18 September 2023

As the referendum approaches, should we remember our past or just select bits of it?

| Peter Strong
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Anzac Day memorial

Remembering and honouring our war dead is a national value. But other hard things also need acknowledgement. Photo: File.

I recently read an opinion piece decrying the guilt forced upon Australians by Indigenous people and by those awful woke folk who support them.

Is that fair? Should we move on and not discuss difficult events that happened in the past?

I’ve been public in my support of the Voice referendum and, as a result, have been told various times that Indigenous people should stop talking about the past, or as one particularly annoyed person told me, “they should stop banging on about it”.

I replied, “OK, when do we forget about the deaths at Gallipoli or the atrocities on the Burma Railway in WWII? When do we stop paying for the upkeep of our overseas war graves? What is your time frame for us all to forget about bad things that happened in the past? Is it 200 years? 100 years? What is it? What does ‘Lest We Forget’ mean?”

We know winners often pick and choose what to remember and what to forget, but many things are still remembered, even by those who lost a war. The memory will last for a long time because remembering the past is something that humans do.

The Scots will never, ever forget the defeat by the much disliked Sassenachs (English) at the Battle of Culloden (1746). The Irish won’t forget the Battle of the Boyne (1689) – the southern Republican Irish and the Northern loyalist Irish have different reasons to remember that battle, which causes grief and violence between those groups to this day.

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There is still much angst among many ethnic groups in middle and eastern Europe over events and battles that happened centuries ago, particularly with the Ottoman Empire. The Great Siege of Malta (1565) will never be forgotten by the Maltese.

The Armenians remember with anger and grief the victims of the Armenian genocide (1915). Humanity will hopefully never ever forget the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust of WWII.

We know there have been battles and massacres in Australia’s history. This occurred many times between Europeans and people from the various nations that inhabited the continent during the time of colonisation.

There is also one famous battle at the Eureka Stockade (1854) between the British authorities and local gold miners, which resulted in what many call a massacre of innocent miners who just wanted a fair go.

Should these battles and events be pushed under the carpet? Forgotten? Banned from discussion? If not now, when do we forget them? Or do we just forget the battles and massacres associated with First Nations people? Do we forget the massacres of Indigenous people by whites but remember the massacres of white people?

Another odd argument is that Australia was lucky to have been colonised by the British. It seems that any other colonisers would have been much more appalling, as though Indigenous people should be celebrating their colonisation by a civilisation like the Brits and not by those horrid French or Chinese or Spanish or whomever.

That seems somewhat of a moot (and privileged argument). Would, say, the Gamilaraay victims of the Myall Creek massacre in NSW (1838) be thankful they were being massacred by the British and not by the Spanish?

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When children of Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their families by the British was that better than the French or Spanish removing those kids? (Those kids would have got better food than British stodge.)

Another argument is that saying sorry is meaningless if the current populations were not alive when the disturbing events occurred.

With that logic, the Japanese are right to say no to providing apologies to the Chinese for the Rape of Nanking? If the Japanese say to Australia, “Please stop banging on about it” (it being the atrocities of WWII), do we say, “Oh, yes, that happened before any of you were born and before any of us were born, we should never talk of it again”?

Interestingly, there is a plaque at the old Quarantine Station at North Head in Sydney that remembers over 15,000 Australians who died from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1912-1919. There is no plaque anywhere that recognises over 200,000 people who died from introduced diseases after the arrival of Europeans in this continent’s first recorded pandemic.

It is a commonly stated truth that we must learn from the past. We should learn from the good, the bad and the ugly of the past. Or do we pick and choose which parts of our past we remember depending on whether it is good or bad and upon whether we were the victims or the winners?

Should Indigenous people apologise to the British and the rest of us for trying to make us feel bad?

If we forget past battles and atrocities, then we should ignore them all, not just the ones we don’t like to recall. Otherwise, it is just hypocrisy. Isn’t it? Personally, I believe in the power of Lest We Forget.

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We should remember the past warts and all. Let’s also abolish any notion of the ‘noble savage’, in the philosophical sense, from ever having existed on this island.

The British, in fact all countries invaded by the Romans seem to have moved on and forgiven them for the atrocities inflicted on them.

The article misses the main point: the use of historical grievances to demand reparations. That is probably the point about guilt-tripping Douglas Murray would have been referring to, but overlooked by our writer here. And by avoiding that point, our writer here is indeed just attacking a straw target.

