My coun­try, my place, my peo­ple

Dubbo Photo News - - Contents. - Jen Cow­ley

THREE years ago, I was sit­ting in a lit­tle road­side café in re­gional Nepal – tak­ing a few days’ down­time af­ter a fairly in­tense five weeks vis­it­ing and work­ing on Ro­tary projects in Cam­bo­dia and In­dia be­fore head­ing home.

I was nurs­ing the first stir­rings of a ‘flu and feel­ing pretty sooky, de­spite the back­drop of the mag­nif­i­cent Hi­malaya and one of the most spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas on the planet.

I was tired, emo­tional and ready to come home when, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the free if patchy Wifi, I hap­pened on a Youtube clip that in­cluded the fa­mil­iar strains of the didgeri­doo… and promptly burst into tears of home­sick­ness.

That sound – unique and vis­cer­ally pow­er­ful – is the sound of home. I think of it as part of my her­itage, my coun­try, my cul­ture, my story, my peo­ple. I’m not Abo­rig­i­nal, but I am Aus­tralian. I feel the same when I hear words spo­ken in tra­di­tional lan­guage – and here in our coun­try, we hear it far too sel­dom, sadly. I feel it when lo­cal Wi­rad­juri woman Di Mcnaboe sings her in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful Wel­come to Coun­try.

I feel it when I stand at the foot of Uluru and a wave of un­fa­mil­iar spirituality washes over me; and when tra­di­tional art and arte­facts and dance and song and peo­ple tell my coun­try’s an­cient sto­ries.

All th­ese things and more – things we’d think of as pe­cu­liar to in­dige­nous or Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple – they’re as much a part of my sense of place as any­thing my Euro­pean her­itage or my coun­try’s past 200 years con­trib­utes.

I’m as proud as punch that my coun­try is home to the old­est sur­viv­ing cul­tures on earth. It irks me deeply that our na­tional an­them – which I oth­er­wise love – speaks of us be­ing “young and free”, with no ac­knowl­edge­ment of the 40-odd thou­sand years that went be­fore that first Union Jack was jammed in the ground.

(I find it sim­i­larly irk­some that we sing with gusto about our “bound­less plains to share” with “those who’ve come across the seas” when so many of us are re­luc­tant to do so – but that’s an­other tale for an­other time.)

I en­joy cel­e­brat­ing Aus­tralia Day, but I feel a twinge of guilt each year about do­ing so – and I hon­estly don’t think that’s fair, ei­ther.

Surely we can re­joice in all the good things about Aus­tralia with­out be­ing blind or in­sen­si­tive to its fail­ings.

The claim that we’re not re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pened 200 years ago is a gar­gan­tuan copout. We could per­haps rea­son­ably make that dec­la­ra­tion if Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple as a whole weren’t still bear­ing the scars – emo­tional, phys­i­cal, so­cial, eco­nomic, ed­u­ca­tional – of the marginal­i­sa­tion that be­gan with white set­tle­ment. They are. We see it ev­ery day, and it’s a na­tional dis­grace that we seem to think throw­ing bil­lions of dol­lars into the gap will some­how close it.

Our ugly past (and present) is part of our na­tional story – but it’s not our en­tire story and while Aus­tralia Day is the per­fect time to re­flect on ALL the pages of that yarn so far, we risk driv­ing a fur­ther wedge into the yawn­ing gap if it con­tin­ues to be an “us and them” prospect.

If you’re think­ing of telling me to “check my priv­i­lege”, don’t. I know I’m priv­i­leged. I know that sim­ply be­ing born white in Aus­tralia gave me a head-start.

It’s what I choose to do with that priv­i­lege that counts, and I’m try­ing as hard as I know how to use it wisely.

“If you’re think­ing of telling me to “check my priv­i­lege”, don’t. I know I’m priv­i­leged. I know that sim­ply be­ing born white in Aus­tralia gave me a head-start.

I can’t and won’t claim to know what it feels like to be Abo­rig­i­nal in this coun­try. I don’t know the resid­ual hurt and anger from gen­er­a­tions of dis­ad­van­tage. And I can wring my hands from the side­lines with­out ac­tu­ally hav­ing to play on the team, as it were.

But I have Abo­rig­i­nal friends and col­leagues whose strug­gle I see; with whose hurt I em­pathise. I see them as among “my peo­ple” – part of my story – and I’d gen­uinely like to know what more I can do to help other Aus­tralians, black and white, to see and re­fer to each other as “my peo­ple”.

So here’s the thing: what ex­actly are we do­ing to shift that di­vide? And when I say “we”, I mean ALL of us – black and white and in-be­tween – ALL Aus­tralians.

We can start by ac­knowl­edg­ing the dark pages of his­tory – own them, if you’d like to use a buzz­word – and recog­nise that the grim and tragic deeds and con­se­quences of the past are far reach­ing and as much a part of our na­tion’s story as its more palat­able iden­tity.

We can also ac­knowl­edge that there are many good peo­ple who are gen­uinely try­ing to find a way through to a more eq­ui­table fu­ture.

And I’ll con­tinue to think of Aus­tralia’s first peo­ple as among “my peo­ple” – whether or not the feel­ing is mu­tual.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.