In 1996, 25,000 people converged on Parliament House in Canberra to protest the Howard Government’s proposed changes to workplace relations laws. Somewhere along the line, the protest became violent, windows were smashed and 90 people were injured. It was a disgusting attack on our elected officials and I lost complete respect for white people after that.
I ignited an ugly twitter backlash as I watched the news last night. I simply tweeted that I am proud of the Tent Embassy and I think it’s up to the first Australians to say when they don’t need it anymore. A lot of people unloaded on me because they read into my comment support for the violent riot that engulfed Prime Minister Gillard and Tony Abbott. One lady, with whom I’d established a great relationship during the Queensland floods last year, was aghast. “You condone the violence too I suppose? Well I’ve lost all respect for them. And you.”
I do not condone violence of any kind, against anybody, but I will not withdraw my respect for the Aboriginal community at large because of the actions of a few. Just as I would consider someone who judged white Australians by the violence of the Melbourne gang wars an ignorant idiot! Wouldn’t you?
Australia Day, celebrated on the anniversary of the landing of the first European settlers on the island that was already home to a civilisation, is incendiary. It is the anniversary of an invasion, whether you like it or not. The time frame in which that civilisation should “get over it” belongs to no one but them I’m afraid, no matter how frustrating it is to the those who want it all forgotten and left in the past. I’d love to know when America should “get over” 9/11 and just “get on with the future”. Or how much longer the Jewish people have to dwell on the Holocaust before it gets old.
Harsh? Absolutely hideous and I’m cringing as I type but none of it will go away because we don’t want it to be there. It happened to people and it hurt. I have friends who are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and it echoes through them even though it happened so long ago. It is not up to me to tell them how to feel about what was inflicted upon their ancestors by a racist regime. It doesn’t belong to me and I can never really get it. I’ll never feel the terror of the Twin Towers falling in front of my eyes, with people I knew inside it, not knowing what would happen next. That trauma does not belong to me.
The terrible gap that exists between the life I lead, and the third world existence of Aboriginal Australians is real, and it’s now, and that does belong to me. And it belongs to you too. That gap is not about Tony Abbott being successfully wrong-footed by a lucky journo and it’s not about an extremist minority getting carried away with themselves and the cameras. I beg of you, do not let the images of the Prime Minister fleeing a mob harden your heart against the Aboriginal people with whom we share our home. I know she would not want that to happen.
We have an opportunity to be the generation that got it right. We all deserve a beautiful January day every year to celebrate the nation we have built together since the First Fleeters embraced and danced with the Aborigines in those first days in 1788. That’s how it went down you know, I’m not making it up. The first days were friendly, respectful, inspiring. Please let those be the images you think of and talk to others about today.
This is the footage of the protest and PM Julia Gillard being rushed away, which was captured by Channel 9.
Meshel Laurie is a comedian and broadcaster. You can catch up with her on Nova’s Drive Show with Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold 4-6pm on weekdays.Meshel is also a member of the Advisory Board of SISHA (South East Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities), an ambassador of Karuna Hospice, an ambassador of Childsafe Australia and an ambassador of A Flying Start for Queensland Children, for the Queensland Department of Education and Training. You can follow her on Twitter here.