Updated: Feb 7
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains an image of a deceased person.
The phrase 'Truth to Power' - this week's writing prompt given to SSOA's writers attending our weekly Zoom meetups - sums up the current surge in protests to highlight inequalities in many parts of the world. To tell it like it is ...
Google reports that the precise phrase, 'truth to power', was first made public in the 1950s by peace-loving Quakers (the US Religious Society of Friends) - even though the concept had been known and espoused for centuries. The Friends' pamphlet was titled Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence.
As a sign that those in power continue to turn away from facing the truth, let's go back to January 26, 1988. Consider whether much has changed since our indigenous elder Burnum Burnum spoke the truth to 'whitey' at Dover 200 years after English settlement had begun in Australia. The Sydney colonial settlement was established soon after Captain James Cook was sent to explore the southern hemisphere, where he supposedly 'discovered' what became known as terra nullius - as if the country was empty and unnamed simply because the English were ignorant of its existence over previous millennia.
Burnum Burnum's sincere and subtle satire in speaking truth to power about European invasion, occupation and domination, is a joy to read. He placed an Aboriginal flag on British soil, the white cliffs of Dover, and made this declaration:
I, Burnum Burnum, being a nobleman of ancient Australia, do hereby take possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal People. In claiming this colonial outpost, we wish no harm to you natives, but assure you that we are here to bring you good manners, refinement and an opportunity to make a Koompartoo – 'a fresh start'. Henceforth, an Aboriginal face shall appear on your coins and stamps to signify our sovereignty over this domain. For the more advanced, we bring the complex language of the Pitjantjajara; we will teach you how to have a spiritual relationship with the Earth and show you how to get bush tucker. We do not intend to souvenir, pickle and preserve the heads of 2000 of your people, nor to publicly display the skeletal remains of your Royal Highness, as was done to our Queen Truganinni for 80 years. Neither do we intend to poison your water holes, lace your flour with strychnine or introduce you to highly toxic drugs. Based on our 50,000 year heritage, we acknowledge the need to preserve the Caucasian race as of interest to antiquity, although we may be inclined to conduct experiments by measuring the size of your skulls for levels of intelligence. We pledge not to sterilize your women, nor to separate your children from their families. We give an absolute undertaking that you shall not be placed onto the mentality of government handouts for the next five generations but you will enjoy the full benefits of Aboriginal equality.
At the end of two hundred years we will make a Treaty to validate occupation by peaceful means and not by conquest.
Finally, we promise not to make a quarry of England and export your valuable minerals back to the old country Australia, and we vow never to destroy three-quarters of your trees, but to encourage Earth Repair Action to unite people, communities, religions and nations in a common, productive, peaceful purpose.
Burnum Burnum, born in 1936, was an indigenous activist, actor and author. He was a Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta man from Wallaga Lake in southern New South Wales. Originally named Harry Penrith, he took the name of his great grandfather, which means 'Great Warrior'. He died in 1997 at the age of sixty-one.
The declaration was first published in NEXUS New Times Magazine Volume 1, Number 4, 1988 – see http://www.nexusmagazine.com
Photo credits - wiki
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