Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A beautiful sorry morning


On a cool summer morning, someone said 'sorry'. He spoke of 'non-indigenous' Australians as 'them'. He attributed total responsibility to government. It's an inspiring beginning, but where will we go from here?

Given the emotion of the day, what seemed most powerful about Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations was respectful silence that accompanied it. Despite the personal traumas experienced directly and witness associated with the policy of racial assimilation, there seemed little display of emotion in the actual presentation of the apology. Rudd’s faltering delivery was workmanlike. Bob Hawke would certainly have been in tears. For today, emotions can wait. Let’s get the business over first.

It’s a defining moment in the ‘new chapter’ of Australia. In laying blame for the Stolen Generation, Rudd was careful to exempt those who carried out the policies. Instead, he attributed responsibility to the parliament who framed the legislation. He ended by inviting the leader of the opposition to join him in a commission that would ‘change the way Australians think about themselves.’ While today is critical in the unfinished story of reconciliation, it is also a day for asserting the authority of government. Is this good for the culture of a nation? Should government be the only conduit for change?

One very reassuring aspect of Rudd’s speech is the way he addressed ‘non-indigenous Australians’. He spoke of ‘them’ in the third person, just as he had the ‘Indigenous Australians’. This was critical. If he has spoken of ‘us’, then it would have been another post-colonial confession admitting past wrongs but maintaining the dominant position. There was a relatively equal place in Rudd’s language for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Of course, this does not reflect the inequalities between the two—the economic superiority of whitefellas and the cultural richness of Indigenous Australians. But we can begin to think of them as in dialogue with each other.

In terms of Australia’s recent history, there was a sense of historic justice in the focus on the white Australian practice of stealing children from their families. In recent years, we’ve experienced a number of xenophobic scandals associated with acts like Tampa that have focused on disregard for children as the ultimate sign of being ‘unAustralian’. Yet here, at the core of Australian history, is an official practice of breaking apart families.

‘Turning the page together’ on a ‘new chapter’ in Australia’s history, it’s a wonderful morning for us all. It’s a good moment to start thinking anew about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous identity.


Melbourne Forecast
Issued at 4:50 am EDT on Wednesday 13 February 2008
Fine apart from a brief shower or two this morning. Partly cloudy with a moderate to occasionally fresh southerly wind.
Precis:       Clearing shower or two.            
City:         Max 20


David J said...
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David J said...

Thanks Kevin,
an interesting take on the day.
I often wonder how we can avoid making those horrible errors in communication that lead to such terrible rifts between groups of people.
I think you're spot on about the language used by the PM in his apology. Using the third person for both indigenous and non-indigenous people was a great leveller.
It seems that with such confusion of identity and the sense of exclusion created whenever people speak of those who either belong to "us" or "them" we rarely find a middle ground where we can address each other without prejudice.

The republic of Indonesia claims unity in diversity, and although this concept is often neglected, the principal is strong!
Hopefully now we will begin to take care of all of 'our' people so we can belong in each other’s company respectfully and with care.