top of page
  • Tim Muirhead


Let’s not plaster over this.  Let’s not confect green shoots of hope. Let’s just take some time to acknowledge the human and national outrage of this.  

I’ve often said, in my work (25 years in Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations) ‘we don’t need to feel personally guilty for what happened in the past…unless we turn away from it’. On October 14th, we turned away. We should feel guilty about that. Future generations will look back on that day in disbelief.

Think about it. As a nation we dispossessed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of their land, their food sources, their language, their spiritual foundations, their culture, their families and children. Alone amongst British colonies we did this without treaty or recompense, and then, in 1901, excluded them from citizenship. The dispossession involved genocidal practices, involved forced removal of children to breed and/or enculturate them into whiteness. It involved exclusion from national institutions such as government, education, health systems, economic opportunities. I won’t go on. (If you’re shaking your head in disagreement about this, I’m sorry, but your education system has let you down. It’s all well documented.)

This dispossession didn’t just happen to individuals; it happened to whole communities at a time, and generation upon generation, because it was based on or justified by state and national policies, and those policies were based on ‘race’.  This led, in turn, to intergenerational and community-wide trauma which had catastrophic impacts on the wellbeing of many.  The fact that some individuals and families survived this and went on to live well doesn’t justify it any more than healthy holocaust or war survivors justify those horrors.

This is our history. If you are living in Australia today you are a beneficiary of this history. As beneficiaries, we don’t need to feel guilty that it happened, but we surely should feel responsible for making good the damage. Many nations have faced that same responsibility.  In our nation, Indigenous Australians offered us a way forward in 2017:  the Uluru Statement from the Heart; a beautiful, simple formula for moving beyond the impacts of this dispossession. They didn’t ask for reparations, they didn’t ask us to feel guilty, they didn’t ask for punishments; they just asked for constitutionally enshrined recognition, and a voice in their own affairs. A couple of lines in our constitution, the founding document that had ignored them for 122 years. Imagine that: a couple of lines in exchange for a continent. And we said no.

I know that many who said no are people of goodwill; that they were simply fooled by the barrage of distractions and misinformation, or that they had too little understanding of the context to understand why recognition and voice were important. But goodwill is not enough. Some of the worst damage of the last 200 years was done by people of goodwill who believed they knew best.  And on October 14th, let’s not turn away from this, we did it again.

We all need to ask, now: will we ever be willing to allow Indigenous people the freedom and authority to lead themselves out of the impacts of dispossession? Or are we, as a nation, chronically addicted to the enervating cycle of government control, dependency and disempowerment that ‘no’ so determinedly strived to retain?


Right now, we are broken by this. I know, I know… ‘broken seeds create green shoots’; ‘cracks are where the light gets in’. Sure. But not when they’re plastered over.  

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page