The relentless official promotion of “indigenous” traditions of dubious origin does nothing for national unity.
Connoisseurs of our sunburnt country’s timeless heritage have a treat in store next month. An indigenous tanderrum, or ceremonial mass gathering, unperformed for nearly two centuries until recently, is again being staged in all its spectacle.
To see it, you’ll have to go to Melbourne’s Federation Square, where it’s become part of the annual don’t-fail-to-miss-this Melbourne Festival – an eighteen-days Left-tinged wallow in what the festival website calls “stories and sensations” but might more accurately be described as a farrago of concentrated modish tossery. Tanderrum’s cast sounds big enough to make Cecil B. DeMille envious: “the five clans of the Kulim Nation: Wurundjeri, Boon Wurrung, Taungurung, Dja Dja Wurrung and Wadawurrung”, “facilitated” by a travelling troupe called the Ilbijerri Theatre Company (“We create challenging and inspiring theatre creatively controlled by Indigenous artists”).
Festivalgoers are invited to assume a kind of honorary aboriginality to join in. “Come dance,” the website urges, inviting public participation, though presumably not the sort of public participation we saw the last time there was a big event in Federation Square, when teenage ethnic gangs surged in, outrunning the police and terrifying one and all.
“Through Tanderrum,” proceeds the publicists’ blurb, “we acknowledge the lore of the creator spirit Bunjil” – a clear demonstration of Chesterton’s dictum that when men cease to believe in God they don’t believe in nothing but in anything. Bunjil’s creativity notwithstanding, until the festival took it up four years ago no tanderrum had been “practiced (sic) here in Melbourne since 1835” (are the vast sums of taxpayers’ money spent on these arty bunfights insufficient to employ a copywriter aware of the nuances of English spelling?).
Since 1835? What they mean is since whitey barged into the Arcadian scene. That was the year John Batman sailed up the Yarra and – can we still say this? – founded Melbourne. Was a tanderrum in full swing as he stepped ashore? Was he just in time to catch the last dance? An academic account of what happened next would go like this. Having tricked the representatives of the Kulim Nation into giving him what he called a “place for a village” in exchange for an assortment of mirrors, beads, combs etc., he turned nasty and showed his true colours as a patriarchal invading cultural genocidist by banning future meetings of the five clans on his newly acquired land, perhaps as too noisy. How else can one explain that it was another 177 years before the next tanderrum was “practiced” there?
Or is the website’s “since 1835” a fiction? Could it be that tanderrums were never known before 1835, indeed never known until about ten minutes ago, having been, like some other supposed “indigenous” lore, thought up as part of the current drive to widen the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians? Everyone’s heard of corroborees. Why not tanderrums?
Naturally, this one includes a “welcome to country”. This is another indigenous “tradition” whose origin, far from being lost in the mists of antiquity, is very much visible in not-so-far-distant 1976, when it was invented by Aboriginal campaigner Richard Walley. Ersatz though they are, welcomes to country are now imposed by federal, state and municipal governments all over Australia as obligatory at public events. The Australian citizens who through their governments own the buildings and sites on which they take place are “welcomed” on to their own land as though they were foreigners. Is this not only hypocrisy but insulting and patronising towards Aboriginal Australians? “Let’s pretend you own this site so that we can all play at welcoming and being welcomed.” Imagine the short shrift the welcomers would get if they asked for real ownership of valuable public property, say, for native title to the Sydney Town Hall.
Welcomes, Aboriginal “national” flags flown along with the Australian flag, smoking ceremonies to expel “evil spirits” (even at the supposedly rational CSIRO!) and bien-pensant exercises in racial wedge-creation such as Tanderrum are everywhere now, which raises the question of why so many contemporary Australians of non-Aboriginal background go gaga over all things supposedly Aboriginal. Our grandparents didn’t. School textbooks and magazines and books about Australia up until the 1960s were not disrespectful of Aboriginal customs and traditions (Australia’s best known travel magazine of the time called itself Walkabout) but didn’t treat them as though they were inherently superior to the Anglo-Celtic way of life inherited by the majority. What changed?
What changed is that many Australians and other Westerners discovered self-hatred. They lost respect for their own history and institutions. The Leftist march through the organs of government, instruction and opinion, prefigured in the 1920s by Antonio Gramsci, bore fruit half a century later as the West, led by its elite, began to turn against itself. In schools and universities the impressionable minds of the young soaked up an account of British civilising achievements as being nothing more than a dark saga of invasion, expropriation and exploitation that would make Attila blush. When the Prime Minister himself refers to his country as having been “invaded”, in the way, for example, that the Germans invaded Poland, you know the Left has made its point.
Yesterday’s students are today’s adult voters and festival patrons. They are nice well-meaning people who feel guilty about what they have been told we did to the original inhabitants of this country. They think that by going to Tanderrum or acknowledging “traditional custodianship” or allowing themselves to be welcomed they are helping to make amends, to “promote reconciliation”. They are mistaken. The real plight in which too many Aborigines find themselves is not to be seen at festivals. It is in the outback townships and will not be healed by well-intentioned gestures.
When will guilt-ridden white Australians wake up to the fact that they have been gulled by the peddlers of an ideological mythology adopted by the Left in all ex-colonial countries as a means of undermining the West in general? Is the recent banning of welcomes to country by a Sydney suburban council a hopeful straw in the wind? Indigenous minorities are but one of the “victim groups” cultivated by Marxists with a view to stoking the flames of grievance and thus fragmenting social stability. Harmless in itself, Tanderrum is a small flywheel in this strategy.
Instead of playing into the hands of ideologically driven grievance-mongers and unwittingly perpetuating division, it would be better for everyone with Aboriginal welfare at heart to do their bit for integration as the right future for our country. Integration is working. How else could we have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company?
Published in The Spectator Australia 24 September 2016