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May 18, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Listening to the truth tellers

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White men have power, even when they’re wrong. They easily occupy places that don’t belong to them. That is our white privilege.

A long time ago my husband had to attend a meeting in Redfern. He works in the health and academic sector and it was a consultation with some First Nations clinicians and community workers. He arrived a little earlier for the meeting to the centre – not your typical clinical setting but a regular house. On arrival he was greeted by an older woman who led him to a table and offered him a cup of tea. They chatted. Had a laugh. She offered him a biscuit.

At the time the meeting was to start no-one had arrived. He asked the woman when people might be expected. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about. You see this wasn’t the health centre, this was a private home. The centre was down the road further. My husband got it wrong. He does stuff like that; it’s actually very endearing. He thanked this very gracious host, apologised, and left. He was embarrassed and bewildered that he’d done something so stupid – to choose the wrong house and yet be welcomed by a woman who didn’t know who he was or why he was there. 

That’s the part that gets me. This is the part of the story that sits like a parable for what colonisation and invasion is. It didn’t just happen 250 years ago at Botany Bay.

It happens every day in a country that has been stolen from the traditional owners. And it happened when my husband accidentally turned up at a residential house in Redfern and was let in. Because he was a white man in a suit. I can’t imagine how nervous the owner of the house must have been, not knowing who he was or why he was there. But she knew to let him in. White men have power, even when they’re wrong. They easily occupy places that don’t belong to them. That is our white privilege. 

It’s hard to hear for many white Australians. It makes many angry and defensive –that’s our white fragility. Our emotional volatility when our entitlement is challenged. It’s the tantrum we throw to avoid taking responsibility for what we have done. Of course we say ‘it wasn’t us’. ‘You can’t hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.’ Really? Then why are you so attached to celebrating 26 January as Australia Day? We are prepared to celebrate the arrival of our ancestors and claim continuous connection to this as our pivotal story, but not be culpable for what they did? How can we have one without the other? We use history like a box of chocolates: we just reach in and take the bits we like.

When Indigenous Australia asks us to choose another date to celebrate nationhood we dig in our heels. We’ve already organised the barbecue. Ordered the sausages. Got the Southern Cross tattoo on our back. Our cultural heritage is empty and meaningless. It’s an esky full of beer. It’s a flag worn as a cape. It’s basically being a bit of a dick.

We have an extraordinary culture to celebrate right here. A history of this place and its people that dates back over 60,000 years and we choose to defend our right to celebrate on the date we ruined culture. Just 250 years ago. We want to have a barbecue on the very day that heralds the beginning of cultural genocide and we wonder why First Nations say No. 

26 January is a day of mourning. Our inability to acknowledge this and to move the date sends a message to Aboriginal Australia that we are not prepared to change. That when First Nations start the process of Truth Telling that we are not prepared to listen or act. We won’t hear. 

As a nation we have much to be proud of. We also have a lot to be ashamed of. The children we have taken from First Nation parents. The people we have moved off country. Aboriginal deaths in custody. The culturally significant sites we have destroyed in our hunt for coal. The enormous devastation that colonisation has caused First Nations and how this day, the very first of white occupation, is celebrated.

I wonder why we don’t celebrate survival. That the extraordinary story of our nationhood is an Aboriginal story.

If we cannot hear First Nations on this most important and significant day, Invasion Day, the day of mourning, how can we ever have true First Nations Voice? How can we ever have true Reconciliation? 

White Australia is in denial.

We are still white men in suits drinking tea in a kitchen that is not ours.

Having barbecues on stolen land.

We do not listen. That is not something I will celebrate.

We need to change the date, but we also need to change our whole fucked-up white-oppressor attitude.

There are many of us white Australians who are allies. We will celebrate our nation when it’s worthy of being celebrated. 

When we become a country that listens to First Nations Voices. 

And acts. A country that makes amends. 


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24 COMMENTS

  1. Your white & Privilege is not a part of your
    Life ? White women have power to do they not ? Have the up most respect for our
    Indigenous peoples 100%.. dos anyone
    Own any lands ? Do we not all belong to the land ?

    • The ‘belongers’ to the Land are the First Nations People. The rest of us are ‘occupiers’ of stolen Land. How very gracious it was of us ‘whitefellas’ to bring into being Native Title Law. Native Title Law, given at the pleasure of the ‘whitefella’. But was is given at whitefellas pleasure is easily taken away at whitefellas pleasure, like Juukan Gorge , best not talk about that, eh. Or should we talk about the shameless action in 2017 when ALP, Libs and Nats all combined to ‘amend’ Native Title Law Rights that extinguished all objections under Federal Law to the Adani Coalmine proceeding. – the objections by Wangan and Jagalingou peoples chucked into the whitefellas garbage bin. And, How good is White Privilege, when the whitefellas reject The Uluru Statement from the Heart, I mean we asked First Nations People what they wanted, they delivered The Uluru Statement from the Heart and what happens…chucked straight into the whitefellas garbage bin. And people are amazed why First Nations People can’t celebrate January 26 with whitefellas.

