Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The worst may already have happened

  • 24 October 2018


What's the worst that can happen? I've been turning to this question with some frequency over the past year, as denial, deflection and sometimes outright lies run like an avalanche, seeming to bury things we hold precious.

As a writer I must ponder what it takes to persuade people, especially when they have stopped listening. When someone dismisses what I say because they have decided that I am a 'lefty', it can be frustrating. There are things that matter, beyond what others imagine us to be and how they see themselves in opposition. If the terms of engagement — like fairness, transparency and the common good — aren't a mutual priority, then what language could we possibly speak that might be understood?

This is a time of intense contraction, people collapsing inward from anger and despair, or keeping to the tribes they have defined for themselves. There is a palpable sense on all sides that something fundamental is being lost. Under such conditions, it is hard to get people to concede that what they believe might be incomplete. No one wants to give anything up.

This is an attempt to get people to give something up. Here is how to do it: ask what is the worst that can happen. Then accept that it may have already happened. But not to you.

If we are called racist, then the worst has already happened. Someone has felt that their worth as a human was brought into question. Histories of oppression called up in a moment, as fresh as the sting of a whip or baton. If we are a public figure being racist, then the effect is magnified. Racism acts like a contagion, infecting the systems in which we live unless it is quelled. In which case, entire groups of people have been made to work — to educate, to fight, to heal (again) — because of us.

What is the worst thing that can happen if the constellation of Indigenous peoples — Arrernte, Gamilaroi, Noongar, Wiradjuri, all of them — lit the way for parliament, through the formal voice that they propose?

The worst has already happened. The scale of historical loss and ongoing deficit is incalculable: land, language, culture, children, health, security. Having to rethink the way parliament works for First Nations is not in the same universe by comparison — though if we must take the work involved to be onerous then it can