The measure of freedom in any society is the degree of inclusion for those who stand on the margins, those who linger on the edge, and those who suffer in silence. The potential and eventual realisation of inclusion is evidence of a free society, of genuine enfranchisement for all who seek it. Good rulers take care of those who come under their authority, including those parties on the losing side of military conflicts. Freedom is not achieved by overturning the results of conflict, revising the past, or instilling guilt and shame on the victors.
Every nation was formed as the result of conflict, either with other nations or political groupings, or because of conflict within nations. Often it was military conflict over boundaries, land, culture, or history. Many nations, over time, have brought the losing side of conflicts under a broader national umbrella, often promoting, and preserving some elements of their culture and history. It is how a nation treats the losing side in conflict that really defines the substance of freedom available to citizens.
The great lie of Australia is that Australians have never been in a war. It is a doctrine we are taught from birth that our first conflict was against the Turks at Gallipoli. Not only is this fiction – our first engagement was with German troops in Papua – but it reflects a deeper, more traumatic deceit. Australia was forged in blood. There is not a town in rural New South Wales that does not contain memories of this war. Other states are the same. Australia was built on the blood of aboriginal people against whom the colonial administrators fought in many wars across the young nation.
One of the great achievements of Australia is the freedom granted to the losers of these wars to enjoy full participation in Australian society. This itself has been a long and bitter struggle, but it remains true, nonetheless.
The other day, I drove past a billboard sign that was historically incorrect. It read: ‘Drive responsibly, you are in Dharawal country.’ This local tribe was exterminated by early English settlers and colonial troops, though a remnant survived. Their history is awful and telling, brutal, and tragic, and it is a story that should be told.
The sign however is a lie, and it is this lie that goes to the heart of what is wrong with societies when they seek to subvert democracy and replace it with fascism, complete with fake history, fake propositions, and fake expressions of justice, which are in reality, efforts to divide a nation and pit one group against another.
This sign was part of corporate propaganda to support the idea that aboriginal Australians own the land of Australia. This is reflected also in the absurd and racist ‘Welcome to country,’ that all are forced to recite, like a secular rite before every meeting or gathering, that each small part of Australia is owned by a local aboriginal tribe, and we must ask permission to enter it.