"Sorry" Day - Australia

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by Marguerite, Feb 13, 2008.

  1. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Today was a momentous occasion. After years of lobbying and outright refusal by our previous Prime Minister, today the Aboriginal people of Australia heard the word they've been asking for. Sorry.

    The previous PM was VERY determined to not say sorry. His reasons - he wasn't personally responsible. I get that. But when interest rates rose because the Reserve Bank was trying to slow the economy, he said to the people, "Sorry about that." But he wasn't any more responsible for the interest rates. It was becoming increasingly clear that his reason for refusal was to block any claims for compensation.

    What happened to the Aboriginal people was the result of bad laws being carried out by good people, for what seemed to be good reasons. But the outcome - not good. Yes, some received better health care and education, but almost always at the expense of access to family and culture. The whole lot was based on wrong ideas, a belief that the Aboriginal people would die out and "we should at least try to save the half-castes". I remember a documentary TV program (I must have been in high school) where they were discussing the problem of "half-castes in foster homes" who were rejected by both black and white communities. "Their own families reject them for being half-caste," the program said. We now know this was not true. That TV program still has a reputation for being extremely accurate - but this, they got badly wrong.

    In 1967 Australia had a referendum, to decide whether Aborigines should be granted citizenship. It had a resounding 97% "yes" vote. What a lot of us didn't realise at the time, was that prior to this referendum, Aboriginal welfare was managed by the Flora and Fauna Department. Legally, before 1967, they were "fauna". Animals. Of course, we manage our livestock with compassion and consideration. But I was horrified to learn this.

    That was 41 years ago.

    Today was the first day of Parliament for our new government. We had been told that the "sorry" statement was being prepared, so everybody was ready. Large screens were set up, Parliament was televised for the first hour so everybody could hear. This is Australian history in the making. Crowds gathered - indigenous people plus a lot of sympathetic non-indigenous.

    Our Prime Minister's words were welcomed. And then the leader of the Opposition spoke - he leads the same party which for so long refused to allow the word. But today - bipartisan support.
    Unfortunately, due to the long refusal over the past 12 years, his speech was not well received. Many didn't hear it, with indignant cries of "get him off!"
    A pity - it was good to hear him speaking for his entire party in also saying, "sorry."

    A lot of Aussies are in favour of this. A lot are not. They interviewed some people this evening whose job it was to work with the children in the Missions. These workers were good people, they loved the kids and the kids loved them. But ALL of it was done for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way. It is hard to reconcile that.

    I went to school with Mission kids. At the time I was told, "They're being given a chance at a decent education; their families live to far from schools etc."
    I was not told that they were never allowed to see their families again. And although we mingled at school, we never were able to meet up with them outside school. No play dates permitted.
    Generally they left school as soon as they were old enough to hold down a job. I never knew that. I thought the smarter ones would be allowed to continue, like we did. I think of some of those kids, really bright at lessons, brilliant at sport. Were they ever permitted to follow their dreams? I doubt it.

    I thought I was enlightened. When my kids went to an inner city school with a high Aboriginal enrolment I learnt a lot more. Suddenly all my questions about the Mission kids were being answered. The "stolen generation" is what they were now being called. A thing of the past to be ashamed of, many enlightened whites were saying. But the parents of my kids' classmates told me - "It's been happening in these days too."

    Today that was acknowledged. Today the rift begins to heal.

    Yes, they will want compensation. The wording of today's message was designed to leave that door shut, but only so the message would be more palatable to people. Maybe soon, compensation will be on the agenda, in a sensible way.

    I suspect today is going to be a regularly celebrated day in our history.

    I strongly believe it is a change for the better. And my family reunion this weekend will be very interesting, because I'm sure the feeling will NOT be unanimous.

    Despite opinions to the contrary, our country is moving forward.

  2. Fran

    Fran Former desparate mom

    Hopefully, as Maya Angelou says" we did the best we knew at the time. When we knew more, we did better".
    Dignity is essential to every living creature.
  3. hearts and roses

    hearts and roses Mind Reader

    Wow, Marg, your post moved me to tears. I'm so grateful to your new PM for your country as a whole to be growing in this way.
  4. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    Wonderful news. Change always starts with just a few. Let hope the sentiment catches on quickly.

