Beware, the aliens are already among us
Oscillating and iridescent, improbable and emphatically uninvited, the vast UFO hovered above Canberra like a vast buttock hovering over a toilet seat. It finally settled, crushing both Treasury and Foreign Affairs beneath its intergalactic bulk.
Emerging from a luminous sphincter, the new arrivals were reassuringly humanoid, but differently pigmented (pick a colour, any colour - green, purple or blue). Observing the ancient protocols of colonists, they planted a flag bearing an enigmatic cipher on some singed lawn and shot a few passers-by (pollies and public servants) with weapons not contemplated by the Howard gun laws. In the days and months that followed, acts of sporadic carnage, climaxing with a few halfhearted attempts at out and out genocide, made it clear that they meant business. And meant to stay.
While similar craft landed in other capitals, we greatly outnumbered the Blues (let's settle on blue) in the initial stages of the invasion. But we had no defence against their weaponry.
And no immunity from the diseases they brought with them.
The most brutal of them - we called them purple-necks - mixed toxins in our water and food supplies. The onslaught of their bureaucrats was more subtle - they announced that we were an inferior form of life and, therefore, unworthy of citizenship. Our electoral, educational and judicial systems were dismantled, and it was announced that we would not be included in any future census. Within a few years, those of us not killed or poisoned or wiped out in epidemics were driven from home, hearth and suburb. Only one group among the newcomers showed the slightest interest in us or in our culture - and that a condescending One. Members of the Blues' priestly caste set about ridiculing and destroying our religions, forcing us to profess a belief in a Blue person who had, it seemed, risen from the dead on a remote solar system quite a few light years back.
While despising us, the bureaucrats held out some hope for our children. So they began systematically kidnapping them. Thousands upon thousands of terrified kids were torn from the arms of sobbing parents. Over a period of decades, a third of our children were stolen.
We were tyrannised, demoralised, dispossessed, marginalised.
Is it surprising that we despaired? Any confidence in our past, in our future, ourselves, evaporated. Huddled in shanty-towns on the outskirts of what had previously been comfortable, coherent communities, we became dependent on a narcotic provided by the Blues, a powder that, if taken in sufficient quantities, dulled our pain. Unfortunately, it also dulled our perceptions and destroyed what was left of our health. Consequently, the Blues treated us with greater contempt and indifference. The best we could expect from them was pity and pity's economic expression, charity.
As the years passed, some of the invaders graduated from pity to an emotion resembling guilt. Others, belatedly, deemed us a subject worthy of anthropological study. We were photographed, prodded, measured and a few Blue scholars attempted to speak our language which, by then, we had all but forgotten. Oh, some of us tried to maintain the old traditions, attempting to pass on to those kids we'd be allowed to keep a glimmering of our beliefs, practices and history. But even the kids who weren't kidnapped were lost to us. They were so seduced by the rabid technology of the Blues that many of them began to share the invaders' contempt for their parents.
After some generations had passed, a few of the brighter Blues showed interest in our arts and crafts. While they couldn't be compared for a moment with their own creative expressions, they could be sold as souvenirs to the Green, Red and polka-dotted people who visited from their galaxies. But while immense prices were paid to the Blue gallery owners, our artists received next to nothing.
Meanwhile our men were used as cheap labour in the vast Pastoral enterprises established by the Blues - raising the strange quadrupeds imported from their ancestral planet.
These animals were, incidentally, wholly inappropriate to the landscape; their massive bulk splintering the fragile earth and causing unimaginable erosion.
Across the continent there, were many accounts of our women being raped and sad, confused, hybrid children began to appear. The Blues invariably denied parentage but, fortunately, the kid, were accepted by the white fringe-dwellers.
When we were not being brutalised or treated with brutal indifference, we were patronised, every decision made for us by the Blue bureaucrats. The decisions were not wise. Two hundred years after the first UFO had arrived in Canberra, our infant mortality rate was, five, 10 times higher than that of the Blues. And we had half the life expectancy. Treated as outsiders, we died from diseases that had long since disappeared in the Blues' communities. Our young men, embittered and angry, hanged themselves in the Blues' prisons. Prisons, the only places built by the Blues where whites were always welcome. Almost miraculously, leaders began to emerge from among us, men and women of dignity and defiance who tried to lift us up, to negotiate with the culture that had overwhelmed us. The tasks seemed insurmountable and, again and again, our best and brightest abandoned the fight. Embittered, burned out.
This science fiction is, of course, analogous to historic fact.
Replace the iridescent metal of the UFO with the white sails of Cook's Endeavour and the outcomes are identical. The inhabitants of that well-known continent, terra nullius, were crushed by a people who combined advanced technology with limited perceptions. They were robbed of birthright, health and hope. They paid the price of the invader's greed and political ineptitude. They endured endless degradations and humiliations. And it seems that little had been learned since our Unidentified Floating Objects arrived in the 18th century - that we're determined to enter the 21st with our prejudices more or less intact. We remain determined to treat our Indigenous neighbours as a national nuisance, a blight on our landscape. Our landscape, not theirs. We continue the ongoing process of denigration and denial, bigotry and hostility. We blame these decent, remarkably forgiving people for what we've done to them.
