The current world wide pandemic that is Corona has caused many people to come forward and comment that when we come out the other side of this terrible illness, we have the opportunity to do things better.
So with this in mind let us look at one of the biggest social issues in Australia, the Reconciliation debate.
Now this is a complex and divisive problem that plague’s Australia and will continue to do so until we change our attitude and approach towards the debate on reconciliation.
To begin the process of changing our approach, we must unravel and correct the accepted ‘narrative’ that one culture are nothing but victims whilst the other are complete villains.
Let me start off by saying my purpose in writing this article is the hope that we can find workable ways to come together as one people and stop the divide and mistrust that surrounds reconciliation.
As a child, my best friend was a Thursday Islander from the Torres Straits. I have friends and work colleagues who are aboriginal. Why mention this? Because it is inevitable that some who read this will refuse to read the article for what it is and will instead attempt to twist it to suit their social ideology, an ideology that promotes social separation and screams racist at anyone who sees the issues differently from themselves.
So how do we reset the reconciliation issue and bring our cultures together in respect and acceptance? Well first we need to be honest about why bad things happened in the past.
Both the European and aboriginal peoples of 1788 and beyond were products of their cultures and social environments. We can today look back on both cultures and find fault, we can find positives as well.
For example, aboriginal peoples thought white people were ghosts. Aboriginal tribes attacked their rivals in tribal warfare, committed murder, stole and raped female members of rival tribes. Aboriginal people’s are known to have murdered shipwreck survivors who managed to struggle ashore. Aboriginal warriors attacked isolated homesteads, committed murder and rape of women and children. In Northern parts of Australia, some aboriginal people’s were known to take part in cannibalism.
Should we look back with today’s ideals and judge aboriginal people of those times in a negative manner? What gives us the right to judge aboriginal people of those times. They were the products of the societies that they grew up in. What they did, how they acted, was what they believed and understood to be right.
Aboriginal people’s are believed to be responsible for the extinction of animals such as the large and hairy Diprotodon Optatum.
Aboriginal people, like all people’s of the world, were not perfect. Yet the narrative we live with today is that the First Australian’s were nothing more than the earliest form of hippies, dancing amongst the wild flowers without a care in the world. This is simply not the case. We need to be honest and not try to change the historical facts.
Aboriginal people lived with violence. Punishment for tribal members who broke protocols could result in spearing or being clubbed to death. Aboriginal men were warriors and hunters. They were proud, and adaptive to the environment.
Now lets have a look at the white colonial settlers.
Governor Phillip had a mandate to treat the indigenous people’s of Australia with respect and to avoid conflict. This mandate disappeared over the decades following the arrival of the First Fleet as settlers pushed Aboriginal people’s from their tribal lands to develop farming industries.
White settlers came from a society that showed ownership of land by markings such as boundary stones or fences. This was their understanding. Seeing no such land ownership markings, of their understanding, the settlers saw the land as ‘up for grabs’.
This land grab resulted in conflict as Aboriginal warriors fought to keep their lands and people on both sides were killed. Some in battle, many in cold blooded murder.
There were massacres of Aboriginal tribes, some, a result of reprisals for attacks on white settlements, the stealing of crops or livestock, and some the desire to clear Aboriginal people’s from lands wanted by settlers.
Many Aboriginal people were dispossessed of their traditional lands, forced from their tribal hunting grounds and left to become nomads.
In more recent history there is the issue of the Stolen Generation, Aboriginal children being removed from their families when it was believed those children were living in poverty or were at risk. And Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Today we look back on these events from the past, looking at them with our modern points of views, our understandings of things today, and we see the wrongs and look to cast blame on those involved in these incidents.
Whilst there is no doubt there were atrocities committed in our past, we must also understand that people were acting in many cases under their cultural beliefs, their social understandings of the time. Just as we do today.
What do we, as a responsible society, do when we see young children perceivably at risk? We remove them from that risk. Rightly or wrongly, this was done with the Stolen Generation. We can look back with our modern understandings and see the wrong in what was done. But does this make what the people of the time were doing in this policy of removing children seen to be at risk bad or evil?
The problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody that has lead to rallies and a divide in the community needs to be looked at honestly and openly.
A Royal Commission investigated this problem and the findings were that the cause of indigenous deaths in custody could be broken down into issues of poor health, fights amongst inmates, suicides and motor vehicle accidents whilst being pursued by police.
In the majority of these incidents, Police and Corrective Services officers were no where near the person who died at the time of their death.
