Sunday 6 December 2015

Changing Stations

At the beginning of October, I packed up my family and we made the move ‘home’.  

The house is fairly new, but the place is old.  It has a lot of history, and not all of it is good.  Lake Tyers is a former Aboriginal Reserve, started up in 1861 as a place to keep Aboriginal people separated and under strict control, but today, is freehold land that was returned in 1971 to the residents.  My paternal Grandfather, Charlie Carter, was a member of the group of residents who marched with Pastor Doug Nicholls on Melbourne in protest when the mission was threatened with closure at the end of the 60’s, and in his role as eventual Chairman of the Committee they formed, stood and received the deeds when they won their fight and the Governor General of the day, Rohan Delacombe, formally handed back the land to the people in a ceremony held just a short walk from where I sit right now.
On the day, my Grandfather was smiling and happy.  He told the people who gathered to witness the handover that “we won’t let you down”, and, for a long time, he was good to his word.  Ask any of the residents or former residents from that day who are still alive what they remember of life at Lake Tyers before he died, and you will be told that life out here was much, much better.  

My Grandfather was a smart man, a tough man, and a very determined man.  Sadly, he didn’t live for a long time after the land was handed back, but thought he had fought long enough, hard enough, and won the battle that would mean his children and grandchildren and the generations that came after them would always have this place.  A piece of security and a home for eternity, never again to be threatened or taken away.  That was his dream, and the dream of all the families who lived here - almost all of whom are related to me today through blood or marriage.  My Grandfather was a man who’d lived with the threat of being forced from the land he knew, that he was very much a part of, and it was an intolerable position that he wanted to ensure he protected his family against ever having to worry about. 

This was done in two ways.  First - the 4,000 acres went into a Trust, with shares given to every Man, Woman and Child who was a resident at the time.  My Grandfather received shares, as did all his children and so did many other members of my extended family.  Second – there were rules put in place around ownership and transfer of these shares.  Unlike NAB shares or BHP shares, they couldn’t be sold for money or any other kind of consideration, and those who had shares had strict limitations on who they could give their shares to. Only the original residents and shareholders or their bloodline descendants were eligible to receive them, a simple rule that meant it would always pass down to the rightful heirs.  I wasn’t born until two years after this all happened, so did not receive any shares from this initial handout myself.  A little over a decade ago though, my Aunt, who had received shares in the initial handout as a child in 1971, decided to transfer almost all of her shares to those of us in my generation, and as a result, I was the recipient of 100 of her shares.  Or so I thought.

The day I signed the lease for my property, I was also hoping to sign some paperwork to accept the nominations I had received and take a place on the Committee here.  Enter the first stumbling block.  After my paperwork was examined by a man from the Koori Justice Department purporting to hold authority on these matters, I was informed that the Land Council had ruled that the year of my share transfer (2003) deemed me ineligible and as such I was not a shareholder as I thought, and therefore could not take a Committee position. I am not the first, as story after story has been recounted to me by relatives, given the same spiel when they try to assert their rights, yet the Share Register is full of names that don’t belong and people that should never be eligible to hold shares.  There is no avenue of appeal offered for the decisions that have been made, and no opportunity for those who have been excluded to prove their rightful title to this land today.

So even with just two simple rules, and basic principles to underpin them, it all fell apart in less than 40 years.  We may not be able to sell the land, but that is not the only way to make a dollar out of a place like this.

4,000 acres is a lot of land, and not everyone can resist temptation.  Whitefellas and blackfellas alike are both susceptible to greed, and self-determination took a huge step back when the Government had to step in and take charge after one Chairman was caught with his hand in the till – years after they had received information about his misdeeds.  Perhaps they didn’t want to go in heavy handed and create another ‘wasted Aboriginal money scandal’ that they could ill afford at the time, perhaps they didn’t want to seem like they were meddling – whatever the reason for their delay, the end result of their apathy was a greater sum of taxpayer money lost ensuring that when action was taken, it was more severe and far-reaching in the lives of those people who were left behind.  The benefactor of the fraud was banished and no longer allowed to reside here, but the rest of the residents – who received no benefit from his actions nor had any power or control in the community to make the decisions – had to live with the daily consequences of his actions.  The Government stepped in and took power, appointing various people over the more than decade of their rule here to run the day-to-day affairs of the Trust and promised solutions if given power, money and control over an extended period of time to get it done.  

The media releases will tell you that the Government has poured money and effort into this place – millions of it in fact.  A ’10 year Renewal Project’ that was supposed to help improve the place and, as a priority, they would train the people to eventually take over and run this place themselves and attain ‘Self-Determination’.  Instead, the 10 years has ended, and things are not much better than they were a decade ago.  There will be no outcry at the waste of taxpayer money this time though, it was not stolen by a greedy black man but instead funnelled by stealth into wasted programs that provided not hope and change to the people here, but proved useful instead as a means to give kickbacks to the salaried army of contractors and bureaucrats who learnt to make the various schemes work for them instead.

Since coming ‘home’, I’ve seen the real face of racism.  It’s not a foul-mouthed or ill-behaved child at a football match -  as some would lead you to believe, but instead, it’s the disenfranchisement of a whole group of people based on their race, location and history - who have less education, less money and less support than their detractors.  I now see it all day, every day.  From the police officer who attended here and, instead of taking the complaint from the victim who was doused in petrol as I thought he would, gave advice consisting of “wash your clothes and forget about it” before leaving – to the graffiti some filth sprayed on our bus stop the other day that read ‘fucking coons’ – they never let you forget what you are living out here.  

