The cantankerous presence of Sam Kekovich on my television screen can only mean two things: that my sister’s incessant channel surfing has rendered yet another ad-break and that Australia Day is once again upon us. But for a date set aside to garnish our plates with lamb and our cheeks with temporary symbols of patriotism, the old anniversary of this nation’s federation cops a bit of flak. Some would prefer that we label this celebration Invasion Day, while others would choose not to observe its festivities at all. There are those who possess a most passionate retort to either of these suggestions and still some remain in quiet apathy, content to enjoy just another public holiday. Whatever your opinion on the matter, it seems that much of the rambunctious rhetoric that surrounds our national holiday involves issues of Indigenous Rights… I would contend that we need to get some things straight about this country.
For over two hundred years this nation has systemically subjugated an entire race of people. Guilty of cultural genocide, state sanctioned discrimination, and unspeakable human rights violations, the indigent population of Australia have suffered immeasurable oppression. However, the greatest injustice in which we participate today is that of silence. There seems to be some universal understanding that if we don’t talk about the skeletons in our closet, if we simply ignore the tragedy of our own history there will be no need to take responsibility for it. And so we tell ourselves with every measure of self deception that it wasn’t us, that it isn’t us. And yet injustice prevails. Even today, Aboriginal communities across the nation lack adequate healthcare, affordable housing, and equal opportunity to education and employment. This is the reality of a people dispossessed and subjugated to point of cultural extinction.
But what is our response to such a systemic issue?
Well some people declare that they were born in Australia and as such have just as much right to live here. To these individuals I would like to highlight that no one is asking you to leave. Others believe that Aboriginals are completely entitled to a degree of reconciliation so long as it does not inconvenience anyone. And there are those who would suggest that having apologized, Indigenous Australians simply need to construct some manner of proverbial viaduct that they might somehow “get over it.”
But the consequences of our collecting history would suggest that saying sorry simply isn’t enough. The victimization of Aboriginal Australia is generational; this would suggest the prevalence of such oppression is generational also. It seems then, that this nation needs to embrace a spirit of reconciliation. I don’t mean the practice of recognizing the original owners of this land to appease some sense of political correctness, and I’m not talking about flying both the Australian and Aboriginal flag (this distinction alone highlights my point) to avail those few bothersome voices that whine about equality. While these aren’t bad places to start, the reconciliation I speak of is a restorative justice that seeks to heal the wounds of our past.
It’s not enough to say sorry; we have to be sorry.
Reconciling this nation must be a collaborative activity. On the one hand, Indigenous Australia will need to come prepared to forgive the abhorrent injustices of the past. But on the other, (and most importantly of all) the rest of this country must come repentant and self-effacing, willing to embrace our fear of change and take responsibility for the past. When this begins to happen, not through hollow gesture but with humble hearts, then our two peoples might come together and forge a united future for this country
Maybe then we can celebrate a new Australia Day; one that commemorates the federation of all of Australia.
You know it makes sense!