Saturday, 31 October 2015

Australia needs an Indigenous Revolution

Picture courtesy of the Art of Melanie Hava

I have always been confused by the two parallel stories of Australia. 

The first story, the one that is entrenched and promoted by our governments, our mass mainstream media, our education system, our popular culture is white. It’s about a bunch of white English guys who sailed over and hey presto! "discovered" this land mass (they weren’t the first white guys by the way, the Dutch were first) and decided to make it theirs by plonking a bunch of convicts and misfits on the land because there was no room in classy old England for them, so here, go to this cruel, harsh land where millions of different creatures can kill you, the weather is unforgiving and you will have to physically toil forever to make the place habitable for your particular English sensibilities. They began to build the modern version of this nation at the expense of something pretty massive. They claimed to be the first, the most important and they still do. Despite what was here before them and what came after. This is the wrong story. 

The second story is the reality. It’s the story we all know to be true. It’s the story of an amazingly vast land mass, inhabited for thousands of years by a people who lived in harmony with the land and its scope; its flora and fauna and with each other. A land of stories and culture, of art, food, medicine, family, dance, song, theatre, costume, custom, law, spirit, conservation, hunting, gathering, mothering, fathering, sistering and brothering; of elder and young, of woman and man and child and aunty and uncle; of love and survival; of birth, life and death. A story that despite every attempt to extinguish it, still lives on strong today. A story surviving despite being denied, ignored, abused, destroyed, manipulated, undercut, cheated, ridiculed and humiliated. Cut to those white guys coming along and they themselves surviving and opening the floodgates to the multitudes of others; of every colour and creed who then contributed to the building of a nation. This is the story that needs to be told.

Despite two hundred odd years of trying to reconcile Australian history, what happens daily in Australia and what is given oxygen in our dominant culture and politics is the first, narrow little pin prick of a story. Aboriginal people are still enduring and resisting racism. The government is still trying to close remote communities, it still tramples all over sacred land and gives preference to mining companies who destroy it. This despite what Aboriginal people have been screaming at us forever; that their connection to their land is a primary factor in their identity. 

Aboriginal women are still over represented in domestic violence statistics and Aboriginal people are more likely to die in custody. Aboriginal children are still removed from their families at a higher rate than others, especially since the establishment of ridiculously misguided and inhumane intervention policies. There are so many issues that have divorced us as a nation from our Indigenous heritage, but this story is what pissed me off this week and got me thinking about how far behind we still are. 

Uncle Jack Charles is a prominent Aboriginal Australian actor, elder and activist. To anyone with half a clue, he is a well known and highly respected man, who's contributions to our nation are significant. On two separate occasions he was denied a taxi on face value. Whoever was driving decided he was an undesirable passenger, simply because he is Aboriginal. SORRY WHAT? COME AGAIN?

Is that really how much we as a nation have convinced ourselves of the first story? Many people commenting on some of the articles I read online were questioning the ethnicity of the taxi drivers. That old cliche. To be honest, I did too at first, but I corrected myself and so many counter comments had the same objection. I think it is irrelevant too, on reflection. It doesn't matter what the ethnicity of the driver was, discrimination is discrimination. Initially it did cross my mind that some taxi drivers are often recent migrants, but the issue isn't about whether or not they are in a position to discriminate because they are "new Australians", but instead my question is, where are they getting their prejudice from? What is the culture in Australia that portrays our Indigenous people so negatively instead of bestowing on them the recognition and honour they are entitled to? Especially an elder who is Senior Australian of the Year, among other things. How is he not a household name? Why wasn't he recognised? Regardless of his status, why was the reaction of the drivers fear, mistrust and discrimination?

I traveled to New Zealand once. The immersion of Indigenous culture in the mainstream is nothing short of incredible to me, an Australian, but not to them. It is the norm. Everyone learns Maori at school. The language, the culture and the history. The Maori culture is embedded deeply in the psyche of New Zealanders, whether they themselves have Indigenous heritage or not. The North Island in particular was very traditional. It is something you have to experience and it made me sad and ashamed. It was inspiring. You want goosebumps? Watch these students perform the haka for a deceased beloved teacher. It makes me weep. Every. Single. Time. I. Watch. It.

Really look closely at them. Their diversity, their ages, their passion. It isn't something rehearsed for this particular performance. They know it. They have lived it all their lives and were taught it from a very young age. It is a part of who they are. 

During my trip, we stayed at a traditional Maori Marae. The family leaders welcomed us with a traditional ceremony. We participated in cooking meals and cleaning up afterwards. We all slept in the main room on mattresses on the floor in our sleeping bags, surrounded by carvings and pictures of the family ancestors. One night we had a group discussion where the leaders talked to us about their family and their heritage and we were given the opportunity to ask questions at the end. I asked what the difference was. Why were we so far behind in Australia? I understood that the land mass made a difference and also that Aboriginal Australians and New Zealand Maoris were very different people, but how? Why? What could we learn?

