2010 Mabo Oration

Hi everyone..

Last Monday evening I had the pleasure of being in Townsville to deliver the Mabo Lecture. In this lecture I took the opportunity to speak about the complexities of Aboriginal identity, in which there are different ways that people take on ‘being’ Aboriginal, and the different ways in which ‘mainstream Australia’ has cast us as different ‘types’ of Aboriginal.

I also spoke about the complexities of Aboriginal leadership, in particular how some of us lead by ‘being the victim’, some of us lead by ‘booting the victim’, and others lead by being ‘beyond the victim’.

I am very interested in your thoughts either way about this. It is something I am keen to stretch my own thinking about.


Eddie Koiki Mabo Lecture
25 October, 2010

Let me start this evening by acknowledging and honouring the traditional custodians of the land.

Let me also acknowledge those family members of Mr Mabo that are here this evening, in particular, Mrs Mabo, his wife.

It is a great honour and privilege to be asked to deliver a lecture designed to honour a great Australian, Eddie Koiki Mabo. I said “Australian” deliberately because I want to emphasize that although Mr Mabo was a very unique individual and a Torres Strait Islander, he was also a very great Australian. Tonight I want to examine some notions of identity and contemplate what some of this might means for all Australians. In doing so, I have no intention of visiting the past to find means to divide Australians from one another. Nor however have I any intention of saying what I know would make me popular with many white Australians.

As an Aboriginal Australian I am fully aware of the suffering and the marginalisation and the injustices that many Indigenous Australians endure in the areas of health, justice and education. I have travelled all over this country and seen suffering, disadvantage and impoverishment. But I also have seen Aboriginal people, and Torres Strait Islander people, do all they can to raise their people up and inject and realise a sense of hope.

One of the greatest of these people was Eddie Koiki Mabo.

At the heart of Mr Mabo’s heroic endeavours on behalf of the Indigenous people of Australia was an attachment to country. This attachment is qualitatively different from the relationship to land that prevails in Mainstream Australia but white Australia must make the effort to come to terms with the full meaning of what country means to Indigenous Australians as it is a crucial part of the Indigenous Identity.

It is then Mr Mabo’s gift to all Australians that he helped to keep alive a notion of a relationship to the land where the land was not a commodity that stands outside of us and exists only to be bought and sold. For Mr Mabo and Indigenous Australians the land is a part of us, and we are part of it. This is not for a moment to relinquish any right to prosper from the use of our land in a modern society.

We need to build then on Mr Mabo’s achievements to understand ourselves as a people. At this point let me offer an intellectual concept devised by a friend and philosopher, Roy Bhaskar who works at the London Institute of Education, which might enable us to better contemplate a more harmonious Australia.

Bhaskar discusses the concept of the Concrete Universal which has four dimensions. At its base is the notion of a core universal Human nature. We are all of the Human Race and this should ensure unquestionable grounds for human rights.

At a higher level this basic core is acted upon or mediated through a variety of differentiae such as gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity etc. The core and the mediations result in a concretely singularized individual. The fourth dimension to this concept is that or processuality or the rhythms of time in action.
The key to understanding the importance of the concept of the Concrete Universal is that it is part of a stratified ontology. Put simply, each of us has layers or stratifications of being.

As well, the notion of processuality allows one to recognize at differing times in the life of the individual the mediations or the individuality or the core humaneness will be of greater or less salience. A good example of this is reflected in those times in the year when we cheer loudest for the cowboys throughout the year, then cheer for Queensland during State of Origin matches, and then cheer for Australia when they play tests against New Zealand or England.

The concept of a stratified ontology also enables one to escape entanglement in the seemingly intractable dualities such as the individual versus community. From the Concrete Universal we can see that we can indeed be both individual and community.

Applied to Indigenous Australians the core universal Humanity guarantees or should guarantee, as I have said, our access to Human Rights. The mediations for us of course can include clan, language group, country, murris, kooris etc. If we can honour the core universal Humanity of Indigenous Australians, and its mediations, then we can perhaps begin to appreciate that we dishonour these dynamics when we do things like deploy forceful mechanisms and stealth, such as cutting basic social security payments to individuals if they do not succumb to economic forces and move off country to provincial locations. These mechanisms dishonour and diminish mediations of cultural significance.

