The Long Scar of Australia’s Shame

I was watching a re-run of the amazing SBS series, The First Australians, over the weekend – and was again struck by the power of the story, the horror of the impact white Australians had on Aboriginal people and the unbearable sadness brought about by government policies and the willing complicity of the Australian public.

But I was also heartened by the remembrance of The Apology to Aboriginal people by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I remember what it meant to hear and take part in. I thought it was a turning point.

But sadly, it seems that institutionalised racism continues to manifest in the thoughts and deeds of individuals and in the judgements of our courts.

Michael Brull writes of a case in the Northern Territory where “Top Blokes” Beat an Aboriginal Man to Death (via Derek Jenkins). The post details the exploits of five friends who drink, drive and terrorise multiple groups of Aboriginal people sleeping in the river bed of the Todd River. These events ultimately lead to the death of one man and leave yet another lasting scar on the heart of the Australian nation. In the case R v Doody in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Chief Justice Martin, however, concluded that this “crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter”.

Take a few minutes to read the details of this case and then consider this:

Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is ‘a person of positive good character’. Hird is a ‘solid, hard-working young man of good character’. Kloeden has an ‘underlying good character’. Spears is a ‘person of very good character’. Swain, like Kloeden, was a ‘person of underlying good character’.

On the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be “justice served”. And a judgement which COULD have been used to launch a scathing attack on the thoughtless culture and uncaring attitudes of “top blokes” everywhere, seems to have turned into little more than a slap on the wrists.

But if silence can be taken as complicity, I for one, say NO. Not good enough. This needs to be looked at again – in the courts, in our schools and in our hearts. Is this an Australia you’re happy to live in?

Comments

  1. It’s unfortunate that because we’ve never seen the awful side of our friends and acquaintances we assume it couldn’t possibly exist. Even worse that we excuse the behaviour we do see. We’re all friends to the bad guys.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post Gavin

  2. Gavin thank you for directing me to your thought provoking post! It really heartens me to read critical commentary on the issues here and the maddening injustice that remains despite the efforts of sound-minded individuals!
    I like you was also watching ‘First Australians’ again and it motivated my decision to change my avatar in places like Twitter and Facebook to the National Reconciliation Week symbol. As a new ‘Australian’ I didn’t even know there was an NRW and I was disappointed by my ignorance (we always know when its Maori Language week in NZ). That’s my stance, I don’t care if I’m alone in it, or that it may lose me followers or ‘friends’ http://bit.ly/9COF6W
    I felt similar indignation when I came to Australia on holiday at the age of 10. I was asked to perform Maori action songs and I recall asking my audience to reciprocate with Indigenous songs of Australia. The reaction to that request was upsetting for someone of those tender years. It is still distressing that nearly 25 years later, the progress has been as slow as it has. Thank you for speaking up! (humbled by your company).

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