The Pauline Hanson/ One Nation Phenomenon and it's appearance on the political landscape, came at a time when right wing Nationalist leaders were emerging worldwide, and is often explained as the inevitable consequence of a poorly informed or disenfranchised population seeking to regain some hold over their circumstance. Her statements regarding Aboriginal issues and immigration have were thought by many to be the predictable extension of some sort of neo- nazi right-wing rationale; but I think this dangerously underestimates the currency Hanson's message still has within Australian Society and, more sadly, it fails to understand it's cause, and to recognise it's root.
Whatever else it may signify, the emergence of One Nation was a very revealing chapter in Australian social history. Revealing, as much for what was never said in the flurry of speeches, as much as for what was. Revealing because, at least on one level, it has been argued by her supporters that the public airing of her highly critical opinions regarding what she calls the 'Aboriginal industry' and their 'politics of guilt' was been a triumph of 'free speech' over 'political correctness'.
What is truly ironic, however, is that Pauline Hanson's poor understanding of Australia's indigenous population and, indeed, of her own history represented, in fact, the triumph of 'political correctness' and is the result of the deliberate suppression of 'free speech' by a very different generation of politicians and bureaucrats; and by the policies that they covertly or overtly pursued in Australian educational institutions.
As I have wandered around this country in the pursuit of stories, both historical and contemporary, by which to understand our history and our culture, I have been often amazed at the quite detailed descriptions of the massacres of Aboriginal tribes that occurred throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I do not mention these in order to conjure up the 'politically expedient' guilt response, as Hansonists would have us believe that people who refer to these events do. I mention them because I seriously believe that it is our untold stories which are at the heart of our current national dilemma.
That such events took place is no secret. Most of us are generally aware that they did. What I found to be astounding however, was that they were so well documented at the 'local' level; both by various pioneer historical societies and by regional Aboriginal oral history; and yet they were simultaneously so completely unknown at the 'national' level.
I felt as if I had 'stumbled' on these stories. Even the people who related these incidents to me seemed to be unaware of the fact that the next district, the next town, the next state might have an identical story to tell. The manner in which the stories were related suggested that the narrator assumed that I had never heard of Myall Creek, or Apsley Gorge or The Comet River. It was as if he or she somehow instinctively understood that this was not a tale which I had been told. The result is that, within the national psyche, we do not see these stories as part of any narrative pattern; but more as local singularities, aberrations if you like; something far from typical in our history.
There is no shared national consciousness of these events as there is of, say, Kelly's Last Stand at Glenrowan; of Bond's America's Cup victory; of Cook's Landing or of The Storming of the Beachhead at Gallipoli. And the result of this lack of 'common story', is that we have no national way of interpreting these events, much less formulating a shared response to them. And, if reconciliation is to be possible, then a shared response is precisely what is called for.
Whenever significant national stories are repressed then the national Mythology is impoverished. And by myth I mean those stories which we tell each other to help make sense of the world and, without which, we cannot hope to understand our past or navigate our future. What is truly sad is that it is often within the very stories that we have edited out of history, that the kernel of something, which may well be redemptive for us all, exists. To explain what I mean by that, let me very briefly tell you but one of these 'forgotten' stories.
I think that it may demonstrate both the root of the current backlash; and offer the hope of a way for white Australians to address their history and to move forward.
The Wills Family were a family of pioneers in Central Queensland around the district where my own family had it's history. Despite many warnings from their peers that their sympathetic approach to the tribal groups, whose lands they had settled, was dangerous; they often had 'blackfellers' around the homestead and, by all accounts, supplied foodstuffs when they could. What occurred between the two groups that so infuriated the blacks is unknown. What is known, however, is that several members of the tribe waited till some of the men left and descended on the homestead, murdering the entire family.
The response from the other settler's in the district was swift and predictable. It was also fearfully typical of what occurred throughout the rest of the country. A 'punitive party' was assembled. No serious attempt was made to ascertain the identities of the killers, and, in violation of all white Law retribution was visited on the whole black population; the entire tribe was driven into a water hole in the Comet River and slaughtered; men, women and children.. Most were shot as they surfaced for air.
One small child managed to escape the cordon and made his way, in grief and terror, to the homestead of another family in the district who were thought to be sympathetic toward the blacks. He was taken in by the landholder's wife and hidden. Several months later, however, it became known that the five year old was being given sanctuary there, and the brother of one of the men who had been murdered in the original incident, rode out to the homestead at a time when he knew that the station's men would be away. When the woman saw the man, who was well known to her, approaching; she sent the the child to hide beneath the bed in her room.
His vengeance was not, however, be denied. Despite her frenzied efforts to prevent him, efforts which I might add, led to her being beaten; the man forced his way into the house with a shotgun and blasted the child to death as he lay huddled and terrified beneath the bed.
