A friend of a friend posted this on Facebook the other day:
As I see it the Aboriginals should celebrate Australia day as we all do, the present Australia is what we are enjoying, not the past, we all embrace our home and look to the future for us all. Countries have fort in wars and won lands as far back as the Romans and beyond etc, We cannot change the past but we can all care about each and every person that make our great country what it is today. I love Australia day and I guess it is to each and every one of us what we want it to be. I celebrate ALL our beautiful cultures that call Australia home. I do not even think of 200 years ago none of us can be accountable for what happened back then, The Aboriginals I am sure have a lot to be grateful for the arrival of the first fleet, for if they did not come they would still be camping under, or worse still, paying for there grocer’s with the currency Yen. Now that is a scary thought. In WA we have many Aboriginals and I personally could introduce you to 3 women that could not give a dam as they are happy with beautiful families. So forgive me for not jumping on the band wagon as I do love Australia day our Aboriginals love the fire works as well. keep happy and look to the future, keep our country together for all our sakes.”
Many Australians would agree with these sentiments. But as soon as you scratch the surface, you discover problems.
Here are SOME reasons…
Firstly, it’s not about whether we, personally, were responsible for what happened to Aborigines 200 years ago. We weren’t responsible for white settlement either, but we still celebrate that. Surely the same rules apply to both sides?
Secondly, it’s not about whether Aborigines are happy in today’s Australia. It’s about recognising the genocide of our past, and not celebrating it (which is how Aborigines feel).
Thirdly, it’s not about just the 3 Aboriginal women you know. Everyone has anecdotal evidence to support their opinions. Unfortunately, that’s often the only way people develop their opinions. But anecdotes don’t change the facts. These are the facts…
- For generations, Aborigines were massacred, treated as animals, tortured, poisoned, wrongfully imprisoned, raped and enslaved.
- They had their children forcibly taken away from them, and they weren’t even counted in the census until 1971 (until then they were effectively classified as animals).
- Only 27 years ago, 70,000 Aboriginal people (31% of the total Aboriginal population) were homeless or living in inadequate housing.
- Amnesty International reported that Australia has violated human rights obligations in its treatment of Aboriginal people. (Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, 1991)
- 17 years ago, WA Liberal Senator Lightfoot said “in their native state”, Aborigines were the lowest colour of the spectrum of civilisation. (Secombe, M., (1997) “New senator’s rude remarks make Howard run for cover”, in The Gallery, Thursday, May 29)
- 6 years ago, literacy and numeracy failure rates among Northern Territory Aboriginal children up to 10 times higher than the national average.
- 5 years ago, Aborigines represented 2% of population, but 26% of our prison population. To say there’s no racism is to say that as a race, Aborigines are 13 times as criminal as the rest of society! Ridiculous! (Civil Liberties Australia (19 Sept 2009))
- Also 5 years ago, many Victorian Aborigines were barred from obtaining a driver’s licence, voting, opening a bank account and receiving social security benefits because their births were never registered and they officially don’t exist.
- Also only 5 years ago, Aborigines were 6 times more likely to go blind!
- As a group, Aborigines experience racism every day, whether they live in the burbs or in a reserve. They have worse access to health, clean water and education. They have higher infant mortality rates, shorter lives, and more illness in between.
- They’re not even allowed to choose their own sense of self/identity… They’re not allowed to be black if they take advantage of white man’s conveniences and lifestyle (or if they look white). Greeks are allowed to be Greek, even though they enjoy the modern world. Why not Aborigines too? And, in something of a Catch 22, Aborigines aren’t allowed to be white if they look black! It’s important to note, too, that most Aborigines identify as Aboriginal, a very distinctive culture, even if they live a ‘modern life’ or look white.
- Aborigines were condemned because they were awarded land rights, then condemned again because (in some cases) they mis-managed the associated finances they had no training or experience to manage. (Some would even say they were set up to fail.)
- And most attempts to fix the ‘Aboriginal problem’ (not the ‘White problem’, even though it was all caused by whites) are imposed ON Aborigines from outside. So they’re denied self-determination, and this is one of the biggest issues for Aboriginal leaders.
- I could go on…
Yet John Howard had the ignorance/dishonesty to say, 9 years ago: “I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country.”
So honestly, in the face of all of those problems, how can we expect Aboriginal people to feel happy about a national public holiday that celebrates such a history? That our entire country celebrates with almost no sensitivity. Would you expect the Jews to celebrate a German event that led to the Holocaust?
This image says it all:
For a shared celebration, we need something we all feel like celebrating
I, too, would like all Australians to celebrate shared vision and culture. But it’s a big ask to expect Aborigines to join us in this celebration when it’s rooted in a genocidal past. If we truly want to celebrate a shared vision, why not create a new one together (perhaps on a different date with no historical significance)?