Australia is, in many ways, a great and peaceful nation. We have built a society that affords people the chance to live a happy and prosperous life.
United Nations statistics consistently rate Australia as one of the most advantaged paces on earth.
That is, and should be, a source of great national pride.
Of course, in the process, we’ve also built a very unequal society – the circumstances of my people, the First People of this land, are the living, dying proof of that.
It’s not surprising given our past.
One of the first Acts of the Australian Parliament was the ‘White Australia Policy’, legislation which was designed to keep Australia for the white man, in the words of our Prime Minister and others at the time.
That policy endured for the better part of a century, and we are still feeling its affects today, because sadly, since that shameful Act, attitudes in some sections of our community have not advanced a great deal.
We’ve built a nation that can, occasionally, be very intolerant. Modern Australia’s greatest blind spot has always been a fear of ‘the other’. With that fear comes a long and unfortunate history of demonising people from other lands.
In our nation’s past, we’ve hated the Chinese, the Greeks, the Italians, the Vietnamese, the Lebanese, the Sudanese and all sorts of asylum seekers. At the moment, it seems, it’s the turn of Muslims to feel the brunt of Australian xenophobia.
But history shows this will change. Australians will come to realize over time that Islam is not here to change their way of life, that true Islam is a religion of peace.
Just as Australians have accepted and embraced the Chinese, and just as we’ve come to value the contribution of Greeks and Italians and other races, we will eventually realize that Islam is not here to hurt us, nor is its goal to change the way we all live.
We will realize that Islam is here to enrich our nation, to contribute to its multiculturalism and to live peacefully beside Australians from all faiths and all walks of life.
Aboriginal people, of course, have known this for a very long time, because we’re no strangers to Islam.
We have had a long and peaceful association with your religion, an association which precedes the arrival of the white man by hundreds of years.
The Maccassans traded peacefully and respectfully with Aboriginal people in the north of Australia for hundreds of years. When they arrived, they didn’t seek to oppress our people. They sought trading partners, and friends.
And then Christianity arrived. With it came our first experience of ‘foreign terror’.
White men poisoned our water holes, they impregnated our food with diseases and they slaughtered our people. They stole our land, our women and our children. They murdered and beheaded our men.
They even raided our dead, stealing thousands and thousands of the bodies of our ancestors for sale to foreign museums and institutions.
It was a barbarism almost without parallel in human history.
And of course, the terror continues today. Every day, Aboriginal people are harassed by police; we’re denied jobs through institutional racism; we’re used as a political wedge to further party agendas; we’re targeted by the media simply because depicting us as dumb and dangerous rates.
We continue to live in poverty, and we suffer third world diseases on a scale that shames us in the eyes of the world.
So it’s not surprising that today, Australia is seeking to demonise you and your religion, given our nation’s refusal to accept its own barbaric past.
Aboriginal people understand better than anyone the sting of Australian ignorance and racism because we’ve been enduring it since invasion.
So my advice to you is that as ugly as it is – and as hurtful as it can be – it will pass. Modern Australia will accept Islam and the role it can play in strengthening and enriching this nation.
In the meantime, Aboriginal people look forward to continuing our long and respectful relationship between my countrymen and yours.