Like a sewerage outfall into the ocean, last week's so-called Australian national celebration of its apparent "founding" on the 26th January, has washed up the usual turds onto the shores of this ancient continent.Read More
continent of Australia
...has been driven into the heart of the country called Australia. The name of this country is of course not the same name for country that the Original People...whose DNA is entwined with the very molecules of earth of which it is made... would call it.
But it is the same place geographically. Not spiritually, not culturally, not familial or environmental... Terra Australis, was the construct of British Imperialism and its defence forces... for which the continent was named.
In 1768, Captain Cook, the British Navy Officer (well he was actually only a lieutenant at the time) had been given sealed orders by the British Admiralty to find this rumoured treasure of rich and fertile land tucked away deep in hiding from the rituals of other and one could argue, barbaric cultures, somewhere in the southern oceans of the globe.
Cook arrived, made landfall once or twice and then claimed an entire continent for his government with no particular point of reference. The land was here so he just stuck a flag in it. Which really about sums up the entire invasion of the Aboriginal land which he and his antecedents never had a right to claim.
They had no idea they had stuck a spear into a living organism that had connections with its animals and people and environment that were far beyond the comprehension of a naval bureaucrat working for a foreign government .
I believe this last week has demonstrated one of the most seminal moments in the history of this country, since that invasion...far outweighing the spectaculars of national pride with events like the Sydney Olympics, the centenary of Anzac Day or even the day Pharlap last ran a race here... because in these last seven days we have come to the truth of the matter of who we are as a nation.
We are racist. And for the vast majority of white people they don't have a clue why.
Adam Goodes, who I have written about before on this blog is an exemplary man. His background as an Adynamathanha and Narungga warrior who is a great and graceful athlete, whose charm and intelligence shines when you see him speak, is now at the centre of a storm of intense debate about racism.
He has been derided, abused and vilified by people who have shown up at the games he plays in his chosen sport to boo him. There is no reason for that other than they are racially motivated to try and bring a proud and decent man into the dust because they themselves are ignorant and quisling remnants of an illegal and brutal past.
Let me explain.
Australia as a continent has been the country of over 500 Aboriginal tribal groups for upwards of 60,000 years. These are the rightful sovereign owners of the land. They are not extinct or "traditional" custodians. They are the living breathing people whose land the 'Nation' of Australia is built on. It is a separate and distinctive country, with its own laws and I believe a far more sane and sophisticated way of being and living than what we are surrounded with now.
The "Nation" of Australia is a corporate construct. According to the official website of the British Monarchy the British monarch is also the "Queen Of Australia". We as Australians... still...are part of Foreign Imperial law that does not originate on this continent.
There has never been an official treaty between the two sovereign nations. The one that consists of 500 Aboriginal Tribal Nations and the one that is headed up by the Queen of Australia. Therefore the Occupation of the Continent of Australia is illegal in anyway you look at it.
Now lets look at why so many white people don't even understand their own racism.
When I grew up I was taught about Captain Cook (paying attention? yes he was only a Lieutenant) arriving at Botany Bay. I didn't know the first thing he did was shoot a few of the brave Aboriginal warriors that came down to warn him off. Not a great start to a "nation" and something I only became aware of in the last few years.
They probably ran at Cook and his landing party with spears and in their protocols this undoubtedly would have been enough to show displeasure at the landing by demonstrating superior athleticism and fire power. The landing party, instead of demonstrating their 'manhood' and ability as warriors, in a one to one manner, retreated, firing guns and taking the life of the first casualties of the war between Aboriginal people and the invaders.
Of course the finer points of this has never been widely explained. That a culture would find that killing something that threatened them was a viable alternative to retreating and trying to find common ground in a space where they did not belong is not exploration or 'discovery'. It is a declaration of war to gain control over vast and rich territories.
The British Imperial Forces did this everywhere. They invaded places. Ask anyone from India to America and Afghanistan.
