Saturday, 9 March 2013

Mortimer v Aitkin

I've never made a charitable donation to an Aboriginal organisation, however, should Shane Mortimer win his $6 million dollar lawsuit for damages against Professor Don Aitkin, by his words, it looks like I'm going to do so by default.  

In an article in the Australian from November last year:-

"Mr Mortimer's damages claim included personal damages of $500,000 and $5.5 million to be paid to the Agriculture Arts Residency Kenmore, of which he was chairman. He said $5.5m equated to $10 for each indigenous person counted in the last census."

I could think of many better non-profit organisations than AARK that I would donate money to if it were up to me, but, apparently it is ok to count me in the numbers to get your cash, but not ok to get a general consensus first on whether I, and the other Indigenous Australians you are so generously tin shaking for, approve of what you spend it on.  For the record, I don't.  If you want a massive cash injection into your organisation, this is not the right way to do it.

I do have a couple of questions though.  As the Chairman of AARK, I imagine Shane Mortimer would be able to answer them:-

How much did AARK pay Gregory Fergusson for his paintings?

Is it AARK's standard practice not to work with Aboriginal artists?  (I only ask because the esteemed Gregory Fergusson, a non Indigenous artist, appears to be the only person whose works feature on the website)

Does iArts stand for 'Indigenous Arts', just as the Iagriculture page was titled 'Indigenous Agriculture'?  Or did the fact you only had artworks from a non-Indigenous artist on your iArts page make that a bit difficult?

Aside from all of the above, I'm also curious about Shane Mortimers claim to be an 'Elder'.  I was reading another article today where it mentions that until he was 34 years old, he was not aware of his Aboriginal ancestry.  I have several relatives who refuse the title of Elder, many the same age as Mr Mortimer, all adamant that they cannot be called Elder, as they missed the appropriate initiations at the relevant ages.  In this age of self-appointment, I admire their respect for our culture in its original form, and it is for this very reason that I will never acknowledge Shane Mortimer (and others like him who find their Aboriginality much later in life - such as Mick Harding or Gloria Whalan) as being an Elder.  Loss of your culture is never an excuse for such denigration of those Elders whose titles were given to them in accordance with traditional laws and practices, and by placing yourself in a category with people who have had to prove themselves to their peers, undergo rituals, prove their worth in and among their people and rise to such a position over many years, that is exactly what you are doing.

I tend to view self-appointed, so-called 'Elders' with an especially grim outlook when I see they are also guilty of another common lure - the 'cash for ceremonies' crowd.  Thankfully, I've never been forced to sit through a Welcome to Country, but I imagine if it ever happens, it wouldn't be a pretty sight.  I would probably walk out unless I could be assured of two things - 1) That the person performing the ceremony was truly appointed by the local people as their representative to perform such things with their permission (this is often NOT the case) and 2) That if a fee were to be charged, that the fee go to a fund or trust where ALL the local Aboriginal people (whose land it is performed upon) can gain benefit from it.

If it were a performance by Shane Mortimer, by my own rules, I'd leave the building.  I wouldn't walk completely off the property though, I'd stick around long enough to ask the man who also gave himself the Twitter handle of, wait for it -  'AboriginalElder' - a few questions.


  1. Dallas you know what they say about great minds thinking alike! Yesterday when I read that article about the "possum skin elder" I made a comment to a friend along the same lines you have just used. I actually said "where I am, the elders have to go through initiation and all the resultant ceremonies"
    I cannot understand how some one can be an elder of a culture where you cannot speak the language, understand or have knowledge all the ceromonies that actually created that culture, have no knowledge of the relevant bush tucker and herbal medicines, no knowledge of, or ability to find, water. After all, these were the things, apart from physical appearance that actually defined aboriginal people.
    As for welcome to country ceremonies, well, this is the biggest rort I have seen in years. A hypocritical ceremony performed by someone with no knowledge of the language and culture, simply for kudos and financial gain and endured by a group of people bored out of their skull and having no respect for either the "elder" or the ceremony.
    What most of these "self styled" elders don't realise is that in the north of the country are some traditional kids who are doing well at boarding school and who one day will bring some authenticity into these type of occasions, if at all they are really necessary, which I doubt.

