It’s very easy to say “yes that ‘happened’, but we’ve moved on”, when you are on the perpetrating, winning or ‘privileged’ side of that ‘thing’ which ‘happened’.
I see it all the time in White Australia.
As a white kid growing up that was the attitude I was taught toward history, that history was just a bunch of interesting stories that happened in the past. Stories we should enjoy and remember, but barely any different from fiction.
Who knows what is and isn’t true about history I was told. History is written by the victor, I was told. History is mostly about wars and how they were won, I was told.
In White Australia, we do not pay much attention to history as a general social rule and where we do our inability to do so respectfully is infamous.
Tony Abbott’s latest declaration is absolutely indicative of that:
“The arrival of the first fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent. Let me repeat that: it was the defining moment in the history of this continent,” (emphasis added).
I disagree. Certainly that was a defining moment in the history of this continent, but this continent’s history is MUCH longer than the history of this ‘country’.
Tens of thousands of years of first peoples history defined the kind of country we would become long before British invaders ever arrived here.
The fact we still had lush forests, unpolluted soil, abundant natural resources and healthy river systems, in 1788, was the result of an intricate web of cultures whose very identities were linked to the preservation of land.
White Australia could not have been so profitable were it not for the pristine nature of the place upon invasion, and indeed, may not even have survived were it not for the cooperation of first peoples along the way.
Not to mention the Aboriginal slave labour that was the backbone of rural agriculture during the early days of ‘settlement’.
I’d argue that the recognition of Aboriginal people as people in 1967 was a more defining moment than when those few boats arrived off the coast of what is now NSW.
The first industrial action in 1791 probably shaped Australia more than those boats did too, and the first 40 hour working week in the 1850’s shaped the whole world. But Abbott didn’t mention any of these things.
He didn’t even mention the signing of the Australian constitution or implementation of universal suffrage.
No, for the Liberal Party, the history of ‘modern Australia’ is all about ‘European settlement’ and ‘entering the modern world’. Fanciful language that avoids any analysis of what really made Australia the way it is today.
It’s time to start talking more about history, and stop claiming we can just ‘move on’ from it. History has defined how we got to where we are. If you don’t know the history, then you don’t actually understand the reality of the situation we are living in now.
If you don’t know the history, you can not make an informed decision about the future.
So yes, lets spend some time dwelling on the past and recognising, reflecting on and rectifying some of those issues.