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Robbie Thorpe of the Gunai Nation

Native Forest Network- Australian Forest Conference October 24, 25 1994

Thanks for the invitation to speak to you.

What I'd like to talk about is the relationship to the land Aboriginal people have and how the destruction of our land also represents the destruction of Aboriginal people. That can be seen right across the face of this planet. You even have indigenous people destroying their own land now, to enable themselves to survive. It's an absolute tragedy that this is happening. I'd just like people to remember that. If you look at Australia's record in terms of its conservation record, Australia is the worst in terms of loss of species and the loss of natural environment.

I want to talk about the law, because I see that as the most important thing. I also see the law as it is today as the single most destructive thing in the Australian environment. What I mean by that is that the law that we live under in this country is an alien law which was imposed on this country. It was imposed through an invasion. It is important to remember that it is an invasion. A lot of people say that it was a settled country. It's not true. A fleet of ships came out here captained by an English naval officer, Captain James Cook. That is an aggressive thing to do, to send a fleet of ships out to another country. Cook's instructions were to get consent from the Aboriginal people. That's European law instructing their agents to act lawfully/ legally to get the consent of the Aboriginal people. That failed to happen. We all know the story of Terra Nullius. For the people that don't know what Terra Nullius means, it's a Latin term meaning empty land. That's how this place was occupied. That's what justified the occupation of these lands. That was only overturned in late 1992.

Under the guise of Terra Nullius the British set about committing genocide on the indigenous people. There's been a lot of talk about how many Aboriginal people lived in this country prior to the European invasion. For a long time it was suggested that there were 300 000 Aboriginal people in this country. I would suggest that there were 300 000 people in Tasmania alone!

So that gives you an insight into the magnitude of the crime that's been commited in this country. Genocide is the worst crime known to man. That is how everybody in this room is in this country today. A legal lie which covered up the genocide of the Aboriginal people and also covered the unbelievable destruction of our lands.

If people can imagine what it was like in this country 200 years ago, or 157 years ago in Victoria, you don't realise what you've missed out on. You don't know nothing about what life is all about. The condition this country is in, now has 1/10th of it's beauty left, if I can put it like that. It was an absolutely beautiful country. Probably the most important thing, because of the way Aboriginal people looked after the land, because of the way that they respected the law of the land, we had something to offer our children and that was a future. That was the driving force behind our conservation. We were always going to be here in this country. We were a part of the creation. A part of this country just like any other of the animals that are here. The flora and fauna.

Aboriginal people are a crucial element in that ecology. The crucial element. My fears are that when that crucial element is finally destroyed, I feel that the land will suffer as a result. You've got to remember that the indigenous people have a spiritual relationship to the land. It's vitally important. It seems as though the white man must have been spiritual people at some stage of their history. But over generations of being dehumanised and dispossessed from their own lands they've lost the connection to the land. This is a key for survival on the planet. Australia can't stand another 200 years of ignorance. It won't last that long!

Australia was the last continent to be colonised. The technologies that they brought to this country have destroyed the country in an unbelievably short space of time and it was a very delicate country to start with. We haven't got much time. There doesn't seem to be very much on the horizon for Aboriginal people particularly in the southern parts of Australia...

The Labor government have had a free run. They've done what they've wanted to do. They reckon that they've tidied the back issues all up, which have been a major bugbear in this country. Aboriginal people have never been part of this system. We've been on the outside. We've never voted. Never been a part of this so called democratic system. What the Labor government is trying to do is absorb the Aboriginal people so that our struggle is no more. This is all about to happen. I reckon they want it all tidied up by the time 2000 comes. They don't want any loose cannons running around when the Olympic Games is going on, they don't want to be embarrassed. That's where our people come in. We see these international events as our only opportunity to expose the hypocrisy, the racism and the genocide which Australia is guilty of. It's the only opportunity we have.

I don't know of any Aboriginal people down south who are happy about Native Title. I don't know any Aboriginal people down here who are happy about reconciliation or Social Justice Packages. Under the Social Justice Packages each Aboriginal person will get $125 a year for 10 years. This is supposed to compensate the Aboriginal people for the genocide, the theft of our land and the 150 years of oppression that we've been living with. On top of all this Aboriginal people don't want to assimilate. We're not impressed by your so-called civilisation. Your relationship to the creator, it's non-existent as far as we're concerned and we don't want to assimilate into some dark age legal system either.

So, we've got good reasons to be resisting. But as time goes on the resistance weakens amongst Aboriginal people. I make the analogy. You can't put a bone on the ground down there and not expect a starving dog not to eat it. This is the trap that the White man uses against Aboriginal people. He puts money in front of Aboriginal people knowing that they need it desperately. But the strings attached to that weaken their rights and resistance all the time. We're slowly being absorbed into their racist, non-sustainable system. We don't want to assimilate into something like that. I think that some of the most foolish and ignorant people on earth live in Australia and that's reflected by what they've done to the environment.

