I wrote earlier about the strange idea of guilt based on national ancestry, popular with some on the soi-disant left. My examples came from the Sorry Book, Christian anti-semitism and the author Bernhard Schlink.
But somehow I forgot one of the great symbolic touchstones of this movement: Paul Keating’s Redfern speech.
Respondents to an ABC Radio National poll voted Keating’s address the third “most unforgettable speech” of all time, behind entries by Martin Luther King and Jesus, and ahead of the Gettysburg Address.
And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
The wretched Fran Kelly (for whom this is history’s most enduring harangue: bigger than Jesus!) said this was ‘perhaps the first time a political leader had asked the white population to consider that we shared some of the blame, and therefore the responsibility for the pain, shame and dysfunction within the Indigenous community.’
But the same hectoring rhythm, and racist substance, was seen earlier in Bruce Elder’s famous book, Blood on the Wattle, first published in 1988:
Aboriginal Australians had what we all now want. We, the European invaders, took it all away. We destroyed it. We took the land as if it was our own. We destroyed the native fruit-bearing trees to create pastures for cattle and sheep. We killed off native wildlife it it tried to compete with sheep and cattle for the pastures. We replaced ecology with aggressive nineteenth-century exploitative capitalism. We built roads over sacred sites. We denied the land its spirituality. We killed off Aboriginal people with guns and poison and disease. We refused, through ignorance and arrogance, to see any tribal differentiation in those Aboriginal people who survived our insidious, long-term holocaust.
The blood of tens of thousands of Aboriginal Australians killed since 1788, and the sense of despair and hopelessness which informs so much modern-day Aboriginal society, is a moral responsibility all white Australians share…. We should bow our heads in shame.
Respondents to a Sydney Morning Herald and Age poll apparently voted this the tenth-most influential work of Australian non-fiction in the twentieth century. No wonder the kids are confused.