Implicated in the Sins of the Fathers?

I’ve been writing an essay for a history subject on the topic of the so-called ‘History Wars’ in Australia. Essentially, it’s about the arguments surrounding the history of the interactions between Aboriginals and Europeans in early Tasmania, and the implications of this for Australian national identity. If you need to read up on it, read Keith Windschuttle and Stuart Macintyre.

Thinking through these issues again has reminded me of something which I think I need to be reminded of more regularly.

It has had me realising once again that I live on stolen land.

Does this matter? Do the sins of the fathers have any bearing on the present? In the course of writing my essay I discovered this helpful discussion of the moral relationship between the past and the present by historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki, who describes the relationship using the term ‘implication’.

‘Implication’ means the existence of a conscious connection to the past, but also the reality of being (in a legal sense) ‘an accessory after the fact’. It is the status of those who have not stolen land from others, but who live on stolen land; the status of those who have not participated in massacres, but have participated in the process by which the memory of those massacres has been obliterated; the status of those who have not injured others, but allow the consequences of past injury to go unaddressed. ‘Implication’ means that the prejudices which sustained past acts of aggression live on into the present, and will lodge themselves in the minds of the present generation unless we make the effort to remove them.

—Tessa Morris-Suzuki, quoted in Ann Curthoys and John Docker, Is History Fiction?, p. 243.

I feel like many in the ‘present generation’ have this issue still lodged firmly in their minds. Clearly there is much still to do. What would God have us do? It is right that we should confess the sins of our national forefathers (Nehemiah 9:2, Daniel 9). Thus an apology is a good start, but, as Peter Adam argued earlier this year in his lecture Australia: Whose Land?, there is much still to be done before true recompense is made and our consciences are cleared.

One of the first steps proposed by Adam is to ‘recognize that recompense is a duty and responsibility, that we owe it to the indigenous peoples of this land, out of respect for them as our brothers and sisters made in God’s image, and out of awareness of the vileness of the crimes which have been committed against them and their ancestors.’

I hope I can be reminded more often of where it is that I live.


4 thoughts on “Implicated in the Sins of the Fathers?

  1. That image is copyrighted:
    Marie McMahon, silkscreen, copyright Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/VISCOPY, Sydney, Australia
    Redback Graphix, 1981

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