PM Paul Keating's speech - 'YEAR FOR THE WORLD'S INDIGENOUS PEOPLE'
The Native Title Act was passed in 1993, the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples and the beginning of the decade for Indigenous Peoples. The Prime Minister Paul Keating launched the Year with a landmark speech in Redfern in which the Prime Minister acknowledged the oppression and dispossession of Australia's Indigenous peoples:
YEAR FOR THE WORLD'S INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, REDFERN, 10 December 1992
'Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today at the launch of Australia's celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World's Indigenous People.
It will be a year of great significance for Australia.
It comes at a time when we have committed ourselves to succeeding in the test which so far we have always failed.
Because, in truth, we cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
This is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be - truly the land of the fair go and the better chance.
There is no more basic test of how seriously we mean these things.
It is a test of our self-knowledge.
Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history.
How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia.
How well we know what Aboriginal Australians know about Australia.
That is perhaps the point of this Year of the World's Indigenous People: to bring the dispossessed out of the shadows, to recognise that they are part of us, and that we cannot give indigenous Australians up without giving up many of our own most deeply held values, much of our own identity - and our own humanity.
Nowhere in the world, I would venture, is the message more stark than it is in Australia.
We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not.
There should be no mistake about this - our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world.
And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me?
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
Perhaps when we recognise what we have in common we will see the things which must be done - the practical things.
We need these practical building blocks of change.
The Mabo Judgement should be seen as one of these.
By doing away with the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners prior to the settlement of Europeans, Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice.
It will be much easier to work from that basis than has ever been the case in the past.
For that reason alone we should ignore the isolated outbreaks of hysteria and hostility of the past few months.
Mabo is an historic decision - we can make it an historic turning point, the basis of a new relationship between indigenous and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include indigenous Australians.
There is everything to gain.
Even the unhappy past speaks for this.
Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions.
Economic contributions, particularly in the pastoral and agricultural industry.
They are there in the frontier and exploration history of Australia.
They are there in the wars.
In sport to an extraordinary degree.
In literature and art and music.
In all these things they have shaped our knowledge of this continent and of ourselves. They have shaped our identity.
They are there in the Australian legend.
We should never forget - they have helped build this nation.
And if we have a sense of justice, as well as common sense, we will forge a new partnership.
As I said, it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we had lived on for fifty thousand years - and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.
Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless.
Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight.
Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books.
Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice.
Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.
Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.
It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine its opposite.
And we can have justice.
We are beginning to more generally appreciate the depth and the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
From their music and art and dance we are beginning to recognise how much richer our national life and identity will be for the participation of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
We are beginning to learn what the indigenous people have known for many thousands of years - how to live with our physical environment.
Ever so gradually we are learning how to see Australia through Aboriginal eyes, beginning to recognise the wisdom contained in their epic story.
I think we are beginning to see how much we owe the indigenous Australians and how much we have lost by living so apart.
I said we non-indigenous Australians should try to imagine the Aboriginal view.
It can't be too hard. Someone imagined this event today, and it is now a marvellous reality and a great reason for hope.
There is one thing today we cannot imagine.
We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.
We cannot imagine that.
We cannot imagine that we will fail.
And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won't.
I am confident that we will succeed in this decade.
Keywords: Keating, Paul, reconciliation, Sydney, 1992
Author: Strelein, Lisa