At the 2018 Swinburne Annual Reconciliation Lecture, respected ABC journalist and presenter, Stan Grant, posed the difficult question of whether remembering our history helps or hinders the journey towards reconciliation in Australia.
Titled ‘Between resentment and reconciliation: living with the burden of history’, Mr Grant’s speech reflected on his own experiences as a Wiradjuri man and journalist, reporting from conflict zones around the world for more than 30 years.
Mr Grant shared stories of wars and crises he has seen firsthand and said he continues to see the same issues occurring around the world today.
“History has been buried so many times and it always returns. It has nothing to do with the facts, dates and places – that’s like saying that eggs, flour and sugar are the cake. History is what we see after all the ingredients have been mixed together. History is not the past, history is the story of our present,” Mr Grant said.
Learning how to forget in order to forgive
Drawing upon the knowledge of philosophers such as Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche, Mr Grant challenged the audience to consider whether remembering history is necessarily helpful on the road to reconciliation.
“What if remembering the past locks us into a cycle of unending and permanent violence? Forgetting is not just essential to creating a nation, it is essential to creating a world. History has delivered us to a point where history itself is our greatest foe,” he said.
While acknowledging that it is not in our nature to forget the past, Mr Grant explained why it is an important part of being able to move forward.
“Forgetting is not as simple as ‘getting over it’. Too often in Australia we hear ‘why can’t you just move on?’ from politicians and the media who think that ‘sorry’ is enough, who grow impatient when the victims do not fully embrace their former tormentors. The forgetting that I’m talking about tonight is not political.”
Striving towards a common goal
Mr Grant said while there is no one thing that will help Australia progress its efforts towards reconciliation, there is a common goal of all those striving for equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“The people who have fought for reconciliation in our country have done it because they have love in their hearts,” he said.
“You don’t try to build a better future for money or for the money your children will be able to earn. You do it because you love your partner, your children, your country or your people. That’s fundamentally what I’ve seen.”
Balancing justice with peace
Mr Grant also posed the question of whether we are prepared to sacrifice justice for peace, citing the end of apartheid in South Africa as an example of prioritising peace over justice.
“Anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu asked himself that question. They could have pursued justice and they could have set fire to Africa. You can pursue justice by chasing every perpetrator down every rabbit hole, but I don’t believe that brings about true peace,” he said.
“We need to ask ourselves how we can put aside the justice of today to bring about greater justice for tomorrow.”
About Swinburne’s Annual Reconciliation Lecture
Executive Director of Reconciliation, and Executive Director of the Moondani Toombadool Centre, Professor Andrew Gunstone, says the Swinburne Annual Reconciliation Lecture aims to advance understandings of reconciliation in the wider community.
“This lecture is a key element of Swinburne’s 2017-19 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). It was an honour to hear from Stan on his personal experiences and thoughts on reconciliation in Australia,” Professor Gunstone said.