Cred­i­bil­ity is on the line in high­way fight

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News -

We hope demon­stra­tions gen­er­at­ing com­mu­nity anx­i­ety and hold­ing up work on a Western High­way dual car­riage­way project near Ararat are based on cul­tural and his­toric merit.

If fact we des­per­ately hope this is the case as pro­test­ers con­tinue to pur­sue a route change to pro­tect an area they claim has cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance.

If so, then their de­fi­ant po­si­tion de­mand­ing a change would be fair enough.

We need to pro­tect el­e­ments of Aus­tralian her­itage we can clearly iden­tify as im­por­tant or sig­nif­i­cant.

In the past, Aus­tralian so­ci­ety has been guilty of dis­man­tling, dis­re­gard­ing and de­stroy­ing too many of our im­por­tant cul­tural land­marks and sites.

We have a poor track record in this field, of­ten based on ig­no­rance, cul­tural dis­re­gard or racism.

How­ever, if this protest is proven to have no his­toric merit, the ges­ture of hold­ing up a costly project de­signed to save lives on one of Aus­tralia’s busiest

high­ways will be sub­ject to broad back­lash. Such a find­ing will also fuel un­healthy fires of cyn­i­cism sur­round­ing Abo­rig­i­nal claims in the re­gion, re­gard­less of le­git­i­macy, and weigh down ef­forts to break down cul­tural bar­ri­ers and the pro­mo­tion of cul­tural her­itage.

This is some­thing all of us who cel­e­brate our thou­sands of years of Aus­tralian hu­man his­tory want to avoid.

We sus­pect this protest has pro­gressed too far and there is too much cred­i­bil­ity at stake for par­ties to will­ingly back down. Yet, there is a need for a com­pro­mise.

This is un­doubt­edly hard – es­pe­cially when un­veil­ing the truth about Abo­rig­i­nal his­tory can be com­pli­cated, in­volv­ing every­thing from ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sum­ma­tion to gen­er­a­tional word-of-mouth sto­ry­telling where ver­sions can vary.

This bat­tle can’t be sim­ply about mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal point based on an his­tor­i­cal po­si­tion or a philo­soph­i­cal and dog­matic rage against the ma­chine.

Again, we hope it’s not – surely we’re past en­gag­ing in this type of fight.

Au­thor­i­ties also can’t af­ford to adopt a bu­reau­cratic ‘go-to-blazes – we’re-do­ing-this-re­gard­less’ view in this cir­cum­stance un­til ex­haust­ing all le­gal, cul­tural, his­tor­i­cal, so­cial and moral av­enues of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

We sim­ply have to get it right and that means, ex­haus­tive as it might be, ev­ery­one tak­ing an open, diplo­matic, mag­nan­i­mous and, im­por­tantly, hon­est po­si­tion back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

But this needs to hap­pen sooner rather than later.

In our part of the world we’ve been yelling from the rooftops of a need for a dual-car­riage Western High­way for far too long to tol­er­ate too much more of this stale­mate.

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