Kenny, Mark: Why looking back is the only way forward: COVID-19, the Federation, and the chance of genuine reconciliation

Mark Kenny

Why looking back is the only way forward: COVID-19, the Federation, and the chance of genuine reconciliation: 2020 Henry Parkes Oration‘, Parkes Foundation, 19 October 2020

Makes the case for an Indigenous museum; contrasts it with spending on the War Memorial.

We love our country but not enough to be honest about its brutal origins. Not enough to want to square up to the damage that was done in colonising this vast sprawling continent, not enough to tap all the potential that is here …

I propose, in full consultation and genuine partnership with Tent Embassy residents, community elders and First Nations peoples, that the institutional axle point of modern Australia’s great story, be marked with a truly monumental structure dedicated to and run by Australia’s First Peoples …

It could feature exhibits of Indigenous art (including that held by the NGA) Indigenous history, an interpretive centre, conference space, and perhaps even a wharf for receiving international tourists, Australian visitors, and world scholars, ferried across the Lake.

The building would render in permanent architecture, the foundational contribution of Indigenous nations to the modern Australian nation, while telling of the original violent dispossession and its long tail of disadvantage …

In short, this museum would proclaim a new era of partnership via a grand symbolic gesture in the form of a permanent water’s edge museum of Indigenous history, language, art, and political struggle.

But it would also be a celebration of the oldest continuing cultures in the world.

Its placement would mark a national recognition that this continent’s human story did not begin in Turkey in WWI or in Canberra in 1927 or in 1988 – nor for that matter in Botany Bay in 1788.

It began perhaps sixty or seventy thousand years before and it grew, as this new building would, from the very country itself, and from a people living in perfect harmony and profound connection with that land …

I can already hear the argument from naysayers that spending money on a symbolic building misses the point and would be better directed to improving the health and education of disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

Yet these same people are happy to be spending an obscene amount on expanding the Australian War Memorial.

Here’s an idea, stop that hotly contested extravagance and put that half-a-billion dollars into addressing Indigenous disadvantage.

Or perhaps just accept that you do value symbolism (such as the War Memorial) and then consider which is the more justified – a proper, permanent recognition of Indigenous Australia’s long-denied history, or an even grander War museum.

And while we’re critiquing symbolism, ask yourself this. What does it say about a nation that will spend five or six hundred million dollars expanding the AWM when the kind of project I’m suggesting here, is not even discussed?

I’ll tell you what it says. It says that this is a piece of history that is not valued, not legitimate, does not conform to our sense of ourselves.

Mark Kenny is a professor at the ANU and former journalist. The link includes full transcript and full video. Canberra Times report. ABC Local Radio on the subject, with Craig Ritchie of AIATSIS.

Update 5 January 2021: Kenny’s arguments are considered by Genevieve Jacobs in The Riot Act.

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One comment on “Kenny, Mark: Why looking back is the only way forward: COVID-19, the Federation, and the chance of genuine reconciliation
  1. Leighton View says:

    Very well put and a great proposal.

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