Let me give an example here about how this plays out in the space of traditional Aboriginal art. If we appreciate authentic visual Aboriginal cultural artwork we must understand that its authenticity emerges from a connection to country. It is not just about putting designs on canvas in the proximity of tourists who might buy it, or indeed some other point of demand. Traditional Aboriginal art is about culture, is about connectedness to country. To dishonour any of these mediations is to diminish any sense of authenticity.
For Mr Mabo, in his efforts to assert his title rights on his country, various mediations were no doubt at play. He was a Murray Islander, a Torres Strait Islander, an Indigenous Australian, an Australian, and at his core a Human Being; with rights worthy of acknowledgement and honour.

The will and capacity to acknowledge and honour the humanity of Aboriginal Australians, and Torres Strait Islander Australians, has indeed presented challenges for many Australians, not all. If we can seriously attend to this challenge, then we can begin to understand that in many ways our differences at our core, may not be as great as we think; yet in our mediations and differentiae, we can be tremendously and richly diverse. All of which, is perfectly ok.

As we do this we will acknowledge and embrace the core humanity of others. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, when we acknowledge one’s core humanity, we acknowledge that regardless of how complex their lives might be, they have the capacity to rise above the challenges they face, which in turn means we must be intent on creating and sustaining an environment and services that enable such capacity. Secondly, we acknowledge one’s human right to a chance. In our country everyone deserves a fair go, or so we say!

One of the richest men in Australia, Twiggy Forrest has decided it is time to end disadvantage in Indigenous communities. Having met Twiggy Forrest on several occasions it is clear to me that his motives are somewhat pure, although I don’t think he will mind me suggesting there is room to question his sense of understanding about ‘what it is that is actually broken’. A glance at his GenerationOne.org website reveals a range of social discrepancies that have persisted in Australia for as long as I can remember:-

• The Indigenous unemployment rate is around three times higher than that of non-Indigenous people.
• Eight out of ten jobless Indigenous people are unable to work, because of illiteracy, alcohol or other psychological problems.
• In some rural areas, up to 70% of Indigenous students regularly do not attend school.
• Indigenous students are HALF as likely to stay at school until the end of year 12 as other students.
• 29% of Indigenous young people age 15-24 are NOT “earning or learning” compared with 9% of non Indigenous young people.
• 48% of Indigenous adults receive government welfare as their main source of income, compared to 17% of non-Indigenous people

Sadly there is nothing new about the discrepancies exposed here by Forrest and his GenerationOne website. Such discrepancies were perhaps first quantified comprehensively by the Miller Review into Aboriginal Employment and Training (1984). What is significant about the Forrest push to make a difference is that it is at long last backed by significant white Australian leadership, in a way that promises to rally prominent media players, as well as a generation of young Australians buoyed by the Australian Government’s apology to those of the Stolen Generation, and keen to ensure that it counts for something in a way that sees an end to Indigenous disadvantage.

All of this is promising, but has the potential to be futile if we fail to recognise what might be considered the ‘true cause’ of Indigenous disadvantage. For white Australia part of this means having to acknowledge the perceptions of Indigenous people, and the extent to which they have failed to embrace them positively. To me this is what seems closer to the ‘true cause’; this inability to acknowledge and honour the humanity of Aboriginal people, and Torres Strait Islander people.

There is much to be said of embracing the core humanity of Indigenous people positively in an effort to effect positive change. As principal at Cherbourg School in Queensland, the ‘Strong and Smart’ approach was a philosophy designed precisely to do this by signalling to students, a very prominent belief that they had a human right to a quality education, and in a way that enhanced their sense of cultural identity. This approach saw very positive results:-

– 94% reduction of unexplained absenteeism within 18 months;
– Real attendance improved from 63% to 94%
– 58% improvement in Year 2 literacy within 2 years;
– 81% of students within the state average band for literacy in 2004, compared to 0% in 1999.
(Sarra, 2004)

In an effort to extrapolate such positive outcomes for Indigenous children in schools throughout Australia I have been fortunate enough to establish the Stronger Smarter Institute. At the Institute we have established the Stronger Smarter philosophy which has proven to underpin success in the pursuit of improved outcomes for Indigenous students in schools (see http://www.strongersmarter.qut.edu.au).

