In a speech to the Garma festival, Richard Flanagan explains how Australia needs to change and at the heart of this change is an acceptance of the Uluru Statement
The Uluru statement contained a contention and two proposals: that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people never ceded sovereignty over what is now Australia; that Indigenous people should be given a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament; and that a Makarrata commission, using the Yolngu word for coming together after a struggle, should be established to perform the role of a truth and justice commission, and to explore options for a national agreement.
Central to Flanagan’s change is a reimagining of Australian nationalism and storytelling.
And as I boarded flight after flight, making my way slowly northwards, I wondered what joins us over such a vast expanse, what connects wintry worlds with tropical? What finally joins us as people into this idea that we call Australia?
And the answer is story. The story of us as a nation. The story of us as Australia and as being Australian.source
In some ways this reminds me of Tim Winton’s reimagination of masculinity. I wonder though if notions of ‘nationalism’ and ‘masculinity’ have always been somewhat fragmented and broken?
The world is being undone before us. History is once more moving, and it is moving to fragmentation on the basis of concocted differences, toward the destruction of democracy using not coups and guns to entrench autocracies and dictators, but the ballot box and social media. The bonfire of our vanities is fully loaded with the fuel of growing inequality, fear, and division
We see gay and transgender people being once more scapegoated, and we see race and religion used to divide. We see truth everywhere denied. Duterte. Orbán. Erdoğan. Putin. Democracy is withering in Poland. Slovakia. Cambodia. Once great nations are lost in division that with each passing day grows more intractable. The chaos of Brexit. The catastrophe of Trump’s white nationalism.
My warning is this: if we here in Australia do not reimagine ourselves we will be undone too.source
A part of reimagining the stories we tell is a recognition of past transgressions.
I hope one day someone finds an Indigenous word to describe the unique nature of this enduring tragedy, this eternity of crimes, crimes that continue and that continue to deform us all, black and white, a word particular to our national tragedy’s own epic lineaments of suffering, resistance and endurance, a word such as the Holocaust is to the Jewish tragedy, as the Holodomor is to the Ukrainian tragedy.source
The challenge we have is that whether we choose to recognise our cultural past or not, it is written in the land all around us.
It is in the Indigenous languages I hear all around me here, each a different way of divining the universe, unique and irreplaceable. It is in the cosmology and wisdom of traditional communities; it remains artfully written over much of our landscape in the fire-shaped patterning of bush, scrub and grassland; it stares back at us from the great rock paintings of the past and the extraordinary Indigenous art of today, from the films of Warwick Thornton to the paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye to the dance of Stephen Page, to the exquisite beauty of Michael Long holding the ball out to Carlton in the 1993 grand final, daring anyone to be better, as a grand final became wholly about his time, and his place, and his magnificent wonder.
And in that strange frozen moment of pure motion, as Australia thrilled as a man seemed to move at once backward and forward in time in defiance of time and space, it is possible to see also that our great struggle as a nation has always been to find ourselves in each other – the white in the black, the black in the white.source
A true ‘commonwealth’ is one built around mutual recognition.
Commonwealth is an old middle English word that derives from an older word, commonweal, which was understood as a general good that was shared, a common well-being. It suggests a mutuality and shared strength. It evokes relationships, the idea of a common inheritance. It is, you could argue, the counterpoint to the Yolngu word for selfishness, for lack of kinship. Commonwealth is kinship.
It is to a completed commonwealth that I wish to belong. A commonwealth not just of states but more fundamentally a commonwealth of kin, a commonwealth of the Dreaming, of 60,000 years of civilisation. That’s the land I want to walk to, and it’s time we began the journey along the path Indigenous Australia has with grace shown us. To tomorrow. To hope.source