Columns

The lingering infection of terra niullius

By JIM POULTER

EVERYBODY is familiar with the term “terra nullius”.

Australia was purportedly owned by no-one and the British used the term to justify colonisation.

Nowadays, almost everyone rejects the validity of this notion, but very few of us really understand its full implications.

We remain essentially unaware of how terra nullius still insidiously and unconsciously influences our thinking.

Aboriginal people hate the term terra nullius with a passion, and rightly so, because it strongly implies that Aboriginal people had a vacuous culture and achieved nothing.

After all, they were just a primitive bunch of people wandering around bumping into trees.

They did not use the land, had not even invented the wheel, and their only technological achievement was a bent stick that came back when you threw it.

Aboriginal people did of course cultivate the land, but not in the intensive, exploitative and unsustainable way that most other world cultures did.

All Aboriginal knowledge was integrated through the totem system to ultimately serve ecological purposes.

So whether it was knowledge related to science, art or religion, it was all focussed on ecological outcomes.

Even the nursery rhymes sung to little children had an ecological message.

Think of all the descriptors usually applied to traditional Aboriginal society.

Words like simple, primitive, pagan, uncivilized, nomadic, stone-age, hunter-gatherers.

These are all pejorative terms that put western civilisation at the highest level and Aboriginal society at the lowest level.

Never mind that western society has over the last 3000 years had a history of internecine war, conquest, rolling plagues, overpopulation, social inequality, gross disparities of wealth and poverty, plus religious and political persecution.

Aboriginal society had none of this, but ironically the sustained warfare of European and Asian history created the spur for technological achievement.

This technological advancement is then taken as a sign of a “higher” civilization.

Darwin put forward the idea of natural selection and this was immediately seen as a justification for western conquest and colonisation of others.

It was simply “survival of the fittest” in action. Many world cultures are so inured by their histories of warfare, that it is regarded as part of human nature. Many people therefore flatly refuse to believe there were never any wars of conquest or invasion in Aboriginal Australia.

The proof that there were no wars of conquest is simple.

Show me one myth, story, legend, dance or song from anywhere in Australia that depicts either the victories of a warrior king, the subjugation and enslavement of others, or an uprising against a despotic ruler. It just never happened.

The real problem is that spurious notions like this have seeped into our consciousness and we do not know how to challenge these received wisdoms.

This is the foundation of institutional racism, the process by which prejudicial ideas are ingrained into present day social perceptions.

However, this should not be interpreted as meaning that Australians are racist.

Australians are overwhelmingly fair minded people who meet and greet people as equals.

This is the cornerstone of our national culture. But what we fail to understand is how the prejudices of our forefathers continue to unwittingly shape our thinking.

The idea of terra nullius is in fact behind our inability to recognise a road or highway we are travelling on as an ancient songline.

It is behind our inability to recognise a river rapids area, like at Warrandyte township, as an original site for fish traps or a mussel farm.

It is also the reason why many historians make blatant errors when they try to interpret Aboriginal behaviours.

Their assumptions are often unconsciously based on ideas of European superiority.

Before giving a classic example of this fallacious thinking I will cite two facts.

First, Aboriginal people had ingrained cultural habits of listening and sound replication that made them gifted linguists. All Aboriginal children were brought up multilingual.

Second, Aboriginal people travelled extensively and safely through other tribal areas as long as they stuck to the designated songline and observed proper protocol.

However, when Aboriginal people tried to communicate these protocols to early colonists, it was wrongly assumed that Aboriginal people were frightened to leave their own country.

In 2008, AFL historian Gillian Hibbins, dismissed the possibility of any connection between Marngrook and Australian Football with the comment, “Aborigines….lived within quite clearly defined tribal areas, speaking a language different from those of other tribal areas.

“Aboriginal tribal strangers were regarded with suspicion and did not trespass without being killed.”

This comment clearly painted Aboriginal people as a simple, primitive, xenophobic and violent bunch.

Its roots were clearly embedded in the notion of terra nullius.

The comment is a glowing example of institutional racism by a historian who claims for herself the highest standards of academic scholarship.

Unfortunately, it is just one of many examples of the lingering infection of terra nullius.

It’s a jungle in the garden

Caught in the act

IT WAS JUST on dusk.

The male blue banded bees were erratically flying near the stems where they usually roost.

They should have begun to settle by now.