The Stronger Smarter philosophy is articulated as follows:-

– Acknowledging, embracing and developing a positive sense of Indigenous identity;
– Acknowledging and embracing Indigenous leadership in communities, especially among our youth;
– Innovative and dynamic school models in complex social and cultural contexts;
– Innovative and dynamic school staffing in complex social and cultural contexts;
– High expectations leadership to ensure high expectations classrooms with high expectations teacher-student relationships

As far as rhetoric goes the Stronger Smarter philosophy is as sexy as any that has been developed by government. Converting this rhetoric to reality remains just as challenging and for the remainder of this paper I will focus on two ‘problem areas’ in this regard. Firstly I will examine the extent to which a positive sense of Indigenous identity is adequately understood, and secondly, let me explore some complexities around notions of Indigenous leadership. For the moment though let me make it clear that for this part of the discussions about my research, the research focus is on Aboriginal matters, not Torres Strait Islander matters, although I am confident in assuming that that the dynamics at play are quite similar.

Perceptions of Aboriginal Australians

My own empirical research as well as countless anecdotal information readily available in everyday conversations and the news media, suggests that mainstream Australians often have negative perceptions of Aboriginal people (Sarra, 2004). As we all know, perception is interpretation not reality, so it should also be no surprise at the tendency of people to hold negative views of people or groups of people they have never met or interacted with (Lipman, 1998: 77; Bishop & Berryman, 2006: 204).

For the purposes of my PhD research I conducted 30 forums, involving more than 200 people, at which I asked participants to offer adjectives or words to articulate mainstream Australian perceptions of Aboriginal people. I was always cautious to point out at each forum that I was not after their ‘personal perceptions’ but rather, how they thought mainstream Australians would describe Aboriginal people.

Below is a list of the words that were presented at every forum:

– Alcoholics, Drunks
– Boongs, Coons, Niggers, Black Bastards, Gins, Darkies
– Got it Good, Well kept by government, Privileged
– Welfare dependent, Dole bludgers, Handout Syndrome
– Lazy, Won’t work
– Aggressive, Violent, Troublemakers, Disrespectful

(Sarra: 2004)
You might wonder why there is nothing positive listed here. On many occasions there were positive references to Aboriginal people as being artistic, family oriented, sporty. For now though I want to reflect on those words presented on every occasion.

This is certainly not who we are. This isn’t to deny that we have these elements in our communities, as all communities do, but it is to affirm that those descriptors are not part of the Indigenous cultural identity. These are stereotypes we have acquired. Just as movies depict Italians as mobsters, surely we don’t think all Italians are in the mafia? While they are not real, their dynamic presence has a dramatic effect as it typecasts an entire group of Australians as some form of ‘feared/despised other’, as noted by MacLennan and Mitropolous (2000) in their discussions about notions of the Differentiated Other. The clue to understanding their notion of Differentiated Other is seeing the ‘other’ as part of a binary: Same – Other. In the Australian context this might be contemplated as ‘mainstream Australian’, whatever that might be; and ‘other’ is ‘the rest’.

It is worth taking the time to reflect on this binary, and their differential notions of being ‘other’.

From here a stigma about Aboriginal people as an ‘other’ emerges. Goffman explains what happens in this context:

The attitudes we normals [those without the stigmatised attribute] have towards a person with a stigma, and the actions we take in regard to him, are well known, since these responses are what benevolent social action is designed to soften and ameliorate. By definition, of course we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances. We construct a stigma theory, an ideology to explain his inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalising an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific stigma terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse without giving thought to the original meaning. We impute a wide range of imperfections on the basis of the original one … (Goffman, 1986: 15-16).

Aboriginal people in the ‘feared/despised Other’ realm then occupy the slot of the untermensch – the less than human. MacLennan and Mitropolous (2000) in their discussions of the Differentiated Other also explain the notion of the ‘pitiable’ other. This is the ‘Other’ that features in advertisements for organisations such as World Vision. It is the kind of ‘Other’ that runs the risk of appearing in the Generation One campaign. Here the ‘Same’ looks on the ‘Other’ in pity. It is the slot where we are patronised and subjected to the tender mercies of charities. The ‘pitiable’ other can also be described as the ‘victim’ and tragically for too many Aboriginal people, this has been interiorised to the extent that some of us consider this victim status as part of our cultural identity.

