Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A 'Dirty Mile' through the enchanted forest


 Ilbijerri Theatre have developed a tour of Fitzroy's Gertrude Street, highlighting the Koori Sites of Significance. Based on a concept of the late Lisa Bellear, actors take the audience along time and space, from the original European contact in the Carlton Gardens to the infamous Charcoal Lane, the site of Archie Roach's song.

While there, audience members were given pieces of chalk and asked to leave messages. If you click on the image, you can get a larger version that will be easier to read.

It's a quite an intimate and visceral theatre, with audience being constantly herded along streets. Sometimes, the passersby look as though they could be extras, but that's Fitzroy for you.

The underlying story of repression and resilience. It's a powerful counterpoint to the commercial image of Gertrude Streets, which consistently evokes the European forest.

I imagine it's hard to get tickets for this season, but well worth the try.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kosovo at last

kosmelb Here's the Victorian Herald-Sun from 17 May 1999, when the Premier Jeff Kennett greeted refugees from Kosovo in the Albanian language. That was when Australians embraced these people and presented an image of this wide brown land as an open-hearted refuge for persecuted peoples.

We lost the plot for a while. The shock jocks and Pauline Hansen made sure the Kosovars did not outstay their welcome. Howard cultivated a xenophobia towards refugees. But now we have a 'new page', so let's hope we can recover that sense of welcome that we extended back in 1999.

And today, Kosovo will finally be granted independence. Albanians in Australia have fought long and hard for this day. Congratulations. The struggle of great figures like Ibrahim Rugova has been worth it. There are many challenges ahead, but destiny is now in your hands.

Urime!, Përgëzime!

Smooth the pillow?

Inge Glendinnen is a widely-respected intelligent writer who has described with great care and sensitivity the workings of cultures as distant from our own as the Aztecs. She was recently a strong supporter of the Federal Government 'intervention' in Northern Territory. Her post-Howard article in The Age is cause for some concern.

She writes about the harsh and violent conditions in the most remote Aboriginal communities. Invoking the term 'self-modernisation', she sees intervention as a matter of giving Aboriginal people the choice to either stay with their isolation or become more like everyone else. She admits, this might see the end of Aboriginal culture:

The next decade might see the end of that most obdurate element of Aboriginal "resistance": their determination, sustained since first contact, to remain themselves by living among themselves. Should that happen, it will become our duty to measure and mourn what we, and they, have lost.

It's an extremely sensitive issue, but lurking at the back of Glendinnen's remarks is the idea that the responsibility of whitefellas is to 'smooth the pillow of the dying race' -- expressing sadness at the loss of these people, but complying with a positivist model of civilisation and the ultimate dominance of Western culture.  That may seem harsh, but is there another way to look at it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A beautiful sorry morning


On a cool summer morning, someone said 'sorry'. He spoke of 'non-indigenous' Australians as 'them'. He attributed total responsibility to government. It's an inspiring beginning, but where will we go from here?

Given the emotion of the day, what seemed most powerful about Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations was respectful silence that accompanied it. Despite the personal traumas experienced directly and witness associated with the policy of racial assimilation, there seemed little display of emotion in the actual presentation of the apology. Rudd’s faltering delivery was workmanlike. Bob Hawke would certainly have been in tears. For today, emotions can wait. Let’s get the business over first.

It’s a defining moment in the ‘new chapter’ of Australia. In laying blame for the Stolen Generation, Rudd was careful to exempt those who carried out the policies. Instead, he attributed responsibility to the parliament who framed the legislation. He ended by inviting the leader of the opposition to join him in a commission that would ‘change the way Australians think about themselves.’ While today is critical in the unfinished story of reconciliation, it is also a day for asserting the authority of government. Is this good for the culture of a nation? Should government be the only conduit for change?

One very reassuring aspect of Rudd’s speech is the way he addressed ‘non-indigenous Australians’. He spoke of ‘them’ in the third person, just as he had the ‘Indigenous Australians’. This was critical. If he has spoken of ‘us’, then it would have been another post-colonial confession admitting past wrongs but maintaining the dominant position. There was a relatively equal place in Rudd’s language for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Of course, this does not reflect the inequalities between the two—the economic superiority of whitefellas and the cultural richness of Indigenous Australians. But we can begin to think of them as in dialogue with each other.

In terms of Australia’s recent history, there was a sense of historic justice in the focus on the white Australian practice of stealing children from their families. In recent years, we’ve experienced a number of xenophobic scandals associated with acts like Tampa that have focused on disregard for children as the ultimate sign of being ‘unAustralian’. Yet here, at the core of Australian history, is an official practice of breaking apart families.

‘Turning the page together’ on a ‘new chapter’ in Australia’s history, it’s a wonderful morning for us all. It’s a good moment to start thinking anew about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous identity.


Melbourne Forecast
Issued at 4:50 am EDT on Wednesday 13 February 2008
Fine apart from a brief shower or two this morning. Partly cloudy with a moderate to occasionally fresh southerly wind.
Precis:       Clearing shower or two.            
City:         Max 20