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Cook, Australia Day, Place names, and More Trivia

This morning I read an article in The Weekend Australian about the problem of child sexual abuse in Western Australia. In states:

Child sex abuse is so “normal” in and around the small Pilbara town of Roebourne that even jailing known pedophiles is not enough to end it, according to West Australian Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk. Ms McGurk this week visited Roebourne, 39km north of the iron ore hub of Karratha, amid a police operation that has identified 184 child-sex victims in and near the town that is home to just 1410 people. So far police have charged 36 men, and they have 124 suspects. The operation is ­expected to run for another year.

But the problem of abuse has been known for quite some time, yet it doesn’t seem to be the dominant news story in Aboriginal affairs. Instead the current ‘hottest topics’ are about the need to make changes to Australia Day, statue plaques, and place names. Why does this receive more attention than the problem of child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.

Now I have no problem acknowledging what role the White man played in bringing about this atrocity – it didn’t just happen in a vacuum. Invasion and displacement by Whites set of a sequence of events that was devastating for some Aboriginal people. However, in putting out a fire, I’m less concerned about what started the fire than what is the oxygen that keeps the fire burning. For the victim brigade who love to play the blame game, then fine, knock yourself out criticise the White man (while ignoring the many fine privileges that has resulted from British invasion) while the problem of child abuse is allowed to fester. But colonisation is not the cause of where so many Aboriginal children are abused today. The oxygen that keeps the fire of child sexual abuse burning in some Aboriginal communities is denial and BS distractions like wanting to change Australia Day, place names, and statues.

Political Correctness Rears its Ugly Head Again

The preoccupation (or is it obsession?) with trivialities like date and name changes is political correctness (PC) on steroids. And just as an overuse of steroids can prove fatal for the gym junkie, PC is proving fatal for Aboriginal people. While the priority should be about health and safety of the most vulnerable and needy, the PC proponents instead argue that “Australia Day, statues, and place names are deeply offensive and so should be changed.” Interestingly, many, if not most of those PC proponents who claim to be suffering because of words, names, and dates, live comfortable lives in modern towns. They know where tehir next meal is coming from so it can be easy for them to focus on trivialities. They would be better off visiting a remote community where suffering is commonplace and ask them if they are upset by a statue of Captain Cook.

PC proponents further argue that “making these changes is easy and it will help Aboriginal people.” Yes, these proposed solutions are easy, but they are not helpful for Aboriginal people. The solutions that will see the Aboriginal people in these impoverished communities living safe, happy, and healthy lives will involve getting children into good schools and adults into jobs – real jobs. This is not easy and requires some tough decisions to be made. There are no quick fixes, as popular as these are.

Much like a Prime Minister’s apology, a treaty or constitutional recognition, focusing on cosmetic changes to plaques, Australia Day, and place names is just a huge distraction to the serious problems like that of child sexual abuse and violence that occur at alarming rates in far too many Aboriginal communities. The problems then become out of sight and out of mind.

Symbolic Changes Come at a Cost

I have had people tell me that introducing symbolic change does not preclude addressing the problems of poverty, homelessness, violence, and child abuse, therefore we should make changes to Australia Day, etc.. However, while these changes might leave Australians with some short-lived warm and fuzzy feelings, it does come at a huge cost – it actually disempowers the people.

Consider that prior to the removal of Confederate civil war statues in America, there were no public calls in Australia to pull down statues or change plaques. Then almost overnight, people had caught a heavy dose of the ‘offence flu.’ Suddenly they were upset by an inanimate statue of Captain Cook. I can almost hear Cook laughing from the grave saying “people, don’t attribute your anger, offence, and unhappiness to me – I’m dead.”

To give into the demands of what I suspect are just a noisy minority by making changes to Australia Day or park statues is to convey the message to people: “Your happiness is beyond your direct control and you can’t feel happy unless these changes are made.” Make these changes and there will be a short-lived euphoria, which will be followed by more offence at some other triviality. Consider the words of psychology professor, Edward L Deci from his 1995 book Why we do what we do:

One reason that people interpret many events as threats is that they have developed ego-involvements … And when they are ego-involved, they can be easily threatened by others … It is interesting to realize that by being ego-involved people give others a weapon. And others learn quickly how to use it.

Interestingly, there are many Aboriginal people who don’t buy the nonsense that their happiness depends on a statue, place name, or Australia Day celebrations. They have learnt that life is largely what you make of it and that they are in control of their happiness.

Moving Forward, not Backward

Certainly recent events here in Australia have brought to light issues that should be discussed. For example, if there is ambiguity surrounding the word ‘discover,’ which I believe there is, then change it to ‘come upon’ or something similar. If there is history that features a prominent Aboriginal person in a particular area, then erect a monument honouring that person and celebrate it with a grand opening where Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people can come together for food, drink, and fellowship.

These current stories of statues, Australia Day, and place names are related by the common thread of the faulty belief that Aboriginal people are victims of the past – but they are most definitely not, as several thousand have proven. Yes, there is an unfortunate past that should not be forgotten, but it’s even more important not to forget that we are never ever victims of the past, but only ever victims of our view the past. For as Stan Grant has stated, “history need not be destiny.” He has further stated that “Identity rooted in a sense of unending and irresolvable grievance does not aid reconciliation.” It’s time to move on, as many already have.

It is time that activists stop playing the victim so that more attention can be directed to the true victims, like those written about in last week’s Weekend Australian. We should never ever lose sight of the real problems and those who are genuinely suffering. For if we do that, our grandchildren will judge as the uncaring generation.

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