Why it is that a hostility towards indigenous Australians is a core principle for some Australian conservatives? Some light on this is shed by the history of history. Gary Johns thinks that acknowledging that indigenous people were here first is somehow responsible for current indigenous disadvantage, and editorial in The Australian effectively admits that John’s argument makes no sense but then falls back on the usual lazy argument that welcome to country ceremonies alienate voters. As Noel Pearson notes there are parallels with antisemitism here. We can see conservative preoccupation with indigenous claims in the context of the writing of indigenous history in Australia. In the past thirty years indigenous themes became central to the writing of Australian history and for many historians engagement with these themes came to substitute for the decline of older radical hopes. Here Australian historians followed to a degree in American footsteps. American liberal historiography had in the 1950s pushed racism to the margins the civil rights struggle and the rise of ‘black power’ made the position of white historians tenuous, they resolved this by a shift towards a celebratory historiography that emphasised resistance and autonomy but as Peter Novick notes this denied the emergent problems within many African-American communities. Raewyn Connell:
one must say that no group or force broadly on the Left − whether the environmental movement, feminism, radical unions, the land rights movement or the peace movement − has worked out how to gain major purchase on the neoliberal state or the neoliberal economy.
In this perspective land rights was seen as part of the left. Books such as In the Age of Mabo demonstrated the the belief that the acknowledgement of past indigenous ownership presaged a radical change in the Australian nation state. In fact it would not in the absence of other struggles. What the left imagined with delight the right imagined and feared.