As a child growing up here in Australia, I was taught two big lies about Australia’s history:
- Lie number one: that Australia was uninhabited when the Brits landed here. Sure – there were some friendly Aboriginal peoples here we were taught, but they were a nomadic people with no sense of ownership of the land.
- Lie number two: there was no mention of the barbaric treatment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. No mention of the battles, of aboriginal being beaten to death, chained up, children torn from their families, cultures destroyed. Instead, the stories I heard were of brave explorers who ventured into supposedly unknown wildernesses. Explorers like Burke and Wills – who were said to be the first men to ever cross the continent.
I still vividly remember my shock and outrage on learning the truth about Australia’s history when I went to University. Outrage both at what had actually happened to our Nation’s first people and shock that I – and my classmates – had been taught lies. (Up until that point I had operated on the naive and misguided assumption, fostered by the school system of the time, that History was a set of concrete facts about the past rather than a collection of perspectives and viewpoints.)
I understand school syllabuses today have changed – but there are still many generations of Australians out there who, like me, were brought up on lies about out past.
It is those lies that the Indigenous Leaders of Australia – who met this week in Uluru at the First Nations National Convention – said need to be redressed before we can all move forward. Their request:
a) A treaty – acknowledging not only the original ownership of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but also the terms of its transfer into the Nation it is today – reflecting what was done in other British ‘colonies’.
b) Truth-telling – full disclosure about the impact of British colonisation on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders since the first true illegal refugees arrived here by boat in 1788 – hopefully putting an end, once and for all to the Great Australian Silence about our past.
We – all Australians – need to do this not just for the First Nations’ people who have been lied about, but for all of us who have been lied to.
Why? Because you can’t put past wrongs behind you until the truth about them is properly acknowledged. And because you can’t build a solid future of trust on the lies of the past. That’s why we hold inquiries into events that happened decades ago – so that the record can be set straight and victims of past injustices can finally move forward.
This is what Indigenous Leaders from across Australia are calling for – so that we can finally achieve ‘Makaratta’ (a word from the Yolngu language meaning “the resumption of normal relations after a period of hostilities”.)
Here’s the invitation that came out of the Convention this week – an invitation to all Australians to put the lies behind us and join in building a better future, one based on truth.
It’s pretty hard to argue with that.
This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.