Surely, the first defenders of Australia who tried to protect their family with spears when confronted by muskets and canon, deserve our admiration and respect.
In National Reconciliation Week the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs stated in a press release that: “… all Australians are encouraged to learn about our nation’s shared history, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation”.
This is very laudable, but it’s not what he means.
His intention is explained in the following quote: “This year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week ‘In This Together’ is a perfect representation of how Indigenous men and women have served our nation alongside non-Indigenous men and women for more than 120 years”.
We’re not being encouraged to learn about the brave Australians who defended their family, possessions and land against the colonising forces of the 18th and 19th centuries. Neither are we being encouraged to learn about the wider Frontier Wars. To avoid these subjects, while at the same time giving the impression of championing reconciliation, the Government is highlighting the service of indigenous Australians in the armed services of the 20th and 21st centuries. A special edition of the Army newspaper was published along these lines with the catch cries “side by side” and “standing together”.
These stories are important and deserve to be told, but so too are those related to ‘Australia’s first defenders’. Surely the Australians who tried to protect their family with spears when confronted by muskets and canon, deserve our admiration and respect. As a nation we honour those who can trace their ancestors back to the First Fleet. Why do we not do the same for our indigenous brothers, ie. those who can trace their ancestors to the time of colonisation.
Why is it not possible for ‘Australia’s first defenders’ to be honoured with all the Nation’s other past (and present) defenders on ANZAC Day? Why can’t indigenous Australians attend ceremonies on 25 April each year that will honour their ancestors who died on the shores of their own/our own country, while defending it?
When asked why they can’t be honoured in the AWM, the response is that the AWM Charter doesn’t allow it. But the Charter can be amended with the stroke of a pen, if there was a will to do so.
What the Government is saying, in effect, is that promotion of Reconciliation is a good thing … but only on our terms.
Bruce Cameron is a former career soldier and author, maintaining a keen interest in defence matters in retirement.