The hypocrites among us

3 01 2009

Ask anyone their thoughts on Tibet, or even the latest chapter in the Israeli/Palestinian saga and you will generally get a response that is sympathetic to whoever it is they believe are suffering oppression.  Ask a man or woman their thoughts on Tibet and, if they aren’t a flag waving, cheerleader for the Chinese government and their unique brand of semi-communism with a capitalist twist, you will generally be told that Tibet deserves its independence.  They may even go so far as to suggest that in the very least the Tibetans deserve to be autonomous and all persecutions against their people should stop, at once and continue to rail against whatever injustice it is that they know of.  Ask them about Sudan, and the millions of displaced who have been forced into destitution because of war and government-backed militias, and you’ll get a response in support of the displaced.  “It’s so sad,” they may comment.  But ask these same people about the Australian Aborigine’s and you’ll find yourself confronted with a somewhat different opinion.

These same people who express their sorrow and the misfortunes of thousands of people across the world who have been forced to suffer at the hands of oppressive governments and regimes are, remarkably, all too often the first to forget that similar events have occurred here under the management of our government and it’s various incarnations.  The Aboriginal people have been stabbed, poisoned, infected, shot, massacred, ignored, starved, ‘educated’, run over, over ruled and hung by red tape for over a century.  You ask the same people who you talked to about Tibet, and they’ll turn around and repeat some line condemning them for not having jobs, being perpetually drunk and taking government hand outs.  Never mind that you could easily find a multitude of white people who are exactly the same.  By doing so, they merely show off their ignorance to the history of the Aboriginal people and their trials, such as not being lawfully in existence until Mabo turned up.  So often it has been the case that groups of indigenous Australians have taken it upon themselves to improve their lot, only to find themselves at odds with some regulation or government employed panel which doesn’t take well to those in its ward being self-sufficient, independent and showing signs of strength.  And so they have fought, every inch and they have suffered.  As a result all the incidents that occurred between the invasion of the English followed by the subsequent theft or their land and whatever battle inevitably lies over the next hill, there is little wonder that those Aborigine that are often the most visible to those in the cities are those who are destitute and have hit the bottle.  All too often, the average Australian damns the whole Aboriginal population on a couple of random encounters with a few, atomised individuals.  Funnily enough, I don’t think they’d ever test their insights by actually visiting an Aboriginal community.

Now, I wouldn’t dare to tell the Aboriginal people what to do.  I’m not of Aboriginal heritage and I don’t know what’s best for those who are.  There are more than enough politicians working away day and night with the sole purpose of inventing some new government program to get the Aboriginal people to do what they want.  Only the Aboriginal people can decide this for themselves, and should be free from outside interference to do so.  What I will point out, however, is that the injustices and atrocities levelled against the Aboriginal people, from the time of invasion to the recent ‘intervention’ in the Northern Territory, have been committed by government.  It’s mechanism has given power to those who would do harm and those of good intention who think they know best, and so extended their reach through the barrel of a gun.  It took decades before the Aboriginal people were even recognised by the government as having existed as a ‘legal’ entity and while this is championed as a triumph of democracy, it’s a shocking state of affairs when there must be a referendum and two trials to determine whether a minority should be granted basic rights and be considered legally in existence.  It’s also thoroughly disturbing that a government, who veils itself in the pretence of democracy, equality before the law and all the rest would argue, as it did with the Aborigines, that it has some right to manage the use of their property (the fruits of their labour) and even go so far as to deny a certain section of society the ability to control the land they live on and whose ancestors have lived on for many thousands of years.

Yet further back it goes; the stolen generation were abducted by government agents who thought they knew better than the parents.  Then we have the Aboriginal Protection Boards set up to govern the reserves in Victoria that were given their authority by none other than the government.  That same authority was then used, repeatedly, to destroy the lives of those who dared oppose them and those living on the reserves.  Not even letters to high ranking officials from others of social standing change and woe betide any who outright resisted the authorities — they would be expelled from the reserves to disappear into the world without a trace.  Even today, politicians are willing to use the army to ‘clean up’ the Aboriginal people, as if, collectively, they represent some sort of infant that needs a bunch of trained killers to wipe its nose, change its nappy and bring out the rifle if it plays up.  In each and every case, you only need to look a few pages into the history books to discover that all those events, whether they be borderline genocidal or just downright tyrannical, leave government holding the smoking gun.  But we’re then there is no guilt as it was all done for ‘humanitarian’ reasons — and still is!

Next time someone shares their sympathies for the oppressed Tibetan, or Palestinians in Israel, or Israelis in the Middle East, or the Sudanese, ask them about the Aboriginal people and revel in the hypocrisy.

Hat tip goes out to Alexis Wright’s, “A Weapon of Poetry” published in Overland, issue 193.

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