On 10 December 1992, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered a speech on the problems facing Australia’s indigenous population. Delivered at Redfern Park (Redfern being an inner city suburb with a large indigenous population) to a largely indigenous audience, the speech is generally now known as the Redfern speech.
The speech was not given much media attention at the time but is today regarded by many as one of the greatest of Australian speeches, being the first public acknowledgment by an Australian Prime Minister as to white injustices towards the indigeous population of Australia. Keating declared that it was European settlers that were responsible for the difficulties being faced by Australian Aboriginal communities. Nonetheless, according to Keating, guilt was a non-productive emotion in the way forward.
To read the full text of the speech, click on:
To read Keating’s rebuttal of speechwriter Don Watson’s claimed authorship of the speech, and to read Keating’s comments as to the significance of the speech, click on:
To see and hear the speech, click on:
(Part 1) (Main part from about 5.43 onwwards)
Here are selected parts of the speech:
Ladies and gentlemen
I am very pleased to be here today at the launch of Australia's celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World's Indigenous People.
It will be a year of great significance for Australia.
It comes at a time when we have committed ourselves to succeeding in the test which so far we have always failed.
Because, in truth, we cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
This is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be - truly the land of the fair go and the better chance.
There is no more basic test of how seriously we mean these things.
It is a test of our self-knowledge.
Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history.
How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia.
How well we know what Aboriginal Australians know about Australia.
Redfern is a good place to contemplate these things.
Just a mile or two from the place where the first European settlers landed, in too many ways it tells us that their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia continues to be our failure.
That is perhaps the point of this Year of the World's Indigenous People: to bring the dispossessed out of the shadows, to recognise that they are part of us, and that we cannot give indigenous Australians up without giving up many of our own most deeply held values, much of our own identity - and our own humanity.
Nowhere in the world, I would venture, is the message more stark than it is in Australia.
We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not.
. . . .
. . . the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me?
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
If we needed a reminder of this, we received it this year.
The Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody showed with devastating clarity that the past lives on in inequality, racism and injustice.
In the prejudice and ignorance of non-Aboriginal Australians, and in the demoralisation and desperation, the fractured identity, of so many Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
For all this, I do not believe that the Report should fill us with guilt.
Down the years, there has been no shortage of guilt, but it has not produced the responses we need.
Guilt is not a very constructive emotion.
I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit.
All of us.
Perhaps when we recognise what we have in common we will see the things which must be done - the practical things.
. . . .
. . . it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we had lived on for fifty thousand years - and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.
Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless.
Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight.
Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books.
Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice.
Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.
Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.
It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine its opposite.
And we can have justice.
I say that for two reasons:
I say it because I believe that the great things about Australian social democracy reflect a fundamental belief in justice.
And I say it because in so many other areas we have proved our capacity over the years to go on extending the realms of participation, opportunity and care.
There is one thing today we cannot imagine.
We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of disposession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.
We cannot imagine that.
We cannot imagine that we will fail.
And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won't.
I am confident that we will succeed in this decade.
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