Healing a fractured culture

Pope John Paul II in Alice SpringsPope Benedict XVI recently told the Australian ambassador to the Holy See that saying sorry is an essential part of reconciliation. He was not making a political point. Like his predecessor John Paul II, who visited Alice Springs in 1986, h sees the deprivation suffered by indigenous Australians as a moral issue, and not just a political issue.

If reconciliation is not primarily about politics, as Brian McCoy writes in this issue of Eureka Street, nor is it solely about law and order. McCoy believes the solution, at least in communities such as Wadeye, lies in providing 'healthy pathways' for young men. He thinks fostering leadership is important, and that the recent Federal Budget missed an opportunity to provide support for Aboriginal men's groups and programs.

Support of healthy role models goes hand in hand with responsible behaviour by the media. This is especially important when Australians are divided. In this issue of Eureka Street, Shahram Akbarzadeh links an 'us and them' attitude towards Muslims in the Australian community to the remaining traces of a colonial attitude to non-whites. He cites results of a survey of media coverage to show that negative stereotypes persist, especially in regard to the status of women in Islam, hygiene among Muslims, social tolerance and civic consciousness. But Dr Akbarzadeh gives praise where it's due, and says the Melbourne Age 'appears to have adopted a conscious decision to break out of the Orientalist mindset'.

Ashfield MallOther articles also touch on attempts to heal divisions elsewhere in Australian society. Deborah Singerman writes about Sydney's unfashionable Ashfield, where a study found that 'many local residents blamed Ashfield's large Chinese population for what they saw as the town centre's disrepair and unwelcoming atmosphere'. She refers to the federally-funded Living in Harmony program, which is about to reach its conclusion in Ashfield. Misunderstandings are gradually being cleared up, and trust is being built. One Chinese woman, after visiting a retirement home, announced she would stay in Australia to die and not return to China as she had planned. Growing old here did not frighten her any more.

In this edition of Eureka Street, we focus on bridging the gap to the 'other'. Rather than leaving it to an Invisible Prime Mover to direct our way, we hope that by our engagement with Eureka Street, we all, writers and readers will ask ourselves where we want Australia to go, and how best we can arrive there. If we find our stereotypes and paradigms challenged along the way, so much the better.

Click here to download an MP3 audio reading of this editorial.



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