We’re probably not what you’d imagine when you’d think of a remote Aboriginal community, but we are in many ways very isolated.  The term the Government folk were using at one point was ‘discrete community’ – though it hardly seems appropriate.  The closest well-populated town with services like supermarkets and a police station is Lakes Entrance, about a half an hours drive each way, or you can take the 17 kilometre drive to the closest general store - if you don’t mind paying $5 a loaf for your bread.  I use the word drive because that is your only option out.  There is no public transport within about 15 kilometres, the distance from the residential area of Lake Tyers out to the nearest bus stop (a limited service Vline route), with a State Park surrounding you and only the one road in and out.  There once was a community owned bus or two here that took residents out regularly that either couldn’t drive, didn’t have a license, or couldn’t afford a car.  Like the Cattle Enterprise though, you’re not allowed to ask about what happened to them, or where the money went from the sale of those assets.  There is no transparency, no accountability, and for now, that suits the status quo.  If the books were ever opened on this place, I assure you there would be scandal after scandal revealed and waste of taxpayer money in the millions.  If you set foot out here you'll see the beneficiaries are not the Aboriginal people who will be blamed and suffer the consequences when the losses are finally tallied, but instead, the real winners are the army of salaried contractors and government employees who drive in and out of here on weekdays and rely on this place not improving as their means of financial stability for themselves long term.

I don’t know what will become of this blog, or of my future here.  As far as the blog goes, I have very limited internet access for now, but my wish is to write more and post it up when I can.  Not only because people need to know what is going on in places like this, but also in the hope that by speaking up, some questions just might get asked. 

Sunday 13 September 2015

Blacks in Whites

With ‘Racism in Sport’ being discussed to death in the media of late, I was kind of hoping that we’d move past the constant AFL bashing, and eventually, someone would notice or mention the blatant racism of Cricket Australia.  While we have the AFL almost setting the example to be followed when it comes to inclusion and recognising talent from all walks of life, we continue to have the least diverse representation of our population in our cricket team.  A lack of blacks in whites if you like, which has gone almost completely unnoticed.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Aboriginal people aren’t interested in cricket, or lack the skills or motivation necessary to play.  You might even believe that we all prefer to play AFL or NRL, considering how saturated most teams are with Aboriginal talent.  The reality is that we’re just like other Aussies, we’re capable of playing and loving a wide variety of sports.  The problem is, not all of those sports tend to love us back.

I was only a young fella, about seven years of age or so, when I started to play cricket. I fell in love with the game pretty quickly, and for many of my childhood years, a big chunk of my life revolved around games, practice, and our local club – Johnson Park Cricket Club.  It was like a family, and we were made to feel very much a part of it.  Mum and Dad (or Mr & Mrs C as they were known at the club) were regular fixtures, and while Mum would keep scores, Dad would throw himself into coaching and working with us all.  During the season, Saturday mornings revolved around our games and twice a week, training.  Not only was there my older brother Clintin and myself, but another brother – Johnno – all played for the same club.  Although Johnno was a year older than Clint, he played in my team, a decision that seemed to work best as Johnno is profoundly deaf, and I was the only one of the players who knew all the hand signals and could partner with him at first.

Johnson Park didn’t care if you were black, or deaf, or deaf and black.  They just liked helping kids learn to love cricket and play it as well as they could.  They were encouraging, and supportive, but they were just a local club.  Outside the safety of our small, family oriented club, was the competitive world of ‘Cricket’.  Representative teams where selectors watched you play, in the chance you might get to play for your State, and if you’re really special, maybe even make the Australian team.  For many years, we stayed happy in our little bubble, playing in our local competition and venturing no further, but all the while entertaining bigger dreams – like the fantasy of one day playing for our country.  

Unfortunately, an invitation for my brother Clint to join a competitive team and start moving up the cricket ladder would end up being the start down a road that would show us the ugly side of Australian Cricket, rather than the first steps towards realising a dream. 

Clint was a freakishly talented sportsman who could excel at any game he applied himself to, and cricket was no exception.  When he was invited to play District Cricket for Ringwood, we were exposed for the first time to selection matches, and the notion that people would watch the game and choose the most talented players, based on the skills they could show.  I was sure that my brother would impress the socks off any selector, but after moving up to a place where he could be picked, it seemed that it was taking a long time for his abilities to be noticed. 

For a long time, we expected that good news would come imminently.  The day when a letter might arrive in the post with an invitation for him to join a training camp, a new club – anything really, seemed just around the corner.  The offers and invitations never did come though, and if not for one fateful afternoon, we’d probably have kept wondering and waiting for a lot longer. 

Clint was 16, still playing for Ringwood District, when they held a special round robin of matches.  It was designed to be attended by as many selectors as possible, hoping to catch the next big up-and-coming talent or find the next Don Bradman so they could be snapped up early.  There was no doubting that Clint was having an absolute blinder that particular day, and we watched on as he took wicket after wicket, then moved on to bat impressively and even have a successful turn as keeper.  It came then as no big surprise when, after the last game, I looked over to see one of the selectors pulling Dad aside to speak to him at great length.