There is also the slot of the ‘Comical’ other, which is often laughed at and considered quite harmless and good for a few giggles. This ‘other’ is often palatable to the dominant ‘same’ and having them around for entertainment promotes a sense of freedom from guilt. This type of other is best deployed by ‘same’ when they are challenged about the use of racist terms or racist comedy.

The ‘resource’ other makes sense to me when I think of those Aborigines who cleared the trees around Cherbourg for white settlers in Murgon and Wondai. Often they worked for meagre wages or rations or for nothing. In his history of the settlement Thom Blake supplies us with a typical instance:

One person in the Murgon district who took full advantage of settlement labour was the Barambah [Cherbourg] Superintendent, Albert Tronson. Six months after his arrival at Barambah, his wife acquired two 65 ha blocks at Cloyna, fifteen miles away from the settlement. With the help of at times eight men from the settlement, rapid progress was made on the Tronson selection. He admitted that in just six months he was able to have a house, barn and pigsty erected, as well as having cleared ‘about 36 hectares of scrub…and planted about 20 ha of corn and pumpkins’ (Blake, 2001: 122).

I think also of the wages that were stolen by successive Queensland governments from 1897 to 1992 under the so-called Protection Acts. It is estimated that:-

Thousands of Aboriginal workers across several generations lost an estimated $500 million because of the Queensland Governments’ negligence, through diverting withheld wages to raise government revenue, and through misuse of Trust monies (NTEU, 2004)

MacLennan and Mitropoulos next category of differentiated other is that of the Exotic (2000). This ‘Other’ is of the ideology of romanticism; as MacLennan and Mitropoulos point out, the staple diet of the tourist industry. Here the Aborigine is the noble savage, the last relic of the world before modernity, the sign that the world was once thoroughly enchanted.

Having Aborigines typecast as this form of exotic ‘other’ explains how some educators and anthropologists strive to ensure that Aborigines have no access to a quality Western education that will enable mobility in modern economies. This is a position that might serve the interests of such types who can enjoy a connection to relics of the past while at the same time flit in and out of that connection in a way that is functional for them. This position does very little to serve the interests of Aboriginal people who are stuck effectively in a circumstance where they remain relics of the past with little or no skill or choice about accessing other societies in any way that is functional. Whilst I have heard many Indigenous Australians articulate a desire to retain a connection to ancient ways and practices, I have never heard any articulate a desire to be rendered dysfunctional in the context of modern economies and societies as a result.

Tuhiwai Smith blends the notion of exotic and resource ‘other’ in her discussion of Indigenous culture as a commodity for trading and appropriation (Smith, 1999). Writing of the ‘spirituality industry’ she says:

… spirituality will continue to expand as people, particularly those in First World nations, become uncertain about their identities, rights, privileges and very existence. New Age groups currently appropriate Indigenous spiritual beliefs at will; some claim to be inhabited by Indigenous spirit guides while others merely interpret their own (individualized) dreams as an Indigenous spiritual experience. Writers and poets have also created a mystique around their work which, as Wendy Rose has argued, aspires to ‘embody the Indian’, in effect ‘becoming: the “real” Indian’. Despite protestations that spirituality is an experience through which non-Indigenous people aim to help people, it is clearly a profitable experience (Smith, 1999: 102).

In an Australian context, while all of these forms of ‘differentiated others’ present a range of complexities worth contemplating, the most deeply problematic of these forms of other, is that of the feared, despised and pitiable. It is against this background, tolerating poor conditions in some Aboriginal communities becomes explainable. Put simply, if it is only Aborigines then why would we bother trying to make a difference? If it is only Aborigines then what is the big deal if a police officer is found to ‘cause the death’ of one of them? If it is only Indigenous communities then why bother injecting quality teachers and health workers when we can just continue to blame the community for such appalling dysfunction?

It is the casting of Indigenous Australians as a ‘feared/despised or pitiable ‘other’, which enables such disobliging cycles of chronic neglect and draconian intervention.

Intervention in terms of dispossession and alienation from land, neglect in terms of leaving people to die; intervention in terms of Assimilation policies, neglect in terms of provision of adequate infrastructure and quality service provision. At this point in the disobliging cycle I speak of, casting Indigenous Australians as hopeless and despicable enabled the NT intervention in which it is assumed that people are so hopeless that we must send in the army to ‘fix’ them, and we must paradoxically ‘empower’ people to spend money appropriately by quarantining their income. Time will tell whether or not we will indeed transcend beyond this cycle.

