Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter


People & Ideas

Apr 8, 2011

Aboriginal identity: 'I never had a choice'

How do you define someone's identity? It was key issue in the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case and Crikey asked some Aboriginal Australians to explain identity in their own words.


How do you define someone’s identity?

That question is a key issue in the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case that has raged furiously in court over the last two weeks, as nine light-skinned Aborigines battled Bolt over a series of Herald Sun columns he wrote insinuating that they had ‘chosen’ to be Aboriginal and deliberately ignored other cultural heritages for the career advantages that being Aboriginal brings.

In one column, entitled “It’s so hip to be black”, Bolt wrote:

Meet the white face of a new black race — the political Aborigine.

Meet, say, acclaimed St Kilda artist Bindi Cole, who was raised by her English-Jewish mother yet calls herself “Aboriginal but white”.

She rarely saw her part-Aboriginal father, and could in truth join any one of several ethnic groups, but chose Aboriginal, insisting on a racial identity you could not guess from her features.

She also chose, incidentally, the one identity open to her that has political and career clout.

Central to Bolt’s columns is the issue of skin colour, the suggestion that because the Aboriginal Australians he wrote about were light skinned that they had ‘chosen’ to be Aboriginal. Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt — one of the nine who took Bolt to court — said in her witness statement for the case:

“I have always identified as Aboriginal, whether or not I am also a law professor or author, or any other role I have had in my life… My parents always told me that I was Aboriginal, even though my mother was not Aboriginal…

“While Bolt says that I could easily just identify as ‘white’ and that I “chose to be Aboriginal”, he is wrong because I never had a choice. My brother looks Aboriginal. My father was active as a well-known Aboriginal person. Growing up, everyone knew that my family was Aboriginal, even people in the next town. It was never about being Aboriginal when it suits me. I have always been Aboriginal because that’s who I have always been. I have identified as Aboriginal even as a child when people teased me or bullied me about it.”

Crikey asked some Aboriginal Australians to write about their personal identity:

Nicole Watson, solicitor, author (her first crime novel The Boundary was recently published by University of Queensland Press) and research fellow at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Sydney:

“I belong to the Birri Gubba People of central Queensland, even though I live in Sydney. I have blonde hair and blue eyes; characteristics that are irrelevant to my identity as an Aboriginal person. I never chose that identity. Rather, it was a bequest from the people who reared me — my strong-willed European Australian mother and my fiery Aboriginal father.

“My parents met in high school. They could not have picked a worse setting for their budding romance — Brisbane during the height of the Bjelke-Petersen Government. This was a time when black activists were regularly beaten by police, while their relatives on reserves endured the stifling and all encompassing control of the dreaded superintendent.

“My much cherished maternal grandfather was a farmer from Kingaroy and an avowed Bjelke-Petersen supporter. I can only imagine Pop’s horror when he realized that his beautiful daughter had fallen in love with a cocky Aboriginal youth, who even had long hair. Over the years however, Pop grew to love his son-in-law.

“By the time that I came into the world, Dad was a prominent leader in the flowering Aboriginal rights movement. He was constantly at the front-line, which often took him to the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Even when he was home, Dad was pre-occupied with the fledgling community organisations that would go on to deliver legal aid, housing and health care to our people.

“Like my father, many of his contemporaries in the Movement were married to non-Indigenous partners. Invariably, it was the non-Indigenous partner who cared for the children and kept the home fires stoked, while the activists were away, fighting the struggle that had to be fought. The stories of those selfless, loving parents are yet to be told.

“From the beginning, my mother was determined that my brother and I would be raised to be proud of our Aboriginal heritage. Perhaps, Mum sacrificed some of her own heritage for us, but her life also became entwined in the rich tapestry of Aboriginal kinship.

“Throughout my teens, more than one observer casually raised the apparent clash between my light features and my Aboriginal identity. Such comments always drew a flash of pain on my father’s face. As an adult, I can only imagine how horrible it must have been for Dad to hear the paternity of his child being questioned so audaciously. I still marvel at the incredible privilege that lurked behind those obtuse comments.

“When strangers question my identity, they question the adults who grew me. They question the choices that were made for me and perhaps, even the love that my family gave to me, and continue to give. As painful as such interrogations have been, they will never shake my identity. I know who I am. But I do wonder what motivates the likes of Andrew Bolt. What dark insecurities fester in his psyche that he has a desperate need to assault the humanity of strangers?

“The greater tragedy however, is the Australian public that seems to have developed a fetish for watching Aboriginal identity under the microscope, while seemingly indifferent to the desperate circumstances of so many Aboriginal communities.

Professor Steve Larkin, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Leadership at Charles Darwin University:

“My father was not indigenous but he passed away when I was five. I was brought up my mother who was Aboriginal, in Darwin. And that’s how we were raised.

“I remember going to the university in the early 80s in Queensland and I had to put up a lot with: “You couldn’t be Aboriginal because you’re too fair”. And my question was “well, how do I explain my dark-skinned cousins and aunts and uncles?”. But it’s not [an issue] for me now.

“We relate to each other differently than non-indigenous people, to the extent that once you’re placed within a family community context, people know who you are and where you’re from, and that’s enough. Those sort of attitudes are just relics, they are artefacts and a consequence of the Western anthropological and sociological efforts years ago, who thought they could capture a culture frozen in time. It denies a whole range of things.