In fact more non indigenous people die whilst in custody that aboriginal people. The narrative put forward by some, that there is systemic violence and danger against indigenous persons in custody, is simply not true.
Will future generations look back at our current society and argue and cast derision over things we, at this time in history, see as just and normal? Do future generations have the right to judge us? Having an opinion about history is quite different to judging it.
All races have racists. This is not the curse of only one race of people. Thankfully it would certainly appear most people are not racist, no matter what race they themselves are.
There are those in Australia who seem determined to force a divide between indigenous and none indigenous Australians. These people applaud and push for a narrative of difference and blame. They themselves, without realising it, encourage and promote racism.
Today statistics in all states and territories of Australia show there is a terrible problem of domestic violence, rape, child abuse and murder in some aboriginal communities, along with a shocking proportion on alcohol and drug abuse. However those who continue to promote division and the, ‘one side is innocent of all past crimes whilst the other side is responsible for all past ills’, refuse to discuss these modern problems, refuse to bring them to public attention and refuse to acknowledge these terrible problems even exist.
It is not racist to discuss and find solutions for these very real problems. It is in fact the very opposite of racism to care about and want these issues gone. Are these problems only found in indigenous communities? Of course they are not, however the proportion of these issues in disproportionately high in indigenous communities.
Understanding and acknowledging these problems, not hiding them and pretending they do not exist, will not only help these indigenous communities, it will also help bring all Australian’s together in caring for and wanting to assist where these terrible issues occur.
There are some who will insist Australia is full of racism. A wonderful barometer to the Australian public’s mood and attitude is sport. I will speak of Rugby League as that is the sport I know and understand.
Some of the most loved players for fans of this tough sport are indigenous men. From John Sattler, Arthur Beetson, Cliff Lyons and Gordon Tallis to Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, these men are loved and respected by the Rugby League loving public. And there are many more. Racism, from any race, is not systemic is Australia.
We can not change the past. To effectively reconcile it we need to change the narrative in Australia, accepting there were wrongs committed by both sides, but that those wrongs in many cases, (not all), were done under the social and cultural beliefs of the time. We then need to look at the positives to bring both cultures together as one united Australia.
Aboriginal people had been in Australia for around forty thousand years after they migrated to the land from Asia. They had come to understand the land. They had come to know how to manage the land through burning off the undergrowth and moving around their tribal boundaries as the seasons changed to find food sources available at different times of the year. Aboriginal people had a strong sense of community and tribal law. The men were warriors who at times fought against rival tribes over land, food, cultural offence and women.
Aboriginal people’s learnt what native plants could be used as different sources of medicine. They learnt and understood how to survive in hostile environments. Maps were carved into the landscape to show others where water could be found in dry regions.
We need to understand and appreciate these things.
White settlers brought with them agriculture, modern medicines, technology, development, things of the modern world.
White settlers came from a strong and powerful nation. A nation with it’s own history of it’s people’s being conquered, subjugated and the civilisation re-built many times over many centuries.
Today, instead of looking back and finding the faults of the past, we need to change our perspective to understand why things happened that we find wrong, and appreciate the positives. Respect the positive contributions made by all races that call Australia home.
If we continue to look to blame and divide, then nothing will change. If we look to treat Australian’s differently, for example provide some with benefits others do not get, (based on race), we only promote division and resentment. Tax payer assistance should be given to those in need. This should be based on ones financial situation, not on ones race. The current system is simply another way of creating difference and separation in the community, rather than unity.
If we divide our community based on race, then we can not be one people and therefore there is little hope for genuine reconciliation.
To continue demonize one race, to blame either race for wrongs committed centuries ago, can only result in the continued divide and hostilities we have seen for generations in Australia.
Changing the narrative in Australia to an acceptance of wrongs committed in the past from both sides and understanding the reasons behind these, (cultural, social), and equally respecting the positives both cultures brought to this land, will help us move forward as one people united.
It is time we grow up on this issue and become honest with our understanding of our history. Acknowledging the dark parts of our history, understanding that both black and white were guilty of such acts, and moving forward in a shared bond of sadness for the ills of the past and equally a pride in the many things we have as a nation achieved along the way to where Australia sits today.
This is a great land with a spectacular and in most cases proud history of achievement over the past 222 years of what we might perhaps call modern Australia, and an equally fascinating history of the 40,000 thousand years prior to that.
One people, different races, but one people moving forward with acceptance, understanding and pride.
(This article is written to promote and provoke thought on the issues of the reconciliation debate in Australia. It is a simple article, however it provides facts that anyone can easily research.
It is written as a voice to promote positive change in our society on this issue).