There is of course much more complexity to this discussion and the scope of this lecture enables one simply to touch on this matter. Similarly one can only touch on the complexities of embracing Indigenous leadership and in a way that is quite basic.

Embracing Indigenous Leadership

The second pillar, if you like, of the Stronger Smarter philosophy signals the need to embrace Indigenous leadership. Again this is not so straightforward. In my own assessments of Indigenous leadership overtime there seems to be at least three categories of leadership worth observing: one, those who focus being the victim; those leaders who make use of the victim culture; two, those who focus on booting the victim; those who find political leverage in denigrating Indigenous people as part of their “tough love” strategy; and three, those who look beyond the victim, those who embrace a positive Indigenous cultural identity as complementary (if not essential) to success rather than an impediment to it.

Being the Victim

Many Indigenous Australians and indeed many Indigenous communities around the world have come to be seen and in turn see themselves as victims of history. It is clear that our colonial histories have left us with the idea that Indigenous peoples are the victims and the colonizers as the victimisers. In adhering to a victim culture, the two (victim and victimiser) are co-dependent, they need each other otherwise the culture couldn’t exist.

Some years ago it was my belief that when school leadership and community leadership walked in partnership, then positive results would emerge. I had to change this position after seeing school leadership walking in partnership, but with both colluding with ‘victim status’. The relationship could be described as highly functional, but only for the purposes of colluding with low expectations of Indigenous students. For instance, students were not turning up to start school at 9am which was the expected time to commence. The collaborative response from school and community leadership was to make school starting time at 10am, effectively lowering the bar of expectation. Some will argue that the manoeuvre of delaying the school starting time from 9am to 10am is being culturally receptive to the needs of students, when. My argument that such a strategy is clearly collusion with ‘victim status’ or low expectations.

Over the years, Australian governments for its part have either affirmed or denied their role as victimiser depending on the politics of the day and in turn Indigenous communities have affirmed or attempted to shed light on their victimisation, depending on the counter-politics of the day. Some Indigenous leaders have found success in encouraging victimhood, leading a cause that leaves Indigenous people powerless to act on their own behalf and are therefore at the mercy of those in political power. They are encouraged to see themselves as victims, victims who should be compensated in some way or every way by the victimisers for their historical grievances.

Psychologist Dr Ofer Zur observes,

In claiming the status of victim and by assailing all blame to others, a person can achieve moral superiority while simultaneously disowning any responsibility for one’s behaviour and its outcome. The victim ‘merely’ seek justice and fairness. If they become violent, it is only as a last resort, in self-defence. The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy.

Leading through victim status entails pushing for preferential treatment, as will all Indigenous leaders to some extent, but in this model, Indigenous communities are likely to be seen as mere receivers of service rather than creators of emancipatory processes. Under this type of leadership government will do things ‘to’ Indigenous communities, not “with” them. Adhering strictly to victim status means that Indigenous people are not responsible for their own lives and are what Malcolm X called “zombies” marching to the beat of someone else’s orders.

Booting the Victim

There are those who have discovered that while ‘being the victim’ is compelling at some levels, it is not always politically attractive. Therefore, another group of Indigenous leaders have found political traction by booting the victim.

It is arguable that the ‘being the victim’ and ‘booting the victim’ type leadership both subscribe in ways, to the notion that Indigenous people a kind of ‘other’ that is considered ‘pitiable, hopeless, feared or despised’.

The ‘booting the victim’ type leadership is deeply problematic for a range of reasons. At one level it dismisses the genuine complexity of the victim story. Such complexity is perhaps dismissed by this type of Indigenous leadership, because it is either not completely understood or experienced.

There is indeed another explanation which can be offered here. There is every chance that the complexities of dysfunction in communities are indeed understood by those Indigenous leaders who boot the victims. But in the discourse with political or corporate ‘white’ masters, this leadership will proffer the view that on such complexity, the deficits, or causes of dysfunction reside primarily with Aboriginal people. At the same they will time pretend there is no room to question those same political and corporate masters who may indeed be central to the complexity of the dysfunction in question.

Put simply, they will avoid articulating the unpalatable messages that need to be heard, and only tell their political and corporate masters what they want to hear!

