Flat White

Bleeding hearts a roadblock to reconciliation – and more

26 January 2017

5:56 PM

26 January 2017

5:56 PM

AUSTRALIA-ABORIGINESIn recent years it has become increasingly fashionable to lament Australia Day instead of celebrating it. Indeed, a day founded on the idea of shared nationhood unity is at serious risk of being hijacked by those who wish to use it as a platform preach collective guilt and perseverate over historical grievances.

Few, if any Australians would dispute the historical injustices perpetrated against Australia’s indigenous population. So why should we have a problem with the growing minority that chooses to infuse Australia Day with division and bitterness?

It’s both easy and morally satisfying to condemn the wrongs of previous generations based on the virtue and enlightenment of today. It’s especially easy when all you’re doing is heaping scorn on people who died hundreds of years ago without any mention of what just reparations for indigenous Australians might entail.

What is far more difficult – yet infinitely more consequential – is to talk constructively about what can be done to rectify the disadvantage faced by Indigenous people living in Australia today.

Put another way, how many people who take to social media on every January 26 to hang their head over Australia’s colonial shame care about Indigenous disadvantage the other 364 days of the year?

It’s worth checking out your local ‘Invasion Day’ event and glancing through the list of attendees. We can’t over generalise; many at these events are Indigenous people and leaders who still feel a keen sense of injustice over the events of the past. But how many are part of the same muesli-chewing rent-a-crowd that turns out to any opportunity to shout obscenities in public?

Clearly, there is much satisfaction to be derived from sharing Facebook images shaming your friends who spend the day drinking around the pool rather than wallowing in their own guilt. But rarely do people talk frankly about what these yearly exercises in national self-loathing are likely to achieve.

Above all, recasting Australia Day as ‘invasion day’ promotes the idea that spending a day celebrating what it is to be Australian is inherently hostile Indigenous people. Quite apart from raising awareness about Indigenous disadvantage, invasion day politicises it. It teaches us that to be patriotic is to be unfeeling, even defiant of the wrongs committed against Australia’s first people.

Is this kind of thing likely to foster the goodwill that will push governments to do more and work harder to alleviate indigenous disadvantage? They might, if the invasion day rent-a-crowd actually named one tangible policy objective besides decolonising the entire continent. But let’s not pretend heaping scorn on our colonial forbears or the Australia Day revellers of today does anything at all to address Indigenous life expectancy, unemployment or educational achievement. In fact, the indigenous people afflicted most by these problems won’t be seen anywhere near a protest rally on Australia day. They’ll be out in remote communities, hundreds of kilometres away from the hessian sack-wearing beatniks you’re likely to see shrieking into a megaphone on the six o’clock news.

Truth be told, if your goal is to divide Australia into victims and oppressors, the invasion day tagline would be one of the more effective ways of going about it.

We can navel gaze all we like about the death and destruction brought to bear on the traditional Indigenous way of life in 1788. But for the motley crew of poseurs whose sole contribution to the plight indigenous disadvantage is just that, it’s time to stop pretending you’re engaging in some kind of noble act of civil disobedience

Unless you genuinely want to indigenous Australia to secede and form its own nation – in other words, reinstate a twenty-first-century Australian apartheid – you aren’t helping reconciliation by choosing January 26th to pontificate about the original sin of Australia’s colonisation. In fact, you’re hindering it.

Are there chapters of our history that are vexing, regrettable and perhaps even bloodcurdling? Absolutely. Yet if you look across the globe, it’s striking to note how few countries and civilisations haven’t been blighted by conquest at some point in history. Even Great Britain, the greatest colonial power the world has seen endured a period of bloody occupation by the Romans early in its history.

Most countries take at least one day a year to celebrate their nationhood, often with far more fuss and officialdom and than we do to mark ours. Yet scarce few seem to feel a growing itch to spend that day revelling in cultural self-flagellation.

Those who pretend that celebrating Australia Day is tantamount to re-committing the sins of centuries past like to think they are doing indigenous Australia a service. But if in the future Australia Day does become a day mired by division, the race-baiters will only have themselves to thank.

John Slater is Executive Director of the H.R. Nicholls Society 

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