As discussed in Australia and new challenges, I have become interested in the issue of equality for Indigenous Australians the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I intend to expand on the issues once I have learned more myself, however this post is a reflection of my initial impressions, based on a small amount of knowledge.
In an unsatisfactory-sized nutshell; the British arrived in Australia in 1788. Initially, attempts were made to establish relationships with the Indigenous people of the land in a superior, “we’re British, we wear ridiculous, debilitating clothing and have guns, therefore we’re superior to you naked savages” kind-of-a-way. In doing so we brought smallpox which wiped out enormous numbers of our hosts, who scattered across the country to escape, thus spreading the disease. Then we just started divvying up land that didn’t belong to us between ourselves and introduced alcohol which decimated communities. When the blighters didn’t show gratitude for our demonstration of civilisation, we started killing them. Over 200 years hence the atrocities continued, including herding Indigenous Australians into missions to “protect” them, banning Indigenous culture, imposing our religion and language and, why the hell not, removing children from families all the way up to the 1960’s. Indigenous communities disproportionately experience social issues today, with high instances of substance misuse, emotional difficulties, mental health problems, unemployment, poverty, low educational achievement, identity issues and contact with the criminal justice system.It is accepted that European colonisation and policies and practices of previous governments have directly contributed to this. We’ve really done ourselves proud this time.
Once again, I’m left with the uncomfortable knowledge that the actions of my people, have caused the misery and death of another and I sit here comfortable, job to go to, a good education behind me, family intact and little to complain about. The land on which I am really rather quite enjoying this nice weather in December, belongs to another people. People who, thus far, I have only seen in fleeting glances.
Glenelg is a suburb of Adelaide which has a rather beautiful beach. Overlooking the beach is an imposing monument which commemorates the landing of pioneer settlers and Governer Hindmarsh’s announcement of “the establishment of government” on 28 December 1836. It also makes reference to the South Australia Foundation Act of 1834. My initial thoughts were that this amounts to the celebration of invasion and death of the indigenous people of this land.
Once you tune in to this thought that Australia belongs to someone else, a someone else whose communities have been devastated and who you rarely see, it becomes quite uncomfortable. After visiting Glenelg I proceeded to the north side of the city to North Terrace, where there are a number of monuments commemorating; citizen soldiers of the state who fought in the South Africa War (Boer War), Dame Roma Mitchell, Mary Lee, Lord Flarey, Sir Mellis Napier, Mark Oliphant, Matthew Flinders, World War 1 and Sir Walton Watson Hughes. With the exception of Matthew Flinders, all of these were born after 1788 when Australia was “discovered”. It’s almost like Australia didn’t exist before we turned up, never mind the fact that Aboriginal people were here for 50,000 years prior to that fateful day. There is much pride visible in regard to the “pioneers” and explorers who, ultimately, contributed to the obliteration of one of the most ancient civilisations in the world. Monuments to the custodians of this land are in short supply, although there is a commemoration to the horses who died in World War 1.
There is some acknowledgement of an Aboriginal presence, the Aboriginal flag is prominent. In many places where the Australian national flag is flying, the red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag will be beside it. It is also common for meetings to commence with an acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land, I have had my first experience of this, when a meeting was opened with the following statement;
“we acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. We acknowledge that they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today.”
However, the presence and legacy of the British in Australia feels like an overwhelming occupation of a place where we had no right to be, albeit hundreds of years ago. Reminders are everywhere, memorials, names of places, white faces and of course on the Australian national flag. I prefer the version below.
My initial impressions of this situation have been quite negative and I hasten to add that I have yet to experience the strength and perseverance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These traits are undeniable given the hardships these people have endured and their ongoing presence both in body, symbol and statement. Battles have been undertaken and are ongoing for the rights of Aboriginal people, both by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, with many successes, which I intend to research further before discussing here. I am also encouraged by the attitudes of people who I have spoken to who are knowledgable about the issues and recognise a need for progress.
I remain ill-at-ease with the past atrocities of my people and with the fact that today, I personally benefit from those actions. However, a will for equality and justice is most certainly present as well as numerous individuals and groups fighting for those ends which, to me, is what humankind is really about.