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The Voice: An immigrant's perspective
Markus Mutcheller is German-born, having lived in New Zealand (NZ) before moving to Australia five years ago. With the benefit of cultural distance, and his lived experience of racial tensions during his time in NZ, Markus has a unique perspective to offer to the debate around the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that as at 30 June 2021 (the most recent report), almost a third (29 per cent) of Australia’s population were born overseas. Most of these Australian residents presumably have no connection whatsoever to the settlement/invasion of Australia several hundred years ago, or to present-day attempts at reconciliation.
I had difficulty locating statistics on how many of this 29 per cent will be eligible to vote in the referendum, but based on ABC reporting, it looks as though two thirds of migrants born overseas will be eligible to vote (the other third being non-citizens, and therefore ineligible).
As always, readers are invited to agree or disagree in the comments.
I am originally from Germany. I lived in New Zealand (NZ) from 1992 - 2018, and lived the last five years in Australia. I did a lap around Australia for 1.5 years and fell in love with the land.
First in NZ, and now in Australia, I have what life coaches call ‘the clarity of distance.’ I am not very affected or biased by the emotional history between the colonial forces and Indigenous people.
In the early to mid 1990’s, there was a lot of friction between NZ Māori and the rest of the country. I happened to settle and run a tourist business in an area with a 90 per cent Māori population.
It also happened that I, my family, and my business somehow ended up as the ham in a sandwich in a land-occupying Māori protest. I experienced the relatively rare situation for a white person to be in a minority, relatively powerless, and a victim of racial abuse by some Māori activists.
The vast majority of my Māori neighbors had been nothing but amazing, welcoming, and supportive of us for the four preceding years. My young son went to the Māori kindergarten, Kohanga Reo, and spoke better Māori than English at the time.
But the activists not only destroyed my business and contributed to the end of my marriage. A carload of them, each over six foot tall and approximately 120kg heavy, with full facial tattoos, came to my property and threatened (in front of my small children) to burn my house and business down if I didn't stop talking to the media. That's when my then-wife and the children left for white conservative Napier, Hawkes Bay, and I can't blame her.
I was also chased down by a mob in cars on the main street of Wairoa and had to seek refuge at the police station. Which wasn't much of a refuge as the activists returned and told the police officer to "fuck off from their land." The police officers just stood there doing nothing because they were ordered to do nothing by the government, as a cop friend told me a few days later, hugely upset and embarrassed.
The activists had occupied the campground of Lake Waikaremoana National Park for over three months. They drove off every tourist, local or international, and entered the campground grocery shop with machetes to help themselves to free food. I owned a backpacker's hostel about 60 km away and operated the Urewera Shuttle Service, shuttling backpackers and locals to this stunningly beautiful lake.
On my last ever trip, I had two young Scandinavian and Japanese couples in the van. I rounded a corner in the dense bush and found a tree trunk blocking the road. I stopped, and out of the bush came a handful of big scary-looking Māori activists, one of them the famous Tāme Iti, who was also a Māori artist. He later would become an international celebrity flown around the world by wealthy supporters.
He opened the sliding door and stared at all of us without saying a word. He knew very well that his fully tattooed face was more intimidating than any words he could say. The faces of the young tourists turned to a ‘whiter shade of pale.’ After what felt like an eternity, he said, "You are not ever coming back here to our land." This was on State Highway 50. A national road.
This was just one of many similar stories that hit the headlines of all national papers and TV stations at the time. Jenny Shipley, the first unelected female Prime Minister of NZ (no, it wasn't Helen Clark) had just dethroned Jim Bolgers. And she decided not to do anything about this anarchy. It was just one of several Māori land occupations at that time.
It ruined my family. Tourists didn't come back to the area for years. We worked hard to establish the business from scratch to make Tipi Backpackers one of the highest-rated hostels in NZ. Our local Māori friends mourned with us. Worse, I couldn't join my family in Napier because the business was unsellable.
The hostel actually did burn down a year later when I was in Germany, but an insurance investigation ruled out any Māori activist connection. That is a story for another day.
I did a bi-cultural three-year psychotherapy diploma after that and spent a lot of time in Māori meeting houses. I learned a lot about the culture and developed a deep love for Māori culture.
I am telling this story to give you an impression of how tense the relationship between Pakeha (the visitors) and Māori activists was at the time. It makes me sort of chuckle when I listen to the concerns of some of my Australian friends fearing an uprising of Indigenous peoples.
A few years later, the NZ government decided to fully compensate and settle all historical grievances with Māori for good. White New Zealanders were very wary and anxious about it at the time.
Basically, over a period of about 20 years, every iwi (tribe) could lodge a claim of what was stolen from them, dating back to the first white people arriving. They were all compensated. It cost billions of dollars. If they couldn't give back the land, for example, because an airport was built on it since then (like in Napier), they negotiated some other compensation, be it rent, other lands, or money. It took 20 years and the difference it made was amazing.
