With today considered a day of celebration and confrontation — once again based on recent media and political activity — it was somewhat anachronistic attending a screening preview recently of the movie Sweet Country.
For those unfamiliar with the film, it is an Australian western set on the Northern Territory frontier, where justice itself is put on trial when an aged Aboriginal farmhand shoots a white man in self defence. He then goes on the run as a posse gathers to hunt him down.
My awakening thoughts kept linking the harsh scenes from the film to the continuing chatter of highlighting past happenings to bring about guilt and shame linked to the establishment of the first settlement in Sydney Cove that over the next 230 years has brought us to who we are today as an Australian nation.
Whilst the story of the movie is set in the 1920s, long after the arrival of the First Fleet, there are scenes that certainly clearly convey the poor relationship that existed between our earlier people and the Aboriginals, and there is no doubt that good and bad things did happen with the movie’s ending highlighting the difficulty of knowing at that time just where it would all be going.
What also came out of Sweet Country was the fact there were tribes among the Aboriginal populations that were in conflict also, with those adapting to the “white man’s” ways perhaps seen as the enemy and a target leading to conflict and deaths.
The film’s director, Warwick Thornton, has been quoted as saying: “Australia is ready for films like this”.
It is and should be. Being made aware of the past with such realism, in a genuine landscape setting from the heart of the country, and acted so well by Australians, native and new, is not to be missed, even if one might find themselves leaving the theatre with many mixed thoughts.
This brings me back to the vocal call by a few in the broader Australian community for a change of date for Australia Day.
There is no doubt that there can be arguments put forward, and many have, for this change and the reasons for the change however, it does need to be said that certain statements by individuals and their choice of words needs to be challenged.
Senator Richard Di Natale claims January 26 represents dispossession, theft and “the ongoing genocide” and “slaughter” of Aboriginal people.
We all understand there were deaths in the creation of this nation, but his choice of words in this debate are inflammatory. ‘Genocide’ is defined as the deliberate killing of large groups of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group whilst ‘slaughter’ is defined as the killing of many people cruelly, and unfairly, especially in a war. Without in any way looking to demean or overlook what has happened in the past, when one looks at so many world events over time, much good and bad has transpired and the key is not in the past, but in the future. There is certainly no ongoing ‘genocide’ in Australia.
While politicians and other activists, focus on this issue of a date change, for reasons best explained by them, the use of the word ‘slaughter’ in this context makes me immediately reflect on the ‘slaughter’ happening now on our roads.
We lost 1,225 people’s lives in 2017 in this country. Some recent tragedies have wiped out whole families. This is a real Australian societal issue that needs all our focus and attention. In my mind, if one considers how many lives are lost each year, it almost qualifies as our nation’s genocide.
Food for thought as we celebrate Australia Day and recognise when it all began and who we are as a nation including, very much, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people of this wonderful and special country that we live in today.