  2. Hi Dallas, as a balding middle class white citizen of this great country THANKYOU. Your candor and honesty are both remarkable and insightful.Have read many of your posts and would love to see your public profile increase .This is for purely selfish reasons and that is to bring some balance and dignity to the debate over funding of indiginous health and welfare. I , and I'm sure many thousands of others would benefit if your intellect where to be made available for public discourse. May I humbly sugest you discuss this with Andrew Bolt as I am sure he also is a great fan and hopefuly help to expose your points of view to a much wider audience. Tony

    1. Hello there Tony, aka Balding and white (great nickname by the way). I just try to call it as I see it, and think I've had some unique life experiences that help me be able to see more of the whole picture.

      I am under no illusion that it helps to be an Aboriginal person when engaging in speaking my mind on these issues. I've said far more frank things than people like Andrew Bolt, content in the knowledge that my cultural rights allow me every word. I think this is wrong though - as Australians, we all should have equal opportunity to air our opinions and views and strive for more debate from more voices rather than closing off who can and cannot contribute to such a worthwhile debate.

      I have taken your suggestion into consideration, but for the time being, this blog is helping me to formalise the many thoughts that I have on all issues Aboriginal and try to bring myself to a level of confidence in my writing that I have been working on for some years now. I have had a very generous offer from a friend to help me with my blog exposure, but the demands at present on my time make it hard to give such an undertaking the time it requires. But it will be soon, I'm ticking things off my 'to do' list every day.

  3. I'm so glad you responded on this one Big Nana.

    So many people are afraid to challenge the 'authority and authenticity' of the overwhelming number of people declaring themselves as Elders, when it is quite obvious that, as you have said, they don't hold true with the requirements of language, traditional knowledge and ceremonies that are so important to the culture they have proclaimed themselves the hierarchy of.

    I'll never be an Elder. Whilst I have had initiation and had knowledge passed to me, it is about more than that and I still have so much to learn, the reality is that what I have is but a fraction of what it takes. I'm now 40, and even if I work the rest of my days and make 'becoming an Elder' my top priority (it isn't, my family and getting my kids to adulthood and beyond safely is), I have such a long way to go to even get close that I don't see it ever happening. And that is ok with me. The respect and title of Elder should only go to those who truly deserve it, and have done all those hard yards and years of sacrifice. To do otherwise continues to cheapen our culture, and I will never be a party to that.

  4. Black Steam Train, one wonders whether you have opened yourself up to being sued by Mortimer for $millions with the comments you have made raising questions about his right to call himself an Elder, and to carry out 'welcome to country' ceremonies.

    I was aware of the $6 million claim and I tracked down the other article you referred to and nearly spilt my coffee reading that!

    I have to wonder whether anyone other than those who are trying to be seen to be politically correct actually take Mortimer seriously? It would be interesting to know if those with indigenous heritage who were born and bred in the local area are comfortable with someone who was born and bred elsewhere getting paid to do 'welcome to country' ceremonies in their country? Assuming of course the information stated in the article indicating Mortimer was raised in Sydney is accurate.

    The problems I have with 'welcome to country' ceremonies are:

    1. If they are ceremonies paid for to an individual who carries the function out for personal profit, then it is hardly a 'welcome' it is an entrance fee.

    2. How long do we keep this tradition going? The next 100 years? a 1,000 years? What if we find there are no individuals with any connection to the local area who want to do the ceremonies? Do we get anyone to do it? Or can we just not have them?

    I don't know how you have managed to avoid them so far, I have been to dozens. It seems they are compulsory at every local council official function, every state government official function, every University function, and at all major cultural festivals, (perhaps because the arts are patronised by left wingers who love this stuff?). The thing is it does start to become meaningless when overdone.

    A final question you may know the answer to. Is Mortimer funding the $6 million legal action himself, or is it funded by the state?

  5. Thanks Dallas, yeh its a bit sad. Also when English is your first language and you're more attuned to white fella ways, you'll talk all over others in a meeting with assumed authority, and actually drown out authentic Indigenous voices. I've seen it happen, and the black fellas from the bush just graciously say nothing, but afterwords tell me (a white fella) that they didn't really agree with what was being said, and even found it offensive. Actually there's heaps of white fellas partnering with communities out bush who have more cultural competence and acceptance than the 'Mortimers' of this world.

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