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An Australian identity starts with a "Treaty": Aboriginal elder Ossie Cruse

During local celebrations to mark NAIDOC Week 2012, the idea of a treaty between Aboriginal people, the British Crown and the Australian Government has been raised by Paster Ossie Cruse.

Talk of a treaty has been around for decades, but in recent history it has fallen from coverage with mainstream media. The NSW South Eastern Aboriginal elder, Ossie Cruse believes that Australia's future could be built with a treaty. He spoke about it on Sydney Radio 702 ABC, Breakfast with Ian Campbell.

The Paster of Eden, believes such a document would create the Australian identity that the republican debate often talks about.

Paster Cruse says the drafting of a treaty would reflect a range of ideas, including Aboriginal authority over the land prior to Captain Cook, political representation for Aboriginal people, Australian laws and practices that reflect traditional customs and culture and even compensation.

Audio: 702 ABC Sydney Breakfast with Ian Campbell, 5th July 2012 - (Edited)

Righting the fight - Q&A

Chris Munro Tracker 10th August 2011

I want to take you back to the radical days, around the 70s and 80s. What was your own take on how things went down back then?

A: I'd go back a bit further, because the first rights that we were fighting for, I remember clearly, wasn't land rights, it was civil rights. To be seen as a human being with the same rights as everybody else ... that's what it was all about. Then later in the 60 and 70s we had the idea that if we had our own land back, we'd recapture our culture, we'd recapture everything about us as Aboriginal people.

Our extended family relations, we'd get our young people into respect mode again ... respecting elders and respecting themselves. We had a lot of ideas about owning your own land - the pride of having our land back again.

One of the things that was happening back in those days, and I'm sad about what's happening nowadays, is that people really talked about the land being my 'mother,' that we were custodians of the land and that we had a responsibility to the land, and that the land would care for us, giving us all our daily needs and sustenance.

It's sad that has slipped away, and the idea that we own land and can put up a barbed wire fence around it and we can exclude everybody else and say you're outsiders - it's sad. But land rights way back there was for this purpose of getting us back as the keepers of the land.

Now you played a major role in the establishment and also on the board of the Aboriginal Lands Trust prior to the land rights legislation ... was the lands trust right for its time, or was it superceded by land rights legislation?

A: The Lands Trust was right for its time, but the people were right for the Lands Trust. We questioned that, we said to politicians "Why did you give the type of land rights you gave us?" And their answer to us was, "Well we thought you'd get a bit of economic benefit there".

But the land rights that they gave us back then ... we owned all the mining rights except for gold and coal - they belonged to the government.

We also had hunting and gathering rights, which was incredible you know, that we could have these rights and hunt anywhere on Crown land, ocean frontages, national parks, we could gather our food.

Thinking back on the lands trust days, you know it was hard. We didn't have a lot of money to get anything done. When I wanted to make contact in the west, and everywhere for that matter, I used to have an old station wagon, and I'd put my mattress in there, my billy and my pan and away I'd go.

What other things have changed in your mind?

A: Well, we really did have self determination, because we could decide our budget, we could decide when we met. We could meet within three days, you know, it was our decision to meet and talk about issues that concerned us.

If you remember those reserves too, they had some terrible problems, particularly with silage and leaking taps and the like. You had to fix things pretty quick, so we'd meet systematically and we could deal with issues like that. We had the state pretty well covered. We had mining rights, we had hunting rights, and ... all of those disappeared in the 1983 legislation. So, I don't know why we fought so hard for the '83 legislation.

Well let's have a look at that legislation and the start of land rights in NSW ... what did you hope it would all amount to?

A: Well, what we were hoping it would amount to is that we'd get better self-determination.

I could read into the preamble that it was a compensatory legislation, and I thought 'hello' here's an opportunity that we can get compensated and we will have an economic base to develop our land and our social needs, and all those things we wanted to achieve when we first called for land rights.

But if you remember someone caught onto that the minister at the time was set to freeze our funds, so we paid out all our staff and saved $15,000 for the march on Parliament House.

That's when (Robert) Tickner pulled the gate down ... and he was the only 'gubbah' picked up by the police ... (laughs). We opposed the fact it was happening too quickly. I don't believe we had enough consultation for one thing ... . They were going to make valid all the Crown land that they stole previously without compensating for it. You know it should have been a part of the compensation package.

Well let's talk about that then ... it's three decades now after land rights was delivered. Do you believe it's come good on what you'd hope it would achieve?

A: Well no, you see we're more under the government structure and control than in the days of the old mission managers. Self-determination to me is the reverse of what it is to government.

To me it's the local managing the state, that's the way it should be - you direct the state on the affairs of your people. I know they're trying to achieve that, they're trying to do that now, but legislation's been locked in so tight, that there's strangulation in place now, and I think it'll take us a long time to get out of it.

We've got less than we've ever had. You'll find this everywhere, you know, people are land rich, some of them got plenty of land, but they don't have the funding to go with it, to develop that land and achieve true self-determination.

I think it's got a lot to do with the 1983 legislation. When that came in they gave us the sunset clause for 15 years. Seven and a half percent of the land tax would come to us as Aboriginal people through a beneficiaries fund.

No, instead of allowing us to then invest in the market, they pegged us to a four percent interest rate with the banks and in retrospect, we talked to people in the money market who told us "you people lost one billion dollars" due to that very fact that we were pegged down to four percent, when we could have been getting 6 to 6.5 percent.

They told us we would have had a billion dollars after we closed off the sunset clause, and that really hurts when you think about that because from that point on we've all been struggling.

That's why I firmly believe that the government should be made to pay a perpetual compensation, whether its a one percent tax or whatever, it should be continually going into that investment fund and building up so we eventually do become self-sufficient.