It's time Aborigines got due recognition

Peter Gebhardt Sydney Morning Herald January 26, 2011

A change to the constitution would show our maturity.

Late last year Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin banded together to announce a referendum proposal concerning Aborigines and the Australian constitution. It was the most bland and passionless occasion.

It ought to have been a significant one because it involved the future of relationships between the originals and the usurpers. Does political power rob the power-bearers of blood in their veins?

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Newspaper commentary on this pointed to the long-term importance of the issues for this country, for the proper independence and maturity of the citizens and for the potential for a distinctive civilisation.

Australia Day, that artificial and trumped-up celebration, the excuse for manufactured emotion, should force us to look closely at our history and the truths of that history vis-a-vis the Aboriginal population and the brutal facts of that history.

Mostly, Australia Day is designed to suffocate truth and fact. We are not asked to think about those first steps by the governor and the imprint they left on the landscape and the inhabitants. That first step was the beginning of a history we have refused to acknowledge, to understand and to negotiate, all to our historical detriment. Succeeding hordes of imprinters do not know and do not want to know. The triumphalism of Australia Day is tainted by the tragedy of ignorance and imposed ignominy.

It has been apparent with respect to asylum seekers that courage in our political leaders is smothered by populist attitudes that bear no relation to the alleged Christian values that are supposed to prevail in this nation; it is no better with our attitudes to the Aborigines. We take what we want from them - sport, film, drama and art - but we do not expose ourselves to their value systems for we are too smug in our own and too hypocritical about theirs.

We will enliven our civilisation when we learn to appreciate the original owners and their diverse cultural achievements. It is not good enough to adopt the "Howard defence" - I didn't have anything to do with the past and, therefore, there is no need for me to come to terms with it. He couldn't accept guilt but, worse still, he couldn't express shame.

Howard was too much of a coward to embrace what was good and right for the country. He extinguished hope.

The resilience of the Aboriginal people has been a palpable marvel. We ought to respond to that by putting aside all ignorance and prejudice and inviting them to our collective table as equals.

I have been working alongside some Aboriginal tertiary students for the past few years.

It has been a wonderful listening experience. I have come to realise that we have so much we can learn and take into our own lives. They value their culture but want to be part of the broader community. We should all embrace the history and the culture and incorporate it into the fabric of our institutions and our lives. We got part of the way there in 1967. We should go all the way this time and push the political ninnies by our own persuasion.

If Australia Day is to have any legitimacy, it will only be so because Australians understand what that first footprint did to an ancient civilisation. Currently, Australia Day attempts to legitimise conquest. It is not a day of celebration for a revolution (France) or independence (US).

Of course, there have been great achievements in this country, great contributions to the world stage and significant developments politically. It has become a desirable place to live - obviously, the asylum seekers think so.

There are gaps; some sadly widening, such as that between rich and poor. There is extensive poverty and homelessness. Many lead desperate lives because they are not secure. Rights and freedom are enjoyed.

Who remain the most deprived in the community? The Aborigines. That is something of which we ought to be ashamed. While a referendum won't address the deprivation, it should allow the Aborigines to feel attached to what was once their territory. They remain aliens in their own land. We have made them thus and it is time to dress the deep wounds, and to repair the dysfunction we have erected. It would do us so much good and make us so much wiser and so much more mature.

We are not talking about the "black armband" views of history. We are, or should be, talking about the ''whitewash'' views of history. It is time to attend to our national colour-blindness. It is truly time for supremacy to give way to the equanimity of equality, to the sustenance of sharing.

There are two issues that will manifest our maturity: first, proper constitutional recognition of the first people; second, independence from the regal pantomime in England.

Peter Gebhardt is a Melbourne poet and former County Court judge.

Let it wither on the vine

Australia Day celebrates murder and genocide

Joseph Toscano Anarchist Age Weekly Review January 27th, 2011

Australia Day – Invasion Day, has despite the reservations of an increasing number of Australians become the day most Australians celebrate their identity. Despite the holding of Survival Day events by the more radical elements of the indigenous community on the day and the annual debate that occurs about the significance of the day among the more liberal elements of the mass media the great majority of Australians equate the day when a penal settlement was established at Port Jackson in New South Wales in 1788 and the colonisation process began which led to the violent dispossession of a people who had continuously inhabited this continent for over 40,000 years, as their national day.

While most of the world (including India, which celebrates its national day on the 26th January) celebrates their national day on the day they achieved their independence as a nation state, we as Australians celebrate a day when a series of events was unleashed which almost led to the extinction of a people as our national day. I'm sure the irony of this farcical situation would not have been lost on Australians if the Japanese Imperial Forces had successfully colonised Australia during World War Two and in 2011 we were celebrating our national day on the day that invasion began.

It is time Australians who oppose these inappropriate celebrations stopped supporting and holding events on the 26th January, even if these events are designed to provide alternatives for people on the day and choose other days to hold celebrations to celebrate what we as a people and a nation stand for.

Indigenous Freedom Fighters Day, 20th January, the day in 1842 the indigenous freedom fighters Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were publicly executed in Melbourne, Mabo Day 3rd June the day in 1992 the High Court of Australia recognised that indigenous Australians had rights to land in law because of the prior occupation of this land, Wattle Day 1st September a day which recognises the emergence of an independent national identity in this country and Eureka Day, 3rd December, the day in 1854 when people of all nationalities, cultures and religions took a stand in Australia to defend the inalienable rights and liberties they believed they were born with are all more appropriate days to celebrate our identity as a people and a nation than the 26th January.

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