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Keating Speech: The Redfern Address (1992)

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clip Where does the problem start?

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Clip description

Keating answers this rhetorical question by outlining the abuses that have occurred since the time of colonisation to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. He cites a failure of imagination on the part of settler colonial society to be able to imagine these things being 'done to us’. However, he asserts that guilt is not a productive emotion, that ‘what we need to do is to open our hearts … All of us’.

Curator’s notes

This is a profound observation from a non-Aboriginal Australian at that time. To ask where the problem begins and then to answer this with an admission that it 'starts with us, the non-Aboriginal Australians’. This is distinctly different to the colonial settler summation of the ‘Aboriginal problem’, far removed from the cries of ‘hopeless’, ‘primitive’, and ‘unable to cope with modernity’ that have been trotted out to explain Aboriginal disadvantage.

Here Keating concentrates on the original dispossession, the murders, the removal of children as well as discrimination, exclusion, ignorance and prejudice. In this segment Keating highlights the failure of white Australians: 'We failed to ask, “How would I feel if this was done to me?”’

Paul Keating And as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us, the non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with an act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases and the alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine that these things could be done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask, 'How would I feel if this was done to me?’ As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded us all.

If we need a reminder of this, we received it in this year with the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which showed, with devastating clarity, that the past lives on in inequality, racism and injustice, in the prejudice and ignorance of non-Aboriginal Australians, and in the demoralisation and desperation, the fractured identity, of so many Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

For all this, I do not believe that the Report should fill us with guilt. Down the years, there’s been no shortage of guilt, but it has not produced the response we need. Guilt, I think we’ve all learned, is not a very constructive emotion. I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit. All of us.

For a transcript of the full speech, see Extras.

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