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