Australia Day – Why I want to change the date and no, I don’t sip lattees.

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From the Australia Day website:

“Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788”

More here.

But in 1788 there was no Australia,  indeed the very concept of a new country, united by Federation only became popular in the mid to late 1880’s thanks to the Australian Natives’ Association which, to my surprise was not a club for Aboriginal people but a vehicle through which to glorify the middle class whites (mostly male) (OK, that’s my bias there but I reached that conclusion by reading what is written in this link. 

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It is interesting to note that Women were permitted to set up their own branch of the ANA and the Adelaide group had their first meeting in October 1889.  While this is at least a little encouraging what is less encouraging is a note at the bottom of the recorded minutes mentioning the ‘Chinese Question’.  Further investigation shows the ‘China Question’ to be the taxes that Chinese ‘Australians’ have to pay to cross from state to state – taxes that white Australians do not have to pay.  Fair go?

Anyway……

The idea of an ‘Australia Day’ pre-dates federation and was first muted by a ANA member in a letter during the 1885 ANA congress.  The author was a Mr E.W Swift:

‘The idea for Australia Day, to be celebrated on January 26, was first suggested in a letter from E.W. Swift of Ballarat to the 1885 ANA conference. At the association’s suggestion, the Victorian government organised with its counterparts in the other colonies for the first national celebration of the day in 1888, the centenary of European settlement in Australia.’

One of the people to read that letter would have been Mr Alfred Deakin, the chap that went on to become Australia’s second Prime Minister.  Deakin was a key member of the ANA around this time and while he did champion many social welfare moves, especially for his ‘Australian Natives’ he was also  a key voice in the ‘White Australia’ and ‘federation’ mindsets. The White Australia mindset helped shape policy and attitudes throughout the country over the coming decades – some would say that undercurrents of this work still hold Australia back today,  although the governments official position and policy writing changed following World War 2 in 1949.  In terms of the Federation it is clear that Deakin had a significant part to play in pushing forward with this idea and in working out the detail of how a federated Australia would relate to the motherland.

In all this talk of federation, immigration policy and social welfare, Aboriginal Australians don’t really warrant a mention being even less desirable than non-white immigrants.

But these people were in Victoria, in New South Wales, my state, we had Sir Henry Parkes.

While the political talk gathered pace I’m sure there would have been a great appetite for a day to celebrate all that was being achieved in this exciting ‘new’ colony!  While I don’t really know what went on in Sir Henry Parkes mind I can comment on what I have read and that is that the significance of marking this ‘day of celebration’ on 26th January was not lost on him – again, this is from the official government website:

‘There had been much debate in Sydney about what kind of celebrations should mark the centenary. Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, planned something for everyone, or almost everyone. When questioned about what was being planned for the Aborigines, Parkes retorted, ‘And remind them that we have robbed them?’ At the centre of his plans was the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria, the British sovereign since 1837, the opening of Centennial Park, a park for the people, and a great banquet for leading citizens. And, of course, the Sydney Regatta.’

And so it went on and on and on and on until we get to today, two days after 2017’s Australia day.

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I am 100% for a change of date BECAUSE of this history – because the date was conceived by a middle class elite FOR a middle class elite that excludes the very thing that has made Australia great and that’s diversity, mateship and our easy-going nature. In fact I’d say it has done more than exclude these things, it has tried to squash those traits out of us.

This year it  does appear that the momentum for change has grown and that the opposing voices are getting louder and stronger and I applaud that although I don’t support the burning of flags or other acts of violence.

But our opposition to this date has been met, unsurprisingly, with counter claims that we are just ‘lattee sipping, middle class whingers with bleeding hearts and nothing better to do’.

I am allergic to coffee and I can be just as heartless as the next man thank you.

So why do people like me take to reading history and advocating for change albeit from our position of white privilege?

Because our privilege has taught us compassion, highlighted to us that words and deeds do matter and that there is no such thing as a meaningless date (unless we’re talking about Tinder…)

So what do we want now?

What do I want now?

All I want is the date to change and to change because we have collectively acknowledged the inherent racism and dehumanizing undertones that surrounded the origin of this day.  A day for the whole of Australia to celebrate unless you are a person of colour or Aboriginal?  Really?

But some aboriginal people are fine with the day and want us to just get on with more important things.

I acknowledge that this is true and that there is much truth and value in drawing a line in the sand and walking over it.  Healing. But I remain unmoved in my opposition to this date.

To use the healing analogy just think about what happens when a wound heals over an infection. Or what happens when a wound is re-opened time and time again, even just a little bit?

Let there be no doubt about it, for many this is a fresh, living wound.

Some more recent history:

1938 – Day Of Mourning. 

