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Happy Australia Day!

January 26, 2018

(quick warning; contains graphic imagery, may be upsetting for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Peoples, also may be upsetting for European Australians for totally different reasons... )

 


Happy Australia day! What are we celebrating? 

European arrival here?

The settling and growth of a great nation? 

Is that what we are celebrating?

 

But wasn't Australia already home to another people? 

Already settled?

They arrived much much before, in the dreaming.

 

Is it imperial entitlement? 

Our culture forced over another?

Rewriting another?

Are we celebrating that? 

 

Children taken as if rightfully owned?

To be whitened. Eugenics.

 

The Western World's superiority complex.

 

A whole way of being obliterated.

Is that what we are celebrating?

 

The lack of consent? 

Peaceful treaties signed - then ignored. 

Land stolen. 

 

Sovereignty never ceded.

 

The lack of respect?

Adults: one bullet to the brain.

Babies: swung by ankles, skulls smashed on rocks.

Is that what we are celebrating?

 

Corrupt law systems, 

Rangers organising "nigga hunts", 

The " ethnic cleansing" continuing well into the 1920s

Is that what we are celebrating?

 

Before we came here, 

Before the very first ever Australia Day in 1788, 

There were more than 250,000 aboriginal people in Queensland. 

We cut them down in misplaced pride

So that by 1915 there were 20,000.

 

Is that what we are celebrating?

Tell me please, because I don't know.

I'm not from here.

This is new to me.

So maybe, maybe I'm just not getting something.

Maybe there's something I'm missing.

(there must be something, there must be something I've forgotten)

 

Is it the Sir John Downer who has a suburb named after him in Canberra,

Who approved massacres 

- said " yeah okay sure, you can massacre all those people, that's swell"

Who played the law so that killers had no consequence

As if the deliberate death of a black person is an excusable offence.

Who was then sent with an army of his own, 

supplied with ammunition,

To continue the brutal murder of the aboriginal peoples.

Who has a suburb named after him.

… I must be missing something.

(there must be something, there must be something I’ve forgotten)

 

Is it the Aboriginal soldiers in world wars one and two 

Who returned to families ripped and scattered, 

Apartheid constrictions, 

Who weren't eligible for assistance programs,

Whose names were not on honour rolls. 

As if they did not deserve recognition 

Or support.

As if they did not need it.

 

So what did they give to receive more broken?

 

Is that what we are celebrating?

Cos it seems to me that it's just like

The red dust.

Stained.

This date is smeared.

The scrubbing couldn't get it off.

The wire brush only made it worse

As our blood combined with theirs

We are as foolish as poor king Macbeth

We can't erase a happening by simply ignoring its existence.

 

That's called gas lighting:

When a reality is denied,

 

That's messing with people’s minds.

That's psychological abuse of an entire nation.

 

We can't erase a happening at all. 

 

Like guilty children, we are trying to hide the red red crayon all over the wall.

 

 

Red dust.

And here- now it's dried,

 

And fallen to crumbs, 

Flakes, scattered.

Mingling with specks of worn rock,

Skin cells, decaying tree flesh.

It's mingling and 

All. Stained. Red.

Land soaking in history denied.

 

Is that what we are celebrating?

Cos you know, it's not over.

This isn't constrained to history.

 

When Aboriginal people are 3℅ of the population 

yet 28℅ of those in prison

When the justice system isn't designed to cater for 

Cultural difference, language barriers

The vast economic inequality, 

The lack of education,

The abuse cycles-

 

Some people don't get a choice.

Were you born to a moderately well off family

Able to provide you with love and support? 

Or if there was difficulty, were there services to help you?

 

Some people don't get a choice.

 

Born into homes without gift of nourishment,

Without the comfort of a blanket, the comfort of open arms,

In an effort to survive they find themselves a prison cell,

Born into violence

Suckling at the feet of whisky,

 

Born to a life constricted by their colour

A life devoid of opportunity.

 

Some people don't get a choice.

And it's not that they're not trying to get jobs 

 

-Don't feed me that crap-

 

It's that we created this

When we stripped them of their land

Of their assets

Of their families

When we stripped them bare of their culture

Of their identity

When we treated them like less

We made this divide.

We put them there.

 

I say we because I'm English too
- and it's a history I would like to address.

 

 

We stuck them in a system that doesn't cater to them

Which they aren't made for

And when going to juvi is a significant factor in the likelihood of reoffending,

It's almost as if it's deliberate

 

This whole justice thing is creating more problems than it's trying to solve.

 

Aboriginal people of the stolen generation

Those we took forcibly from their families,

Are two times as likely to be arrested.

There's this psychological thing that happens

When someone, anyone, is torn from their families.

It's well documented actually,

 

It's called trauma.

 

It predisposes one to substance abuse, disorderly conduct,

Poor mental health.

