How long must it take? We immigrants and descendants of colonisers occupy a continent that belongs to the First Australians. We ought to be grateful. Instead, we have inflicted on them everything from prejudice to genocide. We have raped, enslaved, massacred, dispossessed, stolen their children, neglected, insulted and demeaned the First Australians for their very existence.
John Howard might well dismiss my comment as a “black armband view of history” but those of us with consciences and a respect for the dignity and welfare of others cannot. No, it may not have been I that shot an aborigine or raped his wife or stole his children but I and all others whose country this is [not], have an obligation to make proper and real amends for the hurt inflicted on people who had lived in this country for 60,000 years or more.
To their credit, the First Australians have attempted, despite having every reason not to do so, to adapt to our alien culture, sacred beliefs, social system and laws. They have fought alongside us in wars that were none of their making and nothing to do with them. They have taught us how to survive in a landscape hostile to our way of living and thinking. They have learned to speak our language, to accept ways of child-rearing and education that are completely at odds with their traditions, and they have sought to achieve the ability, knowledge and talents that have allowed them to work. in our social settings, to competently fulfil jobs of our economic system and to achieve significant political office and senior appointments in many other areas of service to the whole nation.
How many of us have taken even a few steps in reciprocation?
Despite all, many in our population and probably the majority of those that represent us in State and Federal Government, have failed to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be treated equitably. To add insult to injury, their achievements and contribution to this nation, whose non-indigenous ancestors stole their country, might as well never have happened if judged by the scant acknowledgement they receive. Even today, as I write, the Australian Government continues to treat the First Australians with disdain. Not only did the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, instantly reject out of hand the Uluru Declaration – the result of a process that he instigated and that represented support from the coming together of all First Australians, but he and his government continue to make decisions affecting the First peoples which not only don’t include them but appear to specifically exclude them.
This situation is despicable and shameful and, in my view, every non-First Australian should demand that our obligations to these people be met NOW. It is time for the talking and prevarication and ideologically driven attempts to re-write history, of those such as John Howard, be cast into the dustbin of history where they belong.
I am white. I am an immigrant. I am a descendant of British origins. I accept the guilt I feel, the sorrow I feel, the disgust I feel for the treatment of the First Australians by my ancestors and other colonists and their descendants since the first invasion and occupation of this continent by other races. Yes, I am as guilty as they and that guilt will continue to haunt me until the Australian community and its supposed representatives, the Australian State and Federal Governments, CHANGE. “Sorry” was a start but “sorry” means little when it an apology made without CHANGE.
I am a nobody. I have no wealth, no power, no prominent position. I do have an intellect. I do have compassion. I do have an ethical and moral code. I do recognise when there is a real wrong that is NOT taken seriously and is even being perpetuated with further demeaning measures such as the Northern Territory Intervention and paternalistic control of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander allowances.
I CALL ON ALL AUSTRALIANCES OF CONSCIENCE TO STAND WITH THE FIRST AUSTRALIANS AND DEMAND OF GOVERNMENT THAT THE FIRST PEOPLES BE INCLUDED AS A FIRST PRINCIPLE IN ANY GOVERNMENT DISCUSSIONS THAT MAY DIRECTLY AFFECT THE FUTURES OF THOSE FIRST PEOPLES AND THAT AN IMMEDIATE CHANGE TO THEIR STATUS AND ITS RECOGNITION BE MADE TO REDRESS THE SAD, DEPRESSED AND INEQUITABLE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH MOST FIRST AUSTRALIANS LIVE.