Only one or two had settled near the end of a stem that seemed to have an unusual bit of bright green foliage further down the stem.

This foliage was swaying and it was not from the wind.

I realised I was seeing an adult false garden mantis, usually enchanting to me, but this one was preying on one of my male blue banded bees.

Was I ever torn!

Should I take photos and let nature take its course, or save my special bees?

Perhaps as a compromise I took a quick photo then gently grasped the mantis and removed it from the area to discourage it from becoming a serial bee killer.

I felt a bit guilty that I caused it to drop the bee in its grasp which was already dead.

I guess a mantis has to eat too.

Philosophically, I might think that near the end of the season for blue banded bees most of the females may already have mated.

So perhaps one could say that the males had served their life purpose and that feeding a mantis could be their last remaining service.

Just two days ago I was marvelling at the lovely sight of the roosting blue banded bees.

I photographed them quickly before the sun touched them with a magic wake up call.

They were like a string of precious beads to me.

I had seen scattered ones earlier in the season but on this day I counted 17.

Each used its yellow jaws to clasp an arching dried stem where it would spend the night.

Their wings and hair on their bodies appeared undamaged so I assumed they had recently emerged from their nests.

Near the same spot last season, I first watched males jostling for the best roosting position in my garden.

That year I never counted more than nine.

I believe the population is growing as my pollinator garden develops.

Females must be nesting nearby but so far I have searched for their nesting burrows in vain.

If anyone in the greater Warrandyte region has discovered the female blue banded bees’ nests on their patch, please tell me.

My first leaf-cutting bee

Before I leave the topic of native bees I want to announce I have at least one leaf-cutting bee species in my garden.

This one is almost as large and its buzz is nearly as loud as the blue banded bees.

It is unlikely to use my bee posts where, closely related, the resin bees are quite at home.

I now search the broad-leaf plants in my garden for the perfect circle these bees cut out to line the cells of their nests.

Of course this may be occurring in my neighbours’ gardens.

Rose bushes, not found in my garden are a favourite.

However, they must have used indigenous plants in the past.

So far, my photos of them aren’t good enough for the Diary.

Finding the nests and getting better photos are my next challenge.

Caught in the act number two

“What is this very colourful bug on my eucalyptus tree?”

I’m often asked this time of year.

Hearing, “It is yellow-orange with blue diamonds on its back”, I suspect a juvenile of the aptly named eucalyptus tip wilter bug, amorbus species, as seen in my photo.

The adult in the next photo is larger with impressive looking hind legs but a rather drab brown by comparison.

Many are in my garden but little harm has been done.

Yellow-spotted epicoma moth

These notodontid moth caterpillars are very hairy and may be processionary as they move from one place to another.

Their hairs can cause a painful allergic reaction in people.

The larvae feed on the foliage of casuarina, eucalyptus, leptospermum and melaleuca species.

They are dark grey and hairy, but the head capsule is white with red sides bordered with black.

Pupation takes place in a sparse elliptical cocoon amongst the leaves or leaf litter of the food plant.

Some of the irritating hairs are attached to the pupal case.

The adults are frequently seen in summer to early autumn around Melbourne.

The month ahead

Until we have good rain, remember to leave drinking water at ground level for a range of small animals as well as keeping the birdbaths clean and full.

Honey bees may also visit but native bees get the liquid they need from nectar.

March is still a good month to watch for interesting insects including butterflies.

Let us know what you observe in your area.

Son-of-Kev: The legend lives on

By KATRINA BENNETT

Nothing says Aussie summer more than a beer and a barbie on the deck, surrounded by gum trees and your mates.

If you’re lucky enough to live in our fair suburb bisected by the Yarra, then you can probably add a few snakes, a half-dozen cashed up hippies and a couple of kookaburras.

Yes, let’s discuss dacelo novaeguineae.

Our chortlelicious feathered friend. The laughing kookaburra, known also as the kingfisher.

I’ve lived on the banks of the Yarra for a few years now and not once have I seen these jokers of the bush fish a king out the river.

Although, if recent photos are accurate, our king in all but name, Prince Phillip, looks like he’s just been fished out of somewhere.

But my personal favourite name for these fiendish feathered rapscallions is the laughing jackass.

The name conjures up images of toothless locals from the dirt farm, Idaho or a schoolie returning from the Gold Coast.

Now, don’t go thinking of me as some sort of amateur ornithologist.

