The following is a work of fiction – a short story written back in… 1999! Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Not only do we reminisce what life was like back then, but this alternate future also idealised the issues of Republicanism with native rights & reconciliation. In 2020, now, is it possible that these dreams are closer?
The 7:30 Report, ABC
Tonight a nation is celebrating. After years of economic hardship, unemployment, divisions and tragedy, Australia is alive again and we are having one great party! In this special programme, ABC Television brings you scenes from around the country, interviews and archival material to mark the occasion.
We begin with some footage of those events just twelve months ago, printed indelibly on our minds: the year is 2000, the scene is the final pool-side ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sydney. Lily Blackman, the miraculous young aboriginal swimmer, star of the Games and already winner of three gold medals, walks to the stand to receive her record-breaking fourth gold medal. The girl whose smile has captured the hearts, not only of all Australians, but of viewers around the world, stands proudly as the national anthem begins. A shot cracks out. The accidental firing of a starting pistol, surely? No. The golden girl has been flung backwards into the pool which is rapidly turning a crimson red.
This is not a freeze frame. For ten full seconds there is no movement. Now an official leaps into the pool to recover the body.
We cut to amateur footage taken by a spectator. Police can be seen grappling with a man near one of the exits. We can just catch a glimpse of a flag he is clutching. It has a black Kangaroo and swastika on a white background. Later the man is identified as the leader of KAPO: the Keep Australia Pure Organisation. Within months he is tried for murder, found guilty and sentenced: “Never to be released”. He is presently serving his sentence in Paramatta Prison and is reputed to be a model prisoner.
Now we take you back to the scenes shot a few months earlier. Viewers will recall how in the late 1990s a number of extreme right-wing organisations had sprung up in response to the economics problems, both in Australia and abroad, resulting in high rates of unemployment and related suicides. Here we see one of the typically ugly confrontations between growing numbers of the most extreme group, KAPO, and the increasingly vocal anti-racist demonstrators. This next scene shows why another issue became controversial at the time. Accusations of police brutality led to calls for a Royal Commission in 1999, but generally it was accepted that police were the unwilling meat in the sandwich on these occasions.
At this point I welcome recently elected Prime Minister, Shirley Kenwood, to the programme. Ms Kenwood, first our congratulations on your stunning victory at the last election.
“Thank you, Kerry.”
“And now, would you tell us how you see the course of events leading from the dreadful scenes we have just witnessed to today’s joyful celebration.”
“Well, Kerry, I’m sure viewers will remember how the political climate was changing radically by the mid-nineties. Many in the population at first welcomed the airing of attitudes which they regarded as ripe for examination: the level of immigration numbers in the face of continuing high unemployment; the best balance of ethnic backgrounds, especially Asian, among the migrants; the effectiveness of funding for aboriginal welfare and advancement; the problems of land-rights and so forth. Then there were others who feared the dangerous polarisation in society caused by the way in which such discussion was being raised.
People who had lived through the peaceful Anti-Vietnam War protests of the early 1970s were horrified at the prospect of race-riots, something Australia had always been so proud of avoiding.
I’d have to say, too, there was a lot of frustration in the country at large when the Government dashed any hopes of Australia’s becoming a republic by the year 2000. When the Prime Minister was forced to resign due to “ill-health brought on by over-work,” speculation revived because it was known his successor was more sympathetic to the cause.
The Olympic Games, we all hoped, would begin a healing process, as well as re-instate our credentials as a tolerant, non-racist society in the eyes of the world.
The devastation of that moment by the pool-side when our beautiful young aboriginal swimmer was shot, shocked Australians as no event had done since the Port Arthur massacre. Is it any wonder the nation decided it had had enough?
Everyone was aware that this, unlike Port Arthur, was not a random killing. The Government stood condemned for allowing such a divisive and confrontational climate to arise where the act was possible. Some old-style politicians failed to realise that they were being held accountable for a national tragedy which occurred in full view of millions watching around the world. They should not have been surprised when the no-confidence motion was passed against them. This, of course, forced a new election.
At the same time, out of the shock and grieving for Lily Blackman another great groundswell began – this time a rejection of racism and an embracing of reconciliation between all ethnic groups.
The rest, as they say, is history. At least the Government was when my party won a clear mandate to bring in a new era – the racism-free Republic of Australia.
Today we celebrate that event. And who else could we have chosen as our first Australian-born Head of State than the wonderful Hope Gunawindi? One of the “stolen generation” of black children; she attracts affection and admiration wherever she goes. But even more, as an artist, her reconciliation paintings have inspired this nation with a resolve to work together and bridge differences at all levels of society. Our new flag which she designed can only be described as a work of genius.
So Australia’s transformation into a Republic might be a year late, but in this year of Our Lord 2001 AD – let the party begin!
Nic Lee works by day as a Business Analyst Consultant whilst, outside of business hours, maintains an IT support & website services business. He volunteers with 89.9 LightFM (Christian Community Radio). Nic has served for over twenty years in his local church, in worship, technology consulting, life group leading and event management.