 

Even now, one in four aboriginal children grow up away from their families.

The issues continue

And they were engineered by us

As we marginalised them in our assumed superiority.

 

There is something drastically wrong when a 10yr old child takes her own life. 

This happened just last year.

There is something wrong

When aboriginal children are 8.8 times more likely to commit suicide. 

There is something wrong

And we can see it in the extreme poverty

We can trace it back to our history

We created this. That was us.

(there must be something, there must be something I've forgotten. cos it don't make no sense to me, it don't make no sense at all, there must be something, there must be something I've forgotten)

 

Aboriginal people are spiritually connected to their ancestral lands

It's their culture 

Their way of being

We denied them that

- it's like taking away your right to a BBQ

Or, I don't know, Australian Rules Football

What is it you Aussies do? 

That is integral to your being?

See, I'm not from here.

 

But from what I can see,

This is like red dust

Red dust we are trying to leave behind

And as we drive away

We watch it in the rear-view mirror

Hoping to see it dwindle away to nothing

With a forced denial

Because it's still stuck to our shoes

It's etched into our fingertips

It's within our lungs 

Part of us.

 

We carry it with us

Just like they do

It's imprinted into land and culture and we can scrub and scrub and scrub

All we like with that wire brush

- Out damned spot out!

We can scrub

But the blood is within us

Red

Deep beneath our skin

And with every pump and beat

Pump and beat

Pump and beat

Of our hearts 

We know we can't erase it.

We carry it. 

We carry it.

 

(there must be something, there must be something I've forgotten)

 

Come on Australia! 

Let this unease within

Flow out through mouths unstoppered

And rebuild this connection to the other people, the first people.

We can choose to turn this red dust

Into a passionate symbol of love and growth

The mutual bonding and mingling

Of our poly-cultural nation

It's basic emotional maturity

Lift our gas lighting with

Accountability, acknowledgement, redress.

 

Turn those funds away from prisons and into support for aboriginal families

Prevent the poverty crimes, 

The frustration crimes, 

The misunderstood crimes

Instead of pouring money into their aftermath

Put aboriginal history and language into school curriculum

Show indigenous people the respect of 

Acknowledging and educating about their cultural identity

Represent our poly-cultural nation with a symbol- like the flag

 

When the hope that fuels resilience has dwindled

And anger becomes a predominating feature

Access to mental health services 

Might alleviate some of the symptoms

Though the cause,

The cause is opportunity, or lack there-of,

The cause is inequality and marginalisation

The cause is much deeper.

And trickier.

It's the demoralization that comes from the racism still inherent in our entire bureaucratic system.

 

Until we do these,

Or something like them,

There will always be red red blood

Stained

Ingrained deep on our palms.

 

 

Time to stop pretending Australia.

This is invasion day.

Change the date.

 

Today is Australia Day. I wrote this in 2017 when I was in Adelaide. It was that year's Australia day and I was on a goat/chicken farm, far far away from any of the festivities, listening to the patriotic songs on the radio. I knew there was some controversy around the day so I messaged an activist friend I had made in Sydney and he sent me lots of links with more information - and I set about writing. I think it still needs a bit more of an edit (an artist's perfectionism or an accurate observation?). 

 

Australia Day is a celebration set on the date the first fleet of convicts landed in Australia at Port Jackson NSW and began the first settlement (January 26th, 1788). This Eastern half of Australia, now called NSW, was claimed as English land by Captain James Cook on August 22nd in 1770 (by raising a flag on Possession Island, cos that's totally how it works...).  By 1838 the then-called 'Foundation Day' or 'Anniversary Day' (Jan 26th) was a national holiday. By 1938 it was called Australia Day and Australian Aboriginals declared it a day of mourning.

 

The colonisation process included the massacre of Australian Aboriginals who, in contrast to New Zealand Māori, were not offered a nationwide treaty (though I read something somewhere which said small groups of them did sign peace treaties which were then ignored). While conditions have improved, there is still racism inherent in the system and a vast inequality in treatment and general welfare. It was legal to go 'nigga hunting' well into the 1960's. If you want to know more this is a great speech by a previous politician. I also rather enjoyed this article today.

 

So the day itself is very controversial and each year there are protest marches alongside/in opposition to the celebration rallies. The opposition in Melbourne (arguably the most liberal city in Australia) is gaining momentum and the rallies today were HUGE. Not that I was there. I would have liked to have been. I was in NZ working at the kindergarten instead. Maybe next year. Anyway, quite a few local Councils (particularly in Melbourne) like this one have independently decided to change the date and the way they celebrate Australia Day. And in backlash, the central government is threatening to take away privileges from those Councils.

 

 The protest rally in Melbourne today; photo taken by my friend, and awesome musician, Mat Morgan.