A few minutes later, he returned to where we were packing up our things and readying ourselves to go home.  He wasn’t smiling and celebrating, but instead, he looked dumbfounded.  On the car ride home, at the first moment of silence, Mum asked Dad what the selector had told him, and he didn’t hold back.  “He said he was good, but he’s not getting a place.  They have quotas, and they have to pick kids that will fit in well with the private schools, and he won’t fit in with them.  He didn’t say why exactly, just that he should try out for the Aboriginal team instead.  I told him ‘my son wants to play for Australia’ and he just told me flat out ‘that will never happen’ and I just walked away before I punched him or did something really stupid”.

That was the last weekend we played cricket.  At ages 16 and 13, both Clint and I put down our bat and ball and went home.  I explained to my teammates and my friends that my ankles were in bad shape, and this was the reason I would no longer play, but the truth was that watching my brother get shot down had sucked all the love for the game out of me.  I just didn’t want to play anymore, it felt like a giant waste of my time because I would always be a blackfella in whites – something the wider world of cricket seemed not to want.  I still loved the club, and the people there, but they were just a small cog in a much bigger wheel, with no ability to change the status quo.  I felt badly at first that not only was I lying to them by faking an injury, but by leaving the team I would also be letting them down.  That guilt was quickly forgotten though in the weeks and months that would follow as I watched the effect that the rejection had upon my brother.  I saw his horrific descent first-hand, as the one element of society who would accept him with open arms and saw his skin as a sign of strength, and not weakness, became his new circle of friends and what seemed to him the only prospects for a better life and respect. 

Within a year, Clint had left home in a memorable blaze of police lights and sirens, and as a completely different person. 

I eventually stopped wondering ‘what if?’, a few years later.  I started watching the cricket again and began to just enjoy it for the great game that it is, rather than focussing anger or rage at one of the things that I greatly considered to have contributed to my brother turning his back on the world. Eventually, I got to the point where I could forget the past, and months would go by before I would remember I’d even played cricket myself, let alone my brother.  This was achieved because I had reached the point of apathy and adulthood at about the same time, not to mention the more important fact – I’d also added a third ‘A’ word to my daily life by now – alcohol.  It dulled all the pain they couldn’t provide a prescription for if you went to the doctor, and the world always seemed a better place once I had a few under my belt. 

Almost a decade after hanging up the pads and forgetting the past, I was working as a car detailer for South Melbourne BMW - at their new site shortly after the Burnley Tunnel was built - finishing off the interior of a car that had come in for repairs a few days earlier, when the Manager walked in with Shane Warne.  The car I was working on just happened to belong to his then-wife, and he had come to pick it up.  I quickened my pace - not only were we told that the clients aren’t expected to wait for us, but celebrity clients get what they want when they want it - but instead of being asked how much longer it was going to take, my boss interrupted me only to ask me to come over to where he was standing, Shane Warne still by his side.

I had a pretty good boss, and I assumed he wanted me to get to ‘meet’ someone famous, so I walked over and rather than the introduction I expected, it was Shane Warne who spoke first, eagerly asking “Do you remember me?”.  I was always getting mistaken for my older brother, and this time was no exception.  Clint had played in the same division as Shane Warne back in his district cricket days, and most of those who played with him or against him ended up remembering him for one reason or another. When I told Shane that it was actually my older brother he had played against, he immediately began to recount a story of playing against him and almost having his head taken off with a ball when he was batting.  It was clear that Clint had skills that had left an impression on him, as he then turned to me to ask the big question, “Geez, what happened to him?”. 

It was asked with high expectations, not low ones.  The tone not of disdain, but one of great anticipation.  I’m sure I could have told him some wonderful stories, except they’d have been lies.  Instead, I told him as much of the truth as my sense of shame would allow me.  In the end, just four words, “Oh, he’s down home.” It pretty much ended the conversation right then and there.  I didn’t want to elaborate, or fill in gaps, and to his credit, he didn’t push further.  Maybe he put two and two together and realised that I wouldn’t be standing in front of him wearing overalls and cleaning his car if my brother was a rich and famous sportsman.  I know the thought crossed my mind more than once as I stood there, and from the look on his face after a few minutes of silence, perhaps it had now crossed his.

I went back and finished the car, before returning home on public transport to my rented two bedroom flat that I shared with a dysfunctional couple with drug issues. I drank a lot that night, wanting the greyness of no memories rather than the anger I felt.  I wanted to black out my reality, and I especially wanted to stop wondering what could have been.  A man who’d managed to achieve everything my brother and I never would, walked into my life and for the first time in years I was forced to confront that.  I just didn’t want to.

If conditions were the same, and we were allowed a ‘do-over’ in life, I’d never have bothered to pick up a bat or a ball.  Like a girlfriend you wished you never met, avoiding the drama completely is preferable in my book.  I’ve seen nothing change in my lifetime, and I doubt I’ll live long enough to ever see the elusive image I once dreamed of as a young kid - a blackfella in whites on an Australian team.  We’ve had just two men play at the level of Test cricket who claim Aboriginal ancestry, but unless I told you who they were, you probably wouldn’t be able to pick it (and before you guess ‘Andrew Symonds’ – don’t, he is not Aboriginal).   

 There was a time when I wanted to play for Australia, and although I have no doubt that if my brother had taken the selectors advice and tried out for the ‘Aboriginal Cricket Team’ (or whatever PC name they call it these days), he’d have been picked in a heartbeat - it is more complex than that.  Clint was not just the best blackfella cricketer, he was a great cricketer, full stop.  He could have held his own against anyone in Australia in his prime, but his potential and talent were discarded and unwanted.  Being told he’d never get the chance to prove his ability at the highest level, not because he wasn’t skilled enough, but for something he had no control over, makes me wonder how many promising young dark-skinned kids have been passed over in the years since. 


