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. 

australia-day-view

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.

 

Resist in your own way but resist all the same.

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The moment you become politically active is the moment that you start seeing things with different eyes.  It has happened to me. The habits, views and actions of friends and fellow countrymen have often left me puzzled, angry even and I have, at times felt isolated in my brave new world. Political activists are rarely societies majority, at least in the beginning.

So how can I remain politically engaged and active without losing my mind, friends and joy?

I was not expecting the book ‘Les Parisiens’ by Anne Sebba to provide me with a light bulb moment on this but thankfully it did!

 

les-parisienss

I’m fascinated by the detail of things, all things and what could be more nuanced and detailed than the lives of the women of Paris during World War Two!  Left to hold the dreams and hopes of the city while their men went to war, left to maintain standards, keep up appearances, laugh, love, create and ultimately resist in a city that many thought was rock-solid in its defences until the Germans arrived. By May 1940, less than a year after the war started and Paris found its self Occupied.

Sebba’s book follows a number of characters, all of which were employing their various coping mechanisms to deal with what must have been a living hell at times- history repeated only much, much worse.  Nobody could have failed to notice whole as whole neighbourhoods were round-up, people were beaten up and a new class of have’s (those with the Germans) and have-nots’ (the general public) were created.

Sebba is careful to remind us not to judge, to read each snippet of a life story with an open mind and with fullness of heart.  I find it easy to empathise with most, whether it be with the young girls who fall in love with their occupiers or with those that keep on dancing and entertaining even though their audience is now almost entirely German. The show must go on!  My empathetic powers become more stretched when it comes to those who helped facilitate the persecution of others, especially the Jews either overtly or through the alliances they forged and information they leaked.  That said I still find myself unable to even imagine, not what I’d do in that situation but what I’d be capable of doing – the capacity of anyone under such stress is surely compromised and hindsight is such a wonderful thing.  I’m not sure that there were many people in Paris during the early 1940’s that knew that good would prevail and even those that did would have surely been feeling ‘but at what cost?’

It was the women of the resistance that really captured my imagination. Women who risked it all to help their country, sometimes in the quietest of ways such as we find with Rose Valland, a museum curator who spent the war cataloguing the fate of artworks stolen by the Nazis. About Noor Khan, a Russian born Indian Princess with a passion for writing children’s fiction, who became a secret agent but was captured and murdered in a concentration camp during the death throes of the war. Jennie Rousseau, an early resister who was able to collect information about German weapon development before being sent to Ravensbrook concentration camp where she continued to resist, staging a protest in the munitions factory where the women were put to work. There are so many stories and so many ways that these women forged a life and found some light in this six years of darkness.

Although I’ve mentioned three of the brave women who captured my imagination it wasn’t their actions that have led me to answer my own question.  Instead it was the space in-between these women that taught me that.  For every woman ‘James Bond’ there would have been hundreds who just kept on queuing up for their rations,  working as best they could, trying to keep their children safe (or missing their children), caring for relatives and the sick,  meeting friends for the 1940’s equivalent of a coffee break, sweeping their floors and keeping the image of fashionable Paris alive.  At first my instinct was to say ‘but why are so many women carrying on as if nothing has happened?’ before I realised the impossibility of all that.  Everything changed for everybody, it’s just that every body has their own way of coping.

Where did I get the idea from that when pressure is applied everyone becomes super-heros?

Why did I hold the belief that those women who didn’t fight were not resisting?

These are my prejudices and mine alone.

Sure there would have been people who took advantage of the situation, played it to suit them and consciously turned a blind eye to the things they felt they couldn’t deal or help with but who am I to judge that?  I wasn’t in their shoes and hope never to be. There is so much detail I’ll never know.

So with that in mind I answer my own question.

How can I remain politically engaged and active without losing my mind, friends and joy?

By just concentrating on what I am doing, can do, want to do, will do and not judging others. Nobody said it was easy…..

Anne Sebba’s book showed me that if the women of Paris can resist in style, their own style then so can I and my style is open-hearted, enthusiastically wild and doggedly independent. What’s more I’ve come to appreciate that my style is no better or worse than anybody else’s.

Each to their own.

Resist in your own way but resist all the same,

Resist being pulled into another’s game

Resist becoming someone that you didn’t choose

Resist changing values in case your side lose

Resist being someone who can’t sleep at night

Resist the temptation to choose wrong over right

Resist turning into another man’s fool

Resist following blindly just ’cause it’s a rule.

Resist in your own way but resist all the same

Resist and be merry

Resist becoming tame.

 

The Empire Strikes Back.

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There are many reasons why refugees and asylum seekers travel through safe countries to get to places like Australia and the UK.