    Disney Channel aired a movie over the weekend, Color of Friendship, I beleive, about similar scenarios...a white daughter of a South African policeman in the US as an exchange student hosted by a black family. I realize it was just a movie, but it was well done and covered many of the things you point out.
  5. slsh

    slsh member since 1999

    Very interesting, Marg. I have a question.... seems like I read recently .... oh, what was it? Something about welfare and aborigine families having to give up their children to get welfare, or not being able to get welfare because they were aborigine??? It's been in the last 6 months or so... it was backed up by some "study" citing incidence of abuse and worse in aboriginal families, especially those in remote areas??? I'm probably getting it all wrong, but I was wondering if this apology will change that recent policy? Just curious.

    I have very fond memories of Australia in '76 - we were out at Ayer's Rock (is it Uluru now?) and we went on a tour in Alice Springs.... aboriginal artwork, music, dance... I remember being just fascinated by their spirituality and walkabouts. We had a fabulous guide, very tolerant of us Americans (my dad thought casual attire was suit and tie, LOL).
  6. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911


    You know - this kinda strikes a nerve with me. If the aboriginal people were there first in Australia - what ever gave the right to anyone else to tell them how to live, or where to live, or what they would be 'given' to live?

    My family is Native American on my Fathers side. We were never allowed to bring it up, or discuss it because people DO look at you differently. And now when I hear people talking about the influx and horrors of illegal immigration I can not help but sit back and just think - I wonder what Sitting Bull or Standing Bear said when the settlers were moving into their hunting grounds 200 years ago.

    People on the whole irregardless of race, sex or creed seem anymore to just not think of the other man. It's a shock when you see someone being nice to someone else for no reason. That's a shame.

    I like what Ghandi said - "If you want to change the world - start with yourself." I think maybe your PM has done just that - and started with himself.

    Bully for him and Bully for the natives.

  7. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It


    Thank you for making us more aware of this issue. You explained the situation with honesty and understanding, and helped us understand your country better.

    I hope that this marks the start of major changes in the way ALL people are treated in Australia, and also that this inspires the rest of the world to make amends and reparation whenever required.

    Very happy for this momentous occasion in Australia.

  8. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Star, I hear you. The biologist in me knows that whenever you get two groups occupying the same niche, one group will be eliminated. We like to think that as humans, we are bigger than this. But if you look at the evidence through history, no matter whether we try to eliminate the rivals or assimilate them or allow them autonomy, the end result is nearly always negative.

    The human side - whenever a more technologically advanced group has moved in to an already-inhabited area, the less well advanced (technologically) often gets wiped out or at least decimated. It throws everything out of balance.

    If you ever saw "Rabbit-Proof Fence" you will see that the motives were good. But what was done was bad. The gist of Kevin Rudd's speech yesterday was, "We shouldn't have to grow up and live, without access to your family. Family is everything."

    When Europeans settled in Australia, they claimed the land as "terra nullius". The inhabitants were not even considered to be human. No culture, no civilisation, no intelligence. REading the jourhnals of Josepgh Banks, the scientst on Cook's first voyage, shows the thinking. The standards by which the Aborigines were judged were 18th Century European standards.

    I use the term "Aborigine" because it seems to be the least confusing, the least offensive. For some years their own word, "Koori" was considered the acceptable term. But not all Aborigines are Koori - our friend who is a teacher at the school where the older three went is from further north - the Murri area. I don't want to risk labelling someone inappropriately.

    A funny story from our Bicentennial, 1988 - my local greenie ratbag mate Bill was friends with a koori storyteller and actor, Burnam Burnam. we met up with them one afternoon at Sydney Uni, Bill was getting some brochures printed. On Australia Day 1988, 200 years to the day that Capt Arthur Phillip formally established the colony, Bill and Burnam Burnam formally claimed Great Britain as Terra Nullius for the mighty Aboriginal nation. Aparently, nobody had ever formally claimed Great Britain, which made this legallyh possible. In Burnam's speech he promised to not poison the flour, rape the women or ply the people with grog. They made a strong political point, eityh humour and peace.

