Sunday, 17 February 2008

Sorry February 17

Some people are a long time coming to the art of saying sorry. Volunteering an admission of guilt just seems wrong when you will most likely be able to argue your way out of it. “I only did that because you backed me into a corner” is a good one. “You just can’t accept the fact that I’m right” is another and “Get over it” a very useful statement to cover most situations.
I don’t think I used the word “sorry” once before the age of 40 and I still lapse back occasionally into the belief that people should accept me as I am and respect my right to be a pain in the arse on occasion. I am who I am, live and let live, that sort of thing. But in recent years I’ve found the wonderful panacea that saying sorry can be. Instead of days and sometimes weeks of stewing over a disagreement you just wake up the next morning pick up the phone and say you’re sorry. Problem disappears. Now I understand the whole confessional thing with the Catholics where you confess, say some Hail Mary’s and walk out feeling much lighter.
But saying sorry is more than just letting those two syllables escape from your mouth. It is widely regarded that a successful apology must have three elements. Regret for your actions, taking responsibility for them and being willing to remedy the situation by not doing it again.
Which is where Kevin Rudd and I part company. I’m very glad that seven years after I witnessed the march across the Sydney Harbour Bridge demanding an apology for the treatment of Aboriginals someone has finally got around to it.
But making it all about the lost generation is very convenient. It points the finger at a bunch of British influenced government officials who took Aboriginal children away from their families. Not good, definitely needs an apology but what about the rest of the past 200 years of deep racism, certain apartheid and wilful neglect shown by Australians towards these people?
Who is going to apologise for that situation and who is going to take responsibility and remedy the fact that every day in every way, white Australians, as they have done for the past two centuries, prefer their Aboriginals to be neither be seen nor heard.
I lived in Australia for 18 months which was about all I could stand. There were several reasons I came running home but one of the main concerns I had was their treatment of Aboriginals. In the white middle class circles I mixed in you just didn’t talk about it. At least in New Zealand when Tame Iti goes running around the bush with some guns most households would sit down over dinner and have an energetic discussion. The dialogue would happen because as New Zealanders we are engaged with its people. We care. Which is not to say we aren’t racist also, a mere 10 minutes with an ear to talkback will tell you that. But we have the passion to discuss and debate the issues which have the power to tear us apart. In Australia you sit down at a dinner and utter the words “so how about those Aboriginals?” and the room goes deathly silent. With that one topic you have stormed into a cultural territory which was fenced off years ago. They appear numb and in denial about the apartheid which is taking place in their very own land. They seem powerless, blinkered and unable to utter one word about the situation either through fear it would be the wrong word or a lack of information on which to make an informed comment. The most I ever got any Australian to say about the situation was that what was done is done. And it is no wonder that every time Germaine Greer puts pen to paper expressing an educated understanding of Aboriginal culture and their treatment by the Australian Government in the British media she is widely discredited by her home country’s media.
And if you do travel out in the desert you are likely to meet, as my husband did just a few months ago, a whole tribe of displaced Aboriginals who were living in a settlement while they waited for their homeland Maralinga to be cleaned up after the British tested atom bombs on their land in the 60s. The Australian Government has done some work, and forked out some money, but there is still a long way to go. Sorry.

Illustration by Anthony Ellison

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