If people only understood how much Aboriginal people loved this land and how much a part of it we are. Aboriginal people are a crucial part to the ecology of this country. We are the crucial part if we die so will the land. It's our creation. We know the songs for our country. White fellas don't know them songs. They don't know how to sing the spirit of this land. Who's going to do that? What I'm saying is that to live in this country you're going to need the Aboriginal people to survive too.

How that can be arranged, is like any other country in the world, you're expected to go through customs before you enter that country. You're also expected to live by the law of that country. The difference for Australia is that when white man came here he brought his law too and like I said that is the single most destructive thing in this environment. It allows for the destruction of our trees. It allows for the mining of our resources.

The thing about the white man's law is that it's illegal because Cook didn't get consent. A legal instruction from the crown, he didn't do that. This is what the whole Native Title issue is about in some respects... Because he didn't get that consent, they came into this country and didn't know the law of the land. As a result you probably have the greatest ecological disaster and biological catastrophe on the face of the planet.

I don't know whether people have been around the country recently where you see that it's drying out pretty badly. Even places like the rainforests around Nimbin and those areas up there, you can go down 3-4 feet into rainforest areas and it's dust. That tells the Aboriginal people something about what's going to happen.

Everything that is happening to our people is because the law of the land has been broken. You need to go back to the law of the land. Once upon a time all your people lived under the law of the land. If you have a look at the old maps of Europe you have a look at how that's broken up into tribal groups. There's probably more tribal groups in Europe than there is in this country.

Alot of people talk about this Gondwanaland way back when. We can recognise that too, because that's when the law was there for everybody. There's no way that this planet would have survived for as long as it did, if people didn't live by the law of the land. Breakdown of law results in catastrophe. Aboriginal people can attest for that. We knew about 2 major floods, because our people sais that the law was broken. And it's very similar with what's going on in this country today. It's the right circumstances for that to happen again. But this is nothing new for Aboriginal people. Our people knew that the day that the white man arrived that it was the beginning of the end. In fact we described the Europeans as dead people. People without spirit and people without colour. They were a pale and sick looking people. The older people, the wise ones, said to the people, the props that hold up the sky in the spirit world were beginning to rot. They said this more than 100 years ago. This is the wise Aboriginal people. The people who could communicate with the spirit world. They said that it was the beginning of the end. 150 years later you've got things like Ozone problems...a whole host of problems...but our people have known that since then and our people have been resisting white man ever since. Ever since he put his foot in this country. He didn't know how to act honourably or legally and that's the problem. There's no honour here. Aboriginal people can deal with people honourably. We've a great social way. We're friendly, we care, we share. Our culture is based around those things. It's nothing to be afraid of.

So unless the law of this land is recognised and Aboriginal people survive, forget about the forest, forget about the trees, forget about all the animals, forget about anything that's native in this country because it won't survive. We are the totem link to those animals. We've got a spiritual link to them. We die, they die. They die, we die and you can see that pattern all around the world. Where there's land being destroyed, indigenous people are suffering. It's pretty logical really. That's the story.

What I see is the answer is that when people finally do through customs in this country and learn about the law and be a part of this country instead of being apart from it, is to go through that law recognise the legal facts in this country and justify your occupation of it. We know that the white government is not going to do that. They're not interested. They program has always been genocide for the indigenous people of Australia. That's why they called it a Terra Nullius. The plan was to wipe out the indigenous people before the rest of the world even knew about it. It's pretty pathetic little plan and they underestimated the Aboriginal people and our resilience to it all.

What's happening now with Native Title, if Aboriginal people accept Native Title which is another thing that's been imposed upon us, this will justify all that has happened to Aboriginal people and it will justify legally the white man being in this country. If we accept Native Title, which is a huge compromise as far as Aboriginal people are concerned, it means we compromise our culture, our law. Aboriginal people need support here. We're promoting the right law. We're promoting a just cause, but we've got no support. How many Jaadwa people near Bendigo do you know? They were a nation. The Bunnorong, they've basically been exterminated, my people...exterminated. The odds of us getting up and pushing our line here are about 15 000 000 : 1. 20 years ago it was 100 000 000 : 1, that we'd ever see any sort of justice in this country. But we've still got a long way to go.

If you don't live under the law of the land you're going to destroy the land. It goes for every other place in the world too. Indigenous people belong to those areas. They are indigenous. They are like the indigenous flora and fauna. It's just the human element and that's what people don't understand. They don't know where the human element fits into the environment. They know all about the koala bears and the blue gum trees. But they don't know where they fit into the scheme of things. But there's a simple little blueprint about where you do fit in. That's in the Aboriginal mode. That's the law of the land. Our people had it worked out to a tea. We had a future there for our children. That's what civilisation means to me.

It's very important to understand where you fit into the environment. Where do you fit? Do you know anything about the law of the land? Do you know the people's land that you're living on? I'm sure alot of people wouldn't know. I'm sure alot of people could tell me the names of 5 to 6 Indian tribes in America. But they couldn't tell me 5 here. They couldn't tell me the names of 5 Aboriginal leaders but they could tell me 5 Indian leaders. It's amazing, because the Aboriginal people are the most studied or researched people on earth and yet the most ignorant people about Aboriginal people on this planet are the Australia people. How do you figure that? That's a fact.