Boat People

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On the 26th of January 1788 The boat people arrived and set up their camp at Kurnell. Soon they moved to Camp Cove.

The Boat People call this day Australia Day. They thought they were the first people to come here, they hardly noticed that they were noticed.

Australia is host to the longest surviving continuous culture on the planet.

When William the Conqueror arrived in England the Aboriginal people where here.

When Julius Caesar was a lance corporal the people of this ancient land where hunting and fishing in this land.

When Moses crossed the Red Sea on dry land, the Aboriginal People already knew what dry land was.

When Abraham journeyed from Ur of the Chaldees, there were people making walkabout in this land.

For the bulk of human existence the Aboriginal people have been here in the land, and they have survived. The biggest challenge they have ever faced is the coming of the boat people. The Boat People came and rather than learn from those who lived here, they sought to teach them. It took the boat people nearly 200 years to recognise that the people of this land counted, and should be included in the census and on the electoral rolls. It took the boat people nearly 240 years to acknowledge formally that they do not always get everything right.

Now as someone who was born in this country I find it hard to recognise that I am a child of the boat people.

There has been a level of anger within the Aboriginal Community and it may be that a good deal of this is that there has been a deal of cultural arrogance. The Boat People have made their mark on the landscape, cities, farming, mining and monuments all testify to where we have been. The Aboriginal People however have allowed this land to make its mark on them. Now we are discovering that there is a cost to bearing down on the environment the way we have, and I wonder perhaps we would have fewer problems if we listened to those who have made a life here for a long time.

To refer to the 26th of January as Invasion Day is perhaps not as helpful as it might be. It did not have the sense of conquest and battle that normally is associated with invasions, and in reality the people who came on the boats we hardly volunteers, for most of them I suspect it was the last place on earth they wanted to be. None the less a good number of them made good here, and they came to see this as the lucky country, and the was a breed that came out of this, the larikan, the swagman and the squatter, and these where people who, sure made their mark, but also who were part of this land in a way that marked them.

Increasing urbanization and successive waves of boat people have distanced us from being touched by this land, and the rise of cultural voices in the clamor of a multicultural society can make it easy to loose our common purpose, and given that they are no longer the dominant cultural force in the land we run the risk of robbing future generation of the ancient wisdom of the aboriginal people. The reality is that can happen, just ask a Tasmanian Aboriginal (sorry you can’t).

I think I might call the 26th of January Boat People Day


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