Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Roll on 2015

So, 2014 is drawing to a close and we're about to enter the uncharted territory of 2015. As New Year's Eve is one of the only gazetted holidays I actually celebrate in this country, I thought I would take the time to write a self-indulgent dissertation on this year and what it has meant.

Firstly, I do note that I am having less “bad years” than what I had 10-15 years ago. I don't know if this is a case of age and experience assisting me in taking the good with the bad in a way I didn't have the know-how to do back then, whether my life is just genuinely better than it was then or whether I am just more comfortable in my own skin and give less of a crap about some of the nasty stuff because I recognise there are plenty of good folks out there. I'd probably say all three apply and overlap to some extent. I am getting through years better and I am definitely enjoying myself more.

2014 has been a total mixed-bag of a year, but overall it's been a good one. There have been some tough moments, some sad farewells, stressful situations and some failures along the way. It has also though, been a year of possibility and opportunity. Some of the highlights of this year include:
  • Catching roughly 32 single flights over the space of the year, including attending the WIPC:E conference in Hawaii
  • Presenting talks and being on panels at the Forum for Indigenous Research UoW, the Women's and Gender Studies Conference, the Emerging Writers' Festival, the Model UN and many others
  • Causing the receptionist at work to laugh at my expense because I keep trying to dodge radio interviews. For the record, it got pretty full-on interview-wise for a bit there. I even got to the point where I said that I would only do pre-recorded interviews for mob because I could at least always trust them to respectfully showcase my opinions. Bad experiences with some mainstream providers left a horrible taste in my mouth. My advice to these mainstream providers is this: if you are going to seek Indigenous opinion, do so respectfully keeping in mind that our opinions are completely marginalised in this country. Don't do so tokenistically and therefore contribute to our marginalisation
  • Being offered two columns – one in Tracker Magazine which was unfortunately short-lived due to “government interference” and one which is still in process and will hopefully have an outcome soon. Also, I'd have to say contributing to the diversification of discussion by mob on the topic of Constitutional Recognition, as this has led to more of our alternate views being aired and has taken the focus away a little from self-serving white rich male conservatives who should actually be considered to be talking out of turn on this matter
  • Contributing to an anthology (due out in 2015), a NextWave publication, Tara Moss's book (thanks for asking for the quote!), amongst others
  • Meeting a huge bunch of really awesome people – via the above activities, via my union work, or in general life (2014 has been a year of challenging my introversion!). Add this to the awesome people I have known for years and I'd say I'm pretty sorted for wonderful folks. I want to thank you all
  • Working at a place such as the NTEU where I have brilliant colleagues and where I am paid to be politically-engaged every day. It's not always perfect but there are also not many gigs where you can say that you hang around like-minded types everyday and get to go to protest rallies
  • Having my first ever positive experience being on TV, thanks to the team at NITV
  • Starting up a Facebook page and having the most brilliant group of people join it!
  • Seeing the rise of a young, energetic bunch of activists who are passionate and public and are not taking any shit from anyone. You lot have no idea how much you have inspired me and, as a late Generation X-er I just wanted to throw my encouragement out there and urge you to keep fighting the good fight
There have been many other great moments, and I have many people to thank for the opportunities, for the collaborations, for the encouragement, and just in general. So please, take this as my general thanks and apologies that it is not individual.

It has been difficult in some ways too. I won't dwell on these difficulties but I have learnt that some people will choose to be racist/sexist/etc even with all the opportunities to not be and there is nothing I can do about it. I have also learnt that some choose to not collaborate and would rather try to drag someone else down to build their own notoriety and there is nothing I can do about that either. I hope both those types take 2015 to grow somewhat.

Finally, I hope 2015 is a good year for everyone. I hope “the system” gets smashed to smithereens and we are all living in a better world come 2016. I hope for myself that it continues to be a time of excellent adventures, challenges, experience broadening and ridiculous times spent with wonderfully ridiculous people. I also hope that my CD collection continues to grow, that I continue to scoff curries, that I grow out of my clumsiness and that I can go a week without having to whinge about my back. Thanks for reading my stuff, for visiting my blog and for all the support.

All the best!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What does this tell us?

