Post Australia Day Reflection

by Lisa Hunt-Wotton

I am embarrassed to say that I was raised in  ‘white middle class Australia’, in Melbourne,  with little to no education about Indigenous Australians.  As a primary school child I thought that Aboriginals existed 100’s of years ago.  I was certainly not told of stolen generations, genocides or massacres.  I thought that they had just dissapeared.

It is deeply disturbing to me and I am remorseful that it took until my 50’s before I began to understand the true nature of our heritage and history.

Yesterday, Australia Day, I took the time to listen to podcasts, videos and stories about the feelings and emotions that our Indigenous brothers and sisters have concerning ‘Australia Day’.  I learned that they find it a grievous day, a day of mourning, a day of survival and a day that signifies invasion and war.  A day that signifies the dispossession of the first people.

The War of 1816

by Michael K . Organ

Secret Service: Governor Macquarie’s Aboriginal War of 1816

On 9 April 1816 Governor Lachlan Macquarie, supreme representative of the Crown in the Australian colonies, declared war on the Aboriginal people of New South Wales. The declaration was never explicitly stated or announced publicly, and the official histories do not record it. However the reality was clear from the secret orders issued to the military regiments under his command and from Macquarie’s public proclamation of 4 May outlining punitive actions to be taken against the Aboriginal population.

 

The governor declared that Aboriginal men shot and killed during such encounters were to be hung from trees in prominent positions, to strike fear and terror amongst the surviving Aboriginal population. .

 

The bodies of slain warriors were also decapitated, and their heads sent off to museums in Europe. Camps were created to house those people captured, whilst prisoners were transported to penal establishments such as Port Arthur and children were taken from families and tribes for re-education. Gatherings of six or more Aborigines were declared illegal, customary practice was outlawed, as was the carrying of spears, and the non-Aboriginal civilian population was granted permission to shoot and kill those Aborigines who did not adhere to the tenets of the various proclamations issued by government.

 

On 20 July the governor issued another proclamation declaring ten Aboriginal warriors outlaws. Therein he stated in the harshest possible terms that members of the public were granted “the power to kill and utterly destroy them,” and receive a reward of £10 for each for doing so.

 

Macquarie’s war of 1816 was not an isolated event, but a continuation of the unofficial war which had existed in Australia since the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in January 1788

The three major causes of Aboriginal depopulation: massacre, sexual abuse, and disease.

Niel Black, a young stockman in western Victorian in the 1840s, wrote that it was common for men ‘to sleep all night with a lubra and if she poxes him or in any way offends him, perhaps shoot her before twelve next day’.

 

Today I’ve read stories of women who were raped and tortured.  Children and babies who were buried in the dirt leaving their heads out of the soil for English soldiers to kick their heads off their buried bodies.  Whole tribes and mobs of Aboriginals decimated and murdered.

What horrifies me even more is that atrocities against Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders that continued to happen right up to the 1960’s.  I was born in the 1960’s and these things were still going on.

The “Stolen Generations” is the name given to at least 100,000 Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed or taken under duress from their families by police or welfare officers between 1910 and 1970, as stated in in the Bringing Them Home Report.

 

1869 

The Aborigines Protection Act (Vic) establishes an Aborigines Protection Board in Victoria, giving the Governor the power to order the removal of any child from their family to a reformatory or industrial school.

1969

By 1969, all states have repealed the legislation allowing for the removal of Aboriginal children under the policy of ‘protection’. In the following years, Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agencies are set up to contest removal applications and provide alternatives to the removal of Indigenous children from their families.

1980

The first Link-Up Aboriginal Corporation is established in NSW. It provides family tracing, reunion and support services for forcibly removed children and their families.

 

In 1909 the Aborigines Protection Act gave the Aborigines Protection Board legal sanction to take Aboriginal children from their families. In 1915, an amendment to the Act gave the Board power to remove any child without parental consent and without a court order.

It is not known precisely how many Aboriginal children were taken away between 1909 and 1969, when the Aborigines Welfare Board was abolished. Poor record keeping, the loss of records and changes to departmental structures have made it almost impossible to trace many connections.

Almost every Aboriginal family has been affected in some way by the policies of child removal. Taking children from their families was one of the most devastating practices since white settlement and has profound repercussions for all Aboriginal people today.

Aborigninal and Torres Straight Islanders were not even recognised as Australian Citizens and nor could they vote until the referendum of 1967.  Before that they were not even counted in census records, there were not regarded as people.

In Stan Grants now famous speech about his indigenous heritage he shares:

“My grandfather, who married a white woman… lived on the fringes of town until the police came, put a gun to his head, bulldozed his tin humpy, and ran over the graves of the three children he buried there. That’s the Australian dream,” Grant said.

“And if the white blood in me was here tonight, my grandmother, she would tell you of how she was turned away from a hospital… because she was giving birth to the child of a black person.”

In the speech, Grant described the Australian dream as “rooted in racism” and said the past haunts us still, speaking of the lower life expectancy and higher rates of incarceration experienced by indigenous Australians.

He said we sing of the dream in our anthem that doesn’t exist. “But my people die young in this country – we die 10 years younger than average Australians – and we are far from free.”

He called for Australians to acknowledge history and have a hard conversation about the past.

So what does this mean for us now.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” (Marcus Garvey).

