There are a number of myths which appear to have captured the collective imagination here in Australia. The idea behind the slogan in the title is that all newcomers get an equal opportunity to make something of themselves in this, the “lucky” land.  It is not dissimilar to the notion that drives the dreams of Americans.  Mark Watson, a historian from this country who spent a long time in America, found it deeply embedded in the psyche of just about every individual he met there. It amazed him that someone living inside a box on Broadway could still believe in the American dream, and tout the glorious opportunities at hand in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mythology is a little more mundane here.  Perhaps the lack of a Hollywood dream factory, Silicon Valley phenomenon, or “Horatio Alger” myth (Australian readers will have to look that up) dilutes the dream of the yellow brick road.  But the idea of equal opportunity does have a certain amount of credibility in this country.  A recent survey by the OECD gives Australia high marks for social mobility.  Surprisingly, parents’ incomes and education had little bearing on the success of their children, and the gap is actually narrowing between rich and poor.  That is not something Americans or Canadians can claim.

Australia funnels cash benefits for the disadvantaged to low income households better than any other country in the OECD.  It is not a good place to get old, however.  Half of Australia’s singles over the age of 65 are living in poverty.  That may be why is almost impossible to immigrate here if you are over the age of 40.  This is a land for the young and able.

Like many Australian television viewers, (albeit a distinct minority). I have been captivated by a new series on SBS called, simply, “First Australians.”  I read that it was patterned after an American series documenting our natives.  What astonished me was the surprise registered by reviewers of this fine series.  No Australians appear to have learned any of this history in school.

It is almost as if a collective denial has taken place in the educational system, along the lines of Japan’s denial of the atrocities of World War II.  It is understandable that descendants of the white settlers of Australia would want to absolve their ancestors of cruel, bloodthirsty behavior, but the atrocities did  happen.  What happened to the aboriginals of Tasmania was tantamount to genocide.

The treatment of natives in Victoria was no less cruel, simply more measured. The numbers tell the story.  In a very short time, the aboriginal population of Victoria dropped from 60,000 to 2,000.  The “Protection Board” had Orwellian implications.  Its purpose seemed to be tormenting the handful of aboriginals who survived.  You can download all the episodes of the series at:  http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/

Some years ago, when we were living in New York, an odd series of circumstances took me on a journey to Newfoundland.  I visited a band of Micmac Indians living a hardscrabble existence in the South of the island.  Their people had come from Nova Scotia.  The first people in Newfoundland were called Beothuk. It is believed their use of ochre to paint themselves is the reason we call native Americans “red” Indians.

They were hostile to the Europeans, and their encounters with fisherman from England, France, Spain and Portugal often led to bloodshed.  By 1829, the Beothuk had been wiped out.  I suspect that most people today would be as horrified as I to learn of the casual genocides that were conducted by our ancestors on the natives of these lands.  So, perhaps we have made some progress.  “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives,”  said Abba Eben.  I’d like to think we have come to that point.

We need a future that is no longer claimed by the past. The natives of our planet need a fair go from all of us.

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