Monday, 26 January 2009

Australia day 2009

I was reading today in The Australian, that Mick Dodson (a man I admire for taking leadership and personal interest in Aboriginal issues in Australia) has said that

To many indigenous Australians, in fact most indigenous Australians, it really reflects the day in which our world came crashing down

I think this is a fair comment with quite a ring of truth about it. He goes further to say that

Many of our people call it Invasion Day, but I think Australia is mature enough now to have a conversation about that, and let's get on with it, like we usually do.

So I'd like to participate in that mature conversation and begin by raising with the following points which I think need to be considered as a premise:
  • while for much of human history (certainly western recorded history) Australia remained isolated geographically, this situation was not going to remain so forever.
  • there is some suggestion that there have previously been indigenous human inhabitants in Australia genetically different to the indigenous inhabitants met by Cook and the English explorers.
  • certainly much of the actions of the early colonists (and colonial government) was reprehensible and distasteful to us today (perhaps even then). However this is perhaps only so from particular religious view points (such as Christian and perhaps Buddhist views), certainly fights over territory are nothing new in human history and the losers of such disputes can face either death, slavery or (if lucky) assimilation.
  • choice of words is not accidental, so invasion or colonisation or migration or displacement are all words which could apply but which need to be thought about carefully (unless we're not after intelligent discussion, but rather a screaming match).
  • everyone and every culture undergoes change, like it or not we are exposed to other humans eventually
  • what would it have been like if the other culture which encountered Australia and spread its influence into there was any other culture (say Chinese, Japanese, or even something like the Assyrian or Roman cultures)

So as well as dealing with what has gone on, lets not loose sight of the fact that at some stage the Indigenous people of Australia were going to meet other humans. Because they had not been developing (and exploring outside of their world) it was likely someone else of greater technical skills was going to be the explorer.

No matter what, their world would be changed forever. But then our world (the entire planet) has been changed several times over, so perhaps we've just had a little more experience in getting used to changes (maybe).

So, indigenous people can remain in the stone age if they choose (and I think there exists room for that, although some leaders Mr Dodson among them hold that they should not) and accept the attendant limitations of that choice (such as access to medical educational and other modern resources). Perhaps we can even provided a sheltered location for them, away from exploitation of our culture or those from their culture who would seek to exploit them.

However if you want to modernize then like it or not you must accept the limitations of our existing culture and join with it. From that point you can attempt to steer it (as does anyone else) through the channels available such as politics, science and academic inputs.

You will however need to persuade people and provide acceptable alternatives.

No matter what, life is never static for long so you may as well get used to change.

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