And if you think it’s an issue for a white Australian to be sorry Ñ you should try being a Pom. A long time ago, when I first started thinking about Aboriginal history and the need for an apology I even thought: not much to do with me really, I didn’t get here until 1989.
I overlooked the inconvenient fact that it was my lot that started it. Not only here, but in every continent on the planet with the exception of Antarctica, and that was only because they couldn’t find anything on it that was worth stealing Ñ nor anyone to steal it from.
They weren’t kidding when they said that Queen Victoria was head of an empire upon which the sun never set. Once it had passed over England it was on its way to North America where it lit up the appalling treatment of American Indians, the barbaric practice of slavery in the Caribbean, then on to attempted disenfranchisement of the Maoris, the destruction of the Aborigines in Australia, slavery again throughout Africa, the attempt to subjugate China by introducing its people to opium, the servitude of India in support of the good old British cup of tea and then back across Europe to Britain.
Wherever it was daylight Ñ there was a place where the British inflicted pain. And all in the name of making a quicker, more profitable dollar (or, in their case, pound).
And by the grace of a bit of hanky panky between my mother and father on the grass at Bushy Park (and nothing to do with God at all, who strictly forbade those kinds of going on outside marriage, thank you very much) I happen to be British.
That’s when it all begins to get complicated. I find it hard not be grateful for being British. I meanâ€¦ it would be tricky to wish I’d been black in South Africa when even breathing the same air as a white person was considered an act of treason.
I’ve had a blessed life. I’ve climbed into the sunlight kindly provided by Queen Victoria.
Pity I had to climb over hundreds of other countries, races and colours to do it.
And I’m sorry. The only alternative to being sorry is to be NOT sorry, and how is that possible (John Howard, take note)? But the big question now is Ñ what am I going to do about it?
That’s the one I can’t answer. I can tell you what I am not going to do. I am not going to disadvantage my own children to pay my ancestors’ debt to the Aboriginal people. I am not going to live without dignity and pride because my forefathers lived at a time when others were forced to live without dignity and pride.
But what I will do Ñ and do do Ñ is my best in a small and individual way to see that the kind of world in which such horrifying abuses of entire races and nations is neither glorified nor admired.
And I do it by living my life in ways that make it clear I won’t be party to it. Ask my children, and my children’s friends, and my friends. They understand Ñwe understand Ñ that the rot starts with a society in which economic wellbeing justifies the means employed to achieve it.
America has been worshipping that principle Ñ just as the Poms did and do Ñ since they discovered turkeys and cranberry sauce.
And here in Queensland a politician said to me before the last federal election that the political manipulation, lies, distortions and general lack of accountability over the Wheat Board, Children Overboard and David Hicks were all forgivable because the Howard government had grown a strong national economy.
I bet Queen Victoria said that, too.