“We live off the crumbs that fall off the White Australian tables and are told to be grateful” – Charles Perkins AO
Windradyne, who was called Saturday, by colonisers, was a fierce Wiradjuri warrior, the nation I descend from, who is known for his involvement in the resistance and frontier wars on Wiradjuri country. These wars started with the expansion of European invasion into Wiradjuri country. After altercations between Wiradjuri people and the European invaders became frequent and violent, the Governor at the time, Governor Brisbane, declared martial law in Bathurst and sent 75 soldiers to the area. As result, the Sydney Gazette described Bathurst as being “engaged in an exterminating war”. This led to an ambush by the invaders now called the battle of Bathurst, a battle that took many Wiradjuri community members’ lives, most of which were children and women, not warriors.
To stop the bloodshed, Windradyne walked to Parramatta to meet with Governor Brisbane with the word peace written on a piece of paper in his hat.
I bring up this piece of history up as it exemplifies the issues I have with the predominant concepts around reconciliation. In most cases, it is led by First Nations people and involves us compromising a significant amount more than colonisers. And even when we compromise, we are asked to compromise more.
For instance, the recent Uluru Statement, which was the culmination of the work of the Referendum Council, who in consultation with many, many different mob, wrote the statement working within colonial frameworks and suggestions proposed by the Statement were designed to fit in existing colonial structures. And while many First Nations people criticised the Statement for being toothless, and for comprising too much, the Statement got rejected by the government for not comprising enough, for being too radical.
Even the use of the term reconciliation can be considered misguided as the common definition of reconciliation is a restoration of a friendly relationship. This implies a relationship between First Nations people and colonisers started friendly, however the relationship we have today started with colonisers intending to invade and steal this land.
Reconciliation also implies forgiveness, but how are we meant to forgive past atrocities when current atrocities continue like deaths is custody, high youth suicide rates, disproportionate incarceration rates and the NT intervention continue? All of which are directly linked to colonisation.
How are we meant to forgive when so many who benefit greatly from land theft, massacres, and cultural genocide do not believe they have done anything wrong? How are we meant to forgive when many are not sorry?
Furthermore, reconciliation rarely means to change the colonial structures, but just continue the status quo and reconcile First Nations people and knowledge to that status quo. In this sense reconciliation is not a coming together, but more of a falling in line.
As mentioned earlier, it suggests compromise on both sides, which I understand, but both sides compromises are treated as equal. This flawed thinking was exemplified in a history book I was recently reading that described frontier wars as “equal aggression on both sides”. There was definitely aggression on both sides, but it was not equal. We were defending our land, colonisers were aggressive because we fought back. However, this author read about violence coming from two sides thus equally violent.
To summarise, I think power dynamics between us and colonisers need to be addressed and what is considered “reasonable” needs to shift before anything that could be considered reconciliation takes place.