This year is very significant being the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and the 10th anniversary of Bringing Them Home — that is a great entry on Adrian Phoon’s blog. [No longer online. 😦 ] See also my Indigenous Australians page and a posts search here under the word indigenous. Much soul-searching has been going on this week.
Click that banner. Unfortunately most Australians watch one of the so-called news programs on commercial TV instead at 6pm. Not to worry; you may see what you are missing by visiting the Message Stick site.
Back in 2000 I had a Chinese-Australian student who was descended on his mother’s side from the Manchu Dynasty of Chinese emperors. There is a hotel in Beijing that apparently used to be Master Fu’s great-great-grandmother’s palace. He once told me he sometimes felt guilty about what his family had done to China in the 19th century; I assured him it was hardly his fault. On the other hand I signed a “sorry book” without a flicker of hesitation. Was it guilt? Not really; there isn’t much point. But it is vital that we acknowledge what has been the shared experience of Black and White Australia, and to my mind a vital part of that process remains a formal apology. To my way of thinking only such an apology can set us up to go forward together. Everyone agrees failures weigh far too heavily on the relations between the original inhabitants and all us latecomers, European and other. There have been also successes, but I find it so sad that the one necessary first step is the one step the Howard government cannot bring itself to make, even if the Howard government has made some sincere efforts to move forward while taking quite a few too many steps in the opposite direction. Trouble is “practical reconciliation” is poisoned without real reconciliation.
There’s always hope though.
Tonight’s Message Stick on Jackie Huggins was brilliant, and so is she. As she said in 2003:
There is little doubt that the current government in Canberra would like to make an impact in Indigenous affairs, though its vision of a reconciled Australia would be very different to that of many of us here this evening. And there are strong indications that Ministers across a number of Commonwealth portfolios are becoming more open to looking at creative solutions to persistent problems.
But the bottom line for this Prime Minister and his government has always been the compartmentalising of reconciliation and Indigenous affairs into so-called practical and symbolic measures, the latter having been rejected as unacceptable to mainstream Australia. In this way, the government has tried to “sell” reconciliation to Australians who are fearful of the concept. People who can get their heads around the idea of women and children needing to be protected from violence, but who can’t accept that present suffering has anything to do with past dispossession of land and culture. Let alone accepting any notion of Australia’s first peoples needing and deserving a special place and special rights, officially recognised and enshrined in our nation’s laws and symbols.
In this highly controlled context, and after the emotional triumph of the bridge walks in 2000, it is true to say that many in the community have been left with the impression that the reconciliation agenda in Australia has run into the sand. Others have been basking in the mistaken belief that reconciliation has already arrived.
The truth is somewhere in between.
Significant as they were in a symbolic sense, the bridge walks masked the harsh reality of a lot of what we call “unfinished business” – issues tied in with reconciliation that have not been resolved and that Indigenous people have identified as being fundamental to the process.
Those of us involved in reconciliation and Indigenous affairs have had to make a choice about whether to keep beating our heads against a wall on those particular issues or whether we look to what can be achieved in the political context in which we find ourselves, and try to move forward. And that is the choice we have made. We have a responsibility to keep the rest of the agenda alive but we also have a duty to engage and to continue to progress things that can be progressed.
This has posed a serious dilemma for many of us, as believers in the vision of a truly reconciled Australia. And so we find ourselves, in November 2003, at a kind of moral crossroads. At the very least, I believe we have an obligation to hold the government accountable on the basis of its own rhetoric. If practical reconciliation is the test, how are we performing?…
The reality is that progress on reconciliation must be judged against all measures. The practical and the symbolic sides are impossible to separate because a sense of who you are and how you feel about yourself is intrinsic to how you behave and how you address your own problems.
If you believe you’re an outsider, you are an outsider.
If you believe you’re beaten, then you’re beaten.
If you believe that the rest of Australia has no respect for you or your culture, then for all intents and purposes it doesn’t.
These things are self-fulfilling and we have to find the symbolic basis, as well as the practical basis, for living together and bringing out the best in one another.
Later tonight Noel Pearson is profiled in Australian Story. [This proved to be very thought-provoking indeed. See also White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre; thanks to Legal Eagle and Griffith Review. This is a most impressive and even seminal article. I urge you to download and read it for yourself rather than rely on summaries or the uses, not all of them noble, some might make of Pearson’s careful analysis.]
Thanks to Bruce: The National Day of Thanksgiving: it’s the ‘white fella’ religious right again by Alan Matheson, a retired Churches of Christ minister now working for the ACTU. “National Day of Thanksgiving” is the government’s morphing of “National Sorry Day”. In that context I much prefer the latter.
Controversy over Noel Pearson: Favoured leaders slated as government ‘pets’. Unfortunate. I really think Pearson should be granted more integrity than that. I still recommend careful reading of his Griffith Review article, and that from me who still thinks the Keating Redfern speech is the absolute touchstone of where we should begin our thinking on Indigenous Australia. That speech was sheer magic, not detracted from at all by Keating’s recent satirical suggestion that Parliament should be moved to Garden Island. (Keating’s point of course was that Howard has already virtually moved the government to Sydney.)
I have added a video of Keating’s Redfern Speech to my Indigenous Australians page.