For those of the ilk of Andrew Bolt, a journalist for the Herald Sun and the son of Dutch immigrants it appears that the history of this action has never been fully comprehended. Bolt's denials of the history of the invasion of this country has somewhat deteriorated into a kind of mania recently.
The war in Australia between white and black has never been openly declared. The history of the "Nation of Australia" has been manipulated by the Bolt's of this world whose statements worm into the brains of those that would settle for anything that the power elite of information would have them swallow.
Bolt would only have Aboriginal people as deep "black" in colour and grateful to their masters for what opportunities they have been given to "better themselves." Insulting and racist sentiments.
So back to Adam Goodes. He has no longer been content to do what the Bolt's of this world would have him do. He has taken pride in his athleticism and joy in his culture and demonstrated his superior talents in a field of play. He has taken his responsibilities seriously as the head of the "No Room For Racism" campaign and been an advocate for young kids all over the country.
But Goodes has done something more. He has shown by carrying "The Invisible Spear" onto the field of play (by doing a dance mimicking carrying a spear in celebration of a goal) what the actions of those first warriors must have been to those long ago invaders.
Those warriors and indeed Goodes, were displaying their superiority. What the British Invaders and the Andrew Bolt's and indeed, the people who have swallowed their mythology have no answer for is how to reply to someone that is quintessentially more than them. More of this country, more of an athlete, more honest and more cultured. They have only the tools of the ignorant...like the original prisoners that came here, their way is brutality either with a bullet or a boo. It is telling.
This continual racial vilification is just another attempt to undermine the progress of Aboriginal people in reclaiming their country on at least some levels and to deny them of their sovereign rights in their own country by causing psychological damage. It will not win.
When the greater majority of Australians realise that we must have a real and meaningful "Treaty" with the Original People of this country and not a mere swipe at "Constitutional Recognition" then perhaps Adam Goodes display of his manhood will not be so threatening to those people who would deny they are racist.
... And We Want It Now! So go the lyrics of one of the seminal songs of the 1960's "When The Music's Over" by Jim Morrison and The Doors.
Jim Morrison was a great poet and iconic 'rock-star' who challenged the actions of the generations that had proceeded him with his songs, in what were considered to be revolutionary times. In July 1965, after a fateful meeting with Ray Manzarek the rock band The Doors formed and began their climb to the zenith of their global popularity. At the same time the "Counter-Culture' movement became one of the most powerful 'people' movements to sweep the planet.
Now coincidentally Jim Morrison was born in Melbourne... the one in Florida.... not the British penal colony of the great Australian continent that yesterday hosted clashes between the infamous "Reclaim Australia" Anti-Islamic organisation and people defending the right of all Australians to co-exist peacefully.
A co-incidence maybe, but it does seem interesting to compare the events of that far away 50 years ago and those occurring right now. Just click on the above links to see footage of events that are so similar its frightening. Considering the rise of right wing white supremacist groups, ISIS, conservative governments, huge multinational corporations and social media campaigns, I have to ask... What really has changed?
It appears that no matter what way you look at it fear and benightedness still rule this world.
But we no longer have any excuses for our behaviour as human beings. In the techno rich, media savvy landscapes of 2015 there in no excuse for ignorance. Just about anyone's thoughts, experiences and actions can be charted on a computer screen at the press of a button. We can follow the lives of the rich and famous or the thoughts of an ordinary citizen with as much ease as we can see close-up images of the dwarf planet Pluto and understand the chemical composition of its surface.
So why are people still so led by their allegiances to such unworthy causes as "Reclaim Australia" or "ISIS"?
Let's look at what was going on in our world at the exact time The Doors came into being.
