My dream of real reconciliation

Date: May 27 2006

By Tracee Hutchison

I'Ve been daydreaming about the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, and I've decided he must be a keen student of history. So much so that I've imagined the first thing he did when he inherited one of the most sought-after portfolios in the Howard cabinet was to circle a red-letter day in his diary and work up a secret plan to propel it onto the national agenda.

May 26, he said to himself in my musings, Sorry Day - important for all Australians to pause and reflect on our convict origins and the rape, pillage and general skullduggery that shaped the white foundations of our nation.

In my imaginings, Mal Brough was the kid who always sat up front in history class and kept interrupting historical monologues about Cook, Banks and Flinders with questions about the history we had before boatloads of shackled British rejects, and their short straw-drawing military minders, came and started new lives here.

To my way of thinking, student Brough would not have been the type to be duped by romantic notions that the people sent to the colonies for penance had merely stolen a loaf of bread and a few pence out of necessity.

In my daydreams, student Brough would have seen the haphazard and iniquitous collision of criminal stock, and their wardens, on local lives that were 40,000 years in the making. And now, true to his convictions, the student-turned-minister has seized the opportunity to remind us of our black history with gusto.

And what an impact!

For the past fortnight, the minister has single-handedly pushed the Rum Corps-like dealings of AWB and associated colonial numbskullery off the front page and put Australian history front and centre. Even John W. has had to come up with an audacious plan to mortgage some of the more contentious parts of the farm just to get a look in. It's been breathtaking.

If it wasn't part of the minister's red-letter day plan to expose the methodical dismantling of indigenous self-determination mechanisms - not to mention a gene pool and a culture - by successive Australian governments in time for Reconciliation Week, then it is one helluva coincidence. How else can you explain it? The timing is impeccable.

By choosing to visit an indigenous community at its most broken, the minister has got people all over Australia thinking about Aborigines, some for the very first time, as day after day Australian history has stared us down. Unblinking. Unshakable. Unavoidable.

Not only that, his well-publicised round of house calls has simultaneously shamed his own Government for its part in administering the last rites to a culture already in its death throes.

Quite an achievement.

Let's just take a moment to consider the Howard Government checklist shall we?

The closure of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and the Council for Reconciliation, the denial of the existence of a stolen generation, the undermining of the native title legislation, the continuing neglect of Aboriginal health, housing and education programs in national spending.

And then there's the S-word. Did millions of us really walk together hoping for a way to move this country forward with some grace and dignity or was I dreaming then too?

No wonder there's some restlessness about.

In my daydreams, of course, I am consoled by the overwhelming good fortune of living in the Lucky Country, the land of the fair go, which is very reassuring. Because, judging by the history lessons of the past couple of weeks, it's very easy to think the land of the fair go only ever existed in childhood dreams, which can only happen if you feel safe enough to close your eyes at night.

But I digress from my musings on the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and his admirable efforts to consolidate Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week on the national calendar and his Government's agenda.

I can't help but think it must be part of a grander plan that involves taking John W. and some of his most compassionate colleagues on his next outback excursion.

I have a wonderful day-dreamy image of Mal Brough and John W. sitting in the back of a Tarago van with Amanda Vanstone, Tony Abbott and Philip Ruddock singing the words to Joe Geia's beautiful anthem Yil Lull as they head down a red dusty road to see what's left of Maningrida after last month's devastating Top End cyclone all but wiped it out.

"I sing for the black and the people of this land, I sing for the red and the blood that's been shed, Now I'm singing for the Gold of a New Year, young and old. Yil Lull-ey, Yil Lull-ey, Yil Lull-ey, Yil Lull-ey."

Nice dream . . .

Tracee Hutchison is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.