The case for an apology presented by Sydney friends of Myall Creek to the NSW Government Indigenous task force in 2013
An apology we believe helps further open the way to truly listening to Aboriginal people beyond ‘how can we help them’. This listening is not just to address challenges facing Indigenous people, but also speaks to finding direction for our nation as a whole – the path to our future passes through its past.
History is a living thing. Unacknowledged it has a way of popping up at the most inopportune times, sabotaging our best intentions.
We note here the massacres in NSW were not carried out just by the few rogue squatters and convicts. The Myall Creek trials of 1838 indicated that on trial were not only the convicts (the one squatter was never tried), but society and its values as a whole. Massacres occurred across the State, sometimes with authorisation by the NSW Government through the Governor of the day.
The Myall Creek committee has appreciated the Minister’s support in attending Myall Creek and other massacre memorials like Appin in light of that recognition.
2. The need
An Aboriginal man at Myall Creek spontaneously cried out ‘The blood went into the ground and cried out for justice. And it still cries out for justice.’ He was referring to the ancient story of when Cain murdered his brother Abel, and after being confronted with the enormity of what he had done, Cain could only reply “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Myall Creek memorial ceremony each year is powerful because the descendants of those massacred embrace the descendants of the perpetrators. This astonishing embrace is ‘free’ for the rest of us - all we have to do is receive it. But receiving involves the recognition that it comes at an incredible cost to Aboriginal people - what one banner described as ’60,000 years of dreaming, two hundred years of nightmares’.
Writing as non-indigenous people, we see we have been like today’s home invaders, terrorising and even killing the occupants. Down the track the argument was there was no-one really at home anyway. Then one day there is a knock on the door, and there stands a descendant of those driven out, offering an unconditional embrace of reconciliation.
In response surely we can welcome that person into our hearts and lives and express our collective sorrow, our collective ‘sorry’ for what happened.
As indeed we do now personally to you as recipients of this letter.
3. Impact and significance
The immediate context for the call for an apology for us came from co-chair of the Myall Creek National Committee, Lyall Munro snr, an indigenous leader from Moree.
What we see however, is that such an apology has enormous significance also for non-indigenous Australians. This is the recognition that to deny any connection to that history, we now by our silence are only repeating what enabled the massacres then to continue.
Such an apology moves us beyond apathy, or sympathy (how can I help them), to empathy, a profound and potentially transforming identification with that past. ‘Imagine’ was the theme of the 1992 Redfern speech. Then PM Paul Keating said reconciliation begins with acknowledging it was ‘we who did the dispossessing.’ He continued, “We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. Webrought the diseases, the alcohol. Wecommitted the murders ... With some notable exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me? We failed to see that what wewere doing degraded all of us.”
Our experience at Myall Creek is that the story is still being written, and we are all the participants. Those who were so brutally murdered, those who carried it out, those who just this once in our history brought it to justice, stand beside us, bringing something very good out of something so bad. None of the hundreds who come to Myall Creek leave unchanged, and that change is all for the better.
The corollary to the Cain and Abel story is that from then on Cain was a restless wanderer on the earth. He never belonged. In the murder of his brother the connection with the land had been severed. The Myall Creek offer of embrace by indigenous descendants if we accept it (of which saying sorry is our part) is our way then - morally, and spiritually - to at last truly belong.
This is an historical opportunity for the Liberal Party of Australia. In a bi-partisan initiative Labor apologised for the stolen generations. The Liberal Party now has its chance to engage our national massacre history and rise above it, and in particular the New South Wales Liberal Party, the state where the massacres began.
An apology would free all of us, and would have global as well as national repercussions.
We ask you as a Task Force in the context of, and perhaps in conjunction with, your launching of the new policy initiatives, to take up this cause of an apology for the massacres, because it is right, and it is time.
We feel too it would be all the more significant if it came as a spontaneous initiative of Government, rather than as the result of being lobbied to act.