Menu

Thus Spake Mungo: Reconciliation week goes off with a bang

So Reconciliation Week has come and gone – and also gone is 46,000 years worth of priceless history pulverised by Rio Tinto in the Juukan Gorge.

An unfortunate error, apparently – the merciless miner didn’t really know what it was doing, and although some of the indigenous locals asked it to desist, it had already laid the explosives and apparently could not remove them.

And to be fair, Rio Tinto normally has reasonable relations with those whose neighbourhoods are to be detonated and bulldozed. It is not malice aforethought, just a bit of negligence. An oversight, and of course it won’t happen again.

But it will, because Rio Tinto, like so much of the Australian ethos, is not greatly exercised by the concerns of our first nations people. Or, as the old political truism contends, there are no votes in Aboriginals.

Which is the deeper and more depressing reality of Reconciliation Week. At a time when Australia is debating a reset of the nation in the aftermath of the COVID 19 disaster, once again the chance to involve indigenous Australians as serious participants is to be sidelined and ignored.

The bean counters reckon that the problem is that there is just not enough evidence about what works and what doesn’t within the hundreds of policies and programs administering Indigenous Australians, and that yet another well-paid team of bureaucrats will fix it

Typical is the government’s latest bandaid: an Office of Indigenous Policy Evaluation, a wizard wheeze from the economy-obsessed warriors of the Productivity Commission. The bean counters reckon that the problem is that there is just not enough evidence about what works and what doesn’t within the hundreds of policies and programs administering Indigenous Australians, and that yet another well-paid team of bureaucrats will fix it.

To which some of the more restrained Indigenous leaders reply, politely, as always: bullshit. As they have repeatedly pointed out, the biggest issue is that setting top-down arrangements from the government rather than empowering the people involved and letting them make their own decisions has failed. It has turned citizens into clients, even to victims. It is not only counterproductive – it is seriously demoralising. Whatever the answer is, we can be sure it is not the installation of a new bunch of shiny bums from Canberra.

So once again we are confronted with the spectacle of police violence, a teenager being battered to the ground for being rude to a cop. And once again, the justification is that the policeman was provoked – the obvious retort that the teenager had also been provoked was considered irrelevant.

And as America tears itself apart in racial warfare, we congratulate ourselves that we don’t do it like that – it is all peace and harmony in our successful multiracial society. That is, if you ignore that terrible statistics of the unclosable gaps, and the fact that 432 of our indigenous citizens have died in police custody since the Royal Commission of the issue had been published and largely ignored nearly 30 years ago

And as America tears itself apart in racial warfare, we congratulate ourselves that we don’t do it like that – it is all peace and harmony in our successful multiracial society. That is, if you ignore that terrible statistics of the unclosable gaps, and the fact that 432 of our indigenous citizens have died in police custody since the Royal Commission of the issue had been published and largely ignored nearly 30 years ago.

It’s also best if you forget all the other injustices, miseries and atrocities inflicted on those who until recently had been incapable of getting their voices heard in the cacophony of triumphalism over mainstream obsessions about such vital matters as rising house prices and franking credits.

But somehow we don’t, or at least quite a few of us don’t. Reconciliation Week also presented a revival of the push for recognition – real recognition, not the ersatz version espoused by Scott Morrison and his sadly pliant minister Ken Wyatt. The great call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is still resonating, with more influential backers coming on board. And the overall polling remains favourable – support for the Uluru statement is not universal, but there is a clear majority.

A referendum in this term of office would obviously be difficult: the bigots, racists and professional demagogues would fiercely oppose as divisive – their chutzpah remains unbounded.  But if the mainstream, a bipartisan commitment from parliament, plus a voluble section of the most influential sections of Australia, can be brought on board, it would probably succeed.

The appalling television showing the killing of George Floyd has triggered protests around the world, and the demonstrations in Australia have developed quickly to include local grievances

And the terrible example of America should make us consider the alternatives: reconciliation or anarchic violence? The appalling television showing the killing of George Floyd has triggered protests around the world, and the demonstrations in Australia have developed quickly to include local grievances.

The rallying cries of “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” are just as urgent in Australia as they are in the United States – possibly more so, as the inequalities are less well-publicized. At least the American television networks have ensured that people, even the most reluctant legislators, cannot avoid paying attention.

Here there is a tendency to sideline abuses or brush them aside – for instance, the risible excuse from NSW Police Association secretary Pat Gooley that the cop who flattened a teenager and broke his teeth on the road may have been having a bad day. Well, he may have, but not nearly as bad as his helpless victim. And, we can suspect, not nearly as regularly. The systemic imbalance of the system has made it all too obvious that all too often black lives do not matter – or at least not as much as police solidarity.

As Labor’s shadow minister for Indigenous Australians puts it, “whether we like it or not, it doesn’t take much for racism to come out of the underbelly of this country. We only have to think back to Cronulla in 2005. And of course the Adam Goodes story just last year”

But in the context of the American experience, trivialising this long-standing conflict is not only inappropriate, it could be downright dangerous. As Labor’s shadow minister for Indigenous Australians puts it, “whether we like it or not, it doesn’t take much for racism to come out of the underbelly of this country. We only have to think back to Cronulla in 2005. And of course the Adam Goodes story just last year.”