      • No race of people’s the world over
        Own anything Joachim “whitefellas”
        “Blackfellas” ” Yellowfellas ” it matters little how long they have been roaming
        The lands on the Planet !! We are
        Visiting Joachim.. okay if all races of people’s were to be eliminated on earth
        Whats left ? Nature owns planet earth
        We are all just tourists.. and our first Nations People’s are a prime example of being at one with nature .. and i express this with the up most respect for Aboriginal indigenous peoples..
        The true global warming Scientists..

        • We ‘Tourists’ you say. What kind of ‘Tourist’ happily bangs up the joint and bangs up fellow human beings – that’s being a Tourist, ‘The Australian Way’, yeah. How prescient of you to mention our indigenous sisters and brothers together with global warming science – Australia has the ‘proud’ history of treating both with less then stellar behaviours.

  2. I respect indigenous people & that covers almost 77 years. We have
    worked together . . . laughed & cried together & are one. Let it be.
    Life is short – memory’s long.

  3. Thanks, and dead right about colonialism continues.
    What about holding up a lump of coal and sneering “Don’t be afraid” when billions of people are really terrified (Oh, but they don’t count, they’re only children, or brown skinned)?
    What about “Our Australian way is not negotiable” to a world of people that want a safe climate and a living environment?
    What about holding people in custody and messing with their lives for years, sometimes mortally, on the grounds that we decide who comes to Australia, but we stole the land, and have no treaty that gives rights to make these laws.
    What about going on about human rights, when we have an unacknowledged deplorable record. What about the rights of first nation people, other species and the environment, which is a living being?
    The colonial mentality is fully undiminished. It refocusses now and then, but remains destructively intact.

  4. I don’t know that changing a date will do anything to heal the past. When do we or can we move on, from not only the past but seeing each other as a colour. Im sick of this virtue signaling look at me, I’m white but I’m shit for being white, my ancestors are heinous for being white, it’s not the colour of a person that makes them good or not. Yes the past was horrendous, I think we can all agree on that. Australians are now many different nationalities. If there was a referendum of our Indigenous on what they wanted I’m great with that. When do we just get to be humans, surely we can make better choices for all Australians. Remove the Government as it is right now and give the power back to the people.

    • Anon17, our indigenous sisters and brothers have already showed us what hey wanted – May 2017 they gifted, to us / the Australian People, The Uluru Statement from the Heart. We ( Australian Government ) asked our indigenous sisters and brother what they wanted and after a series of Regional Dialogues, came their result, The Uluru Statement from the Heart.

    • You are right on the button. Let’s cut the continuing guilt process and live together with equal opportunity and respect. What does everyone want? All white people leave Australia and leave it for the aboriginal peoples. I’m sure they wouldn’t want that. When is enough enough?. Both here, and in New Zealand, we have the governments bending over backward to make amends for our forbears bad behaviour. Where’s the end point? When will people be happy and start looking forward instead of wallowing in the wrongs of the past. Tasmania killed all the aboriginals in their island, as did many “conquerors” over the ages and throughout the world, we now consider it ruthless and inhuman. The Maoris exterminated the original occupants in New Zealand which is factual and inconvenient. I am sick and tired of people selectively re writing history, making all “white fella’s” to feel guilty about our ancestors and not saying definitively what will ever have to be done to fix the problem whilst having to seriously undermine the current form of Government and social acceptance. It is easy to complain but to provide thoughtful, cogent and rational answers takes people with some critical thinking, not just “rock throwers”.

      • Where’s the end point you posit. The end point needs a start point. That start point is The Uluru Statement of the Heart but Australian Government dismissed it immediately. Once again the ‘whitefella in charge’ shafting the blackfella. Give The Uluru Statement from the Heart a read, if you haven’t already.

  5. So brilliant compelling & insightful Mandy, yet again. You REALLY did nail it & name it. Sadly still much of the Australian populous doesn’t want to face up to the genocide experience by First Nations people. Obviously current generations are not DIRECTLY responsible for the brutality & persecution of past generations, BUT that doesn’t excuse anyone from just looking the other way. SURELY EMPATHY SHOULD NOW (AT LAST) PREVAIL. Maybe it is just too hard to accept or even acknowledge that our colonial ancestors did commit horrendous racially driven crimes. We are having a ‘similar’ issue with the climate change debate…many feel it’s just too overwhelming to think about. I was cheering as I continued to read Mandy’s compassionate narrative. As Mandy says so eloquently, “We will celebrate our nation when it’s worthy of being celebrated. When we become a country that listens to First Nations Voices. ” Our appalling PM is yet again giving disingenuous lip service to day’s ‘celebrations’. Actions speak louder than words & this Govt has been totally obstructive to ANY pleas/ requests or demands of First Nations people ?

