Adam Bandt, the leader of the Australian Greens and Member of the Australian House of Representatives, recently removed the Australian flag from a media conference because it apparently represents “lingering pain” for First Nations people. This particular political stunt isn’t unexpected from the leader of the Greens. A party that claims to be for love, acceptance, and peace, but simultaneously refuses to acknowledge any of the obvious benefits of the heritage we owe most of the fundamental rights we all enjoy as Australians too.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who denies the damage Western colonialism did. It’s become part and parcel of our education system and government to be taught about the damage done to indigenous communities across the world by Western Colonists, especially in Australia. I can remember vividly being taught about the murders of First Nations people at the hands of Settlers. Of the ‘frontier conflicts’ that ensued and of course about the Stolen Generation. This is a history that’s far from hidden from Australians, indeed it’s quite the opposite.
But, I take no issue with being taught the truth, something more important than the sensibilities of any political ideology or way of thinking. And, given the many hours I’ve spent engrossed in studying the history of Australia, I would never seek to deny the damage done to First Nations peoples. My concern lies not in acknowledging the bad, my concerns lie simply in refusing to acknowledge the good.
One of the many reasons why the Greens struggle to gain any significant support politically is because of this very reason. A refusal to give credit where credit is undoubtedly due. But it’s far from just one political party that adopts this outlook and blatant historical ignorance. A global movement permeates through governmental structures, educational institutions, social movements, and the general zeitgeist of the West. A movement defined by unrealistic standards, historical ignorance, postmodern ideas, and of course an absurd amount of ingratitude.
But I wish not to focus primarily on that movement. It’s my intention to provide everyone who’s reading this with a quick summation of what these critics refuse to acknowledge. What we in Australia as a whole should have no issue recognizing. And that is that our legal system and its fundamental tenets of innocence until proven otherwise and ensuring all are provided with adequate legal counsel are owed to our Western heritage.
That our pluralistic and representative democratic government based on private property that not only allows for but encourages criticism of itself, something no other civilization or culture tolerates, is owed to our Western heritage. That almost all major technological and medical advancements in Australia are owed not to our First Nations heritage but to our Western heritage. That our economy is based on free trade principles responsible for uplifting billions across the globe out of poverty originated in the West. That the larger, global culture Australia is part of has, as Douglas Murray brilliantly put it in his latest book The War on the West, “…given the world a disproportionate number, if not most, of the things that the world currently benefits from.” And most of those things can be found here in Australia.
I’m in no way attempting to disparage anyone or anyone’s suffering (perhaps with the exception of those who unreservedly and dishonorably attack the West) but, as I stated above, the truth is far more important than any ideological or political sensibilities. And what’s entailed in the truth that is the history of Australia are cases of racism and historic injustices, but these are far from what defines Australia, regardless of what’s getting taught and advocated for by unreasonable ideologues. And furthermore, why would anyone want these to define a country?
Surely, what’s far more important in Australia’s history, something that defines us far more is not the ‘frontier conflicts’ between Settlers and First Nations peoples, it’s the 50,000-year history of Aboriginals in Australia. It’s the arrival of Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788 with the following instructions from the British Crown:
‘To endeavor by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence.’
Surely, that statement and its legality in the context of human history, something filled with violence and suffering to the point where it was the norm for most people in most places, is due credit? We should be able to resolutely claim both remarkable histories as our own because they are absolutely what defines us. We should be able to state the fact that the arrival of Western civilization profoundly changed Aboriginal society in some positive ways and created a system of governance that’s incredibly rare by historical standards.
Fundamentally, we should be able to state what I see as the obvious. Take for example the mistreatment of women in Aboriginal society, something well documented in a large number of observers’ writings of Aboriginal life. If we looked at it through today’s morality and forms of acceptable conduct, we would invariably detest the mistreatment. And of course, we should but, as times and technology change, along with almost everything else, so will our morals and values. This isn’t to say that we should think abhorrent behavior is perfectly acceptable, only that context in situations of historical analytics is of the utmost importance. And this standard should apply to all evaluations conducted on historical events and people. And fundamentally, should Australia have remained isolated from the modern world, it’s likely these practices would have continued. Why should anyone have any issue acknowledging this? Or, for that matter, the medical advancements brought by the West? Or the comforts of the modern world and stability that contemporary life brings, something unfathomable by many Aboriginal Tribes and Bands for tens of thousands of years.
We should, as a country, be proud of the fact that we’ve moved away from a number of horrible practices and beliefs found in both pre-Colonial Aboriginal society and early English Settlements. We should be proud of the fact that we now live in a system that brings so much good that people are often completely unaware of it. A system, based overwhelmingly in and on Western principles and ideas but influenced by a unique and powerfully spiritual indigenous history. This is the good I refer to. And putting aside a flag that represents the most fundamentally important sets of ideas and practices in Australia is nothing more than an empty platitudinal act that achieves nothing. Especially when it comes to ‘Bridging the Gap’ between Aboriginal Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians in a number of ways. There are genuinely productive ways of addressing these under-reported issues and the Greens led by Adam Bandt achieve worse than nothing in their attempts to help.