Native title decision will be nothing to fear

Photo: File.
Photo: File.

Aboriginal people are not going to take your land – that is not what native title is about.

Although perhaps it would be fair enough if they did.

After all, it was 1037 Englishmen, Scots and Irishmen who voted to end the right of South Australia's first inhabitants to live peacefully on the land that had been theirs for tens of thousands of years, all while sitting in their robes on the benches of Westminster, on the other side of the world.

The legislation they passed, the South Australia Act, described this place as "waste and unoccupied", which was hardly fair.

It was an English king, William IV, who went on to declare the existence of the province of South Australia from afar.

He changed the tune a little, specifying that "nothing ... shall affect or be construed to affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own persons, or in the persons of their descendants, of any lands therein now occupied".

Under an odd-looking gum tree at Glenelg in 1836, Governor John Hindmarsh added in his proclamation that he would "take every lawful means for extending the same protection to the native population as to the rest of His Majesty's subjects".

But the settlers moved in, cleared the land for their farms, and within a century Aboriginal people were banned from living in towns or drinking alcohol or having children in white hospitals, and discouraged from speaking their languages or maintaining their culture.

That was hardly fair.

So perhaps it would be fair if, after those tens of thousands of years, everything from the past 181 were swept away like the relative layer of dust it has been.

But the Ngarrindjeri I have had the opportunity to meet and listen to have made it clear to me that fairness need not mean a tit-for-tat righting of historical wrongs.

Fairness means opportunities for Aboriginal people to work, care for their country and collaborate with everyone who now lives in it.

To me, a non-Aboriginal person with only a limited understanding, fairness means acknowledgement of the past; not personal guilt, but a willingness to recognise the mistakes of those who have gone before us, learn from Aboriginal people in the present, and work together to make a better future.

That's fair enough, isn't it?

Peri Strathearn