“The eugenics argument has been debunked long ago and skin colour is not a signifier of identity. It’s how you socialise, it’s the world views and values that you’ve been brought up within, same as any other culture. And cultures are dynamic, they evolve. I just think the consequence of that early social science, anthropologically thinking that could ethnographically capture something in the perfect state and that’s how things would be forever.

“My mother made lots of effort and we went down every two or three years to visit my father’s family. There’s still a family there, it doesn’t matter what their colour is.

“To say that [in regards to Bolt’s comment that full-blood Aborigines may wonder how such fair people can claim to be one of them and in some cases take ‘black jobs’] means to say that I’m an Aboriginal therefore I’m the same as a Tiwi Islander. Well, I’m not. That person is a Tiwi Islander and I’m Kungarakan. The fact of the matter is, that our grandmothers and grandfathers were removed. But we’re not like them, we’re not like each other. We share a common history, we might share a common world view but for all other intensive purposes we are different from each other. The same, but different. No one is taking jobs from anyone. The fact, the problem, is that there are jobs but a lot of our people aren’t job ready because they are too sick or they haven’t had the education.

“People are complicit in this systematic injustice. And because we rely on a notion of responsibility that is focused on the individual, if people don’t say and do anything untoward, then we have difficulty working with responsibility when it’s a collective thing. They won’t personally engage with indigenous leadership and they are unprepared to consider a different point of view, or take that on.

“Andrew Bolt reports that he doesn’t like racism, and he wants to make a contribution, he’s got a sharp intellect I’m sure. But he has to have the courage to be vulnerable to be open to different perspectives that might change the way he thinks about life, about society, about himself.”

Celeste Liddle, National Indigenous Organiser at the National Tertiary Education Union:

“When I was five-years-old, in my first year of Primary School in Canberra, I bought home my school report. It read something along the lines of “Celeste is an intelligent and curious pupil, whose spelling has improved a lot throughout the year, as well as her maths. Celeste, however, needs to learn how to control her temper”. The report is probably still sitting around in one of my mother’s scrapbooks, but the part about my “temper” was referring to an incident in that year which I remember all too well. One of the other girls in my class had called me a “black bum” one lunch time, and so I pushed her and she fell over.

“I have never been fair enough to be mistaken for white Australian, but I have been mistaken for everything from Maori to Mediterranean to Latino because I definitely do not fit the average Australian’s view of what an Aboriginal person is supposed to look like. Mum is a Clifton Hill born Collingwood supporter, and her family can be traced back to the first lot of free settlers and convicts in this country. My father’s family, on the other hand, is larger and much more complicated. His grandfather William was the son of a Scottish immigrant, who moved into the Northern Territory and established the Angas Downs cattle station. He and his Arrernte wife Mary had four children including my grandfather Harold Liddle. My grandmother was Emily Perkins, also Arrernte, and the daughter of two ‘part Aboriginals’ (as they called them then) and was the first cousin of Charles Perkins. She was born at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and taken to the Bungalow as a child where she was taught domestic skills. At 14 years old, she went to serve a family until she later married my grandfather.

“During my formative years when I was trying to make sense of this identity question, I remember asking my father how one of my cousins could be Aboriginal when she had red hair and freckles (my experiences at school had clearly had an effect on me), and he explained to me back then that it all comes back to family. We are Aboriginal because we are family and we all come from the same place.

“But going back to that first incident at school, those sorts of things occurred throughout my growing up, and I remember feeling really ashamed of my background. There are really only so many jokes regarding “wheelie bins” or so many times you can be asked “What’s an ‘A.B.C’?” before you start to either go completely mad, or you turn it around and own your difference. Two moments in school kind of stand out to me where this happened; the first was when I was asked to give a talk at school about my heritage at a multicultural assembly and I read out No More Boomerang by Oodgeroo Noonuccal. The second was when some bozo on the school grounds decided to yell out to me “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” and I just laughed at his idiocy, my friends joining in.

“So perhaps, at that point, I did make a choice and I “chose” to be a proud Aboriginal woman, but after a lifetime of it being pointed out to me that I was different and therefore somewhat inferior by virtue of my heritage, what choice did I really have? Being the eldest sibling, I have seen all of my siblings go through this exact same struggle then self-determination as well, and we are all stronger and prouder as a result, although clearly it would have been more ideal to have been made to feel strong and proud by our peers from the very beginning.

“I wrote a play at university that involved me talking to a lot of young Indigenous people living in Victoria, some as fair as you get, others very dark, and regardless of what their outwards features were, every single one of them had had their identity questioned at one point or another. My play Not One Nation (which played at La Mama) looked at the complexity of Indigenous identity from the stories that had been shared with me, as well as the historical context of our identity politics, and how, after years and years of assimilation policies, it was completely unfair to judge an Aboriginal person on the way they looked. One of my characters was an Aboriginal, feminist, socialist, Atheist, vegetarian, and lesbian; clearly I wanted to show that we are a diverse mob here!

