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A migrant living on stolen land



I wasn't born in this land I now call home. My family migrated to Australia when I was young and so I enjoyed the privilege of growing up without the war and discrimination that has marred my birth land, although there is a different type of discrimination that I have had to face being an Asian in Australia. In being here though I know I am living on stolen land.

Bootprints on soil image by robertiez via GettyI also know that my not being here would not change the injustices that Indigenous people face on a daily basis. We cannot turn back time and remove the presence of non-Indigenous Australians.

What we can, and must, all do is seek to understand what was done, what is being done and how we can move forward in a way that addresses past injustices and ensures they do not occur again. It is not about guilt and shame, but empathy and being willing to feel the sorrow that must arise when hearing the horrors that have been inflicted in the name of Australia's nationhood.

Non-Indigenous Australians can choose when, if ever, we pay attention to the rights of Indigenous Australians. Commemorative occasions like NAIDOC Week briefly draw attention to Indigenous rights. This year saw a renewal of discussion of a possible referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous people.

But it was starkly juxtaposed with images of a line of people snaking their way up Uluru. A last minute rush of people determined to climb this Australian icon before the Traditional Owners stop people climbing later this year. The insistence of some people to defile what is a sacred space for the Anangu people is just one of many instances where Indigenous Australians are disrespected and sidelined from effective control of their own lives and communities on a daily basis.

In 1989, Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins said: 'My expectation of a good Australia is when white people would be proud to speak an Aboriginal language, when they realise that Aboriginal culture and all that goes with it, philosophy, art, language, morality, kinship, is all art of their heritage. And that's the most unbelievable thing of all, that it's all there waiting for all of us. White people can inherit 40,000 or 60,000 years of culture, and all they have to do is reach out and ask for it.'

I keep hearing from Indigenous Australians this desire for all Australians to respectfully share and care for this country and the generosity astounds me. It is up to those of us who are listening to these invitations to walk together to take a stance. We can no longer remain bowed by the fear of a group of people who see including others as a loss of their own identity. The task for this era is to find a way forward that includes all our identities.


"The deep change that brings true equality to all people who now call this land home requires a remodelling of the structures on which Australia was created."


As with every nation on earth our history contains good, bad and some truly horrendous parts. To look away from the ugly stains hinders us from reaching a place where we can truly celebrate all that Australia is. The Australia which is home to the world's oldest living cultures with 60, 000 plus years of history, rather than a mere 221 years, and is also now peacefully home to people with ancestry that traces back to all continents of the globe. Why wouldn't we want to celebrate this?

We need to change the hearts and minds of every Australian, so that going forward we celebrate Australia and the diversity it contains now, not the narrow imperialistic and racist entity that it began as. The deep change that brings true equality to all people who now call this land home requires a remodelling of the structures on which Australia was created.

I can't see this happening easily or quickly. There is so much grieving and emotional growth that needs to happen. It also requires us to actually listen when Indigenous people speak. The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was delivered in 2017, if heeded would have been another important step towards true conciliation.

A post doing the rounds on social media on Australia Day this year seems to sum up best what is required of all of us Australians. 'Dear White People, No one is asking you to apologise for your ancestors. We are asking you to dismantle the systems of oppression they built, that you maintain and benefit from.' — Blackfella Revolution



Dinali DevasagayamDinali Devasagayam uses writing to explore her place in this world with a focus of the intersectionality of race, environment and gender. She finds peace and joy in wondering under the gum trees of her adopted home, Adelaide. She is involved in various community building groups and blogs at www.beingofthisearth.com.

Main image by robertiez via Getty

Topic tags: Dinali Devasagayam, Aboriginal Australians, migrants, Charlie Perkins



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Existing comments

We need a comprehensive history of the remarkable evolution of the Aboriginal people in this land, how they adjusted to the massive shift of climate change unlike anything we will encounter over the next couple of thousand years or so, their understanding and application of complex physics such as parallax error (spear fishing), aerodynamics (the boomerang), centrifugal force (the woomera), their multiple languages, etc, etc. Such history is available but few are familiar with it. It should be a compulsory subject in school just as is English. From such understanding respect will grow. Respect has a bad habit of being responsive only to experience of something to be admired in the object of respect, It can not be created through laws or constitutions etc. There is much to be admired in the Aboriginal inhabitants of this country - most of us simply don't know enough or anything of the great things in their culture that would earn respect and admiration. We need a revolution to establish widespread knowledge of our Aboriginal people collected together by them with some help from us rather than by our perspectives with no help from them.

john frawley | 25 July 2019  

Many thanks Dinali for your most articulate and heartfelt writing. I too migrated to Australia with my parents, and as I grew up I developed an overwhelming sense that something was missing. I now know that it is how much I have not learnt from our wonderful & beautiful indigenous heritage. This second generation Italian migrant is now getting into maturing my understanding and appreciation of this great culture and I am starting by reading 'Dark Emu' by Bruce Pascoe.

Fulvio Frijo | 27 July 2019  

It's good to see Australia's national broadcaster putting its inclusiveness policy into practice. In addition to well known 'front-liners' and sporting stars, we're beginning to see indigenous people being given an opportunity to share local knowledge on shows such as Gardening Australia. Australia seems to be 'limping' to greater inclusiveness - unfortunately it's sometimes 'two steps forward, one step back'. I admire the patience shown by Aboriginal people as they continue in their attempts to share their perspectives with the diverse groups of people who have arrived in recent centuries. In some people's minds, the concept of 'terra nullius' still continues to underpin their understanding of their place in this country.

Paddy Byers | 27 July 2019  

An extraordinary post, John Frawley! You taught me much.

Michael Furtado | 27 July 2019  

I’m with John Frawley on this one. We do need a comprehensive history of the indigenous cultures of our land, in a form that can be understood by all of us. That will be difficult, no doubt. We immigrants largely come with cultures expressed powerfully in written words and concepts, we indigenous have expressed our cultures for thousands of years in song, dance, painting, myth and ritual. But now all of us speak, write and read English. All of us have some knowledge of music, myth and ritual in our own cultures. We can talk to each other now, so let’s do it!

Joan Seymour | 27 July 2019  

Having actually worked alongside Aboriginal colleagues and having had one superb Aboriginal supervisor, Jim Morrison, who was genuinely loved and respected by everyone in DEETYA in WA, I know, from what they told me, how lousy their lives often were under the old regime, which lasted for a very, very long time and the emotional scars of which they bore. This is not something which we can airbrush from our collective history. In fact care, extreme care and real, not imagined, sensitivity is required by everyone in dealing with the issues of colonialism and dispossession of ATSI people in this country. One of the things which led me to think that an Aboriginal advisory body in Canberra would be both a good thing and quite feasible were the considered opinions of Jeff Kennett and Murray Gleeson from the political and legal sides. This will need to be done collaboratively and with great sensitivity and care. It would need to consult a wide range of ATSI people, especially those such as Bess Price, who are at the actual coalface and who see the day by day deprivation their community suffers. Sadly, I doubt the current PM has either the vision or the bottle for the task.

Edward Fido | 29 July 2019  

“The Australia which is home to the world's oldest living cultures with 60, 000 plus years of history, rather than a mere 221 years….” There is no 221 year old culture in Australia. European culture is several thousand years old.

roy chen yee | 08 August 2019  

Roy Chen Yee. May I respectfully suggest, Roy, that if you have not found an Australian culture in this country you might find Geoffrey Blainey's A Shorter History of Australia surprisingly enlightening.

john frawley | 08 August 2019  

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