Truth and Reconciliation Between Indigenous and Anglo Australians?

I have been reading a book called Sacred Australia. I felt inspired to look at it this morning and felt myself cry with the sense of connection to the indigenous people and spiritual nature of this land.

I thought rather than refer to my notes I may just write this intuitively. I have felt since my initial impressions of indigenous people that there are two worlds happening here. The book concurred with this observation defining the white secular world and the indigenous dreaming world. These worlds or indeed universes are somewhat opposite in how both groups see the world. Of course within these groupings is great diversity, however I will look at the groups as generations socialized by teachings and experiences that have formed world-views.

What I have felt traveling through this land without understanding the real connection to it, is that I don’t know anything about my country, the real country, the fragile yet robust biodiversity and microclimates that evoke such changing landscapes. I have found the red centre anything but sand, it is full with a variety of plants and animals. The latter are seen less as human impact has minimized their numbers or placed them on the verge of extinction, or they have retreated into the safety of this vast nature.

As I am anglo/european by appearance and have been socialized in this culture I am seeing the world through this filter. I have experienced a clear division from the land through housing, education, collective economics (food dependence) and entertainments which formed distractions away from the natural world. So I am in this journey re-discovering the blind spot in my own culture.

Through reading parts of Sacred Australia the secular nature of anglo Australian’s is evident and the maculinisation of this culture or cultural attitudes, which are predominantly shaped my males, reflect notions of strength as brute force, toughness, material acquisition and industrialization contrasting with what I would describe as the feminine indigenous culture which feels itself not only embedded in nature but integrated with it in a creative way. I see clearly through my brief experience with indigenous people that there culture is feminine. I am not saying female when I say this, I am saying a predominant leaning towards the feminine ie. nurturing, being, sitting, integration, flowing, sacred sites, rituals, dance, artistic expression, secretive, silent and community focussed. The masculine tends toward the material, physical, external sights, productive, active, imposing and structural. Whilst in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek I often saw indigenous people sitting on the ground not speaking and I felt them grounded in their silence. I imagined the anglo’s fidgeting, bored, viewing the ground as dirty, needing to fill their time and unable to just be with life without movement. This is the vast chasm I sensed and it intrigued me. I have travelled 20 countries and I saw this ancient people as the most distinct and different from the other indigenous peoples I came in contact with. Perhaps the time of colonisation is quite short, 200 years and their period of isolation long. This may account for why they are so different in consciousness, being and indeed seeing.

In Sacred Australia (I am referring to notes now) these oppositions were expressed as: separation and division, coexistence and tolerance, mutuality and dialogue, hostility and hospitality. There is a silent awareness of the anglo’s as dominant and the aborigines as subordinate. This tension exists today in Alice Springs as locals have told me. There are many tensions including the commericialisation through tourism and also the Americans moving between Pine Gap and Alice Springs. I am told it is not far from Alice Springs.

The enforced unequal power is the chasm or divide between the two major groups. The root of this inequality arose during the time of conquest and the arrival of missionaries. The early 19th century missionaries felt that the aboriginal people needed conversion to Christianity in order to be civilized. The indigenous apparently did not believe in the one god, they had ancestral spirits and the dreaming as their explanation of creation. Thus it was considered that their beliefs were in need of reform.

Sacred Australia speaks of a great silence from the anglo’s regarding occupation of Australia. I find this interesting. As a child I had no idea of the genocide committed on the indigenous people in Tasmania. Nor the fact they were viewed as primitive and that they were bated on pastoral lands like pests. I didn’t know that women and girls were sexually interfered with or that children were removed from parents as part of assimilation policies (happening in other colonized countries as well). I had no idea of the dispossession and no-one told me about the dreamtime, it was as if they did not exist in my world. I didn’t find this out until I went to university and I found myself as if awakened from a dream of anglo history or indeed his story. For me, my own experience confirms that I was deliberately held in ignorance. I can’t say anything or support voices for rights if I don’t know. Thus, the only history I recall was white colonial history. So often in countries the dominant culture ignores the past in favour of its own version, it is like denial where those in power don’t have to face that they may have been wrong, or indeed believe they were not wrong.