The bleating of this kind of leadership can be music to their ears and readily attracts attention, celebration and generous rewards. One of those apparent rewards, is being described as ‘honest and courageous’ when in fact this is not entirely true. So ensues a seductive, yet toxic relationship in which particular individuals may attract handsome rewards, and leave other Indigenous people to endure costly, clumsy simplistic approaches to policy reform. Even worse, if such clumsy approaches fail, we simply encounter a means to boot the victim yet again, like the resulting failure is somehow their fault. Either this, or the data is embellished and stacked in a way that even the clumsiest ideas can appear successful.

The deeper problem here is that such views proffered by this kind of Indigenous leadership, validate the ignorance of political and corporate masters with the power to make significant change. There becomes no need for such masters to have to engage with and understand the deep complexities of Indigenous people and communities. When those people are challenged morally or intellectually about the merits of their beliefs or actions relating to Indigenous people, they simply have the luxury of disengaging from any robust scrutiny or dialogue by saying ‘Well, I agree with my pet Aborigine!’

There is therefore little discussion about some of the constraints faced by Indigenous communities be it physical, psychological or situational. Clearly, there are situational constraints for many Indigenous people in both urban and rural communities that are simply overlooked; such as access to quality infrastructure like roads, public transit, properly staffed hospitals and health centres. In my own field of education there remain serious concerns about the extent of properly staffed schools with quality teachers that are culturally competent.

Some may choose to see booting the victim as a kind of “tough love” but is it really? Since blame is a psychological construct, there are inherent biases at play when we blame people for outcomes they cannot control, based on expectations they didn’t develop. There is an overabundance of information to be found and used as proof that Indigenous people are the cause of their own misery. This is possible according to American psychologist Mark Alicke, (2000) because the “evidential standards for blame” are usually lowered especially when people are specifically “seeking information to support their blame attribution.” Intentionally or unintentionally we engage in what he calls “biased information search” in order to support our desire to blame the victim for their unfavourable condition. These selective data collection processes enable the deficit to appear to reside with Aboriginal people, when in fact this may not be the truth. For example, chronic poor student performance in literacy might signal poor student ability, but the same data viewed from another angle can easily signal dramatic teacher incompetence and laziness.

Beyond the Victim

Whilst history has no doubt dealt Indigenous people a questionable hand, there is no need to wallow in it such that it cripples us from acting and creating better present and futures for our communities. When one is busy being the victim or booting the victim, very rarely does one stop to ask: What am I doing to contribute to underachievement? What am I doing to contribute to the “disadvantage” and victimisation of Indigenous communities?

As Aboriginal Australians, and Torres Strait Islander Australians, we do have to be accountable for our actions. We do have to have the hard and honest conversations. Researchers, like Ofer Zur (1994) have shown that “the victim culture” and ‘victim blaming’ have not been very helpful and in fact have led to further victimization.

It is time we moved beyond the victim, as indeed many have done so already.

This is not to say that we should not look critically at our communities and behaviours within our families and communities that are destructive to ourselves and and others. This is also not to shut out discussions from those who are actively being marginalised by government policies or corporate developments.

We have to act under the principles of self-determination, not in the political sense but in the psychological sense in that we have the power to shape our present and future. In fact, is it our responsibility to do so! It is worth reinvoking Roy Bhaskar’s concept of the concrete Universal, at the core of which is our humanity, and mediating from this, our cultural identity. Despite what some anthropologists imply lately, our cultural identity in NOT a weakness… it is a strength!

Neither the mainstream nor government can give us honour and dignity.

It resides in us already.

It is not something others give to us; therefore it is not something others can take away.

For a long time we have been the ‘other’ in Australian society. Historically Australia has tried to engineer us as the kind of ‘other’ that is either useful only as little more than slaves or domestics, or as the kind of ‘other’ that is hopeless or despicable. They have even rounded up a few of our own to validate this belief and design policy to inflict punishment upon us.

Many of us have always known however that we are more than this. A different truth has always existed about us and it is our time to assert that truth in a way that should not threaten white Australia, but instead, will indeed set us all free.

Some Australians think the solution is to abandon this sense of being the ‘other’ in Australian society so that we can all be the ‘same’. This is not an Australian future to which we should aspire. We must be content being an ‘other’ with no desire to be ‘same’ as mainstream Australia.