We like to be a bit smug about ourselves, rejoicing that in this instance at least, we are not like America. And we’re not – not yet. But there are ominous signs: as we saw in Minnesota, it only takes one extra atrocity for society to explode. And the patience of our first nation, while remarkable, is not inexhaustible.

Should it run out, the demonstrations may turn into riots, and the riots develop into the kind of burning and pillage we have watched, appalled, on the American TV networks. And if that does happen, reconciliation will not be a matter of justice, fairness and decency. Even for those most opposed to the cause, it will become a question of self-interest, and at worst, survival.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


16 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: Reconciliation week goes off with a bang”

  1. Jak Sayla says:

    White Australia is a lucky country mainly because it’s original non-white inhabitants are, and have always been a conveniently gentle. undemanding and unwarlike mob compared with African Negros and NZ Maoris.
    In short they were and are ideal victims for bullying white arrogance, exploitation and attempted genocide.

  2. Anon says:

    Jak…. just in case you’re unaware that the word negros is a racist term… the correct name is African Americans…

  3. Ill fares the land says:

    You are quite right. But add the indigenous American Indians to the “warlike” list and possibly even African natives. The similarities between discrimination against all of those native populations is stark – unsurprisingly, since it was England doing much of the marching in and taking over, invariably underpinned by the notion that since none of those native populations seemed to have extensively farmed their lands, that meant they had nothing resembling “native tile”, so could be readily displaced. Of course, this was all a convenient “white man” fiction, but the vile acts against native populations then had a “rationalised” underpinning that excused all manner of atrocities. And it persists to this day. Many still accept the claims that the indigenous “get given” so much and they waste it.

    Rio’s behaviour has its genesis in that utter indifference to the plight and culture of the indigenous. Rio’s act was, it seems to me, patently wanton. I would bet money that internally, they pondered and sought to balance the reputational repercussions of destroying the site against the commercial and profit-driven imperative and decided that the CEO making a shallow and meaningless, weasel word infused apology would help in making the controversy simply go away.

    Australia still does not “get” the connection our indigenous people have with their country and the devastation caused by sending the message that indigenous culture has no value. Australia railed against Adam Goodes making a statement as an Aboriginal man because we can’t accept that he pushed back against systemic racism, so the “blame” had to be pushed back onto him. The 14-year old who insulted him wasn’t “responsible” and we aren’t “responsible” for the atrocities done by past generations, so we are innocent – why couldn’t Goodes see this “our way” we exhort. But we ARE responsible for allowing the racist attitudes towards the indigenous to persist for one more generation and that makes us no better than our forebears.

  4. jai daemion says:

    Brilliant piece, Mungo. As an ex-Yank, I have all but stopped trying to tell folks in Oz how hard-rough-bad-horrific things are in the US. The usual response is… “Yes and we’re just as bad. No, people, we aren’t. Your piece here weaves a useful bridge between the US culture and ours… something I believe we can build on to perhaps avoid the crisis point America has plunged itself into. After all, what we have done with Covid-19 management has been spectacular. Not so much because of Morrison et al, but in spite of their proven tendencies toward mismanagement. And this makes it all the more impressive to this long-ago import. Australia’s management of the time of self-isolation reveals our greatest cultural difference from the US: roaming groups of police in Byron Bay were meeting groups of people socialising on the beach with courtesy and seemed often to be treated with same. In the US, of course, police are just as likely to stop any escapee from confinement by slamming them to the ground. And it’s easier to feel the sadness for that from 8000kms away. Just at this point in time, we are becoming the ‘Lucky Country’ we’ve always bragged about. Hope it lasts!

  5. Right on…… Mungo. Rio Tinto speaks for an Aussie
    “fair go bunch of scavengers” supported by the
    ScoMo’s Underbelly Brigade. We don’t take our
    local abuses seriously; out of sight & out of mind.
    Mindless assertions show the shallowness we
    hide behind. Sickening.

  6. Andy says:

    I was shocked some years ago when I witnessed in the middle of the day police in Byron Bay throw a skinny woman of around 50kg to the ground face first because she dared to pull on a coppers arm as he arrested her boyfriend who had been verbally abusive and I had earlier seen the pair quietly drinking on the street causing no bother or noise. A shop keeper called the police as she probably disapproved of homeless people drinking and sitting outside her shop.

    The woman’s head hit the pavement and blood flowed as she lay on her stomach. A copper knelt down with his knee in the middle of her back as she tried to wipe the blood out of her eyes and ordered her to bring her hands round behind her back to be cuffed. She cried out that she couldn’t see for blood in her eyes and didn’t bring here hands to her back. The copper whose name I know, pulled out his pepper spray and sprayed her in the face and eyes from point blank range and told her to bring her hands back.

