by Mark PosaNews Weekly
The lessons of T.G.H Strehlow
, July 28, 2001
The different interpretation on what is best for Aborigines has been highlighted by the debate which is current between Senator Aden Ridgeway and Noel Pearson.
When one looks at the unholy mess which has come about in Aboriginal Affairs it remains a mystery why more people took little notice of the writings of Professor T.G.H. Strehlow and his work with Aborigines when he was alive.
His life and dedicated work among Aboriginal communities was recently discussed in an SBS television documentary Mr Strehlow's Films
Looking at the dispute between Noel Pearson and Senator Aden Ridgeway, it is quite obvious that Ridgeway is sticking to the modern Aboriginal Rights issue, whilst Pearson appears to be closer to the advice given by Strehlow in the paper he delivered to the Ninth Summer School organised by the (SA Adult Education Department, at the University of Adelaide, titled "Nomads in No-Man's Land". He said:
"It is clear that even those natives who are living on the best conducted Aboriginal reserves cannot avoid social changes indefinitely. But, in my opinion, the effects of social change are least harmful when the new order is embraced by a whole group, and not merely by individuals.
"Rather than splintering up an Aboriginal group and attempting to withdraw from a detribalised community its most gifted members and potential leaders, our aim should be to raise the whole group to as high a level as possible, and to find an honourable place for it in the total Australian community.
"Again, to effect social change of a far-reaching nature, considerable pressures are always needed; and these can best be applied by progressive leaders who have the confidence of their own group - in this case by gifted Aboriginals and part-Aboriginals.
"For no matter how talented the white administrators may be, they will always be regarded in some way as foreigners and intruders; and no human being likes being pushed around by intruding foreigners.
"Our aim should therefore be to encourage the forces of cohesion within the remaining native groups until native born leaders can arise who are able, to lead their people into fuller intergration with the white community."
Strehlow's words seem to be common sense, and when one studies what Noel Pearson is saying and encouraging, it is the closest we have seen to what Strehlow was talking about, whereas Senator Ridgeway's thesis concentrates on the divisive issue of rights.
It is interesting to note that a book recently written by Richard Trudgen, When Warriors Lie Down and Die,
about his experience with the Yolngu people of eastern Arnhem Land, appears to adopt a similar attitude to Professor Strehlow regarding the best way to overcome the present problems facing the Aboriginal people, particularly those occupying their own tribal land.
According to a reviewer of his book, Trudgen argues that "Yolngu ways will not be destroyed by the dominant culture in itself but by dominant-culture education that is ineffective and merely results in 'confusion not cognition'."
That the work of Professor Strehlow and his like in the past has been completely ignored in recent times is a tragedy both for the Aboriginal people and those who are responsible for their well-being in positions of influence.
The divisiveness of the rights issue and the way it has been handled have done nothing to improve the lot of our original inhabitants. Again to quote Professor Strehlow, this time for one of his papers prepared for News Weekly
"If the future is to be redressed at all, the present hate campaign must be ended; and then thoughtful black and white leaders must look at the real problems of the present and the future in a spirit of helpful co-operation.
"Most white Australians are today at least conscious of the injustices of the past and are willing to provide at least some of the finance to make amends for these injustices, provided that the money goes to the real sufferers of surviving disabilities, and not to the stirrers, the activists, and the self-appointed (or Government-appointed) 'experts', 'advisers' and 'spokesmen' for the Aborigines.
"And there are plenty of Aborigines in this country who are sane thinkers and realise that all Australians, black and white, have a common destiny. The trouble is they are rarely listened to by our governments."