The lies that are told in this country are not small. This country began with a lie – terra nullius. So it makes sense that truth telling was the theme for the 2018, 20th Anniversary Garma Festival, which took place in northeast Arnhem Land over the last four days.
Truth. Such a powerful word and notion.
Information packaged as ‘fact’ presents as truth, but until there is honesty, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Australia needs to be honest with itself as a nation; we need to be honest with each other and ourselves as a people. Without honesty in telling our truth – this country will never mature enough to make the big decisions needed for our survival, not only as a nation but as a people.
The legal doctrine of Terra Nullius implied that Australia was acquired through settlement despite the presence of an Indigenous population, because the English common law contained a definition of ‘uninhabited lands’ which considered lands uninhabited if they contained peoples ‘uncivilised’ by the 18th century English norms.
The theft of this land was predicated on the ethnocentric notion of the Indigenous population’s inferiority, a theory scientists have taken over 230 years to disprove. The Indigenous population had protected this land and preserved the ecosystem for over 65,000 years, an ecosystem that has been all but destroyed in just over 200 years of colonisation.
Indigenous people have suffered immeasurable damage in the form of attempted genocide, dispossession, disenfranchisement, slavery, child removal and destruction of family structures spanning generations, sexualised violence, massacres and governmental policies of oppression since 1788. This truth is something that has been long denied by governmental authorities and the homogenous masses. It does not serve the Australian narrative to tell this truth.
This truth is something that has been long denied by governmental authorities and the homogenous masses. It does not serve the Australian narrative to tell this truth.
How many Australians feel resentment towards Indigenous people because of the ‘facts’ or ‘truths’ that they have been taught in school or been presented with in the mainstream media? How many times have we heard the myths of our dependence, our reliance on welfare and our need for the white saviour? How many times have we overcome, and despite all the power pitted against us, succeeded in raising the profile of our fight for civil, political and human rights?
The saying “history is written by the victor” certainly holds true in Australia.
The saying “history is written by the victor” certainly holds true in Australia. The education curriculum set by successive governments has distorted facts and produced textbooks that legitimised and perpetuated racism.
The Office of the Commissioner for Community Relations (OCCR) said in its 1979 report ‘Lets end the Slander: Combatting Racial Prejudice in Teaching Materials:’
‘The trouble with textbooks is that they sound right, even when they are wrong. The traditional biases in Australian school books have much to answer for in not only perpetuating racial misunderstanding at the individual level but more particularly for damaging the fabric of race and group relations in our society. They have been effective instruments for locking many minority group people into situations of chronic disadvantage resulting from the downgrading of their culture and a general apathy towards their social situation.’
Now, more than ever, the government seeks to infantilise and demonise us. Set us up for perceived failure by providing a mandate and then stripping it away when the answer doesn’t suit the political agenda.
The government knows our nation is awakening to the truth and forcing real change alongside their Indigenous brothers and sisters, so they create more information that is presented as fact in the mainstream media that directly lead into the disingenuous implementation of policies that service to further disempower and reinforce the poverty cycle.
The Northern Territory Intervention was predicated on a lie and then extended on the back of lies pertaining to its success.
The Northern Territory Intervention was predicated on a lie and then extended on the back of lies pertaining to its success. The government frequently changes the goal posts simply to exert power and ensure that Indigenous people never get a chance to address their own oppression.
This country speaks of truth while disconnected from honesty. Truth is simply something that is cleverly presented to the right audience in the right medium by the powerful. When challenged on the facts, there is always outrage, furore and condemnation but there is never an honest examination of the evidence.
This is the Australia I know; one that lies to the world and lies to itself. It tells the world we are a multi-cultural society, a country built on the ‘fair go’ and mateship. It tells itself that it is the ‘lucky country’ that was built on the sweat, tears and ingenuity of European ‘settlers.’
These lies do Australians a disservice because the ‘pride’ is misplaced. Instead of there being pride at sharing this land and learning from the oldest living culture on the planet – the mainstream populace takes pride in disingenuous characteristics of what it perceives as culture.
The people of Australia deserve the truth. Indigenous people are trying to give the truth and the government is seeking to deny this truth.
The people of Australia deserve the truth. Indigenous people are trying to give the truth and the government is seeking to deny this truth. The government knows that the majority of Australians are decent people who would be appalled had they ever been taught the truth.
Thankfully, we live in an age where information is instant and there is a growing rumbling of dissent and these people are starting to critically examine their individual truths and that of society in Australia. There is a growing number of non-Indigenous Australians who are hearing us and supporting us and want to hear the truth, they want it taught in schools and they want this country to mature and make decisions for the good of the people – not just an artificial structure that oppresses.
Truth telling can only be powerful if accompanied by honesty. Honest reflection of what each of our roles has been to date, what it needs to be right now and what we need to do in the future to take ownership and make change that benefits our country.
Natalie Cromb is a Gamilaroi writer, Indigenous affairs editor of Independent Australia, social justice activist, legal professional and mother. Follow Natalie @NatalieCromb