Who speaks, about what, to whom, on whose behalf, with what right?

by
October 2000, no. 225

Who speaks, about what, to whom, on whose behalf, with what right?

by
October 2000, no. 225

‘We’ve given Ayers Rock back to the Aborigines!’ Perhaps I remember those words so clearly because a friend spoke them to me over the telephone when I was in England, surprised almost daily at the reforms of the Whitlam government and at the international interest they excited. Years later I reflected on the meaning of that ‘we’. Had he said the same words to an English person, the meaning of it would have been different. Addressed to me, that ‘we’ wasn’t so much a classification that included or excluded me: it was an invitation to be part of a community whose identity was partly formed by its relation to Australia and its past and by its preparedness to accept responsibilities for what head been done to the Aborigines – at that time (before we knew about the stolen children), the taking of their lands and desecration of their sacred places. Had I thought about it, that would partly have answered the question I did ask him. ‘What does giving it back mean?’ He couldn’t say. In fact no one I asked could. No one was interested. Everyone was heartened by the generosity expressed in the gesture and enthusiastic in their hopes for a new era.

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