An opportunity to reconcile – Letters to the Editor – October 13 2023

Locals have banded together to address flooding that hit the region last week. Photo: Zoe Askew

A family secret – an opportunity to reconcile

I HAVE been keeping a secret for 30 years and I don’t want to keep it any longer.

My family inherited a secret when they bought their Tinamba West farm in Gippsland in 1967 from Charlie Stagg.

Charlie was a very kind and jovial man. He found me a kitten as a seven-year-old when I returned home from a six week spell in hospital. I was very grateful.

Apparently I had asked for one and mum and dad couldn’t find one anywhere. Charlie was going to find one come hell or high water.

As the local Dalgety rep, Charlie felt obliged to tell mum and dad that the property they had just purchased might also be the site of some Aboriginal graves.

Somewhere up on the hill he thought, although was no more certain than that. Then he said, “Nobody talks about it and we don’t tell anyone either.”

That’s as much information as I could get from my mother who refused to speak of it, only to say ” no good will come of bringing it up.”

The inference I draw from this account is that at least two Aboriginals were killed and buried somewhere near where I now live and that they were probably murdered, given the veil of silence surrounding it.

The details of who, when, where and how are all lost, but importantly the secret lives on.

My parents lived on the farm for 45 years and following Charlie’s lead, didn’t tell anyone.

I still live here and have known for 30 years and have said nothing.

It seems to me the keeping of the secret is nearly as important as the secret itself.

Secrets like these only serve to protect the perpetrators and silence the victims.

The families of those killed have no recourse to justice and the perpetrators live on with their guilty secret, kept safe by all those who knew the truth then and said nothing and even by those years later who know nothing, but are still keeping the secret.

These crimes were probably committed 50-80 years before my parents bought this farm and Charlie probably had no more knowledge of what happened than the scant detail he transferred to my parents and them to me.

So why are we still keeping this secret?

This sort of secret keeping is self serving. It keeps my white colonial clan free of any blame for wrongdoings in the past and deprives the Aboriginal clan of any knowledge or access to justice.

It’s a silence that tries to conceal the truth of our violent colonial history. To keep this narrative alive and flourishing so long after the event only serves to reinforce the divide between colonial Australia and our First Nations people. It underpins our disrespect for our First Nations people and blinds us to the truth of our ongoing discrimination.

If they weren’t worthy of the truth back then, they aren’t worthy of our consideration today either. If we ‘got away with it’ back then surely we have nothing to account for now. We become conditioned to our apparent affluence as normal and fail to see their poverty as anything but their own fault.

That’s the legacy of this kind of racist narrative. It perpetuates the division that continues to this day with stolen children, deaths in custody, poverty of every sort etc.

Still we take no responsibility for what we do.

As Keating so rightly puts it in his famous Redfern speech: “It was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol … We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice and our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us.”

It seems to me there are tens of thousands of these secrets, big and small, all over the country.

In family histories, in churches and council minutes. In institutions of every sort. Plenty are in living memory too. So to hell with secret keeping. I’m not doing it. My secret is told and we should give up all the rest.

I’m voting Yes in the referendum because I think it is long overdue that we honour and acknowledge our first peoples in our Constitution.

They are not colonial invaders, from which many of us descend. Nor are they immigrants as many of us now are, escaping trauma from a war-torn world. They belong here and have done so for 60,000 years and despite our best efforts are not going anywhere.

That they have survived our colonial onslaught is amazing, but more astonishing is the gift they have given us with the Uluru Statement From the Heart.

They are offering us, the aggressors, an olive branch. A fresh start. They are seeking an opportunity to speak honestly and reconcile our history and I think we would be mad not to take it .

Tony Dawkins

Owner, Glenmaggie Wines

 

Note of thanks

I WRITE to thank all in our community and beyond who answered the call to provide assistance during last week’s bushfire and flood emergencies.

Thank you to the CFA volunteers who travelled from far and wide to work alongside our professional emergency services staff to minimise the effects of these bushfires on our community.

Thank you also to the SES volunteers who answered the numerous call outs for help during the strong winds and flooding.

And thank you to everyone in our community who did and continues to do what they can to offer help and support.

It was heartwarming to see the numerous offers from people on social media offering to open their homes or offering food and other services for those in need. While this doesn’t surprise me because I know the people of Gippsland South have generous hearts, it is important that everyone’s contribution is recognised.

From those who fought directly on the fire front to those assisting with shelter, meals and transport and those who continue to assist with clean-up efforts, your efforts are sincerely appreciated and valued.

Of course, as the clean-up efforts continue, there is no doubt that more support will be needed over coming months. Those wanting to assist financially can do so to one of many charities, but most particularly the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (www.gerf.org.au).

On behalf of all those affected and to everyone who has played their part, I say very sincerely, thank you for your efforts.

Danny O’Brien

Member for Gippsland South

 

Welcome news

RECENT ABC Radio reports that Sale Port was in flood initiated an exchange of text messages to friends in Sale, who informed me that the predicted flooding would not occur due to an abatement of rainfall.

The community of Sale had been reprieved, alongside the wonderful portside Gippsland Art Gallery, was certainly a good news story of (that) week!

Kenneth Gregson

Swansea, Tasmania

 

Preparation vital

THIS year we are being warned that we face an intense bushfire season and the time for preparation is now.

In recent days we have seen fierce bushfires across Gippsland. With the official start of summer still eight weeks away, it’s a timely warning for all of us to refresh our fire survival plans and stay vigilant.

A combination of warm, dry weather and high fuel loads has prompted emergency authorities to put much of eastern Victoria on increased alert. Despite a heavy rain forecast this (last) week, both the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) and the Bureau of Meteorology have warned that we will have the first dry spring since 2020 – leading to an increased risk of fires earlier in the season.

These organisations do not issue these warnings lightly. I encourage everyone to download the VicEmergency App and tune into emergency radio broadcasts if an event is live.

Stay alert and informed – have your bushfire plans updated and ready. You can use resources such as the CFA website and the Red Cross’ Get Prepared App to help you develop your plan in advance. Hopefully you won’t need to use it.

Melina Bath

Member for Eastern Victoria