History is never an objective thing; it is always told from a particular point of bias.
From a white Australian perspective, our history has been coloured by an outlook of dominance. White European settlers came to Australia and deemed it an uninhabited land because there were no buildings and streets as there were in Europe and Britain. What was not recognised was the ownership of those already living in the land. For decades the story of Australia was told only from the viewpoint of the white Anglo-Saxon. It was a story of settlement and conquest.
There was another story being told which has only really had a voice in the last 50 years, if that. This was also a story of settlement and conquest, of the disregard for a settled way of life, of the conquest of one people by another. Even today there are many white Australians who believe that the history taught them in childhood is the true one and that the alternate reading of history by indigenous peoples is false or grossly over-rated.
Someone once said, “If we don’t learn from our history then we are bound to repeat it.” At this point in the history of Australia I believe we are repeating the mistakes of the past because many white Australians have not embraced the alternate reading of history that indigenous peoples tell.
The attitude that our government is displaying to asylum seekers is reflective of the patriarchal colonial attitude that European and British settlers brought with them. The early white settlers disregarded the claims of indigenous peoples to the land, saw the land as an empty place to be conquered and settled, thought it could just be taken. Our government is showing just such an attitude to the poorer nations that it is recruiting to be the processing centres for those who seek asylum in Australia. The Australian government appears to be choosing nations that need the money we can throw their way in return for land to house asylum seekers without any regard for the potential long-term issues that may arise. Our government is repeating the attitudes of the British government of the 1700’s that saw an “uninhabited” land as the solution to the overcrowding in British prisons. In sending asylum seekers to Nauru, PNG and potentially Cambodia Australia is indicating that these nations can solve our problems by housing the unwanted in our land just as Australia was seen as the place to house the British unwanted of the 18th and 19th centuries. The death of Reza Barati and the riot and fire on Nauru are symptoms of plans not working, of decisions having unforeseen consequences. Perhaps these consequences could have been foreseen if the lessons of our own past had been heeded.
Australia could do so much better if we took a different look at the “White Settlement” of Australia, noted the terrible and unforeseen consequences of using another nation for our own purposes, and took steps that could avoid similar consequences in the future.