My thanks are firstly for all the Aboriginal people who share a proud heritage with the Muslim cameleers, many were Afghan and from what is now Pakistan, who made our first national communications network possible – the famous Australian Overland Telegraph that united our ‘outback’ with the rest of the country. They were the people who carried the supplies and the equipment that made this huge national venture possible.
Aboriginal people married these courageous men and their descendants have gone on to be great leaders in our land councils, community organisations and in the national political arena.
Aboriginals with Muslim ancestry
There would be very few Aboriginal people in the Centre of our country who don’t claim Muslim ancestry. Indigenous lawyer Josephine Cashman recently talked about the widespread Muslim ancestry of Aboriginal people in Central Australia, including some of her relations. One descendant, a leader from the Central Land Council, told me that one of the first mosques in Australia was built in Alice Springs and the date palms in that city and throughout the centre marked where the cameleers had their camps.
Sad business of deflecting Hanson’s attention
I next give my sorrowful thanks to the Muslim community for deflecting the sad, bad and frankly dangerous attention that is drawn to us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by extreme individuals like Pauline Hanson. It is with great humility that I say this because I would not wish the attention of Pauline Hanson or anyone who shares her views on anyone. When Pauline Hanson was elected again to Parliament in the last week my first reaction was to laugh loudly at the ignorance of the people who voted for this caricature of a human. But then I remembered her vitriol against my people in her last political incarnation 20 years ago.
I next give my sorrowful thanks to the Muslim community for deflecting the sad, bad and frankly dangerous attention that is drawn to us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by extreme individuals like Pauline Hanson.
Her campaign to vilify single Aboriginal mothers as people who only produced children to obtain welfare ‘benefits’, her fear that we were somehow going to take people’s backyards in the wake of recognition of our native title rights and her overall view that we were ‘privileged’ in being supported by the Australian government to be lazy lie abouts in our own Countries. I refer back to her maiden speech in 1996 when she famously said of us ‘present governments are encouraging separatism in Australia by providing opportunities, land, moneys and facilities available only to Aboriginals’.
NAIDOC is about commemoration and reflection. I believe that during this week we should share this reflection with the people we have welcomed into our lives. These are the people who have contributed to continuing to make it the interesting and diverse place it has always been. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘nations’ number in the hundreds.
We have at least 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in this country and that tells us we have had at least that many different peoples here for thousands of years. The diversity added in the last 200 years has enhanced the richness of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
We talk about ourselves in terms of the other heritages we now share, Afghan, Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Irish, Scots, English, French, Italian, Sikh, Russian, German, Indigenous north and south American, Pacific Islander, Indian, Pakistani. In reality I could go on and name almost every people in the world who we as the original Australians have welcomed into our families.
As I reflect on the inhumanity reflected in the rhetoric of Pauline Hanson, and we know that she is tragically not alone, I remember the cruelty inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since we were invaded in 1788. We were denied the right to be ourselves, to speak our languages, to practice our religions and our laws, to stand up for our rights and our sovereignty, to eat the food and wear the dress we choose.
Hanson’s new target
Indeed it might be us that Pauline and her kind are once again focused on but mercifully it is not. She has a new target in the Muslim community of Australia. Hard working people making this country their home and enhancing the lives of all their fellow Australians. It gives me no joy but I do feel solidarity with all Muslims who come under the gaze of the racist inhumanity of Hanson and her supporters. So in NAIDOC week, as it coincides with Eid, I personally commemorate and reflect on all the Muslim people who have contributed to enriching the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.