resource to be exploited, whether it be by logging, mining or agribusiness companies. African Americans were excluded from living and working in Oregon. It is no surprise that the Ku Klux Klan had one of its largest branches in that state.

However, capitalist expansion proceeded apace in the years after the end of the civil war. The role of the federal authorities, while arbitrating between the competing interests and factions of the business community, played its main role of facilitating the rapid expansion of capitalist industry in the hitherto unconquered American West. This meant the ongoing theft of native American land, and the exclusion of indigenous people. Land, water, animal life, forests, mining, railways – everything was open to industrial exploitation. In fact, successive federal governments have been the staunchest allies of the big corporations, opening up public land for privatisation and enabling laws to facilitate profitable expansion.

The ultra-right militia are hardly defending sovereignty, but occupying indigenous American territory. As the Paiute community have stated, the armed militia have no right to the land, or its resource and archaeologically significant artifacts. These lands should be placed under the guardianship of the traditional owners. That is a positive place to start.

The Oregon standoff highlights the problem of ultra-right terrorism

Imagine a bearded, heavily armed man, appearing on a television broadcast, speaking on behalf of a heavily-armed militia group that has just occupied several government buildings. He vows to not only occupy the existing ground which his group has seized, but calls upon like-minded individuals to join his movement in a crusade against the tyranny of the US government. The appeals to people of similar mind go out through social media, and the militia group gains publicity for their cause. The bearded man, brandishing a gun, pledges to fight off all attempts by the federal government to subdue him and his group. There is however, one catch – the armed man in the video is not Muslim, but a white American ultra-rightist advocate, Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and wealthy cattle rancher in Oregon.

Having seized government buildings and property in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Bundy’s movement, the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, has protested what they see as the tyranny of the federal government – in this case, the Bureau of Land Management. While the immediate cause for this armed sedition is the reimprisonment of two ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, on arson charges, the roots of the Oregon crisis go much deeper. The Oregon cattle ranchers rail against the oppression of the federal government, and refuse to pay minimal taxes for the land on which their cattle grazes. Before getting to the wider political and social issues raised by the Oregon standoff, let us make a number of initial observations.

Government support

The Bundys themselves, being cattle ranchers in Oregon, are recipients of various forms of government support which enables them to maintain their wealth. The hypocrisy of claiming to be a victim of government tyranny, all the while parasitising the various state-supported programs that make possible the acquisition of wealth from cattle ranching, are plain to see. Amanda Girard, writes in an article called “5 Taxpayer Handouts the Bundys Receive While Railing Against Government “Tyranny”, elaborates five ways the Bundys are generously supported by government assistance. For instance, she writes that:

The US government charges 93 percent less for cattle grazing than private landowners

One of the biggest gripes from cattle ranchers like Cliven Bundy and other Western cattlemen is that the federal government is bleeding ranchers dry with overpriced cattle grazing fees. But the opposite is true — in 2012, it cost roughly $1.35 a month for each cow to graze on federal land, as opposed to the average $20 per month charged by private landowners for cattle grazing.

The fact above alone is enough to expose the hypocrisy of the cattle ranchers’ incessant claims of government oppression by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Girard lists other ways the Bundys receive state support which can be read in her article.

Domestic terrorism

Numerous writers and journalists have pointed out the stark contrast between the softly-softly approach of the federal authorities towards this particular act of armed sedition, and the heavy-handed, militarised response of the federal government towards those of African-American and Muslim background who have carried out protests against the repressive nature of state authorities. Indeed, the introductory paragraph of the current article was taken from a thoughtful and evocative piece by Wahajat Ali, writing in The Guardian that “If the Oregon militiamen were Muslim or black, they’d probably be dead by now”. The initial description of a bearded and armed fanatic making pronouncements on social media for the violent overthrow of the federal government immediately bring to mind the usual context in this era of the ‘war on terror’ – the Muslim enemy, the bearded extremist religious leaders from the Islamic community, or one of many other ubiquitous images of a so-called radicalised Muslim expressing hateful rhetoric. As Ali explains in his article:

Of course they’re not “terrorists”: Bundy and his followers are just your average angry white “freedom fighters”, who use weapons and ammunition to protect the US constitution and American values from the government and other Americans who want them to abide by federal laws like everyone else.