I am interested in the truth of the past and indeed the indigenous people were not in the words of Cook ‘terra nullius’, the land belonging to no-one. Cook was not to land if it did belong to other people, yet they deemed it terra nullius and landed. Thus the nightmare for indigenous people began. At the time of James Cook there was around 750,000 indigenous people divided into around 500 groups with 200 languages. Fewer than 150 remain today. The culture was egalitarian and open, not male dominated, apparently women had their own rights and rites where men were forbidden. The indigenous were not homogeneous yet the anglo/Europeans collectively identified them as one group of aborigines. They saw themselves in defined countries and spoke different languages, had different kinship, skin names and dreamings. So very diverse within. Even the anglo/Europeans were not homogenous as many came from different parts of Europe, spoke different languages and had different customs. So not so hard to conceptualise. It is a bit like when we go to China or India and think all chinese and indians are the same. There are countries within countries.

The misunderstandings were far reaching between the two civilisations. The clash of civilizations created terrible atrocities and the destruction of aboriginal society. As a result of this misunderstanding the indigenous were not treated with dignity by the pastoralists and governments. According to Sacred Australia the pastoralists viewed the indigenous as chattels, virtual slaves, sexually exploited and conducted spasmodic masscres and arbitrary detention. The children were removed as part of assimilation policies of the time. The repression of indigenous people resulted in near extinction of many aboriginal groups. I recall yesterday a lady telling me an aboriginal man said they let their children give birth early (13, 14 years), the reason for this is to ensure their people populate. That is a memory of extinction. This genocide happened for the first 100 years of white occupation.

In Sacred Australia the author alludes to indigenous communities endangered and beleaguered all over the world. The dysfunctional lifestyles through alcoholism, and as I learned, eating the wrong foods, different living ways caused more emotional and spiritual upheaval. I really felt, as I looked into this, the collective trauma of moving from a traditional way of life to the globalised structured lifestyles with diminishing value placed on the interior sacred life of meanings or spiritual connectedness to place. That plays out very evidently in the rising mental illness across western societies and the sense of meaninglessness in life. More and more people are questioning the affluent lifestyle as they are finding they are not reaching the promised happiness and are locked in, increasingly themselves, as slaves to a system that is focused on production rather than quality of life for all people. So the experience of indigenous is also the experience of anglo/Europeans yet they hide their unhappiness putting on social faces that all is fine and they are coping. I sense the aboriginal sense of loss is the anglo sense of loss. At the end of the day we all need to feel the root of our lives, the connection to what is real and that resides in our true nature. You can find it out in nature as there are no distractions just life all around you. So the indigenous are on a journey of who they are not, but they will return to who they are, just as anglo’s will as well. There is a resurgence in searching through Buddhism, new age, and ritual. The latter which is more in harmony with indigenous ways can be found in deep ecology and eco-feminism. The feeling to integrate with the natural world and see oneself as part of it, is rising, rather than standing a part from it in an empty void.

In Sacred Australia the author speaks of the brute masculinity, tough machismo and disregard for the interior world and disrespect for the non rational as defence mechanisms. He describes the masculine psyche against the unconscious. I found that very interesting as I have heard many times refutation of the spiritual or people getting uncomfortable if you speak of spiritual experiences or god. The unseen, invisible, undefined spaces are the ones we don’t want to look into as we frighten ourselves with imaginings and a sense of lack of control or knowledge. The author of Sacred Australia suggests to shed the psychological armour and to learn to soften and open ourselves up. I really like that description, and certainly through my work as a clown I am seeking to reach for the soft centre of humans, as that is where we all join, in a space of love and understanding. The hard rationalist pretence that sees strength in silent force or subterfuge is going to maintain a polarization that divides rather than evoking unity we all desire.

The invisible and visible spectrums are parts of the whole which is the cosmic view of our universe. When these come together we see the colours of the rainbow form into light, or indeed en-lightenment, that is, enlightening our thinking from within. Reconnecting with a true knowledge that is not socialised by universal. The indigenous speak of the rainbow serpent (creator of human beings) and I myself have seen rainbows and accorded meaning to them as sign posts from creation. Something we universally share.

In Australia some progress has been made in recent times, it is slow but nonetheless, changing. There have been the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Commission to investigate how indigenous people are treated in jails and why there are disproportionately higher incarcerations and why they are dying in custody. You can go to for more information. In addition, there was the Bringing them Home the Stolen childen Report. This has been termed the Stolen Generation. Refer Australian Human Rights Commission for more information So the more we inquire into injustices, the more the mirror of ourselves reflects back to us. When we are strong enough we will see our imposition was a reflection of our own fear and disconnection from our spiritual nature.

