This Australia Day 2016

Over the last week or so leading up to Australia Day 2016, important voices have addressed the issue of reconciliation to heal the wound in the Australian Nation. 

There was Deng Thiak Adut’s Australia Day Speech that focussed on freedom and fear. It’s remarkable that Refugee-Turned-Human-Rights-Lawyer Adut would speak into the Australian nation with such a pertinent message - particularly given the current political sentiments around refugees. Adut reminded Australians that sometimes in order “to appreciate the value of freedom one must first be denied it.” 

And among the many Australians from many nations, more than any other group it is Indigenous Australians who this statement might resonate most strongly with. Adut’s words in many ways reflect what Indigenous Australians experienced ever since white settlers first arrived and the systematic and forced denial of their freedoms and rights began.

Clover Moore, Mayor of Sydney, put words to this thought: ’From the perspective of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship, the rest of us are newcomers’. I wonder what the Gadigal people in 1788 thought as they watched sailing ships coming up their harbour? Did they realise that their civilisation was about to be uprooted? Did they watch with interest and wonder? How soon did that interest turn to mortal fear? 

Stan Grant left little room to wonder. His own story, told at the IQ2 Racism Debate in October 2015 but only published this week, highlighted with deep passion and deep connectedness the pain, ”humiliation, dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival” of indigenous Australians. 

The statistics of Indigenous injustice alone are staggering.  Stories, such as Stan’s go beyond mere numbers.  Stories that are the shared experience of millions of indigenous Australians. Stories that have largely gone unheard, forgotten over the years, and little if any attention. But nevertheless, they are stories that need to be brought to the light and be recognised for what they tell of: the grave, horrendous injustices born out of a colonialist, white supremacist worldview.

And today, on Australia Day 2016, Google chose Ineka Voigt’s painting ‘Stolen Dreamtime’ as their ‘Google Doodle’. It is a timely and political statement. 

About ‘Stolen Dreamtime’ Google says, ”it’s a powerful and beautiful image that is not only a brilliant artwork, but helps bring attention to the critical issue of reconciliation in Australia.” 

It is an image that makes us listen to the ”howl of the Australian Dream” (Stan Grant) and challenges Australians to not look away. To not just ‘throw another snag on the barbie’ and ignore the past. 

These last few days are reason to hope there could be a rising momentum to bring more attention to this traumatic past, and open minds for a hard and honest conversation about Australia’s history, constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, the first bloody chapter of white settlement in Australia, and about who we are and who we have been as as nation. 

Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson wrote in “A Rightful Place”, that ”no matter how much white Australians might want to ignore it or black Australians might want to reject it”, the modern state of Australia has both Indigenous and British heritage. Other national types, principally the Irish, arrived with the First Fleet. Lots of others have come since and added to the simmering pot of Australian identity. (Source)

As a German-Australian I think I have a little bit of an idea of how hard it is to deal with the past and to understand National Guilt. How much it can hurt. And I know it is not an easy journey. But if we dig deep, if after saying sorry we get on our knees asking for forgiveness and truly mourn with those who mourn the loss of their identity, culture, language and families, if we embrace this conversation and each other, then reconciliation has a chance. It will not be an easy path, it will not be a one day event, but it is an altogether necessary journey and the right path to walk. Together.

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