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The silence was deafening, yet unsurprising. As Galarrwuy Yunupingu suggests, they reflect a deeper cultural prejudice. They worry about what has been done for them and on their behalf, and they know that reconciliation requires much more than just words.
There was, in fact, a functional concomitance … the destruction of Aboriginal society was not the consequence of European development, but its price.
It was also starkly evident in the public controversy over the inscriptions on colonial statues and the debate over the memorialisation of the frontier wars and the future of Australia Day. All of these designs for national renewal are intimately connected to the challenge of truth-telling and the acknowledgment of history, yet so far we have failed to see the connections between them.
We remain divided over the meaning of Australia Day. We gather around the hearth of Moment of truth essay. We discuss the republic.
But these debates and their histories circulate in parallel universes.
Within the next decade Australia has the opportunity to achieve a meaningful constitutional settlement with Indigenous Australians, to become a republic, and perhaps in the process, to redefine the way we see ourselves and the way the country is seen by others.
If these changes are to have any realistic prospect of success, we need to articulate a more cohesive and unified vision, one that understands the crucial importance of truth-telling, together with a fundamental paradox: It will liberate us.
This applies as much to Indigenous as it does to other Australians. Such things are remembered. In the past, we have dealt with them by repression, silence and denial.
But we have yet to understand how we can use them productively. Ever so tentatively, we are coming to accept the relationship between the acknowledgment of history and the re-founding of the nation on more honest, just and legitimate grounds.
And its expression is central to the new constitutional settlement we are striving to accomplish. This is a collaborative project.
And we have to take the long view. But it is also a sign of a slowly dawning realisation: Are we willing to honour the democratic process and Indigenous consensus that underwrites the Uluru Statement?
Our government dismisses the Uluru Statement from the Heart, refusing to embrace a truth-telling commission.
Our legal and political system grapples with questions of native title and the ongoing legacies of the frontier in remote communities. Our journalists, historians, poets, playwrights, novelists, artists, composers, scriptwriters, filmmakers, dancers and curators produce work that deals with the troubling inheritance of the frontier.
Our citizens erect memorials to those killed in massacres and violent encounters. Our clergy and community leaders speak of the need for reconciliation and recognition. More than any other history, the history of the frontier continues to unsettle and trouble us — we rake over the embers, endlessly searching for redemption.
His books include An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark.
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