Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sorry... not so hard after all


It was just before the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, the platform Aboriginal people used to draw attention to their long struggle for equality and reparation onto the world’s stage, that I escaped to Britain. The shameful way in which my country had treated its indigenous population was not the reason I left – that was down to a rather foolish desire on my part to have a career in popular music. It did however play a part in the complex relationship I have with belonging and identity in general.

Ten years earlier our idealistic but tragically self-destructive Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had predicted that Australia would be judged by its treatment of Aboriginal people. That turned out not to be entirely true. It’s clear the rest of the world doesn’t give a flying fuck about the plight of indigenous Australians except when it requires a suitable benchmark to cast its own brutality in a more favourable light. To that extent, we even managed to make South Africa look good on occasion.

Twenty-five years later, I arrive back in time to witness parliament’s official apology to the Aboriginal people for the Stolen Generations. It’s a proud moment and, I hope, one that represents a new beginning for the people of this country, whose cultural heritage I’d like to stress, is far more diverse than the latent tendency for us to be conveniently described as comprising ‘indigenous and non-indigenous’ people suggests. All that unravelling is to come.

The symbolic gesture of a sincere and contrite admission that the forced removal of children from their parents with neither warning nor justification was wrong, is considered by many of us to be the first step in a very long journey of reconciliation. But there are still others who think that no apology was due, since the practice of stealing children was legal at the time – much like slavery for example. There are many who believe that children were removed for their own protection and that dispatching them into domestic service where they were frequently unpaid and abused (also usually called slavery), was a vast improvement on their previous prospects. It’s not a simple matter. After all, Britain still can't bring itself to apologise for slavery after two hundred years.

It would be a mistake to get too caught up in the euphoria of the moment, historic and emotional as it is. Entrenched views about the perceived worth of Aboriginal people are not likely to change overnight. The complex problems facing many Aboriginal communities are serious and often obscured by disproportionate and salacious media coverage, particularly of sexual violence. Over many years, the distortion has contributed to a widely held belief that Aboriginal people are degenerate and therefore undeserving of support; resistant to any and all well-intentioned initiatives due to an irreconcilable cultural chasm and hopelessly dependent on welfare anyway. That’s going to take a lot of undoing and there are plenty of people in this country who are not inclined to have their fixed views challenged.

But now the words that many thought would never be spoken are out there. Certainly, as a repatriated citizen, I feel the spirit of optimism palpably. Almost everyone I know was planning to immigrate to New Zealand if Howard got back in. People now talk about the future as if they might actually be able to influence it. As the new parliament met for the first time to the accompaniment of a traditional Aboriginal ceremonial dance, it felt like the whole country had suddenly woken up and discovered it could head off in a completely new direction. It’s a novelty to have a prime minister with whom I find myself in agreement. I could get used to that.

The writer and broadcaster Charmian Clift, returning to live in Australia in the 1960s, had this to say on the subject of homecoming,

All migrants, I think, are optimistic, or, anyway, hoping like blazes they’ve really done the right thing. And we were odd sorts of migrants, in that we were migrating to home, which from fifteen years and half a world away could be distorted by the curve of the earth, memory, and couriers’ reports, into Utopia or Hicksville.

In many ways my fate is not unlike that of my country’s. A monumental thing has happened which demands a new direction but the road ahead is by no means clear. We're also both in a honeymoon period where we've made the decision but not yet embarked on the work of implementing that decision Wish us both luck.

23 comments:

Andrew said...

Welcome home Pants. Pretty good homecoming for you. I really think that this moment may be considered in history as a turning point.

That's So Pants said...

Hi Andrew

I hope, for all our sakes, you're right. It certainly feels like that.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Charmian Clift was a teenage moll who rode in taxis in exchange for a root, she later had a child which she abandoned to pursue ambitions that included taking a man away from his wife and kids. No one's clean.
This is just another diversion by capitalism, taking attention away from exploitation of EVERYONE not just coloured people. Or else say sorry to the Kanakas kidnapped from the Pacific islands to work on Queensland cane fields, or white six-year olds forced to work twelve hours a day in Victorian textile mills because their nimble little fingers were less likely to get amputated by machinery. Say sorry for that you thieving capitalist dog parasites who've been handing shit wages or none at all to unskilled workers for centuries! And getting them to fight among themselves. The fact is you poncy middle-class bleeding-heart dupes have been keeping the working classes quiet for a very long time now, "good works" what a joke, your focaccia replaces the cucumber sandwich that's all. Wake up you latte dopes, capitalism exploits your caring little hearts, gives you a whole lifestyle to follow, regimented, totally! I owe no apology to blacks because I'm one with them: part of the same economic class of slum cattle, I've spoken their language, shared their resentment, done time beside them in prisons. I know them as I know myself, this is my own class. Meanwhile this smooth Rudd prime minister mannequin with all his gasbag big earning bullshitters who've never tasted dirt in their lives dines with toffs at government house and other big columed places while telling fish and chip working people to whip themselves for crimes they never committed but which were committed by silvertail millionaire bastards like himself. They are cunning. Recruiting a bourgeois class of fashion-crazed gullible coffee drinkers into weeping.so as to feel good about themselves while knowing in their own hearts they've benefited as well. Not a bad trick. Because no one is better capable of double-think than these university-educated dupes wanting to feel good about themselves. So give it all back!- you lying hypocrite hairdoed bastards with mobile phones and DVDS -give this land back to the natives. Oh no!- lets just apologise instead -so we can keep it.
Charmian Clift who died forty years ago was an anachronism, latte before it happened, a typical blue stocking credulous hypocrite.
Brunswick Street has hundreds of her.

