Monday, February 11, 2008

Pride's like a knife it can cut deep inside

Ever since I realised that many Australians (in particular indigenous Australians) think of Australia Day as Invasion Day, I've felt uneasy about the day. Mind you, I am a bit contrary at the best of times, pretty uncomfortable with overt displays of patriotism, and very uncomfortable with the binge drinking and hijinks often associated with Australia Day. Not, of course, that that stuff doesn't go on on other public holidays too.

The 26th of January is the official date of the beginning of white settlement in Australia and has been celebrated as a public holiday since the early years of settlement, long before Federation. It cannot be denied that white settlement was not entirely a good thing for the indigenous population, who had lived in this place for tens of thousands of years already.

There has been debate over many years about whether the day should be changed to something more ...neutral? Shared?

Now, thanks to our newly elected Government, there will be a formal apology in Parliament to the stolen generations, this coming Wednesday. This is the culmination of many years of calls for a "sorry day", ever since a national inquiry into the removal of indigenous children from their families resulted in the Bringing Them Home report (1997).

Of course there are hugely mixed feelings about this. Overly simplified, these include, from the right: there's no reason to apologise because nothing happened or at least nothing bad; or it's excessive for today's leaders to apologise for decisions of the past; and it will create financial and other liabilities for the government. (No reparations are being offered to go with this apology). From the left, enthusiastic cheering, or hesitant cheering, or downright disappointment that it's not enough.

It's not for me to say what's enough for the people directly involved. But I am an Australian, and over ten years or so I've realised that I'm not living in quite the country I thought I was in. It was the children overboard affair that drove this home. So I'm quietly, cautiously optimistic about the possiblities for my country under the new government. I reckon I'd be comfortable with the date of Australia Day being changed to 13 February. Not to be a depressing, black armband, memorial day. That would be the obvious argument against it. But wouldn't it be great to think that in a couple of years time, once we see what the fallout from the apology has been, we could reconstruct apology day as something to be proud of as a nation. The day we were willing to just say it, sorry, and get on with finding better, kinder and more caring ways to move on.

Wouldn't that be a bold gesture.


m1k1 said...

"The day we were willing to just say it, sorry, and get on with finding better, kinder and more caring ways to move on."
Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if we lived in a country where this would happen? Or should I say, "world" instead of country?
But the movement has to start somewhere, and if enough of us want it, can we bring it about?

amy said...

We're no better over here. And I didn't learn of the terrible things done to Native American children (also placed into orphanages) in history class--I learned about that by reading Native American literature. It's easy to say, well, my ancestors had no part of that--they were still in Europe. But we all benefited from the empire building later on and still do today, so apologies--to Native Americans and African Americans--seem to make sense to me, even if the apologies are coming from people who are not directly responsible. (Does that make sense? I hope so.)

Bells said...

Beautifully put. I'm going to be really proud tomorrow and to the naysayers, I would say more or less what your final paragraph suggests - that it's a way forward and the world will not end because of a gesture - which, as a (highly significant) gesture, can only do more good than harm.

Donna Lee said...

Like Amy said, we face the same things here. It seems inadequate to apologize at this point in time but we have to start somewhere. I'm sorry is as good a place as any. It sounds like you all have elected a decent government there. I hope we can do the same.

Kate said...

You idea makes so much sense that there's no way any government would think of adopting it. I also think, however, since we have the same situations here, that it ultimately falls to the people to do something. That's not to say you should go say, "Hey, sorry for taking over your country" to the first indigenous Australian. But hey, you never know what might come from a little kindness, yeah?

Kate said...

Oh, I forgot:
African dwarf frogs spend their entire lives underwater, only coming to the surface for some air. Kind of like whales, I suppose. I have a bit of shale in the tank sticking up out of the water, though, so he has something to hide behind and be lazy on.

Em said...

Apologies are powerful things, and having the courage to stand up and say, "you were wronged, and we are sorry for that and regret that you were wronged" whether you have had a hand in the wrongdoing or not, is a start. Acknowledging that is always a step in the right direction.

Rose Red said...

As has already been said, it's a good idea, so it inevitably won't happen. But at least the apology will happen. Finally.

Children overboard killed me, just killed me.

At least I'm left with lasting image of Cher, thanks to your post title!!

rhonrhon said...

Thanks Olivia - your post really touched me. I come from two countries that have oppressed indiginous people. I'm proud to being living here right now.