Monday, December 10, 2012

It was 20 years ago today . . .

In the early 1990s Paul Keating's Labor government put Aboriginal reconciliation high on the agenda, establishing the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1991 then following up the High Court's Mabo decision in 1992 with native title legislation in 1993. In December 1992, Keating launched Australia's program for the International Year of the World's Indigenous People with this now famous address to a largely Indigenous crowd at Redfern Park in Sydney. He was the first Prime Minister to acknowledge the impact of European settlement on Indigenous Australians. The address reflected a changing official interpretation of Australian history which better accommodated the Aboriginal experience. The speech was arguably a curtain-raiser for the history wars of the Howard years: the following year historian Geoffrey Blainey observed that the 'three cheers' view of Australian history had given way to the 'black armband' view, a phrase which the newly elected John Howard adopted with alacrity in a speech in 1996.

In another sense Keating's Redfern speech paved the way for a formal apology to Indigenous Australians for past government practices, an apology which nevertheless took another 15 years to come. Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson said in 2007 that Keating's Redfern address was 'a great speech because it was about leadership, principle and courage... He placed before Australians the truths of our past and the sad reality of our contemporary society. He laid down the challenge for our future, as a nation united and at peace with its soul.' The spontaneous crowd reactions to the speech are a testament to its power at the time, and are worth listening out for.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 80 days that changed our lives.

Visual, audio, & text of the speech.

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