This is Graham Moore. He is from the south coast of New South Wales. He is newly married, holds three university degrees, has authored several books, and is an Aboriginal Australian. His mother was black; his father white – Graham belongs to the “Stolen Generation”. He is one of seven children. Among his siblings are two sisters who were taken away early to receive a “white upbringing”. He has never seen them again.
Now, Graham spends his time teaching the traditional language of the Yuin people to the next generation. He was taught by the elders and feels a strong desire to pass on what he has learned in his childhood. Australia is the only country in the Commonwealth that does not have negotiated treaty agreements with its Indigenous people. Initiatives like these are often based on personal commitment and perseverance.
Graham is a reminder that the “pure Aboriginal Australian race” will eventually be extinguished. In a liberal, open and multi-cultural society like Australia, that cannot be avoided. What can be avoided, however, is the loss of traditional dialects, bush life expertise and tribal rituals.
Indigenous people of Australia have a long-standing tradition of initiating their young boys into manhood. Before they can join the adult men of the tribe on hunting trips, they have to learn to live in solitude, be able to endure pain and to overcome fear. In some tribes this would take as long as 9 months. While Graham and I are overlooking a desolate rock in the ocean where boys were banished from the tribe and initiated into manhood, I asked Graham if he himself had to endure the initiation process. Graham looked at me sternly, took his walking stick and jammed it into the ground by my feet. I (think) I got my answer. Did I tell you that body language was an important communication technique for the Yuin people?
Meeting Graham and hearing his story made me aware of a couple of things: a) how fresh the conflict between the white population and the Aboriginal Australians still is and b) how little the state and federal governments have done to heal the wounds.
Today (January 26th), most Australians celebrated Australia Day. This national holiday marks the arrival of European settlers in 1788. Again, as in previous years, the Aboriginal population and Indigenous activists, protested by the tens of thousands in the streets of Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. They do not mind celebrating Australia, but they object to the date – a date that essentially marks the beginning of the genocide of the Indigenous people.
In my opinion, any government that has a mere ounce of sensitivity towards the past wrongs committed would be willing to change the date. There are plenty of other dates to choose from. The government’s unwillingness to do so feels like a slap in the face to the people who were robbed of their land and murdered in the process.
From the distance, Australia looks like a prosperous nation at peace with itself. It isn’t. It is a myth. As long as the Aboriginal Australians are pushed aside and told “to get over it”, the angry voices in the streets will grow louder and January 26th will feel increasingly like a day of mourning rather than celebration.