Australian addresses Aboriginal issues at UNCP


“After this lecture, you will know more about Aboriginal Australia than the average Australian,” said Dr. Anita Heiss, an author, professor and deputy director of the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Anita Heiss
Dr. Anita Heiss talks with UNCP’s Dr. Jay Vest of the American Indian Studies program.

Dr. Heiss, of the Wiradjuri Nation of western New South Wales, spoke on April 27 in the Native American Resource Center of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

She was traveling with a contingent from Macquarie University on a coast-to-coast student recruitment mission. Macquarie is a leading Australian university with an enrollment of 28,000, including 7,000 international students.

One of a new generation of Aboriginal artists, writers and scholars, Dr. Heiss discussed the history of subjugation, discrimination and cultural eradication of Australia’s native people.

“Times are changing,” she said. “Older Australians received no education about indigenous Australia.”

From a population of as many as one million at the time Europeans arrived, Australia’s Aboriginals number about 250,000 today. They suffered through a long period of disenfranchisement and were only allowed to vote in 1967.

Dr. Heiss said she felt at home at UNCP and its surrounding Native American community.

“I feel most at home when I’m in somebody’s indigenous community,” she said. “I did not know this institution was founded by indigenous people.”

Like American Indians, Australia’s Aboriginals are not homogenous and descended from as many as 300 tribes with many languages and dialects. Like Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, the Aboriginal language and culture of eastern Australia, which was colonized first, was lost forever, Dr. Heiss said.

Aboriginal flag
The Aboriginal flag of Australia

Other common threads emerged between American Indians and Aboriginal Australians.

“Like America, Australia wasn’t ‘discovered.’ It was colonized,” Dr. Heiss said. “The invasion of Australia was the greatest undeclared war in history.”

Confusion persists in Australia about who is Aboriginal, just as Lumbee Indian identity is misunderstood. Government policy in codified the confusion by establishing racial identity laws based on “blood quantum,” Dr. Heiss said.

“Either you are, or you aren’t. We have white fellas, and we have black fellas,” she said. ‘I’m Aboriginal, but my father’s white.”

Dr. Heiss also discussed “the stolen generation,” who are the 45-55,000 Aboriginal children taken from their families between 1920-50. They were trained in state-run boarding schools or adopted as white.

“After publication of the report, “Bringing Them Home,” many Australians were angry because they did not know,” she said. “Today, we have a day of reconciliation called National Sorry Day.”

Today, Australia’s Aboriginals suffer from high joblessness and low life expectancy, but Dr. Heiss finds hope in the flowering of a new generation of Aboriginal artists and intellectuals like herself.

Dr. Heiss is one of Australia’s most prolific and well-known Indigenous authors. Her published works include the historical novel “Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937,” the poetry collection “Token Koori” and a work of satirical social commentary “Sacred Cows.”

Adding to her already extensive list of publications, Dr. Heiss launched two more books in 2003 “Dhuuluu-Yala (To Talk Straight) – Publishing Aboriginal Literature,” and a children’s book entitled “Me and My Mum.” She has also edited editions of the journals Southerly and Five Bells and the anthology, “Life in Gadigal Country.”