Monday 3 August 2015


I will admit that I cringe when I hear the words “Stolen Generations”.  It makes me uncomfortable, because like most of the issues surrounding Aboriginal affairs, what I have to say will affect those who are close to me, and not always in a positive way.  Offence can be taken in just a few words, and although I am loathe to cause any harm to those I love, it has become a choice between a moment of possible offence, vs a much greater harm and problem we need to face.  Unlike most of the topics that come up with regard to what we should be ashamed about when it comes to Aboriginal affairs – domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction, imprisonment, poverty, racism, homelessness – I don’t know anybody that qualifies as ‘stolen’, nor am I related to anybody who is, yet I am familiar with the term, and know people that use it to describe their own situations.

For anybody who wonders, I want to clarify my understanding of the term ‘stolen generation’ for you.  The “Stolen Generation”, in simplified terms, refers to a policy of removals of Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal children from their families and cultures, to be raised in white society as a means of eventually ‘breeding out the Aboriginal’.  At first, it was claimed to be a ‘White Australia’ policy, but then after the public failure of several court cases, justification for the claim – despite the lack of legal success to back it up – came by widening the narrative a little more, to explain how a law that did not exist was actually a secret conspiracy to falsify tales of neglect, and carry out their diabolical plan with the full support of the legal system instead.   

As those who have read my blog before would know, I was raised in foster care, by parents who were not Aboriginal and had white skin.  I was not stolen, but instead I was given with open arms by some of my relatives to the Mum and Dad who raised me.  They raised lots of foster kids, some who even had a non-Aboriginal parent and were much lighter-skinned, but they stole none of them.  Instead, the phone would normally ring, often in the middle of the night, with a desperate parent on one end begging for Mums help and the next day we would have a new family member.  Sometimes for a week, other times a few months, sometimes years.

Where the ‘stolen generations’ story becomes a dangerous narrative, is when you have those who use its inability to be debated, due to the highly sensitive matter of the subject, as a means to gain sympathy for those people who should otherwise be encouraged to get help and face the demons of their past.  From my own personal experience, of those who have claimed to be stolen, but instead are easing their need for sympathy for their suffering with a label instead, going along for the ride is not a positive experience.  While the label might earn you quiet respect, and immediately paralyse most people into asking no questions and instead letting you share as much or as little as you like about your background, the longer you avoid your real story – whether that be in order not to have to face some hard truths, or ask some harder questions of yourself – things aren’t going to get better for you.  Having a name for your pain means nothing if it’s a misdiagnosis.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have been completely abandoned, but I do know what it is like to be denied parts of your history.  My biological mother chose to share little of herself and her history, leaving me with gaps that I have spent years trying to fill - but am yet to feel like I’ve succeeded at accomplishing. I’ve walked arm in arm with my biological sister as she made her first tentative returns to Lake Tyers.  I know how frightened she was of being accepted, and we sat for many nights where I repeatedly reassured her not to be afraid, that so many people could not wait to see her and just wanted her in their presence again, but until she had seen it for herself, her apprehension could not be eased by my words alone.  I know this because I feel this way about going to Wallaga Lake - where my mothers family are from – and where I have been only as a very small child.

This is the downside to Adoption and Foster Care for some kids, regardless of skin colour.  Reconnecting can be difficult, heartbreaking, or wonderful – there is just no guarantee of which outcome you’re going to get, and the fear of rejection can be so overwhelming for some that it takes them years to even try.   When the biological parent passes away before the answers can be had, it is a horrible emptiness  and regret that cannot be undone, and makes the journey to find resolve seem that much more difficult and insurmountable. We should provide support and counselling to any people who are affected by these issues, rather than funding a label or narrative that is failing to deal with the deeper issues that are underlying these claims.  

Blaming the white man, or the government for taking your kids away is easier for some of my relatives because they can be supported by others for being a victim, yet I am starting to realise that this is having a terrible cost to the younger generations, as they fall prey to the same answer of covering the pain and suffering we won’t or don’t talk about and resolve with honesty, by easing their confusion or emptiness with alcohol or drugs.  We’ve done ourselves no favours by trading our need for sympathy for that sense of loss or displacement by letting people class us with a label that will explain away our sadness or dysfunction or failures, to avoid talking about the things that are painful and causing us to repeat that pattern again and again.  The problem is, that sympathy is based on a lie, and the real sympathy, understanding and help they need never comes because the trade off for that comfort of a label that explains all your ills without having to look deeper is the eventual realisation that the questions never go away. 

Parents who surrender their children face a suffering all their own.  Since becoming a father myself, I am more in awe of what my biological father did for me, and am thankful that he didn’t pass away before I got to tell him just how much I appreciated how hard it must have been for him to give us away to give us a better life.  I hope never to be in a situation where my life has spun out of control to the point where I have to hand my children to someone more stable than myself to care for them.  But if I had to, I would.  I love them too much to have them suffer along with me when there are options for a better life for them.

I would not be surprised to learn that my biological mother would have considered us ‘stolen’ from her at some point in her life.  From where she stood, it would have seemed the most adequate description of what she was going through during that time.  She did not get a say in where we lived, in fact, was quite vocally opposed in the few small encounters we had during my childhood, and we grew up without a connection to her heritage and culture.  I can only hope that she didn’t go along with the narrative though, because it wouldn’t be true, and it wouldn’t have allowed the real culprits for her suffering to wear the blame. 

