Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
“White man came across the sea, he bought us pain and misery, he killed our tribes, he killed our creed, he took our game for his own need” – Iron Maiden, “Run to the Hills”
Australia Day has become a day that divides. Two loud voices shouting across a great divide, one representing the “black armband” view, the other, the “white blindfold”. The former see it as a day of mourning, a shameful exercise in arrogant nationalism at the expense of aboriginals. “Invasion Day”, it is said, ought to be the moniker for the day the evil white man set foot on this island and set about doing his evils deeds. Blind to the reality of history, they have isolated our own experience as some horrible aberration, a millstone of shame forever upon our necks. The latter, by contrast, deny the history books, seeing Australian settlement as a morally triumphant day, the first step in an unblemished and proud history to be celebrated with reckless abandon. The truth, as always, lies in the grey area between.
Let’s call a spade a spade – white settlement was an invasion. Whitefellas came, took the blackfellas’ land, wreaking havoc and spreading disease as they did so. This is a fact denied only by a handful of die-hard revisionists.
However, it is also a fact held in unjust contempt by many modern aboriginals and guilt-ridden apologists. Take a quick glance at history, and you’d be hard pressed to find a corner of the globe that hasn’t had something similar happen – it was the primal nature of humanity until the twentieth century.
Never before in human history have we had the binding international peace treaties, human rights conventions we have today, nor the general inclination to avoid war, colonial conquest, and imperialist violence. The entire narrative of human civilisation, up until very recently, has been that “might is right” – one either conquers and grows, or perishes at the hands of those who do.
Australian settlement occurred at the pinnacle of the imperial European age, when empires clamoured for colonial conquests, with the ultimate goal of global domination. The biggest threats to our European forebears were their own neighbours, frantically building empires of their own and warring amongst one other incessantly. The alternative to building an empire of their own was to perish at the hands of whoever else beat them to it.
We would do well to remember that one year after Arthur Phillip set foot on Australian soil, the French overthrew their monarch, and set off a chain of events that would lead directly to Napoleon Bonaparte, a decimated European continent at the hands of the French imperialists, with the tiny British isles desperately clamouring to mount a defense. This was, quite bluntly, the dog-eat-dog world of the eighteenth century.
Were it not the British who conquered aboriginal land for their crown, then without a doubt it would have been the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, or the Dutch. This was the reality of the age in which we were settled. It was grim, it is nothing to reflect upon with any sense of pride, but it was the unavoidable nature of the world at the time.
Finally, an inconvenient truth ignored by the apologists is the fact that we have brought a great deal to aboriginal life. The myth of the “traditional” way of life, being some peaceful and prosperous Garden of Eden, has no substance in fact. Our health services, housing, and social welfare have all been bulwarks against the unforgiving life in the Australian bush. Life expectancy has improved dramatically, infant mortality has plummeted, and life overall is a more comfortable and stable existence.
This may or may not be an ideal substitute – no one wants their entire culture overhauled and replaced – but the balance sheet of rights and wrongs now sits well in our favour. Moreover, we did not introduce violence – tribal warfare was prevalent here long before Britain even existed as a political entity.
It is the height of arrogance to judge the brutality of the past through the enlightened lens of modern values and institutions. Rather than anguish over the violence that has governed our existence on this planet since the dawn of time, we ought to be proud of our ability to transcend it. Enjoy Australia Day – I know I will.