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					RELIGION AND POLITICS IN AUSTRALIA LECTURE 18 (October 8 2007) ABORIGINAL SPIRITUAL BELIEFS AND AUSTRALIAN POLITICS 1. Definitions and Questions • Sacred Sites: places that hold religious significance for Aborigines because of their connection with the ancestral spirit beings of Dreamtime. …a large area, such as Uluru; more commonly they are confined to a waterhole, a rock painting, a burial site, a shell midden, a carved tree, or a scattering of artefacts” (Oxford Companion to Australian History) • Dreamtime: refers to the spiritual dimension of Aboriginal existence, linking the present to the time of world creation” (OCAH) • Oral tradition handed down from generation to generation (therefore suspect?); secrecy both on principle and for practical reasons of protection (acceptable to the Western legal tradition?) • Types of religious belief: doctrinal, mythical, ritual, ethical, social and experiential (Maddox). What type are Aboriginal spiritual beliefs? • Is Aboriginal traditional historical and static or evolving? Government is more comfortable with a static tradition. This became an issue in the Coronation Hill case. • Is there something inherent in Aboriginal beliefs that weaken their political impact? That is, because their manifestation is quite different to the doctrinal/personal beliefs of Christianity and some non-Christian religions like Islam and Judaism. • Are Aboriginal beliefs treated less seriously by Australians than Christian beliefs? “Indigenous religion has, at crucial moments in Australian policy and practice, not been accorded respect in equal terms or measure with that accorded to Christian religion” [Hindmarsh Island dispute] (Sheen). • Is the case for land rights made stronger by the language of sacred sites? See Goot and Rowse, Divided Nation, 2007 for public opinion surveys. 2. Sacred Sites and Contemporary Australian Politics • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act (Comm.):”sacredness” is one ground for protecting heritage. An area can be protected from ‘desecration’. • Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (NT): “a site that is sacred to Aboriginals or is otherwise of significance according to Aboriginal tradition”. • April 1993 Aboriginal demands included “”overriding Commonwealth legislation to ensure total security for Aboriginal sacred sites and heritage”. • Patrick Dodson: “The sacred places are not just simply geographically beautiful. They are holy places, even more holy than shrines, but not commercialised. They are sacred.” • John Hewson/Michael Wooldridge/John Coulter [“all of a sudden it has become a sacred site”]: all believe that sacred sites are fabricated for political ends and that this happened with Coronation Hill. 1





• So what happens when sacred sites clash with dams, mines or bridges? Coronation Hill Mine • NT; Hawke government; Resource Assessment Commission (1989) • Oceania, 61 (1991) (Merlan, “The limits of cultural constructionism” • Hawke: “The monumental hypocrisy of this position is mind-boggling. The same people who denigrate blacks in this way can easily accommodate and embrace the bundle of mysteries which make up white Christian beliefs: the virgin birth, the Holy Trinity, God in His (?) heavenwhere is He? (The Hawke Memoirs (1994), pp 505-510) • Whether to allow mining at Coronation Hill in the Kakadu National Park was the Labor government’s biggest environmental/Aboriginal issue prior to the 1990 federal election (P. Kelly, The End of Certainty, 536ff) Alice Springs Dam • NT government; Todd River; Dam; Floods (1980s-1990s) • Central Land Council told minister that dam would destroy a site of great significance to them. Alice Springs Christians said they were divided but “accepted as paramount the principle that all Australians should be free to pursue their religious practices, to observe their sacred rites, and preserve their sacred symbols without hindrance or discrimination on the part of other members of society”. Doe s.116 apply to Aboriginal spirituality? • Wooten, “The Alice Springs dam and sacred sites”, Australian Quarterly, 65 (4), 1993. Maddox, For God and Country, 259-262 Hindmarsh Island Bridge • SA; Goolwa; proposed bridge across to Hindmarsh Island in 1990s; public enquiries; bridge constructed and developers have sued their opponents; argument continues (M. Simons, The Meeting of the Waters (2003). • Maddox, “What is fabrication?”, Australian Religion Studies Review, 11(1); Maddox, For God and Country, 262-270; Maddox, G. U. H., chapter 5; G. Partington, “Determining Sacred Sites”, Current Affairs Bull., 71 (5), 1995; D. Fergie, “Whose Sacred Sites”, CAB, 72 (2), 1995. Concluding Questions • Should protection of sacred sites be absolute? Or should public policy be made on balance of interests? Is consistency with Christianity possible? • Maddox, G. U. H., “It takes an open, welcoming and cosmopolitan spirituality to make room for sacred sites above financial bottom lines” • Are sacred sites religious or cultural sites (Alexander Downer and MM in For God and Country, 274-275 (Reading Brick) • Is it a matter of constitutional religious freedom (for or from religion?) Albanese argues re Hindmarsh Island Bridge, For God and Country, 271-2 • What standards of proof should be required for existence of sacred sites? • How should ‘secret’ beliefs be treated in public policy? • Do land rights need to be sacred to be successful (Brennan in RB)? • Should secularists, for consistency, be skeptical about Aboriginal beliefs?


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