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Letter by Tom Orsag, December 2005
Xanthe Whittaker's review of The Proposition (November SR) is spot on when it states that 'there has been a tidal change in Australia' over the question of racism towards Aboriginal people.
Whittaker also notes the role of Irish people here.
The rebellion of the oppressed in the late 1960s and 1970s saw Aboriginal people organise and fight back. When Eddie Mabo won his court case in 1992 and won 'Native Title' over his island home, the High Court overthrew the legal fiction of over 100 years that Australia was 'terra nullius', uninhabited. The subsequent racist reaction by mining companies and cattle agribusiness, which ironically are owned by Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer (the other media baron), galvanised more white people into defending Aboriginal people.
With the election of Howard, the equivalent of a Thatcherite Tory, in 1996 anti-Aboriginal racism once again became official government policy. A report into stolen Aboriginal children was released that condemned the practice, which continued until the late 1960s - but Howard refused to apologise for it. The ensuing movement for 'Reconciliation', between white and black, in 2000 saw the largest rallies in Australian history, with over 300,000 on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, over 400,000 in Melbourne, the second biggest city, and every major capital city holding huge rallies.
The Irish in Australia made up the large part of the rebellious and organised working class movement - from the convict uprising in 1804 at Castle Hill, Sydney, whose password was from the Battle of Vinegar Hill of the United Irishmen's revolt, to Peter Lalor leading the Eureka Rebellion on the Victorian goldfields, to bushranger Ned Kelly, to the unions and Labour Party. The last Labour prime minister was Keating, and the key building union smashed under Labour was led by Gallagher.
Australia's multicultural population means a significant Muslim presence, which is now demonised by Howard and the mainstream media. A tradition of anti-racism in this country has been forged. It is a wellspring to draw on in this latest challenge.
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