Who were those culprits?  Not a secret conspiracy, but instead a culture that valued the opinions of one family over another, over those of the woman who gave birth to us and held us in our arms when we arrived into the world - when it came to making decisions about their children.  A society that was less tolerant, less understanding, and less welcoming of Aboriginal people back then, that resulted in her isolation and allowed her own prejudices against white people to be forever formed and one day drive a wedge between us and cause our estrangement.    It was painful for her, and it must have been awful, and I have no doubt that her suffering led to her struggles with alcohol.  What I can’t make excuses for anymore, is that for decades her choice to slowly kill herself with grog was allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, excused by those who wanted to ease her suffering with an easy answer that seemed to make her happy but ultimately, didn’t help her into anything more than an early grave.  Heavy drinking devastated her life, and resulted in her enduring her final years spent missing a limb and pushed from place to place in a wheelchair as a result of the diabetes that ravaged her body.  It could have been different, and if we don’t focus on making sure it isn’t for those who are still with us and suffering, then we’re going to continue the cycle of broken hearts, misplaced hate, and never moving forward and closing the gaps that count.

I am also sad that my father didn’t get the help he needed.  Those who did encourage him to do so were shouted down and often ignored, as others around him enabled him and made excuses for him too.  They should have to wear some of the guilt and regret that he felt , for they helped to directly cause it by their actions.  Sad stories don’t need a blame narrative, they need to be dissected, understood and the right help found for the people who are suffering. 

I apologise for all the times I have stood silent and let the narrative go unchallenged in my own circles.  I’ve helped nobody by standing by and letting people focus on finding someone to blame, rather than healing and moving forward. 

Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Wayland Smithers School of Journalism

The jeering was loud.  Almost deafening in its unison - as hundreds of voices simultaneously uttered a long, slow “Boooooo” at the defiant man who stood before them from his position of power and privilege.  The crowd refused to be silenced, their eyes fixed on him in an angry glare that reinforced the hatred coming from their mouths, the mocking tone of their cries reaching a crescendo that seemed to confuse their target, before his trusted advisor could intervene.

“They’re not saying ‘Boo’, they’re saying “Boo-urns”.

Just as Wayland Smithers protected Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons, sections of our media, together with the hierarchy of the unnecessary at the AFL, are now lying to protect Adam Goodes in much the same way.  “They’re not booing you Adam, they’re just displaying their deep seated racism the only way they can”, or in Smithers-speak, “They’re not saying Boo, they’re saying “Boo-oong!”

Of course, we have the regular roster of apologists come out, shaming the country and our society for cutting down a sports star who happens to have Aboriginal blood as part of his racial make-up.  The caring, informed and sensitive city dwellers who, despite their alabaster skin tone and lack of racial diversity, can not only see, smell and hear racism, but tragically, are so deeply affected by it that they feel they must differentiate themselves from the white person next to them by pointing at them and screaming racist long enough and loud enough that somehow, somewhere in the midst of all their righteous shouting, their own skin tone will be forgotten or ignored. 

One thing I’ve come to understand about our society is that often, those who see themselves as the most tolerant, educated and enlightened are usually most racist, close-minded of all.  These types were the first to pick up their keyboard or a microphone and declare that speaking negatively about the so-called ‘war dance’ effort from Adam Goodes over the weekend means that we are culturally ignorant, yet in making such a claim, have themselves ignored an entire segment of the Aboriginal community, who are appalled at the ‘performance’.   In wanting us to be a homogenous community capable of only thinking and feeling one way, therefore enabling them to have the correct information and be ‘right’, they are guilty of the same crime they are continually accusing an entire nation of – RACISM.  

The fact is, some Aboriginal people, myself included, saw that embarrassing display and did not feel pride.  Instead, we felt shame, and a sense of sadness and loss.  Some of this stems from seeing yet more of our traditions mocked and traded upon, invented and earning overnight acclaim, for little more than cheap thrills while the long standing traditions are ignored, left to die quietly and uncelebrated until they are forgotten and lost forever.  Some of this comes from the fact we're tired of the theatrics, and how his need for attention will play out for the rest of us, and creep a little into our own lives.  For an urban blackfella like me, I hate the fact that all of a sudden my opinion is relevant.  I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year, or bothered to watch free to air television in even longer, yet received two messages on my phone today – one from SBS and the other from 2GB, wanting to know what I think about the whole Goodes drama and depending on what I think, whether they want to hear from me.  They aren’t the only ones.  Friends, acquaintances and even the random guy standing next to me in line at the supermarket suddenly wants to hear what I have to say, but only on this one topic, just for now.  The easiest way to get rid of them is to gauge their personal feelings, then just agree with them.  If someone is genuinely looking for a discussion, they are easy to tell, but most people just want me to be the token black who validates their own feelings on the matter.

Views like mine, that are contrary to the representations being made by the rabid, name-calling media, are ignored or rejected by all those who simply want to brand every incident or comment with an ‘ism’, because the object of their outrage is never to stimulate an educated debate or a discussion, but rather they wish to simply stand on their given podium and recite their narcissistic lecture, a pointless exercise for them to reinforce their followers that they alone are a bastion of cultural relevance, understanding and compassion.  Sadly, theses ‘enlightened’ folks also tend to take their cues on history from the most removed people of a culture, merely because they tend to occupy the cubicle or apartment next to them, or speak with the most authoritarian voice or sense of victimhood – a sure sign that they must know what they are on about, according to our current high standards of journalism in this country – instead of seeking the truth and looking for those with knowledge that comes from a life of lived tradition, rather than being well removed from it.