Pretty standard article from the yes camp, don’t even attempt to answer any of the legitimate concerns or questions of the no camp and instead post a strawman argument then write an entire article arguing against it.

Who are making the argument that people should just stop talking about the past exactly? I certainly haven’t seen anyone arguing this and it’s certainly not a position the no camp are arguing. So that being said, what relevance does this have to the referendum exactly?

Peter Strong7:58 pm 12 Sep 23

Thanks Bob. My article was in response an article by a Douglas Murray recently in The Australian. The article was titled “Sorry, but can we please stop the guilt trips.” My response wasn’t designed to address the referendum just the false narrative.

The referendum proposal is that Aboriginals be consulted on decisions that affect them. No more or less. No changes to anyone’s rights, no guarantee Aboriginal concerns will trump others. Doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. Doesn’t seem as complicated as some people are making out.

They’re already consulted, so I think you’re doing a different referendum. This one isn’t about whether they should be consulted. The question for this one starts with “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia …” Nothing in there about consultation.

This can be done via legislating an aboriginal government agency (which already exists). The proposed benefit of incorporating this into the Constitution is that it can’t be gutted – which is not true since any ruling party can just allocate a $1 budget (or similar).

So if the desire is to be consulted on decisions that affect them, and you want it uncomplicated, then normal legislative process would be the way to go, not a constitutional change first and then legislation later. The constitutional step is unnecessary for a consultative mechanism.

HiddenDragon9:56 pm 11 Sep 23

The sentiments in this article were first given a prominent public voice in Keating’s Redfern Speech in 1992.

Thirty-one years on, the guilt/shame/mea culpa rhetoric and the policy and program manifestations of it have done precious little, at best, to “close the gap” and look likely to contribute to what will be seen and felt as a massive kick in the teeth by many Indigenous Australians on Referendum night.

Might be time to try something different.

Lynn Stape. Give some examples please. Who by, when, where, how? I haven’t had anyone shoving anything down my throat.

Native ‘history’ is all pre history, pre-civilisation: miss remembered with all the bad aspects removed.

There is of course little evidence that the forced removal of aboriginal children was even a common thing. There was a recent court case that paid out because the nurse at the centre of the case didn’t follow the correct procedures when a child was abandoned at hospital. The judge ruling that taking a child was against the law. She did something outside the norm.

This is something that I was taught at school to make us feel privelleged. There was a whole generation of stolen children, we were told. Yet now as an adult very little proof that is even happened actually exists.

Real facts about history are now too offensive, seen as one sided. History is being rewritten by students of the last generation. Modern students are taught the ‘facts’ and not how to determine it from the evidence.

If you want to actually discuss, how about bring real evidence to the table rather rely on hearsay and half truths.

this is a fact sheet about the Bringing them Home report. It may help your understanding of what actually happened. You can also read the whole report if you want to know more.

Your “fact sheet” merely asserts, and is inadequate as a source of evidence based scholarship. It’s probably the dreaded “misinformation” actually, although I’m aware how scandalous it is to accuse the bien-pensants of such a thing. After all, they’re our cultural betters and, being of a highly elevated and enlightened class, are always, automatically, right! But after the great and good all fell over themselves to defend Bruce Pascoe’s easily debunked confabulations, I began to have a less blinkered, less “left-progressive” view on a variety of topics. I found Keith Windshuttle’s work on the “stolen generation” to be far more convincing (backed up as it is by closely argued evidence) than the dominant fact-lite progressive dogma (which, pre-Bruce, I also unquestioningly accepted).


The reports are full of holes. There are widespread reports that the number of aboriginals removed from their homes in certain regions in numbers that outstrips the number of aboriginal actually living in those areas.

“examine the past laws, practices and policies of forcible separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and their effects”
in the last 26 years, what evidence has come out supporting this? the case with Bruce showed there was none. You’re relying on a statement from 26 years ago that now proves nothing of the case happened.

Bringing them home talked with the chidren who were young at the time of separation who were placed in the care of others. Fostering isn’t a new thing, and isn’t unique to aborignals. Evidence shows the opposite that Aboriginals were fostered less as they were harder to place, for the government sought to place them in similar cultural homes.

