Forget Us NotApril 29, 2014

Australia has a storied past, but not everyone has heard of the Stolen Generations. There was also a war that went on, undeclared.

The Aboriginal Australians were the first inhabitants of the continent. It was believed that they came from Africa, the earliest migrations out of that continent. They travelled through a landmass about 80,000 years ago, and by the time they were settled all over Australia, the temperature cooled down, leading to the Ice Age. Fishing and hunting were the means of livelihood, the aborigines able to maintain successful communities. Technology, hunting practice, and diet varied according to the environment.

Then the Europeans came, settling in. They also wanted the aborigines to adapt to their way of life, the result of which started a problem that would go on for centuries. Assimilation is human nature, but it can be complicated. A clash of beliefs is unavoidable, and in some cases, the outcome can be heart wrenching, if not tragic.

The Stolen Generations, for instance, refers to the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who are removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions. It is under acts of their respective parliaments, but there iss more to it than meets the eye. Doris Pilkington's "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" follows three young girls who are separated by their kin, only to use the State Vermin Fence as their only guide back home. The author relived an ignominious episode in Australian history, not fully aware that what she did would make an impact. She was fourteen, longing for familiar surroundings. One can't help but wonder if there were more like her. They are the anomymous figures in the history books, an awkward topic for conversation.

Then there was the armed conflict between aborigines and Europeans, which went on for more than a century.

''It may be stated broadly that the advance of settlement has, upon the frontier at least, been marked by a line of blood. The actual conflict of the two races has varied in intensity and in duration ... But the tide of settlement has advanced along an ever-widening line, breaking the native tribes with its first waves and overwhelming their wrecks with its flood.''

- Lorimer Fison and Alfred Howitt

It's hard to tell how many aborigines perished in this conflict. Perhaps someone like Doris Pilkington, who have lived to see its final years, can recount what happened back then. Some rather not talk about it, as doing so is like reopening old wounds. Does this mean that Australia can't move forward? Maybe not. After all, the past is checkered. Many will likely look at the bright side, and on this regard, they'll recall Cathy Freeman. She was the first Aboriginal Commonwealth Games gold medalist, but her greatest achievement was winning the gold medal in the 400 meters at the Sydney Olympics. The native of Mackay carried both the Aboriginal and Australian flags during her victory lap. Unofficial flags were banned at the Olympic Games, but it was Freeman's moment.

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