  6. Our government’s will never agree to anything more than tokenism whilst there is still more money to be made ripping minerals out of the ground. They are not interested in reconciliation, not really. Just look at the way they treat their citizens with one mandate after another followed by threat of prosecution. Their hands don’t know what the other is doing. They preach compassion and deal out subjugation. They would rather us fight amongst ourselves as it takes pressure off the fact that the deeper issues are not being dealt with. We will need to do it without government in the current form if we want to survive the coming crises.
    I hope that you get in Mandy, we need someone fresh and with a heart to shake up the place.

    • 100% bang on topic Gerard B. The Prime Miniscule and team, pats on the back all round when they tweak one word in the National Anthem -problem solved! And pats on the back all round, Again, with this ‘Freeing the Flag’. When it comes to the ‘big stuff’ ( for Morriosn ) like anthem wording and aboriginal flag, our Prime Miniscule is in the trenches.. way behind us all. Yet come the chance for truly transformational stuff like The Uluru Statement from the Heart and…?

  7. Thankyou Mandy for an incisive and thought provoking article, and thanks too for the comments that others have made. While we did not carry out the massacres etc, surely we can understand that those of us who came here after 1788 benefited and continue to benefit from First Nations dispossession. As a traditional owner said to me recently, “you may hold title, but it’s still our land”. So perhaps this is the dilemma which we each need to resolve in our different ways: how to share this land in a way that honours the keepers of its spirit and enables us to live respectfully with this place.
    For all its deficiencies and shortcomings, it seems to me that Native Title starts at the right place because it recognises that traditional owners have a system of laws governing their relationship to their territory. The place was not terra nullius after all! There’s been a lot of pruning by successive governments since then. It may help to go back to basics, so to speak.

  8. Back to basics – yes. In 1985 ‘We Call For A Treaty’ by Judith Wright’s ‘Commission’ should
    have been given more leverage. Naturally it wasn’t. Now we have ‘The Uluru Statement
    from The Heart’ & it needs to be accepted. I have little faith in ‘government’ & its ‘run’
    since the eighties. We all know what must be done. Stand up. Use the voice we’ve been
    given.

  9. “Collective trauma”; that is what I think it is all about. One day we may be able to have “Truth and Reconciliation” like in South Africa. We need to recognise the collective trauma that has resulted from the the invasion of indigenous land. White people have that trauma too, in Australia, in New Zealand, in the USA. The trauma of knowing you are living on stolen land; the trauma of knowing that injustice and violence has been inflicted on the original inhabitants from the day of the invasion continually up to now. Of course “our” trauma is way less that the trauma suffered by the original inhabitants, but it is still there. Recognising that will be part of the healing needed in this country; so we can move on and create a better country, together, for all of us.

  10. I may well have been born here but my blood-ties are Italian, Irish & Paugussett-Shawnee.
    Native Americans are at the same turnstile of trauma due to government greed & it will
    continue to grow until the word ‘equality’ is fully recognized along with ‘First Nations’.
    First Nations know exactly who they are & why a land cannot & will not balance unless
    the posturing stops. What’s stolen once will be stolen again. Manipulation must cease.
    I speak to those who are always at the top-end of town.

  11. The fact that you have a husband is simply hard to believe. What ‘man’ could love such a winey self hating windbag?

    • Incredible post, gender attack is very poor form. I’m surprised the ‘moderator’ allowed it. Discussing actual issue a step too far for your intellectual ability?

  12. Herewegoagain. Another one out of whack. Slush-pupping & put-downing sounds
    more of a man’s world. The Statement of the Heart is in focus – not male wind-bagging.

  13. the poor black man forever the currency of the liberal white woman they must thank their lucky stars for the likes of mandy nolan

  14. Ah . . . quit it! The poor black man, woman & child supposedly Liberal is a cheap shot, Dennis.
    Go out & play ‘ball.’ Mandy in managing well because she’s real & it’s time reality joined this
    entire country into ‘one heart.’

    • the use of the term white man by a white women is just used to seperate themselves from this society that was born from the empire and gain some kind of social profit from spouting such nonsense, white men didnt invade Australia the british empire invaded Australia the first fleet included people from all corners of the empire, the system that still exsists today the system that youre apart of has its roots firmly established yet you blame the non descript white man as a wide blanket term in a weak attempt to distance yourself from this system that despite your claims of its all the white mans fault blindly support. there wont be any reconcillation until Australia becomes somthing else.

  15. The white man/woman either pink or purple for one reason or another landed on
    the shores here. Some were small criminals, the rest hell bent on a new life. My
    research over the years covers the sick & crazed treatment the First Nation people
    copped by the settlers. Aussie newspapers in the early days printed photos of
    black women tortured by the British mostly in North Queensland where my
    Writer’s agreement with the Australia Council took place. That was way back in
    1974. The horror is still with me today… we ‘are what we allow ourselves to become’
    & that includes rape & torture. Consequently my writings now take no prisoners.

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