NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Another Open Letter to Stan Grant

Posted in Uncategorized by Ian MacDougall on March 1, 2018


And also my critique of Keith Windschuttle’s line on Aboriginal history post 1777 at:

Stan: At the National Press Club (link above) you reportedly said:

For so many of my people, Aboriginal people this is true. There is a deep, deep wound that comes from the time of dispossession, scarred by the generations of injustice and suffering that have followed. And this wound sits at heart of the malaise that grips indigenous Australia. It is there in our life expectancy ten years shorter than other Australians, it is there in statistics that tell us we are not three percent of the population yet a quarter of those in prisons. These are the things that kill, the things that send us mad or steal our sight.

How often we are told to get over it, leave it in the past, but these wounds are fresh. My family like so many Indigenous families is still shackled to its past. We are told to let it go, but our history is a living thing. It is physical. It is noses and mouths and faces. It is written on our bodies.

-Stan Grant []

The above as I read it is an attack directed at the whole present non-Aboriginal population of Australia. I and my family are amongst them. But there are quite deep historical issues here.

Firstly, your people, whom you identify as “Aboriginal people” in the quote above, were not one ethnic group, nor as one people given a hard time by one lot of invaders of this continent. The 19thC anthropologists identified three distinct ethnic groups amongst the people we now refer to as ‘The Aborigines’:

(1) The Tasmanians – apparently the first to arrive. They were short-statured people rather similar to African pygmies: short stature being a trait selected in by the demands of a life lived in rainforest, of which there was no shortage in the regions they came from and the Australia they moved into. They, being the first to arrive, had the continent to themselves, but were pushed south by the next distinct invading population, who pushed the Tasmanians to the southern extremity of the continent before the Bass Strait rose as the Pleistocene Ice melted: that southern extemity is now called Tasmania.

(2) the Murrayans, who were on average a taller, heavier-bodied people than the Tasmanians, and who occupied the southern mainland, and who pushed the Tasmanians before them. Then came

(3) the Carpentarians, taller, and like the modern native Nilotic peoples of Africa, adapted for life in the hot, dry climate found today in northern Australia, and who kept ethnically distinct from the Murrayans on the mainland; showing that there was not much interbreeding there either.

Nor was pre-European Australia exactly a garden of tranquility. Very telling is a study of Aboriginal weapons, the most interesting being in my opinion Aboriginal shields. These, to be used successfully by warriors who were also nomads, had to be both lightweight and easily carried, but at the same time effective against the most devastating attack weapons in the contemporary Aboriginal arsenal. These were spears and the clubs called ‘nulla-nullas’, normally used to despatch game, but also as effective weapons in what is generally termed ‘tribal warfare’: which in one form or another, still goes on in town and country today. ( See particularly the warrior photograph at )

But also:

It takes a high degree of skill to survive when one is the target of several incoming spears, thrown either together or at slightly different time intervals, launched at you with murderous intent. One’s parents, grandparents and other ancestors over whatever timespan you care to name likewise needed such skill.

The First Arrivals

The late ANU scientist Gurdip Singh concluded from a study of pollens from the bed of Lake George, NSW, that there had been a fairly abrupt botanical change from ecosystems dominated by pyrophobic (‘fire averse’) plants like Causuarinas to pyrophytic (fire-tolerant) ones in SE Australia at around 110,000 BP. This apparent increase of fire in the Australian bush led him to conclude that Aborigines with their ‘firestick farming’ practices may have been responsible. That is, a full 70,000 years before the appearance of Mungo Man and his skeleton, the earliest direct evidential remains.

At the Australian Academy of Science website,
we can see graphs that show how the country’s climate has changed over those 110 millennia. There was a marked general cooling, down to around 10,000 BP, followed by a rapid rise in average temperature and heat content of the ocean. The first Aborigines to arrive (ie the ancestors of the Tasmanians) would have had to cross far less oceanic distance than exists today, thanks to so much of the Earth’s water being locked up as polar icecaps. But over those millennia, all our ancestors, of whatever colour, were living somewhere. And there was no book up there in the sky in which it was written by the Gods that the Australian continent belonged to the ancestral Tasmanians, though they possibly or even likely believed it did. The Murrayans would have relieved them of any such illusion, and the Carpentarians likewise both those preceding populations.

The lesson they all learned then taught: by the Tasmanians to the kangaroos, wombats and megafauna, the Murrayans to all those four groups, and the Carpentarians to the lot of them, was a simple one: if you can’t defend it, you don’t own it.