    Three times this happened with her receiving pepper spray to the face each time while she was on the ground with a knee in the back and unable to get up or resist other than in continuing to try and wipe pepper spray and blood from her eyes. The woman was in great distress crying out that she couldn’t see and in pain from the pepper spray administered 3 times at a range of half an arm’s length directly into her face.

    When she brought her hands back she was cuffed and put in a police vehicle and at this point an inspector arrived and the 4 cops were hurriedly got out of there by the police inspector.

  7. Kerry Wright says:

    Thank you Mungo, for your voice of wisdom, compassion and reason, your history and your knowledge. As a 1970s Nation Review reader I thank you from my heart. What would we do without you? Each time the Minister Ken.Wyatt talks I feel depressed and angry. Honoring Abbott in this week’s appalling way immediately produced a letter to the Prince of Wales, mentioning again.all that is really happening here, and the Palace Letters, ongoing police and deaths in custody and offshore matters and deaths, Rio Tinto land rape, and our unresolved history. I had just done the stunning Black Card workshop in Redfern when young Quaden Bayles (who I had just met) and his Mum Yarraka (granddaughter of Maureen Watson) were abused most horribly online. That amazing family rose above it. These appalling matters ~ and how many more deaths ~ sit heavily on us all. Idiotic governance simply does not work. In.a new Murdoch and Howard educated new-generational world, how do we get ethical, commonsense governance, and begin the overdue repair work to national.intelligence, land, people ~ and soul?

  8. Rudy says:

    Surely Rio Tinto has now proven that it is not fit to be a corporate citizen of this nation. IT should have its corporate entity removed and have any licenses to operate in this country made null and void until such time that it can show it has made good all of the damage it has caused, in its lifetime to date !

  9. Joachim says:

    Rio couldn’t remove the explosives? Is this really true or just a convenient cover story? Mines and bombs are diffused all the time but apparently Rio’s cracker had to be let off. What is also galling about the whole event is PM Morrison as he scurries for cover with his weasel words of not having been briefed on the affair so no comment condemning Rio. I mean he is the PM, we have a 46,000 year old scared site the only one of its kind on the planet and Scotty’s lips stay sealed. I’m betting that if his Captain Cook monument at Kurnell was dynamited, ScottyfromMarketing wouldn’t be waiting for any ‘briefing’, he’d be all over the media venting his outrage.

  10. Alastair Maple says:

    Why the hell have white colonists totally missed the mark by failing to embrace aboriginal history as part of its own? We all live on a land that has the oldest culture on earth. One that makes european/ chinese history and achievement comparatively look like it dates back to 5 minutes ago. The cultural cringe of white australia is supposed to be well in the past, but failing to include – even brag- about OUR aboriginal culture displays an enormous vacant gap in ability to just GET IT.

  11. Jack says:

    Andy ….. thank you for reminding us of that extremely atrocious event,. It certainly is not only the indigenous peoples of the world who often are treated badly and without respect.

    For more than 500 years Europeans have regarded the indigenous peoples throughout the world and their lands as nothing more than resources to be plundered. Throughout the centuries the traders and colonisers from England, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, etc established the patterns of unwarranted behaviour and abhorrent treatment ….which continue to this day in the actions and mindsets of many.

  12. Anon… the Native American (First Nation) has had
    & still face shocking living conditions, loss of land
    history & language. They have fought the mining
    giants’ CSG & oil barons. I know this because my
    family still live on a small reservation on the East
    Coast where once the tribe stretched from far Nth
    Connecticut to N.Y. I’m 1/4 blood & proud of it.
    My father, a U.S Serviceman came here in WW2.
    The USA has never stopped its war against its
    First Nations. Check out “Standing Rock’s”
    horrific battle. In many ways the First People
    there are the same as here.

  13. A small note. Latest message today [update]…
    Adani’s chase for an Insurance Company
    fails again. The last 3 refuse to support the
    Adani mine.

  14. Joachim says:

    Stefanie, in further news the accumulated losses so far for the Adani Carmichael project stand at $794millions. No wonder insurers are running away. However if they ever ( and I hope it never eventuates ) do dig any coal it will mean that Australia won’t see any tax revenue as the accumulated losses are written off against ‘any ‘tax liabilities’ after all the dodging and weaving via The Caymans tax schemes. Adani, not only an environment killer but also a revenue killer. Thank you so much, NOT, Annastacia / QLD Govt and The Federal Coalition and Federal Labor for your combined enabling of Adani.Carmichael Coalmine.

  15. tuatha says:

    … only du jour, it’ll change again before you can catch up as has Aborigine to Aboriginal, graammar notwithstanding.
    The NAACP is still going strong but try referring to “coloured” in these dumbed down daze.

  16. tuatha says:

    Of course the charges could have been removed.
    Each on the several dozen charges was deep in a individual drill hole, attached to a strong copper wire – for easy removal in case of incorrect placement (sic!), ask any powder monkey – totally inert until connect to the plunger.
    But hey, schedules!
    Soz, not soz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

Echonetdaily is made possible by the support of all of our advertisers and is brought to you by this week's sponsors Byron Community College, Enspire Furniture and Rous County Council Future Water Project.