The Abbott government supports Constitutional Recognition and says it's what Aboriginal people really really want (and funds associated campaigns to the tune of $10M over two years)

The Shorten opposition supports Constitutional Recognition

The Greens support Constitutional Recognition

The NSW Premier Mike Baird supports Constitutional Recognition and has thrown down the gauntlet for other states to follow suit

Former Prime Ministers Hawke and Howard support Constitutional Recognition and indeed, Howard tried to introduce it during his term in office. Initially JWH; being the huge advocate for Indigenous equality that he was (/sarc); proposed that a preamble to the Constitution be adopted including the words "honouring Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, the nation's first people, for their deep kinship with their lands and for their ancient and continuing cultures which enrich the life of our country" - this failed at vote. Then it was part of the policies promised during his 2007 election campaign just seconds after the Northern Territory Intervention had been implemented. Hawke? Well he was the one who reneged on his promise of a Treaty.

So as far as resounding endorsements for this idea and its merits when it comes to promoting true equality, I'm feeling rather underwhelmed. When is what Aboriginal people think going to be of actual importance to this debate? Or are we just supposed to sit here and continue to be told what it is that we want and that will be good for us while we nod along placidly? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

30 years and still no closer

I often joke that one of the best things about working for a trade union is that I get paid to go to protest rallies. It's definitely part of my job description to be engaged in political actions and I am wondering why my careers teachers at high school never told me of this particular opportunity. And for the most part, it is joyful to be paid to be out on the streets yelling stuff and rallying for change.

Other days it is bullshit. Like today. I should not have to be out on the streets chanting and listening to speeches because a young Aboriginal woman is imprisoned in WA for not paying parking fines as a state-sanctioned way of her "working off" these fines and ends up dying in custody. Ms Dhu, who complained of illness whilst imprisoned was neglected both by the police officers and also by health care professionals. She was taken by police to the Hedland Health Campus where she was dismissed twice with certificates stating that she was fit to return to custody, and on her third visit to the campus she passed away. She was taunted by police and according to witnesses was crying out in agony and vomiting. All for $1000 worth of unpaid fines. All because the WA legal system as determined by the government deems it to more criminal to be financially unable to pay parking fines than it is to lock up unwell young Aboriginal women then allow them to perish. All because the health system didn't care enough to properly assess Ms Dhu's condition and give her the treatment she required. To come back from the rally and find news articles of another young Aboriginal man dying in custody overnight, this time in a Perth prison, just had me and many others reeling. It just keeps on happening, no matter how many times we take to the streets.

It is bullshit that Aboriginal people are still perishing in prison at alarming rates, and that our prison population keeps on growing. WA has the disastrous record when it comes to imprisoning mob. They're currently hitting a rate 9 times that of apartheid South Africa, according to Gerry Georgatos. 9 FRIGGIN' TIMES. Myself and a colleague had to go there recently for work and we couldn't help but joke about how we'd have to be on our best behaviour the entire time since it doesn't take much at all for mob to be imprisoned. Under the three-strikes mandatory sentencing stuff an Aboriginal kid as young as 12 years old stealing a 70c Freddo Frog will pretty much do it. I made the assertion recently that WA really doesn't seem to have learnt anything from the days of the internment camp (which is how I deliberately referred to it instead of a "prison camp" because in my opinion, it is hard to argue that the men there actually committed any crimes considering that they were engaged in frontier wars and were mainly sentenced under foreign laws they did not recognise nor probably understand) at Rottnest. They're still imprisoning Aboriginal people at disastrous rates, and people just keep dying in their system. It's a disgrace and it's high time they examined what it is they are really doing here.

It's absolute rubbish that the only people to serve time in regards to the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island were Aboriginal. One of these was Lex Wotton, who was convicted for inciting the riots. The policeman who actually eventually admitted responsibility for the death; a death which was caused by injuries as severe as a liver cleaved in two by brute force; never served time and was acquitted. Mr Wotton also had a gag order placed upon him on his release. I think the lesson we can learn here as mob is that it is more of a crime to burn property and speak about injustice than it is to kill an Aboriginal man.

It's flabbergasting that Mr. Ward was allowed to cook to death in the back of a divvy van whilst being driven nearly 1000kms across desert to face court for being drunk and disorderly. It's unconscionable that Kwementyeye Briscoe screamed out in agony and pain for five hours in the Alice Springs watch house before he was found dead in a death that the NT coroner labelled "preventable". It is just so upsetting that I could go on and on with examples of brutality, neglect and dehumanisation leading to deaths of imprisoned Aboriginal people until I have run out of adjectives and I would be nowhere near the bottom of the list.