“In my professional working life, I have worked in two ‘identified’ roles, and one that “encouraged applications from Indigenous Australians”. All of these roles had a specific requirement to work and collaborate with the community, and as two of them involved the building of aspirations of Indigenous Australians with the view of them gaining tertiary qualifications, I feel that being an Indigenous Australian was every bit as important an occupational qualification as holding a tertiary degree. Identified roles are every bit as important and necessary as they are a poisoned chalice. They are necessary because they help ‘Indigenise’ a workplace or institution, not only getting existing organisations to question their structures that lead to the exclusion of Indigenous Australians, but they also make a point of contact for the Indigenous community making it more accessible to them.

“The downside of these roles is that whilst an Indigenous Australian may have an impressive resume of qualifications, an impeccable record of achievement in previous roles, and that all important cultural knowledge, they are frequently treated like perennial apprentices in the workplace, as their seniors inadvertently make the patronising assumption that because it is an identified role, the applicant is not bringing the same general skill set to the role that a non-Indigenous person would bring to a similar role. The Indigenisation of workplaces is still very much a work-in-progress.



We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

35 thoughts on “Aboriginal identity: ‘I never had a choice’

  1. Mort

    At last! Some actual aboriginal people being allowed to speak for themselves.
    The amount of old white guys pontificating on this issue is unbelievable.

  2. Rufus Marsh

    I shall read this with interest when I have time in one of the multiethnic multiracial societies to our north where I am going for a while. In the meantime, now that apparently Crikey’s limited understanding (or maybe it is personpower to deal with) of contempt of court seems to be allowing comment may I note that the plaintiffs’ case was extremely misguided from the point of view of Aboriginal interests because, should they succeed, there will be no lack of satirists and ingenious send-up experts showing their contempt for the judgment by redoubling efforts to suggest that taking advantage of ethnic identity (especially one that involves a large element of choice as clearly it does for someone who continues to identify as Aborigine despite having a white skin and university education) is a bit sus.

    On the implications of the case generally, just consider, ironically given Ron Merkel’s noxious vapouring about Nazis (about whom he was wrong in suggesting that the words came first then the evil deeds – the Nazis had been violent and threatening for 10 years before they were “democratically” elected) what a court might feel constrained to find about Michael Galak’s “Monologue of a Jewish Peacenik” in the June 2010 issue of Quadrant. True, Michael Galak is of Russian origin which may make him a bit more robust than nice inner urban Australian (non-indigenous) natives, but his expression of views commonly held and expressed by Jews about Arabs might find him and a lot of others in trouble.

  3. Rufus Marsh

    Is there some implication that one doesn’t have a choice about identity if one was pushed in one direction by circumstances at an early age? If so, that is clearly BS. Consider that toffy voiced English WW2 army officer Robert Maxwell who was a Jewish refugee from a small village in Czechoslovakia. His latterday attempts to get some Jewish cred out of owning an Israeli newspaper and some charitable works (at the exepense, as almost everything he did in his latter years was, of pension fund members) just emphasise that he made choices. And what of all the people of working class origins who identify as professional or commercial upper middle class while some who have as much money and education choose to identify – often in ways which are derided – as working class.?

  4. PJHyslop

    Although Bolt’s article is written in an offensive manner and not well thought out in general, there is some truth in the statement that we can choose our own identity, or rather have it constructed for us by society/ family. I think we could all agree that Aboriginal (or any other) identity is not purely genetic in these cases since presumably these people mentioned in this article are at least half European or other ancestry, yet they do not identify themselves primarily as such.

    In most of the accounts here there is some mention of people close them telling them they are Aboriginal and to be proud of this (which is fine). There are also often examples of others descriminating against them because they are “Aboriginal”(which is not fine), however both of these are examples of society telling a person they are such and such, there identity is being constructed by society. This is not to deny there are racial or cultural differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, but how a person identifies themselves/ is identified by others in ethnic terms, is a simplification of their complex individual identity. How we identify ourselves, largely depends upon society and ourselves, it is (at least in part) a construct not an objective fact.

  5. Delerious

    I remember picking up “My Space” by Sally Morgan off my mothers bed and starting to read it, out of boredom. I think i was at least 20 pages in before I found out she was Aboriginal. I stole the book much to my mothers disgust.

    As for the people who think you choose how you identify yourself, you just have to reject your family. Well you must be happy chappies.

  6. Sean

    If all nine of the complainants can demonstrate similar substantial connections, then I would suggest that Bolt’s assertions are unresearched and not defensible — not sure what the Act says or the judge will have to say about a suitable and fitting punishment for Bolt.

    You will have to accept the statements given under oath or via stat dec etc of the ‘percentage’ if you like of identification, which could be distorted in a way which is veryhard to check up on and depends upon the sincerity of the witnesses — e.g. not only could your blood be, say, 25%, but your association and identification with traditional patterns of kinship etc could be 10% or 90% depending on how you live your life, which of your relatives you see the most, who you associate with the most — these things are very hard to demonstrate categorically in an evidential setting like a courtroom. However the burden of proof is probably on Bolt to demonstrate that the nine don’t have significant ties, since that is the claim he has made in his public writing.

    The whole thing is still a very open question of who should be advantaged by govt grants, etc, which Bolt has brought to the public’s attention, albeit in the usual Murdoch-style fashion. He may still actually have a point — that the grants are being given to the people who need them the least, in a kind of cultural establishment favouritism of people whom high society are more comfortable around and will not feel challenged by. Hard thing for a judge to decide.