So in this talking to the kids, from homes where the parents abandoned or neglected them they ask the kids what they were told about their parents and how the events transpired. I dare say that those kids were told a tale and not the hard truth that their parents neglected them and the system had to step in to prevent their demise.

No child taken from their parents and put into care is going to comphrend the nature of why they were taken nor likely told about how they were unloved and neglected. This applies to all races. Asking them about the social policies that applied at the time and the laws and procedures is going to end up in a biased hearsay account of how their parents were forced.

We keep records, we are forced to keep records everything is archieved, how is it these aren’t sources of your facts?

I’m keen to understand the truth. Open to facts. A report of hearsay is as useful as a report from first graders as to whom should be the next RBA govenor.

A very good article Peter Strong and I thoroughly endorse your words. The brutal history of Australia has been very effectively covered until more recently being exposed by the likes of Henry Reynolds. Healing will occur with truth telling and acknowledgement then we can walk forward as a nation.

We most definitely should recognises the fact that the British conquered this land fighting off other colonial powers which would not have been as lenient with its treatment of natives – e.g. the Spanish and the Mayans.

Ha ha ha. Well I hope that was a joke/test Sam Oak. You managed one false statement per line of text (which is remarkable). In Australia the Brits did not fight off any other colonial powers. The Mayans had no navy and had themselves been wiped out by disease and conquest 200 years before the Brits came to Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour. Is there a reward/prize for pointing out these things?

Oops. By ‘and the Mayans’ you meant they were the conquered. Got it. But the claim that the French (the only other colonials in a position to settle Australia) would have been much different is tenuous. Anyway this kind of historical arm waving argument is no excuse or justification for the good and bad things that have been done.

The Aboriginal Land rights issue in Australia has always been a communist lead enterprise. Buzz words like “Self-Determination” are clearly originated in Marxist thought. Geoff McDonald is an ex-Communist who blows the whistle on the history behind the Aboriginal rights movement, and this extends through to the modern Constitutional Voice to Parliament in 2023 under the Albanese Government. Read or listen to his audiobook Red Over Black – Behind the Aboriginal land rights if you haven’t already. If you know anyone who is voting yes or is undecided recommend it to them.

If that is what Geoff McDonald says in his book, I suspect he has a wildly exaggerated sense of self importance! And the idea that the current referendum is led by communists is stupid.

This isn’t the cold war anymore mate, there’s no significant communist groups in Australia. Those who intend on voting Yes are not doing so due to communism. Nor is voting yes doing to lead to the seizure of private assets and the rise of a dictator. Go outside and touch grass.

Australia is a country of migrants and children of migrants, past present and future. Do migrants and their children also inherit and share the guilt for past real, imagined and disputed sins? And what of indigenous people of mixed ancestry, as most now are? Do they look in the mirror and feel anger, or guilt for their heritage? Which leads to questions of what now defines an indigenous Australian, who are the disadvantaged and what is really causing disadvantage. A Constitutional Voice cannot guarantee to do what all other well meaning past agencies and entities have failed to do and would require another referendum to get rid of, if it too is plagued by corruption, nepotism, financial mismanagement and ineffectual internal disputes.

The Voice is not meant to be a guarantee of anything Acton. And it is not for sharing guilt either. It is recognition of the importance of the indigenous peoples.

I agree that that covers half the Referendum question but the other half which establishes the Voice Gov Body is unnecessary. I wish they split it into 2 questions – the first to enshrine the indigenous as the traditional custodians and the second to establish the voice.

We should remember all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But we should also remember that the past is past. The important thing is what we do now and in the future.

Max_Rockatansky8:52 am 11 Sep 23

Vote No, we are all equal in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of the Constitution.

Max_Rockatansky your god was missing in action pretty long time while indigenous people were being mistreated. And is still AWOL.

The Voice is about trying to return some elements of equality. It will not make indigenous people equal by itself, but it will help. We need to do something about achieving equality because god is not doing it and the Constitution has no eyes, just words that people wrote before indigenous people were recognised as people. Back then, indigenous people were not allowed to do lots of things, like voting, or entering a swimming pool or a pub. And thousands of their children were taken from them to be raised by white folk.

Max_Rockatansky8:32 pm 11 Sep 23

Skeptic, you say we need to become unequal in the Constitution to make us equal? This makes as little sense as “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”. Equality in the Constitution is a crucial principle.

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