When Queen Elizabeth II visited Broome in 1963, a man named Paddy Djiagween – Patrick Dodson’s grandfather – was part of a group of Aboriginal dancers. Afterwards, Djiagween asked the Queen: Since he danced for her, why couldn’t he drink with white Australians in the local pub?
The queen speaks to her squire, who ensures that Djiagween can drink.As Professor Mark McKenna writes in his fascinating book study Djiagween “won his case” on relations between Indigenous Australians and the Crown. But the story highlights a central paradox: Many hope the queen can be called upon in person as a kind and compassionate leader. But at the same time, she represents an institution that brutally colonizes foreign lands.
In 1999, just before the Republic referendum, Dodson led a delegation of Aboriginal elders to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, whom he described as compassionate and respectful. When she came to Australia the following year, she spoke more pointedly than usual about the disadvantages Aboriginal people face, but with minimal impact.
At his final coronation in 1953, Robert Menzies did not include Aboriginal Australians in the official delegation, despite repeated petitions from groups including the RSL to do so.Today, participants include Wiradjuri British artist Jasmine Coe, and Tyra Green-Aldridgea Wiradjuri and Djiringanj woman, a Prince’s Trust Get Into Maritime graduate.
When the then-Prince Charles came here in 1988 and spoke about the injustice of Aboriginal people, he said: “The real celebration of this country is in its Constitution… [wherein] In this remarkable country, the rights of every family are protected and cherished. ’ All but Aboriginal families were excluded and unprotected. Thirty years later, the Yolngu elders of Arnhem Land gave him a message stick, telling him that sovereignty had not yet been ceded.
McKenna writes: “Unknown to this deeply entrenched country, visiting royals were limited to general encouraging (and often condescending) remarks, lingering at the icy heights above their domains, and occasional acts of kindness. Access.”
I’ve long been fascinated by what happens to figures like Queen Victoria – and to some extent Elizabeth II – who find themselves in positions of power they never sought, and then enjoy With the amount of control they had, few women had any authority at the time. Charles had a different challenge, in a world where what ABC broadcaster Stan Grant called “whiteness as an organizing principle” was being challenged every day. As well as patriarchy and privilege, as well as seeking reparations for land and crime in several former colonies, Charles faces different challenges. White people have benefited from colonial rule and must now challenge it.
King Charles III had some good qualities. He is reportedly charming in person, fond of comic strips, and deeply concerned about the health of the planet. But in many senses, his personal attributes don’t matter. Polls are also unimportant and inconsistent.
What matters to us is who we are as a nation and what we all need to do to move firmly toward a future that recognizes the truths and burdens of our past. Aboriginal people are at the center of our political and cultural life, and as a people we are proud of our ancient history, our ancient culture and our ancient land. All the stories that will be told along the Mall as King’s Wheel, about ancient battles and thrones and stones and bones, will be a drop in time compared to the millennia that the original inhabitants of this continent lived. This should be our greatest source of pride.
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