Today, the anniversary of the 1992 Mabo decision in the High Court, marks the end of Reconciliation Week, which started on May 27, the anniversary of the 1967 referendum which saw over 90% of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and to recognise them in the national census.
When I was at school we learnt very little about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and colonisation. We certainly didn’t learn about massacres, children being forcibly removed from loving families and other aspects of the discrimination and racism that forms the lives of many Indigenous Australians today and in the past.
We also didn’t learn about the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, notable Indigenous Australians and attempts to bring justice and reconciliation.
Even though there are still people who reject what they call a “black armband” view of Australia’s history and claim that politics needs to be removed from history in school my daughters have received a much more balanced understanding of the Australia’s history.
Reconciliation week encourages us to acknowledge that notions of Terra Nullius (the claim that Australia was unoccupied pre-colonisation) and a peaceful settlement of Australia are lies. It encourages us to recognise that there were many atrocities and acts of violence during the invasion of Aboriginal land. It encourages us to address the racism, discrimination and injustice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still experience.
But Reconciliation also encourages us to recognise the many strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people. It encourages us to celebrate cultures that has survived for over 40,000 years. It encourages us to value the contribution made by the first people of our nation.
I remember reading Henry Reynolds’ book “The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia” in the 1980s. It challenged so many of the common perceptions of Australia’s history since the arrival of White people. It forced me and other non-Aboriginal Australians to look more honestly at our past. It isn’t about feeling guilty or responsible; it’s about acknowledging a history of dispossession.
I also remember being moved to tears during the national apology to the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who had been forcibly removed from their families) by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. This was an important step in a journey of reconciliation. To his great shame, the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, had steadfastly refused to make an apology.
It’s important to recognise we are not talking ancient history. Most Aboriginal people I have met were directly or indirectly affected by the Stolen Generations. They continue to face discrimination and racism on a frequent basis. Reconciliation thus needs to not only acknowledge the wrongs of the past (an important part of any reconciliation process) but also take positive action to address current issues face by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
As Reconciliation Week finishes, it is important to keep working towards creating an Australia we can all be proud of.
As Australians, we are all here, woven into this country.
As part of our reconciliation journey, there are truths to tell, stories to celebrate, and relationships to grow.
Reconciliation is at the heart of our nations’ future.
Join us on our nation’s reconciliation journey. (Reconciliation Australia)
If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
- Stan Grant “Racism is destroying the Australian Dream”
- Saturday quote – We are sorry
- Creating positive images of Aboriginal fathers
- Being an Aboriginal father in prison
- Literature on engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities
- The widening gap between rich and poor – Time to even it up.