    B uenam was a man of peace, a man who wanted Australia to move forward into a new age of unity between black and white, with the best of both cultures freely available.

    I wish he were still alive to have heard this. He was an amazing man.

    I haven't had a chance to speak to Bill yet, since the sorry speech. I'm looking forward to talking to him, as well as our teacher friend.

    And now we have to see what happens - we need now to put some practical measures in place to try to close the gaps - the high infant mortality, the shorter lifespans - it's not going to be easy. Because we mustn't make the same mistakes again.

    The problems in Northern Territory MUST be addressed - the stories we hear are shocking. WHat gives me hope now, is that BOTH our political parties are working together, and this time they are taking advice from the Aboriginal elders themselves. Giving people a sense of purpose and hope may begin to ease the problems. But more needs to happen.

    When we were in New Zealand last June husband & I were very impressed with the degree of integration and involvement of Maori culture into New Zealand culture in general. I remember saying, "What a pity it's too late for us in Australia."

    Maybe it's not too late after all.

  9. Star*

    Star* call 911........call 911

    Marg -

    My fav. comedy man Eddie Izzard has a skit on You Tube about Flags. It is ABSOLUTELY the epitome of what you described about the European settlers.

    Google it and watch him - I mean you have to get past that he is transgender and cross dressing - but he is absolutely the bomb in my book! And that skit about settlers asking natives when they land on THEIR soil "Do you have a flag? No! Well then I claim this land in the name of the Queen." and he goes on and on about different places and flags -

    I saw rabbit proof fence too - You don't forget a movie like that.

    I like what someone else said - about...maybe this is the beginning of healing. We could hope. Heck - I had a hard time sharing a room with a younger sister so I don't know who I am to talk - but I get feeling invaded.

  10. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Star, a change of mood for you - try and find "BabaKiueria" (pronounced "barbecue area"). It's a short black comedy ("black" comedy in many ways) role reversal skit. A white family group is having a peaceful picnic. A group of Aborigines, wearing colonial British military uniforms (or similar) turn up and claim the area for the Aboriginal nation. The go over to the white family, ask in very loud, very slow speech - "this place - what you call it?" (or similar) and the white folks, looking a bit shell-shocked, answer, "this is a barbecue area."
    "Hmm, 'BabaKiueria' - sounds good. I hereby name this place 'BabaKiueria'!"

    And so on. Bob Maza's in it, another in the Burnam Burnam mould (he often played Burnam's son, or similar, in various TV dramas and films).

    Here's the imdb link - http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0166032/

    Now THERE'S a thought for you, Star - get some actors together, film the US version of the same thing (script modified, of course, to make it US-relevant).

    husband, difficult child 3 & I leave shortly to go to my sister's 70th birthday party this weekend. It's siblings only (and partners, and difficult child 3 because I refused to leave him at home). The younger of my brothers has organised it (he sees himself as head of the family - we let him think that) but he is a reactionary old bigot (he's MY brother, I can call him that if I want) and I know he and a couple of the in-laws will be critical of this. I'm hoping I can stay calm and not shout at him. He STILL tries to come back at me with, "you're too young to understand."

    It is because there are still too many people who think like him, that no allowance was made in the sorry speech for compensation. The politicians deliberately did NOT tie in compensation to the package because
    1) they wanted the apology to go out, ASAP; and

    2) they wanted maximum population support, and you hit reactionaries hardest when you are making allowances for somebody else, over them.

    Now what we want to see - positive outcomes, not just talk. We now need clear results.

    Fingers crossed.

    I'll look for Eddie Izzard's thing on 'Flags' - maybe tonight, computers permitting (on BF1's computer). The cross-dressing bit doesn't phase me; back at uni we put on a drag version of "Sweet Charity" (not my idea - I think it watered down the point of the show) and I was in charge of costumes. A challenge. Most of the cast were straight but we had fun. We did hire a lot of costumes from a drag show in Oxford St, which of course we had to go check out (midnight live show; no touching allowed).

    I think I can cope with Eddie Izzard! My brother, on the other hand...