History Education Key To Indigenous Process

I recently got back from an amazing trip to Switzerland where I was fortunate enough to represent Indigenous Australians at a conference on creating change makers in communities. I spent eight days with some of the world’s most driven and dynamic change makers; Indian business men that were saying no to corruption and raising the wages of their lowest paid staff, child soldiers transformed into country leaders, women from around the world who create peace circles to promote harmony, and many people who are fighting for the rights of the poor. The experience was humbling and heart wrenching; the stories people told me about where they come from and what they are doing were inspiring and disturbingly honest. Of all of these amazing stories, there was one in particular that struck a chord with me – that of a German woman who had recently travelled to Australia.

Whilst having a quiet beer and sitting by Lake Geneva, my new German friend decided to share with me her tale of visiting Australia. She said she was shocked and totally appalled by what she had seen and learnt on her year-long visit here.

When she and a friend had just arrived in Australia, they were approached by three twenty-something year old Aussies who struck up a conversation. After approximately five minutes, one of the boys made a Nazi reference that angered my friend. She challenged the young man, and said that his ignorance was appalling and that he should take a good look at what his own country has done to their Indigenous people – just think about the Stolen Generation; what Australia did there was disgraceful! The young man replied, “What is the Stolen Generation?” My friend was shocked. She couldn’t believe that a young Australian didn’t know what the Stolen Generation was. She asked the other boys and they also didn’t know.

After a year travelling around Australia and meeting many Aussies, my friend concluded that our country is quite different to what she had expected. She had been taught Australian history at school; the good, the bad and the ugly. She had learnt about the English invasion and how it destroyed the Indigenous way of life; she had learnt about Indigenous history and stories of the dreamtime, sustainability and connection with the Earth. She had a great understanding of Indigenous health issues and wondered why a country with such wealth was treating its poor in such a disgraceful manner.

Most of all, she wanted to know why she had learnt so much about Australian and Indigenous Australian history in Germany, and yet the majority of Australians she had met on her travels knew bugger all about their own country. Before attending the change makers conference, I was already aware that there is major problem with the education of Australian history in Australia; however, I didn’t realise the extent of it until I heard this story. I felt like I had been slapped in the face with a cold fish! I was in shock, not because I was ignorant, but because I was ashamed that I had not done anything about it and had needed a foreigner to tell me what exists right under my nose.

Here is the issue. I know that a lot of bad shit happened in the past. I have heard horrifying stories of Indigenous children being locked in cupboards, hiding from police that were trying to take them from their parents. I have listened to ex-policemen apologise for beating Indigenous children in front of their mothers just so they could demonstrate that they were in charge. I know we have a dark history and that some stupid people made stupid decisions that they thought were right at the time. Some of what was done was horrifying and disgusting and still affects a large number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people today. The fact is that we must acknowledge what happened, talk about it, accept it and start to move on. Please don’t think that acceptance makes it right; it just means that we are ready to start the healing process.

We should be using the education system to teach Australians about the mistakes that were made, and using these stories to help fix the problems that exist now.  Most people aren’t aware of how much Indigenous people have to give. We have amazing culture, family connections, mystical creatures, stories that are endless, and a love for the environment that should be admired. We rejoice in being social and have a community that is vibrant and strong. Imagine if young Australians were able to embrace the Indigenous culture and see it as their own. They could see the mistakes and see the solutions; wouldn’t that be a country worth striving for?

People say we should build bridges between communities to help them understand each other; bugger that, let’s remove the river! With the river removed there’s no need for bridges. There are no boundaries, and we become collectively responsible for actions, as they affect everyone. To remove the river, however, we need education so that everyone can hear and understand the stories of our past: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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Shawn Andrews

The author Shawn Andrews

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