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Saturday, 11 August 2007

History, silence and the indigenous community

Over two weeks campervanning around the Northern Territory along with some long plane flights has left me with a good deal of food for thought around the way history is told and the notable silences about what happened on the Australian frontier .

Darwin for example is laden with monuments to the bombin by the Japanese and the impact of Cyclone Tracy. You hav to work hard to find anything beyond that - the monument to John McDowall Stuart, the Scotsman who was the first European to cross the continent from south to North was celebrated by a small obscure plaque. He should be so lucky.

The indigenous community are now acknowledged on notice board in national parks for their role in management of the parks. About the history of conflict between the original occupiers of the land and their response to the invaders there is little to be found. Historical amnesia abounds. In a couple of museum entries their is refeence to conflict but it is so generalised in expression that the reality of invasion is elided from view.

The silence is, or ought to be deafening but we of those who benefited from the invasion remain largely oblivious.

On the long flight home I was reading Henry Reynolds' account of his personal journey as a historian to discover the truth about Australian history 'Why weren't we told?. Invasion and the violence along the frontier are the elements of Australian history that were acknowledged in the nineteenth century writings by Australian writers but were then ignored through the twentieth century.

There is a deep silence at the heart of Australian life, culture and political debate. There have been moments at which this slience has been broken, the struggle of Eddie Mabo that resulted in the High Court overturning of the doctrine of Terra Nullius and the work of historian such as Henry Reynolds come to mind.

Those of us who seek to be people of the way, followers of Jesus in Australia need to learn how to be speak truthfully. On this issue we might find some assistance in the words of the Baptist minister the Rev John Saunders, preached in Sydney on the 14 October 1838.

After setting out the grounds on which indigenous people become invested with all the natural rights that belong to humanity Saunders spells out the wrongs that have been done to the indigenous commuity:

1. We have robbed them withour any anction in moral or revealed law, descending as invaders upon their territory and taking possession of their soil.
2. We have brutalised them, taught them intoxication, bribed them to shed the blood of each other.
3. We have shed their blood, eradicating the possessors of they soil. the blood of the poor and defenceless is upon us, the blood of those we wronged before we slew.

Black arm band history? Sounds like solidly grounded truth telling Christian preaching to me - one that has deep roots in the practice of the Old Testament prophets.

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