OPINION -

Cook’s 250 years no cause for celebration

Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they share their views on the 250-year anniversary of James Cook reaching the east coast of Australia.

 

Until a quarter of a millennium ago, for thereabouts 65,000 years, there was an uninterrupted living of continuous cultures across this continent—Australia’s First Peoples.

April 29 marks 250 years since James Cook sighted this great continent of long-living cultures. For the majority of First Peoples, and for an increasing number of non-Indigenous Australians, this particular anniversary signifies heartache and unaddressed wounds.

The first known European voyagers to this continent, 127 years earlier, were led by Abel Tasman. However, Cook’s Endeavour is believed to be the first European sighting of the continent’s east. Cook had been secretly assigned to seek out ‘Terra Australis Incognita’— ‘the undiscovered southern land’.

What followed less than two decades later was the rapid dispossession of First Peoples’ homelands, and a pace of devastation similar to what the Europeans had mercilessly carried out throughout the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Cook’s arrival is not for celebrating but for mourning and reflection. More importantly, it serves as a reminder to galvanise the long overdue changes and reforms needed to clean up the mess left by colonisation.

The dispossession, massacres and segregation that followed Cook’s arrival are the bedrock of intergenerational suffering for Australia’s First Peoples.

This vile genocide lasted a century and its impacts are ever visible today with over half of Australia’s First Peoples living impoverished in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

It is our view that, particularly in the last two decades, the modern Australian nation is returning to some of the worst practices borne of these original sins of dispossession and massacre.

The promise of hope borne on the road to equality during the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, coupled with instalments of redress and affirmative action, has since petered out, and subsequently fuelled a return to the old ways.

Yes, there were no First Nations doctors, lawyers, academics and entrepreneurs in 1970. And yes, there are presently 500 First Nations doctors, 1,000 First Nations lawyers, thousands of entrepreneurs and academics, First Nations parliamentarians, and freedoms and opportunities once denied.

Today there are 140 Aboriginal Legal Services, 240 Aboriginal Health Services, and First Nations media nationwide, but sadly, the pace of change has been slowed to a crawl.

The last two decades alone have been cause for distress.

In 1997, the year of the Bringing Them Home Report, there were just over 2,000 First Nations children removed from their homes by authorities. Eleven years later, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered The Apology to the Stolen Generations. At that time, there were over 8,000 First Nations children removed. Presently, 12 years later, there are over 23,000 First Nations children removed. A steep and rapid incline.

In these last two decades, the First Nations incarceration toll has dramatically escalated, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing our country’s First Nations incarceration rate sits as the world’s highest.

The First Nations suicide toll has also had an uninterrupted escalation these last two decades and has been reported widely; stories and tragedies, one after another.

Conservative Australian Governments have set up blockades on the road to equality, diverting away from social services and the transformational change that was once the way forward during the 1980s.

They have deserted the homelands, degrading many communities into places without enough shelter and basic infrastructure. Conservative Governments have stripped hundreds of millions of dollars from Indigenous health despite obvious health inequalities.

They have ramped up the resolve for assimilation. This has led to a seeming inescapability from crushing poverty—intergenerational—for hundreds of thousands of First Nations people. In our view, this betrayal explains the catastrophic increases in children removed, incarceration, and suicides.

While the descendants of the First Peoples remain hostage to these inequalities, the modern Australian identity remains incomplete and there is no cause for celebratory national rhetoric.

By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos

 

Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) and also works for the National Justice Project.

Gerry Georgatos, a non-Indigenous individual, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy. He is the national coordinator of the NSPTRP.

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