Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Bringing Them Home Report

The Bringing Them Home report, commissioned by the Keating Government, was released in 1997. Eleven years later Kevin Rudd kicked off his government by issuing an apology on behalf of the federal Australian parliament to the so called 'Stolen Generations'.

We all know of John Howard’s stubbornness on this issue. Alas, it seems the history of the Aboriginal people in Australia is to try and bury them, yet they keep popping up. This report recommends financial compensations, an idea knocked on the head by Kevin Rudd. Yet it seems another inevitability that Aboriginal people will eventually receive the wished for compensation.

My understanding of Australian history with regards to the Aboriginal people runs thus. Firstly, they were pushed off their traditional land by European settlers. Secondly they were corralled onto reserves and designated a ‘problem’ to be dealt with. Thirdly their children, if they were of mixed descent, were removed from their Aboriginal mothers in order to be ‘saved’ from being black. The object was to erase their history and culture and to become white.

We know that in 19th century Australia there was an idea that black Australians were an inferior race who would die out. This of course was wishful thinking on the part of whites. To help this process along, it was government policy to remove ‘half caste’ children from their black mothers, erase their Aboriginality and hopefully turn them ‘white’. Now we know this idea was a big mistake.

The Bringing Them Home report is probably the ugliest thing I’ve ever read. We white Australians have no or very little idea of how Aboriginal lives have been destroyed, and how deeply traumatised Aboriginal people have been by white policies.

I mean, try to imagine being taken from your mother and never seeing her again. Imagine being brought up on cruel missions, sexually abused and told how worthless you are because of your skin colour. This is the collective trauma that Aboriginal Australians live with today. You could see it on the sorry day.

Australians feel uncomfortable around Aboriginals because it challenges their legitimacy. The status of white Australia is unresolved because no treaties or settlements were ever negotiated between black and white Australia. White Australians simply took land without questioning if they had a right to take it. Every time Aboriginals talk about their dispossession it annoys white Australians. They don’t want to be reminded about it.

The best line to illustrate Australians’ uncertainly about their place was when Pauline Hanson said, if Aboriginals own the land, where the hell am I supposed to go? Good question.

No comments: