A Sorry End to Sorry Day

For those of you who are not up with our Australian news, yesterday, the 13th February, was the day that our Prime Minister said sorry to the aborigines for past grievances that they had endured.

It was a fine speech. The ceremony was held in Parliament House in Canberra and about 100 aborigines were invited to listen to Mr Rudd’s speech. The gist of it was that he conceded that many aborigines had been mistreated by past generations of governments and missionaries. He understood that many children had been taken away from their families in the past and these children became known as “the stolen generation”. For this he apologised. His main message, however, is that, all of Australia should now move on, in the hope that there will be a better relationship with the indigenous population.

He hopes that there will be a new chapter from now on and that the First Australians and the First Fleeters can craft a new future together.

It was a fine speech. Not of the calibre of Martin Luther King’s one, nor of Churchill’s call to defend the country against the enemy in World War II, but he made all the right noises without mentioning any of the negatives that pervade aboriginal culture today.

Rudd is a career diplomat and I hope that he can put to rest the issues that have been a canker in Australian culture. Aussies are fair-minded people and want to live in a happy world where everybody is treated equally.

A hard ask when you have a culture that will probably never get on its feet and fix itself up until it’s good and ready. The paternalistic way that aborigines were treated in the past has not helped them and has sadly created a culture of dependency on welfare. When you depend on welfare, how can you have self-worth?

The white population has tried to encourage aborigines to look after themselves. Millions have been spent through aboriginal agencies and there is nothing to show for the expenditure except more dependency and drug and alcohol abuse. The few elders who were in charge of these agencies were not up to the job and became corrupted by the power thrust upon them. The result of all this squandering was that the people who needed help most never saw any improvement in their lot.

In the final year of the Howard government some horrifying revelations came to light. Toddlers were being raped by their own relatives. Drunken people roamed the streets and were violent towards the womenfolk. I wrote about the gang rapes of children in an earlier post. Ordinary Australians were so shocked as was the government that quick action was taken to investigate this situation. Children had to be saved from their sozzled abusers. It was called an intervention and, of course, rather than welcome the help, some aborigines resented the intrusion into Happyland.

Apparently, the most important demand was an apology. Forget the plight of babies with venereal diseases. Forget the health concerns of the older aborigines. Forget the truancy from school. Just say sorry. The rest could wait.

So ok. The Prime Minister said sorry and even the leader of the opposition said sorry. Brendan Nelson made a wonderful and compassionate speech. I thought that it was very moving, but he made one mistake. He told it like it is. He tried to explain the reasoning of Australians in past generations who thought they were rescuing the aborigines from neglectful situations. He mentioned the ten year old girl who was gang raped recently and he called the abuse of children an emergency.

Dear oh dear. Poor Brendan Nelson spoke the truth when what was wanted was a mea culpa, hang your head in shame approach, a grovelling and begging for forgiveness. In other words, a whitewashing of what really goes on in aboriginal communities. Nelson had offended the aborigines on their Sorry Day. So hundreds of aborigines outside Parliament House and all over Australia who had been watching the ceremony on TV turned their backs on him.

Some of them said that he should not have mentioned the drunkedness and sexual abuses. Truth can be so annoying, can’t it? Especially if you want to blame the rest of the world for every problem that you have.

I felt very sorry for Brendan Nelson. All he had said was that there was much to be done to remedy the tragic situation. He should have bullshitted, I guess. He should have said to the aborigines—You are perfect and we are not. They probably would not have appreciated that either. That’s what happens when one extracts an apology.


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