    To compare and contrast, are there similar grants available to people of Italian descent, or Greek or anything else from a multicultural angle (no, there’s not), so clearly the intent of such grants is to bring people up from poverty or a place where they’re not currently recognised. If the ‘wrong’ people are receiving grants, i.e. they are already being recognised with doctorates and high salaries and so on and are doing very well in what amounts to European society, and are already coping well in that society and moving freely, are they really the best people to be receiving the extra gongs? Certainly the nine gong holders have a right to be offended by Bolt’s content and style, but does he have a point buried in there somewhere?

  7. Rufus Marsh


    I don’t think either of the comments suggesting that identity can be a matter of choice, at least in part or for some purposes, deserve you cheap and superficial debating point in

    “As for the people who think you choose how you identify yourself, you just have to reject your family. Well you must be happy chappies.”

    I know a former London investment banker turned Cambridge don who clearly “identifies” and is “identified” most of the time as an upper middle class English professional who doesn’t sound at all like his childhood northern neighbours but I can well imagine him dropping into the pub and using the local lingo (and identifying loyalties) happily on a visit to his childhood home, partly perhaps to annoy his mother who insisted he speak with Received Pronunciation. And an Oxford don of great distinction in the arts world whose parents would be very proud of his achievement and recognition in the world he lives in and quite pleased that that he doesn’t sound like those he went to primary school with. It is really very easy to get the point, despite the complexity of matters to do with identity – conferred, confected or adopted – if one considers the fact that the way English people speak is still very often a marker of how they identify themselves or of an identity conferred by circumstance that they are evidently willing to adhere to. In Australia we don’t have such simple markers but it is pretty clear that one doesn’t have to “reject” or even implicitly denigrate or criticise one’s family if one chooses to take some part in defining one’s own identity. The Delerious (sic) suggestion implies an overwhelming part in one’s identity for family, extraordinary uniformity within families, and, moreover, easy identification of what one’s “family” is which can be difficult. If you want an example which does not involve, say, a while father of a half-Aboriginal child who was usually absent, think of Jewish children saved from the Nazis and not knowing they were Jewish. Some denied knowledge of their Jewishness by their Jewish parents even: like Madeleine Albright.

  8. kennethrobinson2

    I really cant what all the fuss is about, I am seven eights Pom and one eighth Swede, but I call myself AUSTRALIAN.
    I dont classify people by race, but by character, there are good and bad in all people, I have been called a lot of names in my 77 years on the planet, on my return from Vietnam in 1968, CHILD MURDERER, was the favorite, it was upsetting, but one gets over it, I have seen a lot of injustice on both sides, but to quote Ned Kelly “thats life”.
    I live in the Top-end, where we are a pretty mixed mob, sure we have problems, but we solve them out of court, I think the Bolt case will do more harm than good regardless of the verdict.

  9. drmick

    Bolts case is all about intent.
    He stated his case and his intent and now he is trying to defend the indefensible.
    What he said was wrong and his intent was clear and he should apologise for it. He should apologise to the individuals he offended and a suitable punishment would be to do community service at an aboriginal education centre.

  10. bis

    Leaving aside the legal specificities, I share Mr Bolt’s disquiet regarding the division of the country into ‘first australians’ and ‘others’. Now whilst everyone is free to identify and celebrate with any component of their racial background they chose, developments such as the division of sports teams along racial lines are troubling. Together with a separate flag, separate courts and a separate set of government programs and benefits, I feel this is sewing a future of division rather than unity.

  11. drmick

    There is a lot of talk about rights here and very little about responsibilities.
    This is where “nutbag opinions”, red neck pub insults, targeted rants and fair comment are defined.
    The damage done is commensurate with the number of people your offensive vilification reaches.

    “Man bites Native Australians and gets gaol”, sound like an appropriate headline.

  12. Julie Matheson

    Well done Crikey for this follow up article from an Aboriginal perspective.

  13. Rufus Marsh


    “…a suitable punishment would be to do community service at an aboriginal education centre.”

    Is that just frivolous and intended as satirical, or have you simply switched your brain off?

    What connection do those plaintiffs have with whatever you mean by “an aboriginal education centre”. Equally, one wonders what contribution you think of Bolt making at “an aboriginal education centre” if you actually mean anything by “education”.

  14. Elan

    Last week’s MediaWatch made some significant comments on this matter. I agree with the disquiet expressed.

    Frankly I would be very surprised if this complaint is not dismissed. Having read Bolt’s article I found that there were aspects of it with which I agreed.

    (My vantage point is Anglo Pakistani-I pass for ‘White’!).

    Bolt has been less than pleasant to those he sees as ‘less than’. I suspect that that is why no one expressed any support for what he is actually saying. I don’t blame them. But I suspect that he is not alone in the view he expressed. I strongly suspect that there are many indigenous Australians who would agree with him.

    I dislike Bolt intensely, and I am not resorting to the Freedom of Speech ‘get out of trouble’- card, but I cannot in all conscience NOT express some concern about this case, and for what Bolt was alluding to in his usual charming way.