One of them is to do with Empire and in many ways I feel that we are now living through the final chapter of the colonise and rule period.

An argument that is often raged against that is ‘but us (Brits/ Australians) have given back far more than we ever took from ‘them’. We have re-paid our debts, that’s all in the past’

But that’s the point.

The oppressor doesn’t get the right to call time and declare themselves ‘over it’, only the oppressed can do that.

sultana Adam

The film clip above was part of an article published by the UK Telegraph yesterday and I picked it up from Facebook.  Stupidly I clicked on through to the comments section under the Facebook post, optimistically hoping to see some compassion but I found none.   One after another after another bile filled sentence spewed out in front of me, some disbelieving this twelve-year old’s story or motive, others angry at the prospect of having their standard of living (some of whom will no doubt be struggling and suffering in their own ways and I don’t wish to deny or minimise that in any way) further compromised or their towns further pressurised by extra un-working bodies.  It is a sorry state of affairs.

Like most people I don’t have the answer and doubt there is a simple one.  I appreciate that there are limits to what a society can provide – I live in Australia and while we have a sparsely populated country we are keeping our borders tightly controlled.  Sometimes for political reasons but it is worth mentioning that practically we do not have the housing built, the social infrastructure, the income or the services ready YET.  But maybe we could, if we wanted to?   Maybe we actually should (once provisions for water, food and energy have been factored in)…..

I spent just under thirty years growing up in the UK and while there remains no immediate threat from insurgents and its citizens are relatively free, things are not exactly a bed of roses.  I’ve seen riots, civil unrest, anger, racial hatred, ghetto-type situations and sieges happen because of the inequalities of the system.  In many ways the system is broken.  It can’t stand the pressures because it can’t even cope with the status-quo and hasn’t coped forever. The gap between the have’s and have-nots’ is not getting any smaller and that gap doesn’t just mean that some people can’t afford the holidays and clothes they want, it cuts to the core of personhood, human rights.  The right to an education (you try getting educated in a school where 40 languages are spoke, kids have suffered trauma and there is no money for extra help),  the right to work hard and be justly rewarded (post code prejudice means that in a competitive marketplace for jobs where you live can be enough to put you out of the running) and much more.  Generational deprivation and stigmatization.

And then there are people like me all bleeding hearts and roses saying take these retched people and care for them as if they are your own?

It isn’t going to happen.

But we have to do something and my point is this, we need to acknowledge that this is the Empire striking back,  not with weapons and brute force (let’s not let the terrorising acts of a few prejudice the masses) but with outstretched hands, desperate eyes and a yearning soul.

We HAVE to let them in.

Not necessarily into ‘our’ countries or ‘our’ homes.

But into ‘our’ consciousness.

Unless we can see ourselves reflected in their reality we will not move forward and solve this.  We will continue to lock ourselves up, defend and patrol, punish and segregate and boil the world down to ‘them’ and ‘us’ and we will do this under the promise of ‘keeping ourselves safe’.  But we will not be safe and neither will we be or feel free.

Has anyone here read George Orwell’s 1984?

Or played chess?

Check mate.

Amanda x

PS: If you are wondering about Afghanistan and why its people do walk across the world to seek refuge in the UK you might like to read this. ‘The Opium War’. Julia Lovell. Cup of tea anyone?

A Conversation with Tim Whitmarsh on Atheism

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Listening to Tim Whitmarsh on Atheism (Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World) left me feeling that the whole thing is HIS-Story rather than hers or even better ‘theirs’.

Here is a link to the interview that I listened to

I am fascinated by religion and non-religion in equal measure. I am not entirely sure why it fascinates me so other than the fact that the reality that we all live with the dichotomy of  death, disease, inequality,suffering and greed vs beauty, nature, art, charity, human ingenuity and adventure means that we are forced to come to terms with it all (or not I guess).  Some people choose religion and a known or ‘named’ god and some people choose nothing.  I choose it all and call it nature, mother nature, human nature, the forces of nature. But that’s by the by….

Anyway, that’s just a bit of context behind what is really a rekindled realisation that after listening to Tim I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the reality that Atheism (as with Religion) is a male construct almost devoid of her-story and as such, as a philosophy it fails to completely hit the mark for me, to grab me.

fig boobies

As much as I found Tim interesting and warmed to his approach to the subject I couldn’t help feeling the absence of a woman’s voice and wondering what the world would look like, what Atheism would SOUND like if women had a hand in shaping it. Further, what would it all look and FEEL like if gender hadn’t even been an issue?  How would that have played out in the world I wonder……

And that brings me back to what makes sense for me and that is  a love of and belonging to nature because against that framework everything can be worked in and worked out and every voice, every action counts for something.

 

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