I was giving a French class yesterday and was telling my australian student how I had visited the beautiful city of Nîmes and its impressive roman arena. She told me that this was what was missing in Australia: ancient history, with buildings that are centuries old. And I remembered that I had thought pretty much the same when I was living in Australia.
I idealised Europe and often thought australian history to be boring because it was a ‘new’ history. Australian arquitecture wasn’t charming at all because the buildings weren’t ancient. What I didn’t understand was that Australia has a very old history. However, this history is difficult for non-aboriginals to identify with.
At school we were taught to understand history as being intrinsically linked to the idea of the nation. In history class the “we” was omnipresent.
“We took up the arms in Gallipolli and fought the Germans”.
“We arrived in Australia in the 18th century” (They didn’t say “colonised” of course… but oh well, “arrived’ sounds better than “conquered”).
And I didn’t feel included in this “we” as I didn’t have any grandparents (like most of the other students who were third or fourth generation immigrants) who had fought for the australian army in World War II. And at ANZAC day I did not feel anything. How do people of aboriginal descent feel during history class? What are history classes like in the Northern Territory? And in the other states? (In Australia each state has a different education system).
We learnt about aborigines in our history class but their history started at the arrival of the English colonisers. As if they had not existed beforehand. As if Australia did not have any history beforehand. And of course we did not learn of all the wrongs caused by the colonisers to the aboriginal peoples.
History should be more than just the construction of a nation. Why are historical written archives considered more truthful and more valuable than oral documents? Of course, it is easier to preserve writing but we have to agree that these archives (whether oral or written) are completely subjective and were conceived in a certain context…
I truly appreciated the roman arena in Nîmes and it was impressive being there but I will try to value the grand and deep history of Australia some more.