I’ve just watched Stan Grant’s incredible documentary about racism The Australian Dream, which focuses on the recent experiences of AFL Footballer Adam Goodes. To see someone so visibly affected by the behaviour of those around him is heart wrenching.
Goodes, at the top of his game, is dragged down to the level of being a lesser being by the punters at the game.
One of the most amazing things about this whole event is just how articulate and strong Adam Goodes is through this whole thing. It would be incredibly easy to become hurt and angry and react, somehow he rises above all that.
Watching this amazing piece of film has left me in a state of reflection about where we are on this issue in Australia. I struggled for days with the idea that maybe it isn’t my place to make comment on this issue. I was conscious that it would be very easy for me, having spent most of 2019 in a remote indigenous community in WA, to come across as a know it all who wants to fix all our problems. I hope that’s not how this comes across.
My time in the desert last year taught me so much about the issues indigenous people face on a daily basis. I was shown just how much we, as white people, miss. I started to realise how many assumptions we make. I realised very quickly that I thought I knew a lot about indigenous culture and was aware of the impacts of racism and disadvantage, the reality is I had no idea.
This adventure that I went on simply gave me the beginnings of an understanding of this issue.
Being out there was such an experience. Getting to go on some of these road trips was so wild, travelling through landscapes I might never see again. The experience of being at the closing ceremony for the Uluru climb was life changing and never would have happened without me opting to take the job.
Experiencing events like the close of the Uluru climb as a viewer, listener or reader of mass media, engaging with these events as a participant in the social media world from your coastal haven, make it very easy to think that many of the issues around casual racism have been addressed. We quickly come to the conclusion that it is no longer as bigger issue as it once was, that we’ve grown as a people and moved on. This doco reminds us that the reality is quite different.
This recent statement from Stan Grant, for me, exemplifies the take home messages of this documentary. Such a wake up call that this simple verse of our supposed national song shuts our original inhabitants out.
The reality is that, in this modern world, in a first world country, the kids pictured here live in a community where there is often raw sewage seeping to the surface in town. That the drinking water in Irrunytju is so heavily ladened with led and nickel that they are getting sick.
That the state governments housing minister can come to town and see the state that they live in and six months later have not made any commitments to change their situation. This, for me, is indicative of a society that is damaged.
My assessment, as a very recently arrived guest, living in this remote community, was that even the white people who had been there for more than 20 years weren’t really on top of what the locals actually wanted or needed in order to succeed. I may be completely wrong about this and I’m ever aware that this comes across as the new guy with all the answers, but, it felt at times like we, the white fella’s, continue to put a label on what is measured as success. All the work that is done is measured against our standards. Has anyone ever really stopped and listened, asked clearly what the locals want? I suspect that if they have then they haven’t liked the answer that they got. People in general have a terrible habit of simply moving on to ask the next person, or, simply rephrasing the question so they end up with the answer they want.
I noticed in my work with the kids, doing radio shows, that they already speak two languages aside from English. When ever the teachers brought them in to the studio they wanted to them to do their radio work in english. I couldn’t help but wonder why that was necessary. What, I wondered, was the benefit here? Once they got to be adults many of them would be involved in the CDP program offered by Centrelink. They’d be trained in all sorts of things and then, often, expected to leave the Ngaanyatjarra lands for places like Alice Springs, Kalgoorlie and Perth for jobs. What the government fails to recognise in that situation is that you’ve pulled these people away from their culture and their native language and they no longer feel safe or comfortable. It should come as no surprise then that these people routinely ‘fail’ in these tasks and quickly return to their home lands.
What does failure actually mean though, by who’s standards? These people might not be up to moving away from their country, their tjukurpa or dream time stories as we might know it. They might not want to go and work a day job that puts money in their pockets but there is so much more that they can add to our society in their own way. The people of these lands have an incredible ability to read the landscape, to feed themselves and their people off that land, to keep them and theirs safe from natural disasters in a way that we would do well to learn from. Why is it that we fail to recognise the significance of keeping the oldest living culture in the world strong? Surely it is worth while continuing to offer federal government money to keep these traditional owners alive and hold on to the culture without expecting anything more than their continued success in return.
Why do we continue to think it’s ok to set rules and standards? I think we either forget or are just ignorant of how strong traditional culture is once we get off the coast. 80 percent of Australia’s population hugs the coastline of the country and sadly in those regions the traditional owners of that land have largely lost their culture. Once we get in to the centre of the country the situation is very different.
Throughout central Australia culture comes first. Before any other responsibility, as a key element of any event or issue through out the desert culture is key to all aspects of life. I was amazed, for example, to see people speaking traditional language fluently at all times and only speaking a very basic form of English when they had to with characters like me.
It’s frightening to think that the common thread in most of Australia’s problems appears to be white men. The issues that we continue to face around domestic violence and racism seems to be that those other than white males are trying to do what they can to exert power and control in certain situations and white men don’t like losing control. Lets be very clear that these people exert power and control in situations that white men have no place trying to control.
I’m very aware that there’s an irony to the fact that I, as a white man, am making these comments but I do so for two very clear reasons. The first reason I raise this discussion is because I’ve just seen first hand the affect that ignoring the problem is having, and it’s not good. One of the things that I notice about news and information in a social media world is that we only receive the news and info that fits our world view these days and is produced by those in our circles. My hope is that social commentary like this get people involved in the discussion and perhaps insights some thought and hopefully change in the situation over time. The second reason I write this is simply because this amazing documentary needs to be seen by as many people from as many different walks of life as possible.
Being invited on to the Ngaanyatjarra lands was an honour and a privilege that many in the world don’t get. Coming away from that experience you can’t help but feel like there needs to be more that you can do to help. Watching this amazing documentary shows me that the simplest thing anyone can do is call out racism and inequality when you see it. Speak up to the casual racism, sexism and homophobia you see on a daily basis and make it clear that it isn’t ok. Make a stand and say that behaviour stops with me.