Of course, not to be confused with an orthodontist, although, like the damn kookaburras, they also laugh when they see me coming.

Think of me more as an overcooked snag that the local kookaburra population has their beady eyes on. They’ve always had their eyes on me.

Just three years ago, I credited Kev, the tame patriarch of my property’s bird population for saving my life.

Yes, you read correct.

Saved.

My.

Life.

Kev had seen a few summers I reckon.

He was a bit scrawny and missing a few feathers but my little friend faithfully followed me around whenever I cut the grass.

One day, when I was nearing the end of pushing my lawn mower around for six kilometres in 40 degrees, Kev wacked me clean in the ear with his beak and growled as he swooped past.

Startled, I looked down and froze with my foot approximately two centimetres above a coiled tiger snake.

Needless to say Kev didn’t have to follow me anymore, he got to sit on the handle of the lawnmower and casually flutter down to the ground whenever he spied a tasty morsel in the grass.

But like all living legends his time eventually came and he became a legend. Fast forward three years and the son of Kev is now a grown up.

With his cocky strut and punk hairdo, he heads up the local avian chapter now.

Like all younger generations he wants to do things differently.

Mums and dads are soooo lame.

The minutest click from the BBQ starter button sends a ripple through the trees as Son-of-Kev and his mates desert the skate park, leaving their West End fish and chips for the pigeons.

By the time we attempt to sit down and eat, we are surrounded on all sides.

One by one my brave family slink away with their dinner plate to the sanctuary of indoors, heads tucked in their t-shirts.

Until it’s just me, three chicken wings and a Greek salad left to defend the family name.

Before I know, I’m one chicken wing and an olive down.

That’s OK, Son-of-Kev’s reaction to the olive is not dissimilar to mine.

My mirth over watching him trying to spit the wretched thing out is short lived as one of his cronies’ swoops from the pool fence and I’m left nursing some fetta and the final chicken wing.

Time slows down as we eye each other off. My world recedes to just Son-of-Kev, myself, and a water sprayer.

Like an old time gunslinger, I’m onto that trigger and spraying my nemesis fair in the feathers.

Turns out birds aren’t like cats; they don’t recoil from the spray, no, not Son-of-Kev.

Son-of-Kev lifts his wings, pirouettes to get full coverage, angles his head and winks at me.

Stymied, I’m hungry and I’m losing my sense of humour. It’s become woman vs wild. What would Mrs Bear Grylls do?

Option one: Backflip out of a plane.

Pointless, Son-of- Kev flies for a living and would probably show me up by doing a 720 cork.

Option two: Drink your own urine.

Seems extreme, I still have my water sprayer.

Option three: Defend yourself.

My eyes slide across the deck to where we keep our sports equipment.

Nodding my head, I glide out of my chair.

Turns out some Kookaburras are made of willow.

And nothing says Aussie summer more than cricket.

 

   Photo: Thomas Hudec

 

 

 

We wish you a Merry Excess-mas

‘TIS THE SEASON to be Jolly… But how often do we really feel that way during the festive season?

I would feel more jolly if the whole thing was a little less excessive!

Most jollies are felt when getting excessively merry at a social gathering, or that special feeling of unbuttoning your pants after over-indulging on a ridiculous amount of food at the Christmas table.

These states would better be described as drunk and bloated, but for some reason, “jolly” seems to make these behaviours acceptable at this time of year.

I propose we rename the day to what it has actually become… Excess-mas.

Let’s be honest, the number of people who celebrate this day based on the birth of Christ is declining.

What has the day become about instead?

Well, excessive consumption basically.

If you’re a kid, it’s about Father Christmas, and what presents you’ll get from whom.

If you’re not a kid (or you’ve been naughty), then it’s about the gifts you must get for others, the maximum volume of food and drink you can possibly buy, prepare and consume, and how you should participate in all the other traditional rituals… the symbols of which have mostly become quite materialistic.

Take for example the act of buying a Christmas tree.

There is a tradition of cutting a baby pine tree down, thus killing it, so we can put it inside for a couple of weeks during December.

Some buy a plastic one to avoid the mess or allergies, and hopefully reuse it year-on-year.

And then we decorate it, usually with disposable plastic ticky-tack bling, which we often want to replace the following year.

Decorating the house is something that can quite a joy, but so many people seem to go right over the top, running excessive strings of lights and/or inflatable Santa’s and so on.

