Why it’s important we all learn about Aboriginal history

It was 1979, I was in grade 2 and the school curriculum was infused with everything Way ’79, the 150th celebration of the founding of Western Australia by Britain.

Most of it is a fuzzy memory, but I do remember we learned about Captain James Stirling rowing up the Swan River and being aghast at seeing a Black Swan. We learned about the Parmelia almost shipwrecking herself near Rockingham with the first bounty of eager colonists on board.

We learned about John Septimus Roe, Mrs Helena Dance, the Dutch smashing into our coastline by the roaring 40’s (and murdering each other) and how the British government only thought about claiming WA, because the French were eyeing us off.

But we learned nothing about Aboriginal history except for a passing mention of friendly ‘natives’ who greeted Captain James Stirling.

65,000 years of history, culture, tradition, stories and knowledge relegated to a simple meet and greet.

I know the curriculum has changed a lot since then, however there’s a still a painful void in our awareness, education and knowledge of the people who were here thousands of years before colonisation.

And it’s that void which allows the people like John Howard to dismiss reconciliation with a statement like (I’m paraphrasing here) ‘It wasn’t me who did it, so why should I say sorry?’

And it’s the void that leaves the The Uluru Statement from the Heart go ignored by most of the population including the current government, when it could be the single most important document to make us a better country.

And it’s the void that allows normal everyday people to dismiss the intergenerational trauma of an entire people to a simple, ‘it’s only a date, get over it’.

If we all knew about aboriginal history, we maybe more understanding, compassionate, less frightened and more willing to come together and heal as a nation.

I realise as I sit here, steeped in white privilege, on Nyungar Boodjar land near the boundaries of Pindjarup, Wiilman and Kaneang regions of the Nyungar people, I know nothing about these people and their stories, yet I get to benefit.

I’m here and most of them are not.

I don’t know the answers and certainly don’t want to be tokenistic, but I need to listen more, understand more and be more open….. And so does this country.

Thankfully places like the WA Museum Boola Bardip, the indigenous storytellers section of Paper Bird Children’s Books and Arts and The YAWG (Young Aboriginal Women and Girls) research website are helping us to do that. (BTW The YAWG site is a snapshot of the experiences of a sample of young Aboriginal women living in Perth, talking candidly about their lives and their experiences with reaching out for support.) 

Sources: Boodjar Nyungar Place names – Dr Len Collard Nyungar Placenames in the South-West of Western Australia https://www.boodjar.sis.uwa.edu.au/index.htm

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