    This statement by Prof Larkin bothers me:

    “The fact, the problem, is that there are jobs but a lot of our people aren’t job ready because they are too sick or they haven’t had the education.”

    There is so much talent in our Australian Aborigine that does not need education to be recognised. Is the basis for recognition only to be based on education?

    Is the basis for recognition of achievement only to be based on being ‘known’ ?

    The real difficulty to get to the nub of what has led to this matter, is that no ‘full blooded’ Aborigine would be willing to speak up full stop, because of how they might be then perceived.

    And most certainly none of them would ever support someone who has been less than respectful to them.

    We are only hearing one side of this I suspect.

    Any other comment that I have is based too close to this case -which is still current.

  15. Jonathan Maddox

    Well well well.

    Identity is chosen, of course, and expressed in context, and the identity of most people is somewhat fluid. Kudos to the likes of Monash who assimilate to get ahead, and likewise kudos to the Perkinses who fight for dignity in difference.

    But the choices are not infinite, and are particularly limited for those who bear the mark of their unprivileged origins in ways that they cannot or choose not to disguise. Some people are obliged to answer to “black” because the colour of their skin advertises the fact to everyone else. This doesn’t mean the rest of the world is obliged to be white.

    In a society which was, until relatively recently, proud to be white, racist, and patriarchal, everyone else is defined *against* maleness, *against* whiteness, *against* Christian, even where necessary *against* Protestantism or Britishness.

    Bolt and Marsh have the privilege of colour-blindness. No-one would claim that background doesn’t matter, that identity is totally a matter of choice, if they had ever actually come up against the wall of being categorised. Until *this* generation anyone but a white male, if s/he doesn’t want such a label, has to fight for their non-maleness and non-whiteness to be overlooked.

    Fortunately for some, in these days polite circles choose by default to ignore most labels unless people draw attention to them.

    Most non-male, non-white people rightly choose not to waste effort on hiding or ignoring their labels but to wear them, proudly or indifferently, and get on with life.

    Bolt’s writing indicates that he has made the error of assuming that people who *he* would not immediately label non-white with his presumably keen eye for an ancestor, are obliged to hide or ignore any non-white labels their rude family, friends and childhood tormentors might have ascribed to them.

    No-one is so obliged. We all have the right to choose our identity, within whatever limits our psychology and the perception of society (or those parts of it we choose to engage with) allows.

    One’s self-identification does not have to be behaviourally displayed in every living moment to be real, for our love of our parents (or our rejection of what they stood for) to be a basic component of our psyche.

    Check your privilege, Rodney Marsh.

  16. Jonathan Maddox

    By the way IANAL and I don’t have any strong opinion on the case before the court. Bolt may well be in breach of the law, but it’s probable that the law is an ass. It would be better for Bolt to be brought to heel through the criticism of his peers, the common sense of his employers and the court of public opinion, than by the narrow interpretation of tort legislation by legal professionals. But that’s where he is. Interesting to watch.

  17. MarieT71

    What I find interesting is the fact that Australia seems to struggle with the acceptance of our own. Australia over the past 100+ years continues in many ways to target indigenous Australians, from classification with flora and fauna, to the continual reminder of colour, to the now questioning if there is enough colour. Do we have a criterion we now must follow? If you look at Australia’s history of cultural inclusion we see patterns of non-acceptance of cultural groups…for a while at least, until the next culture joins us. When new cultures moved onto Australian soil, from the Irish, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, and Asians each wave of newcomers were inevitably regarded with deep suspicion and, at times with outright hostility. Eventually Australians accepted our new neighbors, almost like our own.
    Today there are concerns about terrorism which was inspired by extremist Islam; it is perhaps inevitable that questions get asked about Muslim migration to Australia. But I wonder how long it will take for the acceptance; my guess is when the next new cultural wave of apparent uncertainty arrives here. But what I find more bizarre than anything is the fact we as a country do not accept Indigenous Australians, their ancestors were here before any of us and actually those of us who are not indigenous, including myself technically were migrants also, or at least our ancestors were. I wonder if Andrew Bolt realised when writing his articles in the Herald Sun that he would land himself in court. Surely this man with I am sure credible intelligence did not intend this result, or did he? Not enough colour, I wonder if the same applies in his mind about white any other culture that is apparently supposed to be of a dark skinned nature, my guess is it would not matter. Australia has done such a great job of repressing indigenous Australians for such a long time and continues to; grants for indigenous peoples no matter how much supposed colour is not what is important here. To hear the comments from other Australians who today continue to have their work roles devalued because they happen to be in an identified role is appalling, to be considered as not having quite the same skill level as white Australians, we as a nation really have not come very far in that there are still far too many people who still need to make the distinction between black and white, and who is superior. We are all Australian and if you are lucky enough to be of aboriginal heritage then you have extra qualities, for at least you have identity and a very old and rich culture that dates way back when in this country; we could learn so much.

  18. freecountry

    Only one person here has mentioned Ron Merkel’s disgusting, and not even particularly logical, attempt to turn this case into a Na-zi hunting escapade. This could have been an interesting court case. This could have kicked off another attempt to face up to, in a constructive manner, questions which for too long have been settled only by cheap name-calling. This time it might have been different. But then Ron Merkel, QC, had to walk into that courtroom and pretty much call Bolt a Na-zi, using the logical equivalent of the witch-divining scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And Merkel’s clients authorized him to use that line of attack.