According to Wikipedia it was the... "Beginning of a 3-day period of extreme weather in Australia. Snow is recorded as far north as the Clark Range in Queensland, killing drought-weakened livestock." and "Vietnam War: The US Army Special Forces camp at Bu Dop, about 100 miles north of Saigon, comes under attack by the Viet Cong. Air strikes by two F-100s of the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron were credited with "probably saving the camp that night"
Well apart from the weather... strangely it has recently snowed all the way up the ranges in Australia , unsurprisingly America is still at war, this time with "terrorists"... nothing much has changed has it?
There always seems to have to be an enemy or an "other" that we of little power and influence would rather bicker and fight and demonise than actually try and understand. Whether they are Indigenous, Black, Islamic or LGBTIQA it seems the vast majority of people have some problem with those that are categorised in those terms. Fundamental laziness on a thinking human beings part or mainstream media influence dominating the era?
Or could it be worse? Is it that the politicians that we have elected into power are venal, unintelligent and self serving? That the systems of government that we have created must make someone the enemy so that the war for the earth can be won by the people with the most fire-power? That regardless of what we the people actually want, they the governments can give mining, petroleum and armaments companies carte-blanche to do what they please while we are sparring in the streets about our so called differences. Seems like a replay of the sentiments and actions of the 1960's is being carried out as I type this today.
Don't be fooled. While anti-Islamist rallies are occurring and decent people trying to protest against them, the attention is slipping from the greatest war we have on earth. And thats for the environment.
With the next Trans Pacific Partnership ministerial meeting happening in Maui on the 28th-31st July and Australia edging closer to signing an agreement that will allow "investor-state dispute clauses" which could potentially curtail governments' ability to legislate against companies covered under the regional trade deal our hopes of preventing massive environmental irresponsibility on the part of companies such as Shenhua Australia Holdings are fading.
We need to unite. All of us. And figure out what it is that we are saving for the next generations. Its our planet. Its our world. And we want it back. And we want it now!
Today's photograph was taken on an iphone and was shown in a Korean exhibition last year. Its called LSD and in 50 years time my subject will be 65 years old...
I would also like to announce that The National Library of Australia has selected this blog to be archived so it can be made publicly available in perpetuity to researchers, historians and the general public in the years to come. You can find it here.
And well...thats pretty cool to think Jim Morrison and I might have something in common...that our voices might be heard 50 years from when we wrote something.. though I wonder if in 50 years whether the world will have changed that much afterall...
Abraham Lincoln once said "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice". Lincoln of course is a historic figure and a great man of the sort we don't seem to find anymore in this world. It would seem strange that as an Australian photojournalist that I would open this particular blog with a quote from a man who is legendary for uniting America and freeing Afro-American slaves... but yesterday when I was shooting for my upcoming exhibition on a day known in Australia as Harmony Day... I met an Afghani man who was a refugee to Australia and in the course of our discussion he said to me....
"America is a great country, wealthy and sophisticated and they thrive because they are American"
I wasn't quite sure what he meant until I woke up this morning to the news that Australian politicians had held a bipartisan early morning candle light vigil for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, two young Australian men who are in imminent danger of having their bodies ripped to pieces by a firing squad in an enactment of their punishment and sentence for smuggling drugs through Indonesia...The Death Penalty.
My colleague, friend, my sister in many ways and one of the most important teachers I have ever had....Sociologist and photojournalist Barbara McGrady...often asks me this...
"What do you define as Australian... You know what does "Being Australian" mean to you?"
Barbara is not Australian. She is a Goomeroi Murri Yinah. Her people have lived on this continent for more than 60,000 years in an uninterrupted flow from one generation to the next. She belongs here. But now, even though my people never really understood this continent nor why they washed up on this shore, so do I.
While my families antecedents can only be traced back to the late 1800's and Barb's family go back 60,000 plus years and on so many levels our understanding of this world differs.. after this morning I feel like I can finally answer her question. What is "Being Australian"...
We are many things but maybe it is what we are not that really answers Barbara's question. Australians are not a race. We aren't a colour. We aren't a sporting team. We aren't academics. We aren't without fault. We haven't been on this continent for long. We win some we lose some.