You've seen the photographs - Aborigines chained together, iron rings around necks an ankles.
Scores of white communities across Australia keep their dark secrets - the massacre sites where Aboriginal families were rounded up and slaughtered. Others know where Aborigines were herded off the cliffs.
The only place where Aborigines were valued - cash-valued - was on the cattle properties. Black labour employed on terms barely distinguishable from slavery, was as crucial to northern pastoralists as it was to plantation owners in the Deep South of the United States. History records that when West Australian graziers offered a property for sale, they would list the acreage, the miles of fencing, the size If the herd and "the number of niggers" on the bill of sale.
In 1996, after the great step forward of Mabo, we see some of the most powerful vested interests in the country wanting to take two steps back, to further dispossess the dispossessed. To push them from the leftover lands that have proved too hard for crops or cattle but that turn out to be rich in minerals.
These savageries are, of course, not exclusive to Australia. We've witnessed the same ruthlessness in North, Central and South America as white communities debauched the indigenous peoples they had not managed to destroy. Indonesians are behaving just as brutally in Irian Jaya, while native peoples in South Asia are being driven from their chainsawed jungles. What Australia has done may be no worse, but it's certainly little better. This despite our collective delusions that the words "a fair go" are emblazoned on the shield between our heraldic 'roo and emu. Sadly our coat of arms looks increasingly like your typical rural roadsign, peppered with the bullets of bigotry.
A system of government that breaks the spirit of a Noel Pearson stands condemned. With Mabo under frenzied attack by conservative governments, with the Cape York agreement trashed by Rob Borbidge, Pearson has walked away. The vacuum his absence creates may well be filled try the opportunists and crazies of black politics - a gift to white bigotry. Australian public life has been well served by the likes of Pearson, Lois O'Donoghue, Pat Dodson and Marcia Langton. To crush their attempts at conciliation and reconciliation is an act of political madness. Worst of all, there's talk of John Howard using Aboriginal issues as the trigger for a double dissolution which, in turn, will open the floodgates of racism and resentment, so that the most sensitive of all policy issues will be dictated by talkback radio.
No one pretends that Aboriginal issues aren't agonisingly difficult. With the best will in the world, the problems can seem intractable. I remember standing with John Gorton on the steps of the old Parliament House, looking down at a group of Aborigines involved in a somewhat feeble demonstration, and hearing that decent man mumble: "Inoperable cancer, inoperable cancer." That's often how it looked, how it seemed. After 40,000 years of being separated by vast distances and 500 languages, Aboriginal society was anything but monolithic.
In more recent times, there has been deepening divisions between traditional and urban communities.
I have long been astonished by the willingness of Aborigines to forgive white Australia its sins of commission and omission. Was there ever a less embittered, better humoured people? They've taken the worst that we could throw at them and survived. Which is where the analogies of my piece of science fiction break down. Despite the genocidal onslaught, Aborigines and their communities have not only refused to succumb but, miraculously, have refused to hate. Moreover communities separated by clan, language and distance have forged links that have effectively produced a sense of Aboriginal nationhood. In a country where many whites have never met an Aborigine, where the Aboriginal population amounts to a tiny percentage of the total, the world's oldest continuing culture is increasingly well informed and their political nous admired by indigenous people around the world.
In the 1960s, Aboriginal politics involved mimicry of African-American idioms and methodologies - but in the past 20 years indigenous politics have been truly indigenous. Lacking a sophisticated middle-class, Australia's Aborigines can still only field a few dozen highly sophisticated activists - and they have to contend with hostility from within their communities well as from the outside world. And again and again the side has been let down by opportunists within Aboriginal organisations who have little compunction about ripping of the system, at the cost of their own people.
Yet an Aboriginal leadership has evolved that is focused, honourable and eminently reasonable. And it is these people the conservative governments of Australia are actively undermining. They know that recent election results demonstrate a political bonus to proclamations of bigotry, that a little bit of racism can add considerably to an electoral swing. Thus the spirit of reconciliation is being replaced by cynicism and opportunism, leading to a dangerously combustible situation that not only turns back the clock but rips out the mechanism.
In recent years there have been signs of improvement.
Reconciliation had seemed more than a political piety. In destroying the fiction of terra nullius and in picking up on the major themes of the land rights movement, Mabo was, by any measure, an immensely significant milestone.
Now a nincompoop of a federal minister joins forces with reckless, rapacious premiers to vandalise what has been achieved in race relations in our country. And make no mistake - finally it isn't the issue of the republic that will define Australia's place in the world, let alone our balance of payments. It is our treatment of Aboriginal Australians that the world, and history, will judge us by. And at the moment, the verdict can only be guilty. Very guilty indeed.