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HIST2022 – MEMORY & THE POLITICS OF DIFFERENCE: SEX RACE & BELONGING

MARLEY FAIRCLOUGH - ID:


RESEARCH ESSAY
‘The struggle for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to share in a collective national
memory has been a struggle against active forgetting’ Discussed in relation to the ABC 2014
Documentary ‘88’.

The willingness to remember is the source for sharing in a collective national memory within the context of
Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Colonial and Post-Colonial Australian History. When reflecting upon memory
as a means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to inform the present, it can be made apparent
the generational biased collection of memories that have been passed on by dominant counterparts to form an
inadequate historical public memory. Few recognise the extent of devastation that Non-Indigenous settlers and
their descendants inflicted on Indigenous people and the social injustices that have become embedded into
society as a result (Healy, 2008). The impulse to look away from history as a means of leaving behind memories
demonstrates the desire to make a better future for both Indigenous and Non-indigenous Australians, but to
hide from the past in the present poses the dismissal of these past actions as accountable. It becomes evident
that to focus must be placed on a collective national memory that sits side by side in practices of
memorialization, recognition, rights, freedoms and social justice, in order to inform actions of the present.
Memory must be seen as a process, that by which is predominately concerned with remembering as a
communicative and shared cultural practice, that requires both remembering and forgetting, as there can be
nor one without the other (Healy, 2008).

Chris Healy (2008, p.5) in ‘Forgetting Aborigines’ draws focus on how remembering and actively forgetting
work to place Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people in relation to each other through ‘considering the
intercultural space of Aboriginality as constituted by strange and transient patterns of remembering and
forgetting, where Indigenous people and things appear and disappear, where cultural memory is performed so as
to invoke, revisit and transcend heterogeneous pasts.’ This lens creates a means to reflect upon spaces of cultural
importance as real and as shifting as sand, it reveals the very silence that surrounds much of settler-Indigenous
past, a silence that must be respected and valued. Schlunk (2009, p.11) ‘Dumb Places’ reflects upon this silence
as a sense of stillness that is derived from Indigenous ways of being ‘our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity.
Everything in us withdraws, stillness comes and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.’

Intergenerational relationships created through the dispossession of communities, cultures, and freedoms can
be seen to underpin the cultural relationship to country and shared experiences of Indigenous culture and
beliefs that has enabled the strength of Indigenous people to exist to present. These notions expose the very
importance of sharing in collective national memories that both acknowledges and recognizes the dismissal of
non-western constructions that has occurred over time as a result of colonization (Moreton-Robinson, 2003,
p.16).

Sensitivities embedded within Indigenous experiences remain at the heart against active forgetting. Subject to
this issue draws attention to negotiated forgiveness as a concept that becomes pertinent to the discourses of
the Reconciliation Process (Mellor, 2007,p.11). This involves challenging Australia’s contested history, which
can only be motivated through the act of remembering. Remembering that is only able to be achieved through
bringing the violent actions of colonization, with its continuance into postcolonial Australia to the surface of
discussion (Mellor, 2007,p.11). A discussion that at its core has left Indigenous people, cultural values and
identity severely disadvantaged, dispossessed and powerless. It is upon this understanding one can consider
the desire to forget Australia’s colonial past, a past that is impelled by a variety of cultural and political
motivations (Gandhi, p.46). Yet, is forgiving as simple as forgetting? Reconciliation draws attention to
accountability and responsibility for past actions and encourages consideration into the notion of negotiated
forgiveness (Mellor, 2007, p.11). It complexity provokes a deeper understanding of historical and cross-cultural
terms of forgiveness, what can be deemed forgivable or unforgivable, and if forgiveness can ever truly mend the
past.

In light of helping shift national memory, we consider the active protest of the Indigenous community during
the 1988 Australia Day Bicentennial. An event that at its core helped to kick start the ‘History Wars’ and begin
conversations to help rewrite the past. Such a pivotal form of political activism within in Australia’s history
formed the concept of remembering a past that had been rendered through actions of active forgetting. It aimed
to expand and confront the difficult aspects of frontier violence, dispossession and national silence to articulate
an expression of resistance against common forms of national memory. Although actions of protest came at the
cost reliving difficult Indigenous suffering, the march was seen to challenge dominant societies hegemonic
construction and representation of Australia Day and all it entails. The protest cemented itself as a statement of
survival and demonstrated the exclusion of Indigenous voices and inability to form a collective national
memory. It becomes evident when considering H, Stanner (1968) speech ‘The Great Australian Silence’ what we
know and understand about Indigenous culture, place, and past comes only from Indigenous peoples
willingness to share in painful memory ‘What may well have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views
turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness practise on a national scale. We have
been able for too long to disremember the aborigines that we are now hard put to keep them in mind even when
we most want to do so.’

This notion along with the focus of the Bicentennials ‘Celebration of a nation’ and ‘Three Cheers Approach’ to
history helps to address the actions of Australian Governments inability and unwillingness to appropriately
articulate, share and embrace in an inclusive national memory (ABC, 2014). The articulation of Indigenous
History and its representation in mainstream society has spent its entirety coming to terms with actions of the
past and how these actions best to be presented to form a collective national identity. The one-sided
representation of Australia identity portrayed by the Australian Government depicted the aesthetic and
political focus of British Migrancy as the dominant foregrounding of Australia’s history (Sydney Morning
Herald, 1988). It’s failure to produce a social memory of a different kind, identifies the way in which colonial
monuments and the monumental forms of history are developed to block from view Indigenous presence in
place, before and after British Colonization (Nugent, 2006, P.35). This becomes ironic when considering the
‘White Washed’ image of Australia that emerged with the arrival of Prince Charles and Princess Dianna, along
with the event location being the very mere beginning of these tragic disposals of Indigenous possession of
land, culture, and belonging.