But we aren't without compassion and we aren't without mercy.
"Being Australian" is based on so much given to us by Barbara's people. Our world renown "dry" sense of humour. Our love of sports. Our ability to fight one on one. Our love of this landscape. Our connection to one another.
While two of our "own" are sitting in isolation cells in an Indonesian prison awaiting execution the finer points of "being Australian" are making themselves known. We do not believe in the Death Penalty. We do believe in redemption. We know it is possible because we are a small country and most of us probably have some sort of personal story about Indonesia, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.
But "Being Australian" means that we are connected to Andrew and Myuran in an indefinable way. We know them because they are Australian. They, like us, are a whole lot of things but some of that defies description. But we know we aren't monsters.
As Myuran and Andrew sit in those cells, we all feel the horror of what it would be like to contemplate our own deaths. To replay in our heads over and over why we made our choices. How simple it was for us to make these mistakes. And how hard we had tried to be better people because we were given that chance to make a reparation for those mistakes. And how much we care about the people we call friend.
While His Excellency, The President Of Indonesia Joko Widodo must know by now how esteemed the work of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has been in Kerobokan Prison in Bali, perhaps he doesn't know much about being Australian.
We were unimpressed by the show of military might when Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were transferred to Nusakambangan or the "Death Island" because we know that another of the ten "Death Row" prisoners was transported in a single van. We know that we weren't going to drop bomb's or stage a protest during the transportation because we know that Chan and Sukumaran violated Indonesian Sovereign law and we will not interfere with that process.
But we also know that each and every one of us feel the torment of the Chan and Sukumaran families, the pain of all their friends and associates. The pain of the people left behind in Kerobokan Prison asking what point is rehabilitation when it simply leads you to a horrific end.
We know because we are that indefinable thing.. We are Australians... and Myuran and Andrew are our people...
And as a people, we plead to His Excellency President of Indonesia Joko Widodo to grant Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan Clemency...We plead because we know that each and everyone of us, like Myu and Andrew, are redeemable..
Todays photo is of a baby at the vigil for Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan held at Toongabbie 26th March, 2015.
Today I did something I have never done before. I tipped over the edge from just being a photojournalist and armchair activist into making a stand. Doing something real and practical and hoping like hell it will make a difference. Today I delivered a petition with over 1600 signatures to the Consulate-General of the Indonesian Republic, to be respectfully submitted to His Excellency Joko Widodo, The President of Indonesia.
The petition to show Clemency for convicted drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, was elegantly penned by Jaqi Pascoe and illustrated with a photo by photojournalist Lukman S. Bintoro (firstname.lastname@example.org)/News Ltd and has gathered momentum over a very short period of time. And for that I am grateful to all of the people who have signed and joined their voices to mine in asking for Clemency.
I don't know Myu and Andrew, their families, or really much about the circumstances behind why they are facing death by a firing squad on a remote island in Indonesia, other than they were smuggling drugs into Australia and the Australian Federal Police tipped the Indonesian Police off.
I have read as many media reports as the next person and I can honestly say I don't much care about how the situation came about. All I really know is that in the photo by Lukman S. Bintoro used on this petition I can see in the eyes of two hapless men the light of life... still burning bright. What I can say, is that after years of looking at photos that I can not see them as evil monsters.
Just men who lost their way.
So are their crimes enough reason to take their life, the one very sovereign thing each of us have?
There have been a myriad of arguments both for and against these two suffering the consequences of their mistakes both in Australia and around the world. There are as many people in Indonesia who oppose the proposed executions as any population anywhere.
The arguments have ranged from they are "terrible scum" to they are "rehabilitated" and that trying to pressure the Indonesian government was trying to interfere with another sovereign country's system and that "boycotting Bali" was wrong because after all why should the Balinese suffer for the crimes of two stupid young men.
In effect, all of these arguments are valid... and invalid in all the one breath...
But if that one breath was to be your last how would you really feel?
