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Issue #1902      February 10, 2020

BICENTENARY: Look Back – Look Forward

The celebration of a nation, the big birthday party, is almost over. It was a year of contradictions. Black and white marching in unity on 26th January showed “what Australia could be like.” Hawke, ably assisted by the royals, fostered nationalism and free enterprise.

The ruling class saw the Bicentenary as an opportunity to consolidate its political and ideological leadership of the people.

One of its main objectives was to foster nationalism among the people. This was evident in Hawke’s speech on 26th January, when he used the word “Australian” sixteen times in as few as twenty sentences. He spoke of “togetherness.”

Adding insult to injury, Hawke spoke as though Australia had no inhabitants nor any history prior to 1788.

The other prime aim of the Bicentenary was to promote the private enterprise system.

The First Fleet re-enactment illustrated this quite clearly. The top sail of the flagship carried a Coca Cola advertisement.

The approach to the Bicentenary was not always so crude and some valuable and positive events took place during the year.

There were excellent spectacles, grass roots projects, fun, and cultural activities – some of them once in a lifetime experiences.

The people participated in many of these and had a good time.

However, little was heard or seen of the labour movement with alternative progressive activities.

Australia was firmly established as a tourist centre. Tourism took off beyond the wildest expectations of the entrepreneurs and governments promoting this latest growth industry.

However in sharp contrast to the official program and Hawke’s “togetherness” at the Opera House, there was the “togetherness” at Hyde Park in January.

The March for Justice, Freedom and Hope brought together around 40,000 black and white people in a ceremony of mourning, of 200 years of resistance and assertion of Aborigines’ right to their land.

It was a protest against the insensitivity of the “birthday party” and an expression of hope for the future.

Far from promoting nationalism, free enterprise and competition, the gathering organised by the Aboriginal people was progressive, uniting people in the interests of people.

It was a momentous success for the Aboriginal movement and the development of solidarity between black and white Australians.

It brought together Aboriginal people from all over Australia and showed them and white Australians the maturity, strength, and potential of the movement.

It gave new-found confidence and momentum to the movement.

It also put the question of Aboriginal rights squarely on the political agenda in Australia and forced Hawke to take notice and to concede the Barunga Statement.

For a period, overseas media coverage of the Bicentenary focused on the protests and plight of the Aboriginal people, with Hawke and his official guests relegated to backstage.

For some time, that momentum was maintained, and a number of actions followed.

Towards the end of the year, however, the ruling class launched a new attack on Aboriginal rights and went all out in an attempt to discredit the Aboriginal people. The attack has a strong racist character.

At the Federal level, the National Party has been active. In NSW Incorporated, the Greiner Government is trying to smear and dismantle the Land Councils and block independent funding for Aboriginal projects.

This attack includes the strategy of “mainstreaming,” whereby all people are “treated the same” and incorporated into the general State social and welfare services.

While claiming to be “equitable,” it actually entrenches inequalities and denies groups such as Aborigines the opportunity to overcome disadvantages and become independent.

These attacks have been met with a determined fight back with new protest actions and the formation of a Coalition of Aboriginal Organisations in NSW.

As the Bicentenary draws to a close, the ruling class cannot be said to have had it all their way.

Overall, the Aboriginal movement has been strengthened and so too has the awareness of many Australians of “what Australia could be like.”

This article originally appeared in the Guardian, December 1988.

Next article – “Bankers seek to control our destiny”

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