On February 13 2008, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to indigenous people. This of course was greeted with great tears and relief by the indigenous people. Many felt a sense of visibility and being heard. They had been asking for ‘sorry’ for a long time. Anglo/European Australians were uncomfortable with this overtime as they did not think it was their fault, something that happened over a period of 200 years. I have heard people say ‘I am not going to feel guilty’. However, I remember personally being told the story of an indigenous elder who I was with around a sacred fire outside old Parliament House (Aboriginal Tent Embassy). She told me how she was part of the stolen generation removed from her parents. She told me what happened and the white family she lived with and how it changed her life. Without even thinking, I just said I was sorry to hear about it. I realized in that moment I felt empathy as a fellow human being. I think the deeper cry was for anglo/Europeans to register the injustice and as fellow citizens respond emotionally and feel for them. I certainly did when I heard the story direct and we ended up hugging. I really loved that moment for me it was a reconciliation of sorts. I see us as all family. It is nothing to do with politics or fear of compensation. Mostly when people cry injustice they are in pain and if we are emotionally open, we can feel that cry. Sadly in anglo society we are taught to repress our feelings, to not embarrass ourselves through such displays (hangover from Victorian era). My own mother thought crying was weak. I explained to her we have tear ducts for a reason and the importance of releasing toxins, I teach this to kids as well. So emotionally we have a long way to go and I hope the indigenous people may be able to see that the anglo’s haven’t felt loved and many have had dysfunctional families and a feeling of hopelessness in this wider society also. I hope they will find empathy for our sadness as well. This is where the true reconciliation takes place, it is in mutual understanding, I feel. Once we acknowledge the truth for each other then we open ourselves to the wisdom of each other and create a functional happier society as equals.

What was interesting about the apology in Australia is that it wasn’t accompanied by compensation. According to Sacred Australia, the Canadians apologised and made direct reference to abuse of children in residential schools. They announced the policy of assimilation was wrong. They set up Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and compensated their indigenous people to the tune of $1.9 billion to redress the wrongs. Apparently that didn’t occur in Australia. The author points out it is a false form of reconciliation. I think there is truth in that as most anglo/European Australians do not know indigenous people. Many of them live in the north of Australia, parts of Brisbane, central Australia, South Australia and Western Australia. There presence is not dominant numerically and many Australian’s only know about them through the media. The media doesn’t typically inform through newspapers and television the true history of the people and often we see images of drunkenness and violence or interventions which happened in the Northern Territory.

I was told the Northern Territory Government (emergency response) or widely called ‘the intervention’ was to deal with child abuse. Whilst I agree that children should be protected in the first instance, it masks deeper problems of what I feel is displacement and disempowerment. A sense of a people who have lost connection with their traditional sacred life and control of their own life through assimilation into the global western model and all the toxins associated with that. The pornography market is available in adult shops which is society’s green light. In Canberra, the capital, where I am from, it is legal to sell soft porn. I have never resonated with this as a freedom. I feel it distorts sexuality and creates perversion. I knew a guy who was into porn and had no concept of loving healthy relationships. He was an addict to his own senses with no empathy for the woman. So our society indulges in this and the indigenous have copied. The alcoholism in western society is a growing phenomenon but masked by the larger numbers in western society. I have met many quiet alcoholics who try to relax after work. So this is a toxin that helps us to avoid questions of our own unhappiness with work and emptiness in life. The foods we eat, the films we watch, the entertainments we call fun are indoctrinating many people into an emptiness that distorts our true nature. I sense with the indigenous it is more visible as they are living in communities and transitioning from what was a healthy functional society to one that is not and increasingly fragmenting with a loss of values and spiritual meaning. I do feel there are broader questions of the problems in our own society that are not tackled at the core of western belief systems. We send in the military, police and then supervise these indigenous communities, what about the wider Australian society playing this out but not so obviously as alcoholism and abuse can sink into suburbia. That is my feeling. I am sure there are many valid viewpoints but based on my limited knowledge that is what I see.

So always when we seek to mediate or assist others, it is a case of looking at ourselves first. It is the Christian saying that asserts ‘first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see’. This feels relevant and if we open our minds to learn from the different cultures we will understand the privileged of living with them as equal stewards of an extraordinary planet. There is much we can learn when we open our minds, the blind spot disappears. I don’t believe in forcing people to live like me, I believe in allowing people to make free choices and for me to listen and learn about their way of life. Who knows I may decide to live the traditional life and start my own dreaming about a future that is harmonious, respectful and filled with the promise of happiness of a new way of seeing.

I believe a newer world will come, I do not feel it is far away. Who says utopia is not possible? That is a limiting belief. I believe in the unlimited as infinite. I only have to look up at the stars to know what I see is not real now, but the light it brings me is the message that the universe is unlimited and vast beyond space and time.

Mohandas Gandhi

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”