Three months after the Uluru Statement From The Heart was released in May, 2017, the ABC published an article explaining exactly what makarrata means.

The Uluru Statement demanded a “Voice”: a new Canberra bureaucracy to tell parliament what all Aboriginals are thinking, and a “Makarata Commission” to supervise implementing a treaty and a revision of history.

The headline explained, “The Yolngu word [makarrata] is more than a synonym for treaty.”


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The term makarrata has been in public Australian use since the late 70s – evidence that paternalistic bureaucracies established by well meaning people with unfortunate proclivities to a white saviour complex are nothing new. The “gap” is still not closed.

The National Aboriginal Conference (NAC) was a bureaucracy established in 1977 to provide a voice for Aboriginals. They also wanted a treaty, and chose an Aboriginal word for the process: makarrata. The NAC sub-committee recommended recognition of prior ownership, compensation, the return of land and, most brazenly, seats in government reserved for Aboriginals.

But what does the word originally mean?

According to the ABC, makarrata “is a complex Yolngu word describing a process of conflict resolution, peacemaking and justice.”

The writer quotes Merrikiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, a member of the Gumatj tribe and school principal in Arnhem Land. She says:

“Makarrata has so many layers of meaning.


“The first one, and the main one, is peace after a dispute.


“Makarrata literally means a spear penetrating, usually the thigh, of a person that has done wrong… so that they cannot hunt anymore, that they cannot walk properly, that they cannot run properly; to maim them, to settle them down, to calm them — that’s Makarrata.


“It can be a negotiation of peace, or a negotiation and an agreement where both parties agree to one thing so that there is no dispute or no other bad feeling.”

So the gruesome style of early Stone Age justice which typifies Aboriginal customary laws is something we should accept as the template for how to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 Aboriginals who don’t experience average life and health outcomes in line with other Australians?

“A spear penetrating” is a symptom of a culture which refuses to mature from cruel, violent behaviour. 

Some Aboriginal customary laws and philosophies are ill-fitted to modern, civilised policies, and to suggest makarrata is a benign word only meaning “negotiated peace” is as naive as believing “Islam” only means “peace”, and not, more accurately, “submission” to their false god and his also severe laws and philosophies.

Consider this official account (one of many) of how “a spear penetrating” is actually featured in Aboriginal customs – still.

“Jungarai was charged with murder after he stabbed another Aboriginal man in Tennant Creek… The attack on the victim apparently arose from resentment at attention Jungarai believed the victim had paid to one of his wives… Northern Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Forster ordered his release on bail. In giving his reasons for doing so, he said:


‘Whatever may be the defences available to the accused under the law of the land and whether the appropriate verdict after the trial may be guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter or not guilty, it is plain that according to Aboriginal law and custom the accused is held responsible for [the victim’s] death and must accordingly be punished. The precise tribal punishment appropriate for the accused is not absolutely certain, but the strong probability is that it will consist of a single ceremonial spearing in the leg followed by banishment into the bush for a period to be fixed in order to remove from the community a possible focus for trouble … The extended families of the deceased and the accused are in a state of mutual hostility which will only cease when the whole matter is ‘finished up’ by the accused suffering the appropriate tribal punishment.’”

The widely available reading on “payback” in Aboriginal culture is eye opening when one considers modern blacktivism. Makarata was deemed the most appropriate name for what will happen when the Uluru Statement from the Heart is implemented “in full”, as the Prime Minister has promised over and over again.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

Why are we pretending the myth of “the noble savage” means whatever is brought from ancient culture to modern Australia is deserving of honour and invariably better than any other way of promoting peace and unity?

“A penetrating spear”, usually through the thigh, so they cannot work or walk properly, to maim them – that’s makarrata. That’s the “treaty” demanded by the blacktivists who just mean retribution and “payback” when they say words like reconciliation, treaty and truth telling.

As Chief Justice Forster described, the capacity for sophisticated verdicts of guilty or not guilty have no place in Aboriginal custom and the accused – in this case every non-indigenous Australian – must be punished.

One can only pour scorn on communities that punish the accused no matter what and are determined to remain in a state of perpetual hostility until the focus of their grievance has been maimed and/or exiled.

That picture of brute diplomacy is completely consistent with the manifest bitterness and bile on open display from those who hate the flag, the anthem, the national day, the monarchy, the constitution, evolved justice systems and democracy, plumbing and every other blessing and benefit of colonisation since Indigenous people were lifted out of their isolation from the rest of humanity and “closing the gap” became a reality for most of their descendants.

Far from being a path to promote reconciliation, makarrata is a path to retribution. What comes after the accused has been speared through the thigh and exiled from the community may very well look like peace and conflict resolution to those holding the spear, but it has no more relationship with justice than a hot-blooded mob of vigilantes with pitchforks.

I explained many years ago that after countless sincere apologies and genuine repentance from non-indigenous Australians it is only Aboriginal communities maturing into the capacity for forgiveness which can accomplish “reconciliation”, if we – that is, traditionalists and progressives – mean the same thing by that word.

But we don’t, because we come from different cultural backgrounds. On one hand is the Christianised West with philosophies of making peace, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, loving their enemies and blessing those who persecute them. On the other hand is the irrationally reverenced, Aboriginal customary law with philosophies of makarrata, spearing the accused and perpetual hostility between family groups as long as there’s any memory of the original offence.

Radical leading blacktivists today are clearly demanding punishment for the accused, tearing down colonial institutions, and paying significant financial compensation in perpetuity. Most see this referendum for a “black political force” as the necessary first step.

Such irreconcilable definitions of peace are not unprecedented. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observed of Israel’s neighbours:

“If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more ‎violence. If the Jews put down their weapons ‎today, there would be no ‎more Israel.”

Likewise, if the blacktivists put down their spears today, there would be reconciliation. But if the rest of us stop resisting bigger bureaucracy and makarata, there would be a spear through the thigh of Australia so she cannot walk properly into the future.

As the ABC headline declared, makarrata is indeed “more than a synonym for treaty”.

We all pray and strive for Australia to advance, “one and free”, but there is certainly a better way to lovingly help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged among us than another Canberra bureaucracy and payback as the only solution to a perpetual state of hostility.

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Dave Pellowe is a Christian writer & commentator, founder of The Good Sauce, convener of the annual Australian Church And State Summit and host of Good Sauce's weekly The Church And State Show, also syndicated on ADH TV. Since 2016 Dave has undertaken the mission of arming Christians to influence culture through events from Perth to Auckland, videos, podcasts and articles published in multiple journals across Australia and New Zealand. [more]

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