A long time ago in that past which is another country; before Al Kyder and his mate Terry Wrist hung a shingle outside a cave in Afghanistan; before the infamous Israeli agent Lewinsky infellatrated her way into the White House*; back in the days when most people didn't have mobile phones; there lived a man named Eddie Koiki Mabo. And for a while his name was one of the most recognisable in the Commonwealth of Australia. I hadn't thought about him in a long while when I noticed that Obama spelt backwards is "a Mabo". No real connection of course, just a string of letters that prompted a memory. Synchronicity did her trick and provided an episode of First Australians about him last night, just to let me know She's still messing with me and that I shouldn't become complacent.
In 1992, most Australians heard of him for the first time when the High Court found in his favour in a case which became known simply as "Mabo". (It was a posthumous victory; like Moses he had died shortly before the Promised Land was opened for business.) It was the decision which established the principle that indigenous title may endure in Australia. It had all begun in a rather trivial dispute between Mabo and another native of Mer island, named Dipoma, about ownership of a small piece of land...the explosive finding on native title was a mere byproduct of this dispute. Mabo and Dipoma had been feuding for a long while over it and I heard a letter Mabo had written quoted in a TV documentary, in which he wrote, "Dear Mr Dipoma: Your letters are full of what drops off in the toilet after a good feed..." First change the world, then get down to the serious business. The decision has been the subject of so much blathering argument by spoken word and pen that I won't bother writing more on its technicalities. I find it thought-provoking for the ironies it embodies. One hundred and four years had passed since the beginning of the British Conquest of Australia. The highest of our courts had now decided that customary genealogical inheritance of land title applied in Australia, just as in Europe. Not a bad effort, really. The Vatican took much longer to concede on Galileo.
And what did it do for Aborigines in the world outside jurisprudence? Next to nothing. Just like the 1967 referendum everyone drags up, or the efforts of the tragically misguided Vincent Lingiari. He led a "successful" campaign to obtain the right to equal pay for equal work for Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry. Without a right to security of tenure of employment or residency on the stations where they lived. Without a law preventing racial discrimination in the giving of employment. The station owners expelled the Aboriginal communities and started them on their long path to degradation as unemployed fringe-dwellers. The helpful government gave them "sit-down money" to buy the alcohol they needed for this strenuous work. They're at it to this day. But the government's coming to help them again, so they'll be alright.
Another great victory for the cause was the appointment of an Aborignal man, Douglas Nicholls, as Governor of South Australia. Everybody now forgets that he nearly renounced the position within a few days of the government announcing its intentions. He was grievously offended by the media's disrespectful harping on his ethnicity. Their approach was, essentially, to repeatedly challenge him as to whether he did not find it a wonder of the world that he was to be appointed. There was a nasty racist undertone to this: "Aren't you as amazed as us that a boong is to be Governor?" Not that "boong" was spoken. He didn't fail to hear it, though, and he was right. I remember with disgust the media pack trampling his rose bushes as they swarmed into his front yard, ignoring his furious demands that they depart, bleating their taunts. They'd never have dared it with a white pastor.
So, who said, "Change we can believe in?"
(*Oops!! Gave away an international security secret there. Well, it was a long time ago. Maybe it won't matter...)