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Relearning the Past to Understand the Future

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I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of the land upon which I sit as I write this piece, and pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging. I extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I’ve only once travelled to central Australia walking the Larapinta Trail along the West MacDonnell Ranges and visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta (pictured above).

It was 2016, and I returned to my home in Canberra flooded with emotions ranging from awe to confusion. How breathtakingly beautiful these sacred places are, how connected Aboriginal people are to this land, how so very little I know about it all. Overwhelmingly, I felt ignorant.

I’m a middle-aged white Australian woman, the product of working-class people who paid their taxes and regurgitated the rhetoric that placates well-meaning people who don’t want to get involved.

High School history taught me about many ancient civilisations but not the one whose land I lived on.

I grew up naively believing we live in the lucky country where opportunities could be had by all. I had little sense of what generations of occupation, eradication and racism could do in denying many of this ideal.

Over the years as news of Mabo, the stolen generation, deaths in custody of Aboriginal people got more media I would feel outrage but only with enough gravitas one gets from an hour of current affairs.

It took that trip in 2016 and some soul searching for me to stop with the excuses as to why I don’t know about our First Nations people and fight back the prejudices of nurture not nature.

So I read…

Talking to My Country – Stan Grant

A lesson from my lifetime

I chose proud Wiradjuri man and journalist Stan Grant’s memoir because I wanted to understand the perspective from an Aboriginal person who had grown up in my generation.

His story is told gently and I could directly compare the disparity in privilege.

Truganini – Cassandra Pybus

A lesson for my inherited conscience

Professor Cassandra Pybus hit me right in the gene pool as, like me, she has direct lineage back to Richard Pybus who in 1839 was given a free land grant on Bruny Island, land that belonged to Truganini’s Nuenonne people.

Cassandra writes in her Afterword, “While my family history provides an unassailable case for my being the beneficiary of stolen land and genocide, the deeper truth is that every Australian who is not a member of the First Nations is a beneficiary of stolen country, brutal dispossession, institutionalised racial discrimination and callous indifference.”

The Ghost and The Bounty Hunter – Adam Courtenay

A lesson in a truthful history

This story of convict William Buckley who is taken-in by the Wadawurrung people living as one of them for over 30 years dovetails into the colonisation of Port Phillip Bay by John Batman and his entourage.

The story I was brought up to think was charming is in fact abhorrent.

And I listened…

Debutante: Race, Resistance and Girl Power – Nakkiah Lui and Miranda Tapsell (Audible Podcast)

A lesson in shaping the future

As a debutante myself, I thought this would be a good laugh—and it was. It was also a serious insight into privilege, racism, feminism and etiquette.

Nakkiah Lui, a proud Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, says, “if the community does not know its history, it cannot see its future”. I inhaled every second of this podcast.

I wasn’t alive in 1839 when my G-G-G-Grandfather took stolen land. 

I wasn’t alive when my grandparents raised their family whilst the government of the day saw fit to take babies away from the people whose nation they occupied.

I was born in 1967, when my parents voted for Aboriginals to be included in the Constitution wrongly thinking that would be a panacea.

I attended my Debutante Ball in 1983, an antiquated ceremony dating back to Henry VIII, oblivious to it being only accessible for Aboriginal women in my lifetime. Now I know.

Miranda Tapsell, a proud Larrakia Tiwi woman, leaves listeners with this, “how are you going to change things…it’s not just our fight to have, it’s yours too.”

I see you; I hear you.

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