Facing the Past
01 February 1998

This issue, largely written and conceived by Australians, paints a picture of a multi-ethnic country 'in search of its soul' as it approaches the centenary of its national federation. The search, our writers maintain, requires both a courageous vision for the future-and an honest approach to the past.
As we go to press, Australia has been plunged into confrontation between the Senate and government over changes to 1993's Native Title Act, which regulated traditional Aboriginal land claims. The present turmoil should not obscure the substantial progress towards new relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians which has taken place in the last three decades.

Last year 12,000 people took part in 100 regional meetings for reconciliation all over Australia, culminating in a National Reconciliation Convention attended by 1,800 people. These events demonstrated that the reconciliation process intitiated by legislation in 1991 had taken root as a grassroots movement.

This should be a cause for celebration, an inspiration to other countries where the unhealed wounds of history infect and inflame relationships. Like the 'honest conversations about race, reconciliation and responsibility' which are being conducted by citizens' groups in the United States, they challenge the rest of us to confront our past and its legacy today.

For Britain too has history which warps our present: in China, in India and Pakistan, in the Middle East, in Ireland. And within our own borders, between England, Scotland and Wales, between the classes and between the races.

Facing the past-in Australia, the US, Britain or indeed anywhere else-does not mean debunking past achievements, sentimentalizing those who have suffered or shouldering a crushing burden of guilt. Most of us after all are both victims and oppressors. We need the courage to listen to those whose experiences are threatening to us; to expose the places where we have been hurt or have hurt others; to express what we really feel; to open our hearts to new truths and new beginnings.

What better preparation could there be for the Third Millennium?
Mary Lean




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