Let’s not put too fine a point on it. Without question, Aboriginal Australia is afflicted with enormous problems, not least of which are law and order and health issues. Add to this is a level of political corruption, uncontrolled exploitation of our resources by foreign multinationals and many other problems experienced by indigenous people everywhere. These problems should not be censured.
As I said, Aboriginal Australia’s problems should not be censured. However the Australian media stands accused, not of not telling the truth about Aboriginal Australia, but of telling only a small fraction of the truth: the bits that titillate; the bits that feed ‘white’ Australia’s overbearing sense of cultural superiority; the bits that spare the ‘white’ Australia the knowledge of its own role in exacerbating, if not causing, many of Aboriginal Australia’s current woes.
To put this tarnished image-making into perspective, imagine for a moment that media from one of our international trading partners, say India, came to Australia and reported on our country to the world. And imagine if that reporting (done without sensitivity) honed in on the “stolen generation”, the mindless ways we have destroyed our soils and river systems, the drug culture among youth in our cities. And imagine if this was the total image of our nation, projected to the entire world, and there was no way of redressing or balancing such a jaundiced, distorted image.
I have spent the last eight years searching for the essence of Aboriginal Australian culture. In doing so it eventually dawned on me how low self-esteem can affect a whole race. Our tiny population – squeezed into a tight corner by economic globalisation, depicted unfairly as a “sub-human race”, pack raped for our resources – we carry all the hallmarks of a people suffering from low self-esteem.
We know all about how damaging low self-esteem can be for the individual. Transpose the phenomenon of low self-esteem from the individual to an entire people and the symptoms stay precisely the same – particularly that of self-destructiveness. Likewise the remedies. Kicking us in the guts is not a recommended treatment.
Aboriginal Australia is nothing like the media hype suggests. Yes, as a people we have enormous development problems, but like most people, anywhere on the globe, the vast majority of Aboriginal Australians want to live quiet lives in dignity and harmony, going about our daily lives, looking after our young and old, trying to straddle our rich cultures with growing modernity. In many ways, we are far more reflective of, and honest about, our own problems than ‘white’ Australians are of theirs. Unlike ‘white’ Australia, we own our own problems. We don’t exploit other peoples. We are not at war with anyone, except by ‘virtue’ of our inclusion in the commonwealth.
For the most part Aboriginal Australian culture exhibits many outstanding attributes that modern ‘white’ Australia has lost. In terms of respect for our culture and our people, Aboriginal Australia stands heads and shoulders above ‘white’ Australia. This is not to put ‘white’ Australia down, just a plea to understand the original inhabitants of this great land we all call home, not to regard us as wayward adolescents in need of a ‘firm hand’, but as a people deserving the dignity of our nation’s respect as equals.
In an effort to understand the hurt felt by many of our people because of our media-tarnished image, I spent many hours talking with individuals and groups, comparing the pluses and minuses of ‘white’ Australian-versus-Aboriginal Australian cultures and the history of invasion that tie the two together.
As an invading power, ‘white’ Australia has surpassed many others in terms of the destructive nature of the processors that follow invasion and lead to colonisation. In recent years, our relationship with ‘white’ Australia, in the main, has improved – albeit this improvement is overshadowed by an air of cultural superiority on the part of our ‘white’ brothers and sisters. Aboriginal Australians are keenly aware that ‘white’ Australia’s current role is not entirely altruistic or beneficent, yet, in the eyes of many of our people, we are appreciative of efforts being made by many individuals and some in government to come to a better understanding of the real issues confronting Aboriginal Australia.
We carry our history as a people with pride, but this does not blind us to the mistakes that we made, or our obligation to own those mistakes and make up for them. Likewise the Australian media has a responsibility to openly report on issues impacting on us with fairness and justice. It is not good enough to just pick out a juicy story and run with it. While that may have been acceptable under the wasted years of Howard’s tenure as prime minister, it is no longer.
In the light of the serious problems confronting both Aboriginal and ‘white’ Australia, the overbearing sense of cultural superiority held by ‘white’ Australians is badly misplaced. As a nation, we have a lot to learn.