2006 Margaret Dooley Young Writers Award-winning short essay
Without doubt, the most important issue facing contemporary Australian society is the continued oppression of our Indigenous peoples. The divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is shamefully expanding at an unacceptable rate. As our economy goes from strength to strength, Aboriginal communities nationwide sink further into the soul-shattering cycle of poverty and despair.
Reconciliation is the cornerstone of our existence. We must move past the systems of assimilation and have the humility and wisdom to learn from these different cultures, so that we can integrate their perception of the world into ours.
If this complicated and delicate issue is addressed adequately, then it will finally give us our long sought-after self-identity, as well as restore a strong sense of morality to our withering national social conscience. If Australia can summon the courage to ensure justice for the people who lived here before colonisation, then it will enter the hallowed hallways of greatness and stand as a shining example to the rest of the world as to how a democracy should function.
At the heart of the issue is the implacable necessity for all Australians to reconnect with the history of this land: rediscovering the rich spirituality that unites us as one.
Imperative in this journey is the unpleasant acknowledgement of past relations. First Settlement Aborigines have never been given a fair go. We brought the foreign diseases, we slaughtered them as if they were pests, we made them work for free, we hid whole tribes in remote locations, we introduced the addictive horrors of alcohol and other drugs, we let our allies experiment with atomic bombs, and we continue to mine their sacred land for profit.
Despite all of this they are still here, desperately clinging to the fragments of culture that remain, and living behind a veil of oppression that mainstream society chooses to ignore.
Indigenous disadvantage should not exist in a nation as wealthy as ours, and therein lies the problem.
Australians are becoming hungrier for wealth and material possessions. The legacy of ‘a fair go for all’ has been pushed into the dark recesses of all minds. A consequence is that we now crave financial security above all else, and thus we tolerate the social injustices occurring on our shores and overseas.
We foolishly kid ourselves into thinking that we own the land and that we can do with it as we please. This common misperception is proving fatal as we bear witness to an environmental catastrophe unfold before our eyes. It is painfully clear that our ‘modern’ way of life is the problem. We are living frightfully beyond our means as we stupidly and greedily produce more than we can consume.
A return to simplicity is desperately needed. The fate of future generations depends solely on how we choose to live.
And this is why we must achieve reconciliation with all Australian Aborigines. They lived with a practicality and deep spirituality that puts our society to shame. They lived here for thousands of years at one with the land. We have lived here for 218 years, and caused irreversible damage.
We must connect with their land, their belief systems and above all else, their spirituality.
The solution to this problem lies in the hands of the Australian public and their willingness to instigate practical pathways to peaceful resolution. It entails a dramatic and radical shift in our national mindset, with a strong focus on connecting with Aboriginal cultures and the land, rather than strengthening the economy and generating more capital. At the very least we should equip all Indigenous peoples with sufficient education, healthcare and housing—but this is only a beginning, for once these resources are in place the real work can begin.
The priests and brothers during my school years spoke of the necessity to be a man for others, forever offering one’s energy and compassion to the least advantaged in society. Only in the past few years has the profundity of this message made sense, because finally it is clear to me that as spiritual beings, we are bound by an invisible yet indivisible moral imagination.
As a nation we must link hands and walk with pride into the light of justice with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Their liberation is directly bound up with ours. No matter how prosperous or powerful we think we are, we can only move forward once reconciliation is achieved.