Lest we forget: the war against Aborigines has never ended
ANZAC Day is about forgetting. Who remembers that Gallipoli was a defeat? That a number of returning soldiers, scarred by the reality of war and what they had experienced, became socialists and communists to fight for a society where war no longer existed?
Who remembers that revolutions in Russia and then Germany ended the First World War?
Mass working class opposition to conscription defeated referendums for it in 1916 and 1917. Why aren’t they remembered? Perhaps because they don’t fit into the ruling class agenda of unity of nation rather than divisions into class?
The referendums or the New South Wales 1917 general strike are more a symbol of our ‘nationhood’ than soldiers on a god forsaken bit of shore invading Turkey.
The Gallipoli nation building myth arose as a consequence of the class divisions in Australia and the outbreak of class struggle globally and in Australia as a response to the war that the victorious working class revolution in Russia in 1917 epitomised and represented in concentrated form.
The creation of myth and the forgetting go hand in hand. They are part of the ruling class strategy of creating an image of Australia and Australians that bears little relation to the truth.
History tells a very different story about our ruling class and its brutality. That brutality began with Invasion Day, 26 January 1788. The genocide against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders began then.
Terra nullius was a fiction to justify the invasion and brutal dispossession of peoples who had lived here for 65000 years. This was genocide. Mabo and Wik and Native Title legislation are not about reversing that. They too are about forgetting the remembering.
As I have written before Henry Reynolds estimates that, between 1788 and 1920, 20,000 Aboriginal people fell defending their land in an ongoing war against the invaders. The Indigenous population dropped from 300,000 at the time of the invasion to 70,000 130 years later.
Many of these people died because of disease, itself a consequence of the invasion, but they also died as a result of the consequences that flow from genocide and dispossession – murder, poverty, alienation, loss of social structure, alcoholism, racism, lack of food, stolen generations to name a few.
Genocide against Aboriginal people is one theme that runs through the history of the last 224 years. The failure to recognise that genocide is another ongoing theme. ANZAC Day, the supposed symbol and celebration of the ‘nation’ denies this most obvious truth – Australian society was founded on the genocide of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders and that genocide continues today.
Aborigines were not passive victims of the white invasion. In and around Sydney, for example, Pemulwuy was a famous freedom fighter defending his land and life. From 1790 to 1802 he waged a sporadic, and then more concerted, guerrilla war against the white invaders.
There are many Indigenous freedom fighters white settler society ignores; fighters who in a less racist society would be honoured for their stance and the courage of their resistance. Where are our monuments to these fallen heroes?
It was Marx who wrote that the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the mind of the living. This is true in two senses for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
First the consequences of the invasion continue today. The war against Aborigines, what I describe as genocide, has fundamentally alienated many Aboriginal people from their land, their identity, their culture and themselves. For example there is a shocking 17-year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The second aspect of being trapped by the past is that the policies of dispossession and genocide are being implemented even today.
The Howard Government invaded the Northern Territory in 2007 to further the destruction of our Indigenous people’s links to their land and culture. 1788 is being repeated today.
The religious ceremony of forgetting that is ANZAC Day is worshipping at the altar of that genocide.
Disgracefully the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments continued Howard’s racist Northern Territory intervention, an invasion clearly aimed at further dispossession of aboriginal people and their complete subjugation to the dictates of their white masters around grog, what they can buy, how much they can spend and whose land it really is.
The Stolen Generations represented an attempt to wipe out Aborigines through forced assimilation.
The intervention and other policies are about removing Aboriginal people from their land, often for the benefit of mining companies.
In Sydney cops shot two young Aboriginal men the other day for joyriding and then dragged one of those wounded, with a bullet in his neck, from the car and beat him. The ongoing and systematic police brutality against Aboriginal people is not some aberration – it is part of a racist system continuing its genocide against the original inhabitants.
Dispossession, the Stolen generations, deaths in custody, poverty, early morbidity, these are all consequences of a war against the original inhabitants, a war that has never ended.
Like the warriors of old, Aborigines today will need to fight for justice. Relying on Gillard and Macklin will not work. Certainly an incoming Abbott government will further Labor’s racist agenda, if we let them.
Now is the time for Aboriginal people and their millions of supporters to mobilise and force the ‘Labor’ Government to recompense the stolen generations, withdraw the troops and other agencies of force from the Northern Territory, introduce land rights that recognise sovereignty and prior ownership and set up a system of compensation for the loss of sovereignty. Negotiate now.
The equal love campaign with its large and vibrant demonstrations has put gay marriage on the agenda. Without that campaign the issue would not even be on the horizon. A campaign by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and their supporters has the potential to do the same.
Demonstrations like the one on January 26 this year marking the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy – the one where Gillard lost her first slipper – can bring the issue back into sight and force change on governments if the mobilisations are big enough.
Nothing will be won by petitions, or electing Aboriginal people to Parliament, or relying on Labor. As the Arab Spring shows, only struggle from below offers the chance of changing the world.
Let’s unite and fight to stop the brutal war against Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders now.