Humans are strange creatures. We often like to hide our history, bury our mistakes, pretend we are right and put on a happy face that often masks reality. The more honest we are about the journey we have taken and the lessons learnt, the freer we are, always. We don’t have to cover our tracks, fudge the truth, fear the past or rewrite history. We can move forward. With a clear conscience and a willingness to learn from mistakes and make amends where we need.
Australia has always been described as being a young country, raw, fresh, and unblemished. The truth is, our country is old. And when I say old, I am talking ancient.
When you cross Australia from end to end you will travel through a landscape that is 120 million years old. You will see some of the oldest flora and fauna in the world. Deserts in the interior, hills and mountains, tropical rainforests, densely-populated coastal strips with long beaches and coral reefs off the shoreline.
While the English only colonised Australia 220 years ago, our Indigenous Australians, who have the oldest continuing culture in the world, have lived here for up to 65,000 years. Like every other country which has been colonised or invaded, indigenous people often end up lying on the fringes of society and are sometimes deprived of their cultural rights due to dispossession and displacement from their land.
It is a part of our history that didn’t feature very strongly in my school education. My 'real' outback education came some years ago when I visited the top of Australia with an Aboriginal friend. The memories of the remoteness, the red earth and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in a twilight zone between two cultures will stay with me forever. The issues are complex and not easily solved but the stories, the friendships and the empathy I experienced will forever remain.
As we know, when you have suffered great loss or when you have been abused, trodden on, or stolen from, there is an enormous need to have your story validated. To be heard. Listened to. For the truth to be told and sympathy and understanding to be given. When you cannot get closure or justice, the fight continues. For a cause that sometimes gets lost over time.
Often, all someone is looking for is an acknowledgement that yes, they were wronged, yes, they suffered, yes, mistakes were made, yes, there is genuine sorrow for making those mistakes and yes, amends will be made.
Nearly 12 months ago, our new Prime Minister publicly apologised to our Indigenous Australians for the treatment they had received since 1788. Aborigines were shot like wild animals, half the populaton was destroyed by diseases bought in by settlers, they had their lands taken over by pastoralists, they had their children ripped away from them because governments felt that non indigenous Australians would give them better lives and they didn’t even have full voting rights until the 1960s.
I hope all fellow Australians use this Australia Day to celebrate our long history and to reflect on the important part Indigenous Australians have and continue to play in developing our rich and vibrant culture. Happy Australia Day!
and Happy Republic Day India! and Happy Burns Days, Scotland! and Happy Chinese New Year!
Lilly's Extras - for those readers who sent in specific questions over the last week.
As this is the last post of my Australia series, here are replies to questions readers sent to me. Thanks.
- Australians are now the second-longest-living people on earth, (although our indigenous population continues to die at least 17 years earlier). Australia’s life expectancy is only bettered by the Japanese.
- Modern Australian cuisines have been heavily influenced by its Asian and South-East Asian neighbours and from Europe. Australia's wide variety of seafood is also popular and BBQs are common.
- Four of Australia's cities are in the top ten most livable cities in the world index -Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Vancouver, Canada seems to top the quality of living list.
- We do not tip here (other than perhaps in restaurants where service was good).
- The cost of living in Australia is considerably lower than in Europe, the US, Japan and especially the UK.
- We use decimal currency. We only have 5 cent, 10 cent, 20 cent, 50 cent, $1 and $2 coins. Our paper currency includes $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes/bills. Each bill is a different colour.
- We use metric weights and measures (as does every other country besides the US, Libya and Burma). When we talk about distances by road we talk in kilometres, not miles. When we fill up at the petrol/gas station we pay by the litre, not the gallon. We are measured in centimetres or metres, not feet and inches. And we weigh ourselves in kilograms, not pounds and our scales are always out (just like everywhere else!).
- We use the Celsius scale, not Fahrenheit. When it's a really hot day it might be 38 degrees - which is about the same as the Fahrenheit "century".
- We use the English spelling system so we spell words differently from Americans.
- Australian law now bans private ownership of all semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns.
Top Image: Brandon Walters, 11, was hand-picked by director Baz Luhrmann to play a young Aboriginal horseman in the film Australia