Can you do anything about reconciliation between Aboriginal and white Australia, asks JOHN SMITH.

John Smith
John Smith

You can meet some stupid old people sometimes. I bet no one would disagree with that statement! But ever since I was a teenager, I've found that old people who keep their minds sharp can tell you stuff that the voice of inexperience can never show you. I think that's why, over many years, I have loved talking to Aboriginal tribal elders.

1,000 of the world's most qualified scientists put their names to a statement that said poor old mother earth is in deep trouble. But tribal elders knew that. They live much closer to the earth than most of us and take a lot of time to quietly watch nature. Their insight is incredible. I even heard of one tribe who can see 12 different seasons in a year. But some people can't even see that these Aboriginal people are important Australians.

I once spent three days talking to politicians at Parliament House in Canberra. It doesn't sound exciting but believe me; you can get into some hot arguments with some of these people. Sometimes you can get really angry. Especially after what one politician said to me. He said he didn't believe in the reconciliation process. He didn't think we needed to do anything. "We have already loved them to death," he said.

"Loved them to death"? I'm not sure what planet he lives on, but it doesn't sound like it's this one. I know we shot heaps of them to death - that's a matter of history. I know we poisoned many of them to death by putting chemicals in their water holes - and that wasn't even last century. I know we "diseased" many of them to death in Tasmania. I know we virtually starved some of them to death (have you ever asked yourself what a fence means to a hunter-gatherer people, especially when they were shot for going on their own property?).

I know we've sent many of them to their death via a broken heart. What else do we expect but deaths in custody when they are, percentage wise, the most imprisoned indigenous people in the world? And most of them are there for minor offences for which whites are fined. If we imprison people whose thousands of years of culture has been shaped by vast open spaces then of course we encourage suicide.

No, we may have done many things to bring about the death of Aboriginal people over the years, but loving them to death hasn't been one of them When I heard this politician lawyer in Canberra tell me that, for a moment I felt like giving up on this country ever embracing reconciliation.

How can I still have hope about reconciliation? While visiting Parliament I met Sir Ronald Wilson, a wonderful elderly gentleman. Sir Ronald resigned from the most prestigious position any trained lawyer can hold. He was a judge on the High Court of Australia. However, he left that wealthy, powerful position to do things he considered even greater. He is the man who, together with Mick Dodson, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner, put together the report concerning the Aboriginal stolen children.

Sir Ronald reminded me of Jesus, the one I follow. If the Bible is right, Jesus, like Sir Ronald, left a high court (an even higher one than Sir Ronald's!) to come to earth and sit with ordinary people; to share his story with ours and offer us all forgiveness, justice and transformed lives. Sir Ronald Wilson is one of the shortest men I know, but he has a gigantic mind and heart. When I meet truly great people like him, even the unfortunate mistakes and stubbornness of Prime Ministers doesn't seem to be beyond challenge.

Another thing that gives me hope is the memory of young people in the 1960s and 70s. During the Vietnam War, young people carried the conscience of the nation while their parents were busy making money and holding onto racism. Rock music turned away from screaming about screwing one's girlfriend and called a generation of youth to resist greed and oppose war. Tragically, drugs and too much sexual freedom diverted them from the great thing they began. But it was the young people of the land who took a stand on every issue from spirituality to peace.

So despite what might look like a depressing situation in Australia, I have hope. And I have in my mind two images. The first is the image of thousands of young people who were in 1974 the conscience of the nation. In that year they held a huge public rally on the steps of Parliament. They cared about Aborigines, the poor, the environment, and "at risk" youth.

But the second image is the image of an old man - Sir Ronald Wilson. He's been under attack for his commitment to justice for Aborigines and people of other races. Is it only old men and women who care, who have the courage and who have a voice? Obviously, the older generation, with a few exceptions, is deeply committed to racism, materialism and selfishness. But what are you going to do about it? You and God are the hope of tomorrow. It's when I remember this that hope surges up within me. I feel like punching the air with my fist and saying, "Yes! Every real advance in the history of the world has been started by a minority." Join me in saying, "God, let the change begin with me."

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.