A Search for Truth and Understanding: Australian Culture and Society in the Lead Up to Invasion Day

This week I briefly attended a Make It Up Club gig at Bar Open, Fitzroy, a big gig as part of their 17th anniversary celebrations. I watched only one act, the opener, which was a group of men, including my good pal Alan, making improvised, dark droney tunes, while another man, Robbie Thorpe, an indigenous activist with decades of work and experience behind him, spoke and shouted his words of truth, history, oppression, theft, lies and indignation over the top.

Everyone in the room was riveted.

One friend told me it brought tears to his eyes.

I have cried many times about the injustice dealt to the descendants of this land’s first people. It is tied to my own sense of loss for a culture I have never known, and will never fully understand. I have had the black bred right out of me, and, much like many mixed heritage Australians, all I know is my European cultural ancestry, and not that of my blood-line tribe, disconnected by generations of assimilation in to colonial lifestyles. The traditional knowledge of land and food and climate is all but unknown to me.

I have spent a lot time teaching myself the history of this land and the people on it. I stuff my head in unstructured ways with information from books and websites and magzines that too many people I have known over the years have not felt comfortable even thinking about, let alone reading about, or talking about. My friend Finn recently gifted me a book called “Nyungah Land: Records of Invasion and Theft of Aboriginal Land on the Swan River, 1829-1850”. It was published by the Swan Valley Nyungah Community, and is made up of documents recorded by the Europeans during this period, documents which prove that what many of us have been taught in school and by the media is full of untruths, lies which perpetuate the misunderstanding of the lot of Aboriginal people today. I have so far only read the introduction, and I cried. My emotional connection to these histories is often difficult to deal with.

It is a big, ugly shame which must be acknowledged and dealt with; all of us should taking the time to learn about the truth of our national history. Ignorance should not be tolerated. With an open heart and an open mind, I believe that all humans who live on this island continent are more than capable of coming together to collaborate on a wonderfully culturally inclusive group of nations and peoples. All it takes is education, teaching the histories of all sides and promoting respect for the traditional ways, the traditional knowledge, and a synthesis of new and old ways of thinking to support technological innovations in to food production, soil regeneration, sustainable energy, water, housing, all the things humans need to allow them the opportunity to have a fulfilling existence.

All humans, working together, all of us taking care.

When I read about Australia’s history, I tend to fall back in to racially binary speech patterns, that is, black man vs white man. I have encountered the argument that dividing humans with words like this (see also: man vs woman in feminist arguments) serves little more than to keep them divided in conciousness too. I am inclined to agree, but only if these divisions are used when speaking of the future. The divides existed in the past, and in some circumstances still exist in the present. The truth is that arseholes and greedy bastards have existed in humanity since forever, and no race or group of people is without examples of shitty behaviour and attitudes on occasion, but it is important to take note of the societal and cultural context of these shitty decisions and behaviours. Divides existed in the past, but they don’t have to exist in the future.

It feels as if it would be possible to overcome these divides through proper education about the situations that first CREATED the divides— the context. This is what I’m setting myself the task to do, what many others around the country are doing in much bigger ways. That old adage: “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” hits quite hard in my gut every fucking day. I am not happy to be living in a society that is repeating ugly and heartbreaking mistakes.

Anger exists in both the invaded and the descendants of the invaders. But there are many who descend from both invaded and the original invader, as well as the hoards of migrants and asylum seekers granted access to this land, all with varying degrees of ancestral cultural knowledge of both sides of the invasion. We are a complex web of culture, with a dark history behind us, and remnants of that darkness still play out in present-day governmental policies. We are a confused nation. But there is hope for a brighter future that can only come from open communication, and respect for your fellow human.

This is all coming to a head, for me at least, because Invasion Day is coming up. This country cannot be celebrated if the native people are still having to deal with genocidal practices. I have read over the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People many times, and I see violations of all kinds in our media every day.

Others see this too, and some want a war. Others want to help. Others want to ignore completely.

With my limited skills it is hard to transfer the knowledge I have gained from the words I read on paper and screen in to direct, helpful, loving action towards a better way of taking care of each other, but I can only hope that the love and respect I have in my heart can inspire others to educate themselves too. With more and more people learning about the awful realities deep in the fabric of this nation, we can group together to give each other support, and provide a plentiful and stable backing for the self-determination of Aboriginal people in the face of those who want to continue destroying their land, and as a result, their culture.

Some good links for those interested in further reading: