Aboriginal People and the Australian Nation
Russell McGregor, Aboriginal Studies Press
McGregor tackles the difficult task of describing the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been included in — and excluded from — the Australian nation since its formation in 1901.
It traces the impact of racism and assumptions about a white Australia, shifting language around assimilation, integration and self-determination, cultural destruction, and the removal of children. It explores more modern attempts to reclaim cultural identity, the assertion of sovereignty and autonomy, and newer claims about shared responsibility.
In a quite sympathetic way it traces the growing openness of Australian society, and the increasing incorporation of Aboriginal people. At the same time it recognises that inclusion has always been conditional and the terms of inclusion have been set by settler society.
McGregor has provided us an informative historical overview of the way non-Aboriginal Australian society has treated Aboriginal Australians and of the efforts of a significant number of Aboriginal activists to forge a respectful place in the nation. In many ways it is a depressing story — one that reveals a community that combines indifference with occasional bursts of enthusiasm and good intention. We can vote to include people in the census, or walk on the SydneyHarbourBridge, but that done we retreat into complacency and nothing really changes.
The book includes a helpful account of constitutional and legislative change through this period, and offers comments that are worth hearing as we consider ways to include Aboriginal and Torres StraitIsland peoples in the Australian Constitution. It is interesting to read about the broad social movements around Aboriginal people over the last 40 years, and how those movements are reflected in the emergence and life of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
It is a more sympathetic treatment of our history than I would offer but well worth reading.