Change the Date

History, Politics

Drew Pavlou

After months of sailing, Captain Arthur Phillip and his English crew made landfall on January 26th, 1788. As the settlers raised the British flag on Australian soil for the first time, they could not have known the profound, lasting impact they would have on the Indigenous peoples of this continent. Crew on this humble expedition could not have known that their voyage would mark the beginning of a horrific, vicious genocide, unique in its scope and in its shocking cruelty. In the coming decades, tens of thousands of Indigenous Australians would be forced from their land, murdered by colonial settlers in vicious attacks. Aboriginal communities across the nation would be decimated by disease, famine, warfare and dispossession. This dark, tortured history began on that fateful day, January 26th. It is not a date worthy of national celebration.

January 26th is not a date worthy of national celebration because it marks the beginning of the destruction of the Indigenous way of life. Captain Phillip’s settlement precipitated the destruction of Indigenous society and a huge collapse in the Indigenous population. The British colonial project would decimate Aboriginal communities across the continent. The historical record shows that Europeans mounted a systematic, genocidal campaign of extermination against Indigenous peoples on the frontiers of settlement to gain access to the richest pastoral land. Consider the diary of Captain John Wallis, a soldier who wrote that ‘’It was a melancholy but necessary duty’’ to massacre an Aboriginal clan in the Appin-Bringelly districts of New South Wales in 1816. As early as the 1870s, the English novelist Anthony Trollope described targeted killings in his writings: ‘’We have massacred (Indigenous Australians) when they defended themselves … and taught them by hard warfare to acknowledge us to be their masters.’’ Surveying such evidence, esteemed historian Henry Reynolds concluded in his seminal work An Indelible Stain? The Question of Genocide in Australia’s History that ‘’white Australians (showed) no desire or will to ensure the survival of the Aborigines as a people … it was common (during the colonial era) to welcome the passing of the Aborigines’ as an indicator of colonial progress, a measure of achievement.’’ Colin Tatz describes how a pre-contact Indigenous population that numbered at least 400,000 people was reduced to just 31,000 by 1911, just 123 years after settlement. This may not be the history the vast majority of Australians celebrate on Australia Day. But it is a history that cannot be separated from Phillip’s voyage and the subsequent British settlement of Australia.

To many Indigenous Australians, there is precious little to rejoice about on January 26th. It marks the loss of traditional land, the loss of family and the very near destruction of a culture that had endured for tens of thousands of years. It marks the beginning of discrimination, persecution and oppression; the beginning of a structured system of economic and social inequality that persists today. Indigenous people on average die 10 years younger than non-Indigenous people. The Indigenous infant mortality rate is almost twice as high as the rate for non-Indigenous people. These shameful statistics owe to the higher rates of poverty most Indigenous communities continue to face. Analysis of data from the 2011 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were almost twice as likely to experience poverty than other Australians. It is understandable that Indigenous people do not find much to celebrate on January 26th. It marks the beginning of a cruel system of oppression, the effects of which are still being felt today.

January 26th is not a date worth of national celebration. Changing the date will not fix everything. It won’t erase the very real inequities Indigenous Australians continue to face – only a concerted societal push to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes could do that. But changing the date means acknowledging that there was a real, concerted effort to eradicate the Aboriginal race here in Australia. Owning up to this dark history would be a healthy symbolic step towards reconciliation. In the interests of lasting inter-cultural understanding, Australia’s national celebration cannot be commemorated on a day that marks the beginning of a genocide. The date of Australia Day must be changed.

Sir Joh Was A Monster

History, Politics

Drew Pavlou

‘’Woe to the inhibiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.’’

Revelation 12:12

Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson, that figure of death and repression that terrified our state for three decades, has of late assumed a posthumous cult following among some delusional conservatives; his reputation is sadly undergoing something of a renaissance among the meth-addled freaks that make up the most conservative factions of the LNP. Last month, on the fiftieth anniversary of his seizure of power, tributes flowed for the man who set our state back decades and made the lives of Queenslanders a living hell. The Young LNP shared the following on Facebook: ‘’Sir Joh built Queensland, from the Gateway bridge to numerous airports, coal mines, power stations and dams. Thank you Sir Joh for your service to Queensland.’’ Given this collective retreat from reason and reality, it is necessary that someone remind everyone of the reality of Joh’s toxic, repressive rule. It is necessary that someone tethered to reality provide a proper accounting of the corruption, cruelty and horror of the Joh years.

It is vital as part of any analysis of the matter that we consider the history of Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s regime as objectively and dispassionately as possible. And looking at the history of Sir Joh’s rule in Queensland, it is impossible to come to any other objective conclusion but that he was a deeply corrupt, brain dead thug whose death we are all better for. In transforming Queensland into a repressive police state, he was probably the most crooked, evil man to ever be premier. With his Special Branch, he ran a spy state almost unparalleled in any other Western democracy. His secret police were reminiscent of the GDR’s Stasi in their reach and repression – they kept tabs on students and political opponents, harassing and intimidating those who would oppose Joh’s fetid regime. As the FitzGerald inquiry would eventually show, Joh ran a political system corrupt and rotten to the core. The police under Terry Lewis and Joh’s watch were basically nothing more than another organised crime gang intent on terrorising Queenslanders. Half of Joh’s cabinet would ultimately be jailed for taking bribes. His infamous Bjelkemander ensured that he ruled without popular consent, ignoring the will of the people. He was the ultimate expression of Australia’s darkest impulses, a racist hillbilly dictator who set our state back generations.

Under Joh Bjelke-Peterson’s dark regime, each new morn new sorrows struck heaven in the face. His vicious police force beat up young students and anti-apartheid protesters. Repressive state censorship stifled political expression and free speech. In keeping homosexuality criminalised in Queensland, he ensured our state was in league with medieval, backwards theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Even for a conservative politician of his time, Joh’s response to the HIV/AIDs epidemic was damning and disgraceful. He denounced gay people as deviants and tried to ban them from public spaces; he called on his deeply corrupt police commissioner to raid gay communities and he worsened the AIDs epic by banning condom machines and shutting down safe sex education campaigns. Joh Bjelke-Peterson was a violent thug, a monster, a criminal and a crook.

Some might say that it is wrong to so viciously attack a man who has been dead for a decade. But those who tried to speak out against him when he was in power were suppressed and censored, so we owe the man nothing. Joh has been lent too much respect in death. If there was any justice in this world Joh would not have been venerated with a state funeral; his body would have been burned in a trash bin or launched into the sea to be eaten by sharks. He was a ghoulish creep, a monstrous thug, a vicious bully and an evil tyrant. It is not too late for us all to collectively recognise this. The plot in which he was buried can still be salted so that nothing may ever grow there again. This would be the only fitting way to remember the terrorist who so brutalised our great state.