Posted on: Wednesday 8 June 2022
Posted in: Anglican Faith Connections
National Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week Assembly
National Reconciliation Week took place from 27 May until 3 June and was observed by the School in a number of ways including messages of support from students that were placed on the windows of the Chapel. A student in Year 12 was to give a speech in an assembly on the Friday but for various reasons as she explains below she was unable to deliver it in full. So I suggested that we publish it as my column for this newsletter.
Fr Patrick Duckworth
Author’s note: This speech was initially written to be delivered to the Senior School on Friday 27 May at the Reconciliation Assembly. Due to changes in scheduling to allow for an awards presentation, however, this was not possible. Instead I condensed my message into brief question-responses. Father Patrick believed I should still be able to share it and asked that I allow it to be published here. Thank you for reading.
Today I acknowledge the Kombumerri people of the First Nations before ‘Australia’, and the atrocities that have continued to be committed against them, since British invasion in 1788. I recognise their immense resilience and strength and hope that one day soon, they will not need to be strong, because they will be supported.
A year and a day ago, I gave a speech during Boarder’s Chapel. I explained what National Reconciliation Week and Sorry Day were about, and why we must remember them. My standards were low. I did not expect you to know this history, and I did not expect you to care. Looking back, it was offensive. Your ignorance does not stem from an inability to understand what happened, but an unwillingness to. I’m not attacking you for this – your discomfort and hostility are natural responses to the guilt and responsibility that arises when the racism that founded Australia and granted you with the wealth and privilege you enjoy today, is acknowledged. How could you not, as I point out the differences in my people vs yours, feel defensive of the wealth your family made, through the abuse of my family?
So, now, I say sorry to you. I apologise for these horrors, which you have inherited the responsibility of, and from which you have benefitted from since birth. It is not easy to accept that what you have is due to such undeniable cruelty. And I am entirely sincere in that apology; I’m not trying to be ironic or passive aggressive. I really am sorry, that all of this wealth and privilege our country has, relied on stolen labour and stolen wages, stolen lives and stolen humanity.
By no means am I saying that you’re the victim. The reason my people’s hardships are recognised more often than the hard reality you face, is because we undeniably suffer more from this inheritance. But I imagine it’s hard for you, too. It’s hard to feel proud of yourself and deserving of what you have when we point out that you gained it by oppressing us – and if you disagree with that, I can recommend you some books available right here in our library. They detail the millions of dollars stolen from Aboriginal workers, whilst they were living and dying in abject poverty. Wages stolen to finance improved services in hospitals that those same workers were barred from.
I understand that when I point out those who harmed me and my people, you see dear friends and family. And I don’t blame you for the good you’ve found in them – I truly believe that we are all capable of the greatest love and the greatest horrors. I do blame you, however, when you come to resemble them in your anger.
But can you blame me?
Your anger is fuelled by attacks on your dearest, and mine is fuelled by the massacres of my dearest. I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t feel guilty; it’s the natural response and I think it’s why so often my people are treated with hostility when we dare acknowledge this. I will say, however, that you should not sit with your grief. You should not carry it every day, as a sign of your respect for what occurred. I hope my people hear me in that too. Clinging to our pain is only renewing the trauma. We must put it down. That does not mean we forget it, or just move on. But, it does free our hands to build something better. Now that we’re no longer holding our families’ pain, we can feel their love and strength instead.
And from that love, we can truly commit to reconciliation and understanding. Because not participating in racism or passively participating in activism is not enough to overthrow the legacy of an empire whose foundations are the oppression of those deemed lesser. If you’re truly sick of hearing people of colour complain about racism, or if you truly care about our experiences, then become actively involved. Start by learning Australia’s history – I can assure you that what the curriculum taught you wasn’t nearly enough. Learn about our greatest figures and why they were great, our biggest battles and why they were fought. Remember how we extended our land and resources to a people we believed to refugees. Remember how they betrayed us, murdered us in cold blood and bragged about it in newspapers. Because only then will you understand reconciliation – my words cannot do that, no matter how eloquent or visceral I try to be.
‘Be Brave. Make Change’ is the slogan for the reconciliation week this year. Bravery is not always staring down death. It is also confronting the emotions that make us feel vulnerable, that make us feel responsible. Because we are. As you are all too quick to remind any First Nations person who mentions Australia’s foundations, no, we are not the ones who murdered and caged and drugged and stole First Nations people. But nevertheless, we are left with the consequences. And I ask you, who, if not us, will heal these scars?