Today I went to the Consulate-General of The Indonesian Republic and spoke to his representative. The Consulate-General's representative is a young man and he was very empathetic. We talked about the Death Penalty. And how, in my opinion it is not a deterrent for drug smugglers nor is it a way forward for humanity. He agreed it was a frustrating situation to be Australian and to make these representations. He pledged to carry the sentiments of the 1619 signatories to his government.
There is no right way to approach this. I don't believe in the Death Penalty. I never have. I never will.
But because of this belief today I did something positive. I represented this point of view to a foreign government. I expressed my belief we can go forward without the deaths of these men and the others who are also on Death Row, in a better way.
It is not for Australians to be aggressive to Indonesians. Nor is it for us to determine the outcome. What we can do is share our views that we, the people of the world, will be better without the Death Penalty.
I pray that Joko Widodo, who now wears the weight of this decision between life and death on his shoulders alone, makes the right and better choice for the world by granting Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan the Clemency that will prove that humanity can go forward in compassion.
"Until we give back to the black man just a bit of land that was his and give it back without provisos, without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him – until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far: a community of thieves "– Xavier Herbert, 'Poor Fellow My Country'. In the above phrase legendary author Xavier Herbert expresses exactly what the white community of Australia really are. Thieves.
Ok... so you might say well we can't give the land of Australia back to the Original People because we are here now...and while I think that most of the Original People of this country would love nothing more than to have seen the ships sail back out of Sydney Harbour headlands, from whence they came, there is something of a fait accompli about the present occupation of the continent of Australia that would be very difficult to address.
Luckily for us most of the different mobs looked on the arrival of white fellas with a kind of magnificent generosity... I suspect the ancestors probably thought that we were barbarians and initially left us alone...though a very short time later I am sure many would have rather have speared us all to death than to have allowed what has transpired since those first boats weighed anchor.
First there was the wholesale slaughter of the Original People as the first waves of a penal colony were established on this great continent, then there were diseases to which there was no immunity foisted upon them...Not satisfied with that the white colonialists then poisoned the waterholes in an effort to steal the land, massacred tribes, then rounded up the children of the many rapes that had been perpetrated on the women and separated them from the families that cared for them, prevented them from speaking their own language, tried to bully them into changing their spiritual beliefs and finally invented a policy of eugenics that became a precedent for the Third Reich.
All along saying that what the white government did was in the best interest of the 'Aborigines'. Fast forward a few years and the Australian government finally accepted some responsibility for the creation of the 'Stolen Generations' generations of people who were forcibly removed from their families and emotionally wrecked by the characteristic abuse of their captors....both physical and mental... and the separation from their stories and culture. Meanwhile the Australian government currently still allows the widespread policies of the 'Intervention' to prevail across the Northern Territory stripping the original people of the control and connection with their own land. Mining interests have long been protected under the guise of 'Government administration of Indigenous Issues'.
Even now the current Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott has taken complete personal responsibility for Indigenous Affairs... advised by only one voice from the black community.
Now of course all of this policy has fed in to the 'Aboriginal problem'... so the streets have become littered with the spirits and souls of people who have been controlled and excluded in their own country....penalised for being 'Aboriginal', excoriated for being 'too black' or not 'black enough'...
So in effect the white community has stolen everything they possibly could from the Original People of this country...from their land, family and language to their skin colour and spiritual beliefs...but the one thing that has always evaded the white grasp is the incontrovertible steadfastness and dignity of the original people and their culture and stories...
That is until now...
In perhaps what is the most breathtakingly cynical exercise I have seen for sometime the NSW Government (led by erstwhile PM Abbott supporter Barry O'Farrell) have teamed with Destination NSW to produce an event which is, according to the spin....' Corroboree Sydney is a national festival for all Australians that celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the heart of Sydney.'
Well all Australians except if you are an Aboriginal photographer that is. But much more of that in a moment.