Fundamental to the actions of such an event comes the notion of a political activism from the oppressed, which
through public action set in its path to challenge the dominant version of collective Australian memory to
provide a contrasting version of national memory. It aimed to confront the violence of settler relations and its
continuation into current society, demonstrating the need for both pride and shame in our national identity
(ABC, 2014). Reflection upon this confrontation draws attention to the need for Australia to deal with the
divisions of power that remain evident amongst social practices. If to truly become an established equal and
socially just nation, we must develop an increased comprehensive and complex understanding of our past that
is inclusive of all people’s stories (Kevin, 2017). This entails confronting the violence that has occurred within
our past and what profoundly makes us feel hurt towards our social injustices and inequalities, as well as to
understand although it is possible to have pride in our national identity, it must come at the cost of recognising,
uncovering and coming to terms with our mistakes (Kevin, 2007). Effectively to engage with the past in the
present hopes to achieve a linkage of movements that connects us to the possibility of a symbolic collective
situation (Schlunk, 2000, p.185).

Subsequently, despite progression over the past few decades' considerable effort has been established through
the concept of ‘Reconciliation,' which aims to address the impact of both colonial and postcolonial histories of
dispossession, structural violence, and racism (Mellor, 2007,p.11). The Reconciliation process through political
and social actions provides a context for understanding the need for Australia’s deep past, in order to create a
better and socially just future for all Australian Citizens (Mellor, 2007, p.11). Reconciliation provides the basis
for discussion to ‘skate over the depths of division in the community and to contain disagreements beneath a
veneer of apparent progress and accord' (Mellor, 2007, p.18). Though it has been made eminent during this
process that Reconciliation requires both an apology and forgiveness to move beyond the hurt of the past and
pave the way for healing. Despite indications of positive movement during the year following the 1988
Bicentennial Political actions, it was not until the appropriate actions of then Prime Minister of Australia Kevin
Rudd’s (2007) Apology Speech that the struggle to ‘form and reform what and who is considered to be
legitimate within the reconstituting of national collective memory’ was truly recognised’ (Goode & Jacobs, 2000,
p. 231). It can, therefore, be considered that the National Apology speech has become embedded in the broader
historical issues and collective memories of Australian History, and can be seen as a precondition for
Reconciliation to move forward as means to end active forgetting of Australia's colonial past.

The act of actively forgetting is effectively the reluctance to acknowledge and respect differing conceptions of
history, which can weaken the potential to progress cross-cultural understanding within the Australian society
(Attwood, 2006, p.103). Migrancy and dispossession lastingly mark structures of belonging, home, and place in
postcolonial Australia. In the Australian context, freedoms enjoyed by the Non-Indigenous subjects can be
grounded on the dispossession of the land original owners and the denial of Indigenous rights under the
international customary law (Moreton-Robinson, 2003, p.24). A sense of capital power is created from the
dominant and privileged location of white people and institutions that derive from ‘ownership’ that remains at
the centre of Australian social practices (Moreton-Robinson, 2003, p.24) The Non-Indigenous sense of
belonging is intricately linked to the fabrication of Terra Nullius, which in turn has created damaging
consequences to sharing in a collective national memory (Moreton-Robinson, 2003, p.25). In an attempt to
work towards a collective national memory it is vital that all Australian’s understand the ontological
relationship that Indigenous people have to land, and how this relationship and connection is so vastly different
for Non-Indigenous people (Moreton-Robinson, 2003, p.31).
BIBLIOGRAPHY
 Attwood, Bain 2006, 'Contesting frontiers: history, memory, and narrative in a national museum', recollections
Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 103-114.
 Gooder, H., & Jacobs, J. M. (2000). On the border of the unsayable: The apology in past colonizing Australia.
Interventions, 2, 229–247.
 Kevin C, 2017, ‘The History Wars, Remembering Massacres, lecture notes distributed in the topic HIS2022
Memory and Politics of Difference: Sex, Race and Belonging, Flinders University, Bedford Park, 8th March
 Mellor, D., Bretherton, D., & Firth, L. (2007). Aboriginal and non—Aboriginal Australia: The dilemma of
apologies, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Peace and Conflict, 13(1), 11-36.
 Moreton-Robinson, A. (2003). I still call Australia home: Indigenous belonging and place in a white past
colonizing society. Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of home and migration, 23-40.
 Nugent, Maria, ‘Historical Encounters: Aboriginal testimony and colonial forms of commemoration', Aboriginal
History, v.30, 2006, pp 33-47
 Schlunke, Katrina, ‘More than Memory Performing Postcoloniality at the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial’ in
Gay McCauley (ed), Unstable Ground: Performance and the Politics of Place, Peter Lang, Sydney, 2007, chapter 9
 Windschuttle, K. (2002). The fabrication of Aboriginal history: Volume 1. Van Dieman’s Land 1803–1847.
Paddington, Australia: Macleay.

 Sydney Morning Herald. (1988). Indigenous Protest, Australian Bicentenary 1988. From Museum Victoria
Collections: http://collections.museumvictoria.com.au
 “88” (2014, ABC documentary)