R.H. said...

The people who have most to lose send those who have least off to fight wars.

Thieving capitalism rips land from its owners and asks workers to apologise for it. And the middle-classes pop up weeping.

Nothing changes.

Reading the Signs said...

Pants, I wish you luck. To be in a honeymoon period sounds good, take some time to find your feet. I would like to hear what it's like - the things you see, hear and encounter.

Reading the Signs said...

and,re. r.h.'s comment, as I understand, the apology was worded so as to be from the government itself, not from the people in general

Wisewebwoman said...

Welcome home, Pants!
And the changes in Australia are a wonderful beginning. Reminds me strongly of Canada - the residential schools, the reservations, the lands expropriated, et al.
Enormous strides have been made here but we have still far to go.
We are listening and paying attention as some have it the aboriginal people have the power to save this planet from the unbridled greed displayed by those in power.
It is heartening to read of the changes in Oz.
XO
WWW

That's So Pants said...

Hi RH

Nice to see you pausing for breath occasionally these days. You're right in many ways but things do change otherwise our children would still be sweeping chimneys.

Hi Signs

Quite right. The parliament apologised on behalf of the legislators that ordered these children to be taken. However, the people of Australia bear some responsibility too as this practice persisted into the 1970s. Many are willing to accept that responsibility as part of the reparation process.

Hi WWW

I wrote some time ago about the odd attitude of some Australians towards learning about Aboriginal culture, a reluctance that seems to have developed out of a feeling that this would somehow be exploitative. As I've said before, I don't get it. I was very lucky in that I had the opportunity to learn something of Aboriginal history and culture from the writer and activist Oodgeroo, a woman who dedicated much of her life to teaching children and young people the Aboriginal ways. She did this because she believed that white people could learn a thing or two about responsible management of the land from a people who had done it successfully for 40,000 years. In this, I'm certain, she was right.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Nothing changes because there'll always be class, and a very silly middle-class.

R.H. said...

Outrage is a modern thing, the hardest work I've seen is cashiers work at supermarkets, for monotony and bone-tiredness nothing could equal it. I won't ask what economic class of people would be doing this sort of work permanantly, or where chimney sweeps and child factory workers came from.

That's So Pants said...

No argument from me RH. I'd much prefer the world to work differently. One of the things I LOVED about India was watching the whole food cycle. I'm not saying it's not hard work and that the people at the bottom of the economic heap are't doing most of it btw. Food production was open and visible and there was appreciation, respect and understanding of the toil and regard that went into it. It makes a big difference.

xxx

Pants

dysthymiac said...

oh the pantalons have landed!
never mind the culture, just feel the good food here.
mwah mwah

That's So Pants said...

Hi Ms Dys

Yes - well the physical body has landed anyway. Are you kidding - Ma Pants feeds us on a diet of grass and cardboard.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

oooh, you made it. Congratulations.
Did you get a little certifcate saying 'I climbed India' or something?

That's So Pants said...

Hi RH

No, just a flat stomach and lingering diarrhoea.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

Yes well there aren't many flat stomachs in this country I think you've just come back to show off, and I reckon anyone away from Farm Australia more than six months shouldn't be allowed back in, they get uppity, wanting to order everyone around -so what if you've seen that little pee boy in Brussels? does that make you any better than someone in gumboots who's only seen a cow's bum and anyway we've got our own New York here now it's called Docklands and our own Paris called Brunswick Street so pull your head in and wake up to yourself Australia is modern.

ROBBERT!!!!

That's So Pants said...

RH

Did I say anything? Did I? I thought we were all over that self-consciousness thing.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

How can it be 2am in Queensland, when it's 2pm in Victoria, has it broken off and sailed somewhere?

That's So Pants said...

Hi RH

I suspect my blog might still be on London time. But certainly bits of Queensland have broken off. The bit that was Perigian Beach for example.

xxx

Pants

That's So Pants said...

Hi RH

I suspect my blog might still be on London time. But certainly bits of Queensland have broken off. The bit that was Perigian Beach for example.

xxx

Pants

R.H. said...

It sounds so nice
When you say it twice.

Only lies get repeated.

ha ha ha!

True.

ROBBBBERT!!!!!!

R.H. said...

Sorry, I have to go out now.

Dole office closes at five.

That's So Pants said...

Yes, bit of a mistake on my part. Working furiously here.

xxx

Pants