I am a teacher, and a Principal. I love education and learning is my passion. I was a school student in the 1970s.
As a small boy I recall watching the re-enactment of Cook’s arrival at Sydney harbour. We came here to celebrate this achievement in Australian history. We were told that it was a glorious most wonderful moment. I was taught as a primary student that this happened peacefully and with the consent of First Nations peoples. I was lied to, I was taught that Cook was a hero. I was lied to. How could I have been so stupid?
As a teacher a few decades later I initially continued to tell the lie. Our history curriculum both then and for many years later perpetuated this myth. I am profoundly sorry for this. It was a Year 4 student who I was teaching at the time who put up her hand and asked? "But Mr Thomas, isn't that stealing? It's like someone comes into your house and kicks you out, and now they live there". It took the simple perspective of a child to see it for what it was. This moment for me was powerful and confronting. It was like I was clobbered, there was a sense of revelation and realisation, and in that one moment I realised that I had been lied to, and as a teacher I continued to tell the lie to the next generation.
Consent has become an important and powerful word in so many contexts. Yet it did certainly was not considered when my teacher(s) back in the Seventies and Eighties taught me about the 'glorious' Captain Cook. I am pleased to say that our current curriculum now tells the truth. I am proud to say that I work with a generation of teachers who know and seek to tell the truth we are hearing today. But I give this warning, there is opposition by many. There are many who describe the curriculum as liberal, provocative and dangerous.
As I listen to the stories of the First Nation people speaking today, and hear of the trauma and grief that you have experienced, that which continues to impact you today, I say...
We have heard you
We do not want to leave you to struggle for truth and justice on your own
We want to stand with you
We want to struggle with you.
I want to acknowledge after hearing stories of what has been stolen from you, I recognise that for many of you I represent the one who stole from you. I am white, I am male, I am the Principal of a church school, a religious organisation - an organisation that for generations has stolen from you, caused trauma and abuse, stolen family members. I represent fear, pain and unhealed wounds.
I have heard you, and I am truly sorry.
I live and work in Coogee/Randwick, the land of the Mura Ora Dial clan. Where I live there are 2 monuments standing that for me represent the impact of possession. In the main shopping centre of Randwick stands a monument to Cook and down the hill a concrete storm water drain flows into the ocean at the north end of Coogee Beach. To me this concrete drain pipe represents intrusion and abuse - a gross destruction of place, a place that had been cared for, loved - a source of food, a place of connection for tens of thousands of years.
James Baldwin, an African-American activist worked tirelessly for public awareness of racial and colonial oppression worth. He wrote;
History is not our past, it is our present. We carry this history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we are literally criminals.
Today, here at Kamay Botany Bay we recognise that when Cook took possession he did so without consent. He committed a crime, not a glorious deed. We continue to commit and repeat Cook’s crime, when we tell the narrative of this false history. and we perpetuate ongoing trauma, we are responsible for keeping the wound open when we continue tell the lie.
I acknowledge and renounce the many injustices. Today, we recognise the crime, the lie has been brought into the light, we pray for healing. We work with a shared commitment to tell the truth, with a common memory and a united imagination for the future.