But if Bundy and his followers were like the 38% of Americans who aren’t white, people across America wouldn’t be watching this surreal, dangerous episode unfold and wondering what they could do to be labeled a “militia” when occupying a federal area with guns instead of “terrorists”, “thugs”, “extremists” or “gangs”.

Ali makes the compelling case that extremism comes in different forms, colours and varieties, and racial profiling does nothing to make the country safer, but only to whip up hysteria based on simplistic stereotypes. It is also easy to see the hypocrisy of the corporate-media in the way they have reported on this Oregon standoff, and the kid-gloves with which the Oregon ultra-right fanatics have been handled by the authorities, even though they are openly brandishing their weapons. As one Sikh lawyer and human rights activist Arjun Sethi, stated in a tweet published in the Common Dreams magazine:

No National Guard. No discussion of terrorism. No police violence. No television news coverage. They must be white.

A world of difference

One cannot imagine the authorities taking such a muted approach to the protests by Black Lives Matter activists, or towards members of the Islamic community who are routinely smeared as terrorist sympathisers in the wake of domestic shootings. The relative inaction of law enforcement institutions, and the reticence of the media to describe the Oregon militia men as terrorists, stands in stark contrast to a similar episode of armed sedition – the 1967 Black Panther occupation of the California State Capitol building. To be sure, there is a world of difference between the former Black Panther Party and the ultra-rightist militias. The Black Panthers, established primarily as a defensive response to police racism, integrated themselves into their local communities, fought for different reasons to the ultra-right militia, and achieved vastly different goals.

In the 1960s, the Black Panthers utilised the existing laws of the state to police their own communities, protect African Americans against abuses by the police force, and carried their arms openly in full compliance with the law at the time. A California congressman, Don Mulford, promoted a change in the California law to ban the open-carry laws of the state – with the support of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and then California governor, Ronald Reagan. Apparently the open-carry law, allowing citizens to lawfully possess weapons did not apply to African American ‘good guys’.

In protest against this Mulford Law, 30 Black Panther activists entered the State Capitol building. They entered the building lawfully, lodged their complaints, and left the building without incident. The response of the authorities was to crack down on the Black Panthers, using infiltration, police violence, and a media scare campaign. The Black Panthers were routinely slandered as a bunch of mindless thugs, intent on accruing personal wealth and motivated by greed rather than a particular ideology. The FBI launched a full-scale counter operation to break up and suppress the Black Panthers. Named Cointelpro – the Counter Intelligence Program – the authorities used their available and overwhelming resources to violently suppress the Black Panthers and deliver a telling strike against rising black nationalism. Black civil rights groups were discredited, disrupted and broken down.

The next episode

This episode demonstrates the vastly different approaches that the authorities take with regard to race. Intersecting with race, the Oregon standoff highlights how the capitalist state treats the land and resources it occupies. It is no secret that large energy multinationals are viewing public lands as a resource to be exploited. The Oregon militia and associated cattle ranchers are the products of the seizure and privatisation of public lands, and the use of those natural resources for private profit. The festering hypocrisy of the Oregon militia – that cattle ranchers decrying the tyranny of big government are the beneficiaries of government subsidies – is not the only issue here. The government certainly provides the water, fences, roads, infrastructure and amenities upon which the ranchers wealth depends, that much is true. However, the federal government has also provided for the profits of agribusiness, mining, logging and commercial interests on land that is traditionally owned by the First Nations of the Americas, the indigenous people. The sovereignty of the indigenous nations has been undermined, their land stolen, the Paiute Nation forcibly removed to make way for the private control of public lands.

In times of economic crisis, with masses of people alienated from a decaying capitalist system, the appeal of ultra-right groups comes into focus. The proliferation of right-wing militias comes at a time when the federal government is working for a minority group – the ultra-wealthy one percent. The super-wealthy class at the top of the financial aristocracy has not only preserved its wealth, but has been handed billions in handouts over the course of the last six-seven years in the form of quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the working conditions and living standards of the vast majority have plummeted.

With the active suppression of popular forms of protest, the grievances of the population can be directed, rather than upwards against the ruling class, but outwards against racial and ethnic minority groups. Posing as victims of government tyranny, the right-wing domestic terrorist militias express their outrage precisely at those institutions of government that protect public and social services – the health care, education, and environmental arms of the state.

These issues, and the political appeal of ultra-right groups and their ability to reach a wider audience, are subjects to be explored in the next article. Stay tuned.

