Growing up in Cairns and visiting the region, you were always confronted with land rights. Or not. There were many local First Nations people who used to sit in our town parks, congregating, commiserating, celebrating. They are less visible now. We don’t see them in large groups sitting placidly, almost meditating, in Martin Munro Park.
Or down in the squares behind the marina, the shady pockets of blade grass and comforting giant figs raining down roots around Fogarty Park and the patch left by the casino to commemorate Dr Koch, Cairns’ malaria pioneer and first notable medic, scientist and hospital administrator. There isn’t much left of these soothing life-giving areas of shade. Just a bit of green space by the majestic trees between the Lagoon, the Esplanade and The Pier.
The marina even got rid of the quaint timber Cairns Yacht Club. Bizarrely they moved that to the local campus of James Cook University though I fail to see the sailing connection to the students learning at the foot of the Kuranda mountain range.
Indigenous people, especially teenagers, were part of our school life. Even though so few of us White People actually engaged with the rightful owners of this land. I think we all knew deep down as Caucasian Australians that we have dispossessed these tribal descendents of the original inhabitants of this continent.
And without learning the history and brutality of that dispossession, we succumbed to an uncomfortable feeling of avoiding confrontation at all costs. Of Not Talking About It. Never acknowledging the unforgiveable genocide that took place in every corner, creek, valley and plain only 200 years ago and even more recently.
Reparations began in the late 1960s with the right to vote “generously” given to these actual owners of our country. The disadvantages they experience in society must be compensated for, we can only remain vigilant about our ingrained racism. Worst of all is the intergenerational trauma just about every Aboriginal and Islander person must be familiar with in some form or another. How could you not given the violent occupation of your home, the environment you traditionally cared for and the attempted eradication of your culture, your belief system, your songs, stories and art.
We should not be complacent about this legacy as White Australians. We need to express our guilt and shame as the Acknowledgement of Country goes some steps towards doing. Let’s go more steps along the way to righting wrongs: add accurate accounts of Black History to our school curricula. Make them indepth and conscientious learning so generations to come are aware – and truly sorry.