How To Say You're Sorry!

Occasionally people have come up to me and said, "I wasn't around when the Aborigines lost their land and were killed by the Europeans, so I don't know what I have to be sorry for".

I agree with them that they weren't around when the Europeans took over this country; the country they called Terra Nullius as if there was not a single sentient being here.

“But aren't you sorry that it happened? I ask them.

They think about it for a while and then say that they suppose they are sorry but what can they do.

And that's what it's all about.

When a friend dies and we go to his funeral, we go up to the family and express our sorrow for their loss.
When a cyclone destroys our cities and renders people homeless and injured, we all tell them how sorry we are that they had to endure this disaster.
When people fall and hurt themselves or suffer from a dreadful illness, we are on the spot with sympathy and assistance.
We often send sympathy abroad as a nation for countries that have suffered destruction from tidal waves, tornados ,earthquakes and war.
But we cannot say sorry to our own indigenous people.

Our Prime Minister John Howard has almost taken it as a point of honour that he will not say sorry to the Aboriginal people of Australia.
Howard is a small man of narrow vision.
Having joined the US in their 'War Against Terror', he is busy telling Australians that he will save us from the terrorists who are preparing to take over our world.
If Howard wants to see terrorism he should look at what the US is doing in Iraq, and what the Israelis did in Lebanon.
And to put an even finer point on it, he should look in his own back yard.

What do you call it when a citizen reports a break-in at the local shop and the first words from the police are…."Was he black?"
When you have black people in your community but you have never seen them because they live in wretched surroundings and don't go to the places where normal people go?
When they have served in our armies during times of war and have never received any recognition or reward?
When a member of the Aboriginal community wins at the Olympics and it is said around the ridges that at least the blacks are good for something?
When a black cricketer who was the only person in the world to bowl the Don for a duck is refused membership on the Australian Cricket Team and is forced to eat alone?
When white people happily take alcohol onto Aboriginal Reserves knowing that there is no alcohol allowed and they can sell it for whatever price they wish causing no end to the heartache?
When Aborigines are refused rental homes because of their colour?
When you see Maoris in New Zealand take part in political and cultural ceremonies as if they are a part of the natural order of things and which of course they are?
How long since you saw an Aboriginal person take part in any political situation or in discussions of national importance?

It doesn't happen here.

In all countries of the New World taken over by people from the Old World, indigenous people play a part, even if it is a small part in ceremonies and are consulted on many issues.
In Australia the Aborigines have had to fight for many years for a small say in what is done with their traditional lands.
Lands that belonged to them for many thousands of years before the white people even knew they existed.

Australian anthropologist and author Tim Flannery announced a couple of years back that it had been proven that the demise of large animals on the Australian continent could be laid at the door of the native people.
Right wing racist commentaries were then levelled against the aborigines as the destroyers of this land.
Now I read that scientists are saying it was drought that caused the death of these animals and destruction of lands and the emergence of deserts.
Too late, the damage is done.

Whenever the media, particularly the Right Wing media can get on the bandwagon of hatred for the Aborigines they do so.
Last year the Weekend Australian ran a story on it's front page that a family member of Cathy Freeman had been buried in a pauper's grave and that it hadn't been paid for.
Can you imagine this story being given front page honour if it was a relative of a white cricketer?
Can you even imagine it being of enough importance to warrant a front page headline if it was of any other person, particularly a white one?

Recently the daughter of Debbie Kilroy was arrested and the Sunday Mail ran a huge headline on the front page telling the world .Debbie of course was married to an Aboriginal sportsman Joe Kilroy..
Would this have been the case if the person arrested was the daughter of a white sportsman ?.It would probably have merited a small column on page 5 but surely not the huge outburst by this well-known Right Wing paper.
Sometimes to me it seems like the media are announcing these things in triumph. There! We told you they were no good!

There are two page spreads in the national papers telling of the crimes of black men against children, but nowhere are there two page spreads telling of the good things the women in these communities have accomplished
We get nice pictures in the media of black artists and their work and on the same page the admission that they are being exploited for their money- making capacity by the entrepreneurs.

John Howard is so busy worrying about terrorism coming to our shores that he hasn't even noticed that it is here already and has been here since the First Fleet arrived in 1788.
I call it terrorism when a whole race of people cannot live freely in their own homeland.
When people like David Gulpilil, one of our National Treasures was told to move on from land he was only sitting on with his people ;land that by the rights of humanity should belong to his tribe.
When the community to which I belong could care less about what happens to these people who live amongst us but not with us.
When our Government has allowed another nation to drop atomic bombs on Aboriginal tribal lands without a murmur of dissent.
When the only way an Aboriginal person can win the respect of the nation is to excel at sports.

Why cannot we as a nation say to John Howard,"Look, Mr Howard, we are sorry for what happened to the Aboriginal people of this country in the last two hundred years, and for the on-going trouble they experience at our hands, and we want you to speak up for us".

Yes Mr Howard.We Australians want you to say that we are sorry. It may have been our ancestors who started the problem but we are sorry that it happened, and sorry that we have not contributed constructively to finding a solution.

To the Aboriginal people of Australia,

We are sorry that you have suffered, that you continue to suffer, and we want you to come in out of the cold, and know that we want to love you.

Bernie Pattison