a quiet revolution begins

 Did you know that well before white explorers and settlers in this Australia, the Chinese, often through traders from Sulawesi, were active traders with the residents of this country? They respected the owners of this vast land and treated them with respect, as  Warren Mundine reminded Richard Fidler recently. More than 220 years after white men treated our country’s owners as savages, showing little respect or understanding, we don’t seem to have made a lot of progress….but there are some encouraging signs.

I’ve always held the view that decisions are easy if you have the right information. It could be argued that lack of information (and hence understanding) led to the attitudes of Arthur Phillip and subsequent boat people. One can only wonder how things might have been today with a different approach.

While it is impossible to generalise about the evolution of the attitudes of non-aboriginal Australians over the last two centuries, we have seen various combinations of aggression, intolerance, prejudice, dispossession, platitudes, tokenism and interference, there are some positive signs as awareness of issues grows more broadly in the community.  In fact my colleague John Morse, author of A Shared Vision, calls it a quiet, dignified revolution.

One of the most significant enablers of this quiet revolution was the apology to the stolen generation in February 2008. It was no silver bullet to reconciliation and progress, but it did lift a heavy cloud. From the aboriginal perspective, it was highly symbolic and cathartic. From the perspective of the non-aboriginal residents of Australia, it seemed to give permission and legitimacy to engage in forward focussed dialogue with less guilt. Most Australians carry huge good will and hope for their aboriginal brothers and sisters – but don’t know how to interface and react.

The piecemeal, hand out mentality is not a solution to the many issues faced by aboriginal communities. Treatment of symptoms is always short term and as Tania Major argues, boosts the addiction to passive welfare.  She argues persuasively against the “one size fits all” approach as seen in the NT intervention.

O'Loughlin and Goodes at work

The GO Foundation

The approach of the GO Foundation is impressive. Formed by Sydney Swans legends Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin, who both feel a keen sense of responsibility to their people, GO Foundation zeroes in on root causes. The initial project in Dareton identified the reasons for domestic violence and alcoholism by talking with the people affected. Having then identified solutions – such as a workshop for men – help from the corporate sector has been enlisted with materials and construction. The Foundation allows corporate Australia and aboriginal people to engage and helps indigenous Australians set life goals.

We need to work with aboriginal communities on many levels of problem solving and opportunity building. In every case solutions need to be owned by the aboriginal people and based on understanding and respect. I see amazing opportunities for aboriginal people to be involved in mainstream economic and cultural activity, rather than on the periphery. While tourism and AFL football have played an important role in providing incentives for aboriginal children, there are new role models coming forward in contemporary culture, business, land management and trade – just as the Chinese appreciated centuries ago.

1 Comment

  1. Just gonna comment about this article, after reading whole of this it make me to have new vision about one important event, hope I can read more good news again from you so I bookmark your website.

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