begging to stay?

What might recompense, or what Baxter called ‘satisfaction’ require of us who arrived since 1788?

iv. We would ask the indigenous people if they wanted those of us who have arrived since 1788 to leave [Baxter’s ‘Resititution’], or to provide an equivalent recompense [Baxter’s ‘Satisfaction’]. Leaving would be a drastic and complicated action, but, as I have pointed out, it has happened in India, Africa and Indonesia in the last sixty years.

This was probably the most contentious statement Dr Peter Adam made in his lecture “Australia — whose land?” on Monday night. It was definitely what the Herald article highlighted. I was emotionally caught between wanting to say a wholehearted ‘amen’ and blurting out ‘but that’s totally impractical!’. I had to actively remind myself to first ask the question (without focusing on how we might do it) is it worth doing?

I have found it challenging to dwell on this and let it confront me. Thinking seriously about this claim and what it might mean for me (leaving all my family’s wealth and property behind for someone else) gives me a tiny little taste of what it was we took away from the Indigenous peoples of Australia. I realised I should not scoff. It is not absurd. This reflects what White people have already done in history.

My mum's family's farm in the Wimmera after a good rain

My mum's family's farm in the Wimmera after a good rain

But if we are really going to offer to do this, we have to be able to follow through. It’s harmful to make such an offer in the expectation that our Indigenous brothers and sisters will graciously allow us to stay. But the follow through is so very complicated and I can’t resist sharing with you some of the things I’ve been wrestling with while I try and take this seriously (beyond where would we go):

  • How many Indigenous Australians would need to say ‘please leave’ for us to act? Just one? All? Some sort of quorum?
  • In other places in his speech, Dr Adam suggested restitution should be made tribe by tribe in ways that are appropriate at a local community level. Yet this suggestion is a one size fits all kind of thing… how would we balance differing opinions in such an absolutist action?
  • For persons of mixed blood, does their Indigeneity trump their whiteness? How do you balance guilt and ‘wrongedness’ in the body of the one individual?

Also, I feel like offering to leave risks allowing us to be arrogant if we are given leave to stay: a “see! you can’t live without us, you need us to stay” kind of response.  Offering to leave also fails to embody how much we have come to love Australia and how connected many of us now feel to the land.

And so, I’ve been wondering whether it would be more appropriate and shape our response better if, instead of offering to leave, we begged to be allowed to stay, offering Indigenous Australians whatever it takes to be granted leave to remain?

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2 comments

  1. I was thinking through some of the same issues. Also, I think you’re right to say that we need to address the question of whether Dr Adam is right, before we get too hung up on whether it is practical.
    Still, the call to do a particular justice that cannot be actually be done, if it is not set out alongside the hope of the resurrection appears to be a further act of cruelty to the wronged.

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