The Statement expresses the aspirations of Indigenous groups ‘for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia’. The pathway is ‘a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’.
Henry Reynolds’ recent book, titled Truth-Telling, is the response of an eminent historian to the need for honesty as expressed in the Uluru Statement. An evidence-based analysis of the dubious legality of the colonisers’ claim to territorial sovereignty, it raises the question in its opening pages of whether there is an appetite for truth-telling in Australia. Reynolds’ uncertainty on this point is understandable in view of the blaring official silence surrounding the Uluru statement. Truth-telling might be difficult, yet it is the only adequate and acceptable response to the generosity of the Uluru Statement. The rewards are mutual, as the authors of The Uluru Statement acknowledge. ‘With substantive constitutional change and structural reform we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood’. Assuming the perspective of another person in the way Berger describes is one path to make the Uluru Statement heard and changes actualised.
We live in times of escalating emergency, which is why those images of the skater reanimating the thin-ice cliché are so compelling. The sounds and the traces created by the skater bear witness to a state of fragility; a precarious balance that just manages to hold things together. This image emblematically talks to the present global situation. Bringing to the fore our individual vulnerability, the COVID-19 crisis has also brought to the surface the necessity and potential of collective strength.
Berger, John, ‘Ways of Witnessing’, Marxism Today, Dec. 1984, pp. 36-8. http://banmarchive.org.uk/collections/mt/pdf/84_12_36a.pdf
Reynolds, Henry, Truth-Telling: History, sovereignty and the Uluru Statement, Sydney: NewSouth, 2021.
About the Authors
Béatrice Bijon is Co-Director of the Menzies Australia Institute and Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University. Her scholarship investigates how the strategic use of language in literary and historical sources can cause change and affect the world. Her work as a curator and documentary filmmaker is informed by her interest in the interaction between image and text.
Martin Thomas is Co-Director of the Menzies Australia Institute and Professor of History at the Australian National University. His interest in witnessing developed from his work on historical sources and also from experience as an interviewer, which has led him into radio production, oral history recording, and documentary filmmaking.