Un­ease on an­them

Townsville Bulletin - - 1 4 6 2 7 5 8 3 -

AS A child of the ’ 80s my ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in­cluded reg­u­lar recita­tion of the na­tional an­them.

I learned a dis­torted and ide­alised ver­sion of the past where Cap­tain Cook “set­tled” Aus­tralia and orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants were prim­i­tive, no­madic, hunter gath­er­ers.

With com­ing of age, my iden­tity as a Torres Strait Is­lander em­pow­ered me to re­buff this ver­sion of events that un­der­mined my place in so­ci­ety.

Nowa­days, I am grate­ful for lit­er­a­ture such as Henry Reynolds’ Why Weren’t We Told? and Bruce Pas­coe’s Dark Emu, which chal­lenges these mis­con­cep­tions and de­tails ev­i­dence of so­phis­ti­cated agri­cul­tural prac­tices be­fore Euro­pean con­tact.

At the re­cent Burdekin Writ­ers Fes­ti­val, War­ren Mun- dine AO ar­gued that In­dige­nous Aus­tralians are con­ser­va­tive.

I wanted to dis­agree but couldn’t. Af­ter all, how has cul­tural, en­vi­ron­men­tal and sci­en­tific knowl­edge oth­er­wise been passed down some 3000 gen­er­a­tions, if not for the con­ser­va­tion and preser­va­tion of so­phis­ti­cated spir­i­tual and kin­ship prac­tices?

This fort­night a range of con­trast­ing and provoca­tive views have en­tered the me­dia cour­tesy of An­thony Mun­dine and Se­na­tor Ian Mac­don­ald.

Mun­dine po­larised the com­mu­nity by an­nounc­ing he wouldn’t ob­serve the na­tional an­them at his next fight.

Se­na­tor Mac­don­ald drew crit­i­cism with his sug­ges­tion that Torres Strait Is­lan­ders be sent to Manus or Nauru where there are med­i­cal re­sources not or­di­nar­ily avail­able within Torres Strait com­mu­ni­ties.

It got me think­ing about the com­mon­al­ity of is­sues be­tween Manus and the an­them.

Upon the ba­sis of race, I have lived ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing three gen­er­a­tions of my fam­ily forcibly re­moved from Thurs­day Is­land.

What is to pre­vent a re­peat of those past pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies? Seem­ingly un­re­lated, the fragility of demo­cratic rights evoked a mix of emo­tions.

Con­ser­va­tives would ar­gue that our found­ing doc­u­ment, the Aus­tralian Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides a mod­est and moral frame­work to pro­tect our rights. How­ever un­like the US we don’t have a Bill of Rights and the Aus­tralian Con­sti­tu­tion does not de­clare all Aus­tralians equal.

You see, pro­tec­tion­ist race pow­ers of that era re­fer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Is­lan­ders as the “in­fe­rior and coloured peo­ples” and em­pow­ered the very laws and poli­cies that dis­placed us and de­nied us equal wages, vot­ing and prop­erty rights.

Pow­ers that have al­lowed par­lia­ment to sus­pend the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act on three oc­ca­sions in re­cent decades to ex­er­cise con­trol over our af­fairs. The most re­cent oc­cur­rence for the North­ern Ter­ri­tory Emer­gency Re­sponse 11 years ago. So with this in mind, the Manus Nauru med­i­cal sug­ges­tion is not in­con­ceiv­able.

What is re­quired is con­sti­tu­tional re­form and the 2017 Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion has at­tracted wide­spread sup­port from In­dige­nous Aus­tralians for this to oc­cur.

When con­sid­er­ing there are more In­dige­nous Aus­tralians than Tas­ma­ni­ans, our cur­rent frame­work does not pro­vide an ad­e­quate voice for In­dige­nous Aus­tralians.

As sec­ond- classed cit­i­zens, par­lia­ment at any time ( with­out con­sul­ta­tion) can make de­ci­sions about us, with­out us. Is this the point An­thony Mun­dine wants to make? A per­spec­tive for us all to pon­der when next hear­ing the an­them.

A na­tional con­ver­sa­tion is re­quired to ad­dress the in­equal­i­ties still faced by In­dige­nous Aus­tralians. Is our cur­rent democ­racy fair or equal? Is our na­tion young and free? And how can we pos­si­bly unify our na­tion with­out a fuller ver­sion of his­tory taught in schools?

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