    This always was intended as a trial by media of Andrew Bolt, the courtroom and the actual tort serving as mere theatrical devices. This is underlined by the fact that no damages are being sought other than public apologies.

    That means that we the readers are the jury. And as far as Andrew Bolt goes, you might say he had it coming–being sued that is, not being denounced as a Na-zi. But as a member of that de facto jury, all I want to do is turn my back in disgust at this oafish method of character assassination attempted by Ron Merkel.

    As for the actual questions of ethnic identity and personal choice, sorry but we’ll have to come back to this next time, when we can have civilized people laying out the arguments. The plaintiffs could have simply argued that they identify with the Aboriginal part of their heritage because they’re proud of it and they love it, and that it was insulting to suggest any other motive such as gaining advantage. Instead we got all this crap about not having a choice and Bolt being some kind of Hein-rich Himm-ler. So I just want to ask the plaintiffs this: doesn’t that make you want to hang your heads in shame?

  19. Porridge

    What I take from this article is that fair-skinned aboriginals have mostly not identified themselves as being white because they where not regarded as white by white people when their aboriginal roots where revealed so that they had no choice but to accept identifying as aboriginal. I think the way forward is for white people to accept fair-skinned aboriginals as one of them so as to persuade them to accept european identity rather than telling them to be white while secretly not accepting them as white. I do not think Andrew Bolt is being deliberately maliscious, I just think he probably doesn’t get this point.

  20. JamesH


    It’s not like Bolt hasn’t played the old Godwin frequently himself; in particular, he compares environmentalists to Nazis every chance he gets.

  21. marko polo

    self identification as an issue has a precedent in the issue of transexuality, has it not?

    If for instance i am “Steve”, who feels that I more closely associate myself as a women, “sarah”. If i live my life as Sarah, but have not had the Steve bits changed, the government recognises me as Sarah. so, the government of this country, recognises an individual’s right to choose how they identify, regardless of factual evidence to support it. this should then be the case in terms of race, end of story.

    the real issue here is the “new apartheid” of government sponsored, positive discrimination. we all need to identify as Australian, regardless of how it happened, and move forward as a nation of steves and sarahs, and everything else in between.

  22. freecountry

    Yeah, and Clive Hamilton said deniers are even worse than the Holocaust perpetrators because they’ll kill more people. In which case I could accuse socialists of the same thing, based purely on historical body count.

    But body count–or even the ethnic rationale on which victims are chosen–did not in itself define what the Nazi ideology was, even though it was certainly the most horrific and revealing of their crimes. What defined them was a Hegelian idea that the state could replace both religion and individualism to become a vehicle for unlimited human ambitions to change both the world and the human condition.

    This idea has not yet been entirely exorcised from modern thought, partly because people prefer the lazy arrogance of assigning Nazi labels to anyone who says anything controversial around the general subject of racial identity. It’s a horror story, not an event giving rise to the sort of self-reflection it should.

    Bolt’s comparison of the Greens to Nazis may be over the top and objectionable, but it is closer to the truth than comparing a conservative defender of individual free choice to a totalitarian absolutist ideology, which just makes no sense at all. Hate Bolt if you wish, I’m sure he enjoys being controversial, but have a bit of intellectual integrity in the way you go about hating him.

  23. shelbey

    How do you define someone’s identity?

    You don’t. You let them define it.

    And what is this whoo har about how this could impinge on rights to freedom of speech? ( although see http://www.collectionslaw.com.au/chapter-25-restrictions-on-freedom-of-expression)

    Well rights come with responsibilities, to respect others rights and those include the right not to be vindicated based on race.

    Maybe Bolt needs to read the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and get some media training in writing about Indigeneity. Or some education about past attrocities committed by the colonialists and their descendents.

    We need to look at the past, to consider where we are now, and where we as a nation will be in the future. Such flippant racist comments in the media today are not helping the issue. It just shows that Australia still has a racist history, and racist presence. Please, I don’t want a racist future Andrew, make right your wrongs, and get a better understanding of issues still causing discrimination and hurt for Indigenous peoples of Australia. This history has been far too recent.

  24. Elan

    Interesting comments.

    General comment only:

    I don’t believe the issue of concern is about how we identify ourselves; the issue that is currently relevant, is in identifying with a specific culture for financial gain/reward/recognition.

    I make no specific allegation, but I remain of the view that such is an area for concern.

    I am also of the view that it should NOT be a matter for the Courts if such a view is expressed.

    Hypothetically-if one were to express such a view, the issue is not one of race, but of fraud.

  25. Jonathan Maddox

    @Freecountry : that’s one of the most intelligent comments I have read about totalitarianism in a long time, so I’m sorry to contradict you.

    The faith in the power of the state to change the terms of human existence is not limited to Nazism or Fascism and has little to do with “replacing both religion and individualism”. Nazism is not unique in this respect despite your use of the nice modern term “Hegelian”; it is something common to all totalitarian states including earlier monarchies with god-kings and the Islamist one the Taliban briefly built in Afghanistan.

    Where Nazism was once unique, I’m sorry to have to assert so boringly, was in its combination of totalitarianism with racist arrogance. Others *have* followed in their footsteps, Godwin notwithstanding.