It is, however, most disgusting that this continues. It has been nearly 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and despite this, few of the recommendations of this commission have been adopted. The commission came about because of the already alarming death rates and, in particular, the high profile deaths of 16 year old John Pat in WA and 21 year old Eddie Murray in NSW. 16 and 21. These young men were never given a chance and their families, 30 years on, are yet to see justice. So how many more Aboriginal people have to die in prison before we see change? How many more lives is it going to take before the recommendations of the Royal Commission are adopted? How much longer will it be before the governments, the media and the general public actually give a shit?

When I was studying drama as part of my undergraduate degree, we had the immense privilege of looking at the works of Uncle Jack Davis. Jack Davis had also been a part of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in WA. One of Jack's most famous works was the "First Born Trilogy". The final of three plays of this was Burungin. In this play, one of the characters dies in police custody after being taken in only hours earlier. One of the scenes features an actor walking along listing names of custody death victims and I remember how chilled to the bone I was the very first time I read it. It wasn't just that the names seemed to go on forever, it was also that Uncle Jack Davis, over three plays, had created a family group which we were connected to for generations, and with this death he just shattered anyone with a heart. It's just painful to think how much that list has grown, and will continue to grow, since he wrote it.

This needs to stop. This brutality, neglect, petty criminality and murder/manslaughter needs to end. I am posting the photos I took yesterday at the rally in memory for Ms. Dhu as a visual reminder that rallies like this need to be an unnecessary thing of the past. Too many gone too soon. Vale.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A salient quote from a member of the "other side"

I am currently reading and re-reading Noel Pearson's recent piece in the Quarterly Essay on constitutional recognition and why he feels it's the way forward. I'm not going to dissect it here and illuminate the many parts I've questioned, disagreed with and so forth. One thing that I am going to do though is pull out a quote that, just in its solitary form, has stuck with me.

Pearson writes:

There are many ethnic minorities in Australia of equivalent or smaller size. Some of them face barriers of racism, but, I would argue, not to the degree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do. And these minorities are not indigenous to the nation, with the particular colonial history that brought us to where we are. Indigenous people were displaced and dispossessed in the founding of British settlement and the development of the nation. Indigenous people therefore have a unique historical and legal relationship with the Australian government.

The reason why I am quoting this is that it's precisely the kind of point I have been trying to get across time and time again. There has been a lot of rubbish and deliberate misdirection written about me and my views and I'm fairly over it. I am also aware that I occupy a particular position within Indigenous opinion and that position is of an educated leftist Arrernte feminist from a working class background. Pearson occupies a different position entirely. Yet here he is reflecting a view that I have also expressed before. To me this states that this is potentially a shared view across the Indigenous political spectrum. It's one that cannot just be dismissed because some wish it to not be the case as they too have been harmed by racism in this country.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of blackness intersect with indigeneity within this country. Nobody else shares this experience. They may share elements of it, whether these elements are skin colour, or colonisation, or language loss and so forth; of course this is the case. But they are not also experiencing these things from the vantage point of being displaced peoples within their own country. That is a unique experience to Indigenous peoples and it needs to be understood as such allowing for us to speak about this freely. To draw out elements of commonality is fine, and even desirable, when it is with the intent of being allies. But to do so as a way of cheapening or denigrating Indigenous experience by not deferring to its uniqueness due to this intersection is erroneous and damaging. Rather than combating racism in the country it instead has the ability to compound it. And indeed, it has.

I am compelled to write this because some things just don't seem to end, no matter how much I wish this to be the case. I, and other Aboriginal writers, are still being attacked, are still being misrepresented, and are still social media fodder. It's tiring and it's wrong. I'm interested in solidarity and exchange with understanding shown. It is actually possible.

That's all I have to say.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Rottnest Island: Australia's holiday destination of choice...

It takes a unique country to name a century-long former internment camp as its favourite holiday destination. Such a country would either have to be one with rather macabre fascinations or a genuine interest in acknowledging historical injustices as a way of moving towards a better future. Or it could just be Australia.

In a poll conducted by travel provider Experience Oz, Rottnest Island took the top spot when it came to favourite Australian holiday destinations. It's not surprising that the natural beauty and unique wildlife were mentioned as to why Rottnest was number one. The hundreds of Aboriginal men buried in unmarked graves probably aren't an island drawcard for most tourists. If tourists indeed know that this what they're walking over when exploring the island.

