Why Tony Abbott is wrong on Indigenous settlement

On 3 July our Prime Minister stated:

"I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British Government in the then unsettled or scarcely settled great south land."

Tonight I wish to explain why the Prime Minister's comments are wrong, are out of touch and are disrespectful to Aboriginal people in my community and throughout Australia.

Kingsford-Smith is blessed with some magnificent coastline and some of Australia's most famous beaches. One of those is the beautiful Coogee Beach.

The name Coogee is said to derive from the Aboriginal word 'Koojah', which means the smell of the seaweed drying in Bidgigal language. It is a reference to decaying seaweed and kelp that throughout history and still to this day regularly washes up onto Coogee beach.

The place name of this beautiful little beach, and the suburb that surrounds it, indicates a settled Aboriginal term for this place—a name or a reference that clearly pre-dates English colonisation and is evidence of a well-established language in the area.

If you travel down the coast of my electorate, the next beach you encounter is Maroubra with its powerful surf and at times dangerous rips. The name Maroubra is believed to derives from 'Moorooberah', the name of the leader of the Aboriginal community who lived at a beach a few miles south of Koojah at the time of colonisation.

Indeed, the bay in which the English first set foot on the great south land to establish a colony, and which remarkably the French entered a matter of days later—Botany Bay—has a local Aboriginal name, 'Kamay'.

The wonderful suburb surrounding it of La Perouse, in the south of my electorate, is known as 'Curiwal' in local Aboriginal language.

These were, and in some cases still are, settled, customary, locally-known terms to describe places in our community in a language that is older than the English language.

How dare the Prime Minister deny that custom, that heritage, that culture and that language which have existed in our community for thousands of years and have been passed through generations—accepted, respected and adopted as the names of our communities' suburbs, beaches and bays.

I recognise that Australia was settled prior to English colonisation and that Aboriginal culture, language and heritage is proof of this. We have the longest, continuing culture in the world. We should be proud of this, and not deny it.

I was fortunate to be born and bred in Maroubra, as was my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather. Four generations of family connection make it my home, but that is not a patch on the family connections of local Aboriginal families, whose relatives have been living in our community for 7000 years.

Countless generations of people developed, nurtured, passed on customs, language, laws and heritage that importantly still exist today and which our community celebrated last week as part of NAIDOC Week.

These are principles that not only still exist today but have been recognised by the High Court of Australia through the Mabo decision; have been enshrined in Australia's Native Title laws; and should be recognised in the Australian Constitution. This is why our Prime Minister was wrong when he stated that our land was not settled prior to English investment.

I pay tribute to the Aboriginal people of our community whose ancestors have called our area their home for thousands of years, whose language has given us our cherished suburb names and whose heritage and customs we respect. You deserve more from our nation's Prime Minister.


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