Welcome to custodianship?

Flat White

Andrew L. Urban

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Andrew L. Urban

3 May 2023

5:00 AM

Perhaps the most inappropriate time I heard a welcome to country acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land was on ABC Jazz radio one night. I cringed. But the number of events at which I have heard the standard version is countless. I usually stifle a groan.

‘I’d like to acknowledge the <insert as appropriate> people as Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today …’ In the immortal words of US President Joe Biden: ‘You know, the thing.’ Indeed we do…

According to a Wurundjeri Elder, ‘[Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country] is a very important way of giving Aboriginal people back their place in society. It’s paying respect, in a formal sense, and following traditional custom in a symbolic way.’ Traditional custom?

The welcome to country we recognise today was originally formulated by Ernie Dingo in 1976, and in recent years has bred contempt by familiarity with over-use. In the rising clamour about the Voice referendum, activist ‘custodians’ now claim ownership of Australia. ‘Never was, never will be!’ proclaim the protest posters. It is the war cry of the radical ‘blak’ sovereignty movement (which challenges Australian sovereignty) repeated by politicians such as Lidia Thorpe.

The ‘blak’ sovereignty movement is a splinter of the Aboriginal population.

But a custodian is just that … a custodian, not the owner.

Custodian is defined as a person with responsibility for protecting or taking care of something or keeping something in good condition – Cambridge Dictionary.

Its synonyms are: caretaker / guardian / janitor / keeper / warden / watchman. (Merriam-Webster)

The reason it is important to remember this self-administered claim by Aboriginal activists of custodianship of the land is that reparations and tenancy rent are next on the agenda. Today the custodian, tomorrow the owner, as it were.

Writing in February 2023 about the Voice, historian Keith Windshuttle warned, ‘Voters need to be aware of its ultimate objective. This is to establish a politically privileged race of Aboriginal people, and to relegate the rest of us to a subservient position in what we once thought was our own country.’

Wrote Windshuttle in Quadrant:

‘The garb worn by the radical indigenous politician, Lidia Thorpe, during her protests on Australia Day this year had a much greater impact than she could have hoped. Waving her fake sword in the air and sporting the T-shirt slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded: Speak the Truth”, Thorpe posed for photographs that were later used by almost every newspaper and television news bulletin in the country to accompany stories of her unexpected desertion of The Greens in the Senate. However, the proponents of a constitutional amendment for the Aboriginal Voice were less enthusiastic. They quickly recognised the threat these images represented. They have since tried to play down the concept Thorpe was advertising.’

Suppressing the real motivations behind the Voice, as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has done, lip-quivering notwithstanding, is evidence of that same concern: if people learn the full truth driving the agenda, they will reject it. Hence the subterfuge and the fudge and the evasiveness.

As old Labor warhorse Graham Richardson often says, ‘The mob will work you out.’ It’s an observation borne of experience and Albanese has ignored its wisdom.

Layer by layer, the dishonesty of hiding the Voice agenda has belied the spirit reflected in the welcome to country, itself a strange creature based on the assumption that all those who arrived here since 1788 are occupiers. So is welcome to country hypocritical or just a sham?

The saddest part of the Voice being proposed at all is the resentment it is generating that is replacing respect for the Aboriginal population. The voters’ benevolence is driven out by activist belligerence. Welcome to a cross country.

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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