As a young man — a boy, really, trying to be a man — and revelling in the joy of being beyond the discipline of schoolmasters and the constraints of parental control, I was working on a grazing property in central Queensland, where I received some advice from an old shearer. During a lunch-break discussion about the then conflict between the AWU, which represents shearers, and graziers, he said: “The only satisfactory resolution to a dispute is when both parties walk away unhappy.” It required some very basic life experiences and growth of the ‘wisdom factor’ to appreciate the truth of his observation.
That memory is relevant today because of the cacophonous argument between vocal Aboriginal leaders and, effectively, the rest of society — a society that has given Aboriginal people assistance on the path to better lives and personal achievement for over 200 years. But it seems to me that any acceptable resolution is further away than at any previous date in my lifetime.
As I contemplate the history of Aboriginal people as I have witnessed it over 80-plus years, It seems the more the people of Australia give to those who now call themselves “the first peoples,” the more that is demanded. A culture of entitlement has supplanted a more reasoned outcome. This entitlement culture is all encompassing and breeds a false belief that prior to European settlement and even after settlement the aboriginal people lived a life of achievement and plenty. They did not. They were scavengers on a fire ravaged landscape and living under the most disgusting cultural practices.
In 50,000 years of living on the Australian continent, give or take a decamillennium, they built nothing, they achieved no progress, they developed nothing beyond that most unmelodic instrument, the didgeridoo, ever known.The forebears of those now claiming sovereignty over most of Australia were always going to be taken over by a more civilised society with a focus on the growth of material progress. That takeover, which began in 1788 with Governor Phillips settlement in Port Jackson, has been nothing but beneficial. rather than, as passionately claimed, prejudicial to Aboriginal people. From, shortly after settlement the Aboriginal people came to rely on settlers for food, clothing and later housing, education and health care. These days Australian taxpayers even pick up the tab for Aboriginal dog care.
During the 200-plus years since British settlement the majority of Aboriginal people have successfully made the transition from a short, brutal and generally terrible tribal lives to joining what has become the very successful mainstream Australian. To them we say, ‘Welcome, Mate, and should you need a hand just let us know.’ Of the now-claimed 900,000 professing to be of Aboriginal descent, around 740,000 fall into this category and most have the right to take a full measure of pride, as might we all, in self-sufficiency. However, that leaves us with around 160,000 who, by their own decisions, are living the bludgers’ life of indolence and mendicant hopelessness. To these people I say, your future is in your hands and meaningful reconciliation can only happen when you wisely walk away from the present dysfunction. Resolving the differences in our society can only happen when Aboriginal people consign the ragged and toxic remnants of tradition culture to the garbage bin of history. Into that same bin should be consigned the divisive Aboriginal flag. Aboriginal people must accept that they are no more indigenous than anyone else born in Australia.
Rudely offensive is the recently begun welcome to country ceremonies and even more offensive are the various and expanding Aboriginal claims of rights to landmarks like Uluru, Mount Warning and the Grampians. These and all other landmarks belong to all Australians and the visitors whom we welcome here. They are not the sole property of Aboriginal people. Only when Aborigines and those purporting on the strength of the most slender genetic connection accept they are part of Australian society, with the same obligations and responsibilities incumbent on all Australians, will we have genuine reconciliation.
In May next year, when the next Sorry Day rolls around, it should be Aboriginal people saying sorry. Sorry for not being thankful for what European settlers have done on their behalf. Sorry for not appreciating the educational, housing and health services freely supplied. Sorry for accepting preference in health services and employment opportunities. Sorry for constantly expecting help and hand-outs not available to other Australians.
Reconciliation requires input from all sides and the giving away of unacceptable positions. On that day we will see the dawn of an egalitarian and united country whose opportunities are open to every citizen. Then we will need no more Sorry Days.
Ron Pike is a water consultant and third-generation irrigation farmer