Shame, Pain and Melancholia for the Australian Constitution
In 1993, discussion began about the changing of Australia’s Constitution to reflect the existence of Indigenous people. The discussion collapsed with the ‘no’ vote in the referendum on the possible move to a republic. In 2011, an expert panel of Indigenous and non-indigenous scholars sat and recommended change for 2013. As I write, I am ashamed.
In 2015, Indigenous leaders wrote to the prime minister to say they wanted to advise on the terms of that change. Then Prime Minister Tony Abbot refused the existence of a ‘black process’. At the same time, celebrated Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes was being publically admonished for performing a ‘traditional dance’ on the football field. Adam Goodes, it was said, was behaving like a black man. In line with Freud’s discussion of shame as the exposure of genitals, I suggest, something cannot be seen in non-indigenous Australia, something for which the large part of the nation feels ashamed and something for which another part of Australia is dying.
This chapter is concerned with the non-act of re-writing the Australian Constitution to reflect the existence of Indigenous people as Indigenous people, that is, in the mode that they demand through the ‘black process’. I ask what is it that cannot be exposed in the contemporary nation called Australia? And what are the stakes of this exposure? The chapter will briefly map the process toward constitutional change in Australia, and examine the many sites of exposure that appeared in this process. The chapter will then consider whether Jacques Lacan is right in suggesting that one ‘never died of shame’, when in fact there is a great deal of death being produced in the efforts not to expose that which is shameful in non-indigenous Australia.
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