According to anthropologists, the Aborigines have inhabited Australia for between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Yet today it is common to hear white Australians refer to themselves as having descended from the “first settlers.” Unfortunately, the indigenous population of Australia has been abused, neglected, terrorized, and denied basic human rights since the days these “first settlers” arrived. It was only in a 1967 referendum, when 90% of the nation voted to make all Aborigines citizens of Australia and give them the right to vote, that this began to slowly change.
I learned all this at the Sydney Writer’s Festival where, on the 40th anniversary of the referendum, a panel of Aboriginal writers, statesmen, and community leaders reflected upon the things that have changed and the things that have not changed since the legislation was passed into law. One woman recalled the eve of the referendum as her family tried to grasp the fact that they were now full citizens of the country that their ancestors had inhabited for eons. They were awed and elated until the next morning, when her mother walked into the grocery store and, as usual, was followed around by clerks to ensure she stole nothing and made to exit through the rear door, as the front door was for whites only. Their night of elation quickly turned to sorrow as they realized that, although the law had changed, people’s attitudes hadn’t, and in reality nothing had really changed at all.
Others spoke of times when Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their homes, put into government schools, forced to learn English and punished for speaking their native language. To keep them from running away they were told that their parents were dead, or that their parents didn’t want them. Now, 40 years later, some things Continue reading