Honour 'invasion warriors': Professor Tim Flannery

Breanna Tucker Canberra Times 4th November 2011

Former Australian of the Year Professor Tim Flannery has called for Australia to build a monument honouring Aboriginal people who gave their lives fighting against European occupation.

In Canberra to deliver the annual ANU Reconciliation Lecture at the National Film and Sound Archive yesterday, Professor Flannery criticised the nation for failing to formally recognise that it had taken Aboriginal land by force.

While he acknowledged that saying sorry was a big first step, he warned Australia it would never succeed in an era of rapid globalisation if it did not accept the shortcomings of its past.

To illustrate the point, he described a recent trip to the site of the Fighting Hills Massacre in Victoria, where 40 Aboriginal men gave their lives in an effort to save dozens of women and children who were being shot down by five European settlers.

''That battle went for over an hour but the Aboriginal people never wavered or fled, they stood and fought, showing incredible bravery,'' Professor Flannery said.

''Now, when my grandfather returned from the war he dug into his resources and gave money to build a cenotaph in Melbourne so he could acknowledge the heroism of his fallen comrades.

''Yet when we drove to the nearest town [Coleraine] after visiting Fighting Hills, the main street was still named 'White Street' - after the murderers.

''I'd like to know just who would be bloodless enough to suggest we do not need to recognise the bravery of these people.''

Professor Flannery pointed out that Australia would do well to take lessons from its elders.

He said technology had made the world smaller, and communication and building strong links had become the key to successful business. But far from being covered in dust in the history books, Aboriginal people had pioneered the structure in which such relationships needed to be build.

''Aborigines were the only people who, without the assistance of any transport, forged a community of knowledge and interconnectedness that spanned an entire continent,'' Professor Flannery said.

''If you look at the records, people from the Kimberley knew the names of people living in the Great Australian Bight.

''They did not trade in physical goods, they traded in intellectual property, in songs and knowledge. The maintenance of that connectedness is an echo of the world we're now moving into because knowledge is everything in the modern world.''

Professor Flannery ended by reflecting on Australian politics, in which he said Aboriginal people and Australians were perhaps more aligned than they realised.

Where the nation was once divided between European pastoralists, Aborigines and environmentalists, the interests of all three groups were now merging.

''There is a thirst out there for a new sort of partnership, reflecting a new reality and that reality is that Europeans on the land, Aboriginal people and environmentalists now have a very strong common thread.

''But unless we acknowledge and really come to terms with our past, we won't be able to fully take the benefits of the diverse place Australia has become.''