    I’m a greenie (small G), I believe in the capacity of the state to achieve good things as well as foul, and I’m a liberal (small L) and believe in the right of Andrew Bolt to speak as he pleases. But for the sake of politeness, please don’t suggest he has a point when he accuses Greens of being totalitarian. He doesn’t.

  26. Smithee

    I think we’re about to see another portion of our rapidly shrinking “free speech” disappear. It’ll be another area that’s off limits to rational conversation.

    Freedom of speech is never achieved by forcing people to shut up.

  27. Jonathan Maddox

    Elan, Bolt didn’t exactly discuss fraud. He barely insinuated it. He suggested Aboriginal people who might have been able to pass as non-Aboriginal in some contexts were less worthy for employment in jobs where Aboriginal candidates were preferred than people who don’t have the option of passing as non-Aboriginal.

    The crime he’s accusing them of is not fraud but the exercise of their choice to identify with the Aboriginal part of their heritage.

    Never mind that most such jobs are not preferring Aboriginal candidates out of charity to the *employed* persons, so much as employing people who can be effective workers in and for Aboriginal communities.

    If people who Bolt couldn’t possibly mistake for non-Aboriginal aren’t getting hired for such jobs in the same numbers as Aboriginal people who might pass for non-Aboriginal, there could be any number of causes.

    Fraud isn’t one of them. Racism, present or historical, is.

  28. Elan

    I’m glad that I was allowed to make the comment I did, particularly the last line.

    However, it does suggest something a little more strongly then I intended to convey. I can’t shake the feeling that there should be a recognised phrase: ‘moral fraud’.

    That phrase has been rattling around in my head a lot recently.

    The temptation would be almost irresistible if there were more glittering prizes or much needed grants from the ‘Pakistani Arts Council’ and less from the British Arts Council, for me to identify my heritage more strongly with the former.

    It may not be the case for some-but to suggest that it is not the case for all, is disingenuous. And more critically: to be able to express such a view should not leave one vulnerable to legal action,-NOR be automatically interpreted as r.acism.

    As for ~Freedom Of Speech~;- it MUST have limitations. We do not have complete freedom in any area. We cannot murder as a free right.

    FoS concerns me because it is so frequently used to shield the vilificator (not a real word I believe, but you know what is meant by its use). The question of where we ‘draw the line’ will be debated ad infinitum.

  29. freecountry

    Jonathan Maddox – That’s a legitimate interpretation, but for me the problem with it has always been: why did Stalin’s Bolsheviks engage in so much Hitler-like genocide, while Mussolini’s Fascist movement, from which Nazism largely derived, did not? All three theories owed much to Rousseau’s notion of the “general will”. All three offered brave new worlds with no more need for religious or theocratic influences chaining the future to the past (which is where they all differ from Islamism or traditional monarchies). Man was finally free of his past, the sky was the limit, science would light the way that had been obscured by clerics and traditionalism; all he had to give up was his childish sense of individualism and submit to something greater than himself. All three were pitched at the working masses, and all three used military symbolism to drive a sense of mission.

    The difference was in how they mobilized enough mass support to come to power. The Soviets used class and material envy; Mussolini used Hegel’s supremacy of the State itself as the most versatile tool for solving society’s problems; while the Nazis tapped into a sense of racial dishonour and redemption. The logical outcome of this was that the Soviets would destroy their own means of advancement and go into a long stagnation until their own people rebelled; the Nazis would squander their lofty ambitions on a blood-soaked binge of genocidal slaughter that would never stop until somebody killed them; and the Italian Fascists … well, history intervened before their theory could find its own apotheosis or otherwise, so a great deal of their theory is alive and well today and living all over the world.

    To confuse the core of Nazi ideology with racism is to make the same mistake as confusing Marxism with the KGB. An all-powerful secret police force may be pragmatically inseparable from a communist regime, but it certainly wasn’t a part of Marx’s vision. Nazism just happened to be a brand of socialism coined by a lunatic who also thought killing half of Europe was a reasonable means to an end, and his vision went a step further than the others in remoulding the very appearance of humanity the way a dog breeder turns wolves into poodles. But that’s not all they wanted to do, they also had glorious plans for an age of science, good health, even environmentalism. Meanwhile Mussolini also spoke of breeding a better kind of man, and Lenin spoke of exterminating an entire class from the human bloodline as if it were a genetic disease.

    The confusion here is between core ideologies, their logical corollaries, and the kind of men who are able to convince whole populations to tear up their inherited moral standards. It’s impossible to be a Nazi without also being a racist, but there are many ways of being a racist without being anything remotely like a Nazi.

  30. Jonathan Maddox

    @Elan — puzzled. Is your comment 5:57pm a reply to mine 3:45pm or can you still not see that (I still see “awaiting moderation”)?

  31. Elan

    JM: Puzzled also! I’m not technical, but I’ve learned that only the author can see their post if it awaits moderation.

    I cannot see your post of 3.45pm, only you can! Crikey is (correctly in my opinion), holding all posts on this matter and checking them before putting them to full view.