Many people cite 1938 as the first time that Australia really celebrated Australia Day in the way we do today.  It marked the 150th anniversary of Cooks landing and with it a chance to marvel at how far this great nation had come.

But again, greatness and progress are subjective and some subjects were not ‘loving it’ not least because in 1938 Australia’s Aboriginal Community were still very much treated as the nations underclass.

The 26th of January, 1938 is not a day of rejoicing for Australia’s Aborigines; it is a day of mourning. This festival of 150 years of so-called ‘progress’ in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country.  Read more here. 

Below is a list of just some of the thing Aboriginal Australians had to live with in the good old 1930’s. 

In 1934 the Aboriginals Act, Aboriginal people could give up their heritage and identity and gain access to the same rights as whites.  Nice!

Aboriginal children could still be removed without a court order.

In Western Australia Aboriginal people could be taken into custody without trial and were banned from entering some towns and cities (including Perth) without a permit.

A non-negotiable assimilation policy was introduced and was forcibly enacted.

More here. 

And more recently.

Aboriginal people had to wait until 1967 to be counted in the national census.  That’s only 7 years before I was born for goodness sake – nearly within my lifetime! NOT LONG AGO!

So again, what am I trying to achieve here?

I want us to be able to draw a line and move over it together.  I want that line to be low, ground-low, a line that everyone can cross, that everyone wants to hold hands and step (or wheel) over.  I want us to be able to do this with the solemnity that the occasion deserves and with the energy of hearts filled with excitement and love for what lies on the other side.  I then want us to hug each other before we put another prawn on the barbie, sing our favourite songs and have a go on that giant slip and slide!

And then, when the party is over I want us to go to work putting right all of the constitutional wrongs that have stemmed from this.  That will take time and will,  a change of date will give us the will!

If we don’t do this I fear that the Australian identity, what makes Australia Australia and not the USA, China,  the UK,  Vietnam, Germany or wherever will vanish.  As a Brit whose been here for nearly 14 years I feel anything but a proud Australian on 26th January and I do what I can to avoid all ‘celebration’ – yes I do often just carry on working – It doesn’t have to be like this.

So that’s just a bit of the background into why I can’t learn to just ‘get over myself’ and enjoy this date.

Amanda

PS: And as if I need any further reason to doubt the joined-up-thinking behind this occasion we are now told to eat lamb on this day.  Lamb is not native to this country, sheep are heavy footed and not entirely suited to the soil of this land, often compacting it and leaving it less fertile than it otherwise could be.  Sure I love a lamb chop but how much more dis-connected from this country, this land could we be?  I sometimes wonder…….

 

PPS: So what other date should it be?  Well there is a fun campaign to have it on May 8th as said quickly that sounds like Mate which is quintessentially Aussie and something that really appeals to me I do understand that Jan is a much better time for all things BBQ and fun!  So I think that any date after 1st and before 31st would be good.  Preferably before 26th as that makes it easier to get a clean run at the new school year which currently has to either wait until after the date to return from the summer break or has to straddle it thus leaving two part-weeks and a longer period of time to get the kids settled.

 

The marriage between culture and ego.

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Culture:

“The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”

Ego:

“A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”

Without getting all ‘I think therefore I am’ about this I feel it is true that I can’t actually know what and who I am without context,  in isolation.

That in order to exist, I (Ego) need Culture (community).

Maybe it’s because we (humans) are sociable creatures or maybe that doesn’t matter at all – I’m not particularly sociable. Maybe I need to understand different cultures in order to know what I’m not and use that to contrast what I am.  But that would be a rather negative way of viewing things.

Maybe it just is what it is.

This type of thinking can seem to lead one on an endless feedback loop of philosophical meandering that can end up feeling like things are moving further from the light and more into chaos. In order to prevent that, I like to peg my camping spot out early, explore it from there and then tackle the next question that arises from that starting point.  “But what if the starting point is wrong?”  I hear you ask.  Well,  as long as one keeps one eye open to that possibility and the will open to testing and analysing one will know when it is wrong and will be more than happy to up-sticks and move on.

So today’s camp is of culture and ego.

This thought camping spot was triggered by my watching of SBS’s ‘First Contact’, a program that was pretty much exactly as I thought it would be and for that reason was only mildly interesting as an ‘eye opening docco’.

First Contact is an Australian short ‘fly on the wall’ documentary series that followed 6 well-known Australian celebrities as they made their ‘First Contact’ with Aboriginal communities around Australia. 

The program  was, nevertheless, mind-opening because of the subtleties that it raised within my mind. This being one of them.

