Wearing out welcome to country
It’s a fragile moment for reconciliation and recognition
Australia is hopefully going through some kind of belated reflection and healing over the role that racism played in the booing of AFL legend Adam Goodes, with the release of two documentaries: TheFinal Quarter and Stan Grant’s The Australian Dream. But it’s a fragile moment for reconciliation, with the first Aboriginal minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, after months of equivocation and on behalf of the Morrison government, rejecting [$] the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s demand for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice to parliament. On Monday’s sorry episode of Q&A – for which Wyatt, Noel Pearson and Senator Patrick Dodson were all no-shows – the government’s lone representative, Julian Leeser, was left to explain: “The government supports the voice and the government supports constitutional recognition, just not constitutional recognition of the voice.” Indigenous goodwill and patience is surely evaporating fast.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese spoke powerfully about the Uluru statement on Insiders during the Garma festival earlier this month. “It’s a beautiful document,” he said. “It’s a strong document. It’s concise and clear. It’s modest in its ask, and I think it is incredibly generous. And that’s why we should, when that hand of friendship is out, towards us … the prime minister and myself should join together and shake that hand and move our nation forward.”
Last night’s Sydney premiere of The Australian Dream (in cinemas Thursday, August 22), directed by Daniel Gordon and written by Grant, was a moving gesture of reconciliation – a hopeful effort, as Grant said afterwards, to turn the worst of Australia into the best of Australia. The Australian Dream features lengthy interviews with Goodes and Grant – whose fiery 2015 speech at Sydney’s City Recital Hall helped turn the tide of public sentiment against the racist “howl” – as well as former AFL stars Michael O’Loughlin, Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam.
There are white voices too, including Goodes’s coaches at the Sydney Swans, John Longmire and Paul Roos, who speak movingly about the stricken player. The documentary was an act of reconciliation towards the AFL – Goodes described his 1997 draft to the Swans as “the greatest sliding-doors moment of my life” – and towards key people such as Collingwood supremo Eddie McGuire, whose admiration for Goodes’s champion qualities was obvious, and who sat silent on screen listening to the painful audio of his own racist King Kong gaffe. Even Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt was given a chance to explain himself, albeit inadequately. Not so The Footy Show host Sam Newman, who drips with hate, as he does in The Final Quarter.
But the kind of goodwill and generosity seen in The Australian Dream is surely not unending: we have talked about reconciliation and recognition for so long, even as the country abolished ATSIC, launched the racist ‘intervention’, inflicted income management, defunded Aboriginal organisations, created the most incarcerated people on Earth, and now twice rejected out of hand the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty, Truth. As Grant said at the beginning of last night’s screening, Australia is now the only country in the world that has not reached a treaty with its First Nations people. The 1992 Mabo case, the 2000 Sorry Day march in Sydney and Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations stand out as breakthrough moments – along with, now, perhaps, this tipping point of reflection on what happened to Goodes. Last night Goodes said he gets love and hugs wherever he goes.
In countless ceremonies every day, Australians acknowledge the traditional owners of the country on which we meet, pay respect to elders and admit that sovereignty was never ceded. It is an act of reconciliation and recognition every time. So it was last night, with Gadigal elder Uncle Charles (Chicka) Madden concluding with a moving “welcome, welcome, welcome”. If non-Indigenous Australia is not careful, we should not be surprised if these important, generous gestures – so often taken for granted – were withdrawn, along with the will to reconcile at all. There is no point blaming Ken Wyatt, who now appears to have been set up to fail. The campaign for the voice has to be strong enough that the prime minister and his whole cabinet have no choice but to act.
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“On April 12, 2015, I arrived in Melbourne with 200 ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’ posters and quickly commenced the lonely task of sticking them up. Each day I’d try to convince people on the street to hold the poster for a photo. Sometimes people approached me, which made it easier. The point was to show that people supported the project, that ordinary Australians were literally getting behind the poster to demonstrate their resistance to rising xenophobia.”
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Australia is hopefully going through some kind of belated reflection and healing over the role that racism played in the booing of AFL legend Adam Goodes, with the release of two documentaries: TheFinal Quarter and Stan Grant’s The Australian Dream. But it’s a fragile moment for reconciliation, with the first Aboriginal minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, after months of equivocation and on behalf of the Morrison government, rejecting [$] the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s demand for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice to parliament. On Monday’s sorry episode of Q&A – for which Wyatt, Noel Pearson and...