I used to dance as a kid.  Most of the kids who grew up in our house did it, but I have no intention of my own children doing the same.  My reluctance has nothing to do with them being of mixed heritage though, and everything to do with cultural appropriation.  I said I used to ‘dance’ as a kid, because that is really all it was.  I was dressed in a lap-lap and painted up, was taught the moves the rest of the kids were doing, but it was all just a show.  The dances were not ones passed on to us from our Elders, performed for a specific reason or during a time of unique and special celebration that led me to understand my culture in a meaningful way, but rather a collection of dance moves put together by a choreographer who may or may not have had a distant Aboriginal ancestor she found out about in her mid-thirties.  A few documentaries and books from the library later, she had all the cultural awareness she felt she needed, and as a bunch of children not yet trusted with much knowledge, we didn’t know any better.  We danced for smiling crowds of educated, enlightened people who clapped politely while murmuring “Oh, how cultural”, as they watched us enraptured.  I would smile back at them and dance harder, oblivious to what I was doing and simply happy to receive positive praise and attention from a crowd of people I didn’t even know.  But I was no better than a performing monkey to them, and for all their education and compassion, those crowds were the most racist people of all.  Their wisdom and understanding of Aboriginal people and culture was a passing fetish, and in an effort to appease them, I was walking all over my own culture for their amusement, all of us completely ignorant to this heartbreaking fact.
After becoming a man, I learned better.  I learned that our chants, and our dances are sacred.  They are powerful and special secrets, not entertainment for the masses or political statements designed to make sure you get yet another mention in the nightly news.  I also took it to heart that the title of ‘Warrior’ is like respect.  It is always earned, not merely given because of the colour of your skin or your heritage.  I am proud to say that some of my own ancestors include great Warriors - men who fought and died to protect their families and their way of life, and faced enormous battles that I could never fully comprehend from where I sit today, in a relative position of privilege by comparison, however you look at the statistics and facts. It would make a mockery of the suffering and heroism of my ancestors to assign a title of great reverence and historical significance, such as ‘Warrior’,  to a person whose fame and heroism is derived from little more than the ability to show up a few weekends a year and kick a leather ball around an overly groomed piece of paddock. 

As Adam walks out for his next game, before making his way onto that perfectly manicured stadium lawn, I suggest he take a deep, slow breath and reflect upon the reality of his life.  Rather than having to emerge from the sheds for the ‘coloured people’, kept separate from the white folks playing beside him, he will run out after being supported by his entire team, not kept to the back.  When he is thirsty, he doesn’t have to take a drink at the appropriately labelled drinking fountain, set aside for only folks with his racial identity, but rather will be served like a prince, with a special servant whose only job is to provide refreshments for the thirsty players, regardless of their skin colour or heritage.  As he drives his brand new sports car to training, where he looks around at the other players arriving in their equally expensive vehicles and stops to realise he is paid just as much as them, if not more, he should perhaps pause a moment and wonder about whether he is fighting a war that has already been won, and instead of complaining from his position at the top, realise how those on the bottom rungs might be sick of hearing him whinging and would much rather he just got on with life.

Thursday 21 August 2014

18c – a win for Sally Sensitive

Sadly, it looks like 18c is not going to be done away with in a hurry.  It’s a shame, because making a crime out of causing offence to someone is an utterly ridiculous burden upon free speech and debate.  It does nothing to stop racism, or give justice to someone who is actually caused a harm based on their race, religion or anything else, but we’ve been told that getting rid of 18c will open the floodgates for all these things to become commonplace, or worse, normalised

The reality is, we have other laws that cover those crimes more than adequately, so it is hardly like the push for removing 18c was led by the frustrated local KKK ‘Grand Wizard’, who had until then, gone largely unnoticed in our community (burning his crosses and preaching his hate in private, as 18c was the only thing keeping him at bay apparently!).  The push to repeal 18c had supporters who weren’t asking for the ‘freedom to be bigots’ (wow, was that ever a bad choice of words), but rather the right to speak freely without fear of being taken to court for causing hurt feelings, offence or insult to a person.  Instead of a society that embraces vigorous, free and open discussion on all topics as a means to progress to better understanding, by holding onto 18c we’re announcing ourselves as a nation that needs to control and monitor debate.  Not because the topic of debate is unnecessary, but rather because some of the freely spoken words might upset some of the participants.

To placate the perpetually offended minority, we’ve got to wear a huge cost as a population.  Others have a more public and personal suffering though, like Mike Carlton.  I might not read much of what he has to say, but he has just as much a right as I, or anyone else, to voice an opinion. We aren’t forced to read it, nor are we forced to agree with it or support it.  It may have offended you, or someone you know, but there were also those who saw it and agreed with the sentiment it was expressing.  Therefore, we have a bit of an issue - we clearly have at least two sides to consider, so how does it benefit us, or allow us understanding of the whole problem, if one side is silenced?  I’m sure plenty more convictions could be had if we only ever allowed juries to hear the prosecution evidence in a criminal case, and debates would be easy to decide if only one side was allowed to present their argument.   