Refusing to sing the Australian national anthem is a conscientious objection which must be supported

Deborah Cheetham, associate Dean of music at the University of Melbourne, was offered the opportunity to sing the Australian national anthem at the opening of the October 2015 Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final. Having sung the national anthem on numerous prior occasions, she was offered the dream-job for every performer – to sing a rousing rendition of the national anthem in front of thousands of people at a major sporting event, and viewed by millions of television viewers. Singing the Australian national anthem at a popular sporting event like the AFL Grand Final is a regular, and normal part of the sporting fixture. What could be more indicative of pride in Australian history and culture than belting out the national anthem in front of thousands of spectators?

After consultations with the AFL, Professor Cheetham declined the offer. Why?

She stated that she could not, in good conscience, sing the words ‘for we are young and free’, lyrics which are in the first verse of the national anthem. She suggested to the AFL governing board a compromise – she would sing the words ‘in peace and harmony’ as a replacement, and stick to the rest of the words for the anthem. The AFL, after considering this request, refused to support this change of lyric. So Professor Cheetham refused to take the stand and sing the national anthem, and she was replaced by Kate Ceberano. Professor Cheetham explained her reasoning for her refusal in an article published in The Conversation magazine. Cheetham is of indigenous background, descended from the First Nations of Australia. She is one of the Stolen Generations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed from their indigenous parents and handed over to white Australian families as part of Australian government policies designed to assimilate indigenous people. Cheetham was born to the Yorta Yorta people, a region that crosses over the Murray and Goulburn rivers in north-east Victoria.

The Yorta Yorta people have a proud history of resistance and defiance against their mistreatment at the hands of the Australian authorities. Back in the 1930s, the Yorta Yorta staged protests and walk-offs in response to their lack of control over their land, water resources and work output. Cheetham herself admits that she is one of the lucky ones, having forged a successful career as a musician, academic and soprano. She could have ignored this history of her people and considered her own career advancement prospects in singing the national anthem. Yet, she objected to the imperial, British and colonial-oriented view of Australian history upon which the national anthem is based, and following her conscience, refused to sing its original words.

As Cheetham explained, being asked to sing the national anthem is a great honour – that is not the problem. It is the silence around Indigenous culture that is the problem:

Over the past half-century Australians have come to realise much about the persistence, sophistication and success of Aboriginal Australia. The 1967 referendum, the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) and the Apology to the Stolen Generations (2008) have all caught the nation’s attention and raised awareness of our shared history.

But many people have remained content to leave it there, to settle for what little information they received during school years. For such people, most of Australia’s Indigenous cultures remain unwrapped, unacknowledged and unexplored.

Cheetham has written about the need for a new national anthem, one that acknowledges not only our multicultural makeup, but recognises the unique contribution, philosophy and cultures of the First Nations of Australia. As she elaborated:

Our national anthem tells us that we are young and free. Blindly, many Australians continue to accept this.

But it’s not true. Setting aside for a moment 70,000 years of Indigenous cultures, 114 years on from Federation and 227 years into colonisation, at the very least, those words don’t reflect who we are. As Australians, can we aspire to be young forever? If we are ever to mature we simply cannot cling to this desperate premise.

How much better would it be if were to finally acknowledge the nuanced and sophisticated society discovered by those who arrived 230 years ago was deliberately and systematically overlooked? What if the next person to sing the anthem at the AFL Grand Final were to reach beyond the Western imperial history and harness the power of 70,000 years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge?

When Australian historians began to dig deeper into the history of colonial Australia, how it was settled and how the Australian capitalist state took hold in this continent, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard described this effort as the “black armband” view of history. Borrowing this phrase from conservative Australian historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey, this ‘black armband’ view of history supposedly downplayed the achievements and successes of European-settled Australian history. The history of Australia, settled through the use of coercion, torture, mass murder and racist exploitation, was too pessimistic a perspective.

The national anthem’s lyrics reflect this imperial history, and celebrate the colonisation of the Australian continent. No doubt the history wars will continue, however, there cannot be a full reckoning of Australia’s past without a full understanding and accounting of the First Nations of Australia. If we non-indigenous Australians continue to expunge the worst aspects of colonial settlement and the obscure the foundations of Australian capitalism, then there will never be a complete solution of the Indigenous issue in Australian politics. In May 2015, Peter Catt, Dean of the Anglican church’s St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane wrote in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, the ‘black armband’ view of history is necessary for healing, because confronting the horrifying past of murder and land theft is essential, albeit painful, to achieve full comprehension of and justice for the First Nations of Australia.

