AH KEE, Vernon
not an animal or a plant is a declaration. I am declaring on my own behalf and that of my family and my people that ‘I am not an animal or a plant’.
In 1901 when Australia ceased being a collection of British colonies simply sharing a land mass and became a federated country, the Aborigine – the native people of the land – was excluded from the
new nation’s constitution and the many arbitrary rights of citizenship that accompanied all its new citizens. Which is not to say that the Aborigine had escaped consideration altogether, rather, the Aborigine, ever the least considered was, as a people, relegated to a status less than human, ergo, an ‘animal’ or a ‘plant’. Subsequently, the Aborigine’s life became government property and one of rigid control. This truly degrading and derogatory action is not surprising given the prevailing beliefs and attitudes towards the Aborigine at the time.
What is surprising, or shocking, is that it wasn’t until May 1967, facing substantial international attention and mounting criticism that Australia, by virtue of a national referendum, removed the Aborigine from under the heel of quasi-slavery and possession and placed this ‘othered thing’ within the constitution proper, albeit as a confined ward of the state. Nevertheless, the Aborigine was transformed from an Aboriginal thing of scientific curiosity and public derision, into an Aboriginal people of romanticised curiosity and political derision.