Sunday, January 12, 2014

Too easy to blame the past for the present

This blog is never intended as a soap box for personal opinion, but recent racism hysteria surrounding the sale of t-shirts produced to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January had me feeling rather sad that people must still look to the past as some kind of justification for their present disappointments, prejudices and behaviours. (Read about it here.)

Why is pride in your nation now something to be ashamed of? Why is the voice of common sense or reason always drowned out in these arguments? Journalist Patrick Carlyon’s comments in the Melbourne Herald Sun are very apt in this case.
"... The rush to outlaw a T-shirt suggests sections of Australian society are as intolerant as the people they fear we have become. ...”
Looking at this background from an historical perspective, in the latter part of the 18th Century, the “great south land” was ripe for “invasion” by any one of the dominant European powers and some of them were far more ruthless in their treatment of indigneous populations than Britain was.

If Captain Cook hadn’t staked a claim and the British didn’t settle Sydney when they did, then the French who were already active in the area would most certainly have done so, or even the Germans at some later date. It largely depended on the outcomes of various European wars and revolutions as to who were the winners and losers of colonial possessions. If the Belgian King grabbed a chunk of Australia, the human carnage could have been as bad as anything that happened in the Congo. The Dutch had already visited a century before and found the place wanting but could have changed their minds at any point. The Spanish and Portuguese were largely occupied elsewhere, but they too could have decided to make their presence felt. All these nations had enslaved and exploited, even exterminated, local indigenous populations. The British most certainly had their faults, but they were on the whole the better colonisers with their legacy of fair governance, free speech and rule of law, and that is something that is always overlooked in such arguments.

Off my soap-box … and to another little-known and astonishing experiment in imperialism in my next post.