What if: Australia, a land of missed opportunity

15 May 2020
Let's imagine that in 1770, Captain James Cook acknowledges that there were people living on this continent, and instead of citing terra nullius, his recommendation was to negotiate with those people? Percy Knight explains.

Just imagine on the 26 January 1788 instead of planting the Union Jack and placing this land under British rule, there were real conversations and agreements put in place to share it.  

Just imagine that instead of driving Indigenous peoples off the land and regarding them as less than human that could be shot on site, there was a cultural exchange, allowing settlers to learn about the land and the deep spiritual connections with every living thing had to it. And, in return the settlers could share their own wisdom and technologies from a Western World.

Just imagine, that in 1901 our people were united and that Federation was reserved for just one single racial group and that we didn’t have one culture with a sense of superiority, believing it could adsorb another culture through assimilation. Imagine that the focus was on inclusion rather than segregation.

Just imagine if we had walked a different path. We wouldn’t need to talk about reconciliation, we wouldn’t need to worry about apologies.
Percy Knight, elder of the Wiradjuri people

Just imagine if missions and institutes had been set up together so that we could live and learn together.  What if children weren’t taken away but stayed with their families and learnt to live and love all peoples that now live on this continent. What if all children had been educated in the ways of both cultures and histories as well as their languages and belief systems? Can you just imagine how strong and knowledgeable those children would become.

Just imagine, that at the time of the 1967 referendum we were instead able to reflect on what a beautiful nation we had created, in which all peoples had been equal for over 150 years and all peoples thrive in a multi-cultural country.

Just imagine rather than temperatures reaching boiling point in 1988 with race relations going backwards, we had been able to celebrate 200 years together.

Just imagine rather than Eddie Mabo having to take his fight all the way to the High Court to overturn terra nullius we were now a country where ALL people have land and have opportunities to capitalise on that land. Whether that means economic development or spiritual ceremonial continuous, it would be totally up to the landowners.

Just imagine if we had walked a different path. We wouldn’t need to talk about reconciliation, we wouldn’t need to worry about apologies, we wouldn’t have a GAP, we wouldn’t need to worry about shame, blame and guilt because we would all be Australians that have a deep respect and appreciation of each other regardless of cultural backgrounds.

Just imagine if all this started on 26 January 1788, now that would be a date worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, our story is a story of missed opportunities and it doesn't diminish us to acknowledge that. Unfortunately, we can’t change our past, but we can forge our future.

We have an opportunity in front of us right now and we all need to decide about whether we are going to take the next steps together. Changing the date won’t fix all our problems but it might be a step in the right direction.

Let’s not miss this opportunity!

Percy Knight is an elder of the Wiradjuri people and an associate lecturer in the University of Sydney Business School’s Discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

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