Friday, January 26, 2007

Unfinished business

Despite the growing years of my living in Australia and my coming to call this country home, Australia Day will continue to remain Invasion Day to me. Instead of a day of 'national pride' – something that I used to think was an anathema to the 'national character' (if there is such a thing) – it is the day that marks when white Australia began its long and brutal invasion and occupation of this land and the displacement – and attempted genocide – of the Indigenous peoples.

Australia Day commemorates the day Captain Arthur Philip landed the First Fleet of convicts, soldiers and sailors at Port Jackson Bay, raised the Union Jack, formed a British penal colony and secured an extension of the British Empire – at the expense of the Aboriginal peoples of the area: the Gadigal, Cammeraygal, Eora and Wanegal peoples.

Rather than pathetic PR attempts to make us taking pride in 'being Australian' and embrace the celebration of Australia Day, about the only thing that has shifted my take on Invasion Day is the current practice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to observe this day as Survival Day – a day to commemorate their ancestors' heroic struggles to survive in the face of colonisation, and the survival of their culture and people. This is important because the abysmal relationship between the Indigenous peoples and mainstream Australia that continues to benefit from the years of colonial disposession has not yet healed. In fact, it festers.

In his Australia Day address, Foxtel chief executive and arts industry figure Kim Williams suggests that reconciliation as one of the most important issues facing Australia .

While a core of his speech looked at the role television and film storytelling play in "developing an understanding of Australian history and identity", he also talked about how that screen-based stortytelling explores meaning, life and purpose between Indigenous and other Australians.

I agree to a significant extent that storytelling – especially in the biggest medium of our times, the screen – helps us to approach the issues that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians need to deal with. The fact that Ten Canoes, the first feature length film ever made entirely in an Indigenous language (Yolngu), won AFI awards says a lot about how well it was received by audiences, as well as the quality of the film making. Yet it is important to reflect that it came 218 years after invasion!

Another significant aspect of Williams's address is that Reconciliation is unfinished business. He points out:
In reading the previous 10 speakers and their addresses there was an almost consistent theme – the necessity of effective national reconciliation with Indigenous Australians.
Reconciliation is still unfinished business after 10 years under Howard because it will never be advanced, let alone completed, under his conservative, nationalist – and now openly assimilationist – government.

Survival Day looks like it will need to be a day to pursue the continuing survival of all our cultures – Indigenous and non-white Australian alike – in the face of Howard's new assimilationism.

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