This call was not for First Nations people to tell the truth about the dispossession, brutality and racism they had experienced.
This dispossession, brutality and racism is something Aboriginal and Torres Strait families know all about — this knowledge is something they live with, have grown up with.
The call was for the nation — everyone else — to step up and finally acknowledge the truth about the origins of the settlement of this country.
It was a call for non-Indigenous Australians to bear witness to the experiences, sufferings and survival of First Nations Peoples.
This call was echoed in this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme: Be Brave. Make Change.
But it is a call that has been reverberating down the passage of time since Yorta Yorta man Jack Patten spoke the following words on Radio 2SM in Sydney on January 26, 1938:
“… the time has come now, after 150 years of so-called progress, for the white people of Australia to face up to their responsibilities … we now ask for freedom and equal citizenship. Our only hope of obtaining justice is to arouse the conscience of the white people of Australia, and to make them realise how lacking they have been in regard to accepting their responsibilities towards us, the original owners of the land.”
The request — in 1938 — was for non-Aboriginal Australians to acknowledge the history of the settlement of this land, to understand the impact this had on First Nations peoples across the continent.
Again in 1992, there was a call for an understanding of the history of the settlement of Australia. This time it was the then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.
In his Redfern speech to launch Australia’s celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, Mr Keating recognised the importance of this acknowledgement of history.
He called it a “test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in.”
“How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia,” he said.
Again, it was a call from Mr Keating for non-Aboriginal Australians to step up, to recognise.
“… the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians,” he said in the Redfern speech.
“Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases, the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.”
He said that with some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask — how would I feel if this were done to me? And, as a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
So here we are in 2022, being asked to ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’
Non-Aboriginal Australians being asked to bear witness to the uncomfortable truths.
There is the beginning of a re-assessment of early ‘pioneers’ of the country – looking at their achievements through a different lens.
Whilst these re-assessments and conversations can be challenging, it is a necessary part of understanding the real history of this country, to be better able to talk about it.
One such story is that of Angus McMillan – Scottish ‘explorer’ of Gippsland, with a number of commemorative cairns dedicated to his memory – and the Highlands Brigade.
Angus McMillan led the Highland Brigade in many massacres of Aboriginal people, including at Warrigal Creek in 1843. Photograph: State Library of Victoria
Mr McMillan’s story is also the story of one of the worst massacres in Australian history.
Occurring in July 1843, between 60 to 150 Gunaikurnai men, women and children were killed in the mass slaughter, as revenge for the murder of Port Albert squatter, Ronald Macalister.
These are stories the perpetrators wanted everyone to forget; stories hidden, swept under the carpet.
Stories referred to in code – ‘dispersal’ rather than ‘killing’.
And they become part of the ‘Great Silence’ about the terrible events that shaped our country.
But it’s time we need to be honest, to face our history square on.
Sir Samuel Walker Griffith was a Queensland premier.
He was also Australia’s first High Court Justice and a key author of the Constitution – a man with a brilliant legal mind.
And yet, during his tenure, the north of Australia was the scene of some of the country’s most brutal Frontier Wars.
There were unpunished bloody massacres and violence – actions that were illegal.
Aboriginal people were considered British subjects and such killings should have amounted to murder. But there were no perpetrators held to account.
Not only this, the pastoral leases that existed, explicitly forbade forcible removal of Aboriginal people from their land.
Be Brave. Make Change. Consider our history – not just the achievements, but the darker, uglier side.
It is the latter that is holding back our ability to move forward, to see a different country that can finally face our past full on.
We can be brave, and this can help us make change.
So, we can celebrate the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture and our honesty in facing the truth.
What can you do?
To find out more about the Redfern Speech visit: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/paul-keatings-redfern-speech
Read Henry Reynolds’ book Truth Telling.
Join Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group’s Facebook: facebook.com/RespectSRRG
Download the Events for NAIDOC WEEK 2022 in Shepparton
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