Australia Day on Monday: the 221st anniversary of the arrival of a British naval fleet to dump its nation's surplus prisoners in a distant misunderstood continent. There's way too much going on in Sydney on any given January 26 to take in within the scope of one day, but I make a point of spending at least some time each year joining the indigenous community's Survival Day carnival.
National awareness day to maintain the attention on one of Australia's most disgraceful running sores - the 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous Australians and the nation as a whole. Australia is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals while this gap remains.
The quite damning Close The Gap report was first released twelve months, as I commented at the time.
It would be remiss of me if I were not to mention the fabulous events in Canberra last week. February 13, 2008, will go down as one of the most joyous days in modern Australian history - the day that Kevin Rudd, on behalf of the Australian parliament, said "Sorry" to the stolen indigenous generations. Rudd gave what was unquestionably one of the great speeches of our country's history.
"Annual funding for Indigenous health has increased by over $270 million or by more than 170 per cent in real terms since 1996."
- Opening paragraph of press release on indigenous health budget initiatives, Tony Abbott, 8.5.07
Golly gee. Fair bit of good that has done, as I have already noted.
"It is inconceivable that a country as wealthy as Australia cannot solve a health crisis affecting less than 3% of its population."
- from "Close The Gap: Solutions to the Indigenous Health Crisis facing Australia", April 2007
The NACCHO/Oxfam Australia joint report on the state of indigenous health in this country makes for heartbreaking reading. Just one small extract from the executive summary makes for a depressing introduction:
Democracy throws up some baffling results sometimes, especially when most of the eligible voters don't bother.
Last weekend the voters in the Cherokee Nation approved a constitutional referendum, rescinding citizenship of the descendants of pre-civil war slaves.
As stated in a Cherokee Nation news release issued on Saturday:
Today, Friday May 26, is National Sorry Day in Australia. Instituted in 1997, it is the annual commemoration of the tens of thousands of indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their homes as children.
It's not a holiday, but it is certainly a day when all Australians should stop to reflect on the destruction of indigenous society and culture over the past two and a quarter centuries, and which is still happening, not just in the Northern Territory but all across the country.
More information about National Sorry Day can be found on the NSD Committee's website.
Maybe not the definitive story of the Stolen Generation, but if it heightens awareness of this sorry episode in Australia's history then it will have served a purpose.
For those who possess a broad understanding of events, this movie - based on fact - will not provide any profound enlightenment, though Rabbit-Proof Fence does provide a good illustration of the institutionalised removal of aboriginal children from their families, supposedly (in the eyes of a succession of Australian national and state governments) for their own benefit. The story, of two aboriginal girls escape from their new "home", following the path of the lengthy rabbit fence across the outback to return to their natural family, is a powerful one.