Australian Identity, History and Belonging: The Influence of White Australian Identity on Racism and the Non-acceptance of the History of Colonisation of Indigenous Australians

By Mary O’Dowd.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

It is almost 50 years since the so-called ending of the ‘Great Australian Silence’ on the history of the brutal colonisation of Indigenous Australians. This history was omitted from school text books and typically from Australian history units at university, despite it being written about by a minority of Australian academics from the 1960s. Approaches to attempting to end the ‘silence’ and educate the population about this past most recently have included making the history compulsory at some universities and in some State school systems. Yet still the silence and lack of acceptance persists. The paper discusses the formative constructed Australian identity and its ongoing role in limiting the penetration and acceptance of this history of colonisation. The paper does this by identifying and discussing a ‘hidden national curriculum’ that operates in schools and the media around the formative national white Australian identity. A premise of the paper is that ignorance of the past is more likely to foster racism rather than understanding and so limit social justice for Indigenous Australians; so it is important the past is known and accepted in order to move forward with understanding. Thus the paper concludes its analysis of the silence and lack of acceptance of the past by suggesting a way forward to foster a sense of mutual national belonging.

Keywords: National Identity, History, Racism, Belonging

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp.29-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 641.829KB).

Dr. Mary O’Dowd

Senior Lecturer in Indigenous Studies, School of Education, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

I came to Australia and worked in remote communities with Aboriginal peoples and through work in remote, urban and rural contexts developed a profound respect for Aboriginal cultures while being continually shocked at the level of and endurance of racism towards the First Australians - the Indigenous people. Eventually I became a lecturer in Indigenous Studies. When I taught units that were non-compulsory my research interests were the impact of Indigenous presence on non-Indigenous images of the land - issues of racism were not to the fore. Now I lecture in compulsory units in Aboriginal issues. Every year I am faced with a majority of students who know little of the history of colonisation and many of the non-Indigenous students express covert and covert racism towards Indigenous peoples. Meanwhile in Australia at a national and State political level (despite a National Apology to Indigenous people) broadly the essential support for Indigenous cultures is insufficient and has continually to be advocated for and attempts at colonisation continue. The racism and the inadequate support is a startling, unsustainable and unethical national place. My research has moved from the impact of Indigenous presence on non-Indigenous images of the land to the issues around national identity, place and belonging and so to the problems of ‘whiteness’ reflecting my increased exposure to the racism (typically unacknowledged) of many of young non-Indigenous Australians I teach.


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