I am 100% of Scots-Irish ancestry according to analysis of my own DNA. My own ancestors were cleared off land they could not defend in the ‘clearances’ carried out by aristocrats supported by Royal armies, or by the first British colonising acts beginning in Ireland under Henry VIII that led on to the building of the vast British Empire, which eventually stretched as far as Australia. Dispossessed Scots and Irish emigrated to Australia, to either dispossess Aborigines, or purchase former Aboriginal land from earlier colonisers who had grabbed it: from the people whose ownership ceased because they could not defend it.

To give them their due, all the Tasmanians, Murrayans and Carpentarians over time took their cultures and technologies as far as they could be taken within the limitations they experienced. Modern scholarship indicates that agriculture actually began, not in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys of ancient Mesopotamia at around 10,000 BP as previously believed, but in New Guinea, at around 20,000 BP. But while neighbouring Australia had plant food and game sufficient to support a pre-1777 population estimated now at around 1 million, it had no domesticable or potentially cultivable plants save the Macadamia nut, (now marketed worldwide under a variety of names.) And the hunter-gatherer nomads, while they had an astounding variety of plant and animal foods both marine and terrestrial, had no grasses from which to develop grain crops, and thus they had collectors’, not croppers’, granaries.

Whereas the Asian peoples had rice and millet, the Ameriindians maize (as well as potatoes) and the peoples of the ‘fertile crescent’ centred on Mesopotamia had what are still the western staples: wheat, barley and oats. They also had cattle, horses and other domesticable animals, spread right across the Eurasian Landmass to China and Japan, and down into Africa in one vast mass of intercommunicating populations.

In Australia, there was what the historian Geoffrey Blainey calls in his excellent book of the same name The Triumph of the Nomads, but only because the nomadic way was the only one that could triumph. And to their credit, the Aborigines took it as far as anyone could, without grain crops, large granaries, ceramics and pottery for storage of liquids like oils and wines, and without the metallurgy that these duly brought forth and the Iron Age weapons that in turn emerged.

So when Captain Cook dropped anchor in Botany Bay and made first European contact with the local Aborigines, it was also the most advanced civilisation in the world greeting people who were about, through no fault of their own of course, the least technically advanced. While clash and interaction across Eurasia had laid the foundations of modern urban civilisation, science and technology, Aboriginal Australia remained contentedly ignorant of all of it: until disaster struck.

But as for me: I was born right here in Australia, as was my wife, as were my children and grandchildren. We all have as much right to be here as anyone else, and I don’t have much time for arguments to the contrary, from you or anyone else: either implied or bluntly stated. But if your gripe is anything to go by, all the apologising for the past will not end with Kevin Rudd. It will still be routinely demanded and expected centuries from now.

And as for the Adam Goodes incident. Well that’s nothing special, is it? Aborigines can’t walk down the street in any city, town or hamlet without getting jeered, booed, heckled and called all sorts of nasty racist names, can they? Well, isn’t that the case?

Bovine excrement, of the non-female variety.

Football games and football fans are subject to crowd psychology. Fans routinely cheer their own teams and jeer their teams’ opponents, and however they can. At times they chuck beer cans: sometimes when full of beer; sometimes full of worse. Adam Goodes got mixed up in just such an incident, and some of the airheads in the crowd picked on his Aboriginality and let fly. Big deal: or only so if anyone wants to make an issue of it.

So on top of all that, we now we have agitation for a ‘treaty’, to be signed presumably by representatives of both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations of Australia as presently set up, and followed presumably, by significant compensation payments. And now we come down to it.

Let’s open the negotiations at say $1 million to each modern Aborigine: enough to buy a house in the upper half of the Sydney or Melbourne real estate markets. And as there are roughly 670,000 such people claiming Aboriginality ( a 2011m estimate: see  that adds up to a tidy $670 billion. That would be quite a low price to pay for a whole continent, but it would swallow most of the Federal Government’s revenue for two successive years. (The Federal taxation revenue in 2015-16, the latest figures available, was only around $465 billion; so the government would need time to pay.)

It would also require the vendors to quit the property completely: normal real-estate practice in both town and country.

But there is also a problem of retrospectivity here. If any money at all is due to be paid by modern non-Aboriginal Australians to Aboriginal ones, then it is payment long overdue. It should have been paid at the time of the original dispossession, and by the people who did that dispossessing. The non-Aboriginal part of your own ancestry, Stan, should have paid the Aboriginal part. Today, you can do it for them. You can take money, however much you like, from your wallet with your right hand on behalf of your ancestor the Irish rebel John Grant, later by your own account to become a wealthy squatter, and as well on behalf of all the other non-Aboriginal people in your ancestry, and then receive it into your left on behalf of all the Aborigines in your ancestry. Then put it back into your wallet.

But please note: without the contribution made by all, repeat ALL to you own genome and of whatever skin colour, you would not exist today, and would never have existed.