I’m scanning the headlines this morning and see this one on News.com.au: “Priest claims praying ‘pointless’“. You just know that’s going to get my attention, right? I thought to myself “I can’t wait to show this to Father Bob!”
You should have heard me laugh when I opened it and read:
“SOUTH Melbourne priest Bob Maguire says church leaders across Australia can pray for rain “until they go black in the face” but it won’t solve the water crisis.”
I love it when Bob says what he really thinks and bucks the establishment.
This week’s episode of The Father Bob Show on TPN should be fun. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about our “duty of care” to the indigenous population of Australia and I want to talk to Bob about it.
I have decided that I am a racist. And it bothers me deeply.
Let me explain. A racist isn’t just someone who thinks other races are inferior to one’s own. I’m not that kind of racist. A racist is also someone who values another race less than one’s own. And based on my growing understanding of the situation that the indigenous population of this country is in, combined with how little I have personally done about it, I have decided that I must have valued their lives less than I should. And I think that makes me a racist. And I’m going to change.
200 years ago, European Christians, mostly from Great Britain, came to Australia. They invaded the country. Committed an act of mass genocide. Stole the entire continent from its traditional owners. They took children from their families, as recently as 40 years ago, thrusting them into Christian educational institutions.
What reparations has the United Kingdom made? What reparations has Christianity made? What reparations have *I* made?
Me? What did *I* do to them?
Nothing directly. But I am profiting off of what was done to them.
What duty of care do the people of European descent in this country have to the descendants of the aboriginals who were treated so abhorrently?
It doesn’t matter if our direct ancestors weren’t involved. WE are still profiting from that theft. The asset that was stolen from the indigenous population, this land, is our greatest source of wealth and prosperity.
If scientists found a living dodo specimen, wouldn’t we all feel a duty of care for it, even though our direct ancestors may not have been the ones who wiped out the rest of the dodo population?
Why then don’t we feel the same duty of care for an entire race?
Saying ‘it was 200 years ago’ isn’t a justification. Only 60 years ago, the international community gave the Jewish people an entire country which hadn’t been theirs for thousands of years. That’s a precedent for reparations.
Let’s say that when Napoleon annexed Italy in 1796 it had stayed under French control until now. Do you think the international community would be telling France to give Italy back to the Italians? 200 years isn’t a long time.
What if Japan had successfully invaded Australia during WWII. What if they have murdered the majority of Australians, taken their land, their homes, their crops. What reparations do you think we would be demanding today? Would we be satisfied with an annual stipend and access to education? Would we be saying “well that was your parents, not the current generation, so nothing can be done to turn back the clock?”
West Germany paid reparations to Israel for the Holocaust. What is the statute of limitations on genocide?
The Australian Aboriginal people lived here for 40,000 – 75,000 years before the Christian invasion and genocide. It is estimated that there could have been 750,000 – 1,000,000 of them at that time. By the early 20th century the indigenous population had declined to between 50,000 and 90,000. Today there are less that 500,000 descendants.
A friend of mine, Andrew Mullins, put it to me this way a couple of years ago:
“What if scientists discovered a population of humans living deep in the jungles of the Amazon who had been around for 40,000 years? How do you think they would treat them? They would wrap them up in cotton wool and treat them with the utmost respect.”
He opened my eyes to something, I am embarrassed to admit, that I hadn’t given much thought to. It is my belief that the media, the government, and the education system in this country, in fact ALL of us in this country, have willfully and knowingly obfuscated and belittled the issue of our responsibility to the indigenous peoples of this country.
Now – giving back the land, moving 22 million people out of Australia, is obviously impossible. But what, then, do we do? I am increasingly uncomfortable with the general opinion I hear from other white people in this country that “we give them money and they get unequaled access to opportunities – what more do they want?”.
We cannot wash our hands of this.
Russell Buckley asked me recently:
“What are we doing today that our descendants will look back on in disbelief and ask themselves how on earth we could have done that, thinking it was normal, or certainly harmless?”
I think perhaps our minimal concern over our duty of care to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia is one of those things.