For those hosting their family on the big day, so much fuss goes into the house being just so; the table must be a work of art fit for Mr and Mrs Claus themselves to sit at, there cannot be a blade of grass out of place, and the massive amounts of food being prepared has to be exactly perfect.

So much stress.. excessive.

Then there is the buying of gifts, which seems to be something often done through obligation, rather than love.

I remember when the art of gift-giving was valued, and people took time to think about what their friends and family members might enjoy or be able to use.

It’s now the trend to “just get them a voucher, so they can choose”, thus avoiding having to make a decision, or risk making the wrong one.

Kris Kringle must surely have been conceived by either a Communist or an accountant, overwhelmed by the excessive number of gifts they felt obliged to buy.

This logically constructed system efficiently simplifies the task of gift giving, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of sharing love and respecting personal connections.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas!

I have a few ideas to help us be a little lighter on the planet this festive season, and to get back in touch with the festive spirit.

I’m certainly not aiming to take the fun away, rather lets contemplate what might happen if we started doing things a little bit differently.

How about if we all used living Christmas trees in pots (preferably natives), and planted them after we’re done.

Result = Carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat creation

Consider if we gifted only second-hand or hand-created items, or at least had a “no plastic packaging” rule amongst the family.

Result = Recycling, creativity, cost-savings, reduced plastic waste

Imagine we took the time to create personalised cards (perhaps with our own art or a meaningful photo) with some thoughtfully chosen words, to empower all of our loved ones for the coming year.

Result = Sharing love and gratitude, creative self-expression

For the person that has it all, or really is “impossible to buy for” could we buy something for a less privileged person on the other side of the world instead?

I’m imagining gifting my mother with a card, showing that her gift is going to provide an education to a girl in Africa, or similar.

Result = the joy of changing someone’s life is long-lasting, deeply fulfilling, and humbling

How about creating beautiful unique looking gifts, wrapped in recycled paper or newspaper, with glamorous and/or functional ribbon / rope / dried flowers etc to decorate them.

Result = all the fun of unwrapping, with less waste

Could you get by with less dead animals on your table?

Perhaps one type of meat is enough.

Result = Cost saving, better digestion, less animal suffering

Much of what is special about Christmas is tied to traditions.

It’s important to respect and honour traditions that bring us together, and it’s also healthy to move on from bad habits which no longer serve us.

We don’t want to end up looking like the bulging hairy man in red, carrying around a heavy bag of “stuff”!

So Come All ye Faithful, lets enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas in moderation, and bring Joy to the World, with a Silent Night or two Away in a Manger, to keep calm and preserve peace on Earth.

The way of the Ninja

After growing up on video games like Tehchu and Shinobi, I recently discovered that I could actually practice Ninjutsu and become a Ninja master myself — well who could resist that opportunity.

Jokes aside, Ninjutsu is a serious discipline which teaches its students self-defence from both physical attacks and weapons, when there is one opponent or many, as well as stealth, camouflage and bush craft skills like shelter building and first aid.

The classes are held weekly and go through training cycles of punches, kicks, stealth and weapons — the week I joined the class was weapons, so after a lengthy — but necessary — warm-up we each collected a rubber knife and set about learning how to defend ourselves against an attacker with a knife.

The small group was fun to train with and I am glad the knives were rubber as this reporter is feeling particularly sliced and diced after going through the process of learning five knife attack techniques and the ways in which these are blocked. Now, hold off on your letters to the editor accusing us of encouraging people to start knife fights, the emphasis in the class is very much on the way to defend yourself and to use your opponents weight and momentum against them, to “stop the force” or “follow the force” as our instructor said.

After learning the techniques and sparring in pairs, we got the opportunity to put our skills into practice in a free-for-all sparing session where you had to watch not only the person in front of you, but those around you as well.

I have tried both Karate and Jujitsu as a child and it has been a long time since I tried a martial-arts class but this was lots of fun.

The focus is on using your opponent’s strengths to your advantage, which teaches the philosophy of avoiding fights, not starting them, they even teach techniques to deal with bullying in everyday life.

If you are involved in any of the Warrandyte Primary School after hours programs you may (or may not) have seen these black clad silent warriors practicing in the Bampi. Either way, if you are looking for a martial-art with a difference, this may just be the one to try.

Now, with a subtle act of distraction [throws smoke bomb], I’m off to my next active assignment.

If you would like to train to be a Ninja too, visit: khninja.com.au