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Inspiration and Injustice

I am writing this blog on my 55th Australia Day. The saying goes that when the student is ready, the master appears. This applies equally to us as individuals as it does to us as nations. We mature, we evolve, we see life and each other in a different way. Hopefully, our vision becomes more equanimous. An example of this is the recent Australian vote to allow people of the same gender who love one another to be joined in holy matrimony. There are also discussions about changing the date of Australia Day because, from an indigenous perspective, 26 January, 1788 marks the end of the life they had known for some 60,000 years. For those of British descent, it was a new beginning in a new land. From an Australian indigenous perspective, it was the end. Not just the end of a lifestyle, but literally the end of their lives, their culture, their language, their happiness. No, prior to 1788, they didn’t live in some utopia, but they did live with rules they understood and most importantly, without firearms. I totally get it. I am ashamed of the way we treated (and in some places still treat) the original owners of this wide, brown land. So much injustice.

This morning I read an article by Trent Dalton in the Australian newspaper about Governor Arthur Phillip. These were the instructions Arthur gave to his officers:

You are to endeavor, by every possible means, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.

And if any of our subjects shall wantonly destroy them or give them any unnecessary interruption in the exercise of their several occupations, it is our will and pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the offence.

It appears from these words that Governor Arthur Phillip had the very best intentions, however, his optimistic vision and what occurred, were not in alignment. From what I can gather, the indigenous people were for the most part treated like annoying impediments to the colonization of the new land. Arthur Phillip was hopeful of a fair and just law for all, however, nothing could be further from the truth. A white man could murder and rape an indigenous person and get away with it. A black man or woman would be hanged, though provoked or abused, if they acted like a human being seeking justice.

Governor Arthur Phillip
Governor Arthur Phillip

The Australian movie, Sweet Country, set in the 1800s, brings this to life. The white man is right. The black man is wrong. Who cares what actually occurred!

This morning I also had the pleasure of watching the movie about Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour.

Like Arthur Phillip, Churchill was a leader who triumphed during the bleakest of times. He too had a vision that others were not able to readily see. It brought home to me the saying It’s lonely at the top. Churchill thought outside the square and brought to life Hippocrates’ words: desperate times require desperate measures. Winston never lost sight of his vision nor gave up hope, despite all the obstacles in his way. He listened to others. He saw you. He acknowledged you. He made me want to be smart, to be connected to others despite their class, colour or sexual preference, to be brave, to be resilient and most of all, to do what I know in my heart is the right thing.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Arthur Phillip and Winston Churchill were born at different times but they both shared he traits of a great leader. Arthur Phillip, by all reports, truly wanted the British colony and the traditional land owners to have a harmonious relationship but considering where the average, collective mind was amongst the convicts and colonists, it just wasn’t to be. No, we can’t change the past but we, as white Australians, can learn from it. Although I wince when I think of the injustice that my ancestors inflicted on the Australian aboriginals, I am hopeful that we can reconcile and make amends for our despicable and almost unforgivable acts. Thank you, Marcus Tullius Cicero, for reminding us that While there’s life, there’s hope.

Winston too reminds us to get up, brush ourselves off, and get on with it!

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

3 cheers to that.

Jen x

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