Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson.
I think that Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson is a very clever and wise man. In the midst of the furore on Mr Howard's statement about the need for Aboriginal reconciliation, he made the simple point that we should take advantage of the opportunity now opened up. He also suggested that the matter should be discussed with an open agenda and mind through a process of listening and understanding.
I make this point because I have just been on a tour of the blogosphere looking at the responses to Mr Howard's statement. It reminded me, among other things, why I dropped out of discussion on so many public issues because I could not accept the tone and assumptions of what I used to think of as the soft headed left. All this is still there, and it just bores me. I don't want to play in that sand-pit.
So far as I am concerned, while I am interested in Mr Howard's motives, these are irrelevant to the conversation I want to have.
Over the last twelve months or so I have written something close to fifty posts across my blogs, more than I have written on any other single topic, about issues concerned with Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This stream of posts has in part been a dialogue with myself, an exploration of my own thinking and feelings about a subject that I first became involved with in the sixties through my university studies. But it has also been an exploration of different aspects of indigenous life and history and of the evolution of policy towards our Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
My writing was triggered by a key question: how had we got things so badly wrong? How had we gone from a situation in the sixties and seventies where our Aboriginal peoples seemed to be making huge progress from a position of dispossession and deprivation, where there was an excitement about Aboriginal Studies, to a position where reporting about Aboriginal issues was almost entirely negative?
I found my attitudes and ideas changing as I wrote.
To begin with, I came to a better if still imperfect understanding of the systemic nature of discrimination. By this I do not not mean the headline stuff that our kids are taught today. Rather, I am talking about the way in which individual laws and policies sometimes implemented for the best of reasons created barriers to advancement, encouraged deprivation
In trying to understand this, I became frustrated at what I saw as the absence of proper Aboriginal historiography. By inclination and training I am an historian as well as economist. Insatiably curious, I like to understand things. Here I got more and more frustrated.
My writings on indigenous issues have been spread across three main blogs.
This blog has a strong personal, cultural and policy focus. So when I am writing here I try to dig down into the derivation of things.
To do this, I need statistical data. Where do our indigenous people live? What do they do? I need information about people and trends. What are the main streams in Aboriginal art? Can we in fact talk about "Aboriginal" art? Who have been the main Aboriginal writers, artists, actors? Then I need information about the derivation of things. What are the elements and assumptions built into this policy, how did it evolve?
The Regional Living Australia blog tries to tell and sell the story of life outside the metros. This brings me into contact with indigenous issues in a different way. Again, I need information. In writing the series on the Kimberley, for example, I needed to look at the history and structure of the region.
The third blog, New England Australia, is localised.
Here I want to know answers to questions like these: what is New England's Aboriginal population; what are the main Aboriginal language groups; what is the current position of the Aboriginal people across New England; what are the stories of New England's individual Aboriginal peoples; where do Armidale's Aboriginal people come from; what is happening to Aboriginal people in the Northern Rivers as house prices rise?
Three blogs, different focus, same problem. The information, and especially the historical information, that I need to write is often not there. Bluntly, we in the non-Aboriginal community are all so busy fitting and interpreting Aboriginal issues within our own frames that we forget to talk and think about the Aborigines as people and peoples.
I do not want this post to become too long.
What I think that I should do to encourage discussion is to put down my own personal manifesto setting out what I believe should go into a new relationship between Australia and its indigenous people.
One outcome from my research and writing, and this was a position that I did not expect to reach, is that I now believe that the creation of a new compact with our indigenous people is the single most important issue facing modern Australia. In my next post I will try to explain why.
You will get some feel for the problems we face in developing new approaches in this area if you look at this post including comments on Larvatus Prodeo and, on the other side, the responses to Rafe's post on Catallaxy. Sort of the left and right of it.
Near the start of this post I spoke about the conversation that I wanted to have. I used the word conversation advisedly. Conversation involves clarifying issues, getting to understand what the other person is saying.
Lexcen's comment on this post is an example of what I call conversation, as is Andrew Bartlett's initial comment on Larvatus Prodeo. I am going to miss Andrew and indeed the Democrats as a whole. For someone like me who is uncomfortable with the venom that can sometimes be found in the major parties, Andrew has been a force for rational and civilised discussion.
I feel, I may be wrong, that there is a growing group of Australians who want to reach a resolution of the problem created by past relations with the Aborigines so that we can all move on as Australians. I do not want to be writing the same type of posts in ten year's time, assuming that I am still around.