Christine Nicholls, senior lecturer at Flinders University, authored a three-part article for The Conversation magazine about the Dreamtime and The Dreaming. This woefully inadequate English translation refers to the complex of meanings, creation stories, myths and legends that underlie the philosophy and ethics of the First Nations. While it is impossible to do justice to The Dreaming in one article, Nicholls summarises The Dreaming, in an impressive attempt to convey the intricate philosophy and creation-cosmology narratives that underpin indigenous communities and their relationship to the land. Nicholls quotes the words of Jeannie Herbert Nungarrayi, a teacher at a school in the Northern Territory and member of the Warlpiri nation. She explained that the Warlpiri have had – thousands of years before the Biblical stories in the Judeo-Christian tradition – a philosophy of origins, ethics and morality called Jukurrpa. What does that mean?

To get an insight into us – [the Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert] – it is necessary to understand something about our major religious belief, the Jukurrpa. The Jukurrpa is an all-embracing concept that provides rules for living, a moral code, as well as rules for interacting with the natural environment.

The philosophy behind it is holistic – the Jukurrpa provides for a total, integrated way of life. It is important to understand that, for Warlpiri and other Aboriginal people living in remote Aboriginal settlements, The Dreaming isn’t something that has been consigned to the past but is a lived daily reality. We, the Warlpiri people, believe in the Jukurrpa to this day.

When former Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissively described the pre-1788 history of the Australian continent as ‘nothing there but bush’, he was not only denying the physical reality of the diverse Aboriginal nations. He and his supporters were also denying the existence of 250 language groups, the 600-800 known dialects, and the intricate philosophy and cosmology of The Dreaming. He was denying that the Indigenous nations were capable of organising their own societies, educating their children, advocating morality and ethics, living by a law code, and indeed, were capable of practicing forms of aqua- and agriculture. Rather than just living by hunter-gathering, indigenous nations practiced the forward-thinking and planning necessary for harvesting seed, building dams, irrigation and preserving agricultural surplus for future needs.

Professor Cheetham has offered an alternative national anthem, preserving the same tune, but changing the lyrics. Here is the first verse of her proposal:

Australia, celebrate as one, with peace and harmony.
Our precious water, soil and sun, grant life for you and me.
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts to love, respect and share,
And honouring the Dreaming, advance Australia fair.
With joyful hearts then let us sing, advance Australia fair.

You can read the whole thing here.

Let us conclude by listening to the words of Stan Grant, who has written a series of impressive articles for The Guardian newspaper about Aboriginal Australia and Indigenous issues. Grant wrote a thoughtful, stinging critique of white Australia’s continuing denial of Indigenous history in his article called “How can I feel Australian when this country has told me I don’t belong?” As he explains it:

Here goes. I am not an Australian or more precisely I don’t feel Australian. I am not alone among my people in feeling this way.

There is nothing in Australia’s myths that includes us. Our stories don’t form this country’s folklore. Clancy of the Overflow wasn’t black. The jolly swagman wasn’t black.

He goes on to explain that it is not for lack of trying that Indigenous nations feel excluded and isolated in their own land:

For most of this country’s history we were not citizens. Some of our people – my grandfather included – enlisted to fight in Australia’s wars but returned to a segregated country where they could not enter a pub to share a drink with the diggers they fought alongside.

We find our peoplehood in the ancient nations of this land. For me it is Wiradjuriand Kamilaroi, for others Bandjalang or Luritja or Arrernte or Ardnyamathanha or Yorta Yorta. There were many hundreds of nations here when Europeans came. Yet, we were conveniently bundled together as Aborigines – our identities extinguished along with our rights to our land.

Australian capitalism has its origins as a settler outpost of British colonial capitalist expansion in the late eighteenth century. Australia’s wealthy class began its ascent not only as a beneficiary of British colonial capitalism, but also by decimating the Indigenous nations and accumulating their land and resources. The first victims of this expansion were the First Nations of Australia, who were dispossessed of their land and their culture driven to the margins. It is time to face up to this history in order that together, we can achieve justice for the future.