This piece by APCVA President, Peter Catt, was first published in various Fairfax publications on Sunday 31st May, the first day of Reconciliation Week
When Michael Clarke took to the cricket field wearing a black armband it was seen as a positive act of solidarity. It was his way of honouring his killed-tragically friend, Phillip Hughes. And a powerful way of ensuring we would remember the never-to-be-forgotten 16th man. The use of the black armband was a mature way of dealing with emotional upheaval. It also played a role in inspiring the Australian cricket team towards their World Cup win.
The use of black armbands by sporting folk reminds us of their healing power.
I am therefore troubled whenever I hear people dismiss the need to embrace the ‘black armband view of history’ when it comes to progressing healing in the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Reconciliation Week and the observance of Sorry Day remind us that we will not progress far unless Australia comes to terms with its own history.
The negative use of ‘black armband’ began in response to a lecture given by Professor Geoffrey Blainey in 1993. In that lecture Blainey contrasted the ‘black armband’ view of history with the ‘three cheers’ version of Australian history. His intention was to encourage his listeners to explore the politicisation of history. It was a call to for a more sophisticated approach to doing history.
The term ‘black armband’ has been simplistically misused ever since Blainey coined it in much the same way as Donald Horne’s reference to Australia being the Lucky Country. The later was intended to critique the lack of imagination possessed by leaders at both a political and business level.
History telling is a difficult exercise because it involves reading a story backwards. We interpret the past through our present. So our modern peacefulness makes it difficult to believe that we might have had a violent past.
History telling also involves understanding how power was used and misused in the past. A task made almost impossible by the fact that the voices of the powerless are largely absent from the records we rely on to craft the narrative.
The move towards Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in the Constitution is part of a wider, and still fledgling movement, towards reconciliation in this nation. We have the chance to shape a common future together through deep and careful listening.
This listening will require us to hear stories of pain, failure and of acts of terror, as well as stories of joy and success. Just as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has touched every level of society, causing us grief and deep regret, so the process that leads to reconciliation will requires us to hear stories from our past that will disturb us.
Recognition will allow us to truly own the fantastic story that is the history of this nation. A story spanning tens of thousands of years. A positive story of human interaction, care and nurture of the land. A story that will help shape a vision of who we might be into the future. Many churches and businesses have already become convinced that this positive future is a possibility. For this reason they support and promote the Recognise campaign.
The push for recognition provides us with an exciting opportunity to be part of a moment in history. A moment we can seize as an expression of our maturity as a nation.