Academic journal article Humanities Research

In an Era of Stalled Reconciliation: The Uncanny Witness of Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne

Academic journal article Humanities Research

In an Era of Stalled Reconciliation: The Uncanny Witness of Ray Lawrence's Jindabyne

Article excerpt

Ray Lawrence's Australian film Jindabyne is a powerful national allegory about the denial of historical responsibility and the politics of post-colonial apology across a 'traumatic contact zone' of historical injustice.1 Released in 2006, Jindabyne was produced during a period of stalled reconciliation in Australia. Like many nations in the past 20 years, Australia has been engaged in a painful and uneven process of coming to terms with historical injustice - a process that remains incomplete and unsettling. In 1991, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, inaugurated under a federal Labor government, anticipated that reconciliation would be achieved by the centenary of Federation in 2001. In 1996, in what subsequently became a landmark event in the nation's attempt to respond to the divided legacies of settler-colonialism, a national inquiry was conducted into the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities.2 The final report, Bringing Them Home, found that the removal of children of mixed descent, with the aim of alienating them from their culture and assimilating them to white Australian culture, breached Australian common law and international human rights conventions.3 The national inquiry did not address issues of justice or responsibility. Instead, it documented Indigenous suffering and solicited an affective response from non-Indigenous Australians. By May 1997, when the national inquiry tabled its report calling for a national apology to the Stolen Generations, there had been a change of government. The then Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, did not be heve the current generation of Australians should be made to feel responsible for the past and notoriously refused to offer a national apology. Instead, he expressed his 'personal regret' for the suffering and hurt caused by past policies of child removal. For the next 11 years, no apology was forthcoming, and by the new millennium, the reconciliation process had stalled. In a climate of widespread support for reconciliation generated by the national inquiry, Howard's refusal to apologise became a stain on the nation. In 2008, the first order of business for the new Labor government of Kevin Rudd, after opening Parliament on 13 February, was to offer a national apology to the Stolen Generations and their families and communities.

Rudd's and Howard's responses to a national apology were symptomatic of opposing tendencies that marked the reception of Bringing Them Home: on the one hand, an affective response grounded in empathy and identification, and on the other, denial and forgetting. The former response was expressed through the signing of 'Sorry Books', Bridge Walks for Reconciliation in 2000 and support for a national apology. The latter resulted in criticisms of the report and of the 'black-armband view of history', outrage at the claim of genocide and an insistence that 'the past remain in the past'.4 These opposing responses are not, of course, surprising. As Dominick LaCapra reminds us, nations dealing with the unfinished business of the past must confront the problem of how to acknowledge and work through 'historical losses in ways that affect different groups differently'.5 What is striking, however, is how little explicit discussion there has been of what is involved in working through the divided legacies of colonial dispossession, violence and forced assimilation in Australia. Indeed, the long-awaited apology was viewed widely as a necessary and uncomplicated matter of acknowledging the suffering caused by past policies, which would move the nation towards reconciliation. At the same time, the government rejected the national inquiry's recommendation for reparations such as monetary compensation, and Stolen Generations cases repeatedly failed in court. These events raise a number of questions: what is the value of apology without justice or reparation? Is an apology without reparation simply a onesided acknowledgment and expression of regret for suffering caused by past policies? …

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