Guiding Stories

There comes a moment when the old stories start to lose their power.

This happens when an event, or series of them, disrupts the narrative that is our life by inserting an alternate story into that narrative.

That happened for me as I worked in off-shore processing in Nauru. With a front-row seat to changes in government policy, and the impact of those policies on people without power, I began to question the ‘white Australian story’ that I’d grown up with.

As I began to step away from that story, I began to really listen to the stories of indigenous Australians, which made me reassess my place in Australia and its history. As my perspective changed, those who were close to me did one of two things: they allowed this alternate story to change their own outlook or they held more tightly to the old story.

Those around me who held on to the narratives of white privilege felt threatened by the growth in influence of narratives other than their own. This sense of threat sprang from an unacknowledged fear that their comfortable way of looking at life and living in this society was in losing its power.

This ‘white Australian story’ that I’d grown up with, having been raised in a white, middle-class, conservative, Bible-belt area of Sydney, had been a comforting narrative for much of my then 50+ years. It was comforting for those who were ‘in’ because it upheld the status quo of white privilege.

However, this narrative is no longer my ‘guiding story’, nor is it the guiding story for life in 21st century Australia. I am thankful to my good friend Bruce Adams for this insight.

Although white privilege is alive and well in Australia, although indigenous Australians are still disadvantaged and suffer systemic discrimination, although racism remains an ugly issue, it is becoming clear that these ways of looking at life are much less tolerated.

There is a new guiding story being written for Australia and many authors can, and are, contributing.

Its chief authors must be indigenous Australians, whose story has for too long been shunned, ignored and silenced. Other authors are those who have made Australia home, having arrived as international students, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

White Australians are authors too – this is our home – but we must be more aware of how dominant and destructive our version of the story has been and be prepared to listen to and embrace other versions of the story.

As we build this new narrative, perhaps Australia could return to its indigenous roots and become what it once was, tens of thousands of years ago – a true home to many nations.

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