When Aboriginal people speak of our history in this country these stories are often dismissed. Every Australia Day, this national dismissal of Aboriginal experience is paraded in public for all to see. Aboriginal people are continually accused of focussing only on negatives; of promoting “black armband history” at the cost of celebrating alleged national positives. When it comes to the history of Rottnest though, to try and argue that there are positives to celebrate is impossible.

The proper acknowledgement of the gruesome history of Rottnest has been called for for a very long time. Only two weeks ago, Murdoch academic and Minang-Wadjari man Glen Stasiuk was quoted calling for the closure of Rottnest Lodge Accommodation and asking that it be turned into a museum and appropriate memorial.

Rottnest Lodge claims as part of its lodgings “The Quod” - an octagonal building housing the Aboriginal prison which was in operation from 1838 to 1931. Each luxury hotel room encompasses three of the old cells in which at least seven prisoners were crammed. The Quod grounds where five men were hung on gallows serve as a grassy area for hotel guests to sun themselves and relax. At least ten percent of the prisoners there died; of malnutrition, of illnesses, of brutality. Mr Stasiuk believes nine out of ten people who stay at The Quod don't know this history.

Certainly, Rottnest Lodge doesn't go out of its way to advertise it to potential guests either. The Quod rooms are described as being “rich in history”, which I guess is one way to put it. Additionally the Lodge itself is noted as once being the Summer residence for the Governor of WA, yet the website neglects to state much else about the other buildings.

Much of what else stands in Rottnest today was built of Aboriginal suffering. Michael Sinclair-Jones describes the island buildings and sea retainer walls that were built from Aboriginal prisoner labour, as well as the former campground which sat on top of what is the largest deaths in custody gravesite in this country. At best it seems this is glossed over with local and governmental arguments consistently being it would cost too much to acknowledge these sites. At worst, it is the denial of genocidal practices enacted against Aboriginal people to keep others feeling comfortable when visiting such places.

Gerry Georgatos states that the rate of imprisonment in Western Australia of Aboriginal men today is nine times the rate of imprisonment of black men in apartheid South Africa. Perhaps the horrors of Rottnest are not as deeply buried in the past as most would pretend. Certainly though, it is difficult to think of anywhere else in the world where a horrific internment camp has been swept so easily under the national carpet.

Australians are renowned for their love of travel and holidays. When it comes to Rottnest Island though, this travel comes at the cost of ignoring one of the most horrific examples of displacement, violence and death that Aboriginal people in Western Australia have endured. It is well overdue that Rottnest's history is acknowledged and its victims commemorated. Until then, the best holiday destination in Australia continues to be built upon a lie. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Abbott and his Aboriginal community visit

Been getting a lot of requests for interviews to discuss my thoughts on bloody Abbott and his commitment to spend a week in an Aboriginal community per year, starting with NE Arnhem. My thoughts are pretty straightforward:

1. Abbott can get as many happy snaps as he likes pressing black flesh and hammering nails into bits of wood, but this doesn't mean he's for the mob.

2. Sure, he may be the first PM to make a commitment to do this, but it doesn't mean he's progressive. It just means that the other PMs shirked big time. It's called doing the "decent thing" and does not earn special credit.

3. Travelling to Yolngu homelands does not change the fact that this government has already slashed $500M from Indigenous affairs. The people he meets are still going to be significantly more likely to be jailed for petty offences, be victims of violence and die earlier only now, they're going to be less likely to access funded services for support.

4. His much-hyped previous trips to Indigenous communities cost big biccies because, funnily enough, he doesn't slum it while there. He also doesn't stay as long as the tabloids would have us all believe.

5. I have a tin of beans in my cupboard and frankly I feel that it would make a better "Minister for Women and Indigenous Affairs" than Abbott is.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's the "Recognise" thing that REALLY gets me

Yesterday, I achieved Qantas Frequent Flyer Silver status. For someone who flies as much as I do (I've already been on about 25 flights this year though admittedly, 7 of those were with other carriers), it's taken me a while to get to this status. See, I always fly cattle class on the cheapest flights I can possibly find. This is partially because I wish to save work money and partially because I believe, as a good egalitarian, that mainly tossers sit in First Class. So I have never accumulated the points to "level up"; until now that is. Now I have "priority". Now I have special perks. Now I get a new card with a fake metallic colouring on it. It's all very "meh", really.