What is the point of this dreadful story? Why, all this time later, should we have to be told such things? Things that we were not personally responsible for, and which it is far too late for anyone to change? What, say those who decry the 'black armband' view of history, is the point?
Well, it is this.
If I asked you for the name of this woman; this decent and humane soul who stood, albiet futily, against the violence of an armed murderer; who risked her life for the life of a small Aboriginal child, you would probably not be able to tell me.
If I asked most Australians for the name of the man responsible for courageously bringing his overseer to justice after the Myall Creek Massacre near Warialda, an action that led to the first whites ever being hanged for the murder of blacks in this country; you would probably not be able to tell me either. That man became a social pariah, was forced out of the district and returned to England; reviled by society.
You would probably not be able to tell me their names; and you would not be alone. That man and that woman have been erased from our history; as have the many others who stood against the genocide. They are unknown to all but a few local historians who know of their stories. And yet, they are the key to our future; because they offer the role models through which white Australians may yet find some sense of pride and heroism in their history.
The problem with history, and the living mythology that nations forge from it, is that, in the end, if you bury your sinners, then you must bury your saints with them. You can't tell the story of their courage and nobility; if you refuse to tell the story of the darkness that surrounded them.
As a child I never heard those stories. The schools I went to, were forbidden to tell them. The right wing 'political correctness' of the 'comfortable fifties and sixties' forbade it . Our sensitivity to our past forbade it. John Howard, Pauline Hanson and their supporters went to the same schools that I did.
The sad truth is that they, and I, and the vast majority of Australians, many of whom now believe themselves to be such staunch opponents of 'political correctness' are, in fact, in our ignorance and loss, the most obvious products of it.
Fri, 18 Jun 1999 21:17:29 +1000
"Karen Frencham" <KarenLynne@bigpond.com>
I thought I'd spend a few of my free web surfing hours to look at your webpage a little deeper,.. it's looking really wonderful. This particular
editorial brought tears to my eyes, you seemed to have pinpointed everything I feel - in your article,.... and those "unnamed" people in history,... would you know their names?,.....You really have a gift for 'getting the words out right",....it is a precious gift, given to so few,....and how wonderful to see it used wisely!
Best Wishes, Karen from Wollongong.
Colin Warren <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Mr Editor,
I feel compelled to reply to the September 1998 Edititorial. Firstly, I am not a One Nation supporter. Secondly, I agree with your comments in regards to the "political correctness" or more correctly xenophobic censorship which abounded in 50's and 60's (and 70's).
There is one point, however, which almost all commentators have missed or ignored.
We live in a democracy, this fact puts us into an interesting positionwith our history. Regardless of the beliefs of our media owners and spokespersons, if more Australians believe that "the Hanson Way" is the way to go, then by definition of a democracy, we must go down that path. Our politicians have got it wrong, the Prime Minister is often referred to as the "leader" of the Australian people, this could not be further from the truth. ALL politicians are servants of the people, they are put into office to do OUR bidding, not what they believe should be done, but what the PEOPLE OF AUSTRALIA want done.
So if more people had voted for One Nation and they had ascended to power (thankfully it was not to be) then it would be what the people had wanted. As for the fact that The Liberal Party actually polled less primary votes than Labor and still gained office, a quirk of our voting system, is something which needs to be addressed... the Liberal Party do not have a clear mandate, but such is life.
"Tania Brown" <email@example.com>
"Pat Drummond" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Have just read you Editorial on Reconciliation, unfortunately after the events of the last few weeks this seems a very long way away. When even our, and I use the term 'our' loosely, Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs can deny that the Stolen Generation occurred. 10% doesn't count as a generation - not good enough Minister. This on top of the Mandatory Sentencing debate puts recognition and acceptance of our past even further down the Government agenda. Certainly moved the GST debate from the front pages or am I being too cynical.
Enjoyed the show at Mt Kembla
See you soon.
I just discovered your editorial page and read the Reconciliation one. I want to know who the woman was, where she lived! I want to glorify her. Who was the man who brought is overseer to justice?
His name was William Hobbs and possibly he is the man from whose name we get the perjorative 'Dobber' In Australia, a widely used insult meaning a informer of trivial matters. Tells us a lot about ourselves that we have let that expression survive., given that he was in my humble opinion one of our greatest heroes. He was of course driven out of Australian Society and died in the U.K.
Life here in the USA is amazingly different in culture,
the terrorism, etc etc. Scenery however is startling.
Did I ever thank you for introducing me to Jeanette Wormald?
She is a good good friend now and we've done a number of things
Her songwriting is just getting better and better and she keeps writing songs that are so good at reflecting the Australian, mallee,
farming life as a woman. Pity it's so hard getting anywhere with serious talent.
Sounds like you're doing alright.
I'm doing bits and pieces over here while Tanya studies.