We must prefer to be ‘other’ but only on the grounds that WE decide what kind of ‘other’ we will be. We will triumph as Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander Australians, when we assert ourselves in Australia as the Strong, Smart, Black and Deadly Australians that we are.

In our triumph it is crucial that other Australians do not feel threatened or divided by this. Whilst it may be a different circumstance to the historical status quo in which we were often powerless; celebrating the notion that we are the only Australians who are connected to the oldest human existence on the planet, and the true descendants of the very first Australians, has never ever been about alienating or putting other Australians down.

As a people we have known what it is like to be put down. It is never good to dishonour one’s humanity. In this context you have not been our teachers!

We must never forget the sacrifices of our old people in the past that walked in the long grass to lay a solid platform upon which many of us as Indigenous people could stand proudly. We must also keep in our minds the times when some of us had to fight. The Freedom Rides, the Redfern Riots, the courage of Lex Wotton and others who risked this lives in the pursuit of justice during the Palm Island riots; whilst we never want to re-visit such times, they serve as reminders to all our people that our children still have a journey to make into a stronger smarter Australian future. It is a journey they must be armed for. Not with rocks and sticks and petrol bombs, but with intellectual, psychological and spiritual integrity.

This however is not an area in which only Indigenous leadership can guide us out of. This indeed is an area in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership must stand side by side, colluding with high expectations; determined to end disadvantage for all Australians. In some ways we are making the right moves at the moment, as long as we have the right understanding about what is truly broken here, and accordingly, what truly needs fixing.

Throughout this lecture I have articulated the Stronger Smarter philosophy as an approach worth considering, accepting that there are indeed some complexities. To reiterate, these complexities include challenges to white Australia to engage in processes that will enable a much deeper and more valid and positive understanding of Aboriginal identity and Torres Strait Islander identity. For us as Indigenous Australians we must be clear about the type of leadership that is best placed to lead within this very complex arena, without being seduced by the trappings of victim status, or the trinkets that come with booting the victims. Instead we must recognise and assert a circumstance in which there is no disadvantage or shame about being an ‘other’ in Australian society, as long as it is the type of ‘other’ that we define.

History will judge whether or not the interest of Twiggy Forrest and his influential mates rallied enough and focussed on the ‘true causes’ to end disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. At some point in the future I would also like to think that history acknowledges the place of the Stronger Smarter philosophy as a significant means with which to stimulate the kind of change required in this regard. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter which approach is most significant. What matters most is that Indigenous disadvantage is truly ended in a way that sees white Australians able to stand alongside us, with our cultural identities intact, respected, understood and appreciated.

Marcus Garvey once said that to improve our condition, leaders need to inspire hope, dignity and a positive destiny.

This is the legacy of Edward Koiki Mabo.

A leader who inspired hope, dignity and a positive destiny.

Alicke, M. D. (2000). Culpable Control and the Psychology of Blame. Psychological Bulletin, 126 (4), 556-574
Bhaskar, R. (1989). Reclaiming Reality: A Critical Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy, London: Verso.
Bhaskar, R. (1993). Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom, London: Verso.
Bishop, R. & Berryman, M. (2006) Culture Speaks: Cultural Relationships and Classroom Learning. Huia, NZ.
Blake, T. (2001). A Dumping Ground: A History of Cherbourg Settlement, Brisbane:
Goffman, E. (1986) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled identity, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Lipman, P. (1998) Race, Class and Power in School Restructuring. State University of New York Press.
MacLennan, G. & Mitropoulos, M.(2002). Bothering about Othering. Paper presented at International Association of Critical Realism Conference, Bradford. UK.
Mason, P. (1990). Deconstructing America: Representations of the Other, New York: Routledge.
NTEU, Stolen Wages – A Campaign for Justice, Retrieved on 5 August, 2004 from http://www.nteu.org.au/bd/qld/campaigns/stolen.
Sarra, C. (2004) Strong and Smart: Reinforcing Aboriginal Perceptions of Being Aboriginal at Cherbourg State School, PhD Thesis, Murdoch University.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, London: Zed Books.

Zur, O. (1994). Rethinking ‘Don’t Blame the Victim’: The Psychology of Victimhood. Journal of Couple Therapy, 4 (3/4), 15-36


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