    Having said that,-this issue troubles me a great deal. Certain journalists/commentators would not and never will be my Playmate Of The Month. Defending their views would thus not come easily. But defending the right to hold such a view, and further, to be able to express such a view,- is essentially what I’m doing.

    I’ll go even further and say that such a matter is something that should have been raised-and should be raised again. It is a matter that needs to be looked at more closely..

    My comments are not based on any response to anyone here. This issue is,…shall we say a ‘delicate’ one. To that end, the views I express are mine alone and not a direct response to any individual.

    If I respond;-I will indicate who I am responding to. As you can see!

    Your second post to me has just arrived in post notification. I have to go. Back later to respond.

  32. Boo

    Bolt makes a living polarising people and creating divisions. He may well not be the only one.

    There is a genuine concern that money intended to assist aborigines and their communities, culture, etc is being cornered by some who may well have succeeded without the assistance. Or by some with only there own vested interests in mind. Hardly a unique problem, but equally hardly trivial given the needs of some aboriginal peoples.

    Colour and percentages of ancestry aside, is the money be allocated in a way the benefits people the most?

    I know it may well be misguided, to my mind some bloke with 1/8 aboriginal ancestry in comparison to somebody with significantly more, is not likely to have suffered the same level of disadvantage. I could be wrong, but having lived out in the country, I just can’t see it.

  33. Elan

    OK. your post has now cleared. I see it.

    The issue/s under discussion here, relate to a matter that is sub judice. I won’t make any direct referral, my comments are on general principle only.

    If an article were to be published that that could potentially lead to legal action, you can bet your boots that that article would be scrutinised very carefully by the publisher lawyers.

    I have no doubt that any subsequent complaint of rac.ial vilification might come as somewhat of a surprise. I mean that.

    ANY suggestion of fraud would never even make it to being published! So your suggestion that this did not occur in a current matter, and thus the opinion expressed in that matter relates to just one issue;- is something I have to disagree with. What was published in that matter is all that could be published.

    I left myself wide open to this. I need to make it very clear that I have not and will not make any allegation on matters such as this;-of fraud. Crikey would never even have put my post up had they thought that I was suggesting that.

    It’s a no brainer. To be blunt;-if you cannot prove it,-don’t say it!! What I am suggesting is-that in matters specifically like this, there is more than one issue, in my view.

  34. Rufus Marsh


    If you want to be taken seriously or make a serious contribution it is better not to throw words and references around like Humpty Dumpty (Lewis Carroll’s in case the allusion passes you by). For example, you say:

    “How do you define someone’s identity?

    You don’t. You let them define it.

    And what is this whoo har about how this could impinge on rights to freedom of speech? ( although see http://www.collectionslaw.com.au/chapter-25-restrictions-on-freedom-of-expression)”

    Sounds OK, and I thank you for the interesting references, particularly the first. But it is about legal definitions of [Aboriginal] identity for specific legal purposes and is no authority for your personal peference for allowing someone to define (i.e. choose) his/her own identity. If you go to a couple of Adult Education philosophy classes and you might see the importance of questions like “for what purpose?” when you you pose questions of definition.

    The other reference is advice for people in Achive, Gallery and Museum institutions but hasn’t much relevance to the Bolt question.

    When you write of “such flippant racist comments in the media today” one cannot help but be struck again by the Humpty Dumpty intervention. In this case “when I say ‘flippant’ it means just whatever I intend it to mean”, and we’ll leave aside “racist” for the useless contribution to discourse that it is.

    If I sound supercilious, you asked for it with this:

    “….the right not to be vindicated [sic] based on race.

    Maybe Bolt needs to read the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and get some media training in writing about Indigeneity. Or some education about past attrocities [sic] committed by the colonialists and their descendents [sic].”

    One howling Malapropism, two illiterate misspellings which can hardly be excused as typos when you are having a go at a professional journalist for his supposed elementary failings. And then the presumption, not only offensive, but ignorant of major media institutions, that Bolt hasn’t read (the relevant parts of) the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and needs some media training relating to “Indegeneity”. Idiotic really when you consider how diligently Bolt must have poured over Sec. 18C in particular of the RDA 1975 once the plaintiffs launched their case and he had to prepare to instruct counsel and be ready for cross-examination.

  35. Rufus Marsh

    Is not the following quote from the article the most interesting part of it

    ““To say that [in regards to Bolt’s comment that full-blood Aborigines may wonder how such fair people can claim to be one of them and in some cases take ‘black jobs’] means to say that I’m an Aboriginal therefore I’m the same as a Tiwi Islander. Well, I’m not. That person is a Tiwi Islander and I’m Kungarakan. The fact of the matter is, that our grandmothers and grandfathers were removed. But we’re not like them, we’re not like each other. We share a common history, we might share a common world view but for all other intensive purposes we are different from each other.”

    Hasn’t Bolt opened up (whether intentionally or not) much subtler questions than the great clunking self-interested fights over what may result from laws and policies designed to achieve affirmative action (or the reverse for that matter)? Aboriginality is a post 1788 artefact given that there were hundreds of different language groups mostly unknown to each other occupying our vast continent as hunter gatherers. It makes one wonder about the idea of a treaty doesn’t it? I mean treaty might be given a Humpty Dumpty meaning but you can bet that not everyone would have anything like the same concepts in mind.

Leave a comment


Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.