Anyway, in what can only be described as "impeccable timing", the exact same week that I achieve Silver status, Qantas goes and sprays one of their planes with this:

Photo credit: Qantas Facebook Page
Yep. Yet another gigantic corporate entity decides to show mob just how much it wants us to be Recognised. Doesn't that just give you those warm and fuzzy feelings? I know I'm feeling them although that could be because on arriving home yesterday from a four day work trip I discovered I had left the heater on when I left. I'm unsure...

My feelings on whether Aboriginal peoples should be recognised in the Australian Constitution are now quite known. I have published them myself (to a degree), expressed them in other forums such as social media and the radio, and I have additionally been quoted on them. I do not support this move, and for a number of reasons. I am only one voice within the community who has stated so. I highly recommend that people check out some of those other voices because there is a wealth of knowledge and opinion right at the fingertips of anyone who wishes to actually go searching.

Now though, I wish to put another view to you. Even if I was completely in support of the move to have us recognised in the constitution, I would be still be categorically opposed to the Recognise campaign. Why? Because the longer the Recognise campaign goes on, the more I feel it proves itself to be little more than a government-sponsored ad campaign removed from grassroots Indigenous opinion.

The entire Recognise campaign, and therefore our alleged campaign for Indigenous equality (which I strongly feel is not even remotely the case) seems to be little more than corporate endorsements and photo opportunities for powerful figures to prove how much they like us. It's a shame that I don't like a good many of them in return. 

As I've previously stated, when the St Kilda Football Club joined the Recognise campaign for a photo opportunity, I was actually completely offended. I, as an Arrernte feminist woman, have no wish to be "recognised" by a group of men who think nothing of painting women who bring cases of sexual assault against their team members as liars in the media whilst also emailing their corporate sponsors for donations to pay for the legal defence of their accused players. The fact that Recognise felt it was appropriate to promote this club as a campaign endorser in the first place speaks volumes to me regarding how much they really value equality and recognition for Indigenous women in particular. 

As I also previously stated, I know that the AFL has pledged support and football players have been a constant fixture in the Recognise publicity shots because of the broad appeal they apparently have. Just because they're not my cup of tea does not mean that others don't like them. The St Kilda photo wasn't the only one that ground my teeth. Last month, for example, the news that former Prime Minister Bob Hawke threw his weight behind the campaign made me quizzically lift an eyebrow. Hang on a second, wasn't this the same bloke who promised a treaty with mobs only to completely renege following pressure from lobby groups which included powerful miners and pastoralists? Hawke hasn't donned a t-shirt yet for an official Recognise photo, so perhaps I shouldn't jump the gun here no matter how many articles Recognise keep on their official website. I urge others to flick through this list of support articles though. Some of the names that Recognise wishes to highlight as CR supporters are quite astounding.

Qantas support is also not something I draw a lot of good faith from. Qantas has long-established Indigenous programmes and for this I acknowledge them. This same organisation though thinks it is perfectly acceptable to publish in their regional flight magazine "Spirit" that the Hobart area was first settled in 1804. Last time I checked, the Mabo case had disproved Terra Nullius but I suppose we were all a little unsettled before whitefellas rocked up to this landmass...

Photo: page from the Qantas Spirit Magazine - Winter 2014 edition

To go back to Recognise itself though: it is a government-funded campaign to push a particular view and it is using populist means to do so. So where is the government funding for the oppositional Indigenous views to run their campaign? Why are the anti voices from an Indigenous perspective stuck utilising social media to try and raise awareness with meagre media coverage meanwhile Recognise gets millions of dollars to travel around the country, pose for photo opportunities, hold concerts and sell t-shirts? Exactly how democratically ethical is it that the government is ONLY funding an organisation that promotes its own policy platform (and that of the opposition and the major minor party as well)? Apparently, when the referendum is announced, there will be funding for both sides of the argument to state their cases, but considering that one side will have been funded to promote their cause years before the other, exactly how fair and balanced is this?

As I state, even if I supported our constitutional recognition, I would still be opposed to Recognise. A well-funded organisation to peddle the government's agenda when it is the notion of our equality that is the question is no place for me. I would rather listen to the informed debates of Aboriginal people stating what they feel is the best way forward for this country than be handed a government-funded badge and t-shirt, or hop on a similarly badged plane, and be told this is what I really want. For the life of me, I don't understand why there are some mob out there who don't feel the same. Sure, we have diverse views on constitutional recognition within the community, but if self-determination is truly of importance to all of us then our questioning of this campaign should be the same. Otherwise whose terms is our recognition truly happening on?