Keating, PJ: Redfern speech

Keating, PJ

Speech by the Hon Prime Minister, PJ Keating MP, Australian Launch of the International Year for the World’s Indigenous People, Redfern, 10 December 1992

The then Prime Minister placed the treatment of Indigenous Australians within a broader narrative, commencing his speech thus

[W]e cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. This is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be, truly the land of the fair go and the better chance.

There is no more basic test of how seriously we mean these things. It is a test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history.
How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia.

Keating went on to discuss aspects of the history of Anglo-Indigenous relations:

[T]he starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal
Australians. It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. 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 these things being done to us.

With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask how would I feel if this were done to me? As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.

Keating concluded:

We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.

See also the biography of Keating by Don Watson, the joint author of the Redfern speech. Watson’s book touches on the Redfern speech. Watson’s Caledonia Australis covers Anglo-Indigenous relations in Gippsland, Victoria.

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