Op-Ed: Chance to share both pain and celebration

History is complex - and inevitably there are differing perspectives on individual historical events. That is certainly true of Australian history. Australia is a continent rich in stories and home to the oldest continuous living culture on Earth. No one story or perspective can capture every aspect of our history, and what those stories mean to each person can be very different too.

Human history in Australia is estimated to go back more than 65,000 years. Through rock art, archaeological explorations and the oral history of Australia's indigenous people, we have tantalising glimpses - but there is much we do not know.

Fascinatingly, there are stories handed down from the time, 250 years ago, when First Nations people first saw a great vessel off the east coast of their continent.

The arrival of HMB Endeavour, under the command of James Cook, was a significant event which underpins the modern history of Australia - and naturally there are diverse perspectives on that event.

From one perspective, James Cook stepped on the shore at Kurnell with his crew on April 29, 1770. The HMB Endeavour, a scientific vessel, was sent by His Majesty's Government from Britain to explore the southern oceans for lands yet to exist in European knowledge.

The voyage he commanded is famous for its scientific achievements, having catalogued hundreds of species and mapped thousands of kilometres of coastline.

From another perspective, two Gweagal warriors stood on the beach and watched a party of strangers descend upon their home. They would try to turn them back, without success.

Those warriors could not know then - and indeed nor did Cook and his men - that this meeting was to be a precursor to later waves of strangers, who would settle on those same shores and bring with them great change.

Each of these perspectives is rooted in truth; each truth as important to the history which underpins today's Australian nation.

This anniversary is a chance for all Australians to understand more about these truths, in particular the incredible history and achievements of our First Nation's peoples. In the past, we haven't always paid appropriate respect to these stories on this anniversary.

Certainly Cook and his men saw many examples of the superb and intimate knowledge of this ancient land held by its peoples.

As we reflect today on Cook's voyage of 250 years ago, we now see it as the first step in an interweaving of stories and traditions and cultures. It has been a deeply imperfect process - and there remains much to do.

But I hope that with this anniversary, Australians of all backgrounds will be open to hearing one another's stories, to understand what took place on this land and to consider what it means for our future. It is a chance to explore our truths, both painful and celebrated.

Truth-telling is not a contest - and it is not a search for one uncontested truth.

Can we, at the same time, believe in both the inherent good and worth of pre-1770 Australia and of modern-day Australia? Can we celebrate the knowledge and achievements of the crew of the Endeavour and the warriors they met on the shores of Australia? Can we feel pain at the loss of culture that First Nations Australians have experienced, and feel proud and hopeful about modern Australia? I think we can.

But more important than my views is that this anniversary prompts reflection on this question among many Australians. If there's one truth on which we can all agree, it is surely that we are now all here together and we all share responsibility for building an even better, stronger, fairer nation.

Australia is remarkable in its depth of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous history and culture. Every Australian has a right to feel connected to our shared narrative today and our vision for a more unified, vibrant and inclusive future.

The Morrison government encourages all Australians to think about this anniversary with respect, thoughtfulness, and open hearts. We have worked to develop a significant program of events designed to encourage just such reflection. Sadly, the COVID-19 outbreak means that some of the activities originally planned for this year are not able to proceed. But there is still plenty going on. The Government has today published a website - www.endeavour250.gov.au - which offers information from a range of perspectives as well as educational resources for teachers and students.

Our national cultural institutions, including the National Museum of Australia and the Australian National Maritime Museum, have developed exhibitions about Cook's voyage and its significance. While these museums are presently closed, the educational experiences and exhibitions they have developed will be available online.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies is leading an important project to return Indigenous cultural heritage. The Australian and NSW governments are funding upgrades to the Kamay Botany Bay National Park visitor facilities. This work will have enduring value - just as Cook's 1770 voyage is an event of enduring historic significance in the development of our modern Australian nation.

Paul Fletcher is the federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts

Originally published in The Canberra Times and across Australian Community Media publications