Joe Hildrebrand explains his position on the issue that caused a racism row on Studio 10 this week.
Joe Hildrebrand explains his position on the issue that caused a racism row on Studio 10 this week.

The unheard side of Studio 10 debate

WHEN Kerri-Anne Kennerley and Yumi Stynes went head-to-head on Studio 10 about the "Invasion Day" protests on Saturday, co-host Joe Hildebrand remained quiet.

The race row between Stynes and Kennerley began on Monday when the panel was discussing the weekend's "Invasion Day" protests, in which thousands of Australians took to the street to call for changing the date of Australia Day.

Kennerley asked whether any of the protesters had "been out to the Outback, where children, babies, five-year-olds are being raped? Their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped. What have you done?"

Stynes said her statements were "not even faintly true" and sounded "quite racist".

Now Hildebrand explains where he stands on the Australia Day date change debate.

 

The Studio 10 panel members clash over the Australia Day date change debate.
The Studio 10 panel members clash over the Australia Day date change debate.

 

***

In 390BC a tribe of Gauls swept down into a small recently formed territory known as the Republic of Rome.

Upon entering the city, they slaughtered every inhabitant, sacked every building and torched every home. The Romans were forced to bribe them to leave with 1000 pounds of gold.

Yet even as the two parties were measuring up this enormous quantity, the Gauls rigged the weights. The outraged Romans protested and so the Gallic leader Brennus picked up his sword and threw it on the scales.

"Woe to the conquered," he said.

More than three centuries later an ambitious governor called Julius Caesar invaded Gaul itself, forming alliances with some tribes, slaughtering others.

After the final battle he cut off the hands of every male of fighting age as a reminder of the consequences of rising up against Rome.

Another few centuries later Rome would again be sacked, this time by Goths and Vandals.

The empire fell.

Meanwhile, to the north, a rainy windswept island was being fought over by Celts and Angles and Saxons until in 1066 a Norman known as William the Bastard conquered the lot of them and was thereafter known as William the Conqueror.

Indeed, it is something of a historical oddity that Vikings are so often painted in English culture as raping, pillaging, murdering hordes when it is their descendants who have sat on the throne ever since, at one time presiding over the largest empire the world has ever seen.

History, in short, is not a very nice place.

 

Yumi Stynes responds to Kerri-Anne.
Yumi Stynes responds to Kerri-Anne.

 

***

And so when it comes to debating Australia's so-called "history wars" it is worth remembering that almost all of history is war.

Ever since the first humans picked up the first stick every land has been conquered, every people has suffered.

This does not make it right, it does not make it fair - indeed, it is almost always wrong and almost always unfair. But it is a fact, and a fact we cannot change.

That Viking empire was entering its peak - despite a pesky rebellion by those upstart Americans - when 11 ships carrying a sorrowful cargo of half-dead criminals and Irish troublemakers passed through the heads and into a harbour now considered perhaps the best and most beautiful in the world, yet which Captain Cook had failed to even notice 18 years earlier.

James Cook wasn't the first person to set foot on Australia, he wasn't even the first European.

The Dutch had been all over the north and west coasts but never thought they were worth settling. The inhabitants of what we now call Indonesia had also been fishing around northern Australia for God knows how long.

And of course the First Australians had been living here, surviving and thriving in some of the most innovative ways in what were often extraordinarily harsh landscapes.

But like all people on this continent, they too had come from other lands. They just got here 60,000 years before anybody else.

From their point of view perhaps Phillip's arrival did feel like an invasion, but for the colonists and the convicts nothing could have been further from their minds.

They just considered themselves lucky to have survived the journey - or indeed perhaps unlucky once they discovered the foreign and often terrifying conditions that awaited them.

In fact, Phillip gave strict orders that the local Eora people must be treated well and he famously attempted to befriend them.

Moreover he said that anyone who killed a native person would be hanged and even when he was speared during a misunderstanding he forbade his men from retaliating.

Anyone who defines this as an act of war or invasion has either no knowledge of history or no knowledge of what such words mean.

This was the spirit in which the colony of New South Wales was founded.

Yes, there were unspeakable atrocities committed by some settlers, and yes, disease and grog had a catastrophic effect on the indigenous population.

Indeed, there can be no denying that the effect of European colonisation has been devastating for huge swathes of the indigenous population - especially in Tasmania.

But it was not government policy and it was not the government's intention - on the contrary, the government was often desperately trying to stop it.

For example, after the infamous Myall Creek massacre - in which 11 colonists slaughtered 28 unarmed indigenous people in the most horrific of ways - the majority of the murderers were caught, prosecuted and executed.

It is vital that non-indigenous Australians are made acutely aware of the sorrows and stains on our history; the suffering that Aboriginal people have gone through and the atrocities that have been perpetrated by many of our ancestors.

