About fifteen years ago, I was living in England and my bedroom window overlooked woods and plains and somewhere in my view was the site of the Battle of Bosworth. I hadn’t heard of the battle or Bosworth, where Richard III was famously killed, so ignorant was I of my own nation’s history, but I resonated with it anyway.
I would stare out of that window at those woods and plains and feel such a bond with the land, with every tree and hedgerow. It was England, where I was born. It wasn’t patriotism. It wasn’t anything like that. It was visceral. England was in my blood.
I was teaching history to high school students at the time so I soon got to learn about the Battle of Bosworth and I went there a couple of times and read the plaques and stood in the field, and thought of Richard III for a while.
More than anything I felt connected. I felt I belonged. I felt that the land was my land. I am indigenous to it, as if the land owned me.
In Australia I am a migrant. I am a citizen and I have lived here about half my life. But this is not my land. I have no sense of belonging to it. I can appreciate it. I can marvel over its beauty. But it isn’t mine and it doesn’t own me.
So the only way I can understand in my naive and limited way what it’s like for indigenous Australians to feel connected to the land, is by reminding myself that this is their land, that they belong to it, that it owns them, in exactly the same way that the land of England owns me.
And even then, even when I stretch empathy to its limits, I still don’t fully understand for I have not lived their history. I have not lived a history of dispossession, of genocide, of slavery and child stealing and so many many other heinous crimes against a people’s humanity. After all, I was born into the side of the perpetrators: the British Empire.
What I know as truth is that this connection to the land that we were born into and belong to is in some basic way the same for all of us. It is lived, in experience, every moment of every day. I also know that for indigenous Australians, it is much more than that. It is an entire matrix of spiritual belonging binding culture and land together as one.
I get to live the experience of alienation as every migrant does. Indigenous Australians get to live a different sort of alienation, one that has removed them and continues to seek to remove them, from the land beneath their feet.
For me, fundamentally, we are all the same. We are one. And I know that if a tiny bit of my own history can resonate with me so deeply and subtly, even without me knowing barely a detail of it, then it is equally the case that indigenous Australians resonate with their own history, a history that has caused immense wounding and scarring, a history not of armies of kings battling it out on green fields, but of imperial colonisers surging forth with divine right in their hearts and an image of tribal savages in their minds.
Therefore, I bow my head to that wound and those scars, knowing they will take many more generations to heal.
In the meantime the least us blow ins can do is show respect, help restore faith and dignity and open our ears, our eyes, our hearts and our minds, and not let ourselves be blinded by reports of deprivation and alcoholism and systemic domestic violence and child abuse and ‘all those wasted government funds’ and any other statistic or titbit of information the arrogant and the closed-minded care to throw up.
I will never blame a victim. I will always champion a survivor.