Part of the problem with repealing 18c is that fear sells, and fear motivates.  We were told that a future without 18c was a future to be feared, and it was sold with a catch.  If you support the repeal of 18c, you’re a ‘racist’.  People always feel far more assured when there is a clear right and wrong side to an argument, especially if it involves a touchy subject, so when ‘supporters of the repeal of 18c’ was equated continually with ‘racist’, or ‘bigot’, the choice was highlighted as having a clear ‘morally right’ and ‘morally wrong’ option – and as an added bonus, it didn’t even ask you to think too hard.  Racists and bigots = bad, therefore, repeal of 18c must be bad, because it is supported by bad people.  If racists and bigots are behind the push for something, don’t think too much, just decry it.  For a country so smart, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into a debate based more on emotion than intellect, reason or understanding.  

Perhaps we need a slogan, or a label, to use when referring to the supporters of 18c.  But what one word shortcoming or slur best describes someone who believes emotions should be so highly valued that we legislate to protect against anyone making us feel the bad ones? Hmmm, how does ‘hysterical’ sound?  Or ‘unbalanced’?  Doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘racist’, or the negative connotations to surround it, does it?  Maybe that is because it is one of the things that unites us as human beings - our ability to have emotions.   
We fear them, embrace them, and try to control them.  We don’t want to be punished for having them, but also have an instinct to protect them.  Without them, we would be just a mess of flesh and electrical impulses, and life would be pointless, but allowing them to rule us, control us, or form the basis for the decisions we make – is madness.  When we give in to emotion, we tend to compromise our values, which should be far more important when we choose which laws we want to govern our lives and form the basis for the behaviour we expect from the society we live in.  

Minority groups do not have to fear a repeal of 18c.  The worst harms that can be done to anyone in a minority group in Australia are something every Australian is protected from.  I don’t want to be denied a job, a house, or places at schools for my children based on my race.  18c doesn’t protect me from this, but Anti-Discrimination laws do. 

If my face is plastered on the internet, along with untrue claims about my character or lifestyle, raised only because of my race or perceived religion (for the record, I don’t have one), then our Defamation laws are in place to afford me protection from this, not 18c.

If I am injured in an assault, that occurs because a gang of thugs decided to attack me only because of my race, then Criminal laws are available to have them charged and the appropriate punishment given.  

If a new family moves in next door, and started to repeatedly insult and offend me, by making racial insults about me in public, in front of my kids or friends, I could seek an AVO against them if attempting to befriend them first and ‘enlighten’ them from their racism a more productive way continued to fail and I felt threatened or bullied by their behaviour.  If it was bad enough, perhaps even Vilification laws would cover their behaviour.  Either way, in a situation like this, 18c is again not going to give me the protection or assistance I require.

18c can be used, however, to remove some of my freedoms.  I cannot guarantee that the words I write will not offend or insult someone.  I cannot control how other people construe or choose to interpret my words, and I write about topics that can cause heated discussion from time to time.   I shouldn’t be denied the right to express myself freely through reasoned opinions, just because they may stir an emotion in another, nor should anyone else.   It is a standard we will all eventually fail, and not through malice, or with the express intent of causing harm, but because we’re yet to agree on everything, and something is bound upset someone, somewhere, at some time.  We’re 26+ million diverse people after all.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Anyone for Coffee?

Aboriginality, apparently, can be equated to a popular beverage.  

But the analogy currently doing the traps is disingenuous.  A lot of the rhetoric like this is, but if you dig a little deeper on most of what is spouted, you may find that rather that support the claims of the offended, they only illustrate the opposite.

So, let’s take one of my personal favourites on a spin.  The old ‘Cup of Coffee’ analogy.  It usually goes something like this:-

“You aren’t really Aboriginal, you look White?”

“I am too Aboriginal.  It’s like Coffee, you don’t stop calling it Coffee just because you put some Milk in it!”

Sounds dandy.  But it’s bullshit.  And here is why they use the analogy.  It is simple, short and invites you not to think.  A puzzling conundrum seemingly solved by a pearl of wisdom passed down over time should ring alarm bells to any thinking person, but in an age where we discourage enquiring and questioning minds, it seems such platitudes are happily accepted as intellectual fact without any scrutiny.

Does the Coffee analogy meet the standard?   No.  It lazily skips over current and past knowledge to achieve a result that was desired and forced from the outset.  It also fails the ‘word replacement’ test.   It is a test I made up myself, but anyone can use it. All you do is take the comment, place it in its full context and replace the words in question in the appropriate places to see if it makes as much sense once you’ve got all the facts.

I’ll do that now for the Coffee analogy:-
For tens of thousands of years, there was only Coffee on a large island.  A few hundred years ago, ships began arriving that contained Milk.  At first, the Milk did not want to mix with the Coffee, and in the early years after the arrival of Milk, at one point it was decided that the island should get rid of Coffee, and switch to Milk.  Milk became the preferred drink, and sanctions and punishments of all kinds were placed on Coffee for more than a hundred years.  Over time, however, attitudes toward Coffee began to slowly change.  Far from being inferior, perhaps Coffee was an equal beverage to Milk?  

Milk and Coffee mixing sanctions were removed, and in an effort to undo the harm that the previous sanctions had placed on Coffee – more than a hundred years labelled an inferior beverage has to stick – some preferential treatment was rolled out for Coffee.  Despite the removal of the sanctions against it, it was still struggling.  Sure, people in the cities were starting to have a little Coffee from time to time, but they seemed to overwhelmingly reject Coffee alone, opting instead to have a blend of the two, when allowed to choose for themselves.  Coffee became relegated mostly to the poor areas, and looked down upon despite no longer being legislated as a second class beverage.  

