Whitefella amnesia


It’s a weird thing to have been reading this book, watch a DVD called Black and White then to read this http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/22/john-howard-there-was-no-genocide-against-indigenous-australians.

In spite of all indications to the contrary former PM says that he does not believe there was any genocide against Australian Aborigines and that he does not believe in saying ‘sorry’.

“I did apologise in a sense; I delivered a statement of regret to the parliament,” Howard said.

“But it’s very easy to apologise for other people’s mistakes. The Australian public would have a lot more confidence in politicians who apologised for their own mistakes rather than the mistakes of others.

“On top of that I didn’t accept the conclusion of the Bringing Them Home report that genocide had been practised against the Indigenous people.

“I didn’t believe genocide had taken place, and I still don’t.”

The DVD is about a man – half caste – who in 1959 is sentenced, but not hanged as he could have been, for the rape and murder of a 9 year old girl. What the movie portrays is the institutionalised racism inherent in the Australian law system, that denies a fair trial to man who is both illiterate and a second language speaker.

The book I have just finished reading tells the story of an Australian artist who goes to live (a whitefella) in Alice Springs. It is a remarkable story by a remarkable man about a remarkable people who have suffered from federal, historical, city-based, nation-based and personal based racism.
alice 1


Alice Springs is a small town in central Australia, which I have visited twice. Both times I have been astonished by the level of racism that exists, by the harsh dry country and by the sense that there are two worlds which fail to recognise each other. The Aborigines hang about a large tree, that I assume has some cultural significance for them, or by the telegraph office that was built for white Australia to communicate with itself. I was delighted to find that there are people in Alice who recognise and understand the Arrernte people, of whom I caught only passing glimpses. It was a fascinating, at times scary, place to be, for the level of violence that underpins it, and the surrounding countryside which I cannot read.

I have also, lately visited a wonderful exhibition here in New Zealand of Aboriginal art, and saw some and some performances in Alice.

What I take from this is the pain of Aboriginal life, and what I also take is the hope that one day these people will find a place in Australia that is theirs.

While in a way I agree with John Howard that saying ‘sorry’ has become a bit of a thing for us colonials, I also know that there is a culture of ‘sorry’ amongst Aboriginals that means more to them that it does to us.

So, I say to John Howard “Take of your cultural blinkers, man. Show some sympathy and understanding and allow for the healing to take place.” I’d also say something more colonial like “What a prick you are”. But hmmm perhaps I’ll allow him his point of view. Oh no, as the Irish would say “bollocks”. “Go and look at your own country, what you and others have done and put it right. Do you seriously think that it’s ok for a race of people to be dying at aged 30, to be so desperate that hanging themselves is an option and that being so alienated from any sort of hope is ok? ”

But then I read this book and others by erudite and considerate Australians and I have hope.


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