With history, you have to take the bad with the good

The recent defacing of statues in Hyde Park - including this one of Captain Cook - has highlighted the darker side of Australian history. Picture: Cole Bennetts

The recent defacing of statues in Hyde Park - including this one of Captain Cook - has highlighted the darker side of Australian history. Picture: Cole Bennetts

Australians have an uncomfortable relationship with our own history.

When it comes to looking at our past, we prefer to only see the bright side. That’s exemplified in the sales of popular history books – the ones that show Australians as brave, noble, heroic but with a bit of a larrikin attitude are the ones that sell the best.

We like to see our country as one that has always been a nation of top blokes.

When it is suggested that some of these alleged top blokes might have done a few shameful things, then the hackles come up.

That’s because we don’t want to see ourselves as the bad guys, and any suggestion of that makes us uncomfortable.

It's something that’s flared up with the recent vandalism of several statues in Sydney’s Hyde Park, including one of Captain Cook pictured above.

I’m not a supporter of this approach at all; it makes it too easy to dismiss the sentiment as nothing more than mindless vandalism.

When confronted with the darker aspects of our past, we dismiss this as a “black armband” view of our history. It’s an unbalanced focus on the dark parts of our history.

But surely an unrelenting focus on the positives in our past is unbalanced as well.

History is all the things that happened here – all of them. You can’t just take pride in the bright, shiny things that make you feel good while ignoring the dark parts.

For instance, you can praise Arthur Philip for his work in setting up Sydney Cove. But you’ve also go to take on board the fact that he kidnapped several Aboriginal men in a bizarre attempt at improving race relations.

You’ve also got to accept that, frustrated with the natives, he gave a marine a hessian sack and commanded he go forth and fill it with the heads of Aboriginal men.

Because he actually did those things – good and bad. And you have to take all of history, not just the bits you like.

This story With history, you have to take the bad with the good first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.