Tasmanian Times


‘The world is being undone before us. If we do not reimagine Australia, we will be undone too’

*Pic: The moment Richard Flanagan won the 2014 Booker prize … Read all about it HERE and HERE

In the full transcript of his speech to the Garma festival, the author says the country can make itself stronger by saying yes to the Uluru statement …

When my father died at the age of 98 he had largely divested himself of possessions. Among what little remained was an old desk in which he had collected various writings precious to him over the years: poems, sayings, quotes, a few pieces he had written, some correspondence. Among them my elder sister found a letter written by one of my father’s cousins many years before. In it she told my father that his mother, my grandmother, was of Aboriginal descent, and that in her family she had been brought up to never mention this fact outside of the home.

My father loved discussing interesting letters with his family. He never discussed this letter. Yet he kept it. The story of covering up Indigenous pasts was a common one in Tasmania, where such behaviour was for some a form of survival. There is no documentation to prove my father’s cousin’s story is true, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It leaves the story as an unanswerable question mark over my family.

The theme of this year’s Garma festival is truth telling. My father’s story is about the questions truth raises, and where the truth takes us. I don’t tell this story to claim I am an Indigenous. I have too much respect for Indigenous people to make such a claim.

And yet, if it were correct, it would explain so much that is inexplicable about my father. It would make sense of his beliefs in reincarnation as wombats and wallabies, beliefs strangely at odds with those of an ostensible Catholic born in 1914, as were his strong, almost obsessive feeling for his ancestors and for the land of the island’s north-east.

It would make some sense of my father’s odd, wry acceptance of the two times he suffered the indignity of being refused service in bars as a “half-caste” when we went on a family camping trip to Western Australia in the 70s. It was, I later learned, not the first time. In a PoW camp in Japan an English PoW refused to work with him on the grounds he would not lower himself to work with a “half breed”.

Our family, like so many other Australian families, has numerous Indigenous connections. I have Indigenous cousins. My brother’s first grandson is Indigenous. But the questions remain hanging over us, as they remain over all Australians.

Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

I have flown the great length of our vast nation to speak to you, from the snow and rainforest and rivers of the island of the Palawa in the far south, to here, the country of the Yolngu in the far north-east, a country almost mythical for its music, its art, its leadership. Five thousand kilometres I travelled, twice the distance of London to Moscow.

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.

And yet, in recent years, that story has grown increasingly threadbare as the poverty of its original conception has been revealed as too thin to hold, as the warp and weft of our national myths have under strain torn apart, only to be covered up with rougher patches crudely stitched into the growing holes: war memorials, Captain Cook statues. It was, as they say, a bad day when the first blackfella discovered Captain Cook.

Australia has achieved many great things as a state. But it will fail as a nation if it cannot find a way of admitting our Indigenous people, and with them, our continent’s extraordinary patrimony: 60,000 years of civilisation. When the first corals began to form of what we now know as the Great Barrier Reef that civilisation was already 50,000 years old. They had known unimaginable changes of climate, ecology and zoology. We stand as the inheritors of a people whose languages, cultures and Dreamings are founded in that experience of deep time unknown to humanity anywhere else in the world …

Read the rest of this brilliant article, The Guardian, HERE

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    August 7, 2018 at 4:20 am

    Simon, re#: I think if you check, you will see that do make the distinction between Zionism and Jewishness. I think Zionism makes a lot of Jews very uncomfortable, as it would be if I were one.

    And yes, you are probably right about being careful about what one asks of the gods.

    I think Muslim aboriginals may well provide at least some of that benighted community with real moral backbone and a preparedness to take a hard line about it, even if some of them are martyred for it. They may well be able to bring some empowering energy, structure and discipline to the table to get themselves and their neigbours out of the garbage heap of history.

    And maybe they won’t be doing the rest of us any favours when they do get out, but they will have secure ground under them, a vision of themselves and what they are doing here and a firm resolve to live virtuous and good lives that will be a credit to themselves, their family, community and the all seeing eyes of Allah .. as it were.

    Who knows?

  2. Russell

    August 6, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    Re #4 … You are incredibly, ignorantly wrong. Indigenous Australians adapted perfectly to Australia’s environment.

    After 230+ years of occupation, the non-indigenous colonisers STILL haven’t been able to adapt to it.

    Who are the primitives?

    “But what I really respect about Jews, is that after the holocaust they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They didn’t whinge.”

    Utter bullshit! They haven’t stopped!

  3. Simon Warriner

    August 6, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Re #4 … I used to hold that view in my late teens and early 20s. Then I matured, and nothing I have read or seen since supports it.

    Conflating and confusing Zionism and Jews reveals the ignorance behind the sentiment. They are not the same thing.

