I shouldn’t buy books, should I? After all, I have devoted much effort this year to ridding myself of so many, but the above title just reached out to me. Skimming it so far I am glad I bought it.
Geraldine Doogue: Why do Australians seem to find such difficulty discussing history – that it becomes so angry so fast?
Bain Attwood: Because I think history is very much bound up with the sense of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going to. History is increasingly bound up with human being’s sense of who they are, their identity. And so human beings have a lot invested in history, they have a lot invested in what they believe is a true story and I think in these times of very rapid change a lot of people think that the past, or the story about the past is the most stable thing that they can hold onto.
And so what we have is a situation where there’s been a democratisation of history, where we have whole series of competing historical truths and many people find this very difficult to come to terms with, particularly settler peoples. We’re used to saying our story is true, you accept that.
Since the age of de-colonisation, colonised peoples have not accepted that, and they say, we have our story too. How do you determine what is historical truth, how do you determine who is right? How do you determine whose identity is going to prevail. These are very very difficult questions for any nation state to address. We shouldn’t say that this is easy, we shouldn’t assume that where people’s histories are challenged that that is an easy process for them, and the evidence in Australia, as it is in many other places is that this can be very painful, and that should be recognised, we shouldn’t just brush that aside…