five years ago today (yesterday? tomorrow? so hard to tell with a 16 hour time difference), i landed in melbourne, australia to study abroad for 6 months. when i talk of my time there, i usually describe crazy nights out with friends, five day weekends, and frequent trips to victoria market.
but i also went to school! shocking, but true. i wanted to stay on track with my anthro degree but also take advantage of being in a foreign country, so each course had a strong australia slant: history of indigenous australia and pacific islanders, australia as an immigrant nation, contemporary aboriginal art, and love, family, and society (the least ozzie of the four, but focused on national concepts of family). and while i wouldn't say that i'm an expert on australian history (see: crazy nights out, five day weekends), i know enough to recognize that this is a huge deal.
unlike other colonized lands, australia's native peoples weren't recognized as people. when the british went down under, their official documents said that it was an empty land- terra nullis- and free for the taking. never mind that thousands of indigenous people had lived there for centuries. they did not count as people. and this was law until 1992. now, i'm not saying i'm all rah rah colonization, but at least in other places, native people were considered to be human. and to exist. rough start for a new country.
another thing i learned while studying abroad is that australia really doesn't like to talk about this. they really really don't. in addition to ignoring the humanity of original inhabitants, the australian government had a fun little time of stealing aborginal children and putting them in schools to assimilate them to general white australian society. not that they would ever be treated like white australians, but still, sounds familiar to a certain part of american history, no? this australian 'stolen generation' is more recent than america's and this adds to a general unease around the topic. i found that australians have a real trouble with any discussion of wrong doing. while race is always a touchy subject- and one can argue that americans don't know enough of our own atrocities committed against our native peoples- the vast majority of australians i met just ignored the issue. not that i'm constantly walking around, ready to throw down about civil rights, but if it comes up in conversation, i'm willing to engage.
this is not to say 'take that, australia! america is so much better about dealing with our attempts at genocide aimed at original inhabitants better than you!' this is all to say that while saying sorry doesn't seem like a huge step, it is.
parliament lawn in canberra.