The Cloncurry Memorial

Amid the beer and barbecues, here’s a sobering thought for Australia Day 2019.

One of the saddest reminders that something in this country is still broken stands on the highway near Cloncurry: a monument to the Kalkadoon people who lived in the area for countless generations. The image of a black man’s face has been riddled with rifle bullets. Not the rest of the monument, just the face. The monument was also partially destroyed by explosives back in 1992.

Callous, smug, and cowardly.

Why does this monument make some people so angry? After atrocities committed by both sides, it was police trooper Frederic Urquhart and his native police who hunted the tribe down relentlessly, finally killing at least 200 at Battle Mountain. Over the last few years I’ve researched hundreds of accounts of killings, reprisals out of all proportion and inhuman brutality, from all over Australia. That, however, is history.

This vandalised face is a reminder that the problem is not only what happened in the past. But what is happening now. The clash of two very different cultures was probably inevitable, and was repeated all around the world. But what happens now is up to us.

There’s no way back, but a good start would be for us all to recognise the violent beginnings of Australia as we know it. Then learn to be as proud of our Indigenous past as of our white pioneers. Proud of the fluid and unique melding in the present day of not just one “Aboriginal People,” but hundreds of different Indigenous nations and language groups, many of which are very different. Some of these people, we have to remember, are not doing too well, living on the margins of modern Australian society.

Australia’s Indigenous history is part of the melting pot that makes us great. Maybe we can start by remembering that today.

Greg Barron, Australia Day 2019

The Immigrant

I just came back from the memorial service for a man of Chinese descent who grew up in Malaysia during WW2. His parents were forced to dress him up as a girl so would not be taken away to Japanese work gangs. For five years, due to war-time shortages, the family ate nothing but a little sweet potato and occasionally some rice.

He was very intelligent, however, and attended school when it was possible to do so. After the war he came to Australia and studied medicine in Melbourne. For fifty years he practiced as a GP in my local town on the Mid North Coast of NSW. Together with his wife, he raised his children here and became part of the community. I was lucky enough to be a family friend.

The memorial service was an open mic style event where locals expressed their point of view of his contribution and passing. I heard how this man had sat at children’s bedsides through the night until their fevers broke, at how he had saved thousands of lives through a talent for diagnosis, at how he would attend the public hospital, free of charge, at any time of the day or night. I heard how he fought for specialists to visit his out-of-the-way town, and how he used acupuncture in conjunction with modern medicine to bring pain relief. I heard of his wit, his interest in people of all walks of life, and the friendship he gave to his work mates and staff.

Not one person called him a bloody immigrant. Not one person said that he should have gone back to where he came from.