Our country is trapped in its genocidal history. Henry Reynolds estimates that, between 1788 and 1920, 20,000 Aboriginal people fell defending their land in an ongoing war against the invaders. The Indigenous population dropped from 300,000 at the time of the invasion to 70,000 130 years later.
Many of these people died because of disease, but they also died as a result of the consequences that flow from genocide and dispossession - poverty, alienation, loss of social structure, alcoholism, racism, lack of food, stolen generations to name a few.
Genocide against Aboriginal people is one theme that runs through the history of the last 220 years. The failure to recognise that genocide is another ongoing theme.
The myth of Australia Day - of Australia as some sort of peacefully settled country - reflects white Australia's amnesia about the invasion and its consequences. It is also about lulling working people into a mistaken belief they have an interest in the present economic system.
Aborigines were not passive victims of the white invasion. In and around Sydney, for example, Pemulwuy was a famous freedom fighter defending his land and life. From 1790 to 1802 he waged a sporadic, and then more concerted, guerrilla war against the white invaders. In 1801 Governor King ordered that Aborigines around Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect could be shot on sight. Late in the year he offered a reward for Pelumwuy’s death or capture. That worked. Pelumwuy’s killers decapitated him and sent his head in alcohol to England. Although apparently now lost, it is still believed to be there.
There are many other Indigenous freedom fighters we whites ignore; fighters who in a less racist society would be honoured for the correctness of their stance and the courage of their resistance. Where are our monuments to these fallen heroes?
It was Marx who wrote that the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the mind of the living. This is true in two senses for Aborigines.
First the consequences of the invasion continue today. The war against Aborigines, what I describe as genocide, has fundamentally alienated Aboriginal people from their land, their identity, their culture and themselves. There is a shocking 17-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The second aspect of being trapped by the past is that the policies of dispossession and genocide are being implemented even today.
We invaded the Northern Territory last year to further the destruction of our Indigenous people’s links to their land and culture. 1788 is being repeated in 2008.
The Stolen Generations represented an attempt to wipe out Aborigines through forced assimilation. The Bringing Them Home Report on the Stolen Generations says that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. The report clearly recognises our actions, in removing children from their parents in order to wipe out the Aboriginal race, as genocide. It says:
Systematic racial discrimination and genocide must not be trivialised and Australia's obligation under international law to make reparations must not be ignored.
Far from being socially divisive, reparations are essential to the process of reconciliation.
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