HTAA Conference: Keynote speaker, Prof Henry Reynolds
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008
Day One began with Professor Henry Reynolds as Keynote Speaker, and he chose to address the themes of Aboriginal history, Australia’s history of involvement in international wars, and the complexities and contradictions inherent in these themes. As one might expect from the historian who has done more to bring Australia’s Aboriginal history into the spotlight than any other, he was keen to address the three sensitive points in this history: frontier violence, the Stolen Generations, and the Mabo/Wik decisions which rewrote our land laws in 1992 and 1996 respectively. He revisited the ‘history wars’ briefly, and reminded us that the official history written for incoming migrants once included references to these matters, and now does not. (See the full story about this in The Monthly).
He then went on to discuss the militarisation of Australian history during the Howard years. He alluded to new and extensive funding for more and more commemorations, memorials, student pilgramages to Anzac sites, and concern about the bodies of the dead soldiers, bordering on the obsessive in Vietnam. He also noted that the funding and extent of materials from the Department of Veterans Affairs was extraordinary, and – given the non-involvement of government in producing free curriculum resources in other areas – I agree! We have shelves and shelves of stuff from the DVA, most of it unused, because it isn’t appropriate for primary schools, and what makes me really cross is that these materials are exemplary – why can’t the wonderful people who develop them make similarly enticing resources for teaching about the Gold Rush, Federation, Settlement and so on? Why, asked Professor Reynolds, does every soldier have a well-tended grave, and our C19th pioneers do not?
We can’t have it both ways, he says. If we define war as integral to the birth of our nation, then how can we ignore frontier violence? If we believe that we should never forget the Holocaust and the ANZAC experience, why do we tell Aborigines to ‘get over it’? If we use public funding for war memorials, should we do the same for both black and white victims of frontier violence? And if dead bodies of soldiers are so important, how can we say to Aborigines that they should not worry about the treatment of Aboriginal remains? Shouldn’t we search for the Coniston Massacre bodies and bury them with a memorial too?
These are all very challenging issues for us to face, and there was spirited debate afterwards.
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