My tour guide pointed out that Maoris were warriors. They asserted themselves with their colonisers immediately and signed a treaty with the British very early on. This allowed the country to promote the coexistence of both Indigenous and Colonial cultures. That is not to say that there are no issues in New Zealand, I would hate to diminish the racism or disadvantage that may still exist as a result of colonisation, but they are way ahead of many other countries including ours. In Australia, we still don't have an equivalent to the Waitangi Treaty. However, to say that there was no Aboriginal resistance is grossly incorrect and it is important to acknowledge the frontier warriors who shed their blood in defense of their country and people; and they are still fighting and resisting. The difference is that in Australia we are yet to come anywhere near reconciliation. 

Saying Sorry is a tokenistic first step, definitely a step in the right direction, but Uncle Jack's experience shows that we still have a long way to go. Another example is the recent unnecessary controversy surrounding AFL player Adam Goodes' on field traditional celebration. Oh and please listen closely to the commentators and their bullshit fence sitting. He performed a brief war dance at Carlton fans and the whole nation lost its marbles. Personally it was exhilarating to see and I don't even follow football. Same goes for Greg Inglis when he celebrates his tries with the 'goanna'. It's wonderful!

While addressing the issues surrounding discrimination, we need to admit that Aboriginal heritage has survived and in many aspects of Australian society, it is thriving. We have to keep racism, bad government policy, misinformation and victimisation of Indigenous Australians on our radar and continue to hold perpetrators to account. These people are a threat to our progress.

What we must do is participate and acknowledge our heritage. Our real heritage. Our indigenous heritage, without indulging in cultural appropriation. It is the only way forward.

I am always a bit unsure about what right I have to say these things, after all I am not Aboriginal. I do not have Aboriginal heritage. I am Australian born to Maltese parents and I am connected to this land in my own way through my own lived experience. I see Australia as a diverse and ethnically rich nation of people. To me, to be truly Australian is to have some sort of relationship with all aspects of our identity and first and foremost we must know and understand our Aboriginal tradition. We must accept our colonial past; the good and the bad and appreciate its place in forming our modern nation. We must also appreciate the many other influences that make up our population. The European and Asian contribution, the Middle Eastern and African, the South and North American. What an opportunity we have to be a truly globally represented country. 

Our children should be learning this second truer story from infancy. They need to learn about Aboriginal experience, art, music, language, spirit. They need to learn the true story of colonisation and get both sides of the story - learn about both the experiences of the original custodians and the settlers/invaders. They need to be exposed to all the cultures, religions, languages and life stories of the people who now live, work and build this great land.

Our governments need to work towards an inclusive and representative landscape of ideas, policies and solutions so that true Aboriginal autonomy and self determination is achieved. They need to start undoing the rot they have let fester and promote reconciliation and healing at every opportunity. They need to stop the marginalisation of anybody who isn't white and male and encourage the inclusion of all people who have something to contribute. They need to stop imprisoning refugees; people who are fleeing danger for a better life. IT'S HOW WE ALL GOT HERE! 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Gwen Stefani nearly killed me

Some days start off normal. Same old routine; get up, feed the twins, change three kids while husband makes breakfast, eat together, husband goes to work, change three shits, clean up breakfast dishes, move all three kids into the bedroom while I shower, chill, morning tea, nap the babies, have a cuppa on the balcony while the big one plays, babies wake up and we're ready for lunch.

Then on a whim I decide to take all three to the local shopping centre to have lunch and a stroll around the shops, a play on the rides and pirate ship, visit the pet shop. 

All hell breaks loose.

While I get ready and by that I mean get our stuff together and scribble on some eye brows and eyeliner, one of the twins decides to howl as loud as possible, fat tears streaming down her cheeks the entire time. The other twin tips over the bucket of toys I just packed up and distributes the neat pile of books I just stacked around the entire lounge room floor. The eldest decides to follow me around so closely she is practically crawling back up into my uterus. I bump and knock her over several times and she still walks around glued to the backs of my knees; giggling every time she lands flat on the floor as I rocket around the house with gusto trying to get ready before I change my mind. I always vow to travel light, but I still need a whole bunch of shit 'just in case'. The day I don't take something with me is the day I need it.

