Considering that today is Columbus Day in America and that we’ve been discussing the topic of discrimination in my course Multicultural Counselling, the similar beginnings of Australia and the United States has definitely been on my mind. On the surface, it comes across that there is unity between the Aboriginal people of Australia and the other settled inhabitants. and equality for the native culture. However, Doris Pilkington’s ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ illustrates the history of discrimination and often violence as settlers first came to Australia.
As we were first introduced to Australian culture through presentations and tours, we did a bit of discussion on the Aboriginal people, the native people of Australia who happen to be the oldest living culture. In one of our orientation sessions, a professor described the peaceful relationship that existed between the native people and the other inhabitants. I was surprised to hear how well different cultures lived together in Australia. I found in my first few weeks that many of the Sydneysiders that I spoke to felt the same way. I was impressed with their positive attitudes towards the Aboriginal people but I continued to wonder, “Where are they?”.
‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ first explains the first settlements of the English, beginning around the 1820s. The English settlers put up fences, blocking off the natives to their land and limiting their supplies of basic resources for over a hundred years. Pilkington describes the story of three young girls in the early 1900s who were half-caste Aboriginals, meaning they have one parent who is an Indigenous Australian and one who is white. The girls were removed from their homes by the English government and forced to attend a school far away from their homes. The government sent officers “far and wide removing part-Aboriginal children from their families and transporting them hundreds of kilometers down south. Every mother of a part-Aboriginal child was aware that their offspring could be taken away from them at any time and they were powerless to stop the abductors” (40). The girls were not only taken from their loved ones, but were mistreated and threatened at their new school. By searching for the rabbit-proof fence, a fence that ran for 1200 miles north to south down the middle of Australia, the girls were able to successfully escape the school and return to their families. Although fences were originally symbols of exclusion, the girls saw this fence as “a symbol of love, home, and security” (109). They completed the longest cross-country journey barefoot in Australia’s history, returning to their homes.
This story, as well as the small bits of history I’ve learned from local Sydneysiders, professors, and cultural events, have helped answer my original question. It seems that the reason many Australians paint a flowery picture of the relationship between Aboriginal people and settled citizens and their kin is because the Aboriginals have stayed where they were forced to live. With little interaction, the people of Sydney don’t really have a reason to be overtly racist towards them. And even then, there are people of Aboriginal descent who experience discrimination every day, socially and systematically. The reason so many people are blinded to this racism and discrimination could be because of the spirit of Sydney. It is a typically relaxed, happy, and open place. I don’t think people are purposefully ignoring the social issues, but aren’t faced with it in their every day lives. It is not something that sticks out so much during my time in Sydney, however it is something to acknowledge anywhere one goes.