Part of preparing young Australians to be informed and active citizens is to teach them the central currents of our nation’s development. The subject matter should include indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. It should also cover the great and enduring heritage of Western civilisation, those nations that became the major tributaries of European settlement and in turn a sense of the original ways in which Australians from diverse backgrounds have created our own distinct history. It is impossible, for example, to understand the history of this country without an understanding of the evolution of parliamentary democracy or the ideas that galvanised the Enlightenment.
In the end, young people are at risk of being disinherited from their community if that community lacks the courage and confidence to teach its history. This applies as much to the children of seventh generation Australians or indigenous children as it does to those of recent migrants, young Australian Muslims, or any other category one might want to mention. When it comes to being an Australian there is no hierarchy of descent. Whether our ancestors were here thousands of years ago, whether they came on the First Fleet, in the 19th century, or whether we or our ancestors are amongst the millions of Australians who have come to our shores since the Second World War, we are all equally Australians – one no better than the other.
--John Howard, 'A Sense of Balance: The Australian Achievement in 2006.'
This was Howard's speech on the 26th of January, Invasion Day/Australia Day. Pick your name.
It's a ridiculous little statement, at first glance naive, because it suggests that if we all promote equality, that if we all promote being Australian, then we're on the right road to happiness. Of course, the problem is that this belief is easily picked and pulled at, even within Howard's own speech, which he paid good money for. He starts tripping up on himself early, when he says that, "Within limits, all Australians have the right to express their culture and beliefs and to participate freely in our national life." What, of course, might those limits be? Well, I suspect that they might be anything that steps outside the "dominant pattern" of life which "comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture. Its democratic and egalitarian temper also bears the imprint of distinct Irish and non-conformist traditions."
Incidently, if you're an Indigenous person, you'll be happy to know the Government is willing to help make up for the injustices of the past, so long, as course, as the Indigenous population are willing to meet the Government "half way on [the] road." Since, of course, Howard likes to describe Indigenous people as suffering, poor, just above savage lifestyle men and women, you'll be happy to know that you're being helped onto this road: "By sharing responsibility, governments and communities can help indigenous Australians build better lives, free from welfare dependency and based on solid economic foundations. If sometimes slow, progress is being made based on indigenous and non-indigenous Australians working side-by-side. With the 40th anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum approaching next year, our aim should be to deepen this legacy."
Before people started kicking and complaining and votes were given to women and black people, there was an idea in Australia called terra nullis (Also terra nullius on wikipedia and elsewhere on the web.) For those of you not clicking the links, terra nullis means 'empty land', which was how Australia was seen before a bunch of convicts were dumped here. The Indigenous population was considered 'savage' and were viewed to not be using the country in the right, European fashion, which one presumably means planting crops, worshiping God, and sending your convicts off to other peoples countries. Of course, it took a while for crops and God to take on, but you see my point, yes?
It didn't matter who was here before because now there is only Australia.
Terra nullis turns in my head. I can see it in the corners of Howard's speech, the idea that 'empty land' could be applied not just to the country, but to people, that if you come from anywhere that isn't European, that you're an 'empty person'. Leave your culture behind, leave your beliefs, leave everything that doesn't fit the mainstream here, or at least leave that bit behind where you might want to practice it. Empty land, empty people. Welcome to Australia, the multicultural country, where everyone is equal, though if you've a Judeo-Christian bunch of ethics, you'll be a little more equal.
You might be wondering why I'm positing about this, and the truth is, I'm just thinking aloud, right now. I've been tossing up what my next solid project is going to be, and after two books that are about multicultural Australia, I'm wondering if I have anything else to say. You might even be wondering why I'm even thinking about this, since, sure, I've written two books, and one'll be published through an independent publisher, which won't exactly mean bags of cash and whores and puff pieces on Sixty Minutes that call me brilliant, and the other isn't even with a publisher. But, you know, after ten years I've stopped worrying about making money and living in a class system I see on the TV. Just write. Trust it'll appear somewhere, and if it doesn't, then it doesn't. Writing is, in itself, an experience, and a different one to reading. What the reader gets from a piece of work is not what the author took from the experience of writing. So I'll write and worry about that business side of it later, as I always do, but as I sit here, thinking, wondering, I'm beginning to think that I have one more thing I want to engage in dialogue with a multicultural Australia about before I move on, before I begin those other conversations I have, and which I must follow, or risk repeating myself to the point that I become bored with what I do.
So, the question is, do I have that one other thing?