Some of the Milk decided to introduce pro-Coffee legislation, in an effort to help bring about equality between the lagging Coffee and the outperforming by comparison Milk.  Taxes that were dutifully collected from all were pooled and Billions allocated to address the problem.  The reforms were passed, and people were given money to drink more Coffee.  Coffee needed to be in Universities! Hospitals! Schools!  Having Coffee around had to be normalised, if equality could ever hope to be achieved.

At the same time, it was decided that a definition of what Coffee actually was would need to be decided upon.  It seemed an easy task, but there was an outcry from the city dwellers.  They were drinking Coffee, and although it was not without Milk, it contained Coffee, and this should count.   There was a history of Coffee and Milk mixing for some time, and the resultant combination was being just as hard done by as Coffee alone.   The pro-Coffee economic reforms needed to help mixed beverages as well, as they saw themselves as fundamentally no different from Coffee.   Arguments were put forth that some of the mixed beverages had a large amount of Coffee as opposed to Milk, and lived in poor areas where there was mostly just Coffee.  They also experienced discriminatory attitudes as some of the Milk saw them as ‘tainted’ by Coffee.  A vocal number of mixed beverages did not see themselves as a mixture of Coffee and Milk, but rather, Coffee alone.  Other mixed beverages did not see themselves as Coffee, but rather Milk, and did not want to be forced to identify as Coffee.  Complicating matters was the Billions of dollars in assistance for Coffee on the table, and the mixed beverages had support and numbers.  The mixed beverages, it was decided, would be considered Coffee, but only if they wanted to be.   

Big companies began to commit to drinking a certain percentage of Coffee every day, and so did the Government, Hospitals and Universities.  But things still just weren’t going well for a large percentage of the Coffee, despite all the investment and legislation and money spent.  Coffee when mixed with Milk had found a real niche, and found a far greater acceptance among the Milk.  So accepted in fact, that the numbers of Coffee that were mixed with Milk outnumbered the Coffee almost 5 to 1, and were almost commonplace by the turn of the last century.  Much of the Coffee noticed this, but the mixed beverages had more power and sway than them, and had lobbied to be included and thought of as Coffee the same as them years ago.  Most were fond of mixed beverages, so speaking in a way construed negative to them was something they avoided.  So the Coffee sat and suffered in silence instead, for a few more years.  

Around the same time, a new concept emerged called “Coffee Snobbery”.  Used to describe the oppression and poor treatment historically and ongoing towards Coffee, very little of the Milk doubted that Coffee Snobbery did exist. A documented history of Coffee being seen as inferior on the island supported that fact, together with horrific examples of injustices done to Coffee over the years, coupled with the ongoing poor conditions for the Coffee in remote areas where they were largely grouped and dumped away from the mixed beverage and Milk areas back in the unenlightened days all supported this notion.  Coffee Snobbery was both officially and unofficially declared a crime.  

A trend began to emerge among the mixed beverage population.  More and more they claimed to be the victims of Coffee Snobs, and what constituted Coffee Snobbery became harder and harder to define.  This all went largely unnoticed, until some Milk questioned why Coffee statistics were so poor, and so little money ended up going to help the Coffee it was supposed to.  After doing a little research, the renegade Milk noticed that Coffee assistance was continually going to mixed beverages in an extremely uneven flow.  The Milk began to question whether the pro-Coffee reforms were benefitting Coffee at all, and made mention of several instances of pro-Coffee assistance going to mixed beverages that were indistinguishable from Milk.

This enraged some of the mixed beverages, whose actions had been largely, up until that point, unnoticed.  They felt that the Milk in question had committed a crime against them, and the Milk was in fact nothing more than a Coffee Snob who was trying to skirt the laws.  They were allowed to be classed as Coffee, and although they begrudgingly accepted they contained Milk, they identified themselves as Coffee and should be allowed to benefit from pro-Coffee reforms.  When the Milk continued to question the laws surrounding Coffee definitions, things began to get ugly.  Anyone who made any mention of the content of Milk in a mixed beverage was threatened with punishment under the law, and it didn’t take long for a case to be brought before the courts.

It ended up being one of the most divisive cases for the island in some time.  The accused maintained that he was not a Coffee Snob, but was agitating for change to a system that was leaving large portions of Coffee without any assistance.  A proponent of the “We’re all Beverages, why can’t we get along” camp, he didn’t deny the problems facing Coffee, but he just didn’t think they were being helped by the policy of defining mixed beverages and Coffee as the same.  It was helping mixed beverages, but was overwhelmingly unhelpful towards Coffee, who didn’t have the same access to the benefits of positive reforms as many mixed beverages did.   The Coffee reforms were doing little to help Coffee, it had become an undisputed fact often lamented about in the media, but a fact few ever wanted to find a solution for.  It was too touchy a subject to go near in any depth, because to do so meant you had to discuss the mixed beverage issue, and that was clearly off-limits.  At least for now. 

I wonder if I will ever hear the word ‘Latte’ again and not have a little chuckle inside after this effort. 

People are free to use whatever analogy they wish to simplify their circumstances and belittle the point of another.  I believe, at least for the time being, I am free to continue to call bullshit when they do so.