So under the guise of 'show-casing' Aboriginal culture it appears that the bean counters at Destination NSW have finally worked out that overseas visitors don't just come to Australia to see beer swilling, Bondi life savers with crispy skin and strange headgear...some in fact are far more interested in the original people of this country than the descendants of the off casts of British society...and that they are actually really curious, interested and generally respectful of the first people of this country.
Tourists bring dollars with them to spend so what better way to attract visitors than to bung on the entertainment... New Years Eve Celebrations the Vivid Festival and now Corroboree Sydney....its kind of a no brainer...put on a show of 'black fella culture' and everyone of the 'Aboriginal problems' will be subsumed by the tap of happy feet and the clappity clap of nice white people applauding.
Of course if you happen to be a Goomeroi woman and a fully accredited community photographer and sociologist packing a 70-200mm and a couple of Canon camera bodies then one would assume that the organisers of an event such as Corroboree Sydney would work out what a fantastic idea it would be to allow you access to every one of the events as a great ambassador for your people and also as someone who could share your photos and stories with the Aboriginal community that couldn't make it to any of the events. And that those photos would stir some interest and engender some pride and support from the very community Corroboree Sydney professes to represent.
At this juncture I would like to disclose that the very Goomeroi woman that made such an assumption is a very dear friend of mine.... Barbara McGrady with whom I have travelled many roads and who is an exceptional woman on every level.
However last night when she showed up to document the opening night of the Corroboree Sydney Firelight Ceremony some PR flak denied her entrance to the photographers media area proclaiming that the other photographers wouldn't like her being there.... Seriously.
Aghast as I am at what transpired next the fact that a mere PR flak had the right to even consider preventing a respected Aboriginal Elder from going anywhere at all at a black fella event is just plain disgusting but when she next ordered Barbara to remove her accreditation so she in fact would no longer be 'accredited' to take photos is another blow altogether.
The PR spin on this is predictable. "Barb was given access to the VIP area but she took off her pass so no other media would be upset." This of course was after Barbara approached one of the main curatorial organisers after she was denied access to the media area.
Anyone who knows anything at all about blackfella culture know that boundaries and borders do not exist in the way of fences or ropes...that there even was a VIP area is just more proof to me of the way that white fellas are trying to stage 'feel good' black fella events while covertly trying to appropriate and objectify the culture. All in the name of the government doing what's best. But who for?
That Corroboree Sydney is a predominantly a government free for all is now beyond doubt in my mind. It is funded by the notoriously insensitive Destination NSW and all the usual suspects. Of course the funding that is set aside for the performers and artists is always going to be welcome to them and their families but why is there a PR flak keeping the gates with not the slightest idea of protocol or even manners or common sense denying access to an esteemed community member? The sheer and unbridled stupidity of that is just insulting.
Years ago a bunch of fellas from the so called infamous 'Block' got together and did a guided walk around it. A crowd showed up with a sprinkling of white fellas who thought they were being thrill seekers cos they were in deep dark black fella territory...and while I was one of the photographers there we were led by genuinely talented intelligent and informed community members who taught us a lot. It wasn't an all singing all dancing glossy magazine event... it was genuine and fun and sad but most of all it was authentic and from the earth. There was no fluffy PR person running around telling people they weren't allowed to do this or that..no-one would have dared exclude anyone...cos thats just not how it works...
Now Barb is there to tell the story of the culture of her community. She is from the people and for the people. She speaks not only from the inside but she speaks eloquently and without pretence... she shoots what is in front of her...
It seems now what has been stolen is her right to even tell her stories... if some protectionist PR person doesn't want her to access an area of an event on her country about her culture for any reason it can only point to one thing...
The last thing left to steal is the stories...
EPILOGUE: Since this story was published on my blog, things made a remarkable turn of events. Barbara was offered a tearful apology, a bunch of flowers and as she says ‘immunity’ at the next ‘Corroboree Sydney event where the new PR people mentioned she was now ‘A protected species’.