The thoughts that the show triggered in me follow:

Every human alive was born into one or another culture, sub-culture or tribe.  Sometimes all that is common to us within a culture is language but mostly it is more all-encompassing than that.  Our values, our customs, taste, preferences, hopes and aspirations. The story of our bones, where we belong, our very essence if you like.


I was born into a dominant culture. One whose narrative was of winning, empire building, success won through a stiff-upper-lip and strong work ethic.  Of getting up early (the early bird catches the worm) and putting in an honest days graft.  Of loving the Queen and country, of dressing for dinner, family Christmases, the Leicester Fortnight holiday season, Labrador dogs, fresh air, Enid Blyton, talking about the weather, 1066 and St George.  I was born white and I’ll die white. White skinned and Blue eyed. At least on the outside.

I was born into The Daily Mail and BBC, into public education, the NHS, democracy and pounds and pence. Born into the aspirational class: conservative, prudent, savers, achievers, WINNERS (not battlers, we were too well off to be called battlers, we were above that culturally and practically and I knew it). Battlers is an Australian term for the working class)

I felt like a winner growing up. Everywhere I looked were signs that I would do well at life, succeed.  Even before I could legitimately make my own effort and be judged on my own merits I felt it.  My dad had a successful business in the town, we had a big house – maybe the biggest house out of my friends. I don’t know for sure but it sure did feel like it.  I did ballet, had lots of toys at Christmas, went abroad sometimes for holidays but mostly went away in the caravan – not an ordinary van but a massive twin axle job with a posh toilet and shower room and a fully fitted kitchen.  We also had an awning and a nice table set.

I was intelligent in the way that mattered to those in charge (apparently). I did well at school,  was recognised, rewarded with positions of authority, trusted and confided in.  I didn’t realise at the time that it was easy for me to be recognised because I already stood out as being a winner. I came from a ‘nice’ background and nobody was suspicious of me or my motives. I had the face of a winner, my subsequent actions only served to back up that bias.

Looking wider afield I also grew up surrounded by a family of ‘successes’.  My aunties and uncles all had their own houses, my grandparents did too.  They were a mix of interesting, intelligent, law-abiding, hard-working, compliant people who nobody would suspect anything bad from.  We even had a farm named after us in the village where my dads family had resided for years – maybe 200 years. I’m not 100% sure of the detail but I was sure enough of it to be proud.  One distant family member even had a Rolls Royce (albeit an old one) that I got to have a drive around in. Very posh!

Of course all that only gets you so far and life isn’t just a picture book rosy glow of niceties. Some things didn’t turn out the best for me and that took away some of my in-bred advantage. Then there were the times, as I got older where I did live and die by my own decisions, luck and abilities. There was nobody to give me references when I travelled to Australia alone aged 21. There was nobody to sit my uni exams for me, to tell me when was a good time to leave a relationship that I’d outgrown, to pull me and my car out of the ditch when I crashed and broke my hand or to sit inside my skin as it itched its self to what felt like near death when I got sick in my late teens.

But all through life, through the dark times, the dark night of the soul, the 2am tears, the panic attacks on the way to work, the accidents, financial crises, arguments, wrong-place-wrong-time moments and more I had a gift. Something that stayed with me and protected me. Something that I could rely on in the darkest of times when all around me, including the physical me seemed to crumble.  That thing was my ego.

Ego can be somewhat of a dirty word around these places. I have come to the conclusion, not least after watching First Contact that it is because it is so easy for people with my background to grow too much of it…..

Too much ego will trap you, put your mind in a cage and throw away the key.  Too little will see you victim to a world that isn’t as fair as it ought to be.  Just enough will keep you safe, grounded, whole.


And so back to First Contact.

Underneath it all, for me, came a simple realisation that Ego is born out of Culture. I’m not convinced I’ve captured everything here but I am convinced that if the parent (culture) is threatened, the Ego will suffer.

What I saw in this program was a dance of the egos. Some dancing to protect, some to defend, some to grow, some to share and some just to be seen, acknowledged.

I saw no good or bad, black or white, right or wrong in the dancing.  The dance of the ego is deeply personal.  But what I did see was a commonality underneath it all that was wanting to reach out and connect.

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It reminded me very much of this Alexander Milov sculpture from the Burning Man festival.

So what next?

That’s up to everyone to decide in their own way but I take comfort in the wisdom gained from my own journey:

It only takes one deep breath in and one slow breath out to let go of that which no longer serves us when we are ready.

To unleash tears that will cleanse us of our guilt, hurt, loss and shame.

To open us up to the future, our future.

There is enough for everyone as long as we have the will to see it.

Let’s walk forward together.

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A final word on culture.