I think that any family or culture that hides its past is living a delusion.

If health and wholeness is to come to this nation, we must recognise the hurts and traumas of the past.  Be open, transparent and then do the hard work of seeking reconciliation, trust and healing.  We must embrace the first people.  We must acknowledge their pain, their loss and our part in it. We pride ourselves on being a melting pot, on being a friendly nation yet we are blind to the human cost and atrocities of our past and the inequality of our present.

Four of my ancestors came to Australia on the third fleet as convicts.  They were sent here as punishment.  They also were treated horrendously for stealing: a shawl, a loaf of bread, for being an unwed mother, stealing a horse.  They came in chains, they came against their will.

The Third Fleet comprised 11 ships that set sail from the United Kingdom in February, March and April 1791, bound for the Sydney penal settlement, with more than 2,000 convicts aboard.  My grandparents married, as convicts and together had the first of what were called “Currency Lads and Lasses”.  In 1849, J. P. Townsend wrote: “whites born in the colony…are…called ‘the currency;’ in contrast to those born in the Mother Country who were called Sterling.

Assuredly they had difficult lives.   Yet today convict ancestry is romanticised, there is a pride involved.  A convict is held in higher regard because of the color of their skin.  As demeaning as that is at least they were recognised as people, as currency, as a resource.

Now in 2016 we talk about the Australian Dream

Well, the indigenous dream was already being lived here in Australia.  When the  white man arrived it was doomed to destruction.  We had an inherant racism within us that we bought with us from England.  We the empire of Australia have inherited racism.  ‘We live in denial of our history, we live in denial of our racism that is inherent in our lives’ (Jack Thompson).  We learned great racial atrocity from those who went before us and then they made it a secret.   ‘Until we teach our children the history of who we are, they will be denied a future where they can say there is an Australian dream and I am a part of it’ (Jack Thompson).

The Bringing Them Home Report 1997 argued that around 50,000 children had been taken during the Stolen Generations.

Since this report’s findings more Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children have been removed than during the Stolen Generations. In the 18 years since the report, the number of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children removed has increased by 500% (link).

Each year more children are being removed than during any year of the cruellest of periods, the Stolen Generations. It is not just happening in NSW, but right across the nation. In every year since 2010, the Western Australian Government reported an increase in children removed from their Aboriginal families. In every year since 2010, the removal rate increased by around 10 per cent.

This racism, these atrocities are not history, it is not in the past, it is still happening.

Racism is the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.

Australia,  we need to look long and hard at the double standard of life that we are living.  Australia is not just about the barbie, and the backyard and having a fair go, the beach and living the dream.  Surely Australia we are better than this.  Surely all of us should refuse to celebrate Australia day, on this date,  until we have answered the truth about what has happened and what is happening to our first Australians.

We sing ‘I am, you are we are Australia’.  I’m not sure that we all really understand or reflect this.  I’m not sure that we truly understand our National Identity.  I think that our National Identity is fractured and racist.

I am guilty of worse, I am guilty of having been ignorant.  Ignorant to a people group that I thought was almost extinct.  Well we tried very hard to extinguish them. Michael Mansell says:

“Australia Day is a celebration of an invasion which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Aborigines. To participate would be to abandon the continuing struggle of my people.”

Why is life so much more difficult for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders?

The majority of Aboriginals still occupy the lowest rung of the ladder in Australia.  This country has been built on racism and we have not emerged from this.

Mick Dodson, law professor and Australian of the Year in 2009, spoke to Koori Mail about the community support behind the recognition of Indigenous people regarding Australia Day.

‘Ninety per cent of people are saying Australia Day should be inclusive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. I firmly believe that some day we will choose a date that is a comprehensive and inclusive date for all Australians.’

“The study of the past is the main portal through which culture is acquired.” – Joseph Epstein

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Love Lisa

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4 Comments on “Post Australia Day Reflection

  1. As an older person I recall the time when ‘first nation’ children were removed from their families. The government took a paternalist attitude and did what it genuinely thought best for these children by ‘rescuing’ them from sexual abuse, alcohol fuelled and often violent situations. It was a time when the policy was assimilation rather than multicultural diversity. Of course it was wrong. But all narratives must be interpreted within their history and culture. We Christians do this with scriptural exegesis. We look back and wonder how such brutal actions were taken in the name of a loving God. So let’s not keep looking in the rear view mirror of hate and shame, but look forward to discover how we can move forward as a nation. A good start would be to have another date to celebrate our day together.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m still not sure that we have learnt about our past, there still seems so much that I am discovering as a 40+ year old about my own countries history, and violent past that has shaped my own thinking and judgment if what it means to be australian. I think we need to learn about our past, accept the facts that as a people we created these atrocities, in much the same way Germany has to deal with the atrocities as a country. Being Australian means knowing who we are and where we have come from warts, scars, and all.

        Like

        • I totally agree. I guess I’m angry that I was taught a lie. We do need to be taught properly about our history, society and the causes. I think white supremacy and patriarchy has a lot to answer for and unfortunately those beliefs are alive and well.
          We are all imperfect, we all have warts as you say. My heart is that there be some peace and treaty for Aboriginal Australians – we have so much to learn from each other and the environment is just the start. I love Australia, it is an incredible country and there is room enough for everyone.

          Liked by 1 person

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