The Long Scar of Australia’s Shame

I was watching a re-run of the amazing SBS series, The First Australians, over the weekend – and was again struck by the power of the story, the horror of the impact white Australians had on Aboriginal people and the unbearable sadness brought about by government policies and the willing complicity of the Australian public.

But I was also heartened by the remembrance of The Apology to Aboriginal people by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I remember what it meant to hear and take part in. I thought it was a turning point.

But sadly, it seems that institutionalised racism continues to manifest in the thoughts and deeds of individuals and in the judgements of our courts.

Michael Brull writes of a case in the Northern Territory where “Top Blokes” Beat an Aboriginal Man to Death (via Derek Jenkins). The post details the exploits of five friends who drink, drive and terrorise multiple groups of Aboriginal people sleeping in the river bed of the Todd River. These events ultimately lead to the death of one man and leave yet another lasting scar on the heart of the Australian nation. In the case R v Doody in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Chief Justice Martin, however, concluded that this “crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter”.

Take a few minutes to read the details of this case and then consider this:

Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is ‘a person of positive good character’. Hird is a ‘solid, hard-working young man of good character’. Kloeden has an ‘underlying good character’. Spears is a ‘person of very good character’. Swain, like Kloeden, was a ‘person of underlying good character’.

On the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be “justice served”. And a judgement which COULD have been used to launch a scathing attack on the thoughtless culture and uncaring attitudes of “top blokes” everywhere, seems to have turned into little more than a slap on the wrists.

But if silence can be taken as complicity, I for one, say NO. Not good enough. This needs to be looked at again – in the courts, in our schools and in our hearts. Is this an Australia you’re happy to live in?