    Some of what Nagle in #3 says is correct, but what he fails to acknowledge is that if our indigenous adopt the Zionist approach we are in mortal danger. Careful what you wish for, you might just get it. Assassination, terrorism .. the whole Palestinian thing and all.

  4. Christopher Nagle

    August 6, 2018 at 10:14 am

    I don’t have to like Zionists much, but what I really respect about Jews, is that after the holocaust they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They didn’t whinge. They didn’t collapse in a heap and expect handouts because they were poor things and the world owed them a living. They backed up their claims for ideological/ethnic exceptionalism by being exceptional. They are some of the most resolute people on the planet. They have worked incredibly hard to build new lives for themselves and their children against enormous odds (especially in Palestine) and a terrible history that didn’t start in the 1930s….or even the 1780s.

    They didn’t need a treaty. They identified their opportunities and firmly grasped them, risking all to do so. You want to change the world? That is how it gets done my indigenous friends. The rest is execrable bullshit that serves everyone else except you. It isn’t about demanding concessions and seeing how much you can get out of others, so much as what you can get out of yourselves that counts, that will make a difference and change outcomes…permanently.

  5. Christopher Nagle

    August 6, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Nobody says that being losers in the history stakes isn’t a tough gig. It has been particularly tough for indigenous people here precisely because their culture is so old and deeply conservative that adaption to the new realities was always going to be hard.

    As capitalism started to roll itself out in the late eighteenth century, its overwhelming main feature was its capacity to disrupt business as usual.

    Nobody escaped that one; not even the colossally wealthy families who kicked off the industrial revolution. They were expropriated too, eventually.

    The first convict migrants here were victims of the enormous disruption and uprooting that everyone endured throughout the process of what we now call the modernization of agriculture and downstream mechanization of the means of production.

    The only people outside Europe who were able to stay one step ahead of the new forces were the Thais and the Japanese. Everyone else fell under some version of European suzerainty and had to as quickly as possible find out and adopt whatever the white people were having that made them so powerful and successful.

    Education was the leverage. All the nationalist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries rose out of exposure to modern education. That is what empowered colonial and semi-colonial societies to work their way out of colonial dependency by military or civil means.

    And what that involved was making some difficult choices about what in the past could be carried into the modern firmament and what had to be left behind in order to make space for the modern knowledge base and the modern practice that went with it.

    If we take out those people with some indigenous genetic inheritance who have been raised in substantially non-aboriginal settings and thereby mentored into modern education and practice, there is a substantial indigenous semi tribal van that still hasn’t roused itself from the torpor and reactionary denialism it fell into when its world collapsed, as the land was converted to modern production.

    That is the narrative we need to be talking about. And then we need to further talk about the abysmal performance of the most recent bureaucratic layer of libertarian humanities trained administration of aboriginal affairs, whose contribution so far seems overwhelmingly to maintain the status quo and keeping themselves in cushy aboriginal industry jobs forever, by indulgently pandering to their clients most entrenched atavistic ethnic fantasies.

    And then, just to stick the knife in a bit harder and give it a good twist, they sell their clients a version of liberty and rights with all the responsible and autonomous social agency ripped out, which hasn’t been good for mainstream society, but absolutely devastating for a people whose traditional ways are ineluctably falling to bits, which is what inevitably happens when the culture is no longer supported by the hunter and gatherer means of production that makes sense of it!

    But what the post 1960s white and just off white humanities graduates are really expert in is diverting ideological attention from the malign incompetence of their policy and practice.

    Since the mid 1990s, when it started to become obvious that the Whitlamesque New Order was going absolutely nowhere, they spent serious amounts of time and money covering their tracks, regime blame shifting and show trials, prodigious excuse making and ensuring that no one has the effrontery to declare the aboriginality emperor is wearing no clothes.

    The present Uluru declaration is another example of the genre of doing anything except solve the twin problems of aboriginal engagement with the modern world and their current sponsor’s indulgence strategy that keeps pulling out whatever existential chocks there might once have been that held them together in any semblance of order at all.

    Guys like Richard Flanagan will talk about anything except that…

    Colour and movement,
    dances and dust,
    didgeree doing
    ‘till they all go bust,
    debauched by welfare and idle hands
    can you stand me a drink to return to my lands?
    for dreams are my waking
    and waking my sleep
    As I lift up my spirit
    And swallow it neat…

    till I drown and I drown
    to the end of the town
    with the end of the world at my feet….

  6. pat synge

    August 5, 2018 at 10:39 pm

    Thank you once again Richard, for so clearly articulating what many of us feel .. but cannot find the words to express.

  7. Lynne Newington

    August 4, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    They say an apple never falls far from the tree, a moving legacy of both.

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