When I left in 2018, there was peace. All protests stopped, and white people and Māori came closer than ever in the history of NZ. Sadly, some Māori elders abused their new power, funnelling the newfound riches to their families only, and the vast majority of the iwi missed out.
But most put the money to very good use, and a new proud, confident, and well-educated Māori generation prospered, who see themselves as equal and respected and part of a united New Zealand. In turn, most white people in NZ are proud of and embrace Māori culture and language.
However, lately, pushed by the woke Marxist NZ Labor party, things got a bit weird. A big push for central planning (Three Waters etc.) is taking place in the name of Māori governance. Some claim Māori are being used to push a Marxist agenda. This brings us to Australia.
I don't have much insight into First Nations people and surrounding politics. But what is abundantly clear is that the situation can't be compared to the Māori situation. The history and character of the two peoples are vastly different.
Australia’s First Nations people were obliterated by the colonists. Māori stood their ground. NZ was colonized almost 150 years later, and attitudes towards Indigenous people had changed. The colonising forces were also much weaker, and the Māori stronger. They couldn't be conquered with force only, so the colonists used trickery and deceit and eventually, a treaty was signed. So, it is not directly comparable.
However, the basic principle of decency still applies. It wasn't right how First Nations people were treated for centuries. And acknowledgment and reparations do go a long way to normalise the relationship, as shown in NZ. It is not good for modern-day Australians to live with this guilt.
How to undo this? I honestly don't know. Throw money at them? Give the land back? I believe some of that has to happen. The value lies not so much in the riches but in the sacrifice. If it hurts the white Australians it means something. It has to hurt. And it is still a tiny fraction of the hurt that was dished out over centuries.
Yes, it wasn't this generation that did most of the atrocities, but the children always have to pay for the mistakes of the past generations. They also inherited the riches of their forefathers. You can't just take and not pay back. Something needs to be done. All parties will feel better about it.
Gestures and goodwill are important. It won't be all perfect. Some people on both sides will take advantage. The same happened in NZ. It still worked overall - but then again, there were no Marxist agendas back then.
And therein lies the current angst that this really could be the Trojan Horse of the woke Australian Marxists. They are well aware of the white middle-class guilt that drives people to support anything that looks like it might alleviate their guilt, without looking at the deeper motives.
Some of my new friends belong to that group. Mainly well-educated, intellectual, middle-aged women. They think they are so progressive and smart. They never had much hardship in their lives. They lost their survival instinct, their mistrust. They can be so easily fooled by optimistic-sounding political slogans. They enthusiastically vote for Labor and celebrate the demotion of the old white male guard. True, those guys needed sorting out, but in their newly found sense of power, they are totally ignorant about the bigger Marxist danger.
Despite having seen so much of Australia, including very remote rural areas, I hardly notice the presence of First Nation people. (DDU note - that may be in part due to the fact that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders combined make up only three per cent of the Australian population). That saddens me. The main objective for me would be to bring that presence and the pride of this amasing old culture back. It is the oldest culture in the world. It should be in all our interest to revitalise it, learn from it and be proud of it.
It starts with respect. And as an outsider, with the clarity of distance, I am not influenced by decades of media reports rubbishing the self-destructive behavior of so many First Nations people; quite to the opposite. I feel compassion for that because, as a trained psychotherapist, I know that these are the dysfunctional behaviors of severely abused people. First they get abused, then they get judged and disrespected for their dysfunctional, destructive behaviour.
In the past years, I had several discussions with Australians regarding this topic. Some of them were people who worked in First Nations communities for years. What I noticed most was, in order: Being utterly puzzled; simply not understanding; judgmental disgust; hopelessness; pity; guilt; blame. All negative.
I met one person who lived with First Nations people in the Northern Territory. He was blown away by them and what he learned from them, and truly admired them. There are seeds. For me, it starts with true guilt-free understanding of their plight, compassion instead of pity, and admiration instead of patronisation.
Several times I have read the phrase ‘our First Nations people.’ It’s well-meaning, almost endearing, for sure. Like ‘our children.’ However, I find that strange.
No one in NZ would say ‘our Māori people.’ It would be perceived as patronising, possibly insulting to a Māori. These little phrases, well-meant, no doubt, go probably unnoticed for Australians because they became part of the narrative. But I believe that we have to treat them as equals, not as someone we have to look after. Or someone helpless.
When I was in Cooktown, I read a report from James Cook himself about the local aborigines at the time. He spent several months there. It was very moving. It was along the lines of, "These are the most content and happy people I ever met." He was deeply impressed by many of their traits and how they lived together. It sounded a bit like paradise.
And then this horde of mostly brutish greedy people invaded them, our forefathers, and almost wiped them out. We don't need to blame them or feel guilty on their behalf. It is all down to determinism in my opinion (see my writings).
Nothing good comes from guilt or blame. They were victims of circumstances themselves. But we can make amends from a place of deep understanding, true compassion, love and, most importantly, deep admiration and respect.
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