100 Defining Moments

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… because the arrival of the first fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent…it’s British settlement that has most profoundly shaped the country that we are…Arthur Phillip is as significant to modern Australia as george washington is to the modern United States. Tony Abbott, 29th August 2014

Yesterday saw the launch of the National Museum of Australia‘s Defining Moments in Australian History project, by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The news grabs throughout the day made for some cringeworthy viewing. If you know Australian history, if you understand and appreciate the impact that White Australian perspectives of history have on the everyday lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you would be mindful of the way that your words (and ideas) were framed.

Abbott’s comments yesterday (and I admit I only have the ABC’s coverage to go by as I was not present at the event), on the back of his “unsettled” comments, really does make you wonder if the Prime Minister or the LNP for that matter have, in the very least, any sense of diplomacy, never mind sense of history.

Two things struck me as I was watching:

  1. I had a sense of “haven’t we been here before”. Is Arthur Phillip going to be Tony Abbott’s legacy project, in the way that John Howard’s Galipolli myth/Australian flag revival project decades earlier was?
  2. Was his speech an attempt to validate conservative readings of Australian history? Of the 100 moments included in the list, why did he need to focus on British settlement?

I’ve read through the list this morning, and the usual suspects are there. I would have included the enacting of the Racial Discrimination Act for 1974 instead of Cyclone Tracy. Didn’t Tracy just give us cyclone fences and building standards? I would have also included the Redfern Park Speech by Prime Minister Paul Keating, and perhaps the creation of Boomalli Artist Co-operative, that became a focal point for contemporary Aboriginal art that has been an incredibly successful industry for the country.

Some on Twitter have added to the 100 Defining Moments to the list –

The tweets above (and more) capture a different view of Australia.

Mathew Trinca, from the NMA, notes

‘but even about those events, we may have different views, I think that’s part of the value of this project’.

But it’s a disingenuous comparison to say it’s simple to say we can agree to disagree. It’s the disproportionate power balance that makes the Prime Minister’s comments so distasteful. When a country’s leader clearly and unapologetically values the invader’s version of history with very little acknowledgement of others, with no regard to the feelings of other Australians, then I think we have STILL have a real problem.

I’ll leave the last word to Luke Pearson, founder of IndigenousX,

The thing that truly defines most of the is that Indigenous ppl still wait for justice… That is what defines Australia.

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