In February of 2008, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, offered a sincere apology to Indigenous Australians for the practices that led to the term “The Stolen Generations”. At the core of the apology was this sentence:
“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for
their families left behind, we say sorry.”
Thousands of Indigenous Australians gathered in Canberra to hear these words and watch the historic apology, which was televised around the nationand shown at special outdoor settings in remote Indigenous communities.
But in earlier history there were even more brutal acts perpetrated against Indigenous Australians which were not mentioned or acknowledged. At various places around Australia are sites of the early conflicts between Europeans and the original inhabitants of this country, places where terrible murders and massacres of Indigenous people occurred.
The participants on ABC’s Q&A program (15/3/2010) put this into context for me with the following statements:
“As recent immigrants to Australia, we reap the benefit of all that our ancestors have done to create the country we live in today. Existence proceeds on the basis of the privileges inherited through the acts of oppression of our ancestors. It informs many of the things and high standard of living now enjoyed by our society.”
“We have apologised for the misguided acts of the Government through the 20th century which separated Indigenous families. However, what gesture have we made for the disgraceful acts of murder and massacre that occurred in the 19th and early 20th century?”
“Acknowledgement is about recognition. A symbolic act of recognising someone’s humanity. A necessary and important component of how we engage with the plight of the Indigenous of our country. A people were thoroughly de-humanised, treated as flora or fauna standing in the way of economic progress. The recognition of rights, of humanity, forms the basis
of practical reconciliation.”
As a personal and symbolic acknowledgement – as a means of recognising that the benefits of the community in which I now live have come at a price – I propose an artistic project that seeks to acknowledge, recognise and reconcile these past actions against Indigenous Australians. In doing so, I acknowledge that, as descendants of European immigrants, we live on this land because our ancestors violently disposed the original custodians of this
nation of their natural rights.
In order to generate a cumulative awareness of these incidents, my proposal is to develop a series of photographic essays that explore the stories around these key sites and to gather them into a central (and possibly travelling) exhibition.
At present, the information and stories regarding these acts come almost entirely from the European historical record and therefore from an exclusively European/White Australian perspective.
As a way of redressing this imbalance I would like to invite the Aboriginal people associated with these various locations to express the stories and memories of the events in their own words. The exhibition would then be able to relate photographic images of the massacre sites with local oral history so that the full impact of past events is exposed and explored.
To begin this process, I seek permission from the custodians of the land related to these various incidents to travel to them and meet and talk with the local Indigenous people connected to the sites and then create a series of photographic images that explore the various themes that emerge from this dialogue.
I am also seeking sponsorship from both the public and private sector to help fund my travels to these various locations around Australia and then produce and display the works.
A further aim of the project is to initiate the process of turning these various sites into places of remembrance – to help turn them, as the project title suggests, into “Healing Grounds”. As the relatively recent Government action in regard to the “Stolen Generations” has demonstrated, only through the process of identifying and admitting past injustices can we begin to walk the pathway to healing.