I believe that culture and cultural practices can evolve but only with respect. Evolving doesn’t mean superseding or, the triumph of one over another. More that it means growing, learning, enhancing, sharing.

We accept as normal that parents worry how they will find enough love in their hearts for their second child – a fear that dissolves the moment the baby breathes its first breath.  At that point the family changes everything and nothing at the same time, in the same breath.  Why can’t culture be like that? Like Love?

Meeting Bruce Pascoe – Dark Emu

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In March of this year I read a book that changed my whole concept of Aboriginal Australia. Being relatively new to this country I was not surprised that I’d never heard about some of the things that Bruce Pascoe talked about in his book – the advanced agriculture, the fish traps, the bread making the villages – but it made me sick to the stomach to realise that almost every other ‘Australian’ was in the same boat (and what an apt analogy that is).  These stories weren’t just quiet they had been actively hidden.  As far as game changing books go Dark Emu is in gold medal position if only someone would recognise the cause!  My review is here on my Fox Hill Hollow blog. 

When I heard that Bruce was coming to the Blue Mountains to give a talk I just had to go and hear the man in action.

Bruce told his stories with a passion grounded in a deep love and affection but sharpened by anger.  Like Bruce I feel that we have ignored the true custodians of this land for too long, we have buried their history under a narrative woven to suit Western sensibilities.  We have lied and been lied to.

There is no doubt in my mind that the world has entered into dangerous times. Indeed, I’ve felt the winds of change blowing since I first became aware of the state of things back when I was a child. That feeling of unsustainable greed, of despair and inequality.  The reality that the world has been dying since before I was born isn’t lost on me and neither is my faith in her ability to fight back and she is.

After reading Bruce and hearing him speak I’m more sure than ever that our future lies in making peace with and returning to our past and there is no deeper, more grounded past than that which lays with Australia’s first people.  So let’s hear their stories, feel their love, accept their guidance and save Australia from decline. And let’s do it soon as it is getting late.

Excuse the fan girl look on my face but it’s not every day you get to meet someone who is truly worthy of praise and success.  Bruce, you are a good bloke!

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Amanda x

PS: Dark Emu is the name of the dark space in the milky way. Baiame is the creator of spirit Emu and Emu Plains is just down the road from here.  How very lucky.

 

 

Feeding the Narative

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Feeding the narative

It’s funny how things transpire.  My father was visiting from England this Christmas and during many of our conversations I brought up the subject of mental health, so much so that by the end of his trip, dad had started to joke about how I thought everyone had some kind of mental disorder.  Not quite true but I could see where he was coming from.  Anyway, by the last few days I decided to humour him by bringing it up more and weaving mental health issues into all of our conversations.  While doing this I found myself turning to dad’s partner and, while winking saying ‘don’t worry, I’m just feeding the narrative’ knowing full well that dad was quite likely to go back home and spread the story of how his oldest daughter has become obsessed with the mind.

Feeding the narrative.  Interesting concept……

Anyway, I left the idea alone a bit until this week when, listening to the radio I heard Bruce Pascoe talking about his book Dark Emu (which I have on order and will be reading in the next week or two).  Suddenly the words ‘feeding the narrative’ came whooshing back into the front of my brain with a force and energy that just couldn’t be ignored.  Bruce talks about Australian Aboriginal culture as it really is and not how it was viewed and interpreted through white settlers eyes.  A perspective that seems so obvious and yet has been so ignored and under-prioritised for so long in our history, to the point that even what we learn at school is wrong.

I realised that we (non aboriginals) have been fed a narrative based more on prejudiced perception than reality.

But narratives need feeding.

They grow

Become powerful

Pull people in.

Become political.

Change History

and lives.

And with that I was reminded of this book on social theory by Fredric Jameson – The Political Unconscious.  Narrative as a socially symbolic act.

and I am once again reminded that we must take full responsibility for the narratives we feed for they might just come back and eat us up for dinner.

 

 

Lessons from the Reef

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The Reef

This holiday season I joined my family on a trip to our Great Barrier Reef just off the coast of Port Douglas, north of Cairns. It had been twenty years since my last visit and I was keen to get a better look and to talk to locals about the reefs health and future.  I’ll discuss that in another post but for now I want to draw your attention to this, a book that I was captivated by on my travels.

Here’s a very quick review for you:

Amazing book, just brilliant. Fantastic historical accounts of commercial reef exploration entwined with sometimes deeply embarrassing and saddening, sometimes joyful and heart warming stories of encounters with first nation family groups. Great reading as another Australia Day draws near, a time when I like to encourage my family to take a good long minute to reflect on what arses we culturally were and still are in some cases.

May we have the insight to steer our present and future actions on a path that rights our historical wrongs.

So there you go.

Amanda x