There's a parallel between genocide, ecocide, homicide & suicide
26 January 2018
Excerpt from Black GST Public Forum — Robbie Thorpe
A cultural warning: the audio here contains the voice of a deceased person: Alice Pearl Daiguma Eather’s ‘My Story is Your Story’. The music in this piece is ‘Spirit’ by bangarra dance company. At times Robbie’s confrontational, and while his is only one person’s view, he tells it the way he sees it, and we love him for that.
As part of 2018’s Seven Days of Resistance (leading to nationwide protests on January 26) WAR: Warriors for the Aboriginal Resistance, held a Black GST Public Forum. Long-time Indigenous activists Tony Birch; Margi Thorpe; Robbie Thorpe; and non-Indigenous ally Clare Land talked Genocide, Sovereignty, Treaty.
I try to avoid ‘Australia Day’, as much as anyone can, because it makes me sad. To be honest, though, the full impact of it didn’t hit me, didn’t really hit me, until I saw what it did to my friends Tabatha and Michelle. It was Saturday Jan 27, 2018 and they were doing what they’ve been doing every Saturday for some time, presenting ‘SoulJah Sisters’ — the most political and radical radio show on 4ZZZ. At the time I was co-presenting ‘Brisbane Line’, a news show, with Lucy Czerwinski. Michelle and Tabatha are fearless, but on this day they were pallid: ill, exhausted, distressed (I know these words fall short). During this week, yet again, they couldn’t cover their trauma. Their pain, and that of the Ancestors, is heart on a sleeve, bird on a wire stuff.
Today’s ‘Australia Day’ clearly doesn’t unite us — not least because it’s a form of compulsory militarised nationalism (that includes Anzac Day) initiated and politicised by Hawke and Keating; ramped up by Howard; and continued by the rest. [Jeff Sparrow on the militarisation of Australian nationalism]. Think of Australia running down a hill, at the moment our legs are speeding up, with a mind of their own; our knees are all over the shop; our arms are flailing. We trip over our own feet, lurch forward, thrust our arms out in front of us to brace for the inevitable, yet we still face plant the dirt. That’s where our current flavour of nationalism leads. My initial aversion to the day was based on a gut feeling, but since 2018 the distress isn’t disembodied anymore, I see faces and hear names. I try to avoid ‘Australia Day’ because it diminishes us all.
The only hope you got is the spirit of this land, which we represent and embody. Us. We carry that with us; that divinity.
A few years ago Shona and I were living in Timor-Leste, and one day in early January we’d somehow ended up snorkelling with a group that included the Australian Ambassador and his wife; and representatives from the UN, the International Organization for Migration and AusAid. It wasn’t lost on us that these people represented the re-colonisation of Timor-Leste. While we all ate lunch in the shade of a stand of palms, the Ambassador spoke about the Embassy’s Australia Day event, and how he was ‘thinking of something similar to last year’. I asked if he had a date in mind, thinking that’d be a funny and innocent joke. All the Australians in our party looked at me like I’d just slaughtered a puppy. I’ve never encountered such defence of the day before or since. We lived in Timor-Leste for three years, and in that time we did not attend one Australia Day event. Each year it was a BBQ, beer and cricket, with a bit of the beach cordoned off by Australian flags, a sliver of Timor-Leste cut off for Australia. Individually BBQs, beer and cricket may well be all fine and dandy, but this particular brand of hefty nationalism makes me anxious.
Australia Day itself is asked to do a lot of heavy lifting, but its origins means it will never represent everyone; and when you think about it, no one ‘national day’ can. In contrast, Timor-Leste has numerous national days that embody centuries of resistance, protest and war, and reflect different aspects of the ever-changing nation itself. There’s Proclamation of Independence Day (November 28) — when it declared independence from colonial Portugal; Popular Consultation Day (August 30) — when the Constituent Assembly was elected; Restoration of Independence Day (May 20) — when Timor-Leste’s Constitution came into force and the nation was recognised by the UN; and National Heroes Day (December 7) — the day Indonesia invaded. (There’s a few more.) There’s no doubting Timorese people are proud, but they don’t place sole weight and responsibility for honouring their entire nation, and the constituent parts, on one day. Nations aren’t static.
The Black GST draws on centuries of resistance, protest and war, including the Frontier Wars (Yunnerminnerwait & Maulboyheenner; Jandamarra; Woollarawarre Bennelong); the National Day of Mourning (January 26, 1938); the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra (est. January 26, 1972) and subsequent other embassies being established across the continent as we speak; the 1982 Stolenwealth Games protests in Meanjin (Brisbane); the 1988 Bicentennial protests everywhere; the fight for Land Rights, everywhere; the fight for reparations for the Stolen Generations, everywhere (Bringing them Home: The ‘Stolen Children’ report, 1997); the fight for the implementation of the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody recommendations, everywhere (1987–1991); the 2006 Stolenwealth Games protests in Naarm (Melbourne); and the 2018 Stolenwealth Games protests on Kombumerri Country (Gold Coast).
The week after ‘Australia Day’ 2018 I was happy to see Michelle and Tabatha were back in their old rhythm, bouncing into the studio with a grin and a glint; except, all the shit from the week before still existed. Nothing had changed. That they don’t let the shit bring them down week in week out, that they greet and welcome their friends with hugs and smiles every time we see them speaks to their generosity and resilience.
The Black GST contends that three fundamental issues must be resolved for the holistic wellbeing of the Indigenous peoples of this continent: Stop Genocide; Acknowledge Sovereignty; Make Treaties. Until then, we have nothing. If our nation is so insecure that our arbitrary national day can only be about ‘feeling proud’, then we have a deep-seated self-doubt that should be of great concern to everyone. I avoid ‘Australia Day’ because I fucking hate it — and deep down, that’s always been true, I just didn’t know it, really know it, until I saw the genuine suffering of my friends. I don’t think ‘national days’ shoud exist at all, but since it seems to be a thing nations do, then just like Timor-Leste, we need national days that embody centuries of resistance and protest, and reflect the different aspects of the ever-changing nations on this continent.