By guest author Greg Clancy
In 1998 I joined a company operating on the edge of Sydney’s most notorious street, Everleigh Street, Redfern. In the two years I spent in the area I developed a keen sense for the need to have regard for personal safety and, of greater long-term benefit, an understanding of the problems in the local Aboriginal community which occupied the street and the infamous, “block”. This latter benefit resulted primarily from interaction with younger Aboriginal males who were intrigued with my presence in the area. Having established a brief rapport with me, they would usually discuss the local problems with amazing frankness and honesty.
The short route from my office to Redfern station was Everleigh Street, but I only undertook the “easy walk” on one occasion. It was in the company of three somewhat larger fellow employees and it was about 11.00 in the morning, which meant it was still too early for the locals to be on the street and for the failed social policies affecting so many Aboriginal people to be displayed for anyone interested to witness. Drugs were everywhere, the alcohol problem was appalling, violence towards women and children was commonplace. No one appeared to work or wanted to work, but political correctness would ensure that the real issues in “the block” would remain under the public radar. But on the one day I walked the length of Everleigh Street it was relatively safe. Still, the 150 meter distance was conducted in complete silence and a sense of relief prevailed when we exited the street opposite Redfern railway station. You never knew what could happen.
The Everleigh Street houses were unique in that internal timbers were often ripped out for firewood but the roofs were usually adorned with taxpayer-funded satellite dishes provided to the Aboriginal residents. The police were regular visitors and it was heartening to witness the little kids crawling through the police cars turning on the sirens and using the loudspeakers. You wondered how long this would last.
The “hands on” experience of Everleigh Street equipped me with indelible images of how political correctness results in neglect. No one really cared about the Aboriginals living in the area – least of all those Aborigines in “leadership” positions who grew fat on public money, drove around the area in large 4WDs and wouldn’t rock the boat too much – except perhaps on Australia Day, when the absurdity of Aboriginal politics usually achieved its annual peak.
Australia Day – or “invasion day”, as many Aboriginal leaders prefer to call it – usually exhibits the least constructive comments on Aboriginal affairs. The call for separation is strongest on Australia Day. This is when the idea that Aboriginal people are an integral part of the nation receives the heaviest condemnation. And the hypocrisy is overwhelming. In this context, the word “invasion” implies the end of Aboriginal heritage. For the indigenous people of the continent, the arrival of the British ended their existence as they knew it. But it also ended, in time, living in bark huts, killing kangaroos to exist, killing each other and perhaps having the odd meal of each other. The Aboriginal culture in 1788 may have been ancient and unique, but it was also primitive and barbaric. The use of “invasion” also implies a strong yearning for a return to those uncomplicated days untouched by Western imperialism.
Do modern Aboriginal people really want to revert to the lifestyles of their forefathers? Of course not. They want all that modern Western civilization can provide. Apart from token references to their ancient society, most modern Aboriginal men and women would dread the thought of returning to their pre “invasion” status. Yes, there were great injustices to the native people that figured in the early colonial days in Australia, but also there were official policies offering protection to Aboriginals that may be taken as very enlightened when compared to international standards of the day.
The hypocritical basis of the “invasion” claim is overwhelming. But it gets worse. Soon, Australians will be voting to allow some form of “special recognition” for the Aboriginal people. This is the culmination of a reasonable idea gone mad. It is political correctness of the most harmful type. Decreeing the Aboriginal people as being “special” really means “different”, and these are the social metamorphoses we all need to avoid. Wherever we have creative distinctions between people, we also have problems. The last thing the Aboriginal people need is to be even more different to what they are currently – and these differences are not racial, but behavioural.
When the “special recognition” vote comes to pass I will not be voting in favour of the proposal. Rather, I will be voting for the equality of Aboriginal people as a distinct, but equal, partner in our society.
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