So, I haven’t really known many Aboriginal people. A girl went to my primary school. I certainly didn’t think anything of it at the time. She was different. She had black skin, but you know..so what. A few more scattered about my Catholic high school. Mostly ‘borders’ I think. They came and went sporadically through the years and again I paid little notice to their plight. There were some in the town (had always been of course), who’s path I crossed during touch football or soccer. Some fully integrated into our the small country town and its ‘Anglo heritage’, but mostly kept to their own mob. As I aged and became aware of ‘Our History’, I took more notice — but being a natural introvert, I never engaged in their lives at all. The occasional drunken confrontation I witnessed as long subdued issues raised their ugly heads outside a drinking establishment. Race tension and alcohol were two of many catalysts to sometimes spark the normality of Violence on any given Saturday night. All was usually forgotten or at least suppressed by Monday.
When I moved away from my home town, as a natural freedom seeking late teen, I saw fewer still in the eastern capitals that I lived. Except on the TV with the successes of Cathy, Mauboy and Gulpilil, and footballers of every variety – Inglis, Archie and Goodes. I Cheered and marvelled at them as we mostly all did. Thinking why was it all so hard to solve? But then I switch to the real channels where it showed the Third World Conditions in our heart land. Generations not stolen anymore, but lost in a transition from an Ancient world to who knows where.
Then we have September 11, the Bali bombings, Cronulla race riots, and I see the flag waved with Aussie Pride and then again with any token Royal visit and say, “Hang on, this isn’t me. These things don’t represent me.” But we also have Garrett with his “Sorry” t-shirt at the Sydney Olympics and the Stolen Generational apology and it flickers. The Reconciliation movement gains some traction before again being too hard and lost in the media cycle. Most people have, like me, had little to do with Aboriginal people. But what they have or what they see on the “News” or in the tabloids is tokenism, clichéd, scandalous or ugly. Mostly though, it isn’t covered. It isn’t talked about. Because of the shame we feel? We are a great nation in many ways, but these facts do not lie. Higher welfare, unemployment, sexual abuse, violence and lower standard of living, education and life expectancy. This is deplorable. Why is it so hard to “Close the Gap”?
What is right? How can you stay true to your ancient culture and be modern, productive members of society. Being consumers. Westerners. Is this the right way anyway? It’s the expected way. Can you do both? Do Aboriginal people think they can or do they suffer the tall poppy syndrome like the rest of us? A successful, integrated brother or sister is a sellout. Or even worse, a “coconut” – white on the inside and black on the outer. Infighting over what is the right way for their people. How to make money from their newly won land rights. Being Developers, playing the corporate white mans game. Those in remote areas, could not fathom this way of life, either by choice or by lack of education. Decisions about their future is not something they are used to. A new Government is just someone else that changes the rules. The words ‘Prime Minister’ have as little meaning as those as ‘the Queen’ or ‘King’ once did.
Will we will ever solve these issues until we release ourselves from the monarchy and that past? Until we embrace that these indigenous Australians are us and we are them. And they need to embrace that too. We are not what we once were, either of us. We need to look to what we want to be together.
As we move back to our town — small in many ways — we try to buy the great Australian dream.
Our new home has an elderly Indigenous man living next door. A Gentleman. We have chats over the fence about lawnmowers and pruning trees. He is frail and the community help comes and goes. A relative moves in not long after — a pleasant but troubled girl who causes havoc for the old man. Do I ask if help is needed or (dread to use the word), “Intervene?” Of course I don’t. The family politics and history are too much and I have a young family of my own. It’s not my business I reassure myself. Eventually he is gone. Faded away to somewhere more convenient for all but him. Out of sight much like most of his people. I expect I am not alone with this experience.
In our nearby small coastal holiday town, we almost have segregation. A separate area right next to but hidden from the large tourist style village. Kept away from the trendy cafes and boutiques. A sign says “No Trespassing”. They venture in to shop, some to work and some to drink. They keep to their own for the most. Sticking together, squeezed in a car, multigenerational families coming to visit this world of surf shops and caravan parks. Does this suit both of us? The gorgeous kids let loose on their bikes — a wariness of the white man already showing in their eyes. Some ready to bite before they are bitten. They have their own section of beach where theses kids can be kids and frolic like they do. They then escape back over the dunes to their world. I’d be fascinated to go over there. To be invited. But I’m chicken shit of course.
Many believe they owe the Aboriginal people nothing. The slate is clean. You must work from scratch for what you need in life. There should be no hang over from colonialism. But you cannot wipe away 180 odd years of blatant racism. You cannot click your fingers and expect it not be ingrained in both sides anymore. The fear. The stereotypes. The expectations. Not casual racist comments and jokes. Things people don’t really mean but say. Laziness and apathy.
Through the years as the ‘White Guilt’ has accumulated, I have longed for the day when our relationship — as Australians – or in whatever label it is named, is a shared joy and a passion and a pride. But is this just a dream?
Surely democracy is about this dream. Of freedom and it’s responsibilities. Surely it has to be about equality. And really, is that so hard?