However it is equally vital that indigenous Australians understand that for all the tragedy and horror that has befallen them, there was never an intent to "invade" them, nor a deliberate campaign of genocide.

Even such obviously racist and backward policies such as the removal of so called "half-caste" children from their mothers - a horror few parents could bear to contemplate - was often done with good intentions. As impossible as it is for us to imagine today, they actually thought they were rescuing these kids.

And it is not just vital for us to know all this for our own self-edification or even for us to unite as a country. It is vital because lives are literally on the line.

 

Kerri-Anne Kennerley was called ‘quite racist’ by Yumi Stynes.
Kerri-Anne Kennerley was called ‘quite racist’ by Yumi Stynes.

 

***

On December 5, 2016 three incredibly brave, fierce and wise indigenous warriors stepped onto what is perhaps the most important battleground in our nation today.

Jacinta Price, Marcia Langton and Josephine Cashman gave an address to the National Press Club in which they pulled back the rug on the epidemic of violence that has gripped many indigenous communities.

Incredibly, all this information had long been known and was publicly available but had never been given mainstream attention; instead wild arguments and protests over January 26 and outrage over a cartoon by the late Bill Leak as well as other perceived racist outrage were dominating the national stage.

Prof Langton, the foundation chair of Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, presented some of this information, courtesy of a Productivity Commission study entitled Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage.

The figures are almost too stratospheric to comprehend but here are just a couple:

In the four year period from 2010 to 2014 there were almost 200 indigenous deaths due to assault. This was seven times the rate for non-indigenous Australians.

And that is not even the worst part: indigenous women and girls were 32 times more likely

than non-indigenous females to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence.

But it was the title of Langton's speech that was perhaps the starkest and simplest fact of all: "If we don't stop the violence, we have no chance of closing the gap."

Meanwhile, Price - herself a survivor of domestic violence - recounted just some of the horrors she had seen with her own eyes. Frankly, I cannot bear to repeat them here.

The women spoke out because for too long men in indigenous communities had used the fig leaf of racism to deflect any attempts to remedy or even identify the violence.

But if three Aboriginal women stood up, they reasoned, surely no one could cry racism then.

Unfortunately they were wrong. As we have seen this week, the cry of racism still rings out whenever anyone highlights the suffering of indigenous people - especially women and children - within their own communities.

And still their abuse and the imminent threats to their lives are considered second tier issues behind such symbolic gestures as changing a date on a calendar or signing a piece of paper.

It is usually at this point that people will say: "But we can do both!"

Frankly, it appears we can't. I am all for the power of symbolism but when symbolism changes nothing but the symbol itself then it has no power at all.

I marched over the Harbour Bridge in support of a national apology and I was extremely close to and proud of the then-prime minister Kevin Rudd when he made it in 2008.

But in the decade since almost nothing has changed - in fact the annual Closing the Gap report handed down every year since has shown that in many cases the gap has grown wider.

Why? Few people agree but I'm pretty sure if we gave it half as much time and energy as we do the annual Australia Day debate we would soon find out.

For the record, I know there is plenty of racism out there - I have spent a good part of my career exposing it - and I know indigenous people have been screwed over left, right and centre.

My proudest moment in journalism was partnering with the National Indigenous Times to expose tens of millions of dollars in wages stolen from indigenous workers, the bulk of which has now been returned to their families thanks to the NIT's work.

And, for what it's worth, I am a card-carrying supporter of constitutional recognition and if I thought changing the date or signing a treaty would do anything to stop the disadvantage of

indigenous people I'd be happy to support that too.

But the idea that to even highlight that disadvantage, to confront these issues head on as those three brave women did in a now all but forgotten speech more than two years ago, is somehow in itself racist is the height of perversity.

It is astonishing that there are some who profess to have zero tolerance for violence against women and yet when it comes to a part of our community where there is 32 times more violence against women than the rest of the country it is a subject considered so taboo that to even raise it is considered an act of racism.

History can be kind and history can be cruel but it is never black and white. And Australia's history, like every other nation's, is complex and contradictory - marked by both shame and pride - and there is no doubt that many have been damaged by its legacy. But the one abiding law of history is that it cannot be changed.

The only thing we can change is our future and we cannot even do that unless we face the uncomfortable facts about our present. The real act of racism isn't shining the light on the danger and hardship that still besets so many of our first people. The real act of racism is not doing anything about it.

Joe Hildebrand is the news.com.au editor-at-large and host of Studio 10 on Channel 10


'People are losing hope'

'People are losing hope'

KAP says college must remain open.

Man honours fallen soldiers

Man honours fallen soldiers

Video pays tribute to the Anzacs.

Races coincide with festival

Races coincide with festival

Easter means a huge weekend for racing.