It’s an indictment on us all – not just mainstream media – that the events of the past month or two are constantly described as “news” or “current affairs”, when actually they are simply representative of hundreds of years of abuse and neglect – there’s nothing “new” about it.
If we’ve learned one thing, it’s how little we know about Indigenous Australians and our true history. Our Prime Minister claiming there was “no slavery in Australia” was the moment that highlighted the glaring gap in our education system – that we are largely ignorant to the historical treatment of Australia’s first people, and how that still permeates today and flows through at all levels of society.
Did I want to pour scorn on Scomo? Sure, but if I’m honest, first I had to do my own research on slavery in this country before I got too holier than thou. The troubling reality is that even though I studied Australian History in year 12 (and got a solid B from memory) I only recall the Rum Rebellion and the depiction of the tough life of the convicts and squatters – I didn’t learn about genocide, forced labour and slavery. Why is that? Probably because our education system in the 1970s and ‘80s was still a hand-me-down version of the post-war, British model. Here we were, well entrenched in the Asia Pacific region yet the curriculum had us reading poetry, making scones, and offered only French and German as language choices.
If a post-colonial hangover was a valid reason then for those limitations, it surely can’t still be now – it’s time we made Indigenous Studies compulsory. A civilised society teaches their people about the wrongs of the past as a way to start righting them, and to ensure they aren’t repeated, and so must we, whether it suits us or not.
To the broader issues of inequality, disproportionate incarceration, and the various layers of racism within society, we can’t just press the snooze button until the perfect answer is ready – it may never be – the time to listen, engage and try is now.
Some may read this and question the motives, language, and point out my privilege. I accept that and welcome the opportunity to become better educated (email me at the address below). Sometimes it’s necessary to be pulled down a peg and learn in order to spark some action, but it’s equally important not to be deterred and do what we can as we strive for positive, permanent change.
Managing Editor, The Westsider