Conservative Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not unaware of his country’s fraught relationship with its original population; he promised before his 2013 election that he would prioritize issues related to the indigenous Australian people, saying that he’d be a so-called “prime minister for Aboriginal affairs.” But this July he was criticized after saying that the country was “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” before the arrival of the British, a slip that implied he’d forgotten that native residents counted as people. In other words, Abbott has made a point of highlighting his relationship with the indigenous community—and it’s already a somewhat troubled one. In this context his remarks Thursday, given at an event with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Sydney, are even more incomprehensible than they would be otherwise:
As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush … the marines and the convicts and the sailors that straggled off those 12 ships just a few hundred yards from where we are now must have thought they’d come almost to the moon.
Here’s the video:
Nothing but bush! Like the moon! Extraordinarily basic! He keeps digging and digging, and it seems like he’s not even speaking off the cuff.
Aboriginal populations have lived in the Sydney area, Australian Museum anthopologist Val Attenbrow writes, for approximately 18,000 years.