Anyway, I'm finally ready to walk out the door; twins in their capsules, one clipped on to one side of the double pram, the other capsule needs to be carried out; the eldest sitting on the other side of the pram. Got my wallet, phone and lippy (as if I'll reapply) in my back pack on my back. I've packed three water cups, three bibs, three jumpers, a stocked up nappy bag and my house and car keys. No one is naked, me and the big one have shoes on, all have clean nappies, I've peed. I'm sweating profusely by now, I think I've smeared one eye brow, one twin is red faced from her heartfelt meltdown; sniff sniffing so sincerely and broken heartedly, you'd think I'd just flogged her, the other twin is squirming profusely and about to pick up where the other left off. The eldest is calm; well actually she's shocked into silence; I've put her in the pram awkwardly and scraped her arm by accident. She thinks I've done it on purpose; toddlers don't understand apologies for being flustered. But we're out the door. I push the behemoth of a pram with one baby and one toddler out the door while carrying the other baby in the other hand; we're all in the lift to go down to the garage. I park everyone near the door and get the car out of the garage. I put everything in the car. First the toddler, then both capsules, then all my crap (hand bag, phone, nappy bag and sundries), then fold the pram and put it in the boot. It is now 40 minutes since I decided to go out and we are all very hungry.

I am calm when I drive. Everyone is strapped in and safe and I'm in control; the air con is on and my body temperature has stabilised. I'm breathing calmly again. I get to the shops and the car park is full. I want to cry, but instead I drive off trying to think of what else to do. Do I go home or go to the other, duller shopping centre. I drive around the block and think to myself "I can turn this shit around!"

I glimpse my toddler in the back through the rear vision mirror. She's dozing. This used to panic me, but now I welcome it as a resting snooze she will benefit from instead of a sleep that will ruin her for the rest of the day. I drive into the car park again and as I'm entering a car pulls out of a spot so I wack my indicator on with such force I nearly snap the thing off. I park. I rest for a bit, because now I have to get all the shit and kids back out of the car. Only now I have it down to a fine art, everything in reverse. Pram out of the boot, nappy bag and all paraphernalia loaded onto the pram, kids last. Babies out of the capsules and into the pram from either side of the back seat, pull one capsule out and extract the toddler then trap her between the car and my body while I replace the capsule, in case she runs off in the car park. She doesn't ever, I make sure of it. Then I sit her on the handle bars of the pram and sing the song I made up until we are out of the car park. "Hold on to mum and you won't fall off, hold on to mum and you won't fall off..." etc.

Once in the shops she's walking again, she holds my hand and we go to the supermarket to buy the babies some packet food. Of course it is right up the back of the fucking shop. I can't just pop in. I have to maneuver the double pram and the toddler, dodging other shoppers and their trolleys, display shelves and all manner of obstacles to get to the right isle. And then back to the self serve where the pram just fits. I pay and head to the food court. It is now a good hour and a half since I decided to go out and we're starving. No one has died.

I get to the healthy take away shop, order mine and the toddler's sandwiches and a smoothie and chat to another mum with a toddler and baby. She inflates my ego immensely as she considers her own struggles and thinks mine must be so much worse. I assure her they are not. Whether you have one, two, three or sixteen, kids are hard work and sometimes they aren't and you're organised and it's fine. You just do it. Sometimes shit goes smoothly, sometimes it hits the fan.

I find an empty table and park the twins; I leave them momentarily while I fetch a high chair from nearby, taking the toddler with me. We return and I sit her in it and assemble everyone within my reach. I take everything I need out. Wipes, spoon, three cups, three bibs.

We eat. I'm now completely confident and relaxed. The hard shit is over. That's it. Whatever happens from now doesn't matter. We're sitting down and eating, my brain is now functioning optimally and I have this. I banter with the elderly couple sitting near our table. They have twins on both sides of their families, the husband is a twin himself. They didn't have children just in case. They were both terrified. They ask me if there are twins in the family. I tell them apparently yes on my dad's side, but I only found out after I had mine. It wouldn't have stopped me having babies.

I spend the rest of the afternoon strolling around the shops to kill time, letting the toddler play on the rides and play equipment. On a whim I walk to the park at the end of the street, leaving the car in the car park. As we walk we meet twin men, probably in their late 50s. They are besotted with my twins and I with them. They tell me my girls are beautiful and twins are heaps of fun, I add "...and it appears, best friends for life!"

At the park the toddler plays. We meet a young mum with a smaller toddler who my daughter instantly befriends. Her mum and I chat and compare stories, we have a laugh and part company. As I'm leaving the park, a woman with twin boys holds the gate open for me. We exchange meaningful looks. I'm euphoric. I really did turn the shit around today. The babies are tired, but content. The toddler is giggly and obedient. We walk calmly back to the shops and I point out wildlife and chat to her about road safety. I'm feeling very bloody smug.

I buy a giant coffee with hazelnut syrup and re pack the car. I decide to go for a long drive so I can hold onto this feeling of smugness achievement and calm and let the kids all have a sleep. I know they will. All three can't resist sleeping in the car.

As I'm driving home Gwen Stefani comes on the radio....

It's perfect. It epitomises everything I'm feeling in that moment. I don't know all the words, but the ones I do know I sing with enthusiasm and volume. The chorus happens on a particularly bendy and descending road. I nearly lost control, but I turned that shit around.