Tony Robinson asks the question: “How many Aboriginal friends do you have?”

In the Green Guide in today’s edition of The Age (on page 6) there is a story about a new six-part series by Tony Robinson (aka “Baldrick”) called “Approaching Australia with Ignorance”. Sadly this new program, starting on Tuesday at 7:30 PM, is only available on the History Channel for people with pay TV.

Hullo? ABC? What are our taxes doing paying for our free-to-air State channel?

Anyway, I had a good laugh (and a good think) about this, from the excellent Mr Robinson:

“I don’t know what’s PC. I know now that there are an awful lot of areas where for such an upfront, honest culture, people tread very lightly.

“If I ask [Australian] people how many Aboriginal friends they have there’s always a silence of about 15 seconds before they give me an answer. The answer will be intelligent, considered, profound but, boy oh boy, are the cogs going before the answer comes out.”

I have one aboriginal friend…, at least, I think I can count her as a friend. Or perhaps she’s just an work colleague… And then there was that other bloke I knew once… But we haven’t kept in touch.

You can see what he means, can’t you?

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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6 Responses to Tony Robinson asks the question: “How many Aboriginal friends do you have?”

  1. Terra says:

    It is a great line but the reality is that Aboriginal make up only 2.7% of the Australian population. And a good proportion of them live in rather remote locations!

    At last count, around 30,000 lived in Victoria, which has a total population of 5,5m.

    I don’t know how many friends and acquaintances you have, but I’d suggest the raw odds are enough to defend most of us from the implicit charge of racism in our selection of friends!

  2. Stephen K says:

    Absolutely! Generally non-indigenous and indigenous lives just don’t intersect. In the larger cities, due to the vast ethnic imbalance, indigenous Australians might as well be invisible and consequently they become out-of-mind. In one nearby country town however this is not the case, and this brings home the great communication and relationship chasm that separates us. It is as if there is this invisible barrier that prevents reaching out and communicating except in the most casual and accidental of circumstances. In another nearby town, the indigenous population is a much greater proportion and my sense is that it’s impossible for all the inhabitants not to interact. But interaction still does not equate to friendship.

    I could suggest some factors which exacerbate this divide, but it would start to sound like one of those deliberative answers Tony Robinson quite rightly holds up for his polite and mild derision. In a nutshell, the answer is “no” and it’s a scandal and a poor reflection on……well, let’s start with me.

  3. Gareth says:

    Getting off the topic – if the same question was asked of people ‘how many orthodox Catholic’ friends do you have, I wonder if their views of the Church or Christanity in general would change.

  4. AJ says:

    I lived with Aborigines for 11 years. I am initiated into a tribe and I have a skin name. However, I totally agree with the other comments.
    But please – I saw programs of Tony Robinson in England, late at night! Not the sort of person I would be proud to quote.

    • Schütz says:

      Welcome to the Commentary table AJ. And thanks for your email explaining this comment. I have never seen anything on TV here by Tony Robinson that wasn’t wholesome and suitable for family viewing (barring a few Blackadder episodes…). You must have different standards of Television in the UK.

  5. Alexander says:

    I live abroad, so I’ve got that question a few times—I’ve always understood it to mean “what is the prevalence of Aborigines in metropolitan Australian circles?” and answered accordingly. “Aside from Aborigines who are officially there for the sake of being an Aborigine officially there, I think I’ve seen two IRL.”

    But one American once asked me the question (or something similar) by email. My reply